CW: in-depth discussion of anti-fatness myths and people’s experiences around body shaming.
Welcome back to installment four of the FIFI book club’s review of You just need to lose weight and 19 other myths about fat people, by Aubrey Gordon. If you missed any previous bookclub posts, you can access them below.
This week, we are commenting on section four, “Fat people should…”
The last six myths that Gordon discusses are:
- myth 15: “Fat people shouldn’t call themselves fat.”
- myth 16: “People who have never been fat have ‘internalized fat phobia’.”
- myth 17: “No one is attracted to fat people. Anyone who is has a fat fetish.”
- myth 18: “Fat people should pay for a second airplane seat.”
- myth 19: “Skinny shaming is just as bad a fat shaming.”
- myth 20: “Anti-fatness is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination.”
First up is Diane:
My biggest issue was the argument around the last socially acceptable form of discrimination. I get her point about intersectionality and the fact that people still discriminate despite the laws (which may themselves not address all issues). However, there is a real difference between legally protecting people from discrimination (which has some consequences) vs no grounds at all.
That struck home again today as I read about fat people being told they have to buy two airline seats (reported on CNN). People with disabilities no longer have to pay for a seat for someone who accompanies them (at least for domestic travel in Canada). It did take a legal fight, but I don’t get the sense that anyone is willing to take up that battle on behalf of fat people.
On to Amy:
I thought these last few myths were a really great way to close out the book. Again, I think those Maintenance Phase fans will hear them all in Gordon’s voice, and some of the discussion will feel familiar. I was really pleased that Gordon chose to close the book with Myth 20 “Anti-fatness is the last socially acceptable form of discrimination.” It can sometimes feel like that when you are in a bigger body, or at least that has been true to me. But that’s because I hold a lot of other privileges, so when I run into instances where people are treating me differently (negatively) around my body size it can feel shocking. And when no one else notices or defends it does feel like people are “allowing” that discrimination.
But I realized a few years ago when I heard an older person say that ageism was the “last acceptable form of discrimination” that there are so many forms of discrimination that people overlook, don’t notice, or actively engage in. Declaring one or another as “the last acceptable” further marginalizes people/communities that have been minoritized and doesn’t work to address systemic issues.
Here are my (Catherine’s) comments:
Gordon applies her verbal scalpel decisively to myth 15: “Fat people shouldn’t call themselves fat.” What is revealed are some harsh truths.
She says, “The logic of fat shaming… reveals itself… [saying that] It’s wrong to publicly humiliate someone for being fat only if they aren’t actually fat.” Gordon offers examples of celebrities who’ve been fat-shamed for being larger versions of previous selves (she doesn’t mention Oprah here, who is the poster-person for this odious treatment). When such targets (almost always female-presenting) are defended, it’s to say that so-and-so isn’t really fat. They don’t say that fat-shaming is wrong, but rather that the particular claim of fatness is inaccurate.
Gordon says the word “fat” really strikes fear in thin people.
The fear of being fat is the fear of joining an underclass that you have so readily dismissed, looked down upon, looked past, or been so grateful not to have been a part of…. thin people are terrified of being treated the way they have so often seen fat people treated or even the way they have treated fat people themselves.
I think there’s a lot more to this myth. Thin people call themselves fat all the time. All of my female relatives do and have done so all their lives. Visiting my family while reading this book and writing these posts has made me more aware of how pervasive and acceptable the use of the word “fat” is when self-applied by thin people, but never with actual fat people. I was talking to a relative, saying “I may be old and fat, but I can (insert some physical feat or other)”. Immediately, I was shushed, saying “you’re not fat! You’re not old!”
But I am old. I’m 61. That’s old. Not super-old, but it’s undeniably in the “old” category. It’s okay. I’m also fat. I’m a small fat, which means I have some privilege that larger fat people don’t have. But I am indeed fat. It’s not a disaster. It’s just me, as I am right now. Which Gordon says is important– that is, it’s important that I be able to name my own body. “Thin people’s discomfort with a word that has hurt them shouldn’t stand in the way of the liberation of actual fat people.”
Yeah. Huzzah to that!
Dear readers– what do you think about these myths? Did any strike a strong note with you? We’d love to hear from you.