Yesterday, the video of Jennifer Livingston (and here’s a transcript of the video), a fat news anchor responding to an email about how fat and unhealthy she was, went viral. I figured I should probably talk about it, rather than just making oblique references to it.
Here’s the email:
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.
A lot of people have tried to make the argument that the email was not bullying, since it referenced concern for her health.
Health is always and forever the argument weight bigots lean on to give a socially acceptable veneer to their harassment. Marianne has something to say about that:
If you gave a good goddamn about the health of fat people, you’d shut up about our fatness. You are destroying our mental health — and that can kill a person just as surely as anything else.
Every single fat person in the world already knows they are fat. They may not know their exact BMI, or where that BMI falls on the ridiculously arbitrary classification system from overweight to obese to morbidly obese, but it is very difficult in this culture not to be aware when your weight is higher than average, or higher than the cultural ideal.
Telling someone that they are fat, even when couched in expressions of “concern for their health” is not giving them any new information. It’s not helping them. And, especially when that person is a perfect stranger, it is most likely a transparently aggressive maneuver to shame and put them in their place.
Women in the public eye are held to ridiculous and gender-specific scrutiny for the way they look – their hair, their clothes, whether their faces are pretty, and the size and shape of their bodies. While people have the legal right to say whatever they want about any woman in the public eye, that doesn’t mean that it’s not a total crap move, that it’s not an expression of one of the most insidious forms of entitled misogyny.
And that means we are going to call you out on it, just to make sure everyone knows what a jerk you just revealed yourself to be.
This issue, despite the protests of the emailer and some of his defenders, is not really about health at all. It’s about making sure there is always an underclass of people who can be readily identified, and that identity used as the foundation on which to prop up hackneyed stereotypes and value judgments (lazy, smelly, gluttonous, stupid, low-class), which ultimately results in an entire group of people being devalued as human beings for having one, relatively unimportant characteristic in common.
Welcome to appearance-based discrimination 101.
Humanity seems to revel in this. We have done this to so many different groups of people over time. It is our calling-card as humans, and it is complete and utter crap.
Oppression hurts all human beings. It hurts civilization itself, which requires the contribution of many and diverse people to remain strong and to grow in sophisticated and sustainable ways. Oppression effectively prevents, or marginalizes, certain people’s contributions to society, often based on nothing more than a surface characteristic. It squanders their talents, lives, health, intelligence, and humanity by arbitrarily deciding that, because they look a certain way or their body does or doesn’t do certain things, they are simply not good enough to contribute.
A psychiatrist named Claudia Howard coined what are sometimes referred to as Howard’s Laws of Human Worth, summarized below:
- All have infinite, internal, eternal, and unconditional worth as persons.
- All have equal worth as people. Worth is not comparative or competitive. Although you might be better at sports, academics, or business, and I might be better in social skills, we both have equal worth as human beings.
- Externals neither add to nor diminish worth. Externals include things like money, looks, performance, and achievements. These only increase one’s market or social worth. Worth as a person, however, is infinite and unchanging.
- Worth is stable and never in jeopardy (even if someone rejects you.)
- Worth doesn’t have to be earned or proved. It already exists.
Weight is not an indicator of human worth. Weight is also not a behaviour; you cannot accurately assume behaviours or health status based on appearance.
Healthy people come in all shapes and sizes. Health is not a fixed, one-dimensional commodity; good health looks different to different people, and it encompasses factors from every area of a person’s life, not just their weight or blood pressure or how fast they can run upstairs. Even people who are “unhealthy” by conventional definitions deserve respect and equality, and not to have their private affairs questioned by strangers. Every single person in our society has inherent value as a human being.
Telling fat people that they are bad examples for daring to have jobs and exist in public spaces is eliminationist rhetoric – it suggests that fat people have no place in this world, that they need to just go away, hide at home with the lights off, and starve themselves until they are fit to be seen in public again.
Fuck that. Fat people exist, we have existed, we will continue to exist. We have as much right to this world, and our jobs, and the public eye, as anyone else.
Our bodies and the status of our health are not public property. Our existence is not open to debate or discussion. We are here, and our health is between us and the people to whom we’ve given informed consent to make judgments about it. It is not a handy club for you to beat us with. And if you cared one iota for fat people’s health, you would shut up and let us handle our business. The constant pressure and questioning and needling and harassment fat people get from family, friends, coworkers, neighbours, and perfect strangers all combines to increase stigma, and that stigma materially hurts people’s health.
Everybody has the right exist in the body they have without shame, stigma or oppression. That right is inalienable and not yours to confer. This is not up for discussion, debate, or vote. There are no other valid opinions. Fat people have the right to exist in the bodies we have now. Period.
Next time you are concerned about a fat person’s health, consider that the best thing you might do for them is to treat them like capable adults and let them sort it out for themselves. Don’t add to the unhealthy storm of negativity and pressure and fear-mongering that is already surrounding them.
Until we ask for your advice, just hush. Let us be.
Hey all – I’m getting too tired to respond properly/nicely/in-depthly to commenters. I’ve got my actual day job to attend to for the rest of the night, so for everyone’s sake I’m just shutting them off until tomorrow. Have a good night! It’s been fun. Here, have this video about fat trolling to tide you over. Comments are now closed. It’s been three weeks. Time to move on.