Rapid Fire —
When I was in grade school, I faced quite a bit of torment from my classmates, but there was one bully in particular who really seemed to have my number: Mike Dougherty.
Although he took swipes at my weight, my glasses and my overbite, his favorite insult was to call me Brussels Sprouts because my last name is Russell, you see.
Nobody ever said bullies were all that clever.
In any case, Mike began challenging me to fight after school, and day after day he would call me a chicken and tell me how he was going to kick my butt. Finally, I got tired of listening to his bullshit and told him I would be at the top of the stairs near the playground after school.
When the bell rang, I trudged out the door and up the steps where I wait… and waited… and waited. Mike Dougherty never showed up.
And from that day forward, he never wanted to fight me any more. Of course, he still called me Brussels Sprouts because that’s what big, dumb bullies do.
The same can be said for the bullies who trade in fat hatred. The underlying principles are still the same, even though the bullying has become so thoroughly pervasive in our culture.
Sometimes I wish I could just blog all day because it seems like there’s more and more stories involving fat people. Stories that make me want to punch a wall, including weight-based criticism of Lady Gaga and Christina Aguilera (or not) and even Gerard Depardieu.
Gerard Fucking Depardieu still has to put up with petty shit like this:
Yeah, this whole “transformation” thing? Fuck that. It’s the same guy. He didn’t transmogrify. He gained weight. Same body, bigger fat cells, that’s all.
It’s like that obnoxious “new body” motif common to Us and OK!:
They must have Britney bodies stacked like cordwood in Hangar 51.
Then there was this obnoxious article in Psychology Today (it has now been deleted), covered deftly by Jezebel. In a nutshell, asshole psychologist goes to the grocery store, sees too many fat women and writes an article suggesting to women that their men need to do a better job of making them feel sexy so they won’t get all fat and disgusting and ruin his trip to the grocery store. Do not read it if you are anywhere near sharp implements and/or assholes or somebody’s going to jail.
And this is all just stuff I’ve seen in the past week.
It’s so disheartening to have all of this hate directed at fatties, which most often comes in the form of passive aggressive “advice” about these marvelous entities called calories that flutter in and out of our bodies like sprites. If only we fatties were truly devoted believers then the magical calorie sprites would transform our bodies into something 35 years younger.
It’s patronizing and it’s obnoxious and it’s ridiculous that people feel justified legislating the bodies of others. And, sadly, it has become so infused in our culture than the whole world can seem like hostile territory. And no doubt, the dickweeds and haters are out there, lying in wait to unload all of their self-loathing onto someone else. It sucks, but it’s true.
This is why so many fat people become prisoners in their own homes. They have suffered so frequently at the hands of juvenile hate-mongers that they would rather isolate themselves than risk another humiliation, public or otherwise.
If we, as a society, claim that our ultimate goal is to improve the health and welfare of all people, then we have to do what is best for all people.
From my perspective that means just one simple thing: back the fuck off with all the finger-wagging at fatties.
Shame and stigma don’t work. Don’t give me anecdotal evidence, just find me one decent study that proves stigma makes fat people thin and I’ll let you smash a dozen creme pies in my face and call me Fatass McGee.
Fortunately, I’m in absolutely no danger since no such research exists. But there is a significant body of research meticulously documented by Dr. Rebecca Puhl, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University. Her work shows that in terms of motivation, stigma and shame will backfire every time.
In fact, Weight of the Nation created a 19-minute, online-only segment on stigma, which includes an interview with Dr. Puhl.
As a result of growing consensus on the ineffectiveness of stigma, there’s been a recent, awkward shift in how public health officials try to balance public health messages. Somehow they have to keep telling fat people to get thin, while not using stigma to motivate the desired behaviors.
Strong4Life gave us two perfect examples of this cognitive dissonance, first when the National Institutes of Health condemned the billboard campaign and, more recently, when S4L began it’s brilliant “Let’s talk about your weight even though it’s not about your weight” campaign.
As a result, the medical profession seems to increasingly accept that it’s not possible to wage a War on Fat without harming fat people.
I know there are those who are persistently pessimistic in their view that society will never stop the War on Fat until each and every one of us is starved and shackled to a treadmill, but I still believe that we are seeing some incredible progress.
In fact, there’s been cultural shift that has taken place beneath our feet, almost unnoticed.
I mean, dissing fatties in tabloids has been a hallmark of tabloids from their very creation, so there’s nothing new there. And as long as there have been fat people, there have been busybodies with bad advice. The difference is that the War on Fat made those approaches seem like a legitimate motivational technique for draftees.
But something happened yesterday that made me feel optimistic like never before.
If you haven’t seen it, you’re in for a treat. Take four minutes to watch TV news anchor Jennifer Livingston of WKBT in LaCrosse, Wisconsin before continuing. Once you do, you’ll understand why I’m so hopeful.
Within the Fatosphere, we’re used to uplifting videos from fierce fatties taking a stand against bullies, but this was something above and beyond all those videos in terms of precedent.
Think about it… her husband posted a copy of this dickweed’s letter on Facebook and the public outpouring is such that her producer gave her four minutes of air time to address this issue directly. And Livingston’s words seemed to say everything that we’ve all been shouting for so long. But this time, it was where the people of LaCrosse, Wisconsin could see it.
Now it’s winding it’s way through the internet, spreading an amazing message of strength and courage for those who are moved by her message, as well as those who are waiting to scoff. What they witnessed was a woman with a spine of steel read word for word the judgmental, a hurtful email before delivering a truly inspired response that put the letter’s author, and all those like him, exactly where they belong: on the outskirts of civilization.
Because, let’s face it… we’ll never abolish all racism or xenophobia or sexism or homophobia or fat hatred. People hate those they stigmatize for deep-seeded reasons that we’ll never be able to fully understand. But why they hate us has never been the key to eradicating public hatred.
What has been the key, sad but true, is that the stigmatized, and those around them, have ultimately confronted the bullies and the haters and said, “Enough.”
And what we usually find is that, like Mike Dougherty, inside every bully is a loud-mouthed coward.
Like Livingston said, we are better than the bullies, and it’s time we let them know.