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Make Believe —

October 31, 2014

Weight LossFat PoliticsFat HealthExerciseFat NewsDickweedDiet Talk

Trigger warning: Discussion of weight loss and an infamous dickweed.

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.”

— Andy Warhol (or not)

“The future is now.”

— George Allen

I suck at “going viral.”Gone Viral

I’ve always been proud of my writing, but I’ve long since given up the ghost on writing the piece that will spread like wildfire across the internet. I write what’s on my mind or in my heart, and hope it reaches some people who need it.

Part of it is a hesitancy to toot my own horn. I feel awkward and uncomfortable saying, “Hey everybody, check out this awesome thing I wrote.” The most shameless self-promotion that my social awkwardness will allow is for me to post a copy of our blog contents on Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr. After that, I feel like I’ve spent all my self-promotion chips and I need to go lie down a while.

So I admire people who have the ability to write with passion and strength AND who have the skills to bring their work to a broad audience through shameless self-promotion. About a year ago, I praised a weight loss guru named Tony Posnanski, who calls himself the Anti-Jared, which, I believe, means the rapture of Subway is at hand.

I don’t think I have ever personally praised someone who actively promotes weight loss on this blog, but Tony wrote a piece about how he tried on women’s clothing and discovered that he was “plus-sized,” despite having lost an enormous amount of weight. The piece was clever and insightful on body image and vanity sizing, and it did not wallow in fat shaming. You don’t often get that from people promoting their philosophy on losing weight.

That piece went viral, for good reason. And it turns out, Tony isn’t a stranger to virality. Remember that time some asshole wrote an open letter to the fat person running on the Westview track about how “inspirational” he was? Yeah, that condescending jackass.

This past March, Tony responded with his own open letter as the fat man on the track. In essence, the letter says, “You made a bunch of stupid assumptions about me because I weigh 300 pounds, but I’ve already lost 100 pounds.” There are some problematic issues with this kind of framing, but as Tony says later in the piece, “I tell people now that weight loss should not make you love yourself more. That is the mistake I made.”

So, it’s a mixed bag, IMO, but on the whole a positive response.

And it went viral.

Websites like Mamamia ran the story of the fat man who shot back at the judgmental jogger, sharing his story as an amazing account of someone defending themselves from being publicly humiliated.

Only thing was, it wasn’t literally true. Tony made it up as a symbolic response on behalf of all fat people who have to endure the pseudo-inspiration back-patting that’s a dickish backhanded compliment. But this fact wasn’t clear in the letter or in the Mamamia recap. For most people, Tony was that fat runner and his account was a heart-breaking revelation.

Having a minor background in journalism, I’m a stickler for facts. If you misrepresent yourself, you damage your credibility and you tarnish your integrity. I realize Tony might not see it as a big deal because he was defending the anonymous fat guy, but that fat guy has a story of his own to tell. He should be the one to tell it. And if Tony wants to write a symbolic letter, he should make it clear up front.

So here’s where it gets interesting.

Three months before Tony’s Westview piece, a different kind of fat story went viral. You may recall Dick Wisken, the dog-fucking liar whose harrowing tale of sitting beside a fat man earned my wrath. There were so many holes in Dick’s story that he could just as easily have been sharing his dreadful customer service experience on the Titanic.

Well, the other day, Tony published another open letter claiming to be the fat man who sat beside Dick Wisken. Like the Westfield letter, he began by talking about his 200 pound weight loss. He then went on to talk about his fear of not fitting in his seat and the relief he felt when he did. He said that despite Dick being obnoxious (no doubt true), that he bought him three alcoholic beverages to shut him up. He even posted a photo that he claimed was taken on that flight because he was so shocked he fit in a single seat.


Once again, his open letter went viral. You can read an overview of his story in The Mirror.

Once again, it’s not at all true.

And that was pretty clear to me when I realized that the same American guy who has had multiple viral successes with open letters about being fat just happened to sit beside another viral letter writer who hates fat people on a flight from New Zealand to Australia.

So, I began to pester Tony for clarification. You can read my multiple Tweets here.

I got no response from Tony directly, but less than an hour after urging him to clarify whether he was really there or not, he did on Facebook.

When I finally saw this, my first thought was, “Awesome! He did the right thing.” So, I began to respond to Tony to thank him for being perfectly clear. It was a long response which, as I wrote it, realized would be a decent blog post in and of itself. So, I’m typing along and I get to the part where I make a brief statement about agreeing to disagree on the causes of weight gain and I accidentally hit enter before I was done.


I fucking hate that.

My biggest fear on Facebook (and other temperamental social media sites) is losing a good text I wrote because it happens ALL THE FUCKING TIME. But this time, I was able to copy and paste after the first error message and I got to continue  So, I start to edit it and when I finish, I hit enter and I get an error message telling me I can’t post it.

Assuming it was an issue with the error, I refresh the page, cut & paste my comment and hit enter. I’m blocked.

Less than two minutes from my accidental publication, Tony has deleted my comment and banned me from his group.

So I will post the letter below because I respond to the way Tony framed the airplane space debate as “Well, I’m losing weight, so you shouldn’t have been a dick to me.” But I mostly just wanted to share my disappointment with Tony in general. First, he publishes this open letter which, for all intents and purposes, is a false firsthand account of a controversial situation.

In Tony’s defense, he did allude to it being symbolic in the original Facebook post he made about his open letter.


First off, Dick Wisken’s letter did not start to go viral again. Google it. All stories are about Tony’s letter. Dick’s letter was not trending anywhere.

Second, Tony refers to Westview, which was believed by some to be literally true, as shown above. But perhaps at the time, Tony was clearer on the fact that it was symbolic. Whatever the case, if that was intended to imply that the following letter was fictional, then it is a reference that only a long-time reader of Tony would understand.

Third, “Let me be the obese man on the Jetstar flight” is pretty vague too. Yes, your fans might know that this is your way of saying…


 But even if this was Tony’s way of disclaiming this letter as symbolic, rather than literal (and the photo and the details in the letter certainly make it seem literal), then there was one more problem: there was no disclaimer on the letter itself on his blog.

If I were to put on my conspiracy theorist hat, I would say that this was a deliberate attempt to mislead the media into believing he was literally the man beside Dick Wisken. By vaguely disclaiming it on Facebook, he could always claim that he didn’t lie (which he did when Dick called him out on it). But the media’s easy to game when the current journalistic model seems to be “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”

Although The Mirror was duped, The Telegraph briefly posted a story on it, then deleted it. Oddly enough, Dick Wisken posted a photo of the missing article, which I was planning to post, but has since deleted it.

Perhaps as a way to make up for the loss of the pugilistic fatty royale, The Telegraph has since posted an article on their favorite customer complaint letters of all time, and guess who comes in at number four.

Also to Tony’s credit, I suggested to him on Twitter that he should disclose the fact that the open letter was symbolic on the actual blog post. He has since done that as well, posting a copy of his Facebook letter at the bottom.

Tony went the extra mile and gave an “exclusive interview” with an Australian newspaper, which includes links to both Dick and Tony’s blogs. I’m glad that he cleared the air in the media too, but this also generates clicks for both blogs, which is a big motivation for achieving viral status.

So we now have two people who have written dishonest accounts of their experience with/as fat people as a way to promote their own blogs, one being a shitty comedy blog and one being a weight loss inspiration blog, and both are being rewarded for having the chutzpah to play fast and loose with the facts.

Am I the only one who sees a big, fat problem with this?

Regardless of the veracity, though, I’m never going to be a fan of articles where fat people are mocked by some random douchebag with a blog and I’m never going to be comfortable with stories that defend the dignity of fat people by adding “But I lost 200 pounds.”

Instead, I will continue to share and promote stories from fat people telling their own stories, sharing their own pain, having their own self-doubts, regardless of whether they’re losing weight or not.

And I hope that Tony will stop using the stories of lived experience (possibly unknown) of being ridiculed in a viral letter to ultimately promote weight loss as a way to escape indignities. It may not help you go viral, but it will ensure your own dignity remains in place.

And now, without further ado, the comment (edited slightly since I can link and indent here) that Tony Posnanski doesn’t want you to see for some weirdass reason:

I’d like to interject here. I’m seeing people claim that Tony DID disclose that he wasn’t the passenger on the plane. As Polly said, “Pretty sure you stated right from the start that you are not the actual person who that other guy wrote about.”

Go back and reread it because this is the start of the piece leading up to the first photo:

Dear Jetstar,

I see that there is a story going around about one of your passengers (Rich) who sat next to a “baby hippopotamus”. It went viral last year and is going viral again.

In the letter, Rich said that he was engulfed by a fat man; your flight attendants did not care, and he had a horrible flight.

Well, there is a lot more to the story. Much more.

Take it from me. I am the so-called baby hippo who was sitting next to Rich. I was the man who smelled bad, smelled like cheese, and sat there like the world owed me a bigger seat.

Except that is not the case at all. Let me tell you the true story.

There is NOTHING there to indicate that this is a metaphorical letter or a symbolic letter on behalf of all fat people who experience assholes on planes like Dick Wisken. When you read it, you are led to believe Tony was literally there, and I immediately thought it was BS. First off, the letter hasn’t gone viral again. I wrote in the immediate aftermath how I thought Wisken’s story was BS too (details did NOT add up).

So I asked Tony to clarify if it was literally true or not in a series of tweets explaining that I had previously written about him in a way I rarely write about weight loss gurus. You can see that was before this post admitting it wasn’t literally true.

Like most of you, I get what Tony was doing. He was being a voice for the voiceless, which is admirable. Making that clear would go a long way to avoiding issues of integrity, because writing symbolically on behalf of someone is not the same as saying, “I was literally there, being nice to Dick Wisken when he became a colossal viral douchebag.” Personally, I want to ask the guy who really sat next to him questions and figure out what the hell really happened, and not just rely on a guy with a history of making shit up for viral success.

So I was excited when Tony said he was the guy and saw that he was providing details, like buying Dick three drinks, and posting a photo of his seatbelt. But the odds that Tony was on that flight in (I think) New Zealand to Australia seemed so remote that I began to think he was giving a symbolic account.

I’m glad Tony set the record straight because I’ve read his pieces in the past and, on the whole, I’m impressed by what I read. I first noticed his writing when he talked about trying on women’s clothes are realizing he was plus-sized. What a brilliant concept and execution. That’s the piece I applauded him for.

That being said, I still take umbrage with this part of Tony’s piece on Dick:

I was once over 400 pounds. When I was, I ALWAYS bought two seats because I have respect for people. Why would I want someone to feel weird next to me?

I remember the looks I got from people when they had to sit next to me. I agree if I take up two seats without paying for it then it is not fair. I am an accountable person. My weight was NEVER anyone’s problem but my own. So I did not blame the size of your seats or the world. I blamed myself.

But I have been losing weight. A lot of weight actually. Sure, some people can still call me portly but I am not over 400 pounds anymore. I never will be again.

Here’s why — first off, everybody knows airline seats and services have gotten progressively shittier, particularly in the US once the airlines were deregulated and the mass mergers began. Now it’s a race to the bottom on service and comfort in a desperate attempt to please shareholders. Bottom line.

Don't Be an AssholeNow, we may never agree on the reasons why people get fat. I love to have that discussion and welcome it any time, but this post is not about that. Regardless of why someone weigh’s 400 pounds, IT IS NEVER OKAY TO BE AN ASSHOLE TO FAT PEOPLE ON A PLANE. Now, if that fat individual in question is being an asshole to you, then respond like you would to any other asshole of any other size. But the whole idea that a fat person encroaching on your space is justification for dickweedery, is stupid for all the reasons Tony said: “Overweight people are aware of their surroundings and for the most part do not want others to feel uncomfortable. Overweight people do not smell bad or are stupid or squish people to death.” And more.

Human decency is not contingent upon a person losing weight. The fact that Tony was in the process of losing weight is irrelevant. Don’t be an asshole to people because their size disgusts you or makes you uncomfortable. Like Tony, I’ve sat on planes with people who smell like shit or talk to me when I’m trying to read or do work. Both are forms of discomforting encroachment, but neither makes the offender less human. But that’s how we treat fat people on planes: if you’re making me uncomfortable, you’re fair game for a brutal reddit intervention.

Finally, the issue of airlines seat space is real and deserves a real discussion. There are very fat people in the world. They need to fly. So why the hell isn’t an airline working on a mid-size seat for one row that costs 1.5x as much as a regular ticket. I’m fat, but I fit in a regular seat (though I’ve always had broad shoulders and may encroach that way). My wife is larger and the times we’ve flown together we’ve had a child and bought an extra seat anyway. But if we were flying alone, we would totally buy the 1.5 seat option for her comfort. And if there aren’t larger people who require the seats, then you still sell them to “normal” people who want a little extra room. Call it the luxury seat and make it an option, not a punishment. What the hell’s the problem?

But until that day, the reason Dick Wisken is an unrepentant assbag isn’t the fact that he wrote a blathering shitscreed about a fat man in the midst of losing weight. It’s because he felt so fucking entitled to lecture us on airline comfort by using a fat man as a scapegoat in a story that is somewhere between grossly exaggerated for effect or outright bullshit.

If Tony had made clear that his post was symbolic and had omitted the self-justification of repentant weight loss, his piece would have been a solid rejoinder to Dick Wisken. I think he has redeemed it somewhat by admitting the truth here. But I think he needs to take one more step and make it clear in the post itself.

All in all, though, nicely done, Tony.

One Comment leave one →
  1. gingeroid permalink
    November 1, 2014 6:54 pm

    Air travel sucks all around. It’s time to rethink the flying bus model.

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