Twitter, Trump and Fat Space

Over the weekend, after days of jabs and complaints  on Twitter about the news that was released following President. Trump’s recent physical, Jon Cooper, Chairman of the Democratic Coalition, called his 239,000 followers to tweet using the hashtag #MarALardass. By Monday morning the hashtag was at the top of the trending list on Twitter. Cooper’s followers enthusiastically embraced the hashtag and there followed more fat shaming, crude anti-fat humor than I could count. I and a number of others began to post responses to the worst of the fat bashing, only to be met with a chorus of justifications because of Trump’s history of lying and body shaming others. It was disheartening to see so many people whose ideas and views I mostly agree with post with such nasty glee about fat. Today a blogger and fat activist responded on Medium with “#MarALard*ss and the Left’s Fat Problem”. Please do read her post.

Fat is one of those things I can't talk about as if these issues do not effect me. In fact I must say I don't really trust someone who has never been fat yet claims expertise about what being fat is like and what the struggles are. So that lays one of my biases right out there. 

Every day I and all of us are bombarded with pretty simple theories about why people get fat and what we should do to get thin. But almost never does anyone ask a fat person about her experience or feelings or thoughts. In my small way, I am trying to add that voice and to explore some of the meaning of fat and expose the prejudice that fat people encounter. I could not read that flood of fat shaming Tweets without starting to feel that those people likely harbored the same bias and fat hatred toward people like me, but probably wanting to be “progressive” would not say anything to my face.

"... the fat body is ... always visible: the only people they are trying to persuade to accept fatness are themselves. While constructing a visible “body of acceptance” does prove that it is possible for fat bodies to be beautiful, it does not directly address the audience who needs to be persuaded: the public who construct and consume norms of beauty.”1

Embracing fat acceptance gives a measure of dignity and a refuge from self-loathing but every day we confront the assumption that fat people have lost their self-control. And frighten others because there is such a premium placed on being thin, to the point of being a public obsession. Ask and most people want to be slender, but this physical perfection is difficult to hold on to and they fear losing control of it. Women and men can be on diets their whole lives. A fat person, particularly a fat person who seems at home with herself and her body is threatening.  Fear and unhappiness get projected onto people who are bigger and that too often translates into abuse and attacks. In attacking fat people, the person terrified of the security of her grip on her own body disassociates herself from what she fears the most - getting fat. Fat people wear, obvious for all to see, the very thing that many, especially in this time of war on obesity, fear will befall them if rigid control is not maintained. The fat person becomes the example of what no one should be. 

"Fat is not only hated, but also seen as doing physical damage to the individual. Frantz Fanon talked of the internalised racist where the ideology of whites was internalised by Blacks. So that Blacks too associated being Black with failing, being lazy, being less, being stupid, and being white meant having power, being successful and being pure! The black man or woman idealised the system of white hierarchy and held it in their own mind as a model. The same is true for people who believe themselves to be fat. They believe the propaganda that thin is better, not only in terms of health, but that it will make them a better and happier person with a higher status and so they hate who they are."2

Lester Spence, a black political scientist at Johns Hopkins wrote a few years ago:

“Predominantly white spaces can be exhausting to navigate. I have to consciously be aware of what I am saying, of who is around me, of what I am wearing, of what I am doing, of what others are saying and doing. In critical ways, I cannot let my guard down for a moment. Because—and even as I write this I recognize how paranoid this may sound to people unfamiliar with the experiences I refer to—at any point I may be forced to defend myself, defend my presence.

In stark contrast, when I am at home, or at my wife’s church, or with my fraternity brothers, or at the club listening to house music, I am at home. I am not a statistic. Not a threat. Not an outsider. Not an anomaly. I am safe to “be.” I can be the “representative for the race.” I can be the one black person in the room. But I don’t have to be. I can take the story I just told you and explain in detail why I think I was being racially profiled, why I think other possible explanations don’t stand up to empirical scrutiny, why I think I was saved by the two black officers who knew what was going on without me having to tell them. But when talking to other black men and women or even to young children (to my children), I don’t have to.

I can, in those spaces, breathe.”3

There is no fat space for most of us, except perhaps at gatherings of fat acceptance activists. There is no place where I can go where I can just breathe, not have to explain myself or watch myself or work to ignore the looks of disapproval. Where I  fit in. Where I can be and do and move without being subject to scrutiny and silent (usually silent anyway) judgment. I have been trying since reading that piece to imagine what that would be like. It is only when I am at home, with the people who love me, or with my friends that I can approximate that kind of space. Every place else is like Spence’s “white space”. Space where my fat reveals what must be my shame, my laziness, my self-indulgence, my gluttony, my too-muchness.

When I am in thin space and I enter a room where there are other people, without thinking, I scan the room to see if there are other fat people there. To be the only fat person is to stand out in an uncomfortable way. Relief is when there is someone as fat or fatter than I am.

If I am in thin space and I go out to eat with others -- say for lunch during a workshop, I am aware of what everyone eats.I hear  women apologize to each other for eating -- “I didn’t eat breakfast so I need a big lunch.” “I should just have a salad.” -- it is an unwritten rule that it is gauche to enjoy eating, to eat whatever and as much as one wants. So I am careful to eat sparingly and never have dessert.

 In thin space I am always on guard. I am hyper-aware of my behavior -- my voice, how I move. I made myself learn to walk lightly. I am vigilant. Always aware of the others. In thin space, I am thin-skinned.

How do I be in thin space without being thin-skinned, without being angry?

“You can't hide your fat...

According to the thin or the formerly or even presently fat, the fat person lacks willpower, pride, this wretched attitude called "self esteem," and does not care about his friends or family because if she did care about friends or family, she would not wander the earth looking like a repulsive sow, rhinoceros, hippo, elephant, or, general nine-headed monster. The fat person doesn't even love herself because if she did, she would be slender and lithe and getting exercise by being busy with her bicycle rides and weight-lifting with her three-pound pink weights. The most shameful fat facts, and those facts most avoided when the fat or formerly fat write about fatness, are facts about the fat body. ...

What people do want to write about is weight loss and how to lose it. They want to write about self-esteem and how to gain it".4

 Very rarely has any therapist I have seen asked me about my experience as a fat woman. I suspect most therapists and physicians are caught in their own fantasies about fat people and their prejudices as well. And unfortunately very few fat patients challenge them on that, so opportunities to learn are lost. I have been asked more than once by physicians if I have "given any thought to losing weight?" as if I am somehow unlike every other American woman and as if I have never heard of much less tried any of the myriads of diets out there. It's hard not to get angry at times like that. What I have almost never been asked is how I feel about my body and my weight. Too often the problem is what people believe they know about me because I am fat. 

There is much to criticize about Donald Trump. In the grand scheme of things is what he weighs and/or that he lies about it, really all that important, important enough to alienate progressives who also happen to be fat? And how is ridiculing him about his weight not becoming like him?

P.S. — Jon Cooper did Tweet an apology for having caused hurt and distress to those who experienced his hashtag as aimed at any fat person. He also said he didn’t regret fat shaming Trump.

1. Mack, Ashley. Noel Closely Closeted: The Fat Acceptance Movement and Embodied Closets of Power p.16

2. Farrell, Em.

3. Spence, Lester

4. Miller, Judith , “Why I Wrote Fat Girl” --

© Cheryl Fuller, 2018. All  rights reserved.