These are among some of the many words that have been casted against me by others on a near-daily basis. These words have been used with the specific intention to demean anything I say or do by shaming me for my fatness. I’ve been called each of these names as a child by fellow classmates in elementary school and by strangers on top of that while attending secondary school. Even now, I’ve experienced a few instances where people want to make a point to berate me for my fat body in public by yelling out these crude words at me on the street, in the bar, and even in the gym. It doesn’t even have to be those words in particular to do the damage. It could also well be the facial expressions of disgust and shame that people authorize themselves to illustrate my existence with—as if they’ve already narrated a sad story of my fat life that I likely have not and do not live. It’s as if to them, by this age, I should know better by now than to continue living as fat as I am.
I can’t deny that the other forms of discrimination that I’ve encountered throughout my life have also been difficult. The xenophobia I’ve encountered being the first Canadian-born of an immigrant family, the racism I’ve had to endure due to the brown colour of my skin, and the queerphobia I’ve resisted as I sexually engage solely with other men meanwhile regularly expressing my masculinity in more fluid forms. Yet, I have to argue that the discrimination I’ve experienced on the basis of my fatness has the same negative impact, if not larger. I’ve had the large size of my body pointed out prior to the brown pigment of my skin, the unwelcomed interrogation of my eating and exercising habits prior to the immediate questioning of where I’m really from, and the word “Fat-Fuck” countless times before I’ve ever had to hear the word “Faggot.”
Why, then, is my fat body seen with such disgust, portrayed as unclean, described to me as romantically and sexually undesirable, and ultimately exhibited to be unworthy of respect? Critical fatness scholar, Kathleen Lebesco, offers some considerable thought. Lebesco (2004) explains,
“Anti-fat sentiment is a by-product of the desire to be slim … when an individual who is insecure about [their] body responds defensively ‘whenever [they’re] confronted by other bodies that, by their dissimilarity, suggest the possibility that [their] own body could potentially and in some strangely uncontrolled way be changed or transformed.’”
Essentially, thin bodies are more valued in Canada with lean and fit bodies being the most sought after. Yet, as Lebesco (2004) points out, this idealization is so fragile as one’s body shape and weight can fluctuate for multiple reasons throughout their lives.
Lebesco’s (2004) reasoning immediately makes me think about the experiences I’ve often encountered in my city’s gay community. One instance in particular includes a night that I went out with a group of friends to dance at one of the local gay bars only to be called a “Fat-Mexican” by another bar patrons late in the evening who felt the need to react in such a discriminatory way. This patron made the point that unlike him, I was fat and non-White (for the record, I’m not Mexican either), and was therefore not welcome to his interpretation of a gay bar—which for many gay folks, is identified as their go-to safe spaces. My moment of confidence and enjoyment as a fat male of colour was quickly overturned at the cost of another white man’s fragile reassertion of his slim masculinity.
In other instances, I’ve flipped through Grindr—a gay online dating app that shows the nearest gay men to your location—profiles only to see “No Fats, No Fems” publicly displayed on the bios of a significant amount of gay men for all to see. Other times, I’ve sent a greeting to a profile only to receive back a derogatory, fat-shaming one-liner. Sometimes I don’t even have to do anything before a distasteful message reducing me to my body size awaits my attention in my inbox. These acts reinforce the message that fat gay men are undesired, as are those who express their gender more fluidly. Meanwhile, the ideal gay male body and performance of masculinity is one that is not only slim as Lebesco (2014) had mentioned, but one that is both lean and muscular—an incredibly narrow and exclusionary body type that many queer men are unable to attain (Rodriguez, 2016).
Drawing back to my earlier question as to why fat bodies are so ill represented, public health critic, Deborah Lupton (2016), also provides thought-provoking insight when considering the incredible role the health industry plays in this framing process. Thanks to many North American public health researchers and policy advocates, a very limited understanding of fatness has been reproduced in the name of ‘good health.’ Fat folks who are medically categorized as obese are automatically read as ill folks by health professionals and the wider public despite their actual state of health (Lupton, 2016). Additionally, fat folks are blamed for any diseases they may develop (Lupton, 2016). According to Lupton (2016), this blame is derived out of the ideologies of self-discipline and being responsible for one’s own choices and wellbeing—the most prized ideologies of the neoliberal systems that govern our countries. Hence, when the “obesity epidemic” is declared by the World Health Organization (2016) as “today’s most blatantly visible—yet most neglected—public health problems … taking over many parts of the world” with millions expected to suffer “if immediate action is not taken,” it is not wonder that shaming and blaming fat people for their obesity has become a free-for-all. The world is literally called upon to contest my fat body—as if everyone else was given an all-access pass to my body, but me.
It is no wonder that my fatness has been an aspect of my life that has caused me so much distress. My own self body image has been compromised given that there is so much structurally in place to disallow me any sense of agency over how I should feel about my own body.
I’ve grown up in this fat body with the related experiences that have shaped how I see the world. I must also point out that not all of these experiences were completely negative. In fact, I honestly believe my fatness has provided me an incredible benefit. As a result of having endured so much body discrimination, I believe it has made me more empathetically able to listen to those who choose to confide their experiences of discrimination and trauma with me. I’d also like to believe that discrimination attributed to my fatness has been one of the main proponents to fuel the incredible desire that I have to achieve social justice wherever possible in my life.
As cheesy as it sounds, I don’t think I’d be who I am today if it were not for my fat body. Therefore, I need to explore different ways to treat and respect my body on my own terms. I need to challenge those who freely shame me for my fat out of the concern for my health and make it known that it is intrusive of them to do and has larger implications. The more I come to terms with my body I can replace the descriptors I identified at the beginning of this blog post with the following: