Via Shakesville comes this piece of fat-hating dreck from Reuters: Modern Etiquette: Do the obese really deserve contempt?
I’d like to preface what I’m about to write with the following: There’s a reason I don’t get paid for writing, and that my public writing consists almost entirely of blog comments, plus this quiet little frequently-neglected place. It’s because I’m an OK writer, but not a particularly good one. On the rare occasions that I’ve written for publication, I’ve been alternately grateful for what a good editor can do, and furious at the ruin a bad one can unleash. So this is the inexpert opinion of an amateur. Anyway….
I diagnose the problem with the above article as either piss-poor writing – so bad that I know I could do better – or one of the worst editorial hatchet-jobs in living memory. By the time you finish the article, it’s hard to say whether the author answers the question “yes” or “no” – and as it meanders towards its non-conclusion, it manages to spray every bit of anti-fat fecal material out there, from the mocking to the patronizing, to the outright bizarre. If the problem was with the writing, a couple simple techniques that I learned in junior high school might have saved it. Those techniques are:
1. Stay on target. Sum up your whole article in one sentence and write it down somewhere that you can look at it while you’re writing.
In this case, it was like she had two index cards and was looking at both. One said, “I want to write a persuasive essay that fat people are people and therefor worthy of dignity and respect, and we should stop being assholes to them.” The other said, “Ha ha fatty fat fat breaking furniture ugly smelly lol your fat but really I’m just concerned about your health.”
2. Write an outline. Once you know what your point is, knowing how you’re going to get there can really help.
At this point, my first draft contained a paragraph bashing the writer for being such a prejudiced asshole that it prevented her from following the basic tenets of good writing. Which is somewhere between possible and likely, and has been gone into, in depth and detail, in the Shakesville thread.
I’d like to consider another possibility: What if the author really did write a sympathetic and humane article, and it was her editor that just couldn’t let it get into the press without the obligatory, you guessed it, sprinkles of contempt. I tried an experiment, and it makes me think there is actually a pretty decent article trapped under layers of prejudice, that just can’t figure out how to escape. What follows is the article with the worst statements removed.
Disgust. Pity. Contempt. Obesity is everywhere in our society today — and this is how it is met by a remarkable number of people.
People who would find slurs against other groups unthinkable still seem to think nothing of correcting, lecturing, and even humiliating complete strangers who are overweight.
Not only is such casual obesity-bashing considered harmless, some people actually seem to believe they are “helping” the overweight person by “giving advice.”
And the more overweight the person, the more many people seem to feel entitled either to preach or scorn.
This is not a small issue. More than 25 percent of Americans are obese.
And yet feelings of superiority continue to lace the public discourse on this issue.
My question is, while the obesity wars are being waged, can’t we remain compassionate? Wherever we fall on the scale, we all are obliged to give some thought to this matter.
Good manners are based on kindness, respect, and consideration for every human being. They often depend on our ability to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and, always, on our belief in the dignity of individuals.
Why are these attitudes so often cast aside when the issue at hand is weight?
I’ve consulted with physicians who care for obese individuals and surgeons who perform weight-loss surgery, as well as remarkable, thoughtful patients who courageously shared their painful experiences.
Their days are filled with pressure and embarrassment:
– They are shamed by the disgust and judgment they see in the eyes of others-even from complete strangers
– They live in constant fear of getting trapped in turnstiles, of breaking chairs and toilets, and of not being able to get up should they fall. [Some fat people sure, but my BMI is in the 40s and none of these things are issues for me. Way to feed stereotypes!]
– They can well imagine – if not hear outright – the criticism of passengers seated next to them on airplanes, buses, and trains
– They can spot the disapproval and immediate dismissal of those who interview them for jobs (assuming they have the temerity to show up for an interview) [Wait, what?! Temerity?!]
– Above all, they are keenly aware that just about everyone out there believes that they could lose all that weight if they just exerted a little willpower, if they weren’t so lazy, if they didn’t eat this, or do that.
The fact is, most have spent countless hours and dollars trying to do something about their weight.
The remarks they endure on a regular basis run from the borderline illegal, to the openly condescending, to the clueless and patronizing.
“When is your baby due?” “You would be so beautiful if you just lost weight.” “Why can’t you control yourself?” “I don’t think of you as overweight.”
Words aren’t necessary to wound. Stares, snickers, sneers, and smirks cut just as sharply.
Discussing another person’s weight without his or her permission is rude and inappropriate.
[The middle section of the article, on accomodating fat people, could be worth another whole post. On the one hand, yes, one thing that makes life hard when you’re fat is that the world is generally not built to fit us, and the message of “your body is defective” when we don’t fit places is painful. On the other, the bits about breaking furniture, having trouble getting up off the couch, and not being able to participate in physical activities, in the context of the whole article, feel more like othering and fat-shaming than they do like helpful advocacy suggestions, even though these things are true for some fat people.]
Think about it. If, as we battle to eliminate obesity, we deny ourselves the friendship, the collegiality, the creativity, and the intelligence of one in every four people in the process, who is really the biggest loser?
Not a brilliant article when you take out the worst of the anti-fat rhetoric, but it still holds together pretty well. Almost like somebody else inserted the rest, almost randomly. Here are the cut bits, strung together:
Obesity is fast becoming a worldwide epidemic. The implications — higher mortality, greater preventable disease, billions of dollars in often unsuccessful remedies — are enormous. Michelle Obama has waged war on it. Airlines wrestle with it. Employers prefer to avoid it wherever possible.
Most obese people are fundamentally just average-sized folks who have become trapped under layers of fat and can’t seem to find a way out.
Check it out, it’s your standard obesity-epidemic-booga-booga article, inserted and overlaid.