An image scrolled through my Facebook newsfeed the other day. It was a picture of an overweight woman, hanging upside-down by her legs on a stripper pole and crunching up, presumably working her abs. Next to her picture, as a comparison, was a picture of a plump rotisserie chicken on a spit. The caption read, “Nailed it.”
I was immediately put off by the snarky comments people were making about this image blinding them and how they can’t unsee it.
I commented, “Good for her for doing it, though. How many of us would give up? She joined a class and she is working. I’m impressed.”
I wanted to bring some balance to the comments, but the more I thought about it, the more it disturbed me.
Fat-shaming seems to be the only form of bullying that is still socially acceptable.
The woman in the image is a real woman. Someone created that meme and posted it. There’s a slight possibility the victim has a generous sense of humor and gave them permission, but more likely, she’s crying herself to sleep, possibly contemplating suicide, because of the humiliation of being compared to a chicken on a spit.
Do you know what I see when I look at that image? I don’t see a woman who looks like a chicken.
I see a woman who probably hates to go shopping, because she never feels pretty. I see a woman who has likely spent most of her life on one diet or another but has a hard time losing weight. I see a woman who hates the way she looks in pictures and cries when she sees herself in the mirror and determined, possibly for the thousandth time, that she’s going to do something about it.
I see a woman who made a choice to get out of her comfort zone and commit to a class. I see a woman who decided to try something different. Maybe it looked like fun, and she thought if she was enjoying herself, she’d be more likely to stick with it. Maybe, like every other woman in the world, she wants to feel sexy, and she thought a pole-dancing workout class would help.
I don’t know what her reasons were, but I know that she put on her workout clothes and she showed up. And she showed up regularly enough to be able to hang upside-down and do crunches from a pole. That’s impressive.
All we get to see is that one image. We don’t know how far she has come, or what it has taken for her to get there. Maybe, like this woman she has been working at it for awhile, and while you’re looking at a woman who is still overweight, she’s really a woman who is several sizes smaller than she used to be and still going.
But I see a woman who is trying desperately to be someone who the world sees as attractive. To not be someone who is ridiculed and shamed, only to be mocked anyway. What possible motivation does she have to keep going, when internet infamy is her reward for trying?
I said above that fat-shaming is socially-acceptable bullying. People seem to think that it’s somehow okay to bully overweight people because “it’s their own fault they’re fat,” and “it’s all about the math—if they’d just eat less than they burn, they’d be fine,” and so on. It’s all boiled down to simple math, and if you can’t do the math, you’re lazy and therefore you deserve what you get.
Here’s the problem:
It’s a lie.
It’s not all about the math. Sure, sometimes the math is a factor. Sometimes people really are just lazy and would rather eat junk than work hard. But not always.
See, nobody wants to be the fat kid. Nobody enjoys having people judge them. Nobody thinks it’s fun to have everyone around you assume you’re lazy and stupid.
There are a myriad of factors that go into obesity, from metabolism, to thyroid or other endocrine malfunctions, to food allergies, to pollutants, to genetics, to a thousand different unknowns. Many overweight people have tried every diet in all the books, and it still doesn’t work. This article explains some of the reasons why. But, from a psychological point of view, since it doesn’t work anyway, and no matter what they try, they stay the same, so they eventually give up.
Maybe you have it backwards. You see a fat person eating a Big Mac, and you think that’s why they’re fat. Maybe the reality is that they’re fat anyway and dieting doesn’t help, so why not enjoy what they’re eating?
Or maybe, like this woman, despite how their body carries their weight, they’re perfectly healthy and active and just want to enjoy life (and in this case, enjoy Halloween) without being judged and ridiculed.
The point is, for the most part, fat people are just like everyone else, doing the best they can with what they’ve been given.
And it’s horrifying that people think it’s okay to create memes or make comments with no purpose other than to humiliate others.
Regardless of how much or how little their weight problem is in their control, regardless of how hard they do or don’t try, regardless of whether they did or didn’t consent to having their picture plastered all over the internet, they are still humans who are being cruelly bullied. It is no more okay to do that than it would be to create a meme mocking a gay man or a girl with Down Syndrome.
These are real people with real feelings, and they don’t want to be humiliated for something they’re already self-conscious about any more than you would. They don’t want their picture splashed all over the internet for people to ridicule any more than you would.
I considered sharing the actual image, but decided against it, because I don’t want to bring this woman more pain by putting it on yet another site.
There will always be mean people who create and share these memes. There will always be cruel, insensitive people who comment on them. There will always be bullies.
But you don’t have to be one of them.