throwing the fatties under the bus

i work in the reproductive justice movement. As such, my facebook & twitter feeds are generally chock-full of news, comments, and status updates about the (more often than not) horrendous state of affairs in the US regarding a host of reproductive health, rights, and justice issues (see: the shackling of pregnant and birthing prisoners, infant mortality rate as a result of systemic racism, environmental toxins and their disproportionate impact on the repro health systems in communities of color, etc). Needless to say, it can be a real bummer sometimes. But I love this work so very much.

I get to work with some of the brightest, most passionate, kick-ass, radical women and men to help push this country forward when it comes to fighting for reproductive justice. But sometimes I get a big reminder that just because folks work in social justice does not mean they don’t carry with them some seriously fucked up notions of fat bodies.

A couple of weeks ago this video made the rounds on my facebook feed. If you can’t view it, basically it’s a rant by a rather social justice minded comedian about a website put up by pro-life/anti-choice folks. The website is a place where folks can let readers know what they’re giving up “until abortion ends” (I think the website is called until abortion ends, but I don’t want to give it traffic) by uploading their own videos. So people make a video about, say, giving up ice cream until abortion ends. Or soda. And so on. Ok, yes, it’s a slightly odd take on the issue, but I see where people are going with it. To them, abortion is evil. They are taking a stand, as it were, by giving up something they love in order to save fetuses. I can wrap my head around that (that doesn’t mean I agree with the sentiment, I’m just saying it makes sense).

So, this comedian is lambasting the people who upload videos to this site; he says something like “hey, big deal you’re giving up ice cream and soda! this isn’t a stand! you’re giving something up that you should give up anyway.” (emphasis added) He talks for a little while longer about how it’s not a sacrifice when you’re giving up something that isn’t good for you. You see where I’m going with this.

Anyway, quite a few of my facebook friends (and organizations I like) put the video up and made positive comments about it. I ignored them, until it just pissed me off. So I put it on my page and wrote: “this video has been making the rounds on my news feed…and i gotta say, i find it interesting that people and organizations that advocate for a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her repro health care are in the same breath telling her what she should and shouldn’t put in her body. #saynotofoodshaming!”

I thought more people would respond, particularly because so many folks had also posted the video but with glowing reviews. I did get one response, someone who, in my eyes, missed my point entirely. She said: “I see it as less food shaming than pointing out that the people on this site aren’t really making sacrifices because the things they’re pledging are really just making healthier choices. Pointing out that giving up McDonald’s or Taco Bell is something good to do anyway isn’t dictating what a woman puts on her body.”

I find this line of reasoning fascinating. It contradicts itself in the same sentence! twice! “I see it less as food shaming” and then “making healthier choices.” WHO decides which choice is healthy? (in essence, that was my response to her) “Pointing out that X is something good to do isn’t dictating…” UM, how come YOU get to decide what food is good?

So there we go. A reminder that fat oppression and fat & food shaming exists even in social justice circles. But that doesn’t surprise me. Food shaming is sewn into the fabric of our existence, and it’s going to take a hell of a lot more than the odd facebook conversation to overturn it. Also, this happened just a few weeks after I learned that a panel I proposed at a reproductive justice conference discussing the intersection of reproductive justice and fat acceptance/oppression wasn’t accepted. I’m just feeling a bit let down by a movement that exists, in part, to lift people UP in regards to their bodies, their sexuality, and their health (however they define it to be).


17 responses to “throwing the fatties under the bus

  1. That is pretty dumb. I wish I had more to say, but “dumb” pretty much sums it up.

  2. Psst, Jay Smooth is a hip-hop DJ, not a comedian, though his videos do usually use humor.

    As for the rest … I generally like the larger point that he’s making, which is that their sacrifices are pretty ridic, if their point is to end abortion — sorry ice cream for abortion? That’s not a fair trade. I’d give up ice cream to keep abortion legal, no contest… I’m not entirely comfortable with his acceptance of diets, however I do think that word choice is mostly meant to mock the people’s willing sacrifice of, say sour skittles, not encourage people that diets are good (or even that giving up sour skittles is a “real” diet). People go on diets all the time, and I might disagree with that choice, but giving up french fries is just a bad protest strategy if it’s something your friend might do on a misguided quest to lose weight. (I feel like I should mention hunger strikes here, which this is clearly not — but in terms of protest strategies, giving up all food is on a totally different level than giving up pepsi; you can survive w/o pepsi — you can’t survive w/o food.) Anyway, I’m not sure that I see the video as throwing fat people under the bus — I think it is/could be triggering to those with eating disorders, but that’s different than shaming people for their bodies, which I don’t really see him doing. I guess you could argue that it’s implict, but I’m not so sure.

    So basically — I like his broader point (this is a ridic protest), but disagree with the way he makes that point, only I disagree for different reasons than you disagree (ED triggers vs fatphobia) & some of the things that you don’t like I see as him being sarcastic/rhetorical (the diet thing).

    • Yep, I’ve been schooled on who jay smooth is 🙂 And i like a good amount of his stuff!

      I, too, like his broader point, but he seems to be a very smart guy…I don’t think his word choice is just accidental. Yes, he may be doing it to mock people’s willing sacrifice of sour skittles, but he also very plainly states “you should be giving this up anyway.” That says more than just “giving up skittles is a really weird/odd way to protest something you think is horrible.” It says there are foods people should and should not eat. And that is the problem I have with it. He’s using humor around eating “bad” foods to make his point, and I don’t think he needed to go there. He could have just as easily made the point by hammering home exactly what you’re talking about…the “sacrifices” are completely ridiculous.

  3. *sigh* So many progressives are only progressive in their 1 one area. In the Occupy movement I’ve seen way too many posts/art/peices with the 1% depicted as a FAT enemy.

  4. Jay Smooth is not a comedian, he’s a former DJ and a social justice activist and has some amazing videos, that one sentence does not, IMO, invalidate his entire body of work. Perhaps he could be reached. He has a youtube channel, I think it’s called ill doctrine.

    • Absolutely no where in my post did I say that the piece in question “invalidates his entire body of work” (and for the record, it’s not one sentence, it’s the entire tone of the video). I’m saying that people who do good social justice work can ALSO have shitty views about body image. You don’t get a pass because you do good work.

      Thanks for posting the video on chris brown. you’re right, it is very good. I’m sure he has lots of great videos. Perhaps I will reach out.

  5. That’s an excellent example of his typical work.

  6. Choice is everything to me. Choice means independence. Choice means creating your own future rather than being the victim of it. I don’t care what the subject is, though in this case “unhealthy” food, that’s beside the point…it’s about the choice itself, always! Thank you for speaking up. Wish I’d seen it I would have been happy to speak to you side of the cause.

  7. You’re right, I screwed that up. I knew when I watched it back after editing that I hadn’t been as precise as I wanted to, about usage of the word “diet” and speaking of eating choices as good/bad always/never absolutes, but I hoped that since there were no references to “fat,” “obesity” etc. it would not come off like I was equating weight questions with health questions, or indicating that I believe losing weight means getting healthier or being “good.”

    But after having more time for it to marinate and to absorb people’s feedback, I’m realizing that it wasn’t sufficient simply to separate nutrition/health from weight/size (which I didn’t entirely succeed at anyway). I also failed to be mindful of the can of worms, or can of assumptions and generalizations and judgments, opened just by offhandedly/simplistically connecting health with eating to begin with. Especially since having words like “virtuous” in the mix suggested that questions of virtue and morality are at play when one talks about eating. So I apologize, and I really appreciate your thoughtful and much-kinder-than-they-needed-to-be responses.

    • Now THAT’S how to apologise with grace and dignity. Thank you Jay.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful and honest response and apology, I truly appreciate it. You could have gone the “I’m sorry you’re offended” route, so thank you for choosing to own your words instead.

      I totally hear you about the desire to separate weight and health in your piece, I just think we are so far from being able to do that effectively given the framework within which we live. Fat hatred has masked itself as “concern for your health” for just so very long, so to tease the two apart is essentially impossible. Not sure we’ll ever be able to (and whether that fact is necessarily a bad thing, actually).

  8. All right, a little sarcasm here, but why not give up sex until abortion ends? Get enough people to do that and you might get a little closer to your goal, or at least make it irrelevant.
    And I thought the idea was to give up something that’s difficult to give up, irrespective of whether that something is healthy or not. In that sense, ice cream or soda is about as good a choice as anything else.

  9. I do love Jay Smooth, but was SO disappointed that he went down that road with the piece. I understand his sentiment – that the things people are claiming to give up are mostly luxuries that it won’t really be any challenge to give up, but I was so pissed that he had to couch it in food shaming and healthism.

    Disappointing from Jay.

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