The sign outside a cafe in West Village that sparked debate over fat-shaming. (Courtesy of Chloe Angyal.)
Earlier this week I blogged here about the thinspiration community—which encourages anorexic and bulimic behaviors and insists that eating disorders are not mental illnesses but admirable “lifestyle choices”—and its use of Twitter to share tips on how to be “better” at your eating disorder.
In that post I posited that, disturbing though it is, the thinspiration community is simply an exaggeration of the culture in which it exists. A grotesque exaggeration, to be sure, but hardly surprising one in a culture where women are expected to be thin at all costs, and in which more mainstream discussions of weight conflate thinness with health, beauty and self-worth. As an example of that larger culture, I pointed to a photo I had taken just that day, of a sign outside a cafe in Manhattan’s West Village. The cafe, whose staple menu item is oatmeal, posted the respective calorie counts of a bagel with cream cheese and a cup of oatmeal with berries, with the commentary: “Summer’s coming… Just sayin’.”
This, ladies and gentlemen, is what fat-shaming looks like. Summer’s coming, and with it, hot weather and skimpy clothes. Better look “good”—that is, skinny—when it arrives. Because fat people are disgusting, right?
I tweeted at the company and told them that I thought they should take the sign down, and they complied. They apologized, saying they were only trying to highlight the health benefits of oatmeal. I call shenanigans. If the sign had simply compared the calorie counts of the two breakfasts, that would have been fine. But there’s nothing healthy about reinforcing the hateful attitudes we hold in this culture toward people who are overweight.
After Oatmeals agreed to take the sign down, and after I thanked them, some other blogs picked up the story. The vitriol that was unleashed—in comments sections, in my Twitter feed, and in my e-mail inbox—was breathtaking.
Leaving aside the comments about my stupidity, my oversensitivity and my weight, the reaction to my argument that the sign was “fat-shamey” was, in itself, really fat-shaming. Fat people are hideous. Fat people are lazy. Fat people are fat by choice. Fat people don’t know they’re fat. Fat people are too dumb to make smart choices. Chloe is fat and should therefore shut up, because fat people’s voices don’t count. In that kind of discourse, it becomes crystal clear that in America, “fat” is not simply an adjective. It carries so much more—if you’ll forgive me—weight, than that.
Multiple people pointed to America’s “obesity epidemic” as justification for heaping scorn and cruelty on overweight people, as though a national food policy problem can be solved by insulting individual human beings. True, some people are genuinely concerned about the “obesity epidemic.” But when I hear someone defend their hatred and discrimination with the words “obesity epidemic!” all I hear is, “I lack compassion for an increasingly populous group of my fellow citizens!” Oh, but for their own good, of course.