Last week, Anderson Cooper was on CNN talking about President Trump’s inability to comprehend his impending loss to Joe Biden. He referred to the president as an “obese turtle on his back flailing in the hot sun, realizing his time is over.” And the world laughed. I saw it all over my friends’ Instagram’s and other social media accounts, accompanied with such sentiments as “I’m dead” and “I can’t stop watching.” They laughed because it was funny. Anderson Cooper called Trump obese! Hilarious! What an insult! This is nothing new of course—it’s been a common thread throughout the last four years; Donald Trump’s weight has been a major component of the criticism of him as a person and as a president. Can you imagine how that has made people who are built similarly feel?
Society has made fatness synonymous with a moral failing, and that’s really fucked up.
I’m not here to shame those who laughed. Heck, even I laughed at first, before I really absorbed the sentiment and its implications. It’s not our fault; society has wrapped itself around our brains and whispered over and over again that fatness is bad, while thinness is good. Or, more appropriately in terms of modern diet culture, “strong” is good. The true myth of diet culture is that we are moving away from glorifying skinny bodies and prioritizing strong and different-looking ones, but really, it’s just another way to ostracize and alienate those who don’t fit the mold.
And so, we laugh at them.
I want to take this moment to acknowledge that I do not know what it is like to live in a fat** body. Even at my largest size, I was still a straight-sized individual who was never tormented for the size of my thighs or the roundness of my stomach. I never had to cope with the structural injustices that are in place every day to demonize fatness, such as airline seats made for smaller bodies, or dealing with health care professionals who blame every ailment on weight. I have never had to struggle with weight stigma haunting my every moment. But that doesn’t mean I can’t stick up for those who have.
Now that’s not to say that those who are straight-sized don’t feel bad about their bodies. Of course they do; how could they not, with billboards and internet ads screaming at us from all sides, highlighting ways that we could be “better,” selling us diets rebranded as “lifestyle changes,” and labelling food as “guilt-free” as if eating normally is something that we should feel badly about. Can straight-sized people feel bad in our bodies, even to the point of developing disordered eating or eating disorders? Absolutely. Can people be “skinny-shamed?” No doubt. I’m not invalidating anyone’s experiences and feelings. But it’s not the same, and it never will be.
The luxury I have, that all straight-sized individuals have, of living in a smaller body, affords us a lot of privilege. And we need to use that privilege to set things right. To speak out against the hate and discrimination. To look inside ourselves and fight that internalized fatphobia that has been engendered within us since birth. To apologize for our mistakes when we make them (and we will, because we are still learning) (note: Anderson Cooper did express regret at the statement and apologized a few days later!). To learn from those mistakes and try again. To be better. To make the world safer for fat bodies, for all bodies.
These same rules apply for all other marginalized groups, too. Because while “safe spaces” are great, wouldn’t it be even greater if we didn’t need specific designated spaces where people felt safe? I wonder what that would look like?
Looks like we need to keep working so we can find out.
**note. I use “fat” in this blog post as a descriptor only, as if I were saying “blonde” or “tall.” There has been a movement in the body positivity community to take back the word, and I am using it in accordance with that movement in an attempt to remove through normalized use the morality wrapped up in the word “fat.” If you are in a fat body and find this offensive, I deeply apologize and honor, value and validate your feelings.
Kristy Cloetingh is a Philadelphia native who is currently trying to figure out her place in the world. Her passions include reading, singing, dancing, nature, yoga, chicken fingers, and puppies. An anorexia survivor and mental health warrior, Kristy has made it her life’s mission to remind every single person that their bodies and minds are worthy of unconditional love and respect, regardless of size, shape, or whatever “normal” is.