Trigger warning: Mention of celebrity weight-loss and eating disorders.
Yesterday I was grocery shopping and while heading to the vitamin aisle I saw something pretty startling. It was a woman, extremely thin, and it didn’t seem like a “naturally” thin either, as her face was sunken in. I watched her bend down to grab something and put it in her cart. After she and her companion left the aisle, I glanced down at what she had picked up.
It was a package of weight-loss shakes.
Immediately I started to think about how our society’s obsession with being thin, and staying thin, might have played a role in the appearance of this woman. What I didn’t think, but could have, was that she already seemed unhealthily thin and the last thing she needed to consume were weight-loss shakes.
Just like my body is nobody’s business, hers wasn’t mine. And maybe she bought the shakes not to lose even more weight, but maybe because they’re her way of getting food intake, or because she just likes to drink them, like I enjoy eating Special K Cracker Chips even though I know it’s labeled as a diet food. Maybe she didn’t have an eating disorder at all, but was suffering from another condition and the only thing she was able to digest was the shakes.
We shouldn’t presume to know the lifestyles of people we observe in the grocery store just by looking in their carts, but sadly, some feel they have a right to judge.
This week I was reading Redbook while at lunch. I generally stay away from these magazines because they’re pro-intentional weight loss, but since I usually eat by myself I need something to pass the time. The articles in them weren’t that bad, not as heavily pro-diet as they usually are, and then I came to a page where some nutritionists admitted to peering into other peoples’ carts while they were grocery shopping and judging what was inside. They were making assumptions that these random strangers weren’t interested in losing weight and being healthy.
What these professional nutritionists fail to realize is that not everyone is interested in losing weight, and that the only bodies that should concern these nutritionists are their own and the bodies of their clients, not the bodies of strangers out in public.
Unfortunately, the obesity panic causes too many people to forget about the wise old saying “mind your own business” and start treating bodies, especially fat bodies, as their own personal property:
- We have First Lady Michelle Obama making it her top priority to shrink the waist size of America’s children, even though there are other more crucial issues out there facing our nation.
- We had the media take a non-newsworthy topic of celebrity chef Paula Deen’s diabetes diagnosis and suddenly, health and nutrition experts were debating about whether she was to blame for the so-called rising rates of obesity. After her body and her cooking became the latest moral crisis of the month, she started to lose weight, vowed to incorporate more healthy practices into her cooking and now she’s not a social pariah any more.
- Star Magazine runs an annual issue titled “Best and Worst Celebrity Beach Bodies,” with pictures of both thin and fat famous people, most of them women, on the cover. Some of them are headless bodies, some have their eyes blocked out. It’s only when you read the actual article that you get to see their heads, accompanied by snarky comments about their appearances.
- After Jordin Sparks won Season 6 of American Idol, fat shamer extraordinaire MeMe Roth complained that she is not a positive role model because her size 12 body will probably develop heart disease and diabetes. Fast forward to today: Jordin is now 50 pounds lighter and is showing off her body in a bikini in Shape Magazine.
- Bus monitor Karen Klein is bullied by kids because of her weight and the whole ugly incident is filmed and released to the world. You can see her being poked and pinched a few times by one of the bullies in an effort to feel how fat she is.
- Fat activist Charlotte Cooper and her girlfriend were photographed while participating in The Fattylympics and their picture sold to The Daily Mail without their consent, and even though they and other organizers of this event asked reporters to stay away, some still came, disregarding their requests.
- “Comedian” Daniel Tosh took a picture of a woman who modeled for Substantia Jones without consent and used it to shame her on his website.
- The websites “People of Walmart” and “People of Public Transit” show pictures of headless and non-headless fat people to ridicule, as well as any other non-fat people who don’t fit their ideal of attractiveness. Usually these pictures are taken without the others’ consent.
- Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, is a frequent target of fat jokes by those who oppose his political decisions (however mind-numbing they may be) and those who use his weight for comedy, especially David Letterman.
Why won’t people who feel the need to participate in this kind of shaming mind their own business? Basically, it’s about telling us whose bodies aren’t “the norm” where our place is, and that if we attempt to leave that place then we deserve to be humiliated unless we change our bodies to look more acceptable. Sometimes we do, but it generally doesn’t work. If shame actually helped to make fat people thin, then all fat people would no longer be fat, but that’s not how it works. What works is respecting boundaries, and minding your own business.