On Larry Wilmore's "Obesity in America" Episode

[Content Note: Fat hatred; body policing; shaming.]

Last night, The Nightly Show, Larry Wilmore's successor to The Colbert Report, which premiered a couple of weeks ago, did an episode on "Obesity in America." When it was announced, I was immediately full of the usual dread, for the usual reasons. I wasn't sure I was going to watch it, but I did. And yikes.

The good news was that Wilmore's four-person panel had two fat people on it: Comedian Lavell Crawford and fat activist Marianne Kirby (@therotund). Marianne did a great job, especially pushing back against the idea that concern trolling fat people has anything to do with our health, but Lavell was there to basically play the "I'm fat because I eat so many cookies!" role, which was disappointing.

Still, it was an improvement on most "obesity" panels, which typically include zero fat people, like the ones on Melissa Harris-Perry's show.

Wilmore promised to ask the "big questions" (see what he did there?) about "obesity in America" last night, and while he did ask his panel whether fat is a civil rights issue, and they did briefly touch on the intersectionality of fat and class, the episode was rife with problems, including a number of vicious stereotypes about fat people that largely went unchallenged—like fat is inherently unhealthy, all fat people are fat because they overeat, fat people abuse disability status because they're lazy.

And the "big question" about whether fat is a civil rights issue was never answered. In one breath, Wilmore detailed that fat people face employment discrimination, then wondered if fat is a civil rights issue.

Which is a familiar discordance to any fat activist who tries to engage progressives on the issue of fat discrimination: Many liberal-minded people are willing to concede that, sure, there's demonstrable, legal discrimination against fat people, but insistently resist seeing fat hatred as a civil rights issue.

Because we're all supposed to be able to bootstraps our way out of being fat. Lots of progressives suddenly love bootstraps when it comes to fat people.

And are suddenly very anti-choice.

All of which tends to be justified on the basis of concern for our health, which is, of course, bullshit. It's about the way we look; it's about the fact that we exist at all.

Wilmore opened the episode with these words: "Tonightly: America's obesity rate creeps up to 27.7%. On the plus side, now it's higher than our math scores. A third of Americans are obese?! Well, that's the most depressing thing I've heard since that kid told me he was dead in that Superbowl commercial."

He's depressed by the mere evidence that fat people exist. He's depressed that there are so many of us.

That is considered an okay, an uncontroversial, thing to say about fat people.

Just casual eliminationism: It's depressing that we are alive, and it would be so much less depressing if we weren't.

(Setting aside the fact that many of the people who are classified as "obese" by bullshit BMI measures would almost certainly not be viewed as "depressingly fat" by Larry Wilmore and lots of other people.)

If the fact that fat hatred kills isn't enough to convince someone that fat is a social justice issue, then maybe letting that shit sink in will be: I had to watch a person say, to laughter and applause, that it's depressing to hear that fat people exist in large numbers.

My appearance, my body, my existence is depressing.

Here's a "big question" about fat that I have for Larry Wilmore to answer: How the fuck do you think that's okay?

This is the reality that fat people face in the US: Even people ostensibly sympathetic to the discrimination we face are more inclined to voice that they are depressed about our existence than they are to voice that they're angry about the vast fat hatred that we face every day.

Even people ostensibly sympathetic to us are more likely to suggest we try to change our very bodies, even though that could mean literally killing ourselves in the process, instead of suggesting that people who despise us change their fucking minds.

It is not the responsibility of marginalized people to change themselves to accommodate bigots.

That fat people are routinely admonished to do so should be what depresses you, Larry Wilmore. It sure as shit depresses me.

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