Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Illusion of Concern: Fat Shaming

Beth Ditto- front-woman for The Gossip (a great fecking band, btw)- posed au naturale for NME recently. Ditto pretty much totally kicks ass. She knows what she wants and likes, and she just kind of goes for it, regardless of what other people might think. She's an outspoke advocate for gay rights, an out lesbian, is currently dating a transgendered man, doesn't shave, and loves tattoos. She's also about 210 lbs and makes no secret of the fact that she loves her body.

So, posing for NME has drawn some attention.

It looks like some people have mixed feelings on it. On the one hand, it's great to see a big woman proud of her body and the cover is like a giant middle finger to the all the covers of tiny size 0 models that get pushed as the norm. On the other hand, as some people point out, it's still a naked woman being used to sell a magazine. So, it's tough to know exactly how to feel about it.

You know what's not tough to know how to feel about, though?

The people who see that post as an opportunity to lecture everyone on how unhealthy it is to be fat.

Every time someone posts anything remotely related to weight and not being ashamed of being big, people crawl out of the woodwork to moralize and lecture about the dangers of being fat, and how if only we'd put our minds to it, we could lose weight. Look through some of the comments there- people call Ditto "disgusting" and say that she's gross because she's carrying around "blubber." They go on about how awful her weight is, and what a horrible standard of beauty we're trying to push by telling people to be like Ditto. They drag out comments that nobody likes looking at women like her, etc etc.

Why does this happen? What's really going on here? They'll claim that they're just worried about other people's health, and the huge risks that being obese present, but is that really what's going on? Obviously not.

Here's the thing: it's none of your fucking business how healthy Beth Ditto is.

I know that's hard for some people to grasp, but it's true. Her health isn't your concern, unless you're somehow intimately associated with her. If you're her sibling, or her boyfriend, or her friend, or her doctor, then you can show some concern for her health. If you're a random stranger on the interwebs who doesn't know two things about her lifestyle, then you can kindly fuck off. It's not your business if she's fat. It's not her business what risks you take in regards to your health, and it's not your business what risks she takes in regards to hers.

I'm going to repeat some of the things I said there, but it's worth repeating: You can claim that you're concerned about her health, but it's obvious that's not what's really going on. You don't know fuck-all about her actual health. Seeing a picture of her only lets you see how big she is. It doesn't tell you anything about her actual health. I'd wager that none of us know a damn thing about her health. We don't know what she eats. We don't know if she works out. We don't know what her blood pressure is. We don't know how active her lifestyle is. We're not her personal doctor, so her health is really a mystery to us.

And, again, even if we did know about her habits? So fucking what? Why is it your business?

I don't work out. I eat like shit. I work a desk job and sit on my ass. I play video games and watch movies, and I eat too much pizza. I do these things, knowing that my health suffers as a result. So far, my enjoyment of these things has been greater than my fear of the health risks. That's my choice. Nobody calls me disgusting over it, or criticizes me. Why? Because I'm not fat. I went to see the women of Big Moves perform while I was in Boston last month. Any one of them is clearly in better shape than I am, even though I'd guess that all of them weigh more than me. They're active, though. They work out. They dance. They're active.

People who go off on fat shaming will always claim that it's about health. The medical community is finding that weight is not an indication of health. Doctor after doctor report that fitness exists independent of weight. Articles are being written about the findings that an active lifestyle is more important than how much you weigh. Weight is not fitness. One has nothing to do with the other. A "fat" person who exercises does not have a statistically significant increase in mortality than an active person of any other weight.

Fat shaming is about aesthetics, not health. It's about someone finding fat disgusting, and wanting to make it clear to fat people that they're gross. There are tons of things we do every day that are dangerous to our health, but fat shamers won't target those things. They don't tell people who drink regularly that they're gross and disgusting. They don't tell people who smoke that they're awful people and could change if they wanted to. They don't tell people who go out tanning- which is much more dangerous than being fat- that they're disgusting and nasty.

Here's my take on the Ditto photograph: I think it's fabulous because it's a woman who has a body a lot closer to the norm than most of the skinny models you see on magazines, and she's not ashamed of it. She's proud of what she looks like, regardless of how jerks like fat shamers try to push her into feeling bad about it. That's good for all women. You don't have to look like her to be happy with your body. If you're unhealthy you should want to get healthy for health's sake and for your own sake, not because a bunch of asshats have convinced you that being fat is ugly, which is the attitude fat shamers reinforce.


Stupendousness said...


All I can really add is that I have so many health problems, and even had high cholesterol at age 20, and I've never been overweight. My cholesterol is normal now, but I have arthritic disks, migraines, insomnia, and allergies. I'm a freakin' mess, but you can't tell that from the outside.

My 300 lb sister? She has some health issues, but none of them are directly linked to her weight. I was always sick with colds as a child, but my sister was hardly ever sick. (And she's way awesome and beautiful to boot.)

Nor do I understand the hoopla over Beth Ditto's nudity being used to sell the magazine. I think it's obvious that Beth Ditto was more than happy to pose nude, she didn't do it to please others, and the photo isn't even sexual. I think her personality, as I've perceived it through her writing, comes through in the photo.

With most images of women in magazines, you could easily replace one with another get the same effect: no personality, no uniqueness.

Cara said...

Great post.

Those comments pissed me off. They were trolls, though. I think there are two possibilities: one is that they showed up on the site after Jessica did her interview with the Colbert Report. The other is that there are assholes just out there searching for posts about overweight people so that they can join in on fat-shaming, or start the fat-shaming if they actually manage to find a site that didn't start it for them.

Roy said...

Yeah, most of them were trolls, but it's not just them. I've seen this before on other sites. There are plenty of places where even regulars will take the opportunity to pile on fat people.

I'd say it's almost got to be a combination of regular lurkers and people searching for posts about weight, because it's happens every time there's a post about it. It doesn't even matter how tagentially related weight is.

That's actually what leads me to think that they're lurkers. If Jessica posted something about... I don't know... her favorite burger joint? Whatever. Something not directly related to weight. You'd see a handful of posts about what she was talking about, and then, I'd wager anything, the minute someone in the comments mentions weight, there'd be a piling on by the anti-fat crowd. They'd start talking about how awful it is to tell fat people it's okay to be fat, or to suggest that you shouldn't humiliate and attack people for their weight.

I think that it's a topic that gets me a little bit because I used to be that person- the guy who'd say shitty things about people I decided were "fat". I don't know. It's not something I'm proud of, and I guess maybe that's part of why I react so strongly about it now.

Cara said...

Agreed, there definitely are lurkers and they do always manage to come out of the woodwork. The thing is that they only come out when it's a post all about body image, and don't pick a fight if it's just mentioned in passing in a post about something else.

I also agree with seeing the same thing in myself. I long-held a prejudice towards obese people, and it's still something that I'm working on coming to terms with. It's one thing to defend women who the media call "fat," even though they're NOT FAT-- something I've done for a long time-- and to realize that when they're talking about someone who IS actually fat, that person is not any less deserving as human being because of their weight and they are no more deserving of having their weight scrutinized. I do, in fact, have concern for the health of the obese. Obesity IS an epidemic in this country. And though there are very many overweight people who are very healthy, America is the most obese nation in this world for a reason. That being said, there is no reason to call people who are overweight or obese "disgusting" or to say that they are lazy, unattractive, ugly, etc., etc. And when people say things like "Fat isn't beautiful BECAUSE it causes heart disease," they're not talking about health at all, otherwise the word "beautiful" wouldn't come into the equation.

EG said...

Off-topic, but...I'm glad to read your blog!

Chandra said...

Whenever people bring up the concept that fat and healthy or fit can't go together, I'm always reminded of Jennifer Portnick.

She was a trained aerobics instructor who jazzercise turned down because she weighed 240 lbs and the company claimed it wouldn't be good for their image to have her teach their classes. However, she had the ability and the experience to meet the requirements of the job.

Sure, it's a problem that as a trend the weight of the country is going up. But, I think accepting that most people are going to be healthier if they eat right and exercise more regardless of if they lose much weight doing so or not, we would be much better off. I think many people buy into the idea that being thinner is healthier and so when they do try to change their diet or exercise, they get discouraged when it "doesn't work" because they don't lose weight and they stop.

Jaclyn said...

Well, and let's not forget the practical side: fat shaming doesn't work. It may work to funnel billions (yes, with a "b") into the diet industry, but it doesn't actually make anyone thinner OR healthier.

You know what might work to make some of us thinner and many, many of us healthier? Changing the way food is produced and distributed in this country. If corn weren't so heavily subsidized, there wouldn't be cheap cheap corn syrup in nearly everything we eat. If agribusiness were more interested in nutrition than shelf-life, maybe it wouldn't cost exponentially more for a calorie of vegetable as it does for a calorie of twinkie or Big Mac or tv dinner. There's a reason obesity's a much larger problem among the poor, and it's sure as hell not laziness.

You want to improve people's health through their diet? Shame Congress and the corporate asshats into fixing our food system. Leave my fat ass alone.

Anonymous said...

Beth Ditto is hot, and I approve of what she did probably for the wrong reason.
I don't see why people are trashing on Beth. She wasn't trying to be a poster child for good health (but just because someone has a little weight doesn't necessarily mean that they are unhealthy), and from my perspective I just saw her as expressing her confidence in herself. Beth is beautiful and she knows it, and I am glad she feel no shame in showing us her hidden feminine charms (which were truly a delight to look at, especially her eyes).

If I wasn't married I would be all over that woman.

wellie said...

Here's the thing: it's none of your fucking business how healthy Beth Ditto is.
... right effing on, roy. as if her dress size determines the timbre of her voice. i mean, i can't imagine a discussion of how strung out iggy pop looked onstage during a performance or on an album cover getting scutinized in this manner.

mo pie said...

I can't believe I missed this post: you are awesome. If you ever want to do a guest post at my blog, get in touch. I am at I'd love to have you.

Natalie said...

Hugs to you, sweetie-pie!!! You've said what I say ALL the time. Why should anyone care what size someone else is?

Thanks for posting this!!! And, much and many hugs to you, baby-doll!

Anonymous said...

I have one word in response:


Anonymous said...

I don't care about overweight peoples' health. They disgust me because they are absolutely foul to look at. Yes it is my business, I have to pollute my vision with them every day. They deserve to be shamed because they have no self-respect.