Hi James, or maybe you’d prefer Mr. Corden? Can we talk about your response to Bill Maher?
Actually, before I get into that, I want to say that I’m a fan of your work. I have watched your Tony openings repeatedly, crying as you sang “You could be in this show…” thinking of all the little fat kids who were getting this message from someone who looks like them for the very first time. You are incredibly talented, and you’ve done amazing work around representation for fat people. I have no idea what the emotional/psychological cost of that might have been for you, and I appreciate it.
I don’t agree with you that Bill Maher’s heart was in the right place when he used his considerable platform to try to convince as many people as possible that they should bully fat people. I wouldn’t bet the farm that he even has a heart, but he certainly has an ego and he is happy to feed it by bullying any group he thinks he can get away with and, really, I’m just surprised it took him this long to get to us.
I do think your heart is in the right place, which is why, despite making some good points and being well meaning, your response ended up hurting me far more than Bill’s fatphobic yammering because I felt that in your response you, a fellow fat person, basically bought into and reinforced every single one of Bill’s negative premises about fat people, and punctuated them with stereotypical fat jokes.
It’s understandable. We all live in a world that is chock full o’ fatphobia and diet culture, we are ceaselessly bombarded with the idea that being fat is bad and automatically unhealthy, that fat people just existing in the world constitutes some kind of “epidemic,” and that jokes based on stereotypes about fat people are hilarious.
This culture has consequences – fat people are hired less and paid less than thin people, we are given suboptimal healthcare by doctors who prescribe diets for everything from strep throat to severed limbs, we have higher rates of bullying, self-harm, and suicide. And that’s not hilarious. We’re all steeped in this culture and, as fat people, it’s easy to internalize that and start believing the negative press about us (press, I might add, that makes the diet industry $60 billion a year.)
Plus, I know that the entertainment industry is absolutely steeped in fatphobia and I imagine that one of ways fat people in the industry deal with it and succeed in spite of it, as you have, is to join in with self-deprecating humor.
But here’s the thing: Fat-shaming directed at ourselves is still fat-shaming. A fat person repeating and reinforcing stereotypes about fat people, food, and exercise, is still fat-shaming. Repeating the idea that being fat is bad, and that fat people’s existence is a problem to be solved is still fat-shaming, even when a fat person is the one saying it.
Saying “fat people should be eradicated from the Earth, but let’s try not to stigmatize them while we do it” is better than nothing, but not by much.
Suggesting that people shouldn’t fat-shame us because it won’t make us thin ends up backfiring terribly, because it suggests that if someone believes – as many fatphobes do – that fat-shaming does make fat people thinner, then it’s all systems go for fat-shaming! And that’s bullshit. First of all, because bullying results in negative health and wellbeing regardless of body size. But more to the point, even if someone sincerely believes that bullying fat people will make us immortal it still wouldn’t be acceptable behavior. Bullying is always wrong, even if it causes the victim to temporarily change in the hopes that it will stop their abuse.
As a speaker, writer, and fathlete focused on Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size, I just want people to have information and options. Too many people pursue dieting because they think it’s the only path to health, so I let people know that, understanding that health is not an obligation, a barometer of worthiness, or entirely within our control, the truth is that dieting fails almost all the time, and most of the time results in long-term weight gain (the experience you talk about having with dieting is the same experience nearly everyone has with dieting – we lose weight short term, and then – no matter what we do – we gain it back in 2-5 years, often gaining back more than we lost. Lather, Rinse, Repeat.)
Dieting does not meet the criteria for ethical, evidence-based medicine. But as studies like Matheson et. al, Wei et. al., and the Cooper Institute Longitudinal Studies show us, focusing on our actual health, and allowing our bodies to settle at whatever weight they settle, is a far more evidence-based health practice than trying to feed our bodies less food than they need in the hopes that they’ll eat themselves and become smaller, and that somehow the result will be improved health.
Too many fat people hate their bodies because they don’t know they have any other choice, so I try to make sure fat people know that instead of trying to change our bodies to appease our bullies – essentially giving the bullies our lunch money and hoping they stop beating us up – instead of joining our bullies in shaming and hating our bodies, we can say “enough,” and we can say “I want a world without fat-shaming, and I’m going to create it, starting with myself.”
Just waking up in a fat body and not hating ourselves is an act of revolution in this culture, so imagine what happens when we stop apologizing for existing, stop thanking concern trolls for mistreating us “for our own good,” and instead give our bodies our full-throated support, and pursue our dreams in the bodies we have – with no self-deprecation, no fat jokes, no apologies.
There’s a whole community of us – we are gaining people and power. Tomorrow they’ll be more of us. And James, I hope you’ll join us.
Of course, you don’t have to agree with me. And regardless of what the research says, or what harm it may do (and whether or not we ever battle about it on Drop the Mic…) you are allowed to keep buying into diet culture and trying to manipulate your body size – that’s your right. You are allowed to continue to think that being fat is a problem to be solved, or to keep making jokes that reinforce stereotypes about fat people. But if you want to make an argument against fat-shaming in the future, I hope you will consider this one:
Fat-shaming is wrong, full stop. Fat people have a right to exist without shame, stigma, bullying, or oppression, period — no exceptions.
Thanks for reading.
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