There seems to be an unspoken rule that it is perfectly okay for people to comment on other people’s bodies. And I am not referring just to the behind the back conspiratorial comments frequently accompanied by a wink wink nudge nudge to a nearby co-commenter. I am not even talking about the never-ending stream of body comments in the tabloids. I am talking about face to face full body slamming contact commenting by strangers who feel perfectly justified in walking up to someone and letting them know that they are fat. A public service announcement of immense proportions doled out as if I had been living my life under a rock.
“No, really??? Me??? Why, I hadn’t noticed! Thanks for telling me that…now I will fix it and my whole life will be better and all because of you!”
“Oh wait, don’t leave, how in the world shall I repay you?”
And then there are those who are more specific in their assault as they single out a particular body part that they find offensive or distasteful.
“Wow, you’d be such a babe if you lost some of that fat around your middle.”
To which the thought that inevitably crosses my mind is,
“I’m sorry…but have we met????”
Perhaps it’s not even the incidents involving strangers that are really the most egregious though. What about the times when you are with someone and you feel safe, loved, and sexy? Someone with whom you have shared intimate moments with…sans clothes…who suddenly finds it vital to inquire whether or not you have considered losing some weight in order to be really beautiful? Talk about a buzz kill!!!
Did I miss the amendment to the etiquette constitution that afforded people the right to give their unsolicited opinion about my body?
Where are the filters between thought and speech that most of us were taught growing up? You know the ones:
- Think before you speak.
- If you don’t have something nice to say, just don’t say it.
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
I can’t remember ever going up to someone and saying,
“Wow, you’d be great if you just dyed your hair a different color or grew six inches.”
(Apply that last one anywhere you’d like! ;-))
Lately, there has been an avalanche of news stories about bullying. Most of the attention has been focused on situations involving race, sexual orientation, or religion and include tips for intervening and explaining how most bullies were abused and are perpetuating the abuse cycle with their own bullying behaviors. The victims are offered support as well and are being counseled to speak up and not suffer in silence. Schools and workplaces are implementing zero tolerance policies along with both proactive and consequential strategies to eliminate bullying cultures. And I applaud this trend whole-heartedly.
But what about the situations where the targets are fat? When the targets are fat, the advice is almost certain to be,
“Just lose the weight and then you won’t be a target.”
“You are just asking for it by not losing weight.”
“The best revenge will be getting thin, that will show him!”
These attitudes are insidious in a variety of ways but one of the most destructive is that it implies that there is nothing wrong with shaming a person for being fatter than the bully’s definition of what is NOT too fat. And because many fat people already feel like failures in the diet game, we don’t feel it is our right to stand up to the perpetrator; instead a common inner monologue goes something like this:
“Guilty as charged! I am fat and deserve to be admonished for my crime against society. I am an eyesore in your world and if I walk out in public it means I have checked the box indicating that I accept the terms of agreement for users of the streets.”
And so I continue on my quest and ask the same QUEST(ion) I have been asking for so many years and no one has been able to answer.
“Why do we hate people just because they are fat?”
Chris Reid recently wrote a piece about respecting fat people in the Huffington Post and while it didn’t bring me any closer to the answer to my QUEST(ion) I found it a refreshing reminder about manners. Granted, it isn’t a perfect article but I for one am hungry for any public proclamation that calls for people to examine their prejudices and change their hateful points of view and actions. Mr. Reid appropriately directs people to examine their bias against fat people and own up to their inner bully. Reid does not exclude himself from having to go through this inner spring cleaning process as well, but the article assumes two things:
1. People are capable of that level of insight and
2. That insight leads to a change of behavior.
Those are assumptions that I find difficult to have faith in at times, but, if I didn’t believe in change of that magnitude, I would have thrown my therapist towel into the ring years ago. The gear shifting step from internal attitudinal change to external behavioral change is huuuuuuge, necessary and not easy. Once we admit that it is wrong to judge people based on their bodies and even “more wrong” to feel entitled to verbalize those opinions, we need to learn to speak up. I know, I know, that sounds contradictory…learn when not to speak and then learn to speak up, but think back and remember when we were learning what words we could and could not use in front of our grandmother and trust that we still have that skill set! Whether we are the victim, a reformed perpetrator, or the witness of fat bashing it is our responsibility to cultivate our own constant comments that tell ourselves or others,
“If you think you are helping, you are not.”
“Why are you so mean?”
“Have you considered another point of view?”
“Funny, I don’t recall asking for your opinion.”
Or if all else fails there is always the question about that six inches…