Fat hatred is ubiquitous in US culture, abhorred as a sign of laziness, stupidity, and gluttony. Given that last one, it seems like we might have a few fat vampires amongst the contemporary undead grazing our television screens, our movie theatres, and the pages of many a books. Alas, fat-positive vampires don’t get much play. Just as most characters in film and television are thin in the extreme, so too are most vampires. This post, which is part of my new “Monstrous Musings” column housed over at Womanist Musings, ponders why there are (virtually) no fat vampires. Please give it a read and add to the comment thread!
I was about to re-post a popular xmas piece of mine from last year, What if we loved fat girls as much as we love the “bowl full of jelly” Santa? when I came across this tweet from Bitch Media:
“Our culture’s knack for fat-shaming is now being directed at Santa? Oh no! No one is safe! http://bit.ly/5CsWDo”
This message also ran through Fred Klaus, which I watched the other night. The very authentic looking Santa (played by Paul Giamatti) was continually berated about his weight by Mrs. Klaus (played by Elizabeth Banks). This movie had some funny bits, but I could have done without the fat-shaming.
Seems shaming Santa for his body is popular on Twitter, too. Here’s a quick sampling with added commentary by yours truly.
Wow, lots of anger here. Guess this joker doesn’t find Santa’s booty bootylicious.
“BlondHousewife Santa Claus is a terrible role model. He’s fat, he drinks and he speeds. Breaks into people’s homes and abuses animals.” Being fat makes one a terrible role model? How about being a body-policing hater? Is that role model behavior?
“sophiemitch Dear Santa, Don’t bother coming to my house this year I’ve been Naughty! and it was fucking worth it… you fat, judgmental son of a bitch!!” Yup, if you want to insult someone, be sure to throw the f-word in there.
“Jazbyl24 I wonder if santa got my letter that fat mother fucker didn’t answer me back” Why is fat so often included as a descriptor when thin/skinny is not? Kinda like how we label non-white people but not white ones… As in “a black man was arrested” vs “a man was arrested” — when the person reported on is white, rarely is the whiteness mentioned…
Hope you can ignore all this fat-hatred Santa. Seems like your body size should be the last thing people focus on. But, when you’re fat, doesn’t seem to matter what you do or what kind of person you are, the thing people will focus on and shame you for is fat. Just imagine if you were (an out) female — then you’d likely see a load more fat-hatin and fat-shamin!
So, waiting in lines is one of those activities that most of us humans abhor. As such, it often brings out the worst in people.
The other day, after waiting a LONG time to speak to a “communications consultant” (talk about job title inflation!) at a cell phone store, the woman behind me in line kept edging closer and closer to me, invading my personal space and privacy while she jiggled her keys and jumped agitatedly from foot to foot. I glanced back, hoping to benignly indicate that she was standing a bit to close and her impatience was quite rude. As I did so, I noticed she was wearing a common uniform of the young and fit – a skintight gym outfit in black accompanied by what appeared to be brand new very expensive tennis shoes. The top, much like a bra, had a logo above the left boob that read, “fit 2 wed.”
“Huh, how typical,” I thought – not only is she an annoying space-invader unable to wait in line respectfully, but she is advertising herself as female meat that is ‘fit 2 wed.’ I assumed this was some sort of advertisement to go along with her skintight attire, as in “look at me, I am so hot, you should marry me.” However, upon looking back again after she started complaining that her dog was waiting outside and she was in a hurry, I noticed the back waistline of her workout pants read “getfit2wed.com.” Aha, I thought, it’s an actual company!
Following up my curiosity later at home, I discovered the Fit2Wed website, a “bridal boot camp” offering “an ultimate outdoor workout designed to transform your body.” Ugh. The site is pink-orrific with pictures exclusively of women. Apparently men don’t need to be fit to wed.
With the tagline “Get fit for your wedding day” and copy that encourages you to “look awesome in your wedding dress,” the site claims it is “changing lives, one workout at a time.” Yes, because what is more important for a woman than to get married, to look hot doing it, and to ‘change her life’ by changing the way she looks?
I hadn’t heard of any bridal boot camps before, but my gut tells me this San Diego based company is not unique. As books such as White Weddings by Chrys Ingraham
or analyses such as “My Big Fat Unnecessary Wedding” by Jessica Valenti make painfully clear, weddings are not only BIG business, they are also rabidly sexist, heteronormative, and lookist.
A dear feminist friend of mine is getting married soon. She shared that as she shops for wedding dresses, she is continually asked questions of the “how much weight do you plan to lose before the big day?” ilk. When she replies “none” and shares she likes her body the way it is, thank you, she reports that the salespeople are invariably dumbfounded. I mean, how can you possibly be happy being fat, let alone on your wedding day?!?
This belief is what Fit2Wed trades in, despite the usual claims that its about ‘health’ and ‘feeling good’. If it isn’t all about the inches and number on the scale, then why the before and after photos detailing the inches, pounds, and body fat lost?
This bridal boot camp mentality is very disturbing and is not the purview of only this small San Diego company of course. The fit2wed paradigm is merely another cog in the appearance-is-all wheel that runs roughshod over women’s lives. It is apparent on shows such as The Bachelor that indicate only beautiful women are worth considering as marriage material. It fuels the bridal magazine and television show industry, inducing women to spend fortunes not only on the wedding and the run up to it, but also on ‘beautifying’ their own bodies for the ‘big day’.
While marriage as an institution is problematic in many ways, this ‘bride as booty’ mentality seems particularly worrying and yet massively common. Don’t the supposed ‘new women’ of this century, who claim to sympathize with feminist ideals even if they don’t call themselves feminists, find this mentality a bit insulting, outdated, and downright sexist? Well, apparently not – at least not if the many women who offer gushing testimonials on the Fit2Wed website serve as any indication.
Problem is that this waiting in line experience and later research into Fit2Wed confirmed in me a dislike for the gym clad hot bodies who prance around in public in their skin tight workout attire. I am aware that not all such bodies are like the woman who was so rude at the Sprint store, nor do all people who workout do so to be ‘hot’ according to societal standards. If only people like the woman I ran into weren’t so damn ubiquitous. Seems like a better logo for her to paste above her left breast would be “just another piece of objectified meat.” Hey, now that gives me an idea for a better name for “bridal boot camps” such at Fit2Wed: how about Fit2Bbooty with taglines such as “changing women into objectified bridal booty, one workout at a time”?
In the past few weeks, I have enjoyed squeezing a number of summertime activities into my life before heading back to the grindstone of fall semester. (By the way kind readers, as classes start tomorrow, the frequency of my posts may diminish… But, I will do my best to keep “kicking ass” in the blogosphere).*
While soaking up sun at the beach, whizzing down slides at water parks, swimming at public pools, and being spun upside down and backwards at theme parks, I have appreciated the wonderful diversity and beauty of all the different bodies that populate this planet.
I love body watching at the beach, but not the kind of bodies that popular culture deems ideal. No, in fact the bikini clad bodies with long blonde hair or the board short wearing six-packs that cavort in groups while tossing Frisbees are not the bodies that bring me the most joy. Rather, I like those bodies that our culture deems imperfect, undesirable, as too fat, too hairy, too pale, too wrinkly – I like to see these bodies in all their different swimsuits and sunwear enjoying the surf and sand. I am saddened when such a body feels the need to hide itself under a sarong or when is visibly worried about being out in public. I hate to see such a body wearing what is obviously an attempt to hide. I love it when all the ‘Othered bodies’ refuse to buy into the bodily hatred our culture doles out by obviously enjoying letting it all hang out at the beach.
At water parks and swimming pools, even more bodily diversity is often apparent as these tend to be family hangouts rather than quasi-pick up places for the young and hot to strut their stuff (it seems even at ‘family beaches’ it is hard to get away from the feel of California beaches as pick up joints). And, at water parks and pools, pretty much everyone is in a bathing suit because that is all you can wear if you wish to ride the slides or dip in the water. In fact, these places should be a required experience for the crazy designers and advertisement big wigs out there who stubbornly perpetuate the idea of ideal sizes and average height/weight. As such places attest, bodies (no matter their age) are radically diverse. Now, while this truism does not hold up so well at certain public pools (I was in Palm Springs once at a pool where a friend and I were playing “Try to spot the real boobs” due to the overwhelming presence of surgically modified uber-tan fat-free bodies posing poolside), for the most part, a public space populated by swim-clad wearing bodies will reveal a fact that people like to deny: bodies come in all shapes and sizes.
At a beautiful outdoor pool overlooking the Puget Sound I swam at this summer while in Seattle, I witnessed two memorable body moments. Unfortunately, neither of them were positive. In the first, a boy of about six pulled off his shorts and underwear poolside so as to change into his swimsuit. Upon seeing him, his father became irate and started shouting “What is wrong with you boy?!? Get your clothes back on!!!” Then, he began to verbally abuse the woman with him (who appeared far too young to be the boy’s mother but seemed to be the father’s girlfriend). He questioned her judgment, asked her what was wrong with her to let the boy do that, yelled at her for letting the boy embarrass him in public. A general sense of dread spread over the sun chairs. I could collectively sense others wondering if they should say something, if they should pretend they couldn’t hear, if they dared to step into a ‘private matter’ when the man ‘in charge’ was obviously extremely angry and was not short on muscles to back up that anger. As the yelling went on, I myself wondered what to do. I have stepped in before in similar settings with mixed results. (Once, I phoned 911 when a man was beating a woman outside a gas station only to be chased down the street by the woman as she was so angry I ‘lied’ to the police about her boyfriend). Cringing inside for the naked little boy and the woman (and hating the father), I got up to walk towards them not knowing what I would say or do. However, before I got there, the boy grabbed his stuff and ran to the bathroom, and the woman did the same. The man, all smug in his self righteous king of the castle manner, laid back in his chair and gave his other children a look that said “you better not give me no shit neither.” I wanted to say something, I wanted to call him out on his assholery, but I didn’t. Frankly, he scared me. And to think that all this was over a six year old boy being so excited to get in the pool that he bared his butt poolside. Who the frig cares?!? The dad obviously did – he acted as this brief show of nudity was a catastrophic emasculating episode.
The other memorable body moment involved seeing a girl of perhaps 14 wearing cumbersome gingham outfit that resembled a swimsuit from another century that consisted of long bloomers, a sleeved top, and a Holly Hobbit style bonnet. I happened to spy the cover of the book she was reading, something like How to be an Obedient Woman. Now, I of course have no idea why she and all the women with her were dressed like this, or what the idea of ‘obedience’ meant to them, but judging from their attire, it seemed to involve keeping one’s body covered, even when swimming. While the choice to do so would be one thing, the title of the book suggested another – that being an ‘obedient female,’ a ‘good girl,’ meant one should deny the fleshy parts of existence. I am not sure why this group of women struck me so much, or why I felt so saddened by their dress code. Although I agree people should be able to choose how they cover (or do not cover) their bodies, I have a sort of gut reaction to bodies that appear to be excessively covered in order to hide what are deemed as ‘defective’ parts. In some cases, the defectiveness seems to be associated with being a female body. In others, it is due to inhabiting a body that differs from the ‘ideal.’ In either scenario, I am saddened when people appear visibly uncomfortable or embarrassed about their own unique embodiment. (Mind you, I am not a fan of major boobcrack or buttcrack display in public spaces either – mainly because such let-it-all -hang-out antics tend to play into an objectifying “I am just meat for your enjoyment” paradigm.)
This Saturday while riding as many extreme roller coasters as possible in very hot Valencia, California, I did more musing on the variability of bodies. Most people wore short shorts and tank tops due to the 90plus degree weather. Some were thin, some were fat, some were hairy, some were wrinkly. One thing I noticed while jammed in close proximity to other bodies in line is that even thin, toned bodies have the so called “cottage cheese” look to their thighs and/or “tummy rolls.” These fleshy parts are natural. They are not gross or ugly but only perceived as such because we live in a culture that profits off of making people hate their bodies. If it was ok to have jiggly thighs, varicose veins, tummy pouches, and love handles, how would corporations rake in the dough on cellulite creams, diet pills, age-defying potions, and Botox injections? I was pleased that the heat prompted the fleshy display of so many different types of bodies and this got me thinking about a fat-hating conversation I heard earlier this summer.
While at dinner at a relative’s house, someone brought up the news that airlines might start charging passengers by their weight. Now, my family is not known for having “skinny genes,” quite the contrary in fact, but a number of people piped in about this being a good idea. One of the more skinny obsessed in attendance suggested she should get a discount due to her low weight. Judging by the comment thread here, lots of people agree that charging by weight is a good idea. However, if you consider that what we weigh is a complex combination of genetics, metabolism, age, diet, and, now more than ever, how we are force fed high fructose corn syrup, it doesn’t seem fair to reward those who can eat trainloads of food and weigh in at 110 while punishing those whose bellies expand if they merely look at a cookie. Seems to make about as much sense as charging for skin color.
Yet, as the people at the dinner table bemoaned “It’s so uncomfortable when you are crammed next to a fat person that spills over into your seat.” Yeah, will imagine how it feels to be that fat person. Do you think s/he likes to not “fit” in our world, to be reminded that if you are over a certain weight/height you don’t belong? Flights are uncomfortable full stop. Yes, it is hard to be crammed in next to so many other bodies, but give me a fat seat companion over an annoying one any day – or over a kid kicking my seat the entire flight while her/his parent snores away in oblivion.
Seems to me a better solution would be for airlines to offer a few rows with less seats and more leg/body room. If you are taller or fatter or merely want to stretch out, maybe these seats could cost a bit more (but not double, and not the price of first class). I know this is not very feasible in our profit is all culture, but is a dehumanizing weigh in at the check in counter really the best airlines can come up with? This would give being “overweight” an entirely new spin. I can just imagine alarms going off at the check in scales and the accompanying shouts: “This one is over weight by 20!” “This fatty is over by 50!”
What the heck does that term really mean anyway? Over what weight? How can a person ever possibly be over the weight of their own body? They can be over the weight culture deems normal, over the weight doctors peddle as healthy, over the weight diet gurus suggest one needs to be at, over the weight considered attractive by a thin obsessed society, but certainly not over the weight their own body naturally stabilizes at. Now, factors like high fructose corn syrup and dangerous dieting lead to a weight that might be over the set point of one’s body – but this is due to culture practices that pump food full of junk while expecting people to be as thin as possible and, in so doing, promote crazy dieting/eating habits. Ridiculous.
This is why I don’t use the term overweight. I think it’s is an idiotic brainwashing three syllable mind-numbing term. It should be banished from the lexicon. I also hate obese. Medicalized hogwash. The term I like is fat. If we embraced the term, perhaps we could embrace fat on our own bodies. Cuz most bodies have it somewhere – even those thin little bodies in teeny tiny shorts have fat somewheres. Fat is human. Bones are for skeletons – you know, when you are dead. So, let’s get over the whole stupid weight thing and embrace the fact that our bodies are made of flesh, and bone, and FAT.
In addition to the worrying (mis)representations of race, gender, and sexuality in reality TV, economic class and body size are represented in ways that either put monetary hardship under erasure (via the ‘we are all middle class or above’ syndrome most shows represent), that mine the body insecurities US culture creates for profit, and/or that perpetuate damaging beliefs in regards to class and body image.
Class was largely put under erasure in The Swan and other surgical shows, with matters of economics being ‘written out’ of the picture via the fact that makeovers were paid for. Questions of affordability, of the relative monetary driven exclusiveness of the surgically altered club, or of the fact that many of the ‘Swans’ could never afford such alterations on their own were never addressed. This plays into the myth of democracy the show upheld, the idea that “anybody can be a Swan,” and ultimately also colluded with the mythical American Dream of individualism – a dream that handily overlooks factors of class, race, sexuality, and ability.
The Swan also predictably emphasized perhaps the most overarching standard of the body beautiful in America today – the thin body. Equating happiness with the removal of ‘excess’ flesh, the show’s surgeons happily ‘liposculptured’ numerous locations on each of the contestant’s bodies. On the show, ‘ugly duckling’ contestants were codified as horrifically fat if they dared to move beyond the region of size 8 and all the women seemingly required not only liposuction but also excessive diet and exercise regimens. Drawing on repeated ‘before’ shots of contestant’s bodies, the camera zoomed in on supposedly disgusting butts, thighs, and stomachs, while contestants repeatedly made comments like “I feel so fat and ugly in my own skin.” Here, the show presented average female bodies as disgusting, as all too fleshy and out of control.
The show, perhaps unwittingly, also revealed that our fat-hating culture has created various lucrative possibilities. For example, when a doctor on the show enthused during a liposuction procedure “See how nice and golden the fat is. That’s a lot of cheeseburgers,” he not only objectified the female body he was working on, but also significantly equated fat with gold, illuminating the links between flesh and revenue.
Similarly, on Extreme Makeover, a female contestant was told she had to lose 30 to 40 pounds or she would not be given her makeover. Claiming her weight of 175 pounds was “medically unsafe,” her surgeon threatened to disqualify her and effectively coerced her into losing weight. Later, after the surgeon performed liposuction on this same patient, he giddily proclaimed, “It’s gold! It’s gold! It’s gold!” while storing the liposuctioned fat in beakers. These shows thus offer us haunting visual evidence of the ways in which flesh quite literally translates into profit for cosmetic surgeons while underscoring the cultural belief that the public performance of the body, to be acceptable, must be a fat-free performance.
I wish I could say this racist, sexist, classist, heteronormative fat-hating beauty imperative had gone the way of surgically based reality TV shows. Unlike the shows though, this imperative has not ended. Rather, it was displayed in all its horror during the July 13th airing of the Miss Universe pageant where women from around the globe trotted around in ball gowns and bathing suits, sporting light skin, long straight or wavy hair, white smiles, and small waists. Even though 80 countries were represented, the women looked hauntingly similar. From what I could bare to watch (about twenty minutes) there was not one disabled women, not one very dark skinned woman, not one woman with a nose that didn’t look like it came out of a surgeons ‘after ‘pictures, not one flat chest. I hope we soon wake up and put an end to all such beauty contests and, in so doing, begin a new approach to beauty, one that realizes that beauty comes in all colors, shapes, sizes, sexualities, and income brackets. For this to occur thought, the beauty industrial complex, which rakes in billions a year, must be dismantled for yet another ugly side of corporatism is the way it mines our bodies (and the socially constructed insecurities surrounding them) for profit. So, next time you are hating your body or feeling unbeautiful, please ask yourself who is profiting from this belief… It certainly isn’t you.
(This concludes the 5 part Beauty Imperative series. But, no doubt I will continue to post on these issues as it doesn’t look like our body image issues in the USofAppearance-obsession will be going away anytime soon…)