In case you think I exaggerate the abominable treatment of fat people in this culture, please enjoy this piece by Jaime O’Neill from Sacramento News & Review.
[F]at’s not funny anymore, not given the sheer number of fat people thundering through America’s malls and markets. As Alfred Hitchcock understood, even things that are benign in small numbers become creepy en masse. Little birdies are cute—even sweet—but when the flock blots out the sun, it’s creepy.
And that’s how it’s become with fat people. You’re everywhere these days, people of a size once found only in tents where yokels paid a quarter to gawk at them. You’re not just fat; you’re huge, ponderous, beyond jumbo, a vast and undulating formidability of flesh, an avalanche of avoirdupois, a devolution of the species back to a future of protoplasmic balloon creatures.
I wish I could figure out a way to fit that last line onto a Fat Hate Bingo card; I swear, sometimes it seems like journalists perpetuate the notion of an “obesity crisis” just because it gives them an excuse to bust out the thesaurus and exercise the flowery descriptive sentence-writing muscles that have been atrophying since their freshman creative writing classes. (The word “undulating” is an inevitable favorite, even though fat people don’t actually move through the world in slow motion, so it’s actually pretty hard to catch us undulating in public.)
I’m not usually one to employ the “Imagine if he said this about X other group of people!” argument — since every group you could name still has its own important battles to fight — but that passage up there seems to be begging for it. So indulge me for a moment. Look at that first paragraph:
As Alfred Hitchcock understood, even things that are benign in small numbers become creepy en masse. Little birdies are cute—even sweet—but when the flock blots out the sun, it’s creepy.
and imagine he’s talking about immigrants, not fat people.
Now remind yourself that he is talking about fat people — emphasis on the “people.” And this was published. In an alternative weekly — the kind of publication that, while not necessarily being known for the most impeccable journalistic standards, is generally known for being a bastion of progressive thought. As in, the kind of thought not generally known for eliciting “The barbarians are at the gates, and we normal people must rise up!”-type statements.
Yet, according to this jackass, my family and I and many of our friends represent a “devolution of the species.” A devolution of the species. Did you catch that? Remind you of anything?
Wait. It gets better.
Contemporary America begins to look more and more like that old movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, in which aliens take over the bodies of earthlings, exact replicas of the people whose identities they assume, but minus feelings and emotions. In Body Snatcher: 2007, however, the aliens have snatched the bodies of normal Americans and made them unable to wedge themselves into most public seating or, if able to sit, completely unable to extract their bloated butts from those no-longer-adequately-sized seats once their full weight has spread and settled.
The “snatched” bodies are still apparently “minus feelings and emotions” in this version, though — since believing that is about the only justification I can imagine for speaking this way about actual human beings. For fuck’s sake.
Oh, and fat people are also evidently superhumans who never suffer from disabilities:
Lots of those obese people deal with it by purchasing electric carts to haul themselves around in. You’d think when you’d gotten too damn fat to walk, that fact might be a wake-up call, a message from God or just an indication that something is a little out of whack in the old lifestyle department, but the message lots of Americans take from the confabulation of flab is that it’s time to motorize the motion.
Um, yeah. You’d think when you see a person on a motorized scooter, you might consider the possibility that she has a disability or illness that makes walking painful, regardless of her size. You might consider the possibility that he has arthritis or fibromyalgia or is recovering from chemo. You might consider the possibility that she racked her knee playing soccer two days ago. I mean, if you were a progressive, you might. If you’re just a hateful dicksmack who wishes everyone in the world looked exactly like you, you probably wouldn’t.
So hey, maybe this guy doesn’t consider himself a progressive. Maybe he’s the kind of fucknut who does feel the same hatred and disgust for people with disabilities, immigrants, non-white people, gay people, etc. — ergo not the kind of person whose opinion I should dignify with a moment’s thought.
But wait, what’s this? Oh, there’s more to his argument than “Fat people are creepy!” Fat people are also
becoming a living metaphor for the way the United States is viewed by much of the rest of the planet: a rapacious, gluttonous, insatiable nation of swine, the Pig People of North America, the fat neighbors who are fouling the whole neighborhood, consuming everything in sight, and strewing waste in your wake. According to figures from the U.S. Department of Energy, each person in the United States consumes twice as much energy as Germans, 12 times that of Colombians, and almost 30 times the consumption of India’s citizens. For each American’s consumption, 127 Haitians or 395 Ethiopians could consume away.
Whee! It is an alternative weekly!
Except, isn’t it the rich people who engage in the most egregious overconsumption? And isn’t it the poor people who are most likely to be fat? Doesn’t that create a small problem with your argument that the solution to our cultural profligacy is, uh, for fat people to diet? ‘Cause really, that’s the only substantive argument I’m seeing here. Not that people should stop buying fucking Hummers to drive around cities with excellent public transportation, or that we should quit building 5,000 square-foot houses for families of four, or that, you know, killing people for oil isn’t very nice. Just that fat people need to stop being fat. Have I already said “for fuck’s sake”? ‘Cause for fuck’s sake.
I first read the theory that fatphobia is a manifestation of our cultural anxiety about overconsumption in The Obesity Myth a few years ago, but I’ve never seen it illustrated quite so blatantly before. Thank you for connecting the dots with a goddamned Sharpie, Jaime O’Neill.
And thank you for giving me a perfect opportunity to bust out this quote, also from Paul Campos, once again:
Remember that particularly clueless right-wing acquaintance of yours? The one who believes that anybody in America can become rich, because he thinks about poverty in a completely unscientific, anecdotal way, which allows him to treat the exceptional case as typical? The one who can’t seem to understand the simplest structural arguments about the nature of social inequality?
The next time you see some fat people and get disgusted by their failure to “take care of themselves,” think about your clueless friend.