After my chat with Dear Abby last week, I had a revelation. I think that, for some people, fat people are not really human. I’m not surprised, really. (More surprised that it took me this long to realize it.) I mean, how many times have you seen a picture like this in/on the news?
Do you know why the media does this? Because they don’t want you to think about the fact that there are human beings in that photo. If you saw the faces of these women, if you got to see them smile and hear them speak, you’d probably end up having positive feelings about them. And if you start to have positive feelings toward fat people, how will the diet industry make $60 billion a year?
I’m simplifying, but this is really a thing – and a problem. Dr. Charlotte Cooper first coined the term “headless fatty” back in 2007. I’ll let her explain:
As Headless Fatties, the body becomes symbolic: we are there but we have no voice, not even a mouth in a head, no brain, no thoughts or opinions. Instead we are reduced and dehumanised as symbols of cultural fear: the body, the belly, the arse, food. There’s a symbolism, too, in the way that the people in these photographs have been beheaded. It’s as though we have been punished for existing, our right to speak has been removed by a prurient gaze, our headless images accompany articles that assume a world without people like us would be a better world altogether.
It doesn’t seem possible, but are there actually thin people in the world who don’t know any fat people personally? Is that why Dear Abby wrote that fat people have no self-control when it comes to food and exercise? Is that how people can go online and spew hate at strangers? Not to mention shaming and abusing fat people in public – from the drive-by shouting to the grocery-store tongue-clucking? I feel like they must not know any actual fat people, because otherwise they would know that we are just as human as they are, and deserve to be treated with respect and kindness.
I am super lucky to have doctors, physical therapists, gym instructors, friends, and family in my life who treat me with respect. They do not treat me as a body, a headless fatty whose morals can be determined and judged based on the circumference of my belly. I am lucky, too, that I have a voice. I use it to stand up for myself, to try to make the world a better place for all bodies. I use it to let people know I expect their respect. Maybe using that voice is part of the reason I’m human to others. I speak, loudly, and people listen.
Not everyone has the desire, the ability, or the safety to speak out loud, to use their voices. There are many people who have been told so often that they are less (worthy, lovable, good) because of their size, that they believe their voices should not be heard. They feel they do not have a right to be treated with decency, kindness, and respect. They become those symbols of cultural fear, even to themselves.
The next time you start to judge someone based on their weight, the next time you see a headless fatty on your screen, I want you to remember that that person is just as complex and interesting, just as deserving of respect, and just as human as you are.