Losing weight doesn’t give you a pass to bully fat people

Here’s a quick pop quiz: when is it okay to bully somebody?

  1. When you’ve been in their shoes
  2. When you disagree with how they live
  3. When you covet their delicious steak
  4. Never

If you answered “d,” congratulations! You may actually be a decent human being. (If you didn’t, seriously — get your own goddamn steak, and stop whining.)

In my Internet travels, I keep encountering people who fat-shame others, and then justify it by saying, “Well, I lost weight and I had to work my ass off to do it, so why can’t they?”

Ragen Chastain has already addressed this thoroughly: If I Can Do It, Anybody Can’t:

We all have things that we are naturally good at, things that we can do with a struggle, and things that aren’t possible for us.  It’s completely foolish to assume that  list is the same for every person.

Here’s something: I worked my ass off to be able to sing well. I wasn’t born a good singer. I started singing at the age of 12, and my voice was kind of goofy sounding — I didn’t have perfect control over my intonation, volume, and tone. My range was very limited. So I practiced every day until I developed a 3.5-octave range, and my singing role was good enough to land me leading roles in every high school musical I auditioned for, not to mention paying gigs as a wedding singer.

So shouldn’t everybody be able to learn to sing as well as I can? After all, I worked hard, so why can’t they?

Well, because some people just don’t have a sense of pitch. Or they might have disabilities that prevent them from being able to make their voices resonate, or breathe the way singing requires you to breathe. Maybe, even, they simply aren’t interested in being singers, and are happy with the way they are.

“No!” I object. “Surely, they must be lazy! Surely, there must be something morally wrong with them!”

Do you see where I’m going with this?

People who lose weight and go on to fat-shame others make me especially upset because they’ve been there. They know what it’s like to be shamed and bullied. They know how a fatphobic society makes it difficult to live in your own skin. And instead of taking that anger out on the fatphobia itself, they turn it on the same people they used to see in the plus size section of the retail store.

Guess what? Not everyone can lose weight. In fact, most people can’t.

You know what everyone can do? Stop being a bully. You can make that change today.

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You know what’s just as bad as bullying fat people? Bullying thin people.

Okay, I get it. They have privilege. They earn more money than fat people, are propped up as the ideal of attractiveness, and can walk into almost any store and find clothes that fit them. They’re not systematically oppressed, so bullying them isn’t as bad as bullying fat people, right?

Fuckin’ wrong.

I’m a big fan of Aristotelian virtue ethics. If I’m remembering correctly from college (provided the boozefests did not completely occlude the knowledge I gained), Aristotle’s idea of the good was anything that made you a better, more virtuous person. So if I tell you how flippin’ sweet you look today (seriously, did you get a haircut or something? shit’s fresh), that is a “good” action if doing it makes me a more virtuous person.

I like this framework because it really emphasizes the individual doing the good (or the not good). In this framework, bullying is uncool, whether you’re bullying somebody who is systematically oppressed or somebody with gobs of privilege.

And if you think about it, what about having privilege makes somebody any less deserving of self-worth? If someone’s naturally thin and gets compliments on her abs all day, e’rry day, does she deserve to hear that she’s not a “real woman” because she doesn’t have curves? Does she deserve to be accused of having an eating disorder?

Does she really need to see you share posts from the “Curvy girls are better than skinny girls” Facebook group? (Really, grown-ass adults are resorting to the “I’m better than you” taunt?)

Hell the fuck no.

I understand the impulse somewhat. When you’ve been bullied your whole life for being fat, you want to lash out at the sources of that systemic hatred. Fuckin’ Victoria Secret, advertising their shitty selection of bra sizes on ribby models. Fuckin’ models, making money just for being tall and thin and gorgeous. Why do they get to be tall and thin and gorgeous and flocked with attention?

Well, because sometimes people are born with some advantages, given whatever the economic and social paradigm happens to be. I can’t make money for being tall and thin and gorgeous because my genes want me to be short, stout, and, well, gorgeous (sorry, can’t help you there. I’m bangin’. But so are you — seriously, you must have done something with that hair). But you know what I was born with? Super smarts.

I’ve always been naturally smart. Standardized tests were cake to me (except that they didn’t spike my insulin levels, so it’s not the best metaphor). I got As effortlessly, from elementary school all the way up through undergrad. I’m naturally very good with language. I was born to fix grammar. I can’t say I worked hard for this talent, and I do my best to check my privilege, but it’s not a good reason to bully me. Because there is no good reason for bullying.

Bullying thin people isn’t very different from bullying “brainiacs.” Plenty of people have some privilege or advantage they didn’t ask for, and it’s important that they check that privilege and not use complacency as an excuse to tolerate the oppression of those who don’t have that privilege.

Call them on that privilege, when appropriate. But don’t let jealousy ferment into bullying. You’ll make Aristotle sad.

And the anger is misdirected, besides. There IS something fucked up about an industry that drives bunches of people, mainly women, to self-hatred and self-destruction. I get it. I spent the greater chunk of my adolescence and adulthood in the bathroom, purging my own self-hatred. It’s a shitty fucking system, and there are bad people to blame.

But not the models. Not the actresses. Not the pop stars.

First of all, many of them have eating disorders, too. They struggle with this, too. Yes, the same system that bullies fat people also fucks with thin people. They deal with fat hatred and body scrutiny as part of their jobs, and risk losing their livelihoods if something goes wrong. That blows.

Does that mean that we get to concern troll them? Hell the fuck no. Concern trolling, whether it comes in the form of telling a fat person they need to lose weight for their “health” or telling a skinny lady she needs to eat a sandwich, is not okay. Don’t be that which you hate.

Now, if you have a friend who is showing legitimate signs of an eating disorder, there are proper steps to take to help hir. Do your research. Check out The National Eating Disorders Association and try to be the best, most supportive friend you can be. If you have legitimate reason to believe your friend has an eating disorder, telling her to eat a sandwich or making snide comments is about as helpful as telling a depressed friend to lighten the fuck up (spoiler alert: stupidly huge quantities of unhelpful).

Secondly, you can’t say you’re about body acceptance and then hate on thin bodies. Thin is beautiful, too. The whole point of making women hate their bodies is that it’s an easy way to sell them shit, while simultaneously keeping them oppressed. AND THE PATRIARCHY REJOICED! When you audit another woman’s body, be it fat or skinny, you are making yourself an instrument of oppression. Look around you and learn to love every body — the rotund bellies, the flat asses, the big tits, the small tits, the legs that can run marathons, the legs that can’t walk — make yourself a model of the society you want to see. (Ghandi said something like that, didn’t he?)

The goal isn’t to replace the thin model of beauty with the curvy one. The goal is to see a diversity of shapes, sizes, colors, and whathaveyou be represented in the media and propped up as beautiful, worthy. The goal is for everyone to love their own body, be it 90 lbs or 390 lbs. If these aren’t your goals, you need to hop off the fat acceptance train and come back when you’re a real activist. Because where we’re going, bullies aren’t allowed.