Print Edition: November 19, 2014
When I was in elementary school, I remember one of the first times I was allowed to walk home. I was excited, nervous, and ready to embrace some newfound independence. I had made it just outside of the school parking lot when several older kids rolled up on their bikes and started pelting me with rocks and names: fatty, lardball, chubster, pig, etc. But already at the age of six, the name-calling was nothing new. This continued well into my high school years. I have since lost a significant amount of weight, but the mental scars remain deeply embedded in my psyche.
I am constantly reminded of the awful and sometimes violent ways we treat people viewed as overweight. A while ago I read a story about a young woman who was physically assaulted at a SkyTrain station by a pair of young men for being fat. When I was younger, I viewed these assaults as primarily my fault. Maybe I was too dumb or was just a bad person. Had she done something to these men, other than dare to exist within their purview?
As I’ve grown older I’ve come to realize fat-shaming (and body-shaming) is something we as a culture love to do. We live in a society of rampant, imagined, self-styled individualism which tells us anything is obtainable if you set your mind to it, and therefore fat people simply choose to be fat. And in a world where we believe individual agency is the be-all and end-all, choosing to be fat is the greatest moral failing of all. Then people rationalize, saying only the lazy can be fat, only the stupid can be fat, only the gluttonous, the greedy, the slothful … In this context, hatred of fat people is really one of the last bastions of “safe hatred.” If they choose to be fat, it’s their fault and that makes bullying okay, right?
Those who engage in such degradation defend themselves by saying they do it to motivate and encourage a healthier lifestyle. Nothing could be more offensive. Not only is it incredibly superficial, but it reflects a stupefying level of misunderstanding about body weight and health issues. Fat is a symptom of much deeper causes: depression, anxiety, metabolic issues, and much more. The ironic thing is that studies show those who eat for comfort are only spurred to eat more when they are unsurprisingly stressed out by being harassed for being overweight. Being fat is the most visible symptom of another affliction. Where, exactly, are the shamers for binge drinking, chronic drug use, and smoking? It’s not there because those are socially approved methods of self-destruction.
Moderation and knowledge are key in all things. I want to create a place where people like the lady at the SkyTrain don’t have to live in fear of being assaulted simply because of how they look. As for myself? Even though I can intellectualize these arguments, to this day I still struggle to accept myself despite losing well over 100 pounds. Has the quality of my life improved after losing weight? Certainly. But it has arguably less to do with the physical change than it does the reality of how differently I am treated by other people as a result. If fat-shamers purport to do what they do out of a perverted sense of concern for others, then perhaps they should consider the long-term health consequences of their bullying.