posted by fatfu
“I will say that fat hate is one of the last forms of prejudice in which even most people who are subjected to it think they are getting exactly what they deserve.”
That’s one of Meowser’s great summations that rattles around in your head for a while, planting its seeds.
In some ways fat seems so much like other marginalized identities. The way the culture constructs around us (and out of us) a nightmare image of plague and disease, moral dissolution and societal collapse is so reminiscent of (for instance) the way it has traditionally operated against sexual minorities.
But fat is also different. In part exactly the way Meowser says – the way we readily join in our own victimization. The pathetic rarity of a fat person who won’t bash themselves at the drop of a hat. Who will even suspect that prejudice and abuse is something we should resist. If not for ourselves, then for people like us.
But why are we like that?
I think in that last line – “people like us” – there’s a clue. We don’t really see ourselves as part of a group. And when we forget that we’re part of a group, when we see ourselves only as lone individuals with a “problem,” we forget that there’s more at stake than just our own individual welfare.
For one thing, there’s the welfare of an upcoming generation of fat children. Who are growing up in a world that so completely vicious and hysterical about weight that I can’t imagine what it must be like for them. (And I grew up in a world that was pretty damn horrible about fat.)
But what’s behind our failure to identify with and ally with each other is an even deeper, more basic failure of identification: our inability to see our fatness as a fundamental part of who we are. To own it. .
How often do we listen to the most grotesque and offensive comments about fat and feel weirdly unable to respond as the ones being attacked? We think: “No, that wasn’t about me – that was about fatter people”….or: “I’m only fat right now, I’ll be thin later“…or: “I’m fat, but only because I’ve let myself go”… “This isn’t my body“…”This isn’t the real me.”
Somehow, even while the culture demonizes us to the point of overkill and exhaustion, it denies us the one useful side effect such hate campaigns usually create: the formation of a group identity that we can see ourselves as belonging to.
And without that group identity, we don’t quite know, even, how to take offense when offense is given.
We’re pinned by twin myths, which tell us we must not identify with fat, as fat, and with other fat people. And these myths are thrust upon us us with same urgency with which we’re told our bodies are dangerous and unacceptable.
The first is myth that our fatness is temporary and transitory, that we can expect to become “normal” at any time (and should always be trying). Even if it’s an escape that almost nobody manages for any meaningful length of time.
The second is the myth that everyone has the same potential to become fat, and that – outside of our being responsible for the decline of civilization – there’s nothing really different about us. That the differences between fat and thin aren’t (as they are) an elaborate patchwork of genetic, physiological, biochemical, psychological, behavioral and experiential differences. But instead can be reduced to a mind-boggingly reductive equation: calories in minus calories out.
These two myths do make fat different from other identities – like race, gender and sexual identity – whose oppressions lie in large part in having been conceived in completely the opposite way – as fixed and immutable polarized identities, so essential to who you are that they circumbscribe the behavior and opportunities you’re allowed. Seeing gender that way, for instance, leads to a world where men and women each have their own rigidly defined place, and where transgendered individuals have no place at all.
But going too much the other way – refusing to recognize and respect any difference – creates its own oppressions. For instance, denying gender differences exist or are important is just as dangerous as insisting that men and women are totally different species.
And that’s where we are with fat. We’re paralyzed in our own defense because of the culture’s extremist refusal to recognize and respect the reality, complexity and intractability of our differences.
It’s that extreme, unrealistic conception of fat that’s behind the bizarre categorization of fat as a “choice” and (often seen in public health literature) a “behavior.” Instead of what it so blatantly is: a physical trait.
And because fat is conceived in such a distorted way, we’re only allowed to say that fat is what we are, but not who we are. And so we aren’t able to let the identity which so defines us define us in a way that would help us – to see ourselves as part of a group with shared interests and a shared fate.
And that leaves us confused and isolated, abandoning ourselves and (most importantly) abandoning each other. Leaving us utterly at the mercy of the cultural hatred.