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; trauma; discussion of disordered eating.]

#12: Fat people don't like/want to see media representations of themselves.

Short answer: Yes we do! Sort of!

Longer answer: Well, it's complicated—like everything else in the world. Whether a fat person likes and wants to see media representations of fat people has a lot to do with how that fat person feels about hirself and about being fat. And whether a fat person enjoys media representations of fat people has a lot to do with the quality of those representations.

That is to say, if you're full of self-loathing because you are a fat person who lives in a culture that conspires to communicate to you incessantly that you are ugly, gross, sick, dying, barely even human, less than in every conceivable way, then you might not be keen to see any images of fatness, even the vanishingly rare positive ones, because it reminds you of all the internalized messaging that makes you hate yourself.

But if you're a fat person who loves yourself and your body, and knows and loves other fat people and their bodies, in spite of the constant drumbeat of exhortations to self-hatred, then you might be inclined to enjoy and even seek out media images that celebrate fat people.

(It's worth noting here that access to positive images of fat people correlates with fat people's self-esteem. Visible images of fat people that are not demeaning actually create a desire for more, even in fat people who don't think they want more.)

It's also to say that not all images of fat people are created equal. I don't know a single fat person who feels anything but snarling contempt for the ubiquitous imagery of headless fatties, whose disembodied guts or asses or thighs accompany news stories about the OMG Obesity Epidemic. And I don't know many fat people who don't cringe at the sight of a thin actor in a fat suit.

On the other hand, I don't know many fat women who don't find the picture at the bottom of this post to be beautiful and affirming.

And even most of the best (or least worst) of mainstream media images of fat people are a complicated mess of playing into anti-fat stereotypes and subverting them, which means fat people will have complex reactions to them.

Melissa McCarthy's character Megan from Bridesmaids is loathed by some fat people, and loved by others—and is, truthfully, contemptible and lovable in equal measure. Certainly her fatness is played for laughs, but she is also a fat female character who is professionally accomplished, physically strong, sexual and sexually desired, and kind. And a character who is allowed to talk about being bullied for being fat, no less. Yet—har har—her sex romp includes a giant sandwich.


And how a fat person views a mixed bag of a fat character like Megan has a lot to do with how much that fat person sees of hirself in the character, for good or bad. Which is a common phenomenon of media representations of all marginalized populations, of course.

All of that said, I can only speak for myself—and I am a fat woman who wants desperately to see more positive representations of fat people in the media, by which I mean characters, or performers, or reality stars, or whatever, whose fat is not the only or most important thing about them; who isn't explicitly trying to lose weight; who isn't primarily a target of fat jokes and doesn't reflexively make fat jokes preemptively as a mechanism of self-defense; who is stylish and/or not axiomatically considered disgusting; who isn't defined via tired fat-hating tropes about sloth and gluttony; who is allowed to express and represent a full spectrum of humanity; whose fat face is allowed to be seen attached to hir fat body.

That would be very welcome indeed.



#11: No one wants to be fat.
#10: Fat people need you to intervene in their lives.
#9: Fat people don't know how they look.
#8: Fat people don't deserve anything nice.
#7: Fat people are permission slips for thin people to eat what they want.
#6: Any fat person eating a salad or exercising is trying to lose weight.
#5: Fat is axiomatically ugly.
#4: Fat people eat enormous amounts of food.
#3: Fat people are jolly/mean, and fat people are shy/loud.
#2: I can tell how someone eats all the time, because of how they eat around me.
#1: Everyone who is fat is fat for the same reason.

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