In the last few weeks, I’ve had a similar experience happen maybe 3-4 times. I’m engaging in someone’s words, media, and art. I’m thinking alongside them and interested in what they have to say. Then, BAM! They make fun of fat people or make stereotypical or false comments about fat people—basically they make me realize that they are not my kind of people. They believe “truths” about fatness that I disagree with wholeheartedly. They see fat bodies, fat bodies like mine, as worthy of ridicule, shame, or pity.
At what point do we decide to disengage with people we like because they make it apparent that they can’t stand our bodies? This is something I’ve asked myself multiple times, ranging from people with whom I have a relationship to people I just find interesting.
I’m sure that most of us have experienced something similar to the following scenario:
I was listening to the Brain Candy Podcast hosted by Susie Meister and Sarah Patterson. It was an episode titled “Vaginas”, so you can guess the focal point of their conversation. I found myself listening and enjoying what the two had to say, when suddenly Sarah brought in a story from one of her friends. I knew it was going to be annoying when the first thing that she said to describe the main woman in the story was that she weighed 400 lbs. *shock* *horror*. As soon as someone’s weight came into the story about them, then we, the listeners, know that weight is meant to signal something about the person described. Well—what were these 400 lbs supposed to mean about this person? Sarah went on to describe a story that involved mayonnaise, lubrication, and maggots, and let’s just say it was a gross story. BUT inherent in the joke was that this fat woman was so disgustingly fat (and all the things associated with fat – not clean, dirty, sexually dirty, lazy, etc.) that she deserved our ridicule. Sarah then ends it saying that the woman used mayonnaise because everything else in her fridge was cleared out because -HAHA- this 400 lb fat person has most definitely eaten herself out of house and home.
People…people. Not today.
I like Sarah and Susie, and so I wrote to them after hearing more than one comment about fat people letting them know that I heard their comments and that they should reconsider how they talk about fat people. I think they see themselves as feminist-ish, so I was hoping they would be open to considering the narratives they put out about fat women and people in general. They discussed my letter in a later podcast, and their response was kinda “meh” and that some things just need to be seen as a “joke”. They noted that the comment probably was offensive because people were offended, but brushed it off besides that. Apparently I was not the only person to comment on the way they discuss fat people.
Today, maybe because I wanted to see if they had shifted their tones at all, I began listening to their latest “Body Positively” podcast. I ugh-ed myself through Sarah’s discussion of a size 12 model for American Eagle/Aerie, as she almost patted herself on the back for saying a size 12 person was beautiful, while referencing the girl’s big butt and tiny waist. Then Susie brought up Tess Holiday. Sarah follows her on instagram and seems to like her. Susie makes some comment about how large Tess is. Something like she’s bigger than what’s even considered “plus size” (who knew Susie was an expert on plus sizes?!), and then Sarah made a comment on eating one’s self to death. This “death” comment ironically hit the last nail in the coffin for me when it comes to listening to Sarah and Susie. I tried to imagine a scenario where I would comment about someone’s assumed habits and likely death before I would discuss them as a person, and I just can’t imagine it. I pressed pause. I deleted their podcast off of my phone. I had enough.
I’ve officially become one of those people who is a killjoy. Who can’t get behind the joke because I’m positioned at the end of it. A 400lb person is almost me. Could be me. Is my friend, neighbor. Is a human being with feelings, loved ones, etc. Who has unique qualities as any other person. I’m SO tired of these jokes. I’m so tired of someone’s weight being a reason for their ridicule OR a prop to make the punch line even funnier.
I’m also really tired of consuming media that reinforces beauty ideals such as the size 12 “acceptable fat” conversation above. I’m tired of listening to thin women talking about fat women. I can’t give one single more minute to these kinds of conversations.
I’ve had so many moments where I’m engaging in media, when *BAM* there’s a fat joke or diss. It feels like the cartoon equivalent of getting hit in the head with a frying pan. It reminds me *pang* that I am the invisible consumer of this media who is being shamed *pang*, that I’m not the imagined thin consumer *pang*, that I don’t belong here *pang*, that I’m the joke rather than the reader.
I’m done listening.
Working in higher education, I’ve heard a lot of conversations about students wanting trigger warnings, not being open to engage with controversial topics or strong stances, etc., and I wonder about my own refusal to go any further with media like this. What does ignoring this media do for me or others? I tried to “talk back”, but that didn’t seem to do much at all. Again, at what point do we decide to disengage with people we like because they make it apparent that they can’t stand our bodies? Does that mean being really selective of what we read from certain people or cutting off consumption of their media all together? I have to admit that my gut instinct is to unfollow, unsubscribe, etc., and to not allow one more penny or minute to go toward them, but is that realistic? I only experience this with topics of fatness, and so I can only imagine how this issue is compounded for those who have multiple marginalized identities. Well, I can do more than imagine it–I can listen to people’s experiences with it.
Words become us – our thoughts, our beliefs, our actions, our views of the world. To consume these words feels wrong because they feel like violations against myself. My only option seems to be more selective of whose words I let become me and to be more considerate of what I create and put out in the world too.
Have you had similar experiences to this? How do you handle it? What are your thoughts on consuming and reacting to views that are against who you are?