Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The "Fat" Stigma

So, I am not a "small" woman. I never have been. I never remember easily finding jeans in my size. I have generally been happy with the shape my body is.

... but I have recently been made aware that in the culture I am immersed in, my body is often the subject of other conversations. Many others believe that my body is not only mine, but theirs to comment upon. I understand that my body shape is not what society is most comfortable or familiar with, but it is real. I have *shape.* I have *hips.* I am *curvy.* That has, on more than one occasion, opened (against my will) discussion about my body. A few times folks have asked me if I am expecting. Surely you can read into all the reasons this is offensive to me, one who has never been pregnant.

Self-confidence issues that resulted from those comments aside, this question is only one of the few times that my body has been the subject of unwanted and uncomfortable commenting.

I recently experienced another instance. I was in a setting where I was not the only overweight person in the conversation. One person (a man... I feel like this is a relevant fact, despite my effort to remain situationally ambiguous) pointed out the fact that not only he was overweight, but I was, too. I believe that I handled the situation with grace. I dealt with his questioning about my healthcare habits in the best way that I could. I stated that I knew that I could stand to lose a few pounds. It was uncomfortable (and I believe inappropriate).

So after the conversation was concluded, and those involved were loitering in a setting with others who were not involved, I found myself with a grumbling stomach. I had not eaten yet that day. As I stood in front of the food/drink spread, I found myself debating between a cookie and a banana. What I wanted was a cookie. What did I choose? A banana. As I peeled and consumed the banana, I kept my eyes on those around me. I chose the banana over the cookie because I didn't want to see the man who had drawn attention to my "fatness" to see the fat woman eating a cookie. "Hey, LOOK AT ME! I chose a banana!"

And I am not the only person who feels this way. I know of many other situations in which a person does not want to be seen eating a certain item or drinking a certain drink for fear of being stigmatized for being fat.

I am reminded of a recent episode of "What would you do?" on ABC. A larger woman is sitting in a restaurant and orders a large meal (I don't remember exactly what) of fried/fatty food. The server (an actor who is really "in" on the situation with the actor playing the customer) berates the "fat" woman for ordering "fat" food. Very rarely do any of the unsuspecting onlookers stand up on behalf of the customer. If anything, they side with the server.

So here is the question: is this fat stigma in the mind of me, the writer, and other "fat" people, or is this an honest societal issue that needs dealt with?


Anonymous said...

I REALLY hope that this did not occur at your Board interview.

As a relatively skinny person who has struggled with body image, I have been challenged by/grateful for the fat acceptance movement... how beautiful would it be if we each could accept ourselves AND we could accept each other. It's definitely a case of internalized and externalized oppression.

I would love for the UMC to begin tackling body image issues... but unfortunately I think we disregard these issues, assuming that they're gendered.

Finally (at the end of my super-long comment), this popped up in my google reader right before yours:
Yay, for chocolate in Lent.

Blue Eyes said...

I don't think you're the only one who feels like this! I am a relatively skinny person yet I am known for eating everything - especially cake - at work so whenever I go to the staff room now I deliberately try to have a banana or not eat anything, rather than have people at work comment on me eating loads of cake again.

I went out for dinner with a guy (I didn't think it was a date, but it was kind of date like) and he does modelling and as a result is pretty slim and I asked him if he liked spare ribs and he said, 'it depends how fatty they are' and he didn't want to eat all that much of the rice (we were having Chinese) because it was 'too starchy'. I don't usually worry very much about what I'm eating - especially when I'm eating in a restaurant because I don't do that very often - but the way he was speaking about food and not eating all that much made me feel like I couldn't eat that much because then he might think badly of me. How ridiculous is that?! I was genuinely concerned that he would think I ate too much.

Another time, when I was about 19 and temping over the summer in an office, they had biscuits and cakes quite a lot and I was probably slimmer then than I am now (probably like a size 8/10 UK) and the CEO of the company (who was very slim himself - too slim for a guy IMO!) would make comments saying that I would never get a man if I ate all those cookies. Seriously, who does that?! And he made me feel really guilty and insecure when eating at work. Which again is ridiculous. The weird thing was that he wasn't a nasty guy, we usually had a laugh and he was always nice to me. I guess he thought he was being funny when he made 'you'll never get married if you eat all those' kind of jokes?!

I don't think men really get it - sorry if that's stereotyping and making huge generalisations, but I don't know any women who would make comments like that or assume that they could openly talk or make jokes about my weight. Only guys think they can do that!

Don't let people make you feel bad! They're not worth it!

Remember: Those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind.

Blue Eyes xx

Fysh Phoenix-- said...

This is a real societal issue but a multi-faceted one. I could get going on a several tangents but here is one: it would probably be wise to separate the image-management concerns from the health concerns, though that happens too seldom in our culture.
My sister is taking an undergraduate course in health education and she wanted to see what my BMI was. I measured "not over-weight" but the creepy part was that the under-weight mark was 35 lbs lighter. WHAT?!? I am a slender guy; how in the world could it be healthy for me to be thirty lbs lighter?
...if anything, I want more muscle weight... on my chest. Yup. Back to image-management~ I feel like I am supposed to be beefier, sometimes...
...but no one ever points it out to me, so I totally think the whole business is sexist.