Saturday, May 01, 2010

"You're so fat!"

The car was a beat-up sedan crammed with college kids--guys--who had clearly started their Saturday night partying on Saturday afternoon. My husband and I were out for a short three-mile bike ride. I heard the guys yelling and carrying on from a block away, and I knew they would yell something at me. And they did.

"You're so fat!"

As I pulled up alongside my husband, he asked, "What did they say?" When I told him, his jaw dropped.

"I can't believe they would say something like that!" he fumed.

I could. And as I told him, it didn't bother me all that much. I'm used to it. Guys have been yelling things at me since I was 15. Like any woman, I've learned to tune it out. It's a power trip, a form of misogyny, a reminder that women are vulnerable to men in a variety of ways.

Still, I thought about it all the way home. It reminded me of the way boys at my junior high school used to drop pennies on the ground, and yell "Kike!" at anyone who picked one up. And with that recollection, I realized viscerally, profoundly, and in a deeply emotional way that what those guys in the car were doing has a name: hate speech.

And although I've been thinking and writing and talking about this subject for years, I think this was the first time I truly got it in a fundamental way. And that is something I'll be thinking about for weeks to come.


The Binge Diary said...

I have had a few very similar things happen to me as a yound adult and it has been extremely mortifying and hurtful. WE ARE PEOPLE TOO!!!! Why is that so hard to understand??

Lady Jaye said...

It is a very hurtful thing to say, and it is hate speech.

But I've also come to understand that the kind of guy who yells that to us fat women will actually harass every woman. We just can't win to their eyes: if we're anything but a supermodel (and that's the case for most people, tall, short, fat, skinny, just name it), these guys will pick on whatever element that makes us even slightly different.

And if we're conventionally pretty and happen to be the currently accepted "sexy" weight? Then they harass too, but in a "beautiful women = porn star" attitude.

It's a shame, really, and I really don't have a solution to change that mentality.

lilacsigil said...

I have no problem with someone describing me as "fat". I am fat. But description is different from hate speech - I'm also a lesbian, but if someone starts yelling "LESBIAN" at me, they're trying to intimidate and harm, and take away my ability to exist in public space. The same goes for "FAT" and all the rest. Weirdly, I have rarely had this problem with men shouting at me - it's almost always been women shouting or throwing things.

wriggles said...

I don't wish to offend, but I think the example you give of "you're so fat" is only an insult if you find the idea of being fat/ called fat, insulting.

If it's about ascribing insulting charteristics to fatness or the language of exclusion etc, OK.

I'm not saying they didn't mean to hurt your feelings and that isn't important.

I just feel uncomfortable with the idea that merely being called/thought of as very fat is in some way insulting.

Sleepydumpling said...

There's not an age group or gender that hasn't yelled or generally just said something hateful to me as a fat woman. Kids, teenagers, young adults, adults, old people, both male and female. Hateful behaviour seems to come from them all.

Harriet said...

Wriggles, I agree with you. I use the word fat all the time and it's a fine word to me. But we all know that when it's being shouted out the window of a car, it's not meant as a descriptor. It's meant to wound. That's my point.

Lori said...

Ironically (or maybe not), the only time I've ever had anybody make some sort of "fat" comment at me was when I was in high school and not particularly fat. I was walking down the hall one day, and some guy called me a "fat bitch." I have no idea why. But obviously these things stick with us, because it's the only time I've had somebody yell an insult at me related to my body size, and I still remember it.

I have had men make comments about my body that would have really hurt me if I was in a different state of mind. Not too too long ago I was walking into the grocery store, and this older man said to me, in a very leering way, "Baby, you're a whole lotta woman." I would have been mortified maybe fifteen years ago, but now I just found it kind of laughable. But his intention wasn't, I don't think, to hurt me, and I think he probably intended it as a compliment. I didn't feel insulted or compliments, just amused.

I felt good that I can have people make comments about my body, positive or negative, and just remain neutral about it. I definitely would not have done that when I was younger--back then somebody insulting my body would have made me feel terrible and somebody giving me a compliment would have made me feel good.

wriggles said...'s not meant as a descriptor. It's meant to wound. That's my point.

Indeed, but it is a neutral word, so who gets to decide, them or us?

I say us.

Eating With Others said...

I found this and thought about what you said;

She said that one of the reasons she believes the findings were so consistent is that prejudice against overweight or obese people is "so pervasive that it's acceptable." But, she added, "Obesity is really complex. It's not all about willpower. It's a brain-based disorder, and I hope that message becomes clearer."

From an artical on how overweight children are more likely to get bullied.

It is acceptable. If you are overweight it's ok to whisper about you or talk to your or point and stare. Well you get the idea. Sorry the artical brought out a lot of old stuff.

Arielle Bair, MSW, LSW said...

It's definitely hate speech. And even though you said it didn't bother you much, I'm sorry you had to hear it. It makes me mad. And sad.

Ann said...

Harriet, I went to high school with you. My experience at PHS was that people found all kinds of reasons not to accept others. Fat, Jewish, skinny, book-ish, nerd, Polish, you-name-it. The whole outsider thing: it felt and still feels like an intent to wound. It's not the words themselves but how they are used, and that is fundamentally what hate speech is. As writers, we have a kind of meta-cognition about words; we know in theory that language can serve vile, emotional, xenophobic ends and can analyze that usage. But to acknowledge the words flung out as harmful projectiles is to recognize hate speech. It's the delivery, like the use of the word "Darling" when the speaker means "you stupid jerk."

Anavar said...

This so rude! And people don't realize what consequences insults like this bring. Especially at schools kids are picking on fatter kids. And this really can hurt individuals psychical and mental development.

Fat Bastardo said...

I take a slightly different view.

Harriet said...

And what is that view?