Since Kate’s terrific essay was published on Salon and in Feed Me!, I’ve been thinking again about the protest “But you’re not fat!” and how it can be so much at odds with lived experience. Many of us, of many different sizes, have been flat-out told we’re fat (and therefore unacceptable, unloveable, unfeminine, and so on) by everyone from complete strangers to our own families. I’ve spent most of my twenties as an inbetweenie or thinner, and I still find it hard to reconcile my past as a fat girl with my present as a not-fat woman — especially given that the characteristics that my fat body had (wide hips, jiggly thighs, heavy breasts) are all still around on my thinner body.
Which is why two recent blog posts really stuck in my mind: they illustrate the way that even when you’re relatively free of fat harassment in your daily life, you can never be free of it culturally. Even when the real people in your life tell you “But you’re not fat,” a host of forces are out there to tell you “Yeah, you are.”
If little Tracy Harper is chubby, then so am I. What struck me most about this ad is that it is pre-OBESITY ARMAGEDDON!!!!11 hysteria; there’s no suggestion that this girl is part of the downfall of society (although she doesn’t care about being “fashionable,” presumably in her figure as well as her clothes), just that she should look better to make her mother look better. What do you think this ad would look like if it ran today? And would the word “chubby” appear in it?
And then, of course, there’s the “Jessica Simpson Weight Controversy,” in which pop star Jessica Simpson appears to have gained maybe 5 pounds and also joined the unfortunate trend of super-high-waisted jeans. Again, if Jessica Simpson is fat, then I must be a fatpocalypse in the making.
This image was helpfully constructed in classic before/after style by the assholes over at the Daily Mail, which also reports that Simpson’s “before” figure was the result of “two-hour workouts six days a week” with a personal trainer and “a South Beach Diet-style low-carb, high-protein menu” — all in the service of a movie role. In other words, having that figure was her job, and having the figure on the right is what happens when she goes back to her normal job (i.e., singing). What a hideous role model she is! Why, if young girls look up to her, they’ll all end up as fat as little Tracy Harper!
As Liss says at Shakesville:
Got that? Even eating a strict diet, Simpson had to work out two hours a day, six days a week to attain the physique she’s now being crucified for no longer having—and it’s evidently a perfectly reasonable expectation that she do it for the rest of her life.
Simpson didn’t need that rigorous regime because she needed to lose lots of weight: She just had to get to Daisy Duke from where she is now—which used to be considered enormously hot, until she made an extraordinary effort to make her body do something it doesn’t naturally do. Now she’s lambasted for refusing to maintain it by dedicating at least twelve hours a week of her life just to working out, a schedule she called “emotionally destructive.”
These are just some of the messages that bombard us every day; this is the miasma of fat hatred and misogyny that threatens our every breath. This is why people who say “You’re not fat!” or “Why should thin people care about fat acceptance?” are missing the point. We need to disarm the word “fat” as an insult for so many reasons; one of them is that it is nearly always possible to wield. Tracy Harper and Jessica Simpson show that there is no place where you are safe from the charge that you are fat — a line can always be drawn between “acceptable” and “too fat,” no matter what it looks like on either side. As long as we buy into the idea that fat means bad, lazy, unhealthy, unsexy, then we are always vulnerable to the images above. “Fat,” like “bitch,” is an insult designed to put you in your place; as an insult, it has little to do with you and your actual body, and a whole lot to do with marking some bodies and some modes of living as inferior.
That’s why it’s so hilarious when people react to FA blogs by saying that we’re trying to encourage our readers to be fat. Ask Jessica Simpson: no matter how thin you are, you might be fat already.