The Absurdity of Oppression

When I was a kid, I used to wonder a lot about what I would do if I were ever in the position of having to fight oppression. I knew–deep down–that I would have been a freedom rider when I read about Rosa Parks. After I read The Diary of Anne Frank, I knew that I would have hidden Jews in my attic. I wished I could have marched with Martin Luther King, Jr. or stood arm and arm with the hippies protesting the Vietnam War that ended as I was born.

I was a sensitive kid who read–a lot–and who was also white, middle-class, protestant and disability-free. I was, in elementary school, bullied to the point of needing therapy as an adult. But, once I left Kettering Elementary, I was not part of any oppressed class, with the exception of being female.

So when I thought about standing up and fighting the good fight, it was always about standing up in defense of someone else.

But now there are billboards like these going up in Georgia:

And doctor’s supporting this kind of thing. And the first lady standing up against bullying, except against fat kids who I guess deserve it? And daytime talk show hosts running to fight against fat kids.

And I’m wondering if maybe this unbelievable lashing out against obesity–in kids, but also in adults who are not only ridiculed for their bodies, but blamed for having fat kids, too–is the place where I can do what I thought about as a kid. Where I can stand up and scream, with my fist raised, this is wrong! This is wrong, yo. It just is.

It is not okay to stigmatize people. It was not okay in Nazi Germany, it was not okay in the Jim Crow south, it isn’t okay in the places around the world were genocide happens and it is not okay for fat people.

In her book Losing It: False Hopes and Fat Profits in the Diet Industry, Laura Fraser says, talking about the shift from fat to thin as a cultural ideal in the late 1800s:

Food became more accessible and convenient to all but the poorest families. People who once had too little to eat now had plenty, and those who had a tendency to put on weight began to do so. When it became possible for people of modest means to become plump, being fat no longer was seen as a sign of prestige. Well-to-do Americans of Northern European extraction wanted to be able to distinguish themselves, physically and racially, from stockier immigrants. The status symbols flipped: It became chic to be thin and all too ordinary to be overweight.

The late 1800s were a long time ago, right? How many people today realize that we are still using fat vs. thin as a way for the most privileged of classes to lift themselves higher, while the rest scramble and scrape to follow suit?

It’s even more pronounced today. The very poor are often resigned by a lack of money and transportation to eating from dollar menus and convenience stores, while the privileged shop at high-end organic markets and declare that the fat poor could be thin if only they didn’t eat so much crap and weren’t so damned lazy.

Despite evidence that even the very wealthy, if they are not genetically wired for thinness are unlikely to remain so for very long (Oprah, anyone?), we are made to believe that all we need is more will power, the right diet, the right exercise, the right determination–and we, too, can be thin.

Not just thin. Healthy.

The thin are healthy, or so it goes. The rest of us are on death’s doorstep.

And even if a fat person has low cholesterol and normal sugar levels and blood pressure–then these anti-obesity zealots only nod and say knowingly that it’s only a matter of time. Because it’s only the BMI that counts.

A person who jumps off a Empire State building might insist that they won’t die when they are only half-way down, but that doesn’t change the inevitable, right?

Thin people, just by virtue of being thin, are assumed to be healthy, even though they can also have diabetes, heart disease and a myriad of other ailments. Some are healthy, some are not. The same as some fat people are healthy and some are not.

The current war on fat kids suggests that thin kids are thin because they aren’t sitting in front of computers or playing video games. That they are thin because they don’t eat McDonald’s or potato chips or chocolate whenever they can get their hands on it. This is blatant bullshit.

Everyone–every human being–benefits from exercise and eating nutritious food. Thin people don’t magically extract health from a hamburger just because their bodies don’t store the calories as efficiently as mine. They don’t somehow build muscle and stamina and lung capacity from watching TV, just because a lack of it doesn’t result in fat for them.

That hamburger has nutrition and is not inherently bad. Food is morally neutral. Food is food, no matter the size of the person eating it. And exercise is exercise, no matter the size of the person doing it.

It is absurd to have a huge, wide spread campaign against fat people. As absurd as it was to drain a pool because a black person swam in it.

It is as absurd to have our president put his young daughters on a public diet, and his wife campaigning for a war on fat kids, as it was for the Arkansas National Guard to have been called out to keep the Little Rock Nine from integrating a white school.

It is as absurd to believe it’s okay to publicly humiliate fat kids (or adults) as it was for America’s leaders to put the three-fifths compromise in the United States Constitution.

I truly believe that my grandchildren will look back at this time and ask themselves, and maybe me, how it could have happened. How could anyone have thought this was okay?

I want to be able to tell them that I stood up against it.


Filed under mind, spirit

17 responses to “The Absurdity of Oppression

  1. Kary

    I salute your standing up. I know from experience that it can be a trying thing to stand up against the norm. People can react in extremely unexpected (and sometimes painful) ways. I salute you for your courage, and thank you for the message. I agree with almost everything you said… good job. 🙂

  2. Piper

    As a fat black woman, I was elated to read your piece. You spoke right to my heart and basically said everything that I agree with. Kudos to you!

  3. Excellent post. Thank you!

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  5. Sarah N

    Lovely. I would say you have beautifully encapsulated what is at the heart of the fat/size acceptance movement.

  6. Lonie Mc.

    I’m almost always amazed at the responses I get to talking about fat prejudice. I’ve had everything from “but, if you quit oppressing them, they might think it’s ok to be fat” to “fat people don’t deserve protection; they can change if they want it to.” That’s the key — that’s the kicker — they believe we deserve oppression because we are supposedly in control of our bodies.

    • It’s the perfect storm, isn’t it? The people on the receiving end of the billions (and billions and billions) of dollars thrown at the diet industry have perfected shaming us to the point that we shame each other, they don’t even have to do it for us anymore. They can just show us pictures of what we ‘could be’ and then leave it up to us to browbeat each other for not fitting that arbitrary picture of perfect beauty and health. Then faced with that shame, we spend money on diets and pills and programs. Then we fail, and then…repeat for a century or so.

  7. Squeegeelicious

    I just want to say, that it was my experience as a fat child that has given me the empathy needed to stand up against all systems of oppression, from race to gender to ability to class to sexual expression. I shouldn’t have had to go through what I went through, and neither should any other child, regardless of the reason for their oppression. That’s why the new anti-bullying legislation has me so upset; I feel like my younger self has been thrown under the bus. Some how, my oppression is less than theirs because of the social perception that I can escape the prejudice by ‘bootstrapping’ it and loosing weight. It is now seems that it is more commonly excepted that gay people are ‘just born that way’ than fat people are born to be fat.

    The worst part about all this is that they should not even be able to justify their prejudice using their own paradigm. If being ‘obese’ is a disease (and it isn’t but for the sake of argument, lets assume in there world it is), then is should be no more OK to single out and judge fat kids that it is to single out and judge kids with cancer, and yet one is perfectly socially acceptable while the other would get you labeled an unfeeling monster.

    Something else I want to point out something that some people are missing in the fat-sphere about the recent white house press release with Michelle Obama standing up against bullying in cases of , “…race, ethnicity, gender or gender identity, sexual orientation, income or disability…” she conveniently left out cases of bullying that simply come down to aesthetics. What if someone is singled out for a large nose, or buck teeth, or ears that stick out? All of those are genetic traits that can be modified through cosmetic means to make the person more socially acceptable. I believe that when we fight for the right of fat kids to accept themselves, we also fight for the right of all human variation to be acceptable and lovable.

    • Do we even need to qualify bullying with a list of things it’s not okay to bully for? Why not just say, no bullying and leave it at that. It’s not like there are some situations where bullying is acceptable.

  8. Pingback: Pattie Thomas in 'Psychology Today' | Big Fat Blog | Mentlog

  9. femvoc

    Wow! Great piece. You really hit the nail on the head. I wish we could get America to read this. They would probably say, “Stop rationalizing!” Sigh.

  10. Pingback: Pattie Thomas in ‘Psychology Today’-Lose Fat, Weight Loss |Lose Fat

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