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Fat, But Not Like Me

The fat-acceptance mailing lists have been discussing this TV special called "Fat Like Me" where a "popular" and thin high school girl puts on a fat suit that makes her look like she weighs 200 pounds. She goes to a new high school and records her experiences.

The show's message is that being a fat child is a social nightmare and therefore families should do everything they can to make their children thin. (Never mind changing society's attitudes toward fat, of course.)

One post mentioned that the girl experienced a loss of self-esteem even though she wasn't "really" fat, and went on to mention a similar phenomenon among people who take on the role of a homeless person (e.g., journalists or police who go undercover).

My post :

When I try something new, my esteem usually suffers temporarily. It usually gets over it.

A person who decides to play at being fat (or homeless, or whatever) is fundamentally different from someone for whom being fat is a daily fact of life. A person who has a real trait or circumstance that causes them to be perceived as outside mainstream society needs to develop ways of dealing with it. It takes a long time to develop some of these approaches. And some of them make the person better and stronger. (I certainly rather like my personality, and it's fundamentally tied up in my having been perceived as fat for most of my life and dealing with the consequences thereof.)

Why are these stories always about normal people struggling with the first day of a sudden change in how the world perceives them? Why don't they ask actual fat people what it's like to be fat all the time, or
actual homeless people what it's like to be homeless tomorrow as well as tonight?

The reason is that people want a nice fairy tale ending to the story - "and she took her fat suit off and became thin but wiser" or "and the reporter went home to his nice warm bed but wiser." People don't want to think about cost of what it might take to change a person's circumstances - especially if they themselves might have to bear those costs, by changing their attitudes toward fat people, or by giving up some money so that more services can be provided to homeless people.

Another thing I wonder: how does the knowledge that one can take off the fat suit, or go home to a warm bed any time if one *really* wanted to, change how a person approaches a situation?

When I read about how miserable Gwynyth Paltrow was walking into a hotel lobby in her fat suit that she wore for the movie Shallow Hal ("no one looked at me! no one should have to experience that horrible fate!"), I rolled my eyes - "if you think that it's a fundamental human right to be noticed and worshiped by strangers, you have a pretty skewed view of the world."

And if I were able to play at looking like Gwynyth Paltrow for a day, I think I'd be just as kerfluffled by the way I was treated as she was in the reverse situation. The notion of having people fussing over me and looking at me wherever I go and worshiping me gives me the screaming heebie jeebies. (I do like a little worship by worthwhile people, though. ;-)

Comments

( 33 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
ailbhe
Oct. 28th, 2003 10:27 am (UTC)
My first reaction to this was "ew". The idea of a 3-year-old acting like that bothered me. Then I remembered the 3 year olds I knew. I remember kids being called Fatso, Skinny, Lanky, Shorty, Speccy, Spotty (freckles, not pimples), Blondie and Blackie (both referring to hair colour; there were very few black people in Ireland until comparatively recently) and many other things, all related to unalterable physical traits. I think the issue goes deeper than mere "fat-hate".
(Deleted comment)
(no subject) - ailbhe - Oct. 28th, 2003 11:02 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wild_irises - Oct. 28th, 2003 02:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wild_irises - Oct. 28th, 2003 02:33 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - wild_irises - Oct. 28th, 2003 02:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
ailbhe
Oct. 28th, 2003 10:18 am (UTC)
It can be useful to really obtuse people to be forced into living with a little of the crap for a while, though. Sometimes they really do, to make your story a metaphor, take off the fat suit and go back to being thin again, but wiser. Of course, sometimes they take off the fat suit and join a pro-bulimia group, but...
sistercoyote
Oct. 28th, 2003 10:20 am (UTC)
Go you!

(BTW, I occasionally post fat-related grumpiness/letters/poetry/whatever on a second filter that I don't know that you're on - would you like to be added to it?)

I never expected to be a fat activist, but then I thought, "I'm fat, I'm an activist, why not?"
firecat
Oct. 28th, 2003 10:40 am (UTC)
Please do add me.

If someone had told 17 year old me that I would be a 42 year old activist, I would have laughed unbelievingly. I think activism is very much not my nature, but I do quite a bit of it, so I guess my self-image is incomplete.
(no subject) - sistercoyote - Oct. 28th, 2003 10:45 am (UTC) - Expand
These are the specific posts - sistercoyote - Oct. 28th, 2003 11:41 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: These are the specific posts - lcohen - Oct. 31st, 2003 04:13 pm (UTC) - Expand
Re: These are the specific posts - sistercoyote - Nov. 3rd, 2003 09:02 am (UTC) - Expand
Re: These are the specific posts - lcohen - Nov. 3rd, 2003 09:33 am (UTC) - Expand
hobbitbabe
Oct. 28th, 2003 10:23 am (UTC)
Good post.

I think there's a real xenophobia type thing going on with these experiments. The newspaper writers assume that they wouldn't be able to find a *real* homeless person who is capable of writing a literate meaningful story, or that if there is such a person, he or she would be very difficult to deal with and would make them uncomfortable.

Or maybe they think it would be embarrassing for them, or would appear tactless, to solicit a first-person story "Hey! You're fat/black/poor! Wanna tell us about it?" and would somehow be less emotionally risky for them to just find a "pretend" fat/black/poor person.

Oh, I don't really do people-worship, but I'm sending you some admiration. ;-)
firecat
Oct. 28th, 2003 10:41 am (UTC)
Mutual admiration is a good thing!
(no subject) - hobbitbabe - Oct. 28th, 2003 11:10 am (UTC) - Expand
hfnuala
Oct. 28th, 2003 10:29 am (UTC)
In university I hung out with a woman who is amazingly beautiful and she just didn't get that the rest of us weren't treated like that. She'd be in a bar, take out a cigarette and it really would be lit before she had to ask. The first time I saw that happen, I burst out laughing and she didn't understand what was so funny.
firecat
Oct. 28th, 2003 10:44 am (UTC)
One of my college friends was conventionally attractive, and wherever she went, she saw men making faces at her. I never saw people making faces at me. I thought it was simply because I am less conventionally attractive and so people ignore me. But one time, we were walking together, and she said "That guy made a face at us!" I hadn't noticed a thing because I wasn't paying attention to him.
wild_irises
Oct. 28th, 2003 11:47 am (UTC)
It's not just that reporters and the like don't think fat people, homeless people, black people, etc. are important. It's also that they don't want to feature people who can be blamed for their lot.

If you're fat, it's because you eat too much. If you're homeless, it's because you're lazy. If you're black or disabled, well, that's evidence that there's something morally wrong with you. Probably. But I think there's a sneaking little cultural belief that those judgments don't apply to everyone in those groups, just "most of those people."

But if you're pretending to be one of those things, then you don't deserve the bad treatment "those people" get, and readers/viewers can legitimately sympathize with you, and can equate you in their minds with the real ones who don't deserve it.

Creepy, ain't it.
firecat
Oct. 28th, 2003 07:31 pm (UTC)
they don't want to feature people who can be blamed for their lot

Right, that too.
nolly
Oct. 28th, 2003 12:08 pm (UTC)
There's also this factor: if you've always been X, it's hard to compare your experience to those who are not X. There are so many other variables involved. I never know how to answer when people ask "What was it like being a preacher's kid?" or "What was it like moving so often?", because I've never been anything else. I can talk about a couple of things I can clearly attribute to that, but other parts, I don't know whether they'd've been any different -- would I have had more friends if we hadn't moved around? Maybe. Maybe not. And so on.

Whereas someone who goes from not-X to X in a short time can more clearly contrast the two. It's not always a bad thing, though it's also not always done well. I remember as a child reading about Nelly Bly's investigation of the women's asylum, where she pretended to be insane in order to see what it was like inside. She was there for at least a week, if I recall.
red_frog
Oct. 28th, 2003 01:33 pm (UTC)
*nod*

I learned some very interesting things from the time I went out and tried to talk to a stranger when I had a face full of novocaine and the stranger thought I was retarded, and from when I cut my hair to an inch long and people began to cross the street to avoid me because a tall frowning woman with no hair and a biker jacket can look kind of scary.

Since both took me very much by surprise--I hadn't planned for these reactions--I may have gotten more out of it than a girl deliberately wearing a fat suit might have done.
(no subject) - adrian_turtle - Oct. 28th, 2003 04:21 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nolly - Oct. 28th, 2003 05:18 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - adrian_turtle - Oct. 28th, 2003 04:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - adrian_turtle - Oct. 28th, 2003 04:23 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - adrian_turtle - Oct. 28th, 2003 04:35 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - adrian_turtle - Oct. 28th, 2003 04:36 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - firecat - Oct. 28th, 2003 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
epi_lj
Oct. 28th, 2003 12:52 pm (UTC)
You know, another thing is that I grew up as a fat teen (I started putting on weight after about third grade and was pretty heavy by the time I hit my teens) and although I did obviously angst about it, I didn't angst about it any more than anybody else did about their body, no matter the type. In fact, I think that the kids with really bad acne had it a thousand times worse. I actually had a pretty kickin' childhood and adolescence.
kightp
Oct. 28th, 2003 11:19 pm (UTC)
I don't want to play "rate your pain", but I honestly think it's worse for girls.
mittelbar
Oct. 28th, 2003 01:30 pm (UTC)
I don't have anything more interesting to say than "yer smarrt."

But you are.
kightp
Oct. 28th, 2003 11:17 pm (UTC)
I caught Shallow Hal out of the corner of my eye on an airplane flight.

I was so glad I hadn't rented their damned earphones. Oh, maybe there was a story of human love and understanding in there, but without the audio, it was one long fat joke.

This particular take on "reality" TV makes me cringe even most. What the producers don't seem to understand (or, on second thought, maybe they do) is that their version of reality ... isn't.
( 33 comments — Leave a comment )

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