Fat acceptance: Fat bullying

This is part 2 of a six-post series on fat acceptance, based on a talk I did in 2008.

In part 1, I wrote about fat acceptance and being gentle with ourselves. In my opinion, we must start with ourselves, because it is painfully obvious that our culture is horrible to fat people.

Size prejudice and fat bullying can have a devastating effect. Fat children have committed suicide rather than face their school mates. Young women die from eating disorders because they’re terrified they will become fat. But they might be more likely to accept their imperfect bodies if everyone treated fat people with the respect we deserve.

How we perceive and treat others based on the way they look is a choice. We’re all aware that fat people get treated poorly in today’s society, but we rarely take a stand on it. We cringe when someone makes an ethnic, racial, or handicapped joke. But most of us laugh at fat jokes. We are grossly underrepresented on television and in the media, although there are some signs that things may be changing.

A few months ago, a news anchor named Jennifer Livingston stood up to a bully who had emailed her, telling her that she didn’t set a good example to be on television because she’s fat. If you haven’t seen it, check it out:

Kudos to Jennifer Livingston and everyone who supported her. But what her bully said was typical of the kind of treatment fat people have to deal with. If you are or have ever been fat, like me, you likely have direct experience with size prejudice or fat bullying.

When I use the word “fat,” it’s in an attempt to take away the power that the word has to shame us. But it’s hard for me to use, because when I was growing up, “fat” was one of the words we were never allowed to call each other. “Fat” and “stupid” had no place in our house, thanks to my parents.

Think about the attitudes and judgments you make about fat people. You may be aware of some of those attitudes but hold the others subconsciously. We are so brainwashed by what society tells us a woman or a man should look like that we have a hard time recognizing our own beauty and the beauty in others. If we hold the attitude that fat people aren’t attractive or worthy of respect towards others, how can we be gentle with and respect our imperfect selves?

I am a Unitarian Universalist. If we laugh at fat jokes or even if we expect everyone to try to lose weight because being fat is “unhealthy,” are we affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person? Are we promoting equity and compassion in our relationships with each other?

I am lucky to have several Facebook friends who are active in the fat acceptance community—they have been part of it from the beginning. On this Martin Luther King Day, let us remember that there have always been a few people who have been willing to stand up and speak out against what they know is wrong.

Next time you hear negative body talk, speak out. Refuse to laugh at the next fat joke you hear. The culture of fat-bashing can only change one person at a time.


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