Fat Panic

We are living in a Fat Panic. People are panicked about being fat. They are panicked about becoming fat. Being fat is one of the worst things you can be. It is an epidemic. Fat people are seen as vectors of disease. In fact, being fat has been classified as a disease. In some ways, I am surprised they have not quarantined us, but I guess it would require too much space [LOL].

Whereas in the 1980s we had the AIDS panic, today we have the fat panic. In a very real sense, people are afraid of “catching” it. During the AIDS Panic, people with AIDS were blamed for having the disease. Many of the early victims were gay men and IV drug users. Both groups were brutally chastised for sex and drug use and for therefore “causing” their own case of AIDS. Gay men were verbally abused by fundamentalist preachers and reactionary politicians alike for the “wages of sin” that led directly to their AIDS diagnosis and more generally to their premature death. It was a horrible time of blaming, shaming and guilt-tripping.

Well, guess what? Now fat people are at the center of the new moral crisis. Fat people are seen as immoral. This time rather than sex the crimes are sloth and gluttony. If fat people develop health challenges that are related to their size, the medical establishment can’t wait to jump in and chastise them for their immoral behavior. If we are fat, it is our fault and our choice.

I think this has a lot to do with the issue of choice. We are told that fatness is a choice. We can control our weight like a thermometer. This harkens back to the idea that sexual orientation is a choice. Gay people were told that they were choosing their sexual “preference.” Both weight and sexual orientation are a part of who a person is. Yes, a person can gain or lose weight, but they should not be pressured to do either.

The fat panic implies that people of size are eating huge amounts of food and running the whole world into their gluttonous eating patterns. It like “Fear of a Fat Planet.” But I am not afraid of fat. I refuse to subscribe to the “obesity epidemic” rhetoric that is fat-hating to the core. Fat panic makes thin people afraid. Afraid that they are going to become a fat person. And to some people there is nothing worse than becoming fat. It is a fate worse than death. In this way, fat is seen as a form of contagion. Not as something you catch in the air, but rather the culture we live in facilitates becoming a fat person.

Fat panic helps no one- fat or thin. Neither does the obesity epidemic discourse. We need to accept that people come in different shapes and sizes and that weight is a characteristic like being brown-eyed, short or near-sighted. We need to accept bigger people and stop the blaming, shaming and guilt-tripping. If you genuinely care about the well-being of fat people, you can start by not bullying us and not hand-wring about a fat panic or obesity epidemic. Discrimination against people of size runs rampant and it needs to stop.