I've talked at length about one of the reasons we see so much hatred when it comes to fat bodies. In short it comes down to something I decided to call "body currency." This means: we are promised value, success, and happiness if we achieve our "perfect body." When someone says: "I'm valuable, successful and happy!" and doesn't have, doesn't want to work towards, or doesn't care about this standard... we often feel like they are cheating the system; that they're cutting in line. You can (and probably should!) read more about this concept here.
Another reason we find ourselves “in hate” with fat people has to do a lot with how they are represented (or, rather, NOT represented) in the media. When fat bodies do appear (significantly less often than slender bodies do) in television shows, movies, political comics, literature, and animation, they are consciously presented in highly curated ways, all of which are meant to initiate knee-jerk reactions. They give us a limited way of processing fat people and none of the presentations are particularly positive. This is why we often have (what feels like) "natural" negative reactions to these larger bodies.
Lindsey Averill, co-producer of Fattitude: A Body Positive Documentary, has done extensive research regarding the problematic portrayal of fat figures in pop culture. She shared her findings in an interview with Refinery 29: “There are 10 to 15 archetypes for fat characters. But, they tend to be problematic, meaning outside the normal sphere of culture. Fat characters don’t have average experiences or stories. They don’t have their own stories at all. They’re the subplot.”10 These canned archetypes are not actual people, like Melissa McCarthy (for example), but rather characters Melissa McCarthy plays. The fat archetype can range from the Best Friend, to the Hypersexual or the Asexual (as Averill mentions), to the Slovenly Roommate and beyond, but there are three very general fat person tropes that I personally find to be very present and harmful: the Stupid Fat Person, the Funny Fat Person, and the Evil Fat Person. Allow me to illustrate:
The Stupid Fat Person:
One of my favorite examples of this character is perfectly demonstrated through the comedy duo Abbott and Costello. There is a thin person and a fat person . . . and when it comes down to intelligence, guess who’s the idiot? You guessed it! Costello. Other examples of stupid fat characters include Patrick Star from SpongeBob SquarePants, Peter Griffin from Family Guy, Curly from The Three Stooges, Augustus Gloop from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Dudley from Harry Potter, Eric Cartman from South Park, and Homer Simpson of The Simpsons. Nodding your head yet?
The Funny Fat Person:
Oh, how we love to laugh at fat people. Thousands of memes have been created just for this form of entertainment. Comedians often play off of this archetype, something found in even the earliest comics. A perfect example of the funny fat archetype can be found in another classic duo: Laurel and Hardy. One thin, one fat. The fat guy often becomes the main butt of the jokes. Other fat and funny characters include Fat Bastard from Austin Powers, Chunk from The Goonies, Harold from Hey Arnold, Peter and Meg from Family Guy (many MANY fat characters appear in multiple categories), Mikey from Recess, Eric Cartman from South Park, Homer Simpson of The Simpsons, and Miss Piggy from The Muppet Show.
The Evil Fat Person:
And last but certainly not least is our evil fat villain. Some of these characters provoke moral outrage, some laughs, and others sheer disgust. It’s always easy to hate the nefarious fat person: Ursula from The Little Mermaid, Penguin from Batman, Slug from Marvel Comics, the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland, Oogie Boogie from The Nightmare Before Christmas, Big Dan Teague from O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Eric Cartman from South Park (the trifecta!), countless mob bosses (pictured here: Al Capone. Characters we create often follow suit and are larger- think Tony Soprano), fat cats, and of course, the most gluttonous of them all, Jabba the Hut.
It’s important to note that not all stupid, funny, and evil characters are fat; many are thin or fall somewhere in between. What is problematic is when we see fat characters, they fall into these negative stereotypes more often than not. Thanks to these common and prevailing tropes, we are repulsed/ humored/angered by fat people because our reality has no other frame of reference in which to sort them out. For the most part they are not positively represented in the media, so when we see fat people happy, in love, feeling worthy, achieving success, or engaging in any positive activity . . . our brains break. A FAT PERSON WHO ISN’T MISERABLE OR TRYING TO BECOME UN-FAT? We don’t know how to process this information. We don’t understand. The unfamiliarity is uncomfortable. We feel confused . . . and this often leads to mockery, anger, and yes, hate.
A simple way to start to change the way "fatties" are represented is to take the narrative into our own hands and show the world what’s actually real. We can take our own unscripted images and share them all over the Internet—a tactic similar to “culture jamming,” and an effective technique for countering fucked-up societal standards. BUT, if we want to do something a little simpler, we can just live a visible and unapologetic life cram-packed with fulfillment, happiness, and joy. All of these things challenge the warped versions of fat that our world sees and offer those around us a new paradigm in which to process larger bodies.
It’s really that straightforward, and eventually we’ll get there. I’m hoping the rest of the world will join us soon.
(This is an excerpt from "Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls" which,
if you haven't picked up yet, well... you probably should.)
if you haven't picked up yet, well... you probably should.)
Like this blog? Then you'll probably love my book Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls. TNOWTFG "is a manifesto and call to arms for people of all sizes and ages." Learn more here.
Want to hear me speak? I'd love to visit your campus or come to your event! You can find more info here or you can just email me at themilitantbaker at gmail.com. Cheers!