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13 October 2010 @ 01:31 pm
A case study  

Something to observe and to ponder, while it's available to us...

Because it is very, very available to us right now.  Our own personal case study in bigotry.

Let me first say, from the outset, that I understand perfectly well that people who have experienced hardcore racism, sexism, homophobia, disability discrimination, and cultural imperialism can get very incensed over the notion (and even the mention) that people who are overweight are subject to "bigotry".  I've been on the receiving end of such rage before, and I suspect probably will again.

I stress that I am not, for an instant, going to say that the experience of being overweight in the American culture is as bad as the experience of being a group customarily subject to bigoted opinions.  There are many key differences.

But what I will say is this:

The way that the general public responds to those who are overweight seems, to me, to be a very adequate model for observing how behavior can get out of control when the predominant group is being taught, both openly and surreptitiously, that their particular type of bigoted opinion is in fact right and correct.

People are highly defensive of their shaming of the overweight, because it really is on the boundary as far as acceptable behavior goes.  Because we, as a society, still haven't entirely made up our minds that hating the overweight is wrong; it might be effective; it might actually change, if not all (let's face it, there are always the lesser-abled), then at least most fat people to align with our cultural body ideal.  The response to fat-positive subcultures is particularly violent, on the order of, "You are being so irresponsible to even imply the idea that the overweight should be allowed to feel good about themselves!  THEY MUST BE ERADICATED."

Please note:  there are legal referenda in the news aimed at cutting health benefits for overweight people.  Yes, we're verging on the idea that overweight people deserve to die.

If you say that, in fact, overweight people are utterly responsible for what they experience "because you eat too many Twinkies", I'm not going to argue with you.  I'm not in the least interested in educating even a single person about why it may or may not be appropriate to judge someone who has a weight problem.  I've been having that conversation for most of my life, and frankly, it's starting to bore me.  Do your own research, and if you don't care to, then just leave your little opinion and be on your little way.  My interest is in the effect our opinion of the overweight as a society has on our treatment of them.

I think this cultural paradigm is in the process of shifting, but it's still very much on the cusp, and from what I've seen, we as a culture still lean toward "it is acceptable and even prescribed to shame the overweight".

While we're still on that end of the swing, do observe how people behave toward fat people in this culture.  Whether you think it's bigotry or not, it looks like it, and sounds like it, and smells like it, and it's out in the open where you can observe it freely, even if you're not a member of the disadvantaged group.  It's considered "rude" in many cases, but seldom is it considered "evil".  Take a nice, long whiff.  This is how humans behave when they truly believe there's nothing wrong with hating someone for the way that they look.  (Let's play bingo and see how long it takes for someone to respond with, "But being fat is about BEHAVIOR, NOT how you LOOK...")  Just. Listen. To. What. People. Are. SAYING.

This is why "being PC" exists.

This is why, whenever we finally reach a point in our culture that it's considered unacceptable to treat members of a group like shit just because they belong to that group, we get so very defensive about preventing certain kinds of triggery language and borderline-acceptable but utterly insensitive behavior.  Which isn't necessarily good or right, either.  Policing the words of those who truly mean no harm can get horrifically ugly.  It's just that the thing we fear -- the belief by others that they have a right to think of us as less and spread that belief by whatever means possible -- truly is a nasty, insidious, ubiquitous, terrifying, contagious, seemingly undefeatable monster.

I can't even provide links.  Not today.  Maybe another time.

Perhaps it provides an undeniable societal aggression vent, to have at least one group whom it is permissible to openly despise.  Perhaps there will always, always, always be somebody who falls under the knife.  I really don't know.

I suppose we can't give up.

Today is very tiring.
 
 
Current Mood: disappointeddisappointed
 
 
 
soonest_mendedsoonest_mended on October 13th, 2010 05:47 pm (UTC)
The crazy thing is that even when people aren't actively hating on other people who are overweight, they have this creepy way of ignoring them. It's bizarre, because how do you just ignore another person, and especially because you'd think that someone would be extra-aware, almost, of a group that they're bigoted against.

But, I mean, here in the south the population of morbidly obese people, those who can hardly walk because of the problems that come with their weight, and I have never so much as spoken to someone wheelchair-bound by weight without getting a shocked reply, or sometimes just a confused glare followed by silence. Which makes me realize, over and over, that nobody talks to them. They're people, capable of thinking and talking, frequently engaged in art or crafting because it's something they can do and be good at, with kids and family members and library cards and taxes and their own favorite kind of laundry detergent, and somehow it's strange to them that someone might actually engage them in conversation.

It makes me hate the culture here. I don't think it's an accident that here, where fat-shaming and weight bigotry are rampant and completely unchecked, we have such a high rate of obesity that goes far beyond 'overweight' and kills people at the age of forty. Once you slip past the accepted BMI, even if it would normally have been temporary (everyone gains and loses weight during their lives, right?), you're swiftly cocooned in silence and shoved to the margins of society, isolated and invisible.

Ugh IDEK. I'm rambling. It just makes me incredibly, cheek-gnawingly angry.
sleepygoof8784: Arthur/Gwensleepygoof8784 on October 13th, 2010 06:10 pm (UTC)
I can't even...just *flail*

Okay. So this is what I have been wanting to say, but not been able to find the words to say for a really long time.

I agree with you 100% on this. I hear things in the media about how fat people don't need acceptance because they can just "change" their habits and magically not be fat anymore-anyone who is overweight knows it's not quite that easy. And it makes me rage because no one seems to realize the implicit message in that sort of thinking. That it's okay to hate fat people for being fat because they are lesser people. There is something fundamentally wrong with them so they have to change.

Makes me crazy. And I still struggle with facing that sort of thought everyday. And now I'm rambling too.

But basically this: well said and *applause* for saying it!
kenjarikenjari on October 13th, 2010 06:15 pm (UTC)
Yes, yes, yes. (Do you read Shapely Prose? Kate Harding is no longer blogging there, but the archive remains and it is awesome)
I get especially annoyed at how anti-fat bigotry is often excused or justified by "health" concerns. I could go on at length about this, but I think you already know the words to that song. ;)
(Deleted comment)
gabrihlgabrihl on October 13th, 2010 07:08 pm (UTC)
Thank you. I cannot even begin to express my relief at reading this post, because it's so, so true. Overweight people have become the social pariahs, and what's worse is that we are expected to deal with that. Like it has become our social plot in life to be the ones who are mocked and disdained. Even more horrible is the fact that we are not even permitted to defend ourselves from such mockery or disdain without earning more of it; either we "don't have a sense of humor" or we are abnormal and thus somehow omitted from the general populace of people who are permitted to find it rude and insulting and hurtful to be degraded.

How can people think this is okay?

It is because of this sort of stigma that I genuinely hate the way I look. I am disgusted by myself on a regular basis, because everywhere, on every form of social media, humanity regularly emphasizes that the only way to be attractive is if you are tiny with perfect skin and well done hair. The sad part is, because this has become such an ingrained part of our culture, there are far too many of us who believe it. I hate that my self esteem has been affected to such a degree, and yet I still cannot keep myself from feeling that way. It's gotten to the point that I have fully accepted the fact that I will never have a significant other, not because there is no one on this planet who might find me attractive, but because I loathe myself to such a degree that I could not bring myself to accept that sort of attention and affection.

And I'm rambling. Didn't mean to turn this into an all about me comment, but I am the best example I know of when it comes to talking about how this sort of thing makes me feel, act, and live. And yet the futility of trying to explain this to "normal" people...

You're right. Today is very tiring.

<3<3<3
babykid528: NCIS: hugglesbabykid528 on October 13th, 2010 07:35 pm (UTC)
It is because of this sort of stigma that I genuinely hate the way I look. I am disgusted by myself on a regular basis, because everywhere, on every form of social media, humanity regularly emphasizes that the only way to be attractive is if you are tiny with perfect skin and well done hair. The sad part is, because this has become such an ingrained part of our culture, there are far too many of us who believe it. I hate that my self esteem has been affected to such a degree, and yet I still cannot keep myself from feeling that way. It's gotten to the point that I have fully accepted the fact that I will never have a significant other, not because there is no one on this planet who might find me attractive, but because I loathe myself to such a degree that I could not bring myself to accept that sort of attention and affection.

THIS! I feel the exact same way! DX
gabrihlgabrihl on October 13th, 2010 07:48 pm (UTC)
*hugs* I need an icon like that.

It's gotten to the point that, in interactions with men, I no longer consider myself female. I have managed to ensconce myself into the group as just another one of the guys, because as broken as I am, I am still human. Better that form of interaction than to be utterly and entirely shunned.
babykid528: TWW: Toby My Heartbabykid528 on October 13th, 2010 08:29 pm (UTC)
The huggles icon is very useful. *nods* <3

It's lots of fun doing that automatic "friends only category" thing with anyone you might find attractive. :-P

I actually have a really good guy friend who has always been very vocal about his physical attraction to me (which is cool cause I could be vocal about my attraction to him too). And that should be a super awesome confidence booster, but it doesn't work that way if I can't make myself believe him when he tells me I'm attractive. And no matter how often he swears it, I just pretend that I believe him even though I don't get it at all. It's incomprehensible to me.
sleepygoof8784: bear hugssleepygoof8784 on October 14th, 2010 12:43 am (UTC)
Jumping in here, to say that this and the discussion you guys started in the first comment is so me. I am trying and still struggling to overcome this. You took the words right out of my mouth here. And it is so painful to feel this way, and yet how do we stop it?
ryokoturdburgler on October 13th, 2010 08:08 pm (UTC)
Did something happen? :|
Tigresstigress666 on October 13th, 2010 08:17 pm (UTC)
A good response to those that say this is about behavior (won't work in the health insurance arguement though), is to say, how does some one being overweight affect you? It's their own body to do what they choose with. Overweight is not something that catches, they aren't forcing their choice on anyone else, and it really only affects their health.

Of course, if you bring this up in terms of health insurance, they'll argue back that you will require more medical attention and that will cost more and it will affect the bill of everyone. To which I'll honestly say I don't have a response to that except that by that arguement everyone should be forced to not do anything that is unhealthy (which I will bet very very few people don't ahve something they would not give up in the name of not costing other people more). Shoot, even the thin people arguing about medical costs being more may not eat completely healthy themselves.
(Deleted comment)
kenjarikenjari on October 14th, 2010 12:51 am (UTC)
One of the good replies I've heard to the health care argument is that there are plenty of thin people living a healthy lifestyle that still need extra care due to various factors. And what about the people who do highly athletic things that put them at higher risk for various injuries and physical problems (i.e., serious runners who blow out their knees or get stress fractures in their feet).
Little Bobby Tableslizerati on October 15th, 2010 03:22 pm (UTC)
That is an incredibly slippery slope, to cut benefits for overweight people. Where's the line? What methodology do you use to determine who is overweight? Do you take the physical characteristics of the person's heritage in to consideration? (i.e. I think a Samoan and someone from Japan have very different definitions of overweight for people of the same height/gender/age)

I agree with the other commenters about the hypocrisy of targeting overweight people for limited health care without also limiting care for anyone who makes an unhealthy lifestyle choice. (Smoking and drinking are unhealthy. Living in a city is much unhealthier than living in the country. Eating factory farmed food is unhealthier. Almost no one lives a totally healthy lifestyle.)

What's really interesting to me is that people at both ends of the weight spectrum experience issues. I've always been overweight, so I naturally dismiss body image issues that thin people have out of jealousy. However, a friend of mine has always been skinny and it's only in her late 30s and early 40s that she is rounding out to being merely thin and not crazy skinny because that is how her body works. She was accused of being anorexic by more than one doctor (I've seen her eat. She is not anorexic. At all.), and her health concerns have been dismissed left and right.

I've always said that I don't like to make fun of people's looks because I can always find something so much better to mock about their mind. :) Everyone just needs to go a little easier on themselves and each other.
Little Bobby Tableslizerati on October 15th, 2010 03:25 pm (UTC)
Oh, also, when you're feeling more linky, could you direct me towards some info about the benefits debate? I want to rant on my blog but I want to do my research first :)
Harfafnorharfafnor on October 16th, 2010 03:46 am (UTC)
I'm not small, by any means, I have lost a lot of weight since the first of the year. But, what kind of struck me upon moving back home, a small town in Louisiana is how many people here are larger. It seems that more people here are more comfortable with this than in Atlanta while I was there.