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Shapely Prose has a post about fat visibility in YA fiction with a request for people to post commentary on any YA (young adult) fiction where fat is portrayed positively, or even in a neutral non plot-point manner.

I felt a strange wash of emotion come over me as I read the synopses of various books in the comments. I have no memory of any kind of fat acceptance (for those uncomfortable with the phrase "fat acceptance", substitute "you are a worthy person no matter what your size" or "you are so much more than your appearance"; messages I did not get as a result of being fat, because who thinks a fat girl is worthy? /sarcasm) in the literature I read, in the conversations of adults around me, or from the teachers in any of my English schools (don't even get me started on the kids). The end result of this was not that I lost any weight, as people seemed to think it would, but that my self-esteem plummeted, I became a target of the kids that heard the disapproval of adults and knew that I could be brutalized with impunity, and I hated everything about myself, retreating into a fantasy world so deep that I barely ever surfaced.

The only intervention a teacher ever made during the three years I was most attacked was to tell me that I was bringing the bullying on myself, and I should change.

This is classic victim-blaming, I learned later (too late to help my self esteem), and the whole bullying culture that surrounds the othering of anyone who is different relies on victim-blaming to give a veneer of legitimacy to its perpetuators. In FA/HAES, this is perpetuated in the meme of "fat people bring it on themselves by eating too much" (shorthand: "put down the doughnut"), which, in a society where many people are medicated with drugs that cause weight gain or have conditions that cause weight gain, or are simply genetically programmed to be healthy at a size 14 instead of a size 4 is not only wrong-headed, but unbelievably cruel.

But the memes and untruths persist. In the YA fiction universe, the person who is fat is always fat because they're unhappy, and all their problems are solved by losing weight (known as the fantasy of being thin). Or, like in Judy Blume's Blubber (which I cannot read because it is really triggering thanks to the systematic bullying I received), the fat person is simply there to serve as an object lesson.

I am a size 8/10. I am healthy at a size 8/10. I weigh 140lbs. I am healthy at 140lbs. By the standards set by the media and absorbed by the general public, I am gross, and therefore undeserving of being considered human. I, and women like me, are to be dehumanized, mocked, called names, photoshopped in humiliating situations, rendered sexless and only worthy of hate rape at the same time*. And I'm considered reasonably shapely by most people.

Imagine how much worse it is for someone considerably larger (some of you don't have to). You will only see your body size in the media when people are intoning about the "obesity epidemic" (scare quotes will always be around that phrase when I write about it), and the person will most likely be headless, even if they are a model expressly employed for that picture. Know why? Because it's easier to dehumanize someone and despise them if you don't have to look them in the eye.

And when all media tells everyone you are lazy, gluttonous, and destroying the environment, then the bullying is sanctioned (look at what was voted "best answer"). Especially for women, who are pigeonholed into an ever narrowing (usage deliberate) definition of beauty, and who are considered offensive if they have the nerve to look like anything outside that tiny physical range. People feel perfectly sanguine about mooing at you on the street, policing your food choices, or making you feel ashamed for daring to appear in public, like you have the right to share the sidewalk with them (among many other forms of subtle and overt bullying).

The current media dehumanization of fat has even made people feel righteous (trigger warning) in their abuse. And abuse it is. It's no better than bullying the kid with a lisp, or the shy kid with a birthmark on their face. It's bullying. And it's hateful. Anyone who participates in the shaming of anyone has sunk to the level of the playgorund bully who takes pleasure in causing emotional pain.

And when adults do that to children, when they humiliate them in public, when they single them out because fat is bad, whether it's five pounds or five hundred pounds over some arbitrary ideal set by a 19th century statistician, they cause lifelong damage. They contribute to possible ill-health, because a child who is humiliated every time they appear in public is a child who will grow up hating any kind of physical activity. They contribute to suicide rates in teens (two tries in my case, and the depression was definitely exacerbated by the fat hate), they foster a culture of abuse, and they are wrong.

I'd like to repeat this over and over again until people actually hear me: Being thin is absolutely no indicator of actual health, nor is being fat. All the measures of actual health have no correlation to body size, unless the body size is caused by a medical condition (this includes eating disorders - a bulemic or anorexic person may be the "ideal" size 4, but they are not healthy). Activity level, nutrition, good bone density, cardiovascular health - they are all found in people of all sizes. Fat shaming is not an effective tool to get people to lose weight - you'd think people would have figured this out after 50 years of it, but no. The attitude seems to be "Maybe we aren't being nasty enough", like mooing at people on the street, calling them horrible names, charging higher insurance rates, physical abuse and refusal of treatment from doctors, and threatening to rape fat women isn't nasty enough.

And really, it's none of anyone else's business whether someone is fat or not, because it's not any more burdensome on the healthcare system than older men on beta blockers, thin smokers, people with heart conditions, and people who get in car accidents. We've just chosen a boogeyman to attack because it's no longer politically correct to rag on the mentally ill or physically disabled. It's a manipulation tactic to distract you from things that actually matter.

And, it's horrible for people to admit it, but sanctioned bullying feels good to a lot of people. It's a lot less work than empathy.

And dieting is healthy! Right? Riiiiiiiiiight????


*I actually thought about linking to some of the more hateful** fat woman-hating sites just so you could see the ugly, but I don't want to give them the traffic.

**Oh, yes, there are much more hateful sites out there than the couple of negative ones I linked to, believe me. I did my research for this post.


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Dec. 8th, 2009 05:48 pm (UTC)
This reminds me of a high school gym teacher who *litterally* told me that because I was fat I would never get a good job, never get married to someone, and never accomplish anything in my life. She said this in front of the ENTIRE class, and then seemed surprised when I told her to "f-off".
Dec. 8th, 2009 05:54 pm (UTC)
There is no scientific evidence that fat and the allegedly corelated *diseases are actually caused by being fat. There IS statistical evidence that fat people may also get other health issues more so than thin people but it has yet to be proven that that is due to them actually being fat and not maybe genetic parkers that lead to both being fat and having such health issues nobody ever bothered to check and it would be rather simple. Check the risk situation in *successfully slimmed down people. But the ONE study that actually compared the Health of successful weight loosers cam up with a result so terrifying that it got burried and burried deep and the issue never got touched again, because if anything loosing successfully means *statistically speaking*Ü you'll die earlier. Check for facts at the website of the Eurpean nutrion council. The book I have these facts from are in German so citation is a bit problematuc but Mr Pohl heads that council so everything should be there.
Dec. 8th, 2009 05:55 pm (UTC)
This is also where I tend to cue up my rant about how hard it is to find maternity clothes in not even plus sizes, but the size of an average woman in this country! I'm a 12-14, and I spent my whole pregnancy in yoga pants and tees because clearly fat girls don't get laid, much less reproduce. Fortunately, I didn't have to look professional for anything during that time, but next time I will, and I'm already dreading it.
Dec. 8th, 2009 06:00 pm (UTC)
On the other hand, the pregnancy outfits for tiny women are universally infantilizing, so maybe the yoga pants were the better choice.

(I saw pink polka dots and little bows with a peter pan collar in white battenberg lace. I kid you not.)
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Dec. 8th, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC)
The end result of this was not that I lost any weight, as people seemed to think it would, but that my self-esteem plummeted,

This line resonates with me to my very bones. Thank you.
Dec. 8th, 2009 06:34 pm (UTC)
Oh, and as to the YA fiction question -- Bess Marvin (from the Nancy Drew mysteries was the first character that came to mind, though I did have to search around online for a little bit to figure out whether she was actually described that way in the books, or if I was just superimposing that image on her due to her name.

Trying to think of some other books too (though I kinda skipped YA and went directly to Dad's shelves of sci-fi, the world of YA popular fiction being as much of an alien planet to me as the actually more-interesting alien planets on Dad's side of the study). All About Vee has an overweight heroine who's portrayed positively; it looks like she chooses not to follow in the footsteps of an anorexic friend, among other Life Choices. Isn't one of the Traveling Pants girls overweight, too?
Dec. 8th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
Carmen is not so much fat as curvier than the others in the sisterhood of the traveling pants. Admittedly she didn't think she'd fit in the magical pants, but she's close enough in size to her friends that she does. The bridesmaid's dress that's ordered for Carmen doesn't fit her or work with her coloring or curves and the dressmaker tsks at her over it. Carmen, however, knows the problem is with the dress and not her body.
(no subject) - swwoodsy - Dec. 9th, 2009 06:04 pm (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 8th, 2009 06:47 pm (UTC)
Diana from Anne of Green Gables is described enviously by Anne as being pleasantly plump, a condition Ann associates with beauty. The trouble being I never got the impression she was more then a slightly cushy child, and it is never really mentioned again so I don't remember if they maintained her slightly heavier weight throughout the series, or only when they were children. But I do remember the light being positive in that story.
Dec. 8th, 2009 07:59 pm (UTC)
At one point Anne is jealous of Diana's elbow dimples. :) We did the Green Gables series in high school drama, but I haven't re-read them since then so I can't remember if it continues.
(no subject) - mala_14 - Dec. 9th, 2009 01:08 am (UTC) - Expand
Dec. 8th, 2009 07:19 pm (UTC)
Damn! I just got totally sidetracked by the Diet Tips link you posted. Between laughing, gasping in horror and disbelief, I managed to salvage a couple of classic lines:

"Olympic level cognitive dissonance" just about describes the national obsession with Teh Fatz.

But 'People who say, “Nothing tastes as good as being thin feels” just aren’t using the right recipes.' is an absolute classic.

The more I read, the more it seems to me that the Disease ManagementHealth Care Industry and the Media are suffering from an instituionalised eating disorder.

Dec. 8th, 2009 07:29 pm (UTC)
Fantasy of Being Thin.

You know I've read this vein of posts on you before, and you'd think that I'd' have seen it, but no. It also correlates the irrationality of dieting to unleash a potential self, and the act of dieting for weight loss as rational as believing in Russell's Teapot.

It's not quite like being hit by a train, but this warm feeling like I've been floating in gelatin for a long time and only just realized it has been holding me up all this time.
Dec. 8th, 2009 07:35 pm (UTC)
Hi, first time comment here, thanks for all the wonderful posts so far.

I am now, and was always, fat.

One thing that strikes me is how the language for shaming fat people into becoming thin is similar to the idea of a drug user having to 'hit bottom' to get off drugs. That people should treat fat people badly, so they can hit bottom and finally 'get over it.'

And we know how well drug treatment programs work. Come to think of it, they are also about punishment. Quick detox, with drugs, while sedated seems to work better (not much research, they would have to do it more) then long detox with pain, but then the drug user does not suffer to come clean. Another similarity with hazing to become part of a fraternity comes to mind.

A lot of it comes back to punishment, and that if you don't receive the punishment you are not allowed in the club (of thin, accepted, clean, whatever.) There is a natural inclination for humans to punish, and it is the basis for so much of this. I don't have the psych studies off the top of my head, but they are there. And they start young, it seems to be something we have to overcome, not something learned.
Dec. 8th, 2009 10:10 pm (UTC)
It drives me absolutely crazy whenever I hear that people think they're doing a good thing by hurting someone because of their size (this also applies to sexual orientation) to "Teach them to change". It's an excuse for bullying and people love excuses to make another person's life hell.

I've pointed my sister to what you write and your links, although I don't know if she reads, but I hope she does -- she was made miserable through school and family, and even still our parents keep telling her that if only she'd lose weight and change she could be a worthy person. What kind of message is that to give your own kid? Worse because the rest of us listened for so long.

Why is it considered so okay to hate people, augh.
Dec. 8th, 2009 10:15 pm (UTC)
Three words: Podkayne of Mars
Dec. 9th, 2009 12:37 am (UTC)
Reading this entry has reminded me of multiple things, one of which is if the popular culture haze is to be seriously believed, there is only one acceptable place where a female can have body fat. I say that such a body type would be very painful for backs.

I'm also remembering the guy who was utterly convinced that I had an eating disorder despite evidence to the contrary that he he was well aware of. It didn't matter that I was upset about this weight loss and wanted to gain it back, as a thin female I clearly was anorexic of bulimic.

Then when I went back to my normal range, he was horribly chagrined and warned me that I needed to watch what I ate.
(Deleted comment)
Dec. 10th, 2009 12:53 pm (UTC)
Classic model of beauty ftw! :)
Dec. 9th, 2009 03:04 am (UTC)
The trick is to just watch more female lumberjack competitions.


These women are clearly healthy, and not overweight. Nor are they petite.


You just have to watch a big woman pound her way through a standing block chop to see how big women are better at some things than petite women. All people are worthy of love, even if they can't chop through a log with underhand ax swing.
Dec. 10th, 2009 12:49 am (UTC)
When I wrote the post I had "Blubber" in mind. I thought about the way in which discussions about this book were framed and how very little attention to the use of the title character's body as someone else's learning opportunity.

I also never cared for blaming the title character for being bullied and making her as guilty as her tormentors, when she was NOT at fault.

Dec. 10th, 2009 12:58 pm (UTC)
Thanks for reading my post! :)

Victim blaming is a classic way of making observers feel okay about themselves - the tite character never gets justice, never gets vindication, just the general sense of "she brought it on herself" by having the nerve to be overweight. It means the observer doesn't really have to do anything about her, she's just a prop, dehumanized.

It's also a cheap fictional trope without plot value.
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