Fatsronauts 101

Fatsronauts 101 is a series in which I address assumptions and stereotypes about fat people that treat us as a monolith and are used to dehumanize and marginalize us. If there is a stereotype you'd like me to address, email me.

[Content Note: Fat bias; food policing.]

#6: Any fat person eating a salad or exercising is trying to lose weight.

This entry was requested by Shaker Allison, although this axiomatic assumption—that a fat person eating what is generally coded as "healthful" food and/or exercising must have a weight-loss objective—is a complaint I have heard many times from other fat people (and have myself).

First of all, I want to insert the caveat once again that what constitutes a healthy diet for one person is not necessarily a healthy diet for another person. (For people who can't digest lettuce, for example, the ubiquitously-invoked "healthy salad" is not, in fact, healthy.) I also want to note that a casual observation of what someone is eating doesn't always convey its "healthfulness"—a sandwich or pasta dish at a restaurant might have less fat and fewer calories than a loaded salad, but a thin person eating the salad will (generally) reflexively be coded as "eating healthy" while a fat person eating the pasta will (generally) reflexively be coded as "eating unhealthy." And, because every person's unique needs and circumstances differ, those reflexive conclusions could be right or wrong, depending on the individual.

It's truly not as simple as "salad=healthy eating," and yet A Salad has become such an indelible symbol of "someone making culturally-approved moral eating choices in public" that I will use it here as a cultural marker to indicate any overseen eating construed as "healthful/moral."

So, by way of drawing a picture for not-fat people who need to understand this experience: Many years ago, I was working in an office with this guy, who, in addition to his other contemptible qualities, policed everyone else's his female coworkers' food choices.

Pretty much every day for years, I ate either a turkey or veggie wrap with a side of fresh fruit from a nearby vendor, mostly because it was convenient. This vendor also sold a salad that I loved. It was tuna with pasta and sun-dried tomatoes and capers and fresh parmesan, with some kind of balsamic aioli/mayo—I don't know what all was in it, but it was fucking delicious. (Because it was loaded with tasty fat!) I still dream about that salad a million years later. It was not as good (for me) as the wrap, and it was expensive, so it was a real treat for me when I got it every once in a while. And the first time Tim saw me eating it, he commented: "I'm glad to see you're finally trying to do something about your weight!"

There are about a million different things wrong with that observation, starting with the fact that it was made at all, out loud, by one adult human being to another adult human being, but for now I'll focus on the fact that this knucklehead assumed that because he saw me eating A Salad, I was trying to lose weight.

Not only was I not trying to lose weight, but, if I had been, I wouldn't have chosen that salad, which had probably double the calories of my typical lunch.

"I'm not trying to lose weight," I replied.

"Oh," he said, shifting uncomfortably. I looked at him, as he squirmed, trying to figure out if he should say what he was thinking: Well, you should be. I narrowed my eyes and smiled. "Um, okay," he said, before scurrying away.

And that was the last of those conversations.

But only with him—because the near-universal expectation of fat people is that we hate our bodies and are subsequently de facto desirous of weight loss; thus, if we are "eating right" or exercising, we must be doing so in an attempt to achieve that goal. So there is a never-ending stream of people willing to say things to me like: "Oh, it's good to see you exercising—that'll do wonders for your figure!" while I'm walking the dogs, or: "I'm on a diet, too!" while I'm eating A Salad, or: "Trying to lose some of that weight?" when I pass on seconds, or don't want dessert, or drink a diet soda, or any number of things that are perceived as evidence that I am Definitely Trying to Lose Weight.

I'm not trying to lose weight. I'm trying to be as healthy as I can be at whatever size I am—a paradigm so outside the mainstream that people can't look at my fat body in any other context than within a frame that dictates I must be trying to change it.

Just like many thin people eat A Salad or exercise to increase healthfulness, or strengthen their bodies, or maintain their current shape, or because they like the taste of salad or enjoy the rush of endorphins from running, or whatfuckingever, many fat people do the same.

And when you assume that fat people are trying to lose weight, out loud, to them, you are tacitly saying their bodies need fixing. Oh, I just assumed that you'd be trying to change that hideous shape of yours. My mistake!

I'm not worried about changing the shape of my body. I'm rather more concerned with changing the culture that tells me in every conceivable way that my body is less than.

[Related Reading: RagenIs it True that Most Fat People Don’t Exercise?]

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