Natural Gas —
We got a special visitor yesterday. It seems that Kitsune struck a nerve with her post, “I See You,” triggering an onslaught of trolls such that even the execrable/excremental Tom “Do What I Say Not What I Do” Leykis thought he’d drop another doomed-for-moderation comment on us. You may recall that Leykis is a shock jock, “pick-up artist” guru and all-around terrible person who is too cowardly to respond to me publicly. Leykis has made four comments in the last five months, even though I’ve told him via email and Twitter that I won’t let his comments through.
It’s as if he just can’t help himself. Trolls come a’runnin’ for the rich taste of Fierce, Freethinking Fatties.
Here are all four gems Leykis has buried in our sandbox over time:
Yesterday’s struck me as particularly amusing. He begins by reassuring Kitsune (and all fat people, I’m assuming) that “Realistically, it’s very simple to lose weight and not be filled with self-pity and self-loathing,” followed by textbook “calories in/calories out/laws of thermodynamics” oversimplification before admonishing Kitsune (and all fat people) that “I’d rather not pay for the health care issues related to your poor lifestyle choices. You’re a loser.”
But you have to ask yourself: if losing weight is simple, then why is Tom Leykis so fucking fat?
I mean, if he’s paying for Kitsune’s insurance, then I’m paying for his insurance, right? Hey Tom, why don’t you simply use the Law of Thermodynamics go be thin and stop costing me so much fucking money insuring your fat ass??? You’re a loser! Oh, and you also need to do something about the cigar smoking and alcoholism too.
Of course, it’s not just the hypocritical fat dickweeds like Leykis who get some kind of sadistic pleasure from humiliating fat people, particularly fat women. We recently had the displeasure of meeting Dick Wisken, who makes up reddit stories for clicks. And before that it was Mike David, the Millenial Dudebro Leykis. And let’s not leave out the ladies, like Maria “What’s Your Excuse” Kang and Jillian “Biggest Dickweed” Michaels.
Then there’s the 70,000+ redditors on Fat People Stories (up from 40,000 in August), the ubiquitous sharing of photos of fat people being hilariously fat (no links… just Google “fat people are not attractive” and you’ll find a Tumblr full of fun), and the troubling practice of using photos of fat women as “thinspo” or “fitspo” blogs. Oh, and did I mention headless fatties?
So we have all this evidence — both the publicly known and the personally experienced — that fat people are widely mocked and ridiculed by a significant portion of the United States. Press a troll and they’ll happily tell you that everybody thinks fatties are hideous and horrible and grotesque. There is absolutely zero doubt that being fat leaves you open to criticism from others.
And yet, when Ragen Chastain shared her story of having eggs thrown at her while out running, people came out of the woodwork to tell us that it’s something that happens to all runners, that it’s not because she’s fat, that it’s just her imagination. When Strong4Life first began its rancid ad campaign aimed at fat kids, we were told it was no big deal, that it’s just a health campaign, that parents and kids need a strong message, that we’re overreacting. And, of course, when we give details of our many, many efforts to lose weight, we’re told we don’t count calories right, that we’re not exercising enough, that we just need to follow Plan 9 from Outer Space, that we’re lying liars.
It’s the classic case of “Who are you going to believe, me or your own lying eyes?”
Kitsune’s post merged two separate incidents of voyeurism: first, was her own experience with professors, peers and random people in public, while the second was Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Wait Watchers project. Most people took exception with the Wait Watchers project, as best summarized by this reddit comment: “I think its been determined time, and time again with this woman’s photos, that most of these people are reacting to the awkward situation she is creating, or are just being caught off guard on the street.” Unlike most comments I’ve read about this photo series, this redditor understands that fat people are stared at and given dirty looks, but doesn’t think this project captures that.
I completely understand this sentiment and, to a certain extent, agree. I’ve commented publicly on this project and similar projects, like Substantia Jones’ Smile Sizeist Tumblr, but not on this blog. Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of “photographic justice” (for lack of a better term) because there’s so much that can go wrong. In Smile Sizeist, people take photos of those who publicly fat shame them and share their stories.
While I have no doubt that the stories are true, I’m generally skeptical when asked to assume the worst based on internet photos and testimony. Even if 99 of the stories are 100% accurate, I’m still bothered by the 1 that may be exaggerated. And since this is the internet, there’s no way to verify. I understand the importance of documenting fat shaming and discrimination, but I’m naturally a skeptic, even of those I respect and admire as greatly as Substantia Jones, so I would be dishonest to say that I don’t have qualms about it. That’s not to say I think it should be shut down… I just think any project like that must be taken with a grain of salt.
As far as Wait Watchers, I definitely agree that not all the photos presented are “proof” that Haley was being mocked by strangers in public. I went through her photo series and found myself checking off ones that just seemed to be a case of bad timing or a looking past her or judging her outfit or looking at her phone’s screen or wondering why the sad woman is sitting on a swing. Personally, I think it’s natural to compare what the artist is presenting with what our own perceptions tell us. But isn’t that what art is all about?
Haley never claimed her photos were proof that the others in the photos. As she says on her site, “While I do not know what they are thinking, the gazer appears to be visually troubled that I am in front of them.” The photos presented are the ones that Haley culled from thousands and found looks that seemed to imply a relationship between the gaze and her body. Presenting these photos along with this belief that cannot be substantiated opens Haley up for legitimate criticism. But for people to dismiss her entire project because some of the photos don’t strike the viewer as particularly damning evidence is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Are you seriously telling me that this group of young men aren’t talking about Haley? Or that these young boys are doing the same? Are we really going to deny that this woman and this woman are scrutinizing Haley’s body? The next response I’ve read that purportedly refutes my personal confidence in the context of these photos is that “Well, yeah, she’s standing in the middle of a busy street” or “They’re probably just noticing the camera/cameraperson taking her picture.” Again, these are legitimate critiques, since all we have to go on is a single snapshot, but then how do you explain this.
I have no idea where this is taken, but it’s clearly another country and clearly a tourist spot. It’s also the second photo from this exact same spot where a young, thin woman is walking by, looking at Haley and physically suppressing a smile. The other is here. Furthermore, there are photos where people feel like it’s okay to interact with Haley without her permission or awareness, like this.
I asked Haley about this photo and she told me that she hadn’t been talking to the cops or goofing around with them, yet they felt compelled to photobomb her? Same with this guy.
UPDATE: Haley sent me a closeup of the guy in this photo. As one astute asshole on Tumblr pointed out, this is just some nice guy whose girlfriend wanted to take his picture.
This isn’t a crowded stadium. If the guy behind Haley just wanted a photo with that particular background, there are plenty of angles it could have been taken at. Yet, he’s standing directly behind her and mugging. In fact, if you zoom in you can see that he’s mugging and looking down at her. Again, Haley says “That is one of the clearest in the series. But I don’t know what he was thinking.” This is one of my favorites because the framing includes the “Anonymity isn’t for everyone” billboard in the background.
These are just a few of the photos that convinced me that at least some of what Haley captured was actual, real-time judgement. Does it matter that I don’t think they’re all proof? Nope. Not in the least. Why not? Because this is art, and the whole point of art is to get you to think and talk and feel. But do you know what makes that response to art impossible? Telling Haley that she can’t read minds, so her project is invalid.
What Haley captured is an experience that many fat people share: that of being scrutinized in public. And while it’s true that there are some fat people who say they have never felt that scrutiny and who have never experienced weight stigma in public, it is no different than women who claim they’ve never experienced sexual harassment or misogyny, or people of color who say they’ve never experienced racism or discrimination. It’s all about perception.
Despite being in the deathfatz category, my wife, Veronica, doesn’t feel like she’s been scrutinized in public or stared at by strangers or mistreated because of her size. V also has some pretty thick skin in dealing with strangers and assholes, so giving zero fucks may give her some immunity. But I have also spent almost a decade being with her in public and I have been out with her and witnessed things I’ve never told her about.
There was the time at Bed, Bath and Beyond when two young, thin girls were watching her and giggling as I walked up from behind. I listened to them and watched them before I finally cleared my throat and confronted them. What did they do? Deny, deny, deny, despite the fact that I witnessed their childish behavior. The same thing happened at The Children’s Place, a clothing store, when two Eastern European men did the exact same thing and I confronted them. Again, deny, deny, deny, despite me standing a foot away from them when it happened.
These were just my own experiences with clear cut, open-and-shut cases of public fat shaming, and immediately after them, despite knowing what I saw and heard, I still felt like perhaps I had misread them, perhaps I had judged too quickly, perhaps I had misunderstood.
This is the feeling you get when you’ve been gaslit. Per Wikipedia, gaslighting is when “false information is presented with the intent of making a victim doubt his or her own memory, perception and sanity.” It’s telling people that what they just witnessed did not happen and the psychological effect it has on the witness. This is what happens when people respond to Kitsune’s post by telling her that she’s just being paranoid or that Haley’s photos are pointless or that every runner gets harassed by dudebros. It’s an attempt to convince people that they’re just being thin-skinned and if they just had more self-esteem they wouldn’t be so self-conscious.
In the broader context of reddit and the internet, it’s the equivalent of a voyeur caught red-handed who says, “How dare you accuse me of watching you!”
Over the past decade, fat people have become a broader target for social stigma, yet we are told that even if that’s true (and there’s always the implication that it’s just our imagination), then all we have to do is lose weight, like Tom Leykis commands, or that we toughen up.
I’m pretty fucking tough. I’ve made no bones about the fact that as a fat man, I don’t face nearly as much discrimination as women of comparable size. I could give a shit what others say and/or think about me, and I have no problem staring back at those I think are staring at me.
Yet, every single time I get on an elevator I grow reflexively self-conscious. Why? Well, when there’s another fat person on the elevator and they get off, I can feel the elevator car bounce with their steps. And I know that if I can feel it, then others can too. And I know that there’s a pretty damned good chance that some of the people I’m riding with are thinking something negative or disparaging about how that fat person’s fat body is making this seemingly secure contraption temporarily unstable.
And so every single time I get on or off an elevator, I tread lightly. I say I don’t give a shit what others say or think, but there are some times and some places and some situations where my size comes to the fore in a way I can’t avoid, and I feel self-conscious. Were it not for the broader culture that reinforces this kind of self-consciousness, I probably wouldn’t think twice about how I walk off an elevator, but because I am aware of the overwhelming disapproval society gives fat people, I still tread lightly.
Virgie Tovar has a great piece on how all of this dismissive response to our perceptions of weight stigma is intended to blame the victim and make fat people bootstrap their way out of public scrutiny, but this is the wrong approach. As with any form of stigma, we must keep asking people to think about how their words and actions, including the brief sidelong glance captured on film, affect others. This applies to public treatment of people with all manner of diverse bodies from various races to transgendered people to the differently-abled. Regardless of what you think of our lived experience, we still see you.