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How fat people are like John Locke

I'm so tempted to take this post down and just pretend it never happened, but it did. See How I am like a giant ass

So I was watching the final season of LOST the other day. This particular episode focused on John Locke, a mild-mannered fellow who happens to be in a wheelchair. John had met a spinal surgeon in a previous episode and was offered a free consultation but in this episode John thought about it and decided not to call him. See, John had been through so many painful and stressful attempts to fix his spine and had experienced the heartbreak of failed attempts so many times that he figured it was time to stop putting himself through the wringer and just accept that he was never going to walk again. When he told this news to his fiancée, it was met by happy tears, a swell of music, and a romantic kiss.

Now imagine for a second that John Locke isn't a guy in a wheelchair. Imagine he's a big fat guy, one who has spent his life on a multitude of diets that didn't work and has finally decided to just accept and love his fat body as it is instead of trying to change it. I'm guessing the scene would play out a bit differently. But why is that, exactly? Why is a thin person in a wheelchair allowed to decline a painful, stressful intervention that likely won't work, but a fat person is somehow morally failing if he or she chooses to do so?

After all, folks in wheelchairs are often, rightly or wrongly, assumed to need more medical attention than the average person. Following that logic, one could jump to draw the conclusion that their health care costs more. On top of that, they get so-called "special treatment" like their own parking spots, ramps in public places, and comfortable and accessible seating areas in most every venue. To be sure, people in wheelchairs face discrimination in the workplace just like fat people do but that discrimination is illegal in every square inch of the US.

So why is it okay that fat people get scapegoated for rising health care costs, called 'infantile' for insisting that airlines provide accommodations that are remotely workable, and told to "shut up and get on the treadmill" when we raise concerns about discrimination? Short answer: it's not.

Like people in wheelchairs, fat people are valuable and significant members of society. We contribute just as much and are just as essential to our jobs and communities as anyone else. We are not infantile or requiring of special treatment, but we do deserve the same respect given to any other member of the human race. These bodies are our bodies. We are the only ones who get to decide what is going to happen with them. This world is our world too. We deserve to be represented and accommodated just like everyone else. Anything less is simply not acceptable.

PS: not trying to hate on wheeled folks. I'm sure there are challenges and frustrations (and triumphs) of being in a wheelchair that I have no idea about. The bottom line is that we all deserve to be treated with the same respect as everyone else. xo

Kevin Smith and Southwest Airlines | State of Fat Studies: One Person's POV

richie79's picture
February 19th, 2010 | Link | Carrie, I hope that

Carrie, I hope that disclaimer prevents you from being flamed into oblivion like others who've dared to discuss the issue of fat discrimination in the context of other forms of stigma and oppression and identify common characteristics, because this is an excellent post and raises some really interesting points.

So why is it okay that fat people get scapegoated for rising health care costs, called 'infantile' for insisting that airlines provide accommodations that are remotely workable, and told to "shut up and get on the treadmill" when we raise concerns about discrimination?

I think the key to this lies in the 'choice' argument. Whilst people with disabilities are generally considered 'victims' deserving of sympathy and accommodations (an immensely patronising and inappropriate mindset in itself, but that's a whole other post) fat people are wholly responsible for their condition as far as mainstream opinion is concerned. To be condemned with this generalisation we don't necessarily even need to make the 'choice' to eat ourselves to obesity; merely opting not to actively take steps to lose weight is enough to reassure the world that we are fat through our own volition and therefore fully deserving of any negative social 'consequences'.

Of course the choice argument is a strawman anyway. Religious persuasion is arguably a matter of individual conscience (and socialisation in SOME cases) yet the expression of religious freedom is in many countries -including mine - protected by law. Sexual orientation was once considered a matter of choice; when it became increasingly clear that it wasn't it was then medicalised and viewed as a 'sickness' to be cured (much in the way some researchers are now accepting the genetic basis of weight only to dream up new methods of manipulating the genome to regulate it). A case in the UK where a Goth girl was beaten to death by 'chavs' rightly provoked outrage that someone should have their individual right to dress as they wished constrained by the fear of violence, yet when a fat woman was violently attacked on a train, the general response to her anger was 'well it serves you right - don't be fat'.

Many of those defending the marginalisation of fat people as being our own fault claim that they're prepared to make exceptions for those whose size is caused by medication, illness or disability. But of course without compelling fat people to wear their medical histories round their necks with a 'Good Fatty' sign, this is no more obvious to the casual observer than whether the guy in the wheelchair ended up there by getting behind the wheel drunk or being in the wrong place at the wrong time when said drunk guy decided to drive home. The fact remains that without knowing a person no stranger is qualified to judge them or make assumptions based on appearance - PERIOD.

And so I'm not exactly sure where I stand re. the focus on 'choice'. There's certainly compelling evidence (in the form of twin studies, adoption studies, inter-generational mapping etc) that our weight is primarily an inherited characteristic governed by the genetic lottery. One study suggested it could be as much as 77% heritable, with environment accounting for the remainder (unfortunately other researchers then seized upon that 13% to argue that naturally fat people need only 'work harder', living on lettuce and carrot sticks and spending all their free time in the gym, to be accepted - very easy to say from the position of thin privilege these 'experts' invariably occupy).

On the other hand, a huge part of my subconscious is busy screaming that fat or thin, culpable or otherwise, really shouldn't matter to anyone who isn't directly affected by it, and certainly not to the extent that it seriously limits fat people's ability and opportunities to participate equally in the world. Even if being fat was 100% a matter of free will, we tolerate potentially much more harmful (but less visible) individual choices in society than that to eat fattening food and avoid exercise, and in a free country, that's absolutely the way it should be - for EVERYONE.

"A waist is a terrible thing to mind" - Tom Wilson

Viola's picture
February 19th, 2010 | Link | Ah, OK, I was thinking you

Ah, OK, I was thinking you were going to somehow talk about how if fat could go to this magic island, they could be thin...and turn into smoke monsters or something.

Making analogies in public scares me, but I certainly make them in my mind. I have thought about people in wheelchairs in relation to fat people before, usually when I'm thinking about how one of the ideas we are assumed to naturally feel is that we are flawed people, we aren't as good as "real" people, the ones who aren't limited or bound by fat. If you had your choice, of course, you'd rather be whole, but you can learn to live your life to the fullest by embracing what is. There is also the element of culpability--a number of people who are in wheelchairs are there because of activities that they did that caused the injury. I have actually heard people speak negatively of those who do dumb things and then get what they deserve. And, of course, if you are fat and in a wheelchair or using a walker or cane, it's always because you did this to yourself by being fat. So yes, I can see some parallels.

I used to make a similar analogy with gay people, although these days I feel like a lot has changed in that regard. But in the 80s, when I was involved with an LGBT organization at my university, it always felt a bit like even when non-gay people were really supportive and accepting, there was always a bit of the "there but for the grace of God go I" or "Thank God *I'm* not the gay one." There was and still is a segment of the population that believes that being gay is a choice and the only acceptable way to deal with your feelings is to not act on them and pray unceasingly for God to help you stop sinning in this way. Still, I feel like people are much more willing to embrace and discuss their own sexual tendencies, or speak out in favor of things like gay marriage nowadays. I can tell you when I was 18 and making a case for same sex marriage, I found very few people in my life who supported the idea.

But there are similiarities with fat people. I think even when people are trying to be kind and empathetic, I get the feeling that the only acceptable way for me to act is to acknowledge that I need to go on a diet, as Kevin Smith did, be contrite, be humble about how I'm flawed and work unceasingly to fix it. Only then am I acceptable. It's like, really, we are alcoholics or drug addicts who have to admit we have a problem and abstain from anything but healthy eating and rigorous exercise or else we have fallen off the wagon.

I'm not sure if things have gotten better or worse through the years. I think it's like anything else, as soon as you have people speaking up for the rights of a certain segment of the population, things get even more polarized than before. As a fat child in the 70's, there was no question that I had a problem and that being fat was bad. There was no thought of size acceptance in my piece of the world, it was diets, diets and more diets. In the 80's I started hearing about fat acceptance, but the thought of that so depressed me, I completely rejected it. Now that more people accept it, we end up with a lot of media coverage about how bad it is to be fat, which isn't something I really remember as a kid--it was just kind of like common knowledge, but there also was this idea that it wasn't polite to pick on someone who was afflicted.

I'm not sure how this fits in with people in wheelchairs, although I think we still think it's not polite to acknowledge their limitations, and we still don't want to look at differently abled people as equal to those who are typically abled or physically full functioning, or whatever the polite term is. I think as a society we give things to people when we feel sorry for them, but as soon as they stand up and say, "No, this is my right as a human being to have this accommodation" we start to become critical and want them to accept their limitations and acknowledge how they are different and maybe even why they are different. I think some people accept fat people if they demonstrate proper attitude and behavior, even if they don't become thin. They can then say that it's a complicated problem and it's hard conquering a food addiction, or what have you.

I think if there were more ways to cure spinal injuries or treatments that we perceived as useful, and people didn't avail themselves of those but said, "I like my life as it is, I don't think there is anything wrong with me that I need to fix and yes, you still need to accommodate my needs" it would be a shitstorm. And maybe this does go on and I'm just not aware of it. It doesn't exactly compare to the situation with fat people, but nothing's ever perfect. I do see some segments of society completely promoting surgical or drug options, and some people in society oppsed to surgical options, saying that people just need to restrict calories and exercise more, and I think the bottom line is people are happy to pass judgment because they want to keep fat as something that happens to other people.

Viola's picture
February 19th, 2010 | Link | Cross-posted with Richie, so

Cross-posted with Richie, so I didn't see his response until I posted mine.

wriggle99 February 19th, 2010 | Link | "Allowed" in fiction. I

"Allowed" in fiction. I wonder if watching that episode if PWD's felt finally someone in such a mainstream show is acknowledging this situation. Because I don't recall any over abundance of it.

Whilst I take on board the comparison of self acceptance, I just don't think the way you are doing is not illiminating at all. I find it hard to believe anyone reading this is going to think, why yes, I never considered this dilemma in relation to fat people's experience, as PWD are expected to go through painful and invasive procedures to fit in with the expectations of others and are seen as having a duty to make themselves more acceptable, in ways that we cannot begin to imagine.

Even the way's they are defined is often in terms of an idealised and highly complimentary (to those passing)norm, to the extent that it's sometimes difficult to know whether they are describing a disability or complimenting/ re-inforcing normalcy itself. It affects the way they can perceive their true dilemmas and challenges.

I think it might have been more better to say, being fat has illuminated Locke's dilemma for me in a way that it may not have in light of my experiences, or whatever, remember a lot of our hurt is that we've been ejected from normalcy, rather than never having been let in at all in the first place.

I'm not saying this to hurt your feelings or slap you down, but it's the element of what I can only describe as a kind of envy of us eyeing up other people as having greater 'credibility' than us that is hard to defend. Credibility cannot be borrowed from others, it comes from taking it back for oneself in the face of ridicule, just like everyone else.

CarrieP's picture
February 19th, 2010 | Link | Noted. I'm certainly not

Noted. I'm certainly not attempting to imply that a person in a wheelchair's experience is exactly the same as a fat person's, but I think it's still valid to draw the parallels, at least when it comes to the question of who gets to decide what an individual does (or should do) with his or her body.

Tiana February 19th, 2010 | Link | Wow. To be honest, I can't

Wow. To be honest, I can't get over the fact that this was actually on TV. It seems so unrealistic. Until you got to the point where you described what happened next, I was 100% convinced that your analogy was going to be, "This poor guy was reprimanded for his choice and blamed for 'choosing to stay disabled' when he could have done something about it, just like fat people." This kind of thing NEVER happens in real life. I'm shocked.

romham's picture
February 22nd, 2010 | Link | really?

"On top of that, they get so-called "special treatment" like their own parking spots, ramps in public places, and comfortable and accessible seating areas in most every venue."

as a fat PWD i would very much like to go to this place of which you speak! It sounds positively magical lol. Where is it? im honestly asking. Because yeah, as a PWD i dont get any of this actually.
im all about making connections, and i believe that yes there are most definitely connections between how fat folks are treated and how PWDs with mobility issues (because PWD is a huge category) are treated. i understand what you're trying to say with this post, that we all deserve to be treated right. And i also get what you're trying to reference around the supposed "choice" and "pity" aspects of fat and disability. But there are ways of getting to these points without conjuring up so called "special rights" for PWDs.

alex.k February 22nd, 2010 | Link | Hmm, the first post on BFB

Hmm, the first post on BFB that I actually find relatively offensive. Before I touch on that though, let me say that I think Rich pretty much hit the high points by mentioning the 'by choice' argument. That pretty much sums up why people sympathise with a disabled person more than with a fat person, regardless of the possibility that the disabled person may have brought his disability onto himself by irresponsible behaviour.
However even in such cases, it is easier to forgive someone who can claim he / she regrets having engaged in the behaviour that resulted in the disability, than to 'forgive' someone who could - in public perception - still change themselves if they wanted to. Everyone accepts that the disabled person may have matured since the accident, and become a better person, (this whole Christian notion of regretting and forgiving) while for most, the simple act of being fat signalises to people that this person 'is still not willing to change', hence not deserving of the same amount of sympathy.

Moving on, naturally it's ignorant and mis-informed to believe that diets work, and that if fat people weren't as 'lazy' and dieted and exercised, they'd 'be thin', but we know that already, right?

What concerns disability, you'll find that often, these people's lives are no easier only because they're generally sympathised with instead of blamed for their condition. The deaf community is a great example of this - the deaf have a saying, goes something like "the biggest obstacle facing deaf people are the hearing". In addition, there are parts of the deaf community that do not regard deafness as a disability, and do not wish to be either treated as nor classified as a disabled person. I'm finding their situation similar to that of the community of people who are overweight - the majority buy into the whole dieting / public scorn is right because it's my fault thing, but a group of activists claim that being fat is neither a disability, nor is it a bad thing that needs to be 'fixed'.

In BOTH cases (fat & deaf activists), society does NOT react sympathetically, for the most part. Someone was talking about the 'good fattie' vs. 'bad fattie' thing, it's essentially the same dilemma. People think that both disability & fat are bad things, and need to be eradicated. With disability, people accept that this is not immediately possible, this does NOT equate to them accepting disability in itself. People who do not want a cure or develop a strong disabled identity are treated pretty much the same way fat people are treated. Somebody who proclaims to be proud of their 'disability' and have incorporated it into their self-image are still 'gaped at', since it is generally expected of disabled people to view this part of themselves as something 'bad', while in reality, a significant portion of disabled people do not.

This is not limited to the deaf community, I've known quite a few disabled people, and have been part of a few disabled advocacy movements in the past, and I can assure you when I say that the overwhelming majority of disabled people I've known find it almost exactly as hard - if not harder - to live in a society in which people are ignorant of their plight / way of life and treat them a certain way because of it, than to live with their disability, something they've gotten accustomed to. (If societal intentions are good or bad is irrelevant in the face of the fact that the treatment received is causing these people stress / aggravation)

I'm not fat, but I am disabled, and I can assure you that I experience ongoing ignorance, stigmatisation and alienation at times, despite society's apparent 'sympathy' towards my plight. I'm not blamed, but yes it's true, there's other actions displayed by people that can be EQUALLY frustrating.

Combat ignorance and fight fat-phobia? Yes, definitely. Implied jealousy towards a group of people who, in daily life, have it not a scrap easier than fat people (yes it's true: on counts of general ignorance / perception) is IMO the wrong way to tackle this.

CarrieP's picture
February 23rd, 2010 | Link | @romham - The way I worded

@romham - The way I worded that was an attempt to jab at the people who accuse fat people of expecting special treatment because seats aren't made to fit us, etc. I believe that a society should take care of all of its members to the greatest extent possible, no matter what their needs, so I don't really believe making a place accessible to someone of any size or disability is giving them 'special treatment' at all. I apologize if that was unclear.

@alex.k - Fantastic point about the good fattie/bad fattie thing. On the one hand, I'm sorry I offended you, but on the other, I'm really glad it prompted you to comment. My only experience of PWD has been what is available in the popular media so of course my point of view is missing several valid parts of your real life experience. If I write something that misses the mark, I more than welcome your correction.

One thing I want to clarify here though, because it obviously wasn't clear enough in my original posting: My message was not intended to be implied jealousy of PWD because they supposedly have it so easy as opposed to us poor fatties. My message was, "Hey fatties, we deserve to be able to make decisions for our own bodies. All of the reasons people give us for needing to change are bullshit. Claim that autonomy for yourselves."

Admittedly, I used PWD as an example to make my point. I was hoping that by drawing the parallels between the way fat people are treated and the way PWD are treated and pointing out that PWD appear to have more right in our society to make decisions about their own bodies, fat people reading the post who weren't feeling entirely autonomous could start to give themselves permission to do so as well.

You have all made very good points about how perhaps what we see on TV isn't the same as real life, but I still stand behind the original message. We ALL deserve to be able to make our own body decisions without anyone else's judgment. The fact that PWD are farther away from that goal than I previously thought doesn't mean that we shouldn't still all strive toward having those rights for ourselves.

romham's picture
February 24th, 2010 | Link | i totally get what youre

i totally get what youre trying to say here Smiling

There are definitely ways of making the statement "We ALL deserve to be able to make our own body decisions without anyone else's judgment" without doing what happened here though.

What is seen on tv is actually not even remotely connected to the real world for PWD (except to show how completely messed up it is). im unsure why its useful to make these connections at all, and why non PWD feel so free to use examples of experiences that are not theirs?

You said: "On top of that, they get so-called "special treatment" like their own parking spots, ramps in public places, and comfortable and accessible seating areas in most every venue."

i didnt think you were suggesting that the correct term for these accommodations are "special treatment", which is why i imagine you put it in quotations Smiling But the way you connected them did lead me to believe you were connecting the apparent "validity" of PWD concerns with accommodations in comparison to the "validity" of fat folks' requests for accommodations. im just saying that that aint necessarily the best way to the point.

"To be sure, people in wheelchairs face discrimination in the workplace just like fat people do but that discrimination is illegal in every square inch of the US."

i get what youre saying here, again, but i would just caution against the notion that "illegal" = "actually happening on the ground". Youve mentioned a couple times in this that you're not very familiar with PWD concerns, and i would suggest that it is iffy when folks who are really up on the issues make these kinds of comparisons, even more so when folks dont really have much experience at all.

thetroubleis February 24th, 2010 | Link | Come on.

Seriously? Pretending disability isn't stigmatized and that getting many accommodations a isn't hard, frustrating experience is laughable. Do you know how often PWDs are told they are faking, to just deal with it and stop making other people's lives harder? As a fat chick and a PWDs, I'm bit startled you would even go there without doing some basic reading.

I've read other good posts on this site before and I'm disappointed you didn't see how problematic this post was. Lauredhel wrote a good response post I wish you would read.:

closetpuritan February 25th, 2010 | Link | Carrie has already explained

Carrie has already explained why she believes this post was a mistake, and I tend to agree with her conclusions.

However, this...

"Pretending disability isn't stigmatized and that getting many accommodations a isn't hard, frustrating experience is laughable."

based on a post that said this...

"To be sure, people in wheelchairs face discrimination in the workplace just like fat people do but that discrimination is illegal in every square inch of the US."

...I don't think that's a completely fair description of what she said.

I can't say that the post struck me as "oppression olympics", either, although I guess I thought it was obvious that every nonprivileged (and privileged!) group had it easier or harder in particular ways--that they wouldn't be evenly disadvantaged in all situations, so I assumed that it was obvious to the author as well--she didn't make sure the audience knew that she knew that, though, so I guess that leaves space for people to get the impression that she was saying it was easier to be disabled than fat in all ways, and this was "oppression olympics".

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