[Guestblog] Fatphobia: The Fat Elephant in the Room

By | March 30, 2008

Since, Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, has been in the buzz on the blog here, I was reminded of a piece I wrote in 2003. It’s modeled after the format of White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, but in borrowing Ms. McIntosh’s form I am NOT trying to compare racism and fatphobia or trying to suggest that one is “like” the other.

If I’ve learned nothing else about the intersectionality of oppression within activist movements, it’s this: making connections between different oppressions and talking about how different groups of oppressed people can share information, strategies and support is awesome. Trying to compare or find ways in which one oppression is “just like” another one is totally not useful and erases the complexity and history of each oppression creating nothing but hurt and frustration in its wake.

I have always found it interesting (and I’ll be honest, a touch disappointing) that it took a white woman to spell out white privilege to white people when people of color had been spelling it out just as eloquently for some time before White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, was unleashed upon academia. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful for its existence, because it’s a valuable tool for sure but it sometimes raises my “white translator” hackles.

That being said, this is my piece I wrote in 2003. I still agree with most everything here and I’m interested in hearing feedback on what a larger audience has to say about it:

Fatphobia: The Fat Elephant in the Room

(author’s note: it could probably benefit from a cleverer title)

1. If I walk slow or choose to take the elevator/escalator people assume I might be tired/have had a bad day and not that it’s because I am unfit & unhealthy.

2. Doctors don’t chalk up every symptom I have to my size and present weight loss as a panacea.

3. I won’t pay more for health insurance because of my size.

4.If I am in a romantic relationship with a person of the same sex it’s not assumed that it’s because I “can’t get a man” or “can’t get a woman.”

5. I can eat in public without people judging my food choices. Likewise I can be pretty assured that no one behind me at the grocery store is looking at what I buy to “see what makes me so fat.”

6. If I have a fat child people don’t immediately blame me for foisting my “bad eating habits” off on him/her.

7. I am paid more than a fat employee doing the same job.

8. I can be assured of seeing people my size in popular media (tv, magazines, etc.) If I am an actor I can usually be up for meaningful lead roles rather than the “comical sidekick” or be otherwise unrestricted in terms of what parts I’m allowed to play.

9. My size is not a consideration in my hiring process. I don’t have to fear being fired due to my size. I do not have to worry about being told that my size constitutes having an “unprofessional appearance.”

10. I can shop in most stores and find clothes in my size.

11. I don’t pay extra for my clothes because of my size.

12. I can be fit or pretty or healthy or a vegetarian or smell nice or keep a clean home and not be looked at some wacky exception to some rule about what people my size are “supposed to be like.”

13. I am never asked to speak for people “my size.”

14. When a person flirts with me I don’t have to worry that they’re doing it to have “good politics” and can genuinely assume it’s because they find me attractive.

15. I do not have to deal with people who fetishize me because of my size.

16. I am not asked to pay for two airplane seats. Or two train seats. Or two bus seats. Though often cramped, I generally fit into most places.

17. If I sit down on a crowded subway train, I do not get sneers from fellow passengers.

18. My size communicates very little to most people and is value neutral. That is, most people don’t assume anything about my values, morals, etc. because of my size.

19. When I go to an amusement park I don’t have to worry about fitting into rides. When I book a hotel room I don’t immediately think about how big the bathroom is. When I go to a restaurant or movie theatre or concert hall I can be reasonably sure that I’ll fit & be comfortable in their seats.

20. I am not used as a medical scapegoat because of my size. Medical professionals generally treat me with respect and believe me when I say that I eat healthy and exercise. Furthermore, if I require immediate medical attention I can be reasonably sure that an ambulance, an operating table, a gurney, an MRI chamber and other critical pieces of medical equipment will accommodate someone of my size.

— Amy Mendosa, 2003
— Edited 2008, to correct grammatical errors and to include accessibility to medical equipment as a privilege.

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