Thursday, January 14, 2010

Why I believe in fat activism

Scene: Meeting of my university's diversity committee (of which I am a member), where we have been planning a day-long diversity workshop for our faculty. Much conversation over who will be resistant to such a workshop, who is resistant to the idea of diversity in education in general. Much conversation in general over issues of cultural competence, etc.

The conversation turns to the current crisis in Haiti.

Professor Y: Some of the coverage on this has been unbelievably racist.

General agreement around the table.

Professor Z: Pat Robertson is talking about those "colored" people making a pact with the devil. And Rush Limbaugh, too. It's unbelievably offensive.

Professor X: Yeah, especially for a fat white guy like him!


Me: Did you say "fat white guy"?

Professor X: (to his credit) I just caught myself.



Anonymous said...

fat is an acceptable prejudice but so is islamaphobia and anti-mexican/immigrant prejudice.

however, in some academic circles,
islamaphobia and anti-mexican/immigrant prejudice is less politically correct than sizism.

I think it depends who you are talking to?

Harriet said...

In this case, it was a skinny white guy. :)

Since I've joined the diversity committee at my school I've had to bring up the issue of sizism several times. Because when most people talk about "diversity" they mean race and gender only, pretty much.

Anonymous said...

It's especially fun if you are fat, a woman and of Mexican heritage like myself. The various -isms are quite a thing to behold and experience sometimes all at once.

Pamela Redmond said...

How about "old fat white guy"? Or, maybe worse, "middle-aged fat white guy"? I have a google alert set for middle-aged, and nearly every story is negative -- except those that trumpet people's triumph over being middle-aged. Guess is would be the same or worse with fat.

Harriet said...

Interesting, Pamela. He probably would have said old fat white guy, except that he himself is a middle-aged skinny white guy.

Have you read Diana Athill's new memoir? It's about old age rather than middle age, but I wonder what you thought if so?

Ari J. Brattkus said...

Economic diversity is also something that people over look when talking about school environments, as well as different learning styles. I love (eye roll) how at my daughter's wonderful all girls, very progressive school they always talk about how diverse the student body is, but even the minority students are generally from middle to upper class families and ALL of the girls are within a narrow band of learning diversity, by which I mean there are no kids who have learning disabilities or autism.

Harriet said...

Too true. Class is another "invisible" kind of diversity.

Anonymous said...

Is it the word "fat" that you object to? The word "white"? Maybe I'm so very un-pc, but this is not an untrue description. Maybe it's the sneer he likely said it with?

Harriet said...

The sneer didn't help. More to the point, we are on a committee devoted to embracing and facilitating others' embrace of diversity of all kinds. And he just blew it on the size diversity issue.

ja said...

Discrimination against people suffering from mental illnesses is also an acceptable prejudice. "Crazy" people get no respect.

I also agree with Erica who mentioned class discrimination.

Anything Fits A Naked Man said...

I have just found your site, and I must say, I can't decide which I love more, your posts, or the discussions in the the "comments" section that they inspire!

I am an average weight, middle-aged, white girl with a huge chip on her shoulder and a great amount of intolerance for ANYONE who negatively categorizes human beings based on appearance, race gender, and/or religion. That's all I have to say about THAT!

I am new to the "blogosphere" and am trying to learn how to write thoughtfully and honestly, as you so beautifully do here. I'm so glad I found you! Thanks for this, and particularly, Sunday's post!

Harriet said...

Welcome, Anything! Love your moniker.

DivaJean said...

Harriet- Loved your letter to the editor in Sunday's Post Standard! In this neck of the woods (Syracuse), saying anything bad about Bunny Dimmel is like spitting on the Pope. Those with disordered eating (ie- most women) see her as the be all and end all of dieting perfection. You showed real cojones calling her on her craziness.

I was surprised to not see a blog about it all here.

Harriet said...

Spitting on the Pope! I love it.

I feel for Bunny . . . until she starts prosletyzing with the fervor only the converted can bring to the table.

I hate reading her stuff and usually skip it, for my sanity. This one I couldn't help but take on.

Thanks for your note!

Cathy (UK) said...

Ah, but people think that there's nothing politically incorrect about describing someone as 'thin' or 'skinny', or calling a red head like me 'gingernut'...

Personally I don't comprehend the concept of 'fat activism'. I despise social exclusion, and I definitely don't support teasing or bullying - of anyone, including people who are overweight, but does our society really need to be so fixated on political correctness?

Harriet said...


It's not a question of commenting on someone's appearance, though I think we do way too much of that in our culture. It's the fact that calling someone thin or skinny is a compliment. Calling someone fat, overweight, chubby, thick, or fill in the blank is meant in a derogatory way, as I'm sure you're aware.

I don't think of this as political correctness. I think of it as basic good manners--putting yourself in someone else's shoes, and acting respectfully as you yourself would like to be treated.

Cathy (UK) said...

Hi Harriet, like you I don't think we should comment on people's appearance, and actually, I don't consider to be called/described as 'skinny', 'thin' or even 'slim' as being a compliment...

I had a long history of anorexia nervosa (non-fat-phobic type) and people were always commenting on my thinness/slimness - sometimes to point it out assuming I hadn't noticed, or sometimes doing it with the intention of being complimentary. And then would follow the questions "what do you eat/weigh... etc."

I found it really annoying, because I was struggling with a mental illness, that had nothing to do with desiring thinness, but everything to do with struggling with 'life'.

Now > 30 pounds heavier people tell me it's great to see me 'fatter'. I take it as a compliment.

Harriet said...


I'm so glad you are recovered. Wishing you health and strength.

Cathy (UK) said...

Thanks Harriet :)

Best wishes to you too!

KellyRose said...

i agree with the concept of not saying derogatory things to people based on shape or size or weight. i am also unsure of how i feel about fat activism, though i am a big fan of creating a more body-positive society..
there is a great zine (self-published magazine) called not sorry you should check out. it's all about fat acceptance.