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; morality eating; bullying.]

#7: Fat people are permission slips for thin people to eat what they want.

This entry was inspired by Shaker Linksknoepfer, who asked in the last thread: "Do any of you ever feel like thin people need you around to indulge, just to feel okay about eating any kind of 'bad' food?"

This is another extremely common experience of fat people—especially fat women, dining with thin women.

Using fat people as permission slips manifests in a couple of different ways (and following is not a comprehensive list, just a few common examples): Eating observably more when dining only with a fat person versus dining with that fat person while other thin people are present; communicating bluntly one eats more and/or different food when dining with a fat person; ordering something perceived as indulgent which a fat person has also ordered and defending that choice (as if it needs defense) with some variation on, "Well, as long as you're going to…"; begging and/or bullying a fat person into sharing (or "sharing") something perceived as indulgent, especially dessert.

The last one is particularly odious, as not only are we/our bodies/our fatness regarded as a permission slip to be "bad" and indulge in something "decadent," but, if we fail to eagerly consent to play that role, we are needled and cajoled into it—frequently under the threat that, if we don't agree to participate, our dining companion won't order it for hirself, thus saddling us with the blame for hir self-denial of food.

It is a terrible position to be put in, for a lot of reasons—not least of which is being treated like a gluttonous siren whose mere fat existence exhorts others to consumption.

(Which, of course, tacitly invokes the stereotype that all fat people eat enormous amounts of food.)

Now, part of this scenario is attributable to the cultural narratives about eating as a moral act, which results in lots of people, especially women, seeking "permission" to engage in "deviant eating." One of the ways humans seek "permission" to transgress cultural expectations is by recruiting accomplices—which is an urge that underlies both crime syndicates and spaces like Shakesville. The urge itself is neutral, but it is used in good and bad ways.

It's not necessarily a bad urge among dining companions. A thin woman who conspires with a receptive thin friend to order a dessert against all cultural messaging telling them to avoid that dessert at all costs, because neither of them has the will or ability to ignore that overwhelming messaging on her own, is not indulging a bad urge.

And that same thin woman might have the same intent when trying to draft a fat friend into the same scenario. But! Enter a lifetime of one's body being inextricably associated with excess, with overconsumption, with greediness, with dooming the very world with our avaristic gluttony, and a lifetime of bullshit studies which claim that fat is contagious, and a lifetime of having been implicitly or overtly used as a permission slip to be "bad" or "gross" or to "eat like a fat person," and what looks through the filter of thin privilege like an innocuous invitation is actually an incredibly loaded inquiry—one that might have preceded bullying many times before; one that we may not be able to discern as a casual invite and not a pronouncement that our bodies and the presumed "immoral eating" that created those bodies are being invoked with the explicit objective of a thin person giving hirself permission to indulge in food zie wants.

(Aside 1: Offering to share dessert—or whatever—with a fat person with whom you haven't established any boundaries around eating and/or a habit of not food-policing and body-shaming can also look very much like the suggestion: "You don't need a whole dessert; how about we share?")

(Aside 2: Ordering a dessert—or whatever—even after a fat person has said they do not want to share, but telling the server to bring two forks/spoons, even if your intention is genuinely just to encourage your dining companion to share if zie wants, may also be loaded for a lot of fat people, many of whom have the experience of thin friends asking for two forks/spoons just so it looks like they're sharing. I have even had a dining companion use both spoons while we were "sharing" a sundae, telling me, "I don't want them to think I ate this whole thing myself!")

If you want to eat something, eat it. If you can't give yourself "permission" to eat something, don't seek it elsewhere, especially not from a fat friend.

If you really need permission from a fat person to eat what you want, here it is: Eat what you want. Eating healthfully for your body is not a moral act, and eating unhealthfully for your body is not an immoral act. Eat what you want. You have my big fat permission, forevermore. Go forth and devour.

Shakesville is run as a safe space. First-time commenters: Please read Shakesville's Commenting Policy and Feminism 101 Section before commenting. We also do lots of in-thread moderation, so we ask that everyone read the entirety of any thread before commenting, to ensure compliance with any in-thread moderation. Thank you.

blog comments powered by Disqus