When making offensive jokes, say racist or homophobic or sexist ones, the question is always, “What harm did I cause with a harmless joke?” or “How can you be funny without stepping on a few toes?” When it comes to more formal spaces though, this matter is taken quite seriously – not that it stops bigoted people from making those statements, it’s just that they are called out for it.
When fat shaming occurs, the perennial comeback is that it is not “natural” to be fat or obese, and they are trying to help you, out of concern for your well-being. As a fat girl, I can speak for all of us when I say – who the hell asked you for help?
There is something beyond that, though, which is more disturbing. If your intention was to get me help, why were you making fun of me? Why is ‘shaming’, the procedure for letting me know that I need to get help?
If you knew somebody was clinically depressed, would you make fun of them in an effort to raise awareness? Would casual remarks be made about how they are always moody, the same way remarks are always made about how fat people take up too much space or are the reason why there is a food shortage in the world, or whatever else is the pick of the day?
If your intention is to help me, why’re you making fun of me?
Imagine walking down the road, on your way to work or home or anywhere else, and finding a humongous billboard advertising something as innocuous as cigarettes fat shaming you. It is loud, it is terribly visible, its colours blind you.
Gyms, fitness centers and weight loss establishments have the most bigoted people on their ad campaign team. But I understand, in some warped manner, that they need to sell the “ugliness” of being fat to make money. What escapes my comprehension is why a corporation that has nothing to do with body image would use fat shaming as their motif for advertisement.
Take a look at a few of these advertisements. Beyond being horrified, let’s examine these utter lack of the minutest touch of creativity.
Electronic cigarettes are supposed to be the choice that doesn’t make you regret what you do. Let’s forget for a moment that cigarettes cause around five different kinds of cancer, and if anything should be advertised with skulls and bones, it is that. There is a fat woman in that ad, whom he perceivably just had sex with. What about that is synonymous with a regretful act? I don’t know. But they evidently do.
PETA protects animals and animal rights. The advertisement on the left that we see here though, seems to be asking us to go vegan, because it helps you remain thin, not because you would be preventing animal cruelty if you do.
And how does saving whales have anything to do with people being ashamed of their beach bodies? What is the logic behind that? Do they not know that bodybuilders are the biggest consumers of proteins? Or that not all vegetarians are in shape? Or that being fat is not always related to eating habits?
Ashley Madison is a website that provides discrete services to married men. Admittedly, anything they do, including advertisement, will be controversial. Hence they opted for the safest route. Why have boring sex with your fat wife, which here is supposed to mean old, boring, and non-sexy, when you can have an extramarital affair with a hot woman of your choice?
Quaker Masala Oats could have been advertised in about fifty different ways, given how it helps with sugar control, cholesterol, even the digestive system, etc. Instead, here’s a million dollar idea! Why don’t we do some fat shaming, while adding more than a healthy pinch of sexism to it as well? The husband notices his wife’s figure, instead of sales figures, because she managed to fit into her old dress. By now, we understand all the implications well.
What I think is worse is that this is one of those ads we would call not so harmful because it is apparently comprehendable that if you are thinner you are more attractive, and that housewives grow fat and hence boring so it is okay to have the husband suddenly notice a change. This ad, when compared with the likes of Fair and Lovely, or vaginal tightening/whitening creams, Veet, etc. are not so abhorrent, even to the open-minded, barring the sexism.
corporations use fat shaming as their tool because it is a universally comprehended idea.
The answer to most of the questions I have just asked, which arises from my inability to comprehend or digest the logic behind fat shaming, is that it works. People understand their message, people agree with it, and people relate to it. These corporations that have nothing to do with body image, use fat shaming as their tool because it is a universally comprehended idea. These advertisements, or a public announcement of any form, give the already judgemental folks the perfect backdrop for fat shaming in person. If PETA can, why can’t I? Now they don’t even have to say it’s not natural to be fat, or it’s not healthy, they can just say its unethical. Sounds ridiculous? When has that ever mattered?
I was curious about the origins of the myth of fat people and bad sex, beyond and before rampant pop culture trends. It is a recurring theme in most fat-shaming ads. Women were never portrayed to be skinny, till quite recently. The descriptions of breasts and hips and waists and thighs in older writings would never point out to a 36- 24 -36. Stamina and libido are parts of the argument. The assumption that any of that is not applicable to ‘perfect sizes’ is ridiculous.
Sex drive, how much you love your body and what it is capable of, physical chemistry with the other person involved, experience, knowledge of what makes sex more pleasurable to yourself and the other, experimenting and mixing up things once in a while, keeping it exciting and non-repetitive – these are what determine how good or bad the sex you have is. What makes you think otherwise is the popular assumption that it is possible to be turned on only by ‘hot bods’. The assumption that lingerie will look good only on those women, the conclusion that we all derive from the impossible body standards that movies, fashion, and everything else, dump on us.
in the forms of constant reminders and huge hoardings, not having a standard body size means fighting for yourself every step of the way.
In the minutest of ways, and in the forms of constant reminders and huge hoardings, not having a standard body size means fighting for yourself every step of the way. Prejudices are all encompassing, but the first ones made are always physical ones – colour, shape, etc. Casual fat shaming, like casual sexism, is a thing.
Taking offence at obtuse comments dubbed as jokes, or taking up a fight at some gentle humour will both earn you the title of a party pooper and will take way too much effort from our sides. We are asked to pick our battles. I see no reason why. Instead, I think, if we fight all battles and dismantle these horrendously offensive notions, then they will stop being universally understood, or humour, or whatever else it is disguised as. Even the mildest hint or comment matters. While it makes us stronger to not pay heed to them, it is also our part to squash it like a bug. I have come to understand that it’s the good fight, though sometimes unbelievably excruciating.
even if I were of a ‘normal size’, I’d want people to see beyond that, to consider and respect me for who I am, not what I look like.
Relationships have been made and broken over ‘silly’ comments. Once you make the decision to fight this out – what kind of negativity you’d like to keep in your life and what you wouldn’t, becomes your decision. I don’t feel the pang anymore when I see those advertisements. I feel empowered about having spoken up about it and against it. I continue to write about not letting your identity be rooted in your size, because even if I were of a ‘normal size’, I’d want people to see beyond that, to consider and respect me for who I am, not what I look like.
Making something out of myself isn’t something I have done out of desperation or for lack of other means, but because being a human entails a lot more than what others deem of you at first sight.
Stay happy, stay sexy, stand up straight, all for yourself.
–Your resident fat girl.
Featured Image Credit: @kylebuchanan on Twitter