If you are a woman, you are no stranger to body policing.  No matter how beautiful, or successful you are, people will always look for a flaw and suggest ways that you can change to better conform to the straight male gaze.  Stars like Katie Couric, Demi Lovato,  Salma Hayek and Lady Gaga, have all been very public about their struggle with body image and disordered eating.  Tyra Banks famous response to the fat shaming that she received, when critics felt that she was letting herself go, is but one example of a woman having to stand up against the belief that there is a size standard to which we all must conform.  If you happen to actually be a fat woman, the pressure and the scrutiny intensifies in proportion to your weight.

Jennifer Livingston is a morning news anchor for WKBT-TV in La Crosse, Wisconsin and recently she was sent the following letter from a viewer, which her husband later posted on his Facebook page.

Hi Jennifer,

It’s unusual that I see your morning show, but I did so for a very short time today. I was surprised indeed to witness that your physical condition hasn’t improved for many years. Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.

Thankfully, Livingston was given the opportunity to respond by the station and she said in part:

“Yes, the truth is, I am overweight. You could call me fat and, yes, even obese on a doctor’s chart. But to the person who wrote me that letter, do you think I don’t know that?”

“You don’t know me. You are not a friend of mine. You are not a part of my family, and you have admitted that you don’t watch this show. So you know nothing about me, but what you see on the outside. And I am much more than a number on a scale.”

Her response went viral for one simple reason, it resonated with people. All of us at some point have been judged and the more outside of the supposed norm we are, the more likely we are to have experienced this sort of abuse.

Fat is a very stigmatized identity and it is considered by many to represent a moral failing. Fat is associated with gluttony, a lack of control and slovenliness. These negative attributes attach themselves to fat people regardless of how active, engaging or beautiful they are. Fat is deemed so negative that women are starving themselves, and binging and purging to avoid the label of fat.  I think that it is fair to say that this is extreme, but in a world in which fat people are largely erased, policed and shamed, is it any wonder that we have pro anorexia sites littering the internet?  Before young girls know how to do long division, they are already considering dieting.   The reason that diet products, fat free foods etc., are largely aimed at women, is because some women live perpetually on a calorie restricted diet for fear of gaining any weight all.

One of the things that bothers me about the supposed concerned intervention, is that it never comes from a good place.  It’s all about shaming the person and objecting to their right to take up space. There isn’t a single fat person walking around in ignorance that they are fat or obese.  Society does not make it easy to be fat and believe it or not, we all own mirrors.  A small thing like trying to buy a simple article of clothing can be an absolute nightmare.  Eating in public can be an adventure in shame because of the well intentioned suggestion that we should be stuffing ourselves with salad twenty-four seven , until we lose weight.  It is not unheard of to have people reach into your shopping cart and pull things out they think you shouldn’t be eating.  If you happen to go the gym to work out (you know, the place you are supposed to go to get in shape), be prepared to be subjected to stares, as well as suggestions that you don’t belong there.  And yes, as a fat Black woman, these are all things that I have experienced. There isn’t a single space in the social sphere where one can go and avoid fat shaming.

The continual stigmatizing of fat is just another level of social discipline.  Pointing out that someone is fat, is not about the fat person per say, it is about making the critic feel good about themselves. As humans, we are obsessed with getting power and wielding power.  Power is at the root of most of our interactions, even at time when it appears invisible. When someone decides to attack a fat person, they are not only reveling in their thin privilege, they are wielding a coercive form of power. As we all know, power, even when it is used to harm, leaves the wielder with a sense of pleasure.  Quite simply, people bully because it feel good.

It disturbs me that people can see fat and assume that someone is unhealthy and lacking of control. The greatest predictors of fat are genetics and poverty and these are two factors that are out of a person’s control.  When a skinny person is pounding back a double cheeseburger and washing it down with fries cooked in lard and a jumbo size pop, you can be sure that they won’t be subjected to stares and rude comments.   This doesn’t mean that they are not walking around with high blood pressure, clogged arteries, or diabetes. From the social tendency to fat shaming, one would believe that skinny people don’t get chronic life threatening conditions.  Not even a doctor can look at a fat person and determine immediately that they are unhealthy.  If that were the case, no one would need to bother with things like a yearly physical or getting the blood pressure checked.

Watching Livingston respond to the abusive bully brought tears to my eyes because I know that even with all of the grace that she displayed, it had to hurt her.  When the critic implied that Livingston is defective and not deserving of the right to be visible, or heard, it was a direct assault. Words mean something and we can either use them to create, or to cause great harm.  No one should be subjected to the kind of treatment that Livingston was.  When you sit to judge someone, and shame them, the only person you are benefiting is yourself.  We need more women like Livingston on television, because it is time that world understand that beautiful, intelligent women come in all shapes and sizes.

52 Comments

  1. Treece

    People act like being fat/obese is something that is easy to remedy. A lot of people say “All you have to do is eat right and exercise, it’s simple”….This couldn’t be farther from the truth! If it were that simple, every overweight person on the planet would just take those “simple” steps to loose the weight and be successful. Instead, what we have is a lot of people making empty promises to exercise daily and stay away from carbs (fat, meat, sugar, or whatever…), pop pills, or have surgery because they are desperate. It takes a lot of “will-power” to override the programming that all ready exists in the mind of a person who is overweight. Obesity can be the result of food addiction in many cases. It is NOT easy to stop, and I really wish people would quit giving overweight folks such a hard way to go.

    And yes, biology/DNA is a factor. Some people are genetically hard-wired to pack on the pounds and keep them on. How else would you explain the fact that two people (one overweight and one thin) can eat the same diet of high fat/high sugar and salt foods but the thin one doesn’t gain weight and the large person is obese and continues to gain. I’ve seen it sooooo many times and wondered why. Genetics is why. And the thin person isn’t any more healthy either…..give people a break and show some respect.

    There are fat women who are great role models for plenty of other reasons and are quite beautiful, smart, and successful. They just have issues with food, just like everybody has some sort of issue in their life that they should have the freedom to work on…… without a whole lot of criticism from judgmental a**holes like this dude!

    • CenterLeft

      Short men too right? Seriously, the hypocrisy from LIBERAL women is becoming unbearable…

  2. Shepherd

    Fat women can be good role models. Lets be real, the main cause of being overweight/obese is taking in too much enegy (food) that you don’t actually use up through exercise. That being said, it doesn’t make fat shaming acceptable. The man who sent the woman that awful note had no regard for this woman’s health, all he wanted was to bully her for not fitting his beauty ideal and I doubt he would have taken the same action if she were a man. No one should bully you to lose weight, if you choose to do so,do it for yourself because losing weight because you’re worried about what people think hardly yields long asting results. I have never been on the overweight side of the BMI index and I work out and eat heathily, but I too have received negative comments from family memebers (who are fat) when I have put on some pounds (still within the healthy range of BMI index). Fat shaming happens to fat, skinny and healthy people alike to suit someone’s agenda or salve their low self esteem.

  3. Honestly? Some of the comments I’ve read make me cringe. People act like an obese person looks at the next person and says, “Eat so you can be as big as me.” A role model has nothing to do with outside image. What happened to the beauty inside a person? Or did anybody consider that this obese person could be starting to workout or eating healthy. Nobody knows the process or progress one might be making. Gahdaaaam!

  4. PiscesStar7 (@PiscesStar7)

    I just want to know…can I be a role model for what I DO and not necessarily for what I LOOK like?

    If not, then I might as well purchase a glock, and get it over with.

    But, if so…can we just accept that I’m working on being a better person today than I was last night and continuing to make the decision to positively contribute to the human condition daily?

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