Fat-Bashing: An Acceptable Prejudice?

I find myself writing more and more about body image and the perception of what society and the media declare is beautiful and aesthetically pleasing and acceptable. I have, and have always had, a real problem with the ideal of beauty being only one image -- and that it privileges those who are gauntly thin over a woman with curves. Beauty is never simply one size fits all; it can't be. Geometry tells us lines and curves are both beautiful. It should be that way with the human body.

During intermission at a Broadway play I saw recently, I overheard comments made about an actor whose performance I was enjoying. She was funny, she was skilled and she carried some extra weight. That weight was pretty much emphasized by having her wear a baggy costume in several dance numbers with women clad very differently and very skimpily. The fat jokes made at her character's expense were heartily laughed at by most of the patrons in the audience. The actor herself made some very disparaging jokes about her body and weight. On the whole the play was funny and light-hearted and except for the nasty-isms about fat, it was a good play.

My point in writing this intro is that everyone seems to find the fat jokes acceptable. In fact, during intermission, I heard several fat-bashing conversations taking place despite the fact that there were people standing there in plain view who might be hurt by the "joking." Society is largely deaf, blind or insensitive when it comes to the feelings of an overweight person -- or perhaps people are just plain rude. We are talking about fellow human beings who can hear your cruel comments and who have feelings. What goes on in someone's mind when they are saying these vicious things? Do they truly feel it is alright to mock another person about their weight?

The media has a great deal to do with making fat-bashing acceptable. Comedy shows where derogatory, snide remarks are made about a person's weight are common and it seems perfectly okay. Mike and Molly, while an excellent show with wonderful actors, has at its core the subject of weight and more than its share of fat-themed jokes.

Fat jokes, demeaning comments delivered in a sarcastic tone, are a staple on comedies but despite the tired laugh-track, they're not at all funny. From David Letterman to Jay Leno to any comedian worth his or her comedic salt, fat-bashing is part of the act. Overweight comics and actors will poke fun at themselves because they know it gets laughs. Kirstie Alley's show Fat Actress of a number of years back is a prime example. It's money made by Ms. Alley -- but at what cost to self-esteem?

Although it is more out-front and explicit on television, it isn't just TV shows that fat-bash. A Quiznos ad, whose target consumers are teenage boys, had an ad that compared an overweight woman to meat. The ad was created by independent commercial director Jeffrey McCarthy. The commercial, which is not now sanctioned by Quiznos, compares overweight women to meat. Way to go gentlemen! But how dare you?!

Even PETA, an organization I believe in and support, did a fat-bashing campaign when it revealed a billboard with the words, "Save The Whales, Lose The Blubber: Go Vegetarian." It featured the back and arms of a decidedly heavy woman in a polka dot two piece swimsuit and the beach. No whale was in sight.

In defending the ad PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman stated, "Trying to hide your thunder thighs and balloon belly is no day at the beach. PETA has a free 'Vegetarian Starter Kit' for people who want to lose pounds while eating as much as they like." Instead of getting people on your side -- what should be the main aim of any organization, profit or non-profit -- the billboard and the statement were total turn-offs.

We live in an environment that promotes obesity through commercials, fast foods, super-sizing and restaurant meals for one that are truly made for two or more, and yet fat-bashing is accepted.

A Yale University study says that "The glorification of the thin ideal and denigration of its opposite, an overweight or obese status, have been labeled "fat stigmatization" which is the wrongful devaluation of an individual due to excess body weight."

It goes on to say that while the endorsement of stereotypes related to racism and sexism, have markedly (and thankfully) decreased there is little evidence that fat stigmatization is on the wane. It's here, it's acceptable by most people, and not a lot is done to fight it. My question is, why not? What's wrong with our society?

© 2012 copyright Kristen Houghton

Kristen Houghton is the author of the hilarious new book, No Woman Diets Alone - There's Always a Man Behind Her Eating a Doughnut in the top 10 hot new releases at Amazon available now on Kindle, Nook, and all e-book venues.

Her self-help book "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First" is ranked in the top 100 books by Tower Books.com

You may email her at kch@kristenhoughton.com.