Takei Two —
I try not to beat dead horses, but George Takei’s bigotry demands a second look because last night he posted this on Facebook:
The joke itself is standard fare for a Takei-promoted meme: unoriginal and barely funny.
But what pissed me off is Takei’s comment: “And not everyone should wear skinny jeans, I might add.”
Were it not for this little extra dollop of hatred, I would have just rolled my eyes and thought, “Way to go, George.” But his comment raises a few interesting questions.
First, who is allowed to wear skinny jeans? I’m guessing skinny people, but how skinny? I know plenty of people who are passably thin until they wear something like skinny jeans, which can push a fat roll into existence where there was previously none. This is also known as the “muffin top” and among the comments on Takei’s post, the horror of the muffin top was frequently cited.
Most of these people insist that the issue is that some clothes are more “flattering” for certain figures. But what is “flattering”? In our culture, “flattering” means de-emphasizing your fatness. So, if you wear something that draws attention to the fact that you aren’t a fat-free ectomorph, then you are wearing something “unflattering” and you should change immediately.
Skinny jeans are only flattering if it doesn’t produce the dread muffin top, which means that only a fraction of the population can wear this outfit without offending Takei and Co. with their fat. But this immediately brings to mind other clothing options that would be considered “unflattering” by the exposed flab standard:spandex; tank tops; sleeveless dresses; bikinis, or even bathing suits; and, according to a 1922 book by Emily Post “Fat women should never wear elaborate clothes or clothes in light colors or heavily feathered hats.”
Post goes on to explain why fatties get special rules for dressing:
The tendency of fat is to take away from one’s gracility; therefore, any one inclined to be fat must be ultra conservative — in order to counteract the effect… because a woman is no longer young is no reason why she should wear perpetual black — unless she is fat.
Got that fat ladies? If you want to maintain your gracility, then you best perpetually wear black.
But for whose benefit is the loose-fitting, all-black wardrobe? Considering the fact that fatties are discouraged from exposing any amount of flesh, even at the beach where it’s entirely appropriate, it seems that the Shroud of Muffin(top) is aimed at shielding the poor, unsuspecting victim who might witness an unsightly flab attack.
So, when George Takei tells his 2.2 million Facebook followers what is and is not appropriate for fat people to wear, based on rules meant to hide the ickiness of abundant flesh from the public, it becomes the height of hypocrisy when he posts the following cartoon:
I grew up in a very religious household and went to both Catholic and non-denominational Christian churches and I (and anyone else who has done so) can confirm that much of the opposition stems from the Ick Factor, as Mike Huckabee put it so eloquently.
Well guess what, George: your comments on who should and should not wear skinny jeans is based on the Ick Factor for Fatties. Let’s face it, the only reason people whinge about fatties in skinny jeans or bikinis is because they are grossed out by fat bodies. They can try and mask it as a concern for health, but all you have to do is scratch the surface to see what lies beneath.
“So what?” the asshats cry. “It’s just a joke, get over it.”
If it’s “just a joke,” then why did the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) jump to George Takei’s defense when his marriage was mocked by a New York Post cartoonist? I mean, it’s just a joke, right?
Wrong. What that cartoon did, and what George Takei is doing, is enforcing the stigma associated with gay and fat people, respectively.
In Gerhard Falk’s 2001 book Stigma: How We Treat Outsiders, Falk explains the role of stigma in society:
Modern American usage of the words “stigma” and “stigmatization” refers to an invisible sign of disapproval which permits insiders to draw a line around “outsiders” in order to demarcate the limits of inclusion in any group. That type of demarcation permits “insiders” to know who is “in” and who is “out” and allows the group to maintain its solidarity by demonstrating what happens to those who deviate from accepted norms of conduct… Consequently, the stigma and the stigmatization of some persons demarcates a boundary that reinforces the conduct of conformists.
In other words, stigma creates boundaries for “normal.” By stigmatizing certain groups, we are attempting to maintain the social order and morality of a group, according to Émile Durkheim, one of the founding fathers of sociology.
Falk explores a number of stigmatized groups, including women, immigrants, drug addicts, the homeless the mentally ill, and the old, not to mention homosexuals and what the author calls “exceedingly obese” fat people.
A lot has changed since 2001, and homosexuals have gained a lot of ground in terms of social acceptance. Yes, there is definitely a vocal contingency of people (particularly among intolerant Christians) who are still attempting to stigmatize gay people, but when you look at our culture as a whole, gay people are much closer to being “inside” the boundary line of normalcy.
In fact, among younger Americans, homosexuality is considered completely normal with 65% of those aged 18 to 34 saying that gay and lesbian relations are “morally acceptable.” And nearly half of those aged 55 and older agree.
So, what happens when a stigmatized group becomes less stigmatized? Apparently, they take the opportunity to participate in the stigmatization of other groups, perhaps as a way of asserting their newfound normalcy.
This shift from being the stigmatized to the stigmatizer is part of the natural progression of stigma. Groups considered a threat to society in the 19th century are remarkably different from those of the 21th century. Irish immigrants were once subject to bigotry and discrimination, and now we celebrate their inclusion in this country with green dye and drunken debauchery (the latter of which is definitive proof that fat stigma has nothing to do with health).
Although the tendency is to say view stigma as just something society does, we already know that those who are subjected to stigma suffer the consequences in terms of health, as explained in my interview with Dr. Rebecca Puhl, Director of Research and Weight Stigma Initiatives at the Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University.
But the really insidious part of stigma is that it isn’t just the “insiders” who participate in stigmatization. According to Falk, “It is significant that stigma and stigmatization not only create negative reactions in the audience that perceives the feature that defines the outsider, but that the stigma and stigmatized are themselves part of that negative audience.”
This is especially true of fat stigma, as evidenced by this defender of Takei:
Interesting how this person finds humor in Takei’s comments on appropriate dress for fat people, yet he whines, “Stop bashing people who might have a different view point than your own.”
So, in the mind of this fat person it’s perfectly acceptable to bash fat people who dare to commit the crime of being publicly fat, but don’t you dare bash someone with a differing viewpoint.
I scoff at the idea that we should all “take a chill pill” because anyone who is really comfortable with themselves can “take a joke.” Bullshit. As Takei himself said in response to Tracey Morgan’s horrible “joke” about killing his gay son:
When I first learned of it, my blood started boiling, but then, the more I read it over, you know, he’s a sad, strange man. He’s an African-American who has been subjected to bigotry and hate before, and for him to be perpetuating that, he must be an insecure guy.
George Takei is right: those who perpetuate bigotry and hate, those who find stigmatizing jokes funny, are insecure people who feel compelled to assert their conformity by pointing and laughing at those who do not conform. It’s as if they’re saying, “See, I think fat people are hideous and disgusting just like all of you!”
And don’t even think of citing health as a justification for this kind of behavior. You cannot tell by looking at someone whether they engage in healthy behaviors, as I explained in my recent interview on NBC:
The fact that I have made significant improvements to my health (as evidenced by my improved cholesterol) without losing a pound is just one of many, MANY examples of fat people who are engaged in healthy behaviors. And yet people stigmatize fatties like us — and don’t stigmatize the skinny, sedentary, fast food junkies — because of a simple-minded belief that fat = unhealthy.
Falk explains how even false accusations can lead to real stigma:
False accusations are an example of how stigma and stigmatization can be attached to someone who is associated with a behavior that does not exist. Someone falsely accused is stigmatized because the attribution of deviance exists even if no behavior of any kind can be found to support the attribution.
Because fatness is associated with unhealthy lifestyle choices, all fat people are assumed to lead unhealthy lifestyles. And because thinness is associated with healthy lifestyle choices, all thin people are assumed to lead healthy lifestyles.
So, if health were the deciding factor in this particular stigma, then we would judge gluttony, sloth, drunkeness, smoking, drug use, or reckless driving with the same ferocity. If health were the deciding factor, then you would see Michael Bloomberg calling for a ban on 16 ounce beers and barflies would be routinely lectured for their self-destructive behaviors.
Instead, we consider these other lifestyle choices personal and none of our fucking business. And because
it’s “personal,” they avoid the hatefulness inspired by the stigma that fat people experience. Or as Falk puts it:
There may therefore be no difference between the way a person is treated who is falsely accused and someone who is justifiably accused. Conversely, there are many people who deal in “secret” deviance and are not accused because their behavior is unknown to anyone but themselves. Such people are not recognized as deviants because no stigma and stigmatization can attach to them.
Considering the long and bloody history that homosexuals have endured under the scrutiny of stigma, I assumed that most educated homosexuals would understand that stigma, no matter how it’s enforced, is always wrong. And when I saw George Takei’s Pinterist profile…
… I would have assumed that being a “believer in the equality of all human beings” meant respecting everyone, regardless of who they are or what they look like.
I was wrong.
George Takei clearly believes that fat people aren’t equal to all human beings. If he did, then he wouldn’t be posting lectures on what fat people should and should not wear, and he wouldn’t be broadcasting a message of intolerance to all of his fans. By doing so, he is merely reinforcing their belief that fat people deserve to be stigmatized.
Finally, I’d like to remind Mr. Takei that there is nothing natural about stigmatizing fat people. There’s no law of the galaxy that says only certain people are allowed to wear certain clothing. These are rules that we are taught and that we teach to others. Or, as he recently posted:
George Takei, no one is born hating fat bodies. They are taught. And you have become one of the most vocal teachers of this intolerance.
Please, stop teaching intolerance and start promoting love.