Thursday, February 4, 2010

Stepping Forward Looking Back

Over the past year the Fatospohere and F/A has seen some movement (I think mostly constructive) in regards to intersectionallity and gender issues. There is, however, one contentious issue that seems to have been passed right over and has kind of faded into the background. That would be socially acceptable, social causes. 

Out in the wilds of the interwebs the suggestion that it might possible to be both fit and fat or fat and happy will either get you out-of-hand rejection or the kind of disregard one usually reserves for annoying children. But, unbelievable as it may seem, there are two other suggestions that can often generate flaming vitriol on contact. The suggestion that fat discrimination might bare some similarity to racial discrimination. Or the suggestion that societal disdain that fat people experience might, in some ways, be comparable to that with which the LGBT community has long been subjected. 

Suggesting that there are ANY similarities between F/A and either of these social justice movements will often get you a lot of combustible dissent regarding the 'changeability' of body size or observations that there is a lack of physical violence in the history of fat hate. I usually end up thinking three things whenever I hear these arguments 1) it might be changeable for some (and this is far from PROVEN) but what about those for whom it isn't? 2) As for the physical violence issue? Let me fix that statement for you; '. .  -SO FAR- there is a lack of physical violence in the history of fat hate'. Don't think this is, at all,  possible? I think someone needs to brush up on their human history. Invariably the last thing that comes to my mind when confronted with a denial of the similarities between fat hate, race hate, and sexual orientation hate is; 3) Why are you fighting this analogy so hard? Hate is hate. Is ANY of it better than the others. Is ANY of it more worthy of attention? Or do you, the denier, think that perhaps some kinds of hate might be Ok? 

Often we'll hear that the comparison of fat discrimination to other struggles for social justice and equality diminishes those struggles. Somehow diluting the importance of groups who are fighting for equality and for the right to be seen as human beings. People struggling for the right to live there lives without abuse, harassment, or discriminatory regulation. But is fat discrimination really trivial? Or is it just young. 

After all this is a brand new phenomena and, if history is any guide, as the general economic situation gets worse, it's not likely that the prevalence and kinds of fat hate / discrimination are going to get any better. Unless the people who are subject to it or the people involved with them do something to blunt or halt it now. One of the most effective tools against any kind of hate, is to gain an understanding OF it. Well, if we want to understand New Hate, make it easier for others to comprehend what it is or even that it exists, one of the best ways to do that, is to look back at the Hate that Came Before. 

Obviously, those of us struggling against New Hate should treat the struggles of the past with respect and the acknowledgment that they deserve, but all such struggles deserve the same. Including new ones. Respect is a two way street. To get some, you gotta give some.   

Muzak Therapy:
Smashing Pumpkins / Siva


  1. I often post this thought... There will come a day when the perpetrators of Fat Hatred and prejudice will feel the same kind of shame that some of those who were perpetrators of racial prejudice feel today when they look back on their despicable actions against black americans. Of course there are many caveats to this but the photo I think about when I write this is the whites screaming awful things at the black students as our military escorts them into a school where they were not wanted because of the color of their skin. I saw an interview of a woman who was in that photograph who was ashamed of herself for participating is such ugliness. I believe that someday everyone will understand the ugliness of Fat Hatred. (or the horrific alternative of all of us being aborted before birth due to some test that shows we might be a fatty)

  2. This is a fascinating topic for me because I have three big aspects going on in this body, where depending on the context I'm in, I'm not sure which is more disagreeable to the people around me. These things are: 1)being Hispanic, specifically being of Mexican heritage which means for me, not looking "white" at all 2) being fat 3) being female. Sometimes I'm not sure which aspect of my being is going to be hated/misunderstood/discriminated against more, and how each of these aspects re-inforce, intersect and intermingle in my daily experiences. They are hard to tease out sometimes for me...

    I am a fat activist, a feminist and a fervent believer in the civil and human rights of all people. And of course being Chicana, I feel and sense the discrimination and general silencing of my culture and my people, acutely.

    My struggles in being accept as a fat brown woman are very much a present thing, and the movment for Hispania/Latino poliltical and cultural recognition in this country, is very much real and present: I occupy all these intersections of feminism, racism and sizism

  3. Great post. As someone who has looked into computational sociology and moral panics, I see creation of social deviants as something much more enduring than the specifics of the hate which maintains deviant statuses. That is, the drive to feel morally superior to someone else based on birth (which is the driving factor in creating the most enduring deviant classes, in my opinion) is a rolling theme in the history of social groups in humanity.

    So that is how I view fatphobia as being inherently linked to homophobia, racism, caste-classing, and so forth. Take a social group and stir in superiority-based-on-being-born-X-rather-than-Y, and shake well. You can end up with any of those outcomes: hate based on body shape, skin color, sexual orientation, arbitrary class.

    Of course, it's simplistic to say that these moral panics are isomorphic to each other, in the context of history. That's certainly not the case. Some moral panics have had much more dire consequences than others, and have been more enduring. The "right" environmental circumstances are often required to prolong (or shorten) moral panics. And moral panics *can* and *have* led to outright genocide or attempted extermination.

    I think what's really important to note is that that fact means we should study the birth, life, and death of moral panics very carefully, because no group is safe from being the next deviant class, and potentially be one of the most enduring deviant classes which suffer some of the worst wrongs. Each moral panic is different and has different implications, but they're still branches of the same tree, as it were.

  4. I've often thought this as well. Being white, tall female and middle class doesnt subject me to (much) discrimination....but I PROMISE you i've gotten fired for being to fat (i was a senior helped and the old lady thought i was too fat to fit behind her toilet to "scrub good"). I know i have been marginalized by doctors for it. I know i get catcalled as i walk down the street for it. (i think the days when people holler the n word out of a car at people are just about over, but boy do i get called fatty...on a monthly basis!) Being heavy has affected EVERY part of my life...i have less friends....i was beaten up in school....I had a boyfriend us it as an excuse for first beating me and then to tell me no one else would want my fat ass anyway....but NO we arent discriminated against.

  5. I, too, find the resistance to analogy problematic. In terms of analyzing the rhetoric of hate, it simply makes sense to compare.

    The Nazis didn't just randomly come up with words and images to sell antisemitism to the masses. They used existing archetypes or models, building on the language of the day and borrowing from patterns of thinking that are easily traceable to things like 19th century phrenology and even to the antisemitism in Shakespeare's Shylock.

    And the tropes of moral panic are familiar regardless of the target of that panic, following a recognizable progression.

    We see, again and again, statements like:
    "Fat people are draining our economic resources."
    "Fat people are contagious."
    "Fat people corrupt the young."
    "Fat people aren't as smart as thin people."
    "Fat people are lazy."

    These should seem familiar to anyone who's looked at antisemitism in Europe, or racism in America.

    As for whether there's violence, already, we're seeing street harassment, job discrimination, a desire to label fat people and mark them as "other," studies being done at the genetic label (with a hope of "correcting" fat or eliminating it from the gene pool), a focus on how fat people are stealing money (health care) and space (airplanes) from thin people, fat parents having newborn children seized from them by social services (in Dundee Scotland), propoganda films aimed at kids like ""Wall-E and "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs" that link unchecked fat people and the degredation of the human race, and governmental initiatives aimed at looking at the "problem" of fat people.

    This is a moral panic. It should make us step back and take it seriously. But, as with most moral panics, the vast numbers of people are and will remain entirely complicit because they actively and passively gain benefits from the dehumanization of a minority.

  6. Ivan;
    Unfortunately, the way we human critters tend to operate socially, before there can be shame for the actions we perpetrate against others, we first need to know how and why those actions are wrong. Not just UNDERSTAND it, but KNOW it. But even this doesn't mean the end of discrimination. Shame has become a large factor in regards to race hate. Some might argue that it's gone so far as to cloud or confuse the issue but it certainly hasn't eliminated it. Not by a long shot. Which is why so many people, myself included, find even the suggestion of 'Post-racial America' not just insulting, but dangerous. The only place you might find and EXAMPLE of Post-racial America in this country or any other is on episodes of Star Trek. A) it's fiction B) even that's got problems.
    Eugenics is perhaps, one of the most terrifying potentials I see being carried aloft on the tides of fat hate. Every year studies are find more and stronger links between body size and genetic predisposition. And it should go a long way towards make people realize that being fat has more to do with being tall, having brown eyes, or straight hair than it does with making the wrong 'lifestyle choices'
    The frightening thing is though, that Every. Single. One of those studies ends up hinting at or directly stating something to the effect of 'One day we may be able to fix/change/modify this and eliminate obesity /overweight entirely' . Excuse me? Hello?! Yeah, THIS IS EUGENICS! And it isn't any better than when we where suggesting that 'defective' baby's be euthanized.

  7. silentbeep:
    I hear you. The intersections are crowded with speeding traffic and there aren't any stop lights.

    Did I not get that job because the interviewer didn't like my resume, my answers to his / her /their questions? Maybe they had someone else in mind. Someone lighter skinned. Or maybe someone thinner.
    I've been passed over for promotion on jobs by people less qualified / competent and I'm sure I wasn't making what they were before they leapfrogged me. And the reasons given ultimately came down to 'They seem to better represent the Co.' Translation; Your too dark skinned OR (if you push the issue) to fat ('cause that, we can get away with legally) Yeah, discrimination is dead. Umm, Not Quite folks.
    As for my People out there; DO NOT get in my grill about 'just lose the weight'. This is America. I can DO my job and do it WELL, I shouldn't HAVE to change myself in order to get recognized for that and if you don't get THAT then I would suggest that you might not truly understand OUR struggle.

  8. Some excellent points here. At risk of invoking the ire of those who consider the act of drawing parallels between historical examples of social oppression to be somehow detracting from or downplaying the importance of their particular form of stigma, I would add to what's already been said about moral panics by mentioning that although (as BigLiberty highlights) moral panics are all rooted in a common tendency within human societies to stratify groups as 'normative' or 'deviant' as a means of reproducing and reinforcing social power, the current stigmatisation of fat owes many of its individual characteristics to past (and ongoing) instances of social violence against other minority groups.

    Thus we can learn much about how the media is being employed to influence public opinion and reinforce through repetition many of the stereotypes about fat people through examining the way newspapers and radio were used to drum up public support for anti-Semitic measures in Nazi Germany, or more recently contribute to the build-up the the genocides in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda. Or by studying the way LGBT people were medicalised and cast as a 'threat' to traditional society in the first half of the 20th century we can gain an understanding of the 'trial-and-error' therapies currently being employed in the elimination of fat people, and why these are persisted with long after their effectiveness has been called into question. And by examining the way Victorian medical science was manipulated (both deliberately and through contamination with existing stereotypes) to insinuate that black people were morally inferior and had smaller brains than the dominant group, certain physical characteristics etc, the parallels with today's 'junk science' attempts to afford the veneer of scientific respectability to age-old stereotypes and 'beliefs' about fat people can be thrown into focus.

    All that is not to say that the fat panic does not introduce some new phenomena that haven't previously been seen, although from where I'm standing most of its major components have some historical precedent.

    And B4C, I think this article serves as a perfect illustration of the point you made in your response to Ivan about recognition of 'obesity' as a genetic phenomenon not necessarily leading to it being accepted as an inherent physical characteristic but further pathologised as a 'disorder', something which, given what I've said in the past about it having evolved as being beneficial to survival in times of food scarcity, frankly infuriates me.

  9. richie79:

    Ya said a mouthful ; ) and I couldn't agree with you or Bigliberty more. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    As you say there are attributes unique to the Obesity Epi/moral-panic (Miriam; there SO MANY facets to the social psych of fat hate. Why is it academia seems so disinterested? Or are they complicit?) that will not, cannot, and shouldn't map to any other movement just as there are attributes unique to each. However the commonalities are significant and. . . . There's that 'learning from history' thing again.

    I get that there is the potential for overuse or that misapplication can be nothing short of infuriating. Especially when due to ignorance of EITHER situation being examined or compared. However ignoring those similarities or denying their possibility could be described as willful ignorance. So, ummm, not to make any negative comparisons but I think we need to ask ourselves, which ignorance is worse?

    Dealing with the ramifications of genetic manipulation is going to be tough enough WITHOUT going into it with twisted and toxic ideas about what is or isn't 'Natural' or considering why some things are the way they are BEFORE we start trying to change them. The damage we can do to ourselves, and by that I mean the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE, is potentially catastrophic. Might be a good idea to start looking at and thinking about these things, like, ya know, BEFORE we get there. Could be helpful.

  10. I think there are problems with comparing fat issues to race issues, mostly because a fat white person has power and status beyond that of other groups in most western countries. Basically, there are worse things than being fat and white.

    I think a better comparison is with the gay rights movement, because being gay is also seen as being 'changeable' or 'fixable' in some circles, and is considered a character flaw or a weakness (again, in some circles).

    I think that it is important to recognise that the issue of race and the politics of obesity are different in several fundamental ways, and it's best not to compare the one to the other directly.

  11. Well, then we slide into the politics of devision. Sure a Fat white person has power. But wait, Male or Female? Last I heard Fat female whites placed out about the same as black males who are at the bottom of the ladder. Well, unless you consider FAT black males which, I believe, didn't merit a place on the totem pole what-so-ever. Does a fat gay male have more power than a fat female POC? And when do we get to the point were it becomes evident that all these people have ONE thing in common. When do we get to the fact that general society might well be less concerned with color or sexual orientation where fat people are concerned. Fat Fag, Fat Bitch, Fat Coon, Fat Pig. Always the FIRST, most offensive, thing you are is FAT.

    Sure, as discussed above, there are things that just DO NOT TRACK. But why ignore the lessons of the past? Because some isn't convinced that fat people are 'oppressed enough'? Here's a comparison that DOES track.- If any of the previous social justice movements had waited until some people thought they were 'oppressed enough', how far do you think ANY of them would be by now?