[Content Warning: Fat-bashing, racism, sexism, rape.]
I was delighted to receive a piece of classic fat-hate email this morning…
A while back, someone changed a Wikipedia mention of me from Marilyn Wann to Marilyn Whale. I invited people on social media to join me in claiming our fat family names. People came up with some awesome ones. K.R. Roberto (whose first name is Keller) went with Killer Whale Roberto. Someone else rhymed Lea Manateea.
I sent the people at fatfuck.org the classic response…
The vintage fat-hate email below demonstrates the intense connections between different kinds of prejudice. Here, someone mixes fat hate with racism, sexism, and rape culture. Intersecting oppressions don't just add up, they can magnify each other.
I admit that I send angry emails too, from time to time.
Sometimes, when I receive an email that is especially fat-hating and that attempts to justify its cruelty by saying fatties are soooooo unhealthy we just need to be attacked — the old hate-you-for-your-own-good switcheroo — I forward it to Rebecca Puhl. I congratulate her that her message has spread so effectively in the general public. (I wish I could find one of these emails. They really are breathtaking.)
Why send them to Puhl? She's a leader at the only institution in the world that gets ongoing funding to document what they call weight stigma. As a researcher at Yale's Rudd Center, she's published a lot of data on weight discrimination, which should be super useful. Except… Puhl and her institution constantly and aggressively promote the stigmatizing and disriminatory belief that fat people are necessarily unhealthy.
For example, Puhl and the Rudd Center recently announced that one of the biggest problems with weight stigma is that it's linked with weight gain. (So, saying that fat is bad is bad because fat is bad?) Also, all of that unpleasant oppression fat people experience is nothing compared to the possibility of gaining a few pounds. Can they really be proud of their headline for the report? "Weight Bias Hinders Obesity Solutions." Obesity solutions? Two words that perfectly epitomize weight stigma in its creepiest, most eugenics-y form.
At this historical moment, when fat hate still prevails and weight lib is still gathering momentum, it's unsurprising that money and power would seek to co-opt the idea of fighting weight prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, oppression or — stated more meekly — stigma, and then use this otherwise anti-oppression idea to promote, well…weight prejudice, bigotry, discrimination, oppression, and stigma.
That's what weight-loss profiteers are doing right now, via an astroturf organization called the Obesity Action Coalition. They say they're "dedicated to giving a voice to the individual affected by the disease of obesity." As if fat activists haven't been speaking up for ourselves for more than 40 years! As if we're isolated individuals who haven't built a vibrant, expanding, grassroots community of our own. They're upset about major injustices, like…insurers who don't want to pay for stomach amputation and…people not fully understanding that "when it comes to health, Your Weight Matters." (It's capitalized; it must be true!) What? Five bjillion fearmongering media reports about fat being deadly aren't enough of a marketing push? They say they're ready to fight weight bias and discrimination. Their plan is…1. define every fat person as diseased and 2. encourage fatties to report to the nearest weight-loss profiteer's office. (Where we'll be billed — with all possible respect, I'm sure! — for anti-fat services.)
Pronouncements from self-styled stigma-fighting institutions like the Rudd Center and OAC don't seem to me all that different from the fat-hate email I get. Different vocabulary expressing the same worldview.