I have been a faithful reader of Robert Rummel-Hudson's blog, Schuyler's Monster, for years. Rob is a great writer and an amazing parent, and his blog about his life with daughter Schuyler - who was born with a congenital brain disorder that prevents her from, among other things, speaking - is both poignant and fierce.
One of the things that you can count on at Rob's blog is that he will call out any celebrity, any time, for using the R word. (That'd be 'retard', for those of you who don't spend a lot of time on special needs websites.) This seems to pop up especially in comedy, where someone will use this word to try and get a cheap laugh. Rob will not stand for this - and rightly so. The offending celebrity will be shamed publically on Rob's widely-read blog, and more than likely an apology or retraction will be forthcoming. The most recent example of this can be found here.
A couple of weeks ago, Rob posted about a comment he'd made on Facebook and the stir it caused to his readership there. He wrote:
"I lost ten pounds in the week since I was at the doctor. No joke. Perhaps I should let this infection linger a little longer."
Someone attempted to call him out on this, pointing out that he was engaging in fat talk, but Rob was having none of it. He believed that his statement was not hurtful, because "...it was a joke, and again, it wasn't a joke at someone else's expense."
Oh, well okay then. Is that the rule? I can make jokes as long as they aren't at someone else's expense? So I can call myself a retarded retard who eats retard soup for breakfast, and Rob wouldn't be bothered?
Rob points out again and again - and I agree - that the use of the word 'retard' and related terminology, even when used as a joke and even when used without someone being the butt of the joke, creates an environment in which it is possible to see people with special needs as less than human. It's hostility and prejudice cleverly disguised as humour. If we simmer and steep in that environment long enough, hearing 'retarded' as a pejorative often enough, our values are likely to subtly change.
Let's read that paragraph again, with only one substitution.
The use of the word 'fat' and related terminology, even when used as a joke and even when used without someone being the butt of the joke, creates an environment in which it is possible to see fat*people as less than human. It's hostility and prejudice cleverly disguised as humour. If we simmer and steep in that environment long enough, hearing 'fat' as a pejorative often enough, our values are likely to subtly change.
For some reason, Rob can't see how these are parallel. But I do.
Our society has a lot of value judgments about appearance in general and about weight in particular. These values are so subtle and ingrained that we probably don't even grasp them consciously. Rob's original statement from Facebook - go back and reread it - doesn't even make any sense if you don't include the unspoken assumption that losing weight is good, that being thin is better than being fat. Try, if you can, to erase that assumption from your mind and reread the statement again - it's meaningless.
One of the strongest roots of this fat-shaming problem is that we have conflated weight with bad health. To a great degree, this is a falsehood. It is possible to be healthy at any weight. It is possible to be fit at any weight. Moreover - and this is the one that shakes me to my core - all those health risks that we read about that are associated with overweight and obesity? Are actually much more strongly associated with yo-yo dieting. Who diets? Overweight people, of course (and don't even get me started on who defines "overweight" and how). It's actually way more healthy to stay a consistent weight - whatever that weight may be - than to engage in the lose/gain cycle. And make no mistake, any diet you undertake to help you lose, will also eventually cause you to gain. There has not yet been invented a healthy, flawless diet that will keep weight off you permanently. (If you want proof, go to the bookstore and count how many diet books you see. If there was one perfect method, there would be only one book on the shelf.)
But anyway - why do you need a diet? If being fat has no effect on your health - and trying to change your weight actually worsens your health - why does it matter? Well, it matters because we live in a society that shames fat people. I've only touched the tip of the iceberg in exploring that issue in this post, but I hope you are beginning to see that I think that's a pretty bullshit situation and a pretty bullshit reason to risk your health by trying to change your weight. For the past six months, I have been reading and learning and working a lot on my own attitudes about weight. As part of this learning, there are things I will not stand for anymore. The unspoken assumptions like the one in Rob's Facebook post are among them. If you say something like that to me, about your own weight/body, I will call you on it. I don't believe weight is unhealthy. I don't believe weight is unbeautiful. I don't believe weight makes people more or less worthy of love, value, privilege, success, appreciation, respect, or happiness. I am working hard to stop confusing who I am with what I look like, and while it's incredibly difficult work, I think it's profoundly worthwhile. I hope you come with me, you just might like it on the other side.
*I have used the word 'fat' throughout this post as I believe it is the most honest, authentic and unvalue-laden term available - as opposed to 'overweight' which implies there is a 'right' - and wrong - weight.