It’s the small snowflake-y Fat Hate references that add up to the full Fat Hate blizzard

I haven’t posted in a while because sometimes the feeling that “I’ve said this already.  100 different ways.  1,000 different times.  Yet, the Fat-Hate continues” gets overwhelming.  That makes it a bit difficult to want to dredge up the same arguments, yet again, to point out the disturbing news on Fat Children being pulled from loving homes or more Fat Actresses joining the Jenny Craig / Weight Watchers band wagons or more studies on HAES being brushed under the media rug in favor of highlighting older and less well-done studies claiming to prove that the Calories In/Out crap really works.  Even the more positive bits on HAES joining the ADA panels or Fatshion making waves elicits at times no more than a shrug and apathetic acknowledgment that “Yay.  We’ve made another wee baby step.  Now what sort of huge leap backwards remains to come next?”

That whiny bit of pessimism is my way of explaining the two weeks sans-posting.  Now that THAT is out-of-the-way, here’s the good news and insight into why I’m AM posting now.

I’ve found myself doing 3 belly dance classes a week now and have been working nightly on increasing my flexibility (with the aim of at least improving if not accomplishing a full kneeling lay-back).  This has improved my sense of calm and serenity quite a bit lately.  That, and getting used to the CPAP machine I’m now using for a mild case of sleep apnea and we have a much more grounded, centered and, in general, happier April D.  In fact, here’s a pic of said happy woman all dressed up for a tribal dance performance this past weekend:

All Autumn-Themed and Ready to Dance

All Autumn-Themed and Ready to Dance

With this better mind-set of late I’ve found myself more willing to write again and after reading this book I found myself wanting to address the ways that small references that perpetuate Fat Hatred in favor of Thin Reverence (in the guise of Hating the Unhealthy/Loving the Healthy (which is its own problem for another post) serve only to reinforce a culture wherein the ideas of Fat Shaming for Your Own Good can be so blithely proposed.  These small “snowflakes” that crop up in not only the mainstream media but EVERYWHERE are how we create a “blizzard” that surrounds us daily; constantly pushing against us to coldly inform us (over and over) that Fat is Bad. Things like this are why such concepts are so deeply ingrained (or, perhaps, a reflection of just how ingrained they are with the added benefit of perpetuation and reinforcing this concept at the same time by its very existence).

This is a Kinda Book Review/Mostly Rant (Why does Fat (sorry, “Unhealthy”) Hate/Thin (sorry, “Healthy”) Reverence  need to find its way into every book?!):

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline: It is the future.  OASIS is the virtual reality whose details at time surpass the real world; so much so that many people find themselves choosing to spend more and more of their lives living through their online avatars.  You access this OASIS by means of a visual device and gloves/keyboard at minimum; but to get really fancy you can get an entire suit/chair set up.  That’s where our character finds himself making the following statements:

“I spent the vast majority of my time sitting in my haptic chair, getting almost no exercise at all. I also had a habit of overeating when I was depressed or frustrated, which was most of the time. As a result, I’d gradually started to put on some extra pounds. I wasn’t in the best of shape to begin with, so I quickly reached a point where I could no longer fit comfortably in my haptic chair or squeeze in to my XL haptic suit. Soon, I would need to buy a new rig, with components from the Husky line.

I knew that if I didn’t get my weight under control, I would probably die of sloth before I found the egg.  I couldn’t let that happen. So I made a snap decision and enabled the voluntary OASIS fitness lockout software on my rig. I’d regretted it almost immediately…”

From this point the text briefly talks about how this computerized system of virtual reality, within which the character needs access in order to function (his job is there, his friends, everything) becomes a dedicated and brutal calorie counter which denies access to the virtual world unless its demands are met.  Like an electronic WW counselor tied-to-your-daily-life/nanny-cam device which didn’t let you work or play until the right caloric balance of in and out has been achieved.  And then….

“This was some sadistic software.  But it worked.  The pounds began to melt off, and after a few months, I was in near-perfect health. For the first time in my life I had a flat stomach, and muscles. I also had twice the energy, and I got sick a lot less frequently.  When the two months ended and I was finally given the option to disable the fitness lockout, I decided to keep it in place. Now, exercising was a part of my daily ritual.”

Um…can anyone else say: “Fantasy of Being Thin”?  In a VERY stereotypical, oft-wished-for but never lasting Jenny Craig/Weight Watchers-esque new Host of the Month excited little bundle the author of this book has managed to slot into the story a needless and yet fully complete weight-loss dream fantasy.

You’ve got the whole story arc there. How Fatness (or Fatter-ness) is acquired simply by not moving and overeating (because we’re emotional wrecks, of course).  How then with simply the right (harsh-mistress of) motivation we’re able to snap into Healthy Habits that make us Thin, Beautiful, Lean, Muscular and…uh…Healthier too.  How, we then come to realize that we come to LIKE these things and thus the activities that led to them too.  Ahhh, magical transformation complete!

Can’t you just hear that montage music as the character works off all those “excess pounds” thanks to the “motivation” of the allure of the virtual world.  This is “Hate Them for their Own Good” wrapped in one tidy package: if we TRICKED fatties into HAVING to work out/eat less/better than OF COURSE they’d be slim/trim/HAPPY from it!  We must SAVE THEM FROM THEMSELVES!

I mean…come ON!  Why does any book, certainly a sci-fi one that actually allows for an overweight main character to exist in the first place, feel they HAVE to cram this shit in there?  WHY?!  The need to include this small and yet direct jab at how fatties would be thin if we just had the right motivation is just juvenile and insulting.  Also, talk about a trope played to death (and yet STILL not proven to be at all effective in creating the sort of long-term body-shape changes that are so glowingly advertised.)

What is the point of such an addition to an otherwise decent story? Yes.  You’ve succinctly boiled down the world’s fantasy scheme for making the entire human race thin.  It doesn’t work that way, but huzzah and congrats.  Here’s your confetti and cookie: you’ve latched onto the entire Fat-to-Thin story-arc trope and found a way to stuff it into your book.  I’m sure you feel rather proud of how you solved global obesity with two short pages of science fiction.  Thanks for your stunning contribution to humanity.

Yet, without giving away the entire plot or the key twists, there are also some neutral/positive body moments in there as well where a fat character is a sympathetic good guy and appreciated for contributions made, rather than seen as solely a body.  Well, mostly.

At any rate.  This was a book that I’d probably give a solid 3.5.  Unnecessary fat-bashing and trope-inclusion; complete disregard (even in passing mention) for how anyone could access this OASIS if they were not able to see  (not sure why this bothered me so much but it felt like a glaring omission after a while that there was so much focus on the visual stimulus… yet no mention at ALL of how those who were not sighted could fit into this world.  Not even a token line to the effect that sightedness was a privileged class or anything); over-indulgence of the 80’s theme in some rather long sections that could, quite honestly, be largely skipped.  But it has a cast of characters who do grow a bit and a fairly interesting plot concept; albeit a rather predictable outcome.

Has anyone else read this and have thoughts to add?  Was this section on Solving Fatness meant to be a throw-away bit to draw readers into the fantasy-style of the world the author was hoping to create (thus becoming just a passage included because of the immersion of such ideas in our very culture, serving to reinforce them)?  Was it just another way to make sure fat-bashing didn’t go unheard for even the short length of one 300 page novel (an intended inclusion meant to remind the readers (who may, themselves, be fat) that with hard work and the right motivation Fatness should not exist)? What is your take on it?

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28 thoughts on “It’s the small snowflake-y Fat Hate references that add up to the full Fat Hate blizzard

  1. Perhaps it’s just the fact that I’m currently reading a book that deals with the attempt by Germans in WWII to create a ‘perfect Aryan race’, but this line of yours stopped me cold:
    “You’ve succinctly boiled down the world’s fantasy scheme for making the entire human race thin.”
    Is that what Fat Hate/Thin Reverence really boils down to? An attempt to create a ‘perfect _____ race’? Perish the thought!

    • Kate you may have hit it spot on. I think a lot of the science fiction fantasy is the idea that the “future” will bring some sort of One Race to being. Whether through genetically engineering the “Perfect Humans” (which are, natch, never Fat); through devastation and “Survival of the Fittest “(which, come on, not every Fat person is the ‘slow and easily catch-able’ kind portrayed in Zombie flicks; some of us would also survive dammit!); through millennium of mixing together (this last having the most interesting “diversity” potential and yet rarely without fail being a way of saying that we’ve somehow self-breed all diversity away.)

      • which, come on, not every Fat person is the ‘slow and easily catch-able’ kind portrayed in Zombie flicks;

        That gets to one of the things I hated about Zombieland. They have a million fat jokes about the poor doomed out-of-shape fatties who clearly can’t run, okay. But then, they go on to establish that the thin protagonist’s pre-outbreak life consisted of rarely leaving his apartment, spending all of his time on the computer, and subsisting almost entirely on high-sugar, high-salt processed food! And he was living like that right up until the zombies were literally on top of him! T

        he dangerously sedentary thin guy with nothing but candy and soda in his cupboard got to live long enough to do cardio and developed improved health habits, but all of the fat people were instant zombie food! It makes no sense unless you’re completely hung up on “Thin=healthy, so he can’t really be out of shape, and fat=unhealthy, so there’s no such thing as fat people with actual physical fitness” thinking.

        • Oddly I have to find the timing very interesting on a microagression which showed up today on this very matter: “http://microaggressions.com/post/10210456032/every-time-a-character-in-a-book-is-introduced-in”

        • Ako I had that same thought watching Zombieland too. Like the main lead character is thin so he gets (as in real life) a pass for his “unhealthy” behaviors because naturally he’ll be more fit than a fatty. I mean everyone KNOWS that folks with more mass just can’t physically be more fit than someone thinner! *headdesk*

  2. I haven’t read the novel, but as a science fiction writer myself it bothers me when crap like this, and other stereotypes, get shoehorned into SF. I mean, There’s a theory out there that SF is merely a reflection of the current culture and not really about the future, except in a tangential sense, but I don’t think that’s necessarily true in all cases. Heinlein brought a certain kind of polyamory to the fore, and there wasn’t really anything like that in the current culture at the time — or now. Lots of Asimov’s tech, esp the robot stuff, is only being realized now (and certainly wasn’t when he wrote it).

    But man, it’s still in vogue to hate on fat people and drool over thin and toned in SF (unless you’re the mild-mannered slightly pudgy always male protagonist…though in the book discussed above it seems like that guy got whacked, too). Having a casually fat character, where fat is not integrated into a personality trait or used as an indication of vice, is rare. Le Guin has some tertiary characters that aren’t thin. Heinlein has a fattish protagonist. Auel has a fat supporting character (one of the only fat female non-mothers I’ve seen in a book). Young fat women where their weight isn’t a flaw to be corrected (and is, inevitably, but *before* they get happy, of course) are pretty much unheard of. I can’t think of ONE. And I’ve read a fuckton of books, as much straight fiction as SF.

    My books have a range of sizes for the main and supporting cast. And most of my characters are not thin — because only about 7% of people are as thin as the people we see on TV and in movies, and I think no one in existence has the proportions of some of the characters (men and women) in SF and fantasy novels. Aspirational, my ass. Ass-pirational. It’s not art, it’s lazy writing. It’s using physical traits as stand-ins for personality traits or other methods of characterizations. I hate that shit. Damn, I’m getting rant-y. I think a blog post about this is in order.

    • By all means bigliberty: rant away! I think you’ve got a good hook on the lazy writing aspect. Auel’s fat character is indeed a rare one but still she’s a secondary (or tertiary) character at best. Getting a book to NOT use the weight-loss-as-character-growth with a fat protagonist is rare to say the least. How refreshingly amazing would it be if there were more than one-handful of authors contributing effectively to literature with such characters? I think VERY!

  3. Hey, April, love the picture, I’m thinking Mata Hari, not sure though! Glad you’re having positive progress with flexibility, it’s reminded me….

    Why does any book, certainly a sci-fi one that actually allows for an overweight main character to exist in the first place, feel they HAVE to cram this shit in there?

    That’s such a good question and d’ya know what? Apart from introducing an idea of transformation, I haven’t got a clue. Its definitely worth mulling over because I get the feeling that I’m missing something.

  4. It almost reads like the author had just joined a weight-loss program and was high on the first few weeks of ‘hey, this is working!’ before the inevitable plateau.

    Oh, and I’m glad to see someone thinking in terms of how this fantasy locks out people with particular disabilities. There’s an awful lot of sci-fi that never deals with anything like blindness or deafness other than as a problem to be universally solved with a pill or pre-natal screening, or some other master race fantasy. And those are in the rare books that acknowledge such things as blindness, deafness, or paralyzation.

    I don’t want human diversity ‘dealt with’ or ‘solved.’ I want a world that has thought and consideration for every human possibility.

    • Twistie I also wondered how anyone could access this OASIS system without full mobility in the real world too. There were hints that with such a detailed visual application you’d be able to do a lot if you had sight and the ability to control your avatar with eye movements but, again, that assumes a lot and completely erases the idea of any humans who aren’t some range of mobile, sighted, hearing beings existing.

  5. I am always anxious to hear of books with good fat characters. I have a scifi/fantasy anthology, edited by the former editor/creator of Rump Parliament, Lee Martindale, called “Such a Pretty Face”. Every one of the stories in this book has a fat protagonist & the stories are all fat positive, it was a requirement for inclusion in the book. I would not touch the book you reviewed above, April. I have been there, read that, too many times & do not want to do so again.

    • I think that’s what frustrates me so much when I see this in books. It is such a tired and overdone thing. Fat character begins to develop, find themselves….but turning point is Losing Weight and that’s “When Their Life Turns Around”. Blah! On a happier note I’m definitely adding it to my b-day wishlist. Sadly it isn’t in our library system but a recommendation will be coming to fix that! 😀

  6. Sigh. It sounds like it’s the author’s fat hate intruding. I’m reminded of Ben Elton’s Blind Faith; it’s about a future dystopia where every detail of life is shared online, but it’s also a vehicle for Elton to extrapolate everything he hates about 21st century life and vent about it…and he vents about fat people to an extraordinary degree – there are so many detailed, disgusted descriptions of fat bodies that you wonder what’s going on in his head. Most readers thought it was a poor take-off of Nineteen Eighty-Four, which it was, but few picked up on the fat-hating – indeed, some people lauded that bit for its ‘realism’, which is odd given that one of the major things he rants at his society’s fat people for is revealing their bodies in public and eating fast food without a hint of shame.

    I also hate how some of my favorite comic book authors, who are working in worlds where literally anything can happen, who are open-minded about everything else, and who treat fat people as fully human, sympathetic characters, seem to nevertheless have to have them lose weight at some stage Hazel Macnamara is fat in Sandman: A Game Of You, but loses it to get her girlfriend Fox interested in her again in Death: The Time of your Life. And in Promethea, the fat, middle-aged and demon-butt-kicking Barbara Shelley discovers her ‘true self’ on a journey up the mystical planes, and whaddya know, she was always thin on the inside. I’d like to think that with their talents, Gaiman and Moore could do better than resort to those tired old tropes.

    On a more cheerful note, April, your dance costume is truly awesome.

  7. I’m surprised exercise isn’t more integrated into the virtual world in this book. It’s clearly not full-immersion “The Matrix” VR–they have full-body haptic suits. Why aren’t there video game exercise programs designed to be fun?

  8. That’s weird–I posted a comment using the reply box and it replied to the last comment instead of to the post. To clarify, I’m talking about the book in the OP.

    • Thanks for the clarify Jen! And the book does mention that the character ends up liking the running he chooses to do because of the neat virtual “tracks” he can run; but yeah it is definitely that begrudging: I taught myself to want to like it crap and not an honest-to-goodness attempt at portraying the many cool ways that VR COULD make movement fun!

  9. I checked, April, & “Such a Pretty Face” seems to be currently out of print, & the publisher who originally published it 11 years ago, Meisha Merlin Publishing, is out of business. Currently, it is listed on Amazon as costing $30 for a paperback copy. Well, I paid $16 for mine from the publisher when it was new. Small, fat-positive publishers apparently have to charge quite a bit for their books. Maybe you could get it through inter-library loan? Anyway, good luck tracking it down. It is a good book & NO ONE diets in it & any weight loss is, if I remember, caused by a fat-hater casting a spell & the enraged victim of the spell demands to be returned to her former, large, strong self who can win archery tournaments & she is at the end.

  10. You have more patience than I; I probably would’ve thrown the book across the room at that point. 🙂 I appreciate the observation that bigliberty made above: Scifi/fantasy tells us more about ourselves than it does about any hypothetical future. Unfortunately, fat hate is firmly entrenched in our society and in our media, specfic included.

    Love the photo you included! You look amazing! I hope you post more videos soon 🙂

  11. Good heavens, I thought you had a bird on your head there for a moment. That would be 8 kinds of awesome…

    I made the mistake of picking up a check-out stand magazine the other day and haven’t stopped foaming at the mouth since. It talked about how size 0 isn’t good enough for some of these actresses any more and how 5′ 10″ women hover around 105 pounds, calling it shameful and dangerous and yadda yadda (Anjelina comes to mind because she’s such a stick these days).

    But right next to those pictures they’ll show an actress who looks exactly the same–stick legs, sunken cheeks, the works–and say how fit and toned she looks or, the bigger laugh, how curvy. The magazine went on to poke fun at older women for daring to show their cellulite-y bums at the beach, even saying, “Looks like you need more work on that bod before you bring it out, girl…” and even poking fun at newly delivered mums for having the audacity to wear a tank suit when their bellies are still wobbly…but then went on to talk about this one actress (can’t remember her name) who was bikini-ready 6 weeks after giving birth (“You’d never know she’d just had a baby!”) as if it were admirable.

    WHAT. THE. *@&$!? I got scared, disgusted, and really angry because these are the images my daughter, who is probably going to struggle with her weight as she gets older, will be seeing for the rest of her life. If they presented a consistent message–fat bad, thin good–it would be one, clear offensive thing, but the mocking of women who had just had kids was really, really too far. I have never loved my body because of its size and shape, but I have admired it for producing my children with no conscious thought from me. To act as though it’s a thing of shame because the price I paid from making humans is a bit of a jiggly tummy is beyond cruel, and I won’t buy into it.

    I’m thinking of burning the magazine, once the wind dies down.

    On the happier side of things, I visited a new Gyne today and refused to be weighed even when the snippy nurse said, “Sorry, we HAVE to.” I replied, “No, I don’t HAVE to, and I have a right to say no. Because once I step on that scale, you’ll just see me as a number, and I’m much, much more than that. So no thanks.” And the doc never said a word about it.

    SCORE.

    • Yorkie I totally fist-bumped the air to hear your confident moment at the new Gyn! Rock it! Also, I too hope that the world will improve to the point where we can all love and be proud of ourselves for accomplishments first; body as a secondary “Well, of COURSE I love my body, who wouldn’t?” sort of given assumption. What a world! Maybe I should take up writing science fiction? 😉

  12. Yorkie, I sincerely hope that your daughter will not ‘struggle’ with her weight, but will accept it, & live comfortably & happily in the natural body she has, loving herself & being proud of who she is. I wish that for all of us.

  13. Ideally, yes, but it’s not realistic. She’ll struggle with body acceptance no matter what weight she is. Hand on heart–I hope she doesn’t go through what I have because this world just loves to ridicule a fat person. She’ll have enough strikes against her just being female; she doesn’t need any other crap going on or have to hear people making cruel remarks based on her weight because they think they have a right to.

    We can discuss coping strategies and self-acceptance all we wish, but if we had that sort of thing completely under control, we all wouldn’t be here reading April’s blog and posting our “Amen” responses, if it were so easy.

  14. It’s true that it isn’t easy, & I admit that my perspective is different than some, since I have been part of fat acceptance for over 31 years & am now 62 years old, so I have come pretty much to self-acceptance & peace with the body I live in. It is a long, hard struggle, & I try to be part of the community, to give support & encouragement where I can & to remind myself that, regardless of what the world says, we are right & we have a right to live our lives as we wish, own our own bodies, & not give in to the pressures of an insane society. I also was born with cerebral palsy, so I KNOW what it is not to fit in, to be ridiculed, ostracized, told that I am not good enough, that somehow I am less than human. It seems to get easier with age, or maybe I get stronger & better at shutting out the voices of idiots who have no importance in my life.

  15. You know what? I came to a point where I realised that I don’t have to prove anything to anyone. I don’t have to argue with fat haters. I don’t have to show them reason, or educate them.

    Instead, I need to be a visible, proud fat woman. I need to talk to my fellow fats and show them they too can be visible, proud fat folks. I don’t need to DO anything, all I need is to BE.

    It is radically changing how I focus my writing, and it’s making it a whole lot easier to get through accepting the futility of arguing with the ignorant.

    You are an amazing woman. You are an inspiration, just as YOU. Keep being you and encourage others to give their best at life, and together we will all make the change happen.

    • Sleepydumpling you are amazing as well! I think you’ve really jotted down very succinctly the way I find my own mind describing my role in the FA circles. Being a visible and proud fat woman living a life can indeed be powerful and I need to remember this as I continue my own endeavors here at being Fatly Visibly 🙂 Thanks!!

  16. Pingback: Being Fat: Just like being a child-hating puppy-killer. Yeah! « I AM in shape. ROUND is a shape.

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