On Valentine’s Day, a couple of friends and I sat down to watch ‘Set It Up’, a romantic comedy, because that’s not the cheesiest thing one might do on V-Day! In one of the scenes, the main character is stuck in an elevator with a fat man, who is of course, claustrophobic and decides to undress, to the dread of the two other people. This scene is meant to be funny, since, y’kno, who would want to be stuck in an elevator and subjected to this person’s fat body? Admittedly, I was uncomfortable throughout this scene; I couldn’t laugh because I didn’t find it funny and if my friends laughed, it would feel like an insult to me. Cause wouldn’t that mean that they were laughing at me? I mean, I am fat too, so if they found that funny, then they definitely thought the same about my body?
I do not remember when exactly, or how old I was when I came to the realization that I was a fat person. But I do know that I was in primary school, I do know that I could not have been more than 10 years old and I do know that with this realization, my life changed. I mostly remember the looks, expressions and comments from strangers, family and friends, on my fat body. I could not go to the store, school or even church without someone hurling insulting and abusive words at me about my body. I changed from a free-spirited, outspoken young girl who rode her bike downstairs and climbed trees with her brothers, to the girl that sat at the back of the class, rarely spoke out and was too afraid to be seen. I was very visible to everyone yet at the same time felt so invisible.
Here’s the reality: when you are fat, everyone sees you. I mean, how could they not? Except no one really sees you. Fatness is regarded so negatively that people are not only concerned about their own weight, but that of others. Now, while we all have issues with our bodies and have something that we would like to change about them, fat bodies are especially considered repulsive. Thanks (no thanks!) to the media and the extremely superficial beauty industry, everybody wants to look a certain way. Suddenly there’s a right way to be beautiful and being fat does not quite make the cut! Women, in general, are more concerned, distressed and punished for their weight than men. Women’s body issues relate to inequality and bodyweight continues to be one of the few remaining acceptable reasons to discriminate against someone and this is especially true where the target is a woman. Discrimination against fat people takes different forms; from the denigrating comments you might make towards a fat person, to the looks and the sighs you could direct their way when they sit next to you in a taxi, or even the jokes and snide comments about their bodies.
When I started reading feminist theory a couple of years back, I finally found the inclusivity that had long eluded me. For me, feminism is about the social, economic and political equality of all genders. It is about affirming women and celebrating our achievements and struggles. Feminism teaches that women’s bodies are a political object – evident in the way that society regulates our bodies. Feminism teaches that women’s bodies are our own and not for the pleasure of anyone else. Feminism challenges homogeneity of what constitutes beauty and beauty standards that have long been part of our oppression.
Discrimination against fat people is socially acceptable because of the often misguided belief that fat people can control their weight and therefore deserve whatever is coming to them. When I talk to people about the staggering discrimination facing fat people, the ignorant feedback often ranges from ‘why not just lose weight’ to ‘you can’t change the world, you can only change yourself’ which implies that I deserve this treatment because I fail to take control of my body. My very humanity is erased because I dare to live in a body that Roxane Gay so aptly describes as “unruly”.
So next time you see a fat woman, how about you have a conversation about anything else but weight – theirs or yours! How about you tell her she’s beautiful. Because fat and beautiful are not opposites. How about you don’t make mean comments about another fat person and assume that it doesn’t affect your friend because you’re not specifically talking about her. When a fat person tells you how they feel about their body, don’t dismiss their fears or pain; listen and ask how you can help. Cause the bottom line is, we are all desperate to be at peace and dwell in the bodies that we have.
If you’re a fat girl reading this, hey girl hey! I see you, I truly see you. Surround yourself with positive people. Read feminist literature and blogs written by fat people. Watch content that showcases fat people in a positive light (I recommend Shrill). And don’t be afraid to try new things. Cause you can be fat and a bunch of other things (funny, smart, adventurous, ambitious, sexy – the list is truly endless).
P.S: Don’t let the muggles get you down.
Originally published on Lakwena.