look, a fatty!

I was at a meeting the other day and during a break a friend/colleague of mine was talking to her high school friend on the phone about their recent 10 year reunion that she wasn’t able to attend. She came back after a while and gave us the play by play. Overall, she said she loved catching up on all their old friends. Then she said she asked her friend, “so, who got fat?” and then after what seemed like a bit of an awkward pause (to me), she said, “and also who got skinny?” I felt like that second question wasn’t actually posed and was instead stated for my benefit. “see, i’m not singling out fat people, i’m just curious about the changing shapes of all bodies!” and frankly even that is problematic. but i wanted to talk about how it made me feel. to put it bluntly, it made me feel like shit.

being fat isn’t something to be gossiped about. when you want to find out “who got fat?” you’re asking about who “let themselves go,” or who “doesn’t have it anymore.” Inherent in all of this is the idea that being fat isn’t correct, it isn’t right, we shouldn’t be it.

I am not saying it’s abnormal to notice a change in someone’s weight or appearance. We’re visual creatures, I get that. And some of the time, statements like that don’t carry with it the intention of judging someone. But most of the time? I’d venture to say nearly all of the time? Comments about people’s weight or appearance aren’t simply a statement of fact. They’re riddled with judgment. And above all, it reduces someone’s weight or appearance to a story, to gossip. Fat people are more than just a story to be gossiped about over a phone conversation. I went a while back to the a Fat Meet Up at the ever so lovely coffee shop of Not Blue At All, and we had a great discussion about being fat in public, especially around children. One of the people there said she gets the “look mom, she’s so fat!” all the time, and she sees it as a teaching moment for the children, because inevitably the parents will be mortified, pull their children away, and whisper furiously “we do NOT say things like at!” What message do you think kids get when they are simply pointing out what is, to them, just a fact? Look, she is fat. Look, he is tall. Look, I’m noticing these things as a new person in the world and it’s amazing to me! In the blink of an eye, they have fully received society’s message that fat is a bad word, that even if someone IS it, we certainly don’t point it out. And ta da, society’s boatload of shit is laid down upon some child who was just pointing out a fact. That child likely wasn’t judging her body, she was simply noticing it. Then adults come in and fuck everything up.

Here’s the bottom line…my friend’s question to her friend about who got fat in the last 10 years didn’t feel like an innocent noticing of the fact, a la kids. It felt like I, and people who look like me, was being reduced to something to be sensationalized, gossiped about. And it sucked. But I have to say that it didn’t crush me to a million pieces like it may have a couple years ago, so for that I am grateful.

Who has called this type of behavior out in friends before (nicely or not-so-nicely)? How’d the conversation go?

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21 responses to “look, a fatty!

  1. i totally called out a circle of my friends passing a people of wal mart picture around. we are all plus sized ladies, and all go out to parties together gussied up and looking fat and fabulous…..and then them mock people of wal mart….so i called them out. I pointed out that it was their very attitude that helped foster the shame and haters that lead to my ed for 15 years….and to the dismissal of that Ed since i was still fat it didn’t matter that i threw up till i passed out. i wasn’t anorexia thin in danger of my life (bs, your stomach can rupture and electrolytes get dangerously out of whack during a binge purge cycle) you could have her their faces turn red and them stammering apologies.

  2. *heard not herd and then they not then them

  3. very interesting post, my friend. to me, asking that question about “who got fat?” seems a very blatant attempt by your friend to find out where she stands among everyone else. who is she better than? because if she hasn’t “gotten fat,” then she must be better. people take a kind of perverse delight in finding out how the mighty have fallen, especially when it comes to that high school reunion. i honestly think that weighed in (no pun intended) on my decision not to attend my high school reunion. i have gained weight. i know that plenty of those high school chicks would love to relish in that change. no thanks. and what you said about children is so true and very interesting. i’m wondering what you think would be an appropriate response by a parent in that situation? it seems so delicate, right? like if the parent goes “oh, yep. she’s fat.” is that better? worse? i remember one night at a dinner with a family i was nannying for, when the youngest kid (5 at the time) said, “i know who the fattest lady at this table is. auntie ann!” you could hear crickets, i swear.

    • 1. i hear you on the reunion thing, it played into my decision as well. and then i get mad them i’m letting other people’s stupidity dictate my decisions. sigh. still a work in progress 🙂

      2. i wrote what i think is an appropriate response in my reply to may just below you. but about the dinner table thing, i think it would have been cool if someone said “and i know who the skinniest person at this table is. and the youngest. and the one with the longest hair!” i think as much as we can drill home that fat is just DESCRIPTIVE, it doesn’t have value attached to it, the better off our younguns will be. i know, i know. pipe dream 🙂

  4. One of the people there said she gets the “look mom, she’s so fat!” all the time, and she sees it as a teaching moment for the children, because inevitably the parents will be mortified, pull their children away, and whisper furiously “we do NOT say things like at!” What message do you think kids get when they are simply pointing out what is, to them, just a fact?

    What is a reasonable response of the parent in that situation? Would appreciate some help!

    • the woman who was telling us the story at the Meet Up said this was her response, generally (and i love it!): “i know, i am fat, isn’t it cool? the world is full of fat people, and skinny people, and tall people, and short people, and everyone is different, isn’t that awesome? all of our bodies look different from each other and that’s what makes the world beautiful.” i think when you can acknowledge that yes, i am fat, and then take away the CHARGE of it (and that charge comes from the shame in the word…so as much as you can de-charge/de-stigmatize it). and while i don’t have children, i have been around a good bit of them, and it seems to me that when you go “isn’t that cool?” they go “yeah!” and then move onto something else.

  5. My 10 year reunion is coming up as well, and I’m debating going partially for concerns about people thinking I got fat. I don’t want to let that stop me if it’s something I really want to do, but I’m not sure that a general interest in what people have been up to is enough of a reason for me to overcome an uncomfortable feeling all night.

    As for kids, I’m not so sure that they are saying fat “innocently”. They don’t usually get the chance to learn the word fat as a neutral word…they’ve likely only heard it from their parents, and if their parents are the shushing type, then the kids have already learned, if subtly, that fat has negative connotations. I do think that it’s still possibly a learning opportunity, if only to provide the kid with a different point of view for just a moment.

    • hey there, wanted to see if you ended up going to reunion! or is it still coming up? I totally feel you on the feeling uncomfortable thing, and all I can say is…fuck ’em if they care : )

      • It’s at Thanksgiving, so it’s still coming up. I’ll possibly go if some of the people I’m still good friends with from high school go–I think I’d feel uncomfortable in general if I didn’t have a definite person I could talk to! Anyway, if I go, I will update this post with how it went.

  6. I agree with you. It wasn’t an innocent comment. It was a gossipy “so, who’s not hot any more” comment. That’s one of the reasons I won’t go to reunions. The other is the fact that my former best friend is someone I had to call the cops on at one point for harassment. I don’t ever want to risk seeing her again.
    I called out some online friends because one of them posted a picture of a couple of fat women sitting on a bench so everyone could laugh at it. One of the comments was “was that taken outside a Wal Mart?” Clearly it was at a sporting event, and I imagine the women didn’t ask to have their picture taken.
    I didn’t get on my high horse, because I don’t think the guy who posted it was thinking about being an asshole. I merely pointed out that I am a large person and that yes I do shop at Wal Mart, because most of the time it’s the only place I can afford to shop, if at all. I’m currently surviving mostly on nutrition bars because I really don’t have much money. There are days when I eat far less than other people, although that’s hard to believe because of my size. So I asked these people to kindly not make assumptions or treat people of size as a joke.
    The friend hasn’t posted pictures of fat people in a joking fashion since.

  7. That is the thing, people need fat people. Without the “fattie” how will they know who they are better than. Without fat people, how would someone who feels crap about themselves boost themselves up with, “at least I am not that fat.” A lot of times it is not really a fat hater just someone who has accepted the world view that fat is something to be loathed. It is easy to pick fat people out of a crowd, and it is easy to accept the assumption that fat people are stupid and lazy. If you go against the current thought, than fat people are just people, and they can no longer be used to justify their own need to be self righteous.

    • lisa, you kind of just blew my mind in how beautifully you put that. it’s so true! most of the time, when person A has an issue with person B, it’s person A’s shit that is the underlying issue. it’s easy for me to forget that sometimes. when i’m the person B, i mean, and it hurts my feelings 🙂

  8. I have experienced this unfortunately and it was from a friend who was, himself, fat. Man, we internalize this BS don’t we? I was like, how would you feel if someone was talking about you like that? It makes my skin crawl.

    • oh man, internalized fat oppression is some powerful, powerful stuff. i don’t have anything more enlightened to say about it, just that it can stop me in my tracks sometimes (my own internalization as well as others, I mean)

  9. You make a great point in that these are learned behaviors, no one instinctively sees fat as bad! In fact many kids are attracted to fatter body types. But you’re right about the judgment! And how much we judge others, we’re all guilty on some level, but it’s just disgusting. And I think it’s getting worse with the reality shows and tabloid mentality. Ugh! Thanks for the linky love. I hope all is well with you.

  10. Ugh, I call it out all the time. Not just pointing out people’s weight, but other things about their appearance too, particularly when it’s judgey behaviour. Judgey comments make me see red!

  11. I’m going to a high-school reunion this weekend, and if someone tormented me back then, picking on me for being fat, I would be lying if I said it wouldn’t make me feel a little gratification to see that they were now fat. Let them walk a mile in my shoes.

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