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Friday, August 26, 2011

Let's Look at Society's Love/Hate Relationship with Fat People

Posted By on Fri, Aug 26, 2011 at 2:00 PM

Romain Bolzinger followed me to Full Figure Fridays. - NICOLE PEIRCE
  • Nicole Peirce
  • Romain Bolzinger followed me to Full Figure Fridays.

There's some debate about whether the opposite of love is hate or disinterest. Fat people rarely enjoy public disinterest. We are, nonetheless, targets of strongly felt and self-contradictory attentions. Is it love/hate or something else?

For example: Why did a French TV guy from Tac Presse fly here and follow me around with his camera recently, eager to capture "le footage" of the rascally American fat activist for a one-hour documentary? This was the third French TV program to follow me in the past year and a half. (Why don't they talk to fat activists and organizations in France? Or in Spain? Or famous authors and groups in Germany? Or in the U.K.?)

I took the French TV guy -- Romain Bolzinger -- to Tigress Osborn's fabulous nightclub, Full Figure Friday. I left pretty early, but friends tell me he stayed until the place closed. The theme was Short Skirt Night. (It takes a seasoned media professional several hours to get B-roll of boogying fatties?)

I also showed him how passersby of all sizes on Haight Street react with relieved delight to my invention, the Yay! Scale. It's merely a bathroom scale with compliments instead of numbers on the dial. Step on it to find out you're "sexy" or "gorgeous" or "perfect" or "fine." He urged me to find fat people who would Yay! themselves. The next fat woman who happened by not only failed to feel downtrodden, she had read my book.

Am I an exotic specimen? The fat American who (perversely?) feels happy and healthy and even ... hot. According to the by-now constant drip of fearmongering, so-called "obesity" is Public Enemy No. 1. Among fatosphere bloggers, that's called concern trolling. I call it "hating us for our own good." Living well despite all this "love," one risks becoming a fascinating rebel for behaving in ways that, in a weight-neutral culture, would be unremarkable.

A few years ago, acting U.S. Surgeon General Rear Adm. Steven K. Galson got publicity when he said Santa Claus should lose weight. He inspired a PR firm to create a Keep Santa Fat video campaign that raised money for America's Second Harvest.

Keep Santa Fat. That's fat-love. So here's some hate. Or is it love in disguise? I'll explain. Remember the kid in third grade who punched girls in the arm if he liked them? That reminds me of last winter's Conan O'Brien /Kirstie Alley kerfuffle: The otherwise likable and popular Conan went on a spree of stupid fat jokes about Kirstie Alley. (I guess once you make one, you just can't stop.)

Then Alley tweeted about O'Brien, "That guy acts like I bit his d--- off." When Conan retorted with a joke about Weight Watchers advising "a shake, one slice of wheat bread, and then a sensible penis," I suspect he was thinking about her 1991 Emmy acceptance speech, when she said, "I'd like to thank my husband Parker, the man who's given me the Big One for the last eight years."

Poor spurned Conan promised Kirstie he'd make fat jokes about Peru's president Alan García Perez instead. I doubt it -- not enough sexual tension there.

But here's a story that best displays the straight-up hate in all this fat-scination.

Last week, a young woman named Athia was waiting to board a return flight on Southworst -- er, I mean Southwest -- Airlines when, she says, the gate agent insisted she buy a second seat, "for your safety and comfort." Her uncle said he'd sit next to her. Not safe or comfortable enough. The flight was oversold, Athia reports. People were being asked to give up their seats. Nonetheless, Athia said she had to pay $100 and walk past disgruntled passengers to take her seat(s). She says a man made a derisive comment and a hand gesture to describe her body as she went by.

When a man who was traveling with his wife and child had nowhere to sit, another passenger audibly said, "That girl took that gentleman's seat." If that's not safe and comfortable enough, here's the cherry on top: a Southworst (oops, there I go again) employee returned the $100, moved her uncle next to Athia and her aunt, and seated a passenger in the open seat.

This heroic young woman immediately posted her story on YouTube, with brilliant analysis. (I hope Kevin Smith takes a lesson from her on how to respond to mistreatment, whatever you happen to weigh.)

Athia says, "It was the most humiliating experience I've ever had in my adult life. Everyone -- every single person on that plane -- was looking at me. Some people were shaking their heads, other people were sneering; some people were chuckling."

Her response: "I call for a revolution of hearts. By sharing this story, I hope that we can understand how people and policies inform each other. If we direct care and compassion towards one another, we can then begin creating a more beautiful world to live in."

What will happen when everyone who is near the BMI (Body Mass Index -- or, as I call it, Badly Misused Information) categories of "overweight" or "obese" refuses to fly Southworst? What will happen when everyone who has a fat friend or family member refuses to fly Southworst? If Santa flew Southworst -- would they make him pay double?

Do you find hatefulness about weight lovable or unlovable? Will you join me in refusing to give your attention and money to people and businesses that seek to profit from fat hate? Will you consider that loving our diverse bodies might mean just that and not criticism, ostracism, and the endless makeover?


Marilyn Wann has not given any money to Southworst Airlines since it started proudly advertising the policy of charging fat people double. She believes that respectfully accommodating all types of customers is good for business.

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