Yesterday I was sat around a round table with my colleagues, their partners and some other friends of my employer. A dozen of us all together. My employer received with a special community award and we were all invited to the reception which featured entertainment and a ten-course meal. Talk around the table turned to instances of mistaken identity, profiling and stereotyping. People were sharing stories where they, based one physical feature or characteristic, had been mistaken for someone else or subjected to reductive stereotyping independent of personality, height, hair type/colour, and other significant factors of resemblance like profession, politics, and personal interests.
I share that when I was growing up my classmates would inform me that I looked uncannily like whatever fat female celebrity—or sometimes male celebrity—was most popular at the time (I’m Canadian, so the main contenders were Rita MacNeil and sometimes Vicky Gabereau—I was also, if you talk to my middle-school classmates, an absolute dead-ringer for Chris Farley). I am neither a professional singer nor a daytime talk show host nor a sketch comedian—I wish! “Because you know,” I joked “all fat people pretty much look exactly ALIKE.” Across the table a colleague, suddenly angry, reprimands me in a sharp tone “Why do you always have to GO THERE?”
As if “there” is a travel destination from which I can choose to come and go instead of the world I am forced to live in. As if I get to opt out of being read, objectified, and stereotyped according to the prevailing cultural attitudes about my body. As if fatphobia and fat oppression, and people being general IDIOTS about size are things that I make up to feel OMG SUPER SPESHUL,access cultural and conversation capital, to seek attention, and to stand out. As if talking anti-oppression talk wins you more favours than enemies. As if there is any social situation where a fat body is a source of privilege or a social advantage. As if people who get shit on TOTALLY BENEFIT from oppression. As if being shit on, to paraphrase Dorothy Alison, ennobles and raises up instead of dehumanizing and destroying. As if I had never been told by teachers, guidance counsellors, professors, potential employers that regardless of my talents or interests that my body made me unfit for work where I’d have to be seen. I am more of a “back-end behind-the-camera/face-for-radio type. “You can try, but it will be very, very hard you looking as you do to get work. We’re just being realistic.”
Well, when I point out the casual, or overt, or subconscious existence of rampant fatphobia, I am also being FUCKING REALISTIC.
I did not start a scene at this dinner—though flames were coming off of the side of my face. Instead I excused myself, went to the ladies’, phoned a friend and began mentally composing this list.
WHY I “GO THERE”
1) Because fat people are human beings who deserve to be treated with basic dignity and respect.
2) Because fatphobia ruins lives and, sometimes, ENDS THEM
3) Because people see “fatness” before anything else and make negative judgments—about our character, abilities, and personality.
4) Because we have to work to “prove” worth (professionally, personally, and socially) where thin people are given the benefit of the doubt.
5) Because people make threats of sexual violence to fat people assuming we are “desperate” and “available” for any kind of sexual attention.
6) Because when we go see doctors about years of disordered eating, they assume we are lying and we get asked about “sleep-eating pizzas.”
7) Because our families and relatives use special occasions as an opportunity to shame and concern troll us about our size and weight. Because the holidays, for so many people are not about togetherness and support, but about fear, and anxiety and being made to feel like garbage.
8) Because weight loss (at any cost) is valued far above physical and mental wellness.
9) Because our colleagues and acquaintances feel that if we are a fat person who doesn’t talk about “fixing ourselves” by getting “skinny” we are “ego-maniacs” who deserve to be taken down a peg.
10) Because so many people of size think they deserve to be shat upon by their parents, partners, friends, colleagues, employers, strangers and randos in food courts and THEY FUCKING DON’T.
11) Because, to paraphrase my friend K, if you are part of group that is institutionally and culturally oppressed your experiences of harm are not taken as truth but are “treated with suspicion as being untrue or exaggerated.”
12) Because a million individual stories of harm and shame and bullshit that you may feel free to add to this list.
13) Because “there” and this is where we have to live. And we would love it if it could be less of a howling fucking wasteland of oppression, hate speech and treating others like garbage for how they look.