I would really love to ignore PETA, just in general, and their latest fat-hating billboard in particular.
But there’s something about this one I haven’t yet seen addressed in the various denunciations of it*: the language. Specifically, that the “lose the blubber” bit is talking to fat people, but the “SAVE THE WHALES” bit is talking about us.
So it’s not only that it’s complete bullshit that vegetarianism = thinness, as the many fat vegetarians and vegans in this community know too well. It’s that they’re furthering the idea that thin people have a duty to stop fat people from being fat, even though the solution they propose could not remotely effect that change anyway. The point of the billboard, in theory, is to tell fat folks to go veg and “save” ourselves, one by one. But that’s not what it fucking says. It says “save the whales” — as if, once again, fat people are a problem to be solved, not actual individual human beings capable of caring for our own damn selves.
The following line might indicate that it’s a campaign aimed at fat people, suggesting that vegetarianism would make us thin and therefore improve our lives (both specious premises, even setting aside the wisdom of trying to appeal to a demographic by insulting it), but the overall message is clearly aimed at people who are not fat. People who hate, fear, and ridicule fat. People who, in their most “charitable” moments, assume we’re a bunch of ignorant slobs who need to be rescued from our own lack of discipline, because they can’t be bothered to think about fatness in anything but the most simplistic and prejudiced terms.
In other words, the language doesn’t make any fucking sense. If you’re talking about the “whales,” not to us, then there’s no way that a thin person’s individual decision to stop eating meat might “save” us. If you’re talking to us — “lose the blubber!” — then what the hell is the point of recycling a 40-year-old slogan that indicates fatties are not, in fact, whom you’re addressing? “Whales, save yourselves” would have been far more logical — and clever, for that matter — if no less offensive.
So, basically, this billboard is not merely fat-hating and based on false premises, but completely nonsensical. And in its nonsense, it’s echoing a trend in most of the public discussions of fat, food, and health that take place in this culture — speaking about fat people as if we’re not in the fucking room and have nothing to say on the matter. As if we’re merely a problem for thin people to solve. The only time journalists and advertisers speak to us is when they’re trying to tell us how to lose weight. When they’re discussing THE OBESITY CRISIS in the abstract, then fat people ourselves get abstracted, too — every article and advertisement presumes that the reader/consumer is someone concerned about the existence of fat people, as though fat people aren’t part of the fucking audience.
Which is especially hilarious when half of these discussions start with a reminder that two-thirds of Americans technically qualify as “overweight” or “obese.” I suppose if only the thin third are reading newspapers, that might explain why the industry is dying, but I kinda doubt that’s the whole reason. We’re all just so used to the framing of fatness as “other” that no one bats an eye when people who are actually speaking to fatties only speak about and around us. So the assholes at PETA don’t even notice the logical inconsistency of a directive that goes, “Save the [other]“: “[Take action for yourself.]“
Not that I expect them to notice something that subtle, when they apparently haven’t noticed that fat vegetarians exist, that women are animals deserving of ethical treatment, that immigrants might have greater concerns than potential dietary changes, etc. I mean, railing against PETA is about as useful as railing against right wing radio hosts: There’s no cure for proud jackassery, so you might as well not waste your breath. That’s why in general, I choose to ignore them. But there are a lot of other people out there playing the same game this billboard plays, of humiliating and othering fat people while pretending to be offering us health advice. And some of those people, unlike the PETA folks, might actually have an interest in not being reprehensible fuckwits.
So to them, I say: Fat people are listening when you speak. We read papers and watch news and listen to the radio. We are your fucking audience – two-thirds of it, anyway. So if you’re really so concerned for us, you might try talking to us. You might try recognizing that you are addressing the very people you’re writing about, instead of gearing all of your remarks toward some imaginary audience of The Thin and Deeply Concerned.
I’d suggest that you try listening to us, too, but that might just be too much.
*Note: I started this post a couple of days ago, so people might have made this point 100 times since then. I’m making it again anyway.