What It Means To Be Fat

(Photo from Fat From the Side, where user marfmellow says, “I can’t lie though, my cherubic cheeks are pretty lovely.”)

I ended my post Why Use The Word Fat talking about how we basically know what the word fat physically indicates. Beyond the physical, what else does being fat indicate?

If you are living in this culture, whether you live in a fat body or not, you’ve probably got a good idea what being fat means. It’s used as a stand-in for all sorts of nasty things, like lazy, stupid, sloppy, smelly, unattractive, and just plain wrong. If you ARE living in a fat body, you’ve probably got a good visceral sense of the way that fat-hate rears its ugly head.

You might know what it means to get critical looks when you’re eating in public. You might know what it means to have people shout nasty things at you as you walk by. You might know what it feels like to think you’re undatable and unfuckable. You might know what it means to be pressured from every corner to do something about it already. You know the constant drag of having every conversation with your doctor or your mother revolve around your weight. You know what it feels like to have your body described as an “epidemic” as if you’re walking around with ebola.

And beyond the general public distaste for your existence, you may be familiar with some very real discrimination. Fat students are less likely to be accepted to better colleges and are more likely to be refused letters of recommendation by educators. Fat people are less likely to be hired for a job. They receive less pay. They get fewer promotions. You might be required to buy an extra seat on a plane. Normal spaces like the seats at restaurants or the chairs in a waiting room may not accommodate your size. Clothing stores may not carry clothes that can fit you.

Media support for weight bias is unrelenting, of course: TV shows, cartoons, movies, ads, and news reports are all unkind to fat people. News reports have held fat people responsible for rising fuel and food costs (headless fatty alert), global warming, and making their friends fat. That social contagion thing has been debunked, but you probably won’t see big headlines declaring that. Headlines do talk about fat children as if they’re a blight on their communities. Other discrimination stories are popping up more and more frequently, such as employers financially penalizing employees who can’t meet a BMI standard, obese adults being disqualified from a adopting a child, or parents losing custody of an obese child.

My personal experience with being fat has been much milder than that of many other fat people. I’ve had doctors mention my weight, but none have gotten particularly bent out of shape about it. It’s somewhat more difficult for me to buy clothes than someone who’s a size 8, but I’m near the bottom of “plus-size” and can buy clothes at Wal-Mart (bras are another matter entirely). Most of my worries about being fat have come from the media. I’m bombarded with messages that communicate that I should be thinner. Fat people are the casual butt of jokes in all kinds of shows. Weight-loss ads follow me (and every one else) around the internet. I’ve got a lot of practice ignoring the media, but it’s still interesting that of all the messages out there (earn more money! buy new things! travel!), those that support the idea that everyone should be thinner are ubiquitous and often un-questioned.

That ubiquity is difficult to ignore. Often, I’ll be reading something that really interests me on a topic completely unrelated to weight or health and then BAM! some fat-hate is just tossed into the middle somewhere. It’s jarring. It’s mental assault.

Anyone else want to share your troubles with being fat in this culture?