The struggles of the fat may be difficult to imagine for a person who can shop for clothing in virtually any store; who can eat dinner in a restaurant without being frowned upon; who can jog down a street without being ridiculed.
The thin individual does not need to concern herself nearly so much with the possibility of being discriminated against. She does not find it necessary to arm herself psychologically against the prejudice and hatred she will undoubtedly face as she goes about her business. The fat person, in stark contrast, often has a very different experience: Ask any fat American about the mindless stereotypes, tormenting social pressures, and discrimination which together generate billions of dollars in profit annually for the weight loss industry and which cost large people so much in terms of employment and promotions denied, unequal pay, social isolation, alienation, and the exhaustion resulting from decades of diets that just don’t work. Ask her about the relentless imagery characterizing fat women as diseased, neurotic gluttons and unattractive, unlovable, second-class citizens.
While millions of thin Americans wallow in a variety of unwholesome personal habits, it is the big person who is set apart and publicly reviled for her “lack of discipline” and her presumably self-destructive health habits. Also making life for the fat more difficult are again, media portrayals: constantly presenting fat people as physically unattractive and physically undesirable. Nearly every television show provides evidence of the “perfection” of thinness. Sensuality has become synonymous with showing skin—as long as you don’t have that much skin. The elite have the privilege of watching innumerable actors proportioned much like themselves live out a variety of romantic storylines: there hardly exists a lead character without a love interest. It is an extremely rare occasion, however, when a fat actor finds his or her character an object of attraction. Fat is portrayed in the media as the virtual antithesis of beauty: fat people are portrayed as slobs.
“Yes,” the fat oppressor says to himself, “I realize that it probably isn’t nice to make fun of fat people, but they’re just so unhealthy, lazy, dirty, greedy, and so on.” Rationalization characterizes the excuses that the bigot makes in order to justify his mistreatment of the fat. Eventually, these hateful ideas work their way into the cultural consciousness until they’re things that people “just know.” The accuracy of the beliefs is not longer questioned and the notion is no longer judged, but simply acted upon. Mimi Nichter, in her book Fat Talk: what girls and their parents say about dieting, quotes a high-schooler making a typical statement of rationalization: “‘I have no respect for her,’” she says about an overweight classmate, “‘She has no respect for herself’”.
The rationalization of fat hatred takes the blame off of the oppressors and places it back onto the victim. The victim, unfortunately, often comes to believe that she does, in fact, deserve the blame for other’s feelings of hatred for her. The rationalized reasons for hatred of the fat woman are endless. Stereotypically she’s sloppy, lazy, greedy, stupid, gross, clumsy, sweaty, smelly, antisocial, self-indulgent, hostile, loud, sarcastic and insensitive to the point of delusion. With all these marks against them, it’s a wonder that fat people find the strength to carry on at all.
Resistance to oppression marks one of the first steps in the ending of oppression, as lofty as that sounds. Organizations like the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) and the International Size Acceptance Association (ISAA), are working to raise awareness about fat oppression as well as magazines such as Dimensions, Radiance, and Mode Magazine, which feature articles directed at the fat individuals and fashion spreads featuring larger models.
“[We] could be the first to break the equation linking body weight to moral or psychological status, to judge clients and neighbors for who they are and not for what they weight, to examine [our] own attitudes toward people who are overweight and to work to overcome negative stereotypes”. -Cassell