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As a Fatty, My Street Harassment Isn’t Your Street Harassment…

March 25, 2014


Once a month I participate in Rarely Wears Lipstick’s “Ask a Feminist” series. The series is akin to the old ”Dear Abby” column. Basically, someone sends in or poses a question about living in a patriarchal culture and a group of feminists, including myself, give our insight on how we would handle that particular issue. The questions that come our way can be as complex as how to normalize intersectionality or they can be everyday issues like how to manage being ignored at work because you’re a woman.

This month the question that came our way was about how we would handle street harassment.


Very quickly, the other feminists that participate in this column put forth responses that seemed legit to me. They mentioned talking back to your harassers if you feel it is safe to do so and noted organizations like hollaback, a nonprofit that forwards action items created to end street harassment. All in all good points. But what I noticed was that the generalized understanding of street harassment was stereotypical: basically, men in hard hats throwing sexual innuendos at women and girls passing by their work site. As a fat woman, this is not my experience of street harassment.

The street harassment that I have endured is in direct reference to my fatness. For example, when I was 16, a car full of teenage boys hollered “heifer” at me, and repeatedly in my life I have had groups of women or teenage girls point and whisper about my body. Lesley Kinzel wrote about a similar experience in Two Whole Cakes and I have heard Virgie Tovar tell a story about being called a “fat bitch” by a woman at a BART station. I have also I been privy to more sexual taunts, such as “I want to make your jelly roll,” which is both a sexual comment and a clear reference to my fatness.your-body-rules

I guess what I’m trying to say here is that when you’re a fat woman, street harassment is about fat hate and fat shaming, not just sexism and objectification, and it takes place everywhere. Here on Fierce, Freethinking Fatties in the blog post “I See You,” Kitsune noted the work of Haley Morris-Cafiero, a photographer who captures stranger’s reactions to her fat body. I honestly believe that Morris-Cafiero has captured instances of street harassment.

No one should holler at you or pass unwanted and harmful judgment on your body. No one should look at your fat body with disdain or snicker at your rolls. These actions are as disturbing and undermining as the catcall from the guy in the hard hat.

That said, street harassment happens, and I think the most effective way to deal with it is to discuss it. Tell people why it bothers you and why it’s wrong and hurtful. Maybe you won’t be able to tell the perpetrators who are sneering and hollering at you, but tell your story to the people in your office. Talk to your family and friends. Blog about why it bothers you — raise your voice.

This is how we change culture. This is how we stop fat hate.

Feminist Cupcake

9 Comments leave one →
  1. Feminist Cupcake permalink
    March 25, 2014 10:34 am

    Reblogged this on Feminist Cupcake and commented:

    Check out my new post on Fierce, Freethinking Fatties! While I don’t think anyone should compare oppressions – they way a fat woman is treated by the public peanut gallery is more than just unwanted objectification. It’s often fat shaming and fat hate.

  2. Akriti permalink
    March 25, 2014 10:36 am

    very nice.

  3. purple peonies permalink
    March 25, 2014 2:26 pm

    well said.

    i’ve never had anyone holler sexual comments at me. any comments that have been yelled at me have always been negative with respect to my fatness, or my disabilities. i honestly can’t imagine what it’s like to have someone yell about my desirability, wanted *or* unwanted.

    but i *can* tell you it’s fucking awful to have people hurl fat hate at me.

  4. March 25, 2014 3:54 pm

    Reblogged this on entrylevelfeminist.

  5. Rachelle permalink
    March 26, 2014 9:52 am

    Thank you for this post – too often discussion of harassment assumes it’s one “type,” which is mega problematic. Also, it feeds into the belief that street harassment is a “compliment,” when it can be hateful and scary. A sidenote, Hollaback! published “Harassment Is” earlier this year and has a section on sizeism and street harassment which might be good reading –

  6. March 27, 2014 3:17 pm

    Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I’m both old and fat. Fortunately for me, in the area where I live, that renders me invisible rather than making me a target.
    I can remember when I was fourteen years old and disgusted by catcalls from construction workers as I walked to school, how frustrated I was that my father (a college professor) simply could not be compelled to understand how I felt violated rather than complimented.
    A few years later, I was living in downtown Denver. I was walking home from the bus stop, ignoring the multiple catcalls on the way. One bastard started following me, whistling, snapping his fingers, making that “kissy” sound that one makes when calling a dog or cat. Finally he says “at least look at me!”
    I whirled around with a deathlike glare on my face and snarled “I am not your god damn dog! Do not call to me like I am!”
    I eventually became so depressed that I refused to leave the apartment. It was the beginning of a long downward spiral.
    For those who think that catcalling is harmless, it is not. Women are not objects. We are not your playthings. We are not your dogs.

  7. March 28, 2014 11:50 am

    Two out of three times, I was name-called on the street and harassed by women, not men. One of them literally shoved me against the wall of the bus because she resented having to share seat space with an “obese” person.

    I don’t blame the driver for not ejecting her. She was clearly out of her mind on meth and we were on the freeway on a super-hot day. But I was still pissed off.

  8. Laura permalink
    April 14, 2014 2:32 pm

    Very recently, as in about two months ago, I was waiting on the bus stop as some guys drove by. They slowed down for the stop sign on the corner and yelled out of the windows telling me I should kill myself “useless fattie” as they threw a full drink of soda at me. They hit me square in the chest. I happened to be wearing a light blue top. I went into a near by subway and went into the bathroom to try to get some of it out, ended up making the top a bit wetter which meant my black bra was easily visible. I was upset and as I called work on my cell phone to tell them I was going to be late, another guy, complete stranger literally grabbed my breasts and said, “gotta love a fat slut”. I ended up being almost two hours late to work and just really badly shaken all day but what was worse? was that even though this was definitely some of the most forward street harassment I had received, I wasn’t shocked by it. Shaken but it still rolled off me fairly quickly. I’ve had strangers on the street tell me to kill myself because of my weight before and I’m not even in the “death fat” category. I’ve also had the “hey baby” comments before. But I’ve seen women even larger than me being harassed for buying toilet paper, for just walking. When my thinner female friends and I have conversations about street harassment, they agree about the seriousness of catcalling and how scary street harassment is but sometimes they’re just shocked by some of the experiences I have had. Really, the only ones of my friends who are thin but have experienced the same level of street harassment (in terms of fetishization and violent language or actions) were some of my friends who have darker skin. So this was a long winded way of saying thanks for writing this because it’s true. There is a difference between street harassment that’s baited by weight. There is also a difference with street harassment baited by race.


  1. Fitness and Health Are Not the Same (No Matter What Fatphobia Attempts to Claim) — Everyday Feminism

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