by Brian Stuart, fat activist and author of the FA blog Red No. 3.
[Trigger warning for fat hatred.}
Since Saturday evening, fat people on Twitter have shared their experiences and stories under the #thingsfatpeoplearetold hashtag. As the name suggests, the meme discusses all of the things fat people are told their lives are. All the things they are told must be true. All the things they are told will come true. It is very difficult to read. The stories being shared are raw and emotional and run a gamut from casual injustice to outright horrors. They all share the same thread of having our lives defined for us without regard to our lived experiences, indeed often explicitly denying our lived experience. They are stories of people who feel entitled to tell fat people things about what their life must be. They are stories of fat people being "put in their place" by those with power and privilege. It is very difficult to read.
This isn't about "Fat Acceptance 101," though many fat activists are among those posting. This is more about what happens when people take fat shaming for granted and thus feel empowered to define the fat experience for fat people and enforce it on those who don't fit those definitions. #thingsfatpeoplearetold is not about what Fat Acceptance wants to do, but about why we need Fat Acceptance. These are stories about what fat people are put through by those waving the banner of "good intentions". It's not just for fat people to commiserate, but also shows us all just what our culture of fat stigmatization is resulting in. It's very difficult to read.
It is difficult because the stories carry so much truth.
I started the hashtag with some posts of ironic fat shaming but my attempts to exaggerate for effect were betrayed by the true hostility fat people are subjected to in the name of our own good. As outlandish as I was, people really do think fat people should be denied clothing and jobs lest we think it's okay to be fat. After me, the meme took off with a stream of tragic and all too real attacks that fat people endure regularly. After the first day, I collected some of the posts for my blog, but it was really overwhelming. The life of a fat person is full of indignities and it was all too easy to catalog them but so difficult to be confronted with these truths.
One person would talk about how they were told they would be pretty if they would just lose weight and a dozen would follow along the same lines. As would stories of those who were more direct in demeaning a person as "ugly." As would stories of people told they'd never find love in a fat body. Or if they did find a partner, the person would just use them for sex. And if their partner didn't just use them for sex, then there must be something wrong with them for being attracted to a fat person.
Someone would talk about being turned away from a clothing store and then another person would have the same experience. Others talked of being told they would only be accommodated if they bought their clothes online. More chimed in with lack of access to jobs, homes, and health care. If a fat person defied any of these pronouncements in any way, they spoke of having their lives and experiences denied. They couldn't really have low blood pressure. They couldn't really be getting married.
The hostility fat people experience is extreme. One woman spoke about being on an operating table for a C-section and having a surgeon mock her fat, suggesting they get rid of it while they've got her open. Another spoke of sitting in an ambulance while a police officer refused to believe she was raped. Others were told they should be happy to have been sexually assaulted. We heard about how transgender persons were belittled for being too fat to pass. We heard about fat people who were sick and were denied treatment until they lost weight. Fat mothers were told they were selfish for being fat because they would orphan their children. Or that their children would never love them. Or that they'd just ruin their children's lives so maybe the baby should just die in the womb. People who were told they would die before their 21st birthday (or 30th, or 40th, as the needs of the threat demanded). It is very difficult to read.
In reading it, though, the universal nature of these experiences became unmistakable. I don't want to link to individual tweets, because what has really struck me with #thingsfatpeoplearetold is how no story was expressed alone. The things one fat person was told, another was told as well. Reading the stories is heartbreaking. Reading of the mistreatment and disrespect invites despair and it invites anger. It should. In recognizing this treatment as wrong, as an injustice, we should be angry about what is being done to fat people; what is being done to ourselves. We can also find inspiration, though. None of us are alone in what we have endured. In our darkest moments, we are not alone. It is frustrating and sad that we are not alone because others have had to see the same abuse, but it is also empowering to recognize this shared experience. It is empowering to see so many come together to share their stories.
I've always felt like I've been a very fortunate fat person. I am privileged in a lot of ways. I did not grow up fat. I'm a man. I'm also relatively small for a fat person. I still saw myself in so many posts. I've seen how other fat people are mistreated and it has always motivated me to speak out. What #thingsfatpeoplearetold has become is something I never could have imagined, but I am so glad for all of the stories being shared. They remind fat activists like myself of what we are fighting against and who we are fighting for.
These stories are difficult to read and they are difficult to write, but I would still invite you to do both. #thingsfatpeoplearetold are potent reminders of just what fat shaming results in and also of the importance to change. Everyone sharing their experience is displaying a level of strength and courage that those who say the things fat people are told would deny. Fat people face many difficulties, but we can still have the power to speak out and let others know what we experience and that we are not alone. They may be difficult to read, but they are incredibly powerful.
[Related Discussion Threads at Shakesville: I Was Fat-Shamed, I Fat-Shamed Someone, When Fat-Shame Stopped Me, When Fat-Shame Didn't Stop Me, Fat Stereotypes, Fat Limitations.]