What if we loved fat girls as much as we love the “bowl full of jelly” Santa?

We attended my son’s holiday concert the other night. The kids were mainly middle schoolers, with a handful of high schoolers sprinkled in the mix. There were a number of solos, and the talent rivaled that of American Idol auditions – some were brilliant, some you had to mentally plug your ears to…

One part of the show I can’t get out of my mind though:

Two girls came to the front, 7th or 8th graders I would guess, dressed in identical shimmery gold and black sleeveless dresses. One was tall, thin, and tan, the other was pale, fat, and short.

Now, without describing them further, most people will picture the tall thin girl as attractive, and the short fat girl as ugly. This is the reaction the people sitting behind me had, as they audibly tsk-tsked as the fat girl made her way to the front of the stage (I had to force myself not to turn around and begin to beat them over the head with my umbrella). Their sounds of disapproval seemed to emanate through the audience, and, as the girls performed, I sensed the (mostly parents) in attendance trying to muster applause for the fat singer, while the thin singer was showered with whistles and mighty claps. Yet, the fat singer was the better singer – and, in my book, she was beautiful. I loved her dark hair, the way her limbs pushed mightily from the sleeveless dress, her full face, the hulk of her form as she sang clear notes into the audience.

The thin girl next to her exuded embarrassment due to standing next to such fatness – her look indicated that she was trying to convey to the audience, “please, it wasn’t my choice to have to sing next to lardo here, if I smile big enough and look pretty enough and just pretend I’m up here all by my beautiful batting eyelashes self, maybe it will work.” I hated her. I know she is only a tween, but I couldn’t help it. The contempt and shame she exuded due to being placed on stage next to a body she deemed ugly was way too palpable for me to forgive.

As for the fat beauty, she never looked up, never made eye contact with the audience, never owned her wonderful singing talent. At 13 or perhaps 14, she seems to have learned that her body is not supposed to exude confidence, that it is not supposed to expect praise and love, and that, perhaps, she is lucky to even be included in the show with a body such as hers. The skinny-minny family behind me certainly would have preferred her not to be in the show, that they made clear. (And, yes, I realize I am doing a bit of skinny bashing here, but fat hatred and the destruction of the self esteem of young fat bodies brings out the skinny-hater in me…)

Anyhow, as I wished fervently that I could somehow make that fat girl on stage love herself, love her body, and love her pale, full limbs as much as her vibrant voice, I thought of, of all people, Santa. As the holiday carols boomed out from the choir, I pondered why we love this iconic fat old “man” so darn much, but can’t muster love for fat girls. (For my refusal to believe that Santa is really a man, come back for a post on this matter Xmas eve.)

This holiday season, my wish is that all fat bodies, not only those bedecked in red suits and donning beards, will be shown love. They too deserve affection, praise, and compliments – and, yes, a plateful of cookies.

Happy holidays fatties! And, yes, to the skinny-minnies too.

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Published in: on December 23, 2008 at 10:50 am  Comments (41)  
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  1. Geez, that poor girl. Who says skinny equals beautiful? I’m sure she was gorgeous, and I hope that she won’t be daunted by this experience.

    I remember a similar incident happened with my best friend when she did an act for our lip-synch contest. Of course, all audience comments (WHILE she was performing) were related to her damn weight.

    Assholes.

  2. “This is the reaction the people sitting behind me had, as they audibly tsk-tsked as the fat girl made her way to the front of the stage (I had to force myself not to turn around and begin to beat them over the head with my umbrella).”

    That’s terrible. I wish you had bopped them on the head. What hateful and cruel behaviour.

  3. Interesting post… while I agree that it is wrong that people have a fixed, media manipulated ideal of what is ‘beautiful’, any teenager (especially someone only 13 or so) who is overweight is most likely to have a stunted life span, as well as a number of health problems connected to their weight. Of course thin people can be sickly and have health problems also, but it’s a medical fact that if you’re overweight from a young age, you’re more likely to be so at an older age. This can lead to heat problems, arthritis, high blood pressure, fertility issues and so on. Of course, I’m not talking about someone who has a little more curvaceous than your average stick insect girl, but those kids or adults who are way over the average BMI for their height and age.

    Of course we should love people in all their skin tones, shapes and sizes, but we must remember that being overweight is a serious medical condition.

  4. Oh, and I just wanted to say, even with what I said in mind, it’s still pathetic for the parents in the crowd to react that way and not just judge the girl on her performance.

  5. Chai Latte,
    Thanks for your comment. I agree – this behavior is pure assholery.

    Ender,
    I try to remain a pacifist – even when faced with such behavior.
    Thanks for reading!

    Kennedy,
    Thanks for commenting. I disagree with your stance, though. Being fat is not inherently unhealthy — this is a lie told by bio-pharm/diet industrial complex etc. Read, for example, the book The Obesity Myth, by Paul Campos.
    People can be unhealthy at ANY size.
    However, I get that at a certain point, i.e. when said body can no longer be mobile, that this is not healthy. However, are definition of what is fat is WAY to narrow — people can be VERY healthy if they don’t fit the standard BMI index.
    So, I would say “being overweight” is NOT in and of itself a medical condition — in fact, I object to the term itself — over whose weight? The crazy ass societal standard?
    Yes, there are bodies that are unhealthy and sometimes they are fat — but there are unhealthy thin bodies too – even bodies that are the “RIGHT” bmi can be unhealthy as heck.

  6. OMG, this brought tears to my eyes. That poor girl. I have so many problems with this… 1) Why does it f’ng matter what anyone looks like on stage. I don’t care if the girl has a pimple the size of a tennis ball coming off her arm. If she sings beautifully, isn’t that why she’s there? Isn’t that why it’s a “TALENT” show? Or holiday concert? WeV? 2) Everything said in the post about fat. I understand just about all girls today regardless of size have body issues, but to me personally I think fat girls have it just a bit more of a struggle. To me, it goes back to privileges… if you live in a thin-loving society, you will be cherished like the skinny girl regardless of your talent. You may feel insecure about your breasts or still feel fat, but that girl next to her… God, your post made me so angry at the one that felt disdain towards her.

    Why can’t we just value women for who they are and what wonderful talents and personalities they have?! Why can’t we value people despite their size?! Or how they look!? It make me so angry…

    • Dolly,
      Thanks for your comment. Our “thin-loving society” certainly is anger inducing – as is the continued cultural belief that thins equals better. That lie has certainly been sold to the US populace hook, line, and sinker. Sad.

  7. I just read Reviving Ophelia and this problem is talked about. I can’t really blame people for thinking fat=unhealthy because those are the studies that seem to get the most airtime. It’s unfortunate though. Some people do overeat but fat shaming is not the way to stop them. My mom did Overeater’s anonymous and they told them to weight themselves once a month at most and concentrated on the cause of overeating rather than weight loss.

    • Lyndsay,
      Ah, another book that is still on my “to be read” list!
      Yes, it’s certainly true that our culture gives the most air time to fat-shaming studies and opinions.
      As for overeating, well, thin people can do that too! But, thanks to their genes or metabolism, they don’t put on weight.
      I don’t know much about Overeater’s Anonymous, but I agree that weight loss is not a healthy (or realistic) goal — being healthy/strong/active is one thing, but that is not what the diet industrial complex is hawking — they, and other societal institutions – thrive on making people believe weight loss is not only the next miracle pill away, but also a high priority… Imagine what the world might be like if people put as much focus on social change/justice as on the size of their own damn bodies!

  8. Why do discussions of fatphobia always end up with “being fat is unhealthy” comments? It seems to me that this is a way of legitimising fat-shaming.

    • SV,
      Very good point about the “fat is unhealthy” mantra being no more than gussied up fat-shaming. I agree absolutely!

  9. I would add to your question, what if we loved fat female actresses the way we loved fat male ones?

    • Great addition — and so, so true. Where is the female Jack Black or John Candy?

  10. It’s sad that at such a young age people are learning their value, or lack thereof, based on their weight and looks. The pubescent age is difficult enough as it is. Society buying into and feeding “overweight= ugly & unhealthy” are to blame. People are the ones who make and air the ads, write the books, and judge behind a table or in daily life.

    I recently attended a recital to see a friend, who is considered obese. No one else came close to her talent. Not only is she an amazing soprano, she is also beautiful inside and out.

    I agree, health problems occur through all weights. There’s a woman who has always been overweight. After years of diets not working she goes on Atkins. A couple years later she needs a gastric bypass and her stomach stapled, but the weight is finally lost. Her jock of a husband, has had numerous operations because of the strain he’s put on his body.

    Fannie, since her days of Living Single I’ve really liked Queen Latifah.

    • Mish,
      Thanks for your comment.
      I agree that we are way to size obsessed, especially if the body being scrutinized is female.
      As for your comment that “People are the ones who make and air the ads, write the books, and judge,” I would add that there is a cultural psyche or group think at work here – while individuals certainly need to be held accountable for their size-ism, as a culture, we need to scrutinize our body obsessions and refuse to let so many industries profit off of our willingness to police our own and others bodies… While this policing is rampant, it is particular pernicious in the USA.

  11. What a beautiful post! Thanks for writing this!

    • Thanks much. And thanks for reading!

  12. Depending on where you live, being TOO skinny can be shamed almost as much as being “overweight” or morbidly obese. I live about as far as you can get away from, say, Los Angeles, in a part of Canada which has the highest rates of obesity (of Canada). There’s been numerous occasions in which people larger than me, even by 5 pounds (I weigh 120 lbs) have looked at me sideways and said “you’re so skinny” or cluck-clucked or weighted down my plate with food because they assume that I don’t eat enough or that I have a full-blown eating disorder. When in fact I have both a large appetite and a fast metabolism. I get that this metabolism privileges me both not to have to work hard to keep weight off and that I am rewarded more by society for having a body which is close to the “acceptable” standard. I just wish there could be less of the skinny-hatin’ comments in these fat acceptance posts. We don’t all think you are a pig. In fact some of us *ahem* might be attracted to you.

  13. I guess what I mean is I’d like to see more focus on that fact that people are being ASSHOLES rather than muttering about the thinnies.

  14. Rebecca,
    Thanks for your comment.
    I agree with your sentiment and realize I am guilty of sometimes taking a skinny-hating stance (as I acknowledge in the post). However, I think this stance needs to be taken in terms of the context of the cultural hatred of fat — I think comparing it to criticizing whiteness reveals many similarities — when whiteness is examined, many whites feel attacked — yet it is whiteness as a social construct and category of privilege that is being attacked, not the individual white person. I think the same is true of “skinny hatin” as you call it — when anger is expressed at the superiority of thin paradigm, many thin individuals may feel attacked. However, what I am critical of is the paradigm, NOT thin people themselves.
    I also wonder about the assumption that underlies your comment “We don’t all think you are a pig. In fact some of us *ahem* might be attracted to you.” This comment ASSUMES that those writing about fat acceptance must themselves be fat, which is certainly not the case! People of all sizes can support LYB@AS (love your body at any size). I find it problematic when people make assumptions about the appearance/body etc of the author due to her/his political/theoretical stance – this is similar as to when people assume I MUST be a POC due to my criticism of racism and white privilege…

  15. I guess I assumed that you are a large person because of the language you used in your post, i.e. skinny-minnies. If you yourself were a thin person then I assumed you wouldn’t use that kind of term. I was directing my comment more at “fat people who write posts about this” but that doesn’t really matter because obviously it didn’t come across that way.
    And I did feel slightly conflicted about popping and being all like “but what about teh skinnies” which reminds me very much of when whites comment on posts about racism saying but what about when black people call whites honkeys, or men commenting on posts about feminism saying the author must be ugly.
    I understand the anger about thin people acting like jerks. It makes me angry too. But I personally feel more insulted when someone disparages my weight (skinny as it is) under the guise of advocating for more inclusive beauty standards than if someone called me honky or if a man was to call me an ugly feminist.
    Thanks for responding to my comment.

    • Rebecca,
      Thanks for your responses.
      I am intrigued by your comments about feeling more insulted around weight issues. I wonder if this links to the resentment/stereotyping of very skinny people and the tendency to assume they don’t eat, hate fat people, etc. I have had several very thin students who share the difficulties of facing such stereotypes and assumptions that they must diet all the time, be obsessed with their weight, have an eating disorder, etc. I suppose is it somewhat like assuming all white people are racists.
      And I thought the attractive comment was funny…
      I also think your point about “people just being able to go about their business without being shamed for their bodies” is a great goal. And I do admit that there are definitely “anti-skinny” vibes in the blogosphere and in some feminist texts that do the same type of stereotyping of thin bodies that they say they do not want done to their fat bodies. I will also admit that I know I fall into these assumptions sometimes – I certainly assumed the thin performer at the concert was judging the fat body next to her. She certainly seemed to be, but I could have been reading too much into her body language and facial expressions… And, in a sense, I shamed her for being thin, while giving all my compassion to the fat girl next to her. So, yup, I certainly am human with all the faults that entails…

  16. Also re my first comment, I probably could have worded it a bit better about the “some of us find you attractive.” I understand that being found attractive is not the be-all and the end-all and it’s more about people just being able to go about their business without being shamed for their bodies.

  17. PWI: I admire your restraint with the umbrella. I am curious as to how you determined that the skinny girl was ashamed to be singing with the large girl. Could she have just been shy? Or ashamed of her lesser singing in comparison with the other girl’s? I would like to hope that was the case. = )

    CC

  18. Onely,
    Thanks for you comment. As I noted to Rebecca in the comment thread, I could have been reading too much into the thin girl’s body language and expressions. She could have been nervous or shy. I do admit there were assumptions coming into play on my part here — as she was traditionally attractive down to the long eyelashes and perfect hair I was probably more likely to assume she was anti-fat. She definitely didn’t come of as ashamed of her lesser singing — she seemed quite proud of her voice.

  19. I think maybe I notice fat people being disparaging toward skinny people (and by people I mean women usually) because a lot of the social censure they receive IS meted out by skinnies. And I think they resent that because maybe they figure “you’re thin, you have it all…why go one step further and mock me.” But maybe skinny people such as the girl you describe feel some kind of social pressure to contribute to the general distaste toward fat people. After all, if you let fatness become “ok,” then you don’t get the rewards for being skinny, because it’s not at the extreme “positive” end of the spectrum.
    (I mean this as an explanation of the girl’s behavior and not an excuse).
    And let’s face it people like me and the girl on stage get rewarded way more than we are mocked. It’s sad really. People seem to think that beauty is a virtue, like honesty or modesty.

    • Rebecca,
      Good point about “social censure” being meted out by skinnies. And your points about the social pressure to disparage fat are very apt — even those who are fat are encouraged to disparage fat (and most often do)!
      What you say about the threat to skinny privilege is a great point…
      Thanks for reading and all the great points!

  20. Professor, if enough individuals’ thoughts shift so too will the group/cultural psyche.

    • Mish,
      Too true, too true. But the “hive mind” power of the media shapes individual thought so strongly in the fat-phobic direction…

  21. [...] What if we loved fat girls as much as we love the “bowl full of jelly” Santa? (@ Professor, What If…?) [...]

  22. I Think that “skinny-minnie” people have WAY too many stereotypes as well. Most of them deep down are just as self conscience about their weight as the larger crowd. My brother was born with almost no fat and was almost presumed to be dead. He has a fast metabolism and has never really gained much fat. I on the other hand, am somewhere in the middle of America’s standard for beauty. Im tall (5’8″ and havent hit my growth spurt yet), tan, and smart(if i do say so myself). But I also have wide hips and more than the average body fat due to genetics. I told my brother one day (he’s four years older than me), that I wished I were able to see my ribs as well as he could see his. He just got all red in the face and frowned. I would also like to comment on the “fat people are unhealthy” comments. I am in no way unhealthy fitness wise. I can do 23 pull ups, run a mile in seven minutes, do over 100 sit ups. I consider myself physically fit,yet due to my extra body fat, i am still not small enough to conform to beauty standards. Someone even said to me once, “Hey fugly, how’s the weather up there!” I have good self confidence, but it still bothered me a little. And if you wish that that “fat girl” would love herself, it helps not to call “fat girls” fat. Heavy, or “padded” even, are much nicer words.

  23. UNFoZQ comment3 ,

  24. I apologise for hijacking your blog but I couldn’t find a contact email. Thought you may be interested in this project of a friend and myself:

    please forward :)

    Two feminist activists are putting together a fat phobia zine for the Edmonton Anarchist Bookfair (Oct 3 – 4 2009).

    We are looking for photos, art, poems and other writings from individuals talking about experiences of fat phobia, which may also include internalized fat phobia, disordered eating and the impact of fat phobia on our perceptions of our bodies, etc. Articles, art and blogs already published are welcomed, provided the writer/artist consents to including their work in the zine.

    We are particularly interested in how the patriarchy, transmisogyny and transphobia, ableism, racism, classism, ageism, and oppression against persons who are LGBTTIQQ intersect with fat phobia.

    We would also like to include photos of tummies and other areas of our body which we may be told to feel ashamed of, or feel disconnected from through fat phobia. We would like to showcase how our bodies are beautiful, no matter what society says. Anonymous photos are welcome.

    This zine will be distributed for free or by donation at the Bookfair (to help with shipping costs to contributors). Individuals who contribute will receive free copies by mail if they are not attending the Bookfair. (Just be sure to send us your mailing address!)

    Please email fatisfabulous@gmail.com should you have any questions or to submit photos/art/writing.

    We need all contributions by September 30, 2009. We apologise for the short notice.

    • No problem with the hi-jacking. If you give this call a What if…? title I will post it to the main page of the blog. Have you posted at UPENN? How about FaceBook? Ok if I post it here too?

  25. Please do post here!

    Some title suggestions:

    What if fat women loved their bodies?
    What if fat bodies were celebrated?
    What if we loved our bodies?

    Any other ideas?

    I have had it forwarded to a number of places, including fat bloggers. Just posted it on my own facebook page; maybe I will make its own page.

  26. Hey there, I figured you will probably be interested to be aware of that oftentimes any time I view your web site I receive a 500 web server error. I assumed you may be interested. Thanks

  27. Hey, a little off-topic but is anyone experiencing a blank page when they visit this website? thanks

  28. Good day, I’ve got a short question. Does anyone else detect a small lag on this website whenever they get access? It takes as much as several seconds or so for me to look at the main webpage. Take care

  29. All the time I try to access the web-site, this message appears: “403 Forbidden – You don’t have permission to access / on this server. Additionally, a 500 Internal Server Error error was encountered while trying to use an ErrorDocument to handle the request.” I’ve never came across a situation like this before; is this through some wrong doing of mine, or perhaps there a problem with the web-site itself?

  30. Hey, you have a nice site but sometimes I encounter a problem whereby the right nav bar can’t be viewed. It is mainly on the home page Cheers

  31. I am extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout
    on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you modify
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