Fat, Media, Sweet Machine


I admit, I have a certain fondness for Slate. I like several of its writers (what up, Dahlia Lithwick), I like their sometimes cheesy headlines, I like the Explainer, I like reading the terrible answers and even more terrible questions in Dear Prudence. As Jon Stewart has taught all of us, irreverence is an essential stance toward the news of the day. Irreverence toward the powerful, however, is fundamentally different from mockery of the powerless, and part of today’s Human Nature column illustrates the difference.

Human Nature is basically a quick-hits column (penned by Lord Saletan) that somewhat snarkily offers “both sides” of a current science or health issue. Here is a heartbreaking story from today’s column, reproduced in entirety (minus the links to a related Slate article):

A fat man had his digestive tract surgically altered so he can adopt a baby. Circumstances: The man and his wife have been married for 15 years, are licensed as foster parents, have cared successfully for another adopted child, are the baby’s cousins, and have had the baby in their home from age 1 week to age 4 months. However, the man weighs about 500 pounds. A judge rejected their petition to adopt the baby; the man says it’s because of his weight. The court says that it can’t legally comment but that applicants’ health is always a factor. Rationale: “permanency for the child.” Weight has become a common factor in evaluating adoption applicants in the U.S. and China. The surgery in this case was a gastric bypass so the man can lose enough weight to qualify for adoption. Wife’s take: The fact that my husband had to go under the knife to keep our baby tells you how screwed-up the system is. Adoption advocate’s take: The fact that he went under the knife to keep the baby tells you what a great dad he is.

Apart from its demonstration of the institutionalization of fatphobia, please note that both “sides” here focus on the individual man in question, and neither of them particularly demonizes him for his fat. (We’ll ignore the WLS praise for the moment.) By all accounts, it’s a sad scenario involving a man who sincerely wants to raise this child. (You can read about it in more detail here.)

So why on earth do I have to click on THIS to get to this story from Slate’s front page?


This is not irreverence or speaking a bold truth. This is twisting a story to take a cheap shot at a man who, if you look at it from an FA perspective, is being discriminated against by the justice system, or, if you look at it from an “obesity epidemic” perspective, is MORTALLY ILL and needs life-altering surgery to save his life. But hey, who needs a sympathetic headline if you can stick yet another headless fatty on your front page?

Similarly, the headline on the column page makes fun of the subject of a different story: Brazilians who can now get sex reassignment surgery paid for by their national health care system. The headline? Taxpayer-funded genital mutilation.

Attention, Slate editors: when you make fun of hypocritical politicians like Larry Craig? That’s funny. When you make fun of fatties, trannies, and victims of genital mutilation (in one column!!): NOT SO FUNNY. If you can’t figure out why, start here. And stick to Larry Craig in the meantime.

13 thoughts on “Fatsploitation”

  1. I have gone right off Saletan, who I am going to suddenly start calling “Falla-tan.” Because of fallacies. Also possibly phalli. This snippet is all right, though, granted, aside from its iconography.

    I’d also like to point out that the Headless Fatty in that picture is a Headless Pot-Bellied Guy. He is certainly not, in even a rampantly anti-fat society, “too fat to adopt.” This just contributes to people’s misconceptions about how size, weight, appearance, and abilities correlate; it contributes to the “300 pounds = bedridden” fallacy and the “it’s okay if you’re a size 12, but not a size 24” fallacy and the “you’ve got a spare tire, you’re gonna die” fallacy and a hell of a lot of the rest of the Bingo card.

  2. Yeah, Saletan is the king of douchebaggery. Falla-tan is good but doesn’t quite capture his deigning-to-write-for-the-hoi-polloi tone as well as Lord Saletan. Maybe we should combine them: Lord Saletan, Prince of Fallacy?

    I was thinking that, too! That headless fatty is really a headless chubby, and he certainly does not weigh anything close to 500 pounds unless he’s about a foot tall. But I’m sure he isn’t, because otherwise they would have come up with a headline to make fun of that, too.

  3. OK, so I guess the pictorial rule is: When you’re writing about women who weigh 160 pounds, you illustrate the story with a woman who weighs 500 pounds. When you’re writing about 500-pound men, you illustrate with a man who weighs 200. But goddess forbid, in either case, you illustrate with the actual person you’re writing about. Because all fatasses are interchangeable after adjusting for gender.

  4. I quit Slate after Saletan’s hateful piece on the “fat is contagious” study. Quit them, emailed them to tell them, and haven’t been back. They’ll do this crap as long as they’re being rewarded for it. By things like, um, links from widely-read blogs.

  5. Meowser said: “But goddess forbid, in either case, you illustrate with the actual person you’re writing about.”
    So right! I think it has to do with this: with non-celebs – so your average every day real-life person who hasn’t asked for media attention, in this particular case even with a vulnerable child – if the “funny” writer did portray the actual person he was making fun about, he would get something that’s utterly annoying to him: his jokes wouldn’t be so funny anymore, they would just be hurtful non-jokes.

    Slightly off topic, something I still don’t understand in this whole story: this man has a wife, yes? So even *if* he were to fall dead tomorrow (and I don’t believe he will; in the kmbc-tv link you provide, he looks healthy and very cute with the baby that should be his!), the baby would still have a single parent home with his aunt. Wouldn’t that be much better than getting this child into the foster care system, with all its possible problems?
    That question just keeps bugging me. And don’t say it would be traumatic for a child to lose a parent that early (as is of course the underlying argument of the court, although they’d never admit it), of course it would be, but *any* parent can walk under a bus any day, so I don’t think that’s a valid argument anyway.
    I do think it’s very traumatic for a child to hear some time in his life that someone loved him very much, but was denied taking care of him because of some arbitrary figure (the wretched BMI again…)

  6. O sorry, got the English mixed up, the child would be in a single parent home with his cousin’s wife, not his aunt.

  7. They’ll do this crap as long as they’re being rewarded for it. By things like, um, links from widely-read blogs.

    OhPlease, if we followed this logic, we’d have to shut down the whole damn blogosphere.

  8. They’ll do this crap as long as they’re being rewarded for it. By things like, um, links from widely-read blogs.

    Yeah, that’s right, Laura. Nobody would EVER read Slate if you didn’t link to it. Critically.

    Also, we should stop writing letters to the editor. It just tells them that someone is reading. In fact, we shouldn’t even read. All this stuff goes away if you just ignore it!

  9. OhPlease, if we followed this logic, we’d have to shut down the whole damn blogosphere.

    And then the terrists would have…

    No, my heart’s not in it.

  10. Meowser, that’s an interesting point about the different “rules” for showing fatties of different genders–yet another way that women’s bodies are held to untenable standards in our culture.

  11. This whole issue bugs me to no end!!!! I don’t want to have children, but am all for people who are willing to step up to the plate and take charge! How dare a governmental agency decided who is “fit” to be a parent (well, I mean child abusers and addicts and such shouldn’t be able to adopt), where does it end? And it is true that men get treated differently than women when it comes to fat…. I’m 260 at 5″3′ and my fiancee is 500 lbs. at 6’4″ and they treat him with far more respect than they do me. When is this madness ever going to end?????

  12. I’m reading this article as someone on a loooong waiting list to adopt a child internationally. I could not adopt from Korea or China, due to their BMI restrictions. This is happening internationally.

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