Written by Courtney Stoker
Megaphone Staff Writer
An article in the last issue of “The Megaphone” suggested in the sub-headline that the Mississippi House Bill 282, which would not allow restaurants to serve people considered “obese” by the State Health Department, had merit despite its grievous disregard for bodily autonomy.
Bills like this are often introduced to raise awareness of an issue. But no bill, even one not expected to pass, that suggests we regard a category of people as second-class human beings deserves to be treated with anything other than indignation.
This bill represents a common attitude toward fat people in the wake of the “obesity crisis,” namely, that fat people don’t deserve the same rights as everyone else.
A disgust of fat people is all too easily hidden behind a supposed concern for health. The “obesity crisis” phenomenon is all too often simply fat phobia, and fat phobia can be dangerously harmful.
In The New York Times, an article recently ran titled “The Dreaded Weigh-In,” by Tara Parker-Pope.
Parker-Pope writes: “University of Pennsylvania researchers say they believe some women may be avoiding the doctor just to avoid being weighed in front of other people. They surveyed 482 college-age men and women to determine how sensitive they were to the disclosure of personal information, including their weight. The study, to be published in an upcoming issue of the medical journal Appetite, showed that women experienced high degrees of discomfort at the prospect of being weighed in the presence of others.”
This study refers to public weigh-ins, where the scale is in a busy waiting room or hallway, but I know many women, including myself, who are nervous even about that private weigh-in, with just you and a nurse or doctor. Though I’m of a relatively “healthy” weight, my heart rate rises when I step on the scale for that annual check-up, and I always wonder if my doctor is judging me – if she thinks I’m repulsive.
It’s not a stretch to imagine that if women, even of a healthy weight, are nervous about being weighed at the doctors, they will certainly dread being told they are fat and unhealthy every time they visit a doctor. That dread can lead to avoiding the doctor at all, something that is not healthy for any person.
I know the regular response to this: doctors have a responsibility to tell their patients if they’re unhealthy (read: fat people don’t know they’re fat unless we tell them). This is utter nonsense. Smokers don’t get shamed and lectured in the media, on the internet, in humor and in the doctor’s office, probably because we know smokers know that smoking is unhealthy. They’re not stupid.
But fat people are made to feel ashamed, even in the doctor’s office, a place that should be safe from hatred and prejudice. But then, smoking doesn’t make you fat and disgusting, right?
Health is not the issue in the “obesity crisis.” If it were, it wouldn’t take scare statistics to force legislators into actually caring about the nutrition-free food of public school cafeterias. There wouldn’t be books like Skinny Bitch (by Rory Freedman and Kim Barnouin, former modeling agent and model, respectively) that offer fat as a sin that can be purged with veganism. There wouldn’t be pictures of Jennifer Love-Hewitt, a size two, in a bikini with scathing headlines about her large ass at the checkout aisle. There wouldn’t be people like Megan McArdle (from “The Atlantic” online, in an article titled “Why Not Food Stamps?”) suggesting that the solution to obesity among the poor is getting rid of food stamps, and that giving poor people money for drugs “will hardly be much worse” than letting them spend more money on food after all, drugs don’t make you fat. It becomes increasingly obvious that we are not worried about health; we are worried about fat. Masking fat phobia behind a concern for health is a way of making prejudice and fat-shaming socially acceptable.
Fat phobia is something I never encountered in high school. I was hyper-thin naturally for my entire life. I was often told by men that my healthy appetite was “refreshing” after dating women who wouldn’t eat anything but a salad on dates.
After 20, however, my metabolism and my poverty caught up with me. When you spend $60 a month on groceries, you quickly figure out that pasta and processed foods are cheaper and more filling than fresh fruits and vegetables. And now, my once healthy appetite is a mark against me. Even my mother has started making comments about my weight and my lack of concern about it. I have made a choice; I can’t afford to eat healthy all the time and simply don’t like working out. I’m not going to make every meal something I have to make up for by punishing myself in exercise. That’s my decision to make, not my doctor’s, not the government’s, not anyone’s but mine. When I encounter fat hate, I don’t engage in discussions of whether my body/lifestyle is healthy or not or whether I hate my fat enough, because I don’t accept those as standards worth considering. If someone decides that they don’t like salad, and that they like sitting on the couch more than running, it doesn’t bar them from being treated like a person. Being concerned about your health is not a prerequisite for having human rights or being treated with civility. Health and thinness are not the worth of a human being.
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