Thursday, April 9, 2009

If you pretend it doesn't exist, it doesn't exist!

Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. “Dear Prudence” on, is into chats now, apparently. And this question came up:

Arlington, Va.: Dear Pru,

I need your feedback. I am a "woman of size". I have been all of my life. I work out regularly, don't overeat, but here I am. I'm not asking for diet advice. What I need is something different. I need advice on how to deal with the country's hostility towards overweight women. Women of size are not seen as date-worthy, have insurmountable negative connotations associated with them (lazy, slobs, smelly... I'm none of those things!), and are in general treated poorly. Being judged for your looks is the last acceptable form of "prejudice". I guess what I'm most sad about is that this is such a tiny part of who I am, yet never gets overlooked. However, I'm still invisible. So, I guess my question is: how do I overcome my anger at people who feel it's okay to judge me?

First, Yoffe’s response, and then my response to her response.

Emily Yoffe:: First of all, remember you're not alone. Most American are "people of size" so at any workplace or social setting you are hardly going to be the only overweight person. Remember, often the way you are treated is in response to the way you act. You say your weight never gets overlooked, yet you are invisible. This sounds as if you spend a lot of time looking for ways to interpret encounters as being about your weight. I am not saying there is no fat prejudice out there. But if you are comfortable with yourself, and act as if you are, you will notice a lot less hostility.

I almost want to pinch Yoffe’s cheeks for being so...deliciously clueless. But let me say first to Arlington, VA., and everyone else in general: drop the “Last Acceptable Prejudice” hoo-hah now, please. Because it’s not. And engaging in the Oppression Olympics is foolish and undermining to anyone’s cause. Now, back to Yoffe’s “advice”, which boils down to “people won’t be mean if you behave” with the obligatory “oh, well, hurr hurr I certainly don’t doubt there’s no fat prejudice out there”.

Is there air on your planet? On your very, very privileged planet? All you have to do is watch network television for an evening, look at any tabloid at the checkout stand, or read the fucking internet and there is fat prejudice everywhere. EVERYWHERE. If you stopped fat women on the street and asked them when was the last time they felt like they caught shit for their weight, be it blatant or otherwise, I’d bank they could rattle off quite a hefty list of grievances. I also don’t think Yoffe quite gets the idea of fat not being overlooked, yet making one invisible at the same time from a fat woman’s perspective. I’ve had plenty of occasions where I would say that I have felt invisible and yet simultaneously quite obvious because of my fat. Dismissed and ignored because of my fat. Being dismissed and ignored would certainly fall under the umbrella of “invisible”, I think.

Let’s also take a moment to address the idea of “start acting like you’re comfortable with yourself and people will not be mean”. I think many of us have learned that being comfortable with ourselves and being public about it doesn’t exactly warm the hearts of all people, everywhere. If there’s a blogger on the Fatosphere that hasn’t gotten at least one comment telling us to shut up and quit complaining, to stop being fat, to go on a diet because they DO SO work, to stop being lazy/binging/ugly/stupid...well, I would eat my hat. Embracing how we look and loving how we look is a threat. And the thing’s not only a threat when fat women do it. Women refusing to adhere to the demands of the very narrow spectrum of what is considered “beautiful” is a threat to the weight loss industry, it’s a threat to the patriarchy, it’s a threat to the fashion industry, it is a threat to everything we are taught from the get-go about what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” and what women should do in order to be “good” instead of “bad”.

Later in the chat, a participant chimes in with this, which is all kinds of awesome:

For the “woman of size”:Check out the Fat Acceptance movement! It's a wonderful way to work on combating the kind of prejudice you describe, and to connect with other people (mostly women) who have similar experiences. I'm particularly fond of Kate Harding's Shapely Prose blog, but just google Fat Acceptance, and you'll see lots of options.

Yoffe’s response (I can so easily imagine her sniffing with derision)? Good advice, thanks. But I also think the "woman of size" needs ways to think less about her size. Uhhhhh-huh. So if we all just think less about our size and more about...oh, I don’t know, pretty shoes or kitties or unicorns, ALL THE BAD IN THE WORLD WILL GO AWAY. Yes, I realize I’m probably hyperbolic and heavily sarcastic and getting capslocky, but for fuck’s sake. I’d love to not think about my size. However, THE ENTIRE FRIGGING WORLD IS FOCUSED ON IT. If you read anything even resembling a major newspaper/website/watch news channels, there isn’t a fucking day that doesn’t sport some sort of “holy shit the fat oh my god the fat the fat is coming we are all fat we are eating ourselves to death think of the children don’t let them have sugar or cake or anything because the cake kills” story. And what makes it all creepier is that people eat it up without question. Any other stinking story about ANYTHING and eyebrows are raised, cynical statements are made, data that looks wonky is dismissed. Something about fat, though, and it’s BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES BECAUSE THE FATPOCALYPSE IS A-COMIN’.

FYI, the “Fatpocalypse” is here, and it’s not going anywhere because it’s always BEEN here. And it’s getting more visible. And, even’s getting louder.


Kristie said...


Kimberley O. said...

I read that article, too- and was just as shocked/amused by the cluelessness of Emily Yoffe. what I find really interesting is that Yoffe is a lean, slim woman - yet she wrote an article last year about how she took up weightlifting with a personal trainer to combat her 'lifetime's worth of flab.' the way she talked about her body in that article - the loathing she expressed for the softer bits of her body... it was kind of creepy to read, like she was expressing extreme dysmorphia and didn't know it - that she assumed that all woman would agree that even one ounce of uncontrolled flesh is GROSS and SHAMEFUL.

It seems to me that Yoffe has this total disconnect between that world - the one where the small pockets of fat on her own upper arms MUST BE ELIMINATED BECAUSE FAT IS WRONG and the one where a woman of size would feel like people look at her as if she were inherently wrong because she is fat.

Anonymous said...

This line that everything will be hunky dory if you don't think so much about your weight is a great big ol' vat of victim blaming! Your problems are only as big as YOU make them, by, y'know, THINKING about them. So if you still have problems you must still be thinking! Knock it off! Solve your own problems!

Bah. I HATE that line of reasoning. And it comes as often from people who really truly mean well as it does from people who are just clueless dopes.

Meowser said...

It could be worse. Pru could have told the fat woman that she's lying about her eating and exercise habits, or just has no idea about the evil twin who's pounding M&M's she can't remember tasting. Happens aaaalllll the time. (The accusations, that is, not the M&M snarfing by proxy.)

And yeah, I could see how being less self-conscious about your weight could reduce the problems you encounter as a result of it. That's reduce, though, not eliminate. I agree with you, she just has no idea.

Angie said...

It IS everywhere. I just had something come up yesterday at work that made me angry. I am a genetic counselor and had just talked to a woman about some risk factors in her pregnancy before her ultrasound. I went to discuss her medical issues with the ultrasonographer before the woman's ultrasound so the tech would know some things to look for. One of the woman's health issues was depression. I also told the tech it would be a somewhat limited scan, because the patient weighed 370 pounds. Doing an ultrasound when there a large fat layer is difficult because the picture isn't as clear (sound waves of the ultrasound have more to get through.) Anyway, the tech said "Oh my God, I would be depressed too!" As if the patient's depression was due to her weight. She is saying this to me, a person who weighs 260 pounds. I felt like saying, well I weigh 260, should I be suicidal too? It really, really irritated me. People just assume that if you are fat then how can you LIVE with yourself? How do you make it through a day?

Potterchik said...

"’s not only a threat when fat women do it."
Thank you for this. It is threatening when women appear to believe that we have inherent value as peope; when we however briefly see through the lie that we are morally obligated to be decorative.

Lucy said...

Fucking awesome.

One more buck-up-frowny-face comment in the same vein as "If you want a friend you have to be a friend" and I'll stab my pupils out with manicure scissors.

If I suddenly decide that I'm not going to worry about my weight, staple and paint on whatever kick-ass outfit I deem appropriate and go out for a night on the town, she really believes that will keep some random frat boy from pointing to me and saying "Dude, that's the kind of chick you're going to marry some day! HAR HAR HAR!" thinking my body so horrible it can be a weapon for torture?

That will keep the media from showing my headless body on the 10 o'clock news under the headline "OMGTEHFATZEATFASTFOODZ"?

That will keep the little girl at the grocery store from saying, "Ew, mommy she's fat!" and the mother smirking and not saying a word of apology or admonishment?

No, it will do none of those things. I may be able to hold that smile on my face for the first few days, but after the constant onslaught of fat phobia and stereotypical assumptions, I'll end up going home to bury my head in the pillow and hear those never-ending voices... "No, I'll never be good enough."

justjuliebean said...

This annoys the shit out of me, too. I was invisible when I was 50 pounds heavier, now people think I'm cold, because my body image hasn't changed, but all of a sudden, people want to interact with me, and I'm not at all sure how to deal with this. I recognize that this is a problem with my self-esteem/body image, but nothing about me has changed other than my weight, and it has completely changed how others want to interact with me. So bullshit to her, and everyone else who thinks there isn't fat prejudice, and overweight/obese women are just imagining things.