Friday, August 4, 2006

As I was driving to work this morning, I was thinking about the current round of reality shows. Now, I don't normally watch a lot of them, but the one about Superheroes is rather amusing. Last night one of the participants was eliminated, as happens on these things, and in his post-elimination rant he made a comment about one of the other participants that went something along the lines of "Like a fat woman is any kind of superhero? Puhleez!"

That gave me pause.

Why can't a fat woman be a superhero? Fat people in America deal with adversity and discrimination on a daily basis. Obesity is the last acceptable prejudice in our culture, and those who are afflicted with it face humiliation constantly. Seats in movie theatres and sporting arenas are too small to fit into, aisles on buses and planes are narrow, and we won't even go into the narrowness of airplane seats. I can tell you, however, that while you are sitting in your seat on the plane, dreading the flight because the person sitting next to you is large, they are not exactly having a picnic either. That person knows exactly what you're thinking. They knew it before they even got on the plane, and the look of fear on the faces of everyone with an empty seat next to them as they came down the aisle was repetitive torture. They're contorting themselves as best they can to keep from squashing you, knowing the whole time that it's a futile gesture, and that you probably don't know or care that their hips are bruising and numb from the seat arms and their legs have fallen asleep because they don't dare even shift for fear of infringing on your space even more.

Going to the grocery store or a restaurant brings even more judgement from others. There are people who will openly criticize the food choices of complete strangers. It can range from disapproving looks as the waiter brings food to the fat person's table, to loud "meant to be overheard" comments about how someone like that should be having a salad, not a steak. In grocery stores, a fat person's cart is routinely inspected by others as they pass by. There have even been instances of so-called helpful people actually taking items out of carts with words to the effect of "You don't need that, you should be eating healthier food."

Our culture implants shame and self-hatred at every turn when it comes to being overweight. Fat jokes are the last acceptable bastion of the comedians and the last socially acceptable sight gag in the movies. The derogatory images of blacks, women, and other minorities are slowly being removed from the realm of allowed but the images of the slovenly fat man in the stained t-shirt who sits in front of the television and chugs beer is still around and showing no signs of leaving. The fat chick is always the butt of the jokes, shown wearing muumuus and thick glasses, with bad hair and a pint of ice cream in her hand.

Is it any wonder that we have people spending millions of dollars on wonder pills as they try desperately to find a quick fix to their problem? Is it any wonder that we have children starving themselves and complaining about how fat they are at ages as young as six and seven?

The next time that you look at an overweight person and automatically assume that they're a slob who has no willpower, take a moment to realize what you are doing. If you just change a couple of words in that thought, you might find yourself shocked at your own thinking. (Examples of prejudices that are horrifying to most people: fat=black / slob=stupid / willpower=brains, fat=woman / slob=intelligence / willpower=sense).

Then there's the fact that, like the other prejudices mentioned, it's probably not true. It's much more likely that the person you are judging so harshly is just a person, like you or anyone else, who reacts to food differently than you do. There's a good chance that they're much more aware of their weight than you could ever be, and odds are that they're catching sight of themselves in that store window even as you look at them, and they're thinking thoughts about themselves that you would be appalled to hear.

Life as a fat person isn't all bon bons and luxuriating in your couch potato-ness. The real picture is that it's a study in self-hatred, self-abuse, and constantly being told by society at large that you're sub-human. Think about it the next time that you watch a movie and see the fat sight gag, because maybe it won't be quite so funny.