October 4, 2012

Who is the weight-shaming bully, again?

Well, here's good news. A public figure stands up against weight-bullying and calling people fat. Other people cheer. That is important and a cause I usually only see in eating disorder circles where, I have often argued, it should not only be.

Except in this case I wouldn't call it bullying and no one was called "fat." Maybe that doesn't matter, but it strikes me that if our rallying call against weight-shaming is based on this example we probably aren't doing ourselves a long-lasting favor.


The email to broadcaster, Jennifer Livingston, didn't call her "fat." It called her obese. That's worse than being called fat, frankly, because our entire society is being taught by our doctors, media, and government that our weight status is a matter of alarm and a visible sign of chosen ill-health. The email called obesity a choice - something that everyone including our children are being taught daily, given "report cards" and public service announcements about as the only reason to be healthy is to avoid the dreaded fatness that adults are so on about. We have public figures showing off their fitness on TV in a fight against this evil obesity monster as an example of What To Be, which of course is the corollary of What Example You Should Not Be. Is this guy's email different?

Folks, we can't expect the world to stop fat shaming at the same time we are surrounded by messages that not only do that, they normalize it.

This guy's email wasn't bullying, in my opinion. His misguided, deeply personal, demonstrably wrong letter was symptom, an expected symptom, of looking at a person's weight as public property and a matter of morality.

This guy is ignorant and wrong. He doesn't know this person, and he doesn't understand the basic mechanics of weight. He treated this woman's weight as he would if she was smoking on air, or knocking back a beer while reciting children's literature. But he learned that the same place our kids are learning it: from our doctors and governments.

Had this guy called her "fat," well, it probably would have been dismissed as an epithet or curse. THAT kind of weight-shaming is everywhere, too. What is more frightening is that he called her obese and a poor example to children when the truth is that his attitude is what is the threat to children. The idea that being obese is anyone's else's business or tells anyone anything about that person is what is toxic.

I absolutely love what this woman and her husband did: they got mad and they put it back where it belonged, on the ignorant head of the email writer. But the real bullying is going on - victimizing and isolating people based on body size - in every school, on TV, at dinner tables, and goodness knows on the Internet by ADULTS in charge of healthcare policy and treatment and education.

Weight shaming is toxic stuff: it ruins lives and encourages really unhealthy attitudes and eating habits. It's no different than racism or sexism in its insidiousness and waste of human spirit. Yet the place to start is not with this guy saying what the 'experts' and authorities and our healthcare providers are telling us. We are all being bullied, and it is coming from the top.

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