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The inherent worth and dignity of every person. Often when we talk about that it's connected to discrimination based on race, gender, sexual orientation, age or economic status. I'm here to talk about another form of discrimination that I feel hasn't gotten a lot of attention and conversation despite how common it is in our society – Sizeism. Sizeism is described as a form of discrimination that is based on the size of the person or persons who are being discriminated against. This type of discrimination can take a number of forms, ranging from refusing to hire someone because he or she is too thin to treating overweight individuals with disdain.

Disdain. Sometimes it's more like straight up hate.
While googling around trying to organize my thoughts on this I came upon the story of Marsha Coupe. In the UK, while riding a nearly empty train in the evening, Marsha was attacked by another woman who kicked and punched her repeatedly, leaving her with 40 bruises and one eye swollen shut. The reason given? Coupe took up two seats. 'You big fat pig' is all Marsha Coupe heard before she was kicked in the face. Despite her cries no one came to her rescue. Afterward it was not labeled as a hate crime, her attacker was never arrested and several commenters on the story purposed that she deserved it for being fat in public.

Later in my google search I came across a comment in response to an article about how medical professionals are finally starting to admit that using Body mass index BMI (which was developed in the early 1900's) as a sole judge of overall health is wrong. The article posed the question that without BMI “how will fatties know they are fat”?
“Marianne the humanist blogger” writes:
“Well, I am a genuine fat person. I've been fat since I was seven years old. And amazingly, I know I'm fat. I've never not known it. How did I acquire this knowledge? I knew because I was told. Constantly. Incessantly. Inescapably. From every source. From every direction. No reprieve.
I knew I was fat, as a child, because my mother put me on a diet when I came home from summer vacation. I knew I was fat because when school started that year, some boys in my class teased me and called me names and threw things at me on the playground.
When I was a kid, I knew I was fat because I did not look like any of the kids in the JC Penny catalog. I did not wear any of the clothes that I thought were cute because they did not make cute clothes for fat kids. Retail told me I was fat.
The doctor, when I got sick with allergies, let me know I was fat by telling me to lose some weight. Apparently, losing 20 pounds would have made me magically less allergic to pollen.
Magazines told me I was fat – and that my boobs were too big, not perky enough, too small and shaped wrong. Television told me I was fat – and smelly and not wearing the right clothes. The clothes I could not buy because I was too fat.
The internet tells me I'm fat all the time. Every time I post a photo in a public forum, there is the inevitable refrain of "lose some weight, fatty." Sometimes, there is also "die in a fire, fatty" and "you should hang yourself if you can find a strong enough rope, fatty." Those are always fun to wake up to in the morning.
I know I'm fat because I can't just join a gym or go the mall or visit a new doctor without it being an enormous – pun fully intended – part of my identity. It is part of my presence. It is part of who I am – that loud, fat girl with the curly hair and the weird sense of humor.
You want to know the funny thing here, though? I'm not a special snowflake. My experience is not unique. I am not the only fat person in the world who is repeatedly – every time I leave the house, and even if I don't – reminded that I am fat and the world thinks that is a problem.
Fat people – even people who are only marginally fat, if that – know they are fat because the world is full of people who are ready to leap out without any provocation to remind them of it.
We're fat. We know it. You really don't need to tell us.”

On a page about self esteem and size activism “Fat Heffalump” writes about her experience at a food court:,
I noticed the old woman at the table beside me first. Watching every morsel of food I put in my mouth with a look of disgust on her face.
Then I notice the two guys in high vis vests, their hard hats on seats beside them, nudge each other and look my way.
At the nearby McDonalds, there are about 20 people lined up. Only one of them is a fat person. Not an eyelash is batted at the not-fat people lined up, ordering their burgers, fries, chicken nuggets and shakes. However the fat man is attracting sneers and giggles, all eyes glance over him and none of them bother to hide their disgust, disdain or ridicule. Even the people ordering burgers and shakes themselves are staring and sneering at the man, lined up at the very same fast food restaurant as they are.
This scrutiny and public judgment is nothing unusual for those of who live in fat bodies. Most of us are used to it, many of us ignore it, simply because it is nothing unusual. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.
Quite often we are told “You’re just too sensitive.” or “I think you imagine it.” On the rare occasion that someone who is not fat notices, they respond like it’s an anomaly, just the occasional rude person one encounters. Or they say “Just ignore it.” as if it is the singular occurrence of the day.
The truth is, in this “anti-fat” culture, people are taught to sneer, stare and ridicule. They are taught that people like me are a scourge on society, that we are burden to humanity. You only need to look at the comments on my recent piece in The Hoopla (if you have the sanity points) to see someone refer to me (and people like me) as revolting, using up the health system, slothful, idle and an overeater. Despite knowing nothing more about me than I have a fat body the judgment has been passed on my value as a human being.
Living with that amount of scrutiny and judgment is like physically carrying a load on your back. When you hear people referring to fat people as “struggling with their weight”, the reality is that our struggle is with the weight of society’s judgement and scrutiny, not with the weight on our bodies.
What really bothers me are the double standards. Thin people who eat fast food are considered “lucky” that they are “naturally thin”, yet no matter what a fat person eats, by default they must be lazy and greedy, with denial and stupidity thrown in for extra measure. Nobody ever suggests that inverse to the lucky/naturally thin that humans can be unlucky/naturally fat. Nobody demands thin people who are sedentary and/or eat fast food (or a lot of food) change their lives and “get healthy” because they are “costing us money with their unhealthy habits” – quite the opposite, they’re cheered on for their habits. Two people, both living the same lifestyle, can have vastly different life experiences if one is thin and the other is fat.
These double standards and snap judgments of people’s value based on their body size don’t help anyone. They don’t make fat people thin and they don’t encourage healthy behaviors.

Like these ladies said similar stories are not uncommon. Unfortunately these stories are lives being lived out by people all over. Sometimes they don't end well; 10 yr old Ashlynn Conner, 13 year old Megan Meier, 14 year old Haylee Fentress and 14 year old Paige Moravetz all committed suicide after being constantly bullied about their weight. I have friends that struggle with anorexia and bulimia because of the constant barrage of “anything but fat” and “thin equals beautiful” messages that have been passed on to them from media and society. One friend broke my heart when in a blog she said she judged her inner worth by how prominent her hip bones were. She now has a heart condition because of all the dieting and starvation she did. We might lose her. My cousin has been dieting since she was 7. She constantly talks about how fat and ugly she is...but she's not. She's beautiful. My husband who is naturally thin is often told by random strangers that he needs to eat more. Ha! When he orders his usual of a chicken sandwich and double whopper meal at burger king people look around to see who else is eating or even ask is all that food for you?!. It should be noted that people don't bat an eye when I order his food for him - guess it's expected for someone fat like me to order all that food. Because my husband is slim people often assume he is weak. It makes him wish his arms and legs were bigger so people would stop making assumptions. He doesn't say it but I know it hurts him. The constant hate directed towards our bodies needs to stop. Society needs to change. We need to change.

Recently a study came out of Yale that states sizeism is on the rise. And not just sizeism towards fat people but sizeism towards thin people too. Rebecca Puhl, Ph.D., the director of the study states, “We asked respondents to imagine a woman whom they had never met and knew nothing about except that she was “overweight” or “thin”; they then had to choose from pairs of words, like ambitious or lazy, to describe her. They could select neither, but fewer than half did—a telling statistic, according to Puhl. “Weight,” she says, “is one of the last acceptable prejudices.” In the study Heavy women are pegged as “lazy” 11 times as often as thin women; “sloppy” nine times; “undisciplined” seven times; “slow” six times as often. While thin women are seen as “conceited” or “superficial” about eight times as often as heavy women; “vain” or “self-centered” four times as often; and “mean,” or “controlling” more than twice as often. Even the “good” labels are unfair. An overweight woman may be five times as likely to be perceived as “giving” as a skinny one.
Let me stop and take a moment here to share with you my own experience with sizeism. For a little less than half my life I was average in height and weight (based off the BMI no less!). However my body did not carry my weight well. I've always had a chubby round face and what I lovingly call my shelf butt. When I started in school the kids would take a look at me with my chubby face and shelf butt then look at my mom or grandma (who both looked exactly as I do now) and decide I was fat. It was brutal. I'd be called fat, stupid, lazy, ugly and gross. It certainly didn't help that my last name was Slimmer. Daily I had my lunch taken from me and often I was beaten up. Sometimes the teachers -the ones who should've protected me- would participate in the name calling. Anyone who dared to try to get to know me and be my friend was soon scared off by my tormentors. I endured this until high school when my family moved to this side of the river and I ended up at Fortier. I was the only white girl in the school at the time and my counselor was concerned how I'd be treated. She needn't have worried. It’s kind of funny how the black kids who are often judged for the color of their skin didn’t bat an eye at my appearance. They taught me that I was more than my appearance, I had worth and I was deserving of love and friends.
So you'd think that me with my knowledge of and experiences with sizeism wouldn't judge someone on their size right? Wrong. Not long after reading the study I was sitting in a waiting room watching price is right. It was the showcase showdown and I was thinking to myself ugh I don't like her, she's mean. I hope she doesn't win. Suddenly I was like wow where’d that come from? I don't know her! In analyzing my thoughts and feelings I realized that I was assuming she was mean because she was thin. In talking to my friends about it I come to find out that most of them do it too. And that to me is scary and sad.

I'm looking at kids movies with fresh eyes now. I see some of the subtle messages we're being given. Look at the disney princesses – a cornerstone of most girls childhoods. Snow white drawn in the 30's is slim but her body style looks to be possibly attainable. The princesses’ body styles after her get markedly unattainable until we get to Ariel who gets thinner and thinner throughout the movie depending on if the scene was drawn in late 30's (before it was shelved) or if the scene was drawn in the 80's. The next princesses Belle and Jasmine have figures that rival a barbie's. Pocahontas, Mulan, and Tiana are a little bit more realistic than their predecessors but still unattainable. Pretty much every one of these princesses embodies a beauty ideal that is unachievable for women and girls. While I understand that they are cartoons and a certain amount of suspension of reality is expected and accepted – do their waists really have to be nearly as thin as their arms? Why can’t we have an average sized princess, or even an overweight princess? In Disney's Lilo and Stitch we finally get a little girl (lilo) and a woman (nani)- who have realistic bodies- which apparently disqualifies them from being princesses, probably because they were modeled from actual human beings. In order to see a fat princess we have to go to a whole 'nother studio – dreamworks. In the Shrek series we have princess fiona who is fat but oh look her being fat is a result of a curse. Really.

If we go to print media it's just as bad if not worse. Last year Marie Claire published an article by Maura Kelly called “Should "Fatties" Get a Room? (Even on TV?)” It was about a sitcom called mike and molly that featured two fat people who found each other at an overeater’s anon group and fell in love. (since you know fat people never meet at the park or in a cafe or anything) In the article Maura states that her editor asked her "Do you really think people feel uncomfortable when they see overweight people making out on television?" to which she answers, “yes, I think I'd be grossed out if I had to watch two characters with rolls and rolls of fat kissing each other ... because I'd be grossed out if I had to watch them doing anything. To be brutally honest, even in real life, I find it aesthetically displeasing to watch a very, very fat person simply walk across a room — just like I'd find it distressing if I saw a very drunk person stumbling across a bar or a heroin addict slumping in a chair.” After quite a few people pointed out her sizeism and exaggerations (both mike and molly are tall and overweight and they don't have “rolls and rolls of fat” ) she ended up issuing a half apology in which she said that she was sorry that people felt bullied by her but reiterates that fat people make her uncomfortable. And marie claire issued a statement that said,”Maura Kelly is a provocative writer. She has been extraordinarily moved by the thousands of responses she has received following her post about Mike & Molly.” That's it. She didn't get fired, censured or anything. They stood behind her and her sizeism. Now if she would have been talking about being grossed out by black people kissing or gay people kissing I'm sure she would have never been published due to her backwards thinking. But judging people by their looks? That's ok!

Did you know that media experts say that 99% of photos in magazines are photo shopped?
Kelly Clarkson who is a proponent of natural beauty appeared in the body confidence issue of Self magazine. In it she said “My happy weight changes,” “Sometimes I eat more; sometimes I play more. I’ll be different sizes all the time. When people talk about my weight, I’m like, ‘You seem to have a problem with it; I don’t. I’m fine!’ I’ve never felt uncomfortable on the red carpet or anything.” Kelly Clarkson is so great, I love her! What I don’t love is that the editors of Self decided to put a heavily shopped photo of Kelly on the cover. This is the “body confidence” issue mind you. They smoothed her skin, whitened her eyes and teeth, increased and lifted her bust, slimmed her waist, thighs, butt, arms, face and slightly elongated her neck. The photo created quite a stir so the editor of Self released this statement: “Yes, of course we do post-production corrections on our images” (gotta love how they call all those “corrections” as if there was something wrong with her in the first place). “Photoshopping is an industry standard. Kelly Clarkson exudes confidence, and is a great role model for women of all sizes and stages of their life. She works out and is strong and healthy, and our picture shows her confidence and beauty. She literally glows from within. That is the feeling we’d all want to have. We love this cover and we love Kelly Clarkson.” Well, yeah that beauty is something we’d all love to have. The problem is it’s not real. It only exists within a computer generated image. This is what is being fed to our young people. With stuff like this it’s no wonder we’ve got people starving themselves and killing themselves over their weight.

I have two daughters. Indira looks like me as a child and Iris looks like her father – tall and thin. I don't want this for them. I don't want Indira along the line to pick up from our media that her worth as a person is based on the ability to see her hip bones. I don't want Iris to feel that she is not a real woman because she doesn't have curves. I want them to be judged on their merits and actual personalities rather than their waist size and the preconceived notions that go along with them. I want them to know they are beautiful no matter their size. I want their attitude towards their body to come from a place of love... not hate. I want this for all of our children and grandchildren.
So as UUs what do we do about this? We live our principals of inherent worth and dignity of every person and justice, equity and compassion in human relations. Heck we talk about standing on the side of love when it comes to immigration and LGBT rights… why not stand on the side of love and call for respect, compassion and inclusion when it comes to our bodies and appearance?

So if you find yourself judging someone because of what they look like, stop and question yourself. Don't just accept prejudices because they're the current social norm. When you hear someone say about a naturally thin person (and I've heard this several times) “ugh someone get them a sandwich” call it out. Tell them that what they said was sizeist and point out that if it would be unacceptable to say it to the persons face then it's unacceptable to say at all. If you have children take the time to point out to them that the models and stars in all magazines are heavily make up'd and photo shopped and don't reflect what the models and stars really look like. If you find yourself staring at a fat person remind yourself that they are human just like you. They bleed, they feel, they hurt, they laugh just like you. Most of all apply these principals to yourself! When you feel too fat and ugly or too thin and scrawny remind yourself that YOU have worth. You are not just your waist size. Come from a place of love. Be kind and compassionate to yourself and to others and maybe just maybe we can change society and save someone’s life.

November 2012

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