Fat Phobic Propaganda Masked as Concern Trolling: An Example

McWhat?Facebook provides me with an infinite supply of material on which to comment. This gem of an image showed up this morning provoking some seriously reactive vitriol from me, which I have turned into a blog post for all of you lovely readers who don’t have enough swearing in your day. So let’s break this image down a little bit. Just a little bit. Because I could easily turn this into a 10-20-page, fully-cited research paper. And as a note, I’m writing the following to an audience who passes this graphic around as though it’s a good thing. If that’s you, then that’s you. If that’s not, then it’s not. And here we go:

[A drawing of corpulent Ronald McDonald sitting, smugly eating a hamburger with a grinning sneer on his face. There is an Arches M on his left breast rotated and altered to appear like an F. Under Ronald is the text, “Junk food is engineered to addict you to chemical ingredients” In the upper left-hand corner of the image is an inset photo of a hamburger with upside down golden arches superimposed on top of it. Underneath of which is the text, “i’m dying ‘cos of it”.]

Scientific support of the claim made by the text aside, the imagery associated with these words perpetuates the knee-jerk assumption that fat is bad, that fat is caused by overeating, and that fat is caused by being addicted to junk food. In effect, it’s fat shaming and fat phobic. Did you know that there are wonderfully fit fat people in this world who eat a diet that is truly healthy for their needs and who still happen to be fat? There are fat nutritionists, fat vegans, fat athletes at the top of their game.* I am very frustrated by this association of bad food = fat bodies. What’s actually happening, though, is the sort of the reverse —  that there is the assumption that fatness is solely caused by diet, and it’s not. Capitalism, environmental issues, emotional states, mental states, genetics, disability, etc. are implicated in the causes of obesity. We want the world to be simple and it’s not. It’s exceedingly complex and we are lazily-but-incessantly circling ONE factor and ignoring all the others.

If we separate body size from the health aspect, we clarify matters and bring the issue of health into the foreground, leaving behind our mass cultural fixation on body size. Why is this important to do? 1. Because there are So Many unhealthy people of All Sizes. Health is not simply a physical issue (e.g. mental health, emotional health), and body size does not indicate levels of fitness. 2. We think body size indicates levels of fitness, and we discriminate with wanton liberty against fat people. Did you know that fat people have lower rates of mortality than people of “normal weight”? Yet we say “fat” like it’s a bad thing and then we act accordingly. Then again, if we separate body size from matters of health, it doesn’t give health fanatics the easy, go-to imagery of a corpulent Ronald McDonald in order to make their point. Which is what, exactly? What’s he wearing the F on his left breast for? F as a grade or F for fat? The upside-down M turned W for What.. Weight? *disgusted sigh*

The text explicitly addresses addiction and the addictive quality of junk food, with imagery referencing McDonald’s as the primary source of junk food. On a social level, addiction means no self-control and we believe, socioculturally, that fat people are fat because they lack self-control. You literally have no idea how much self-control a fat-bodied person may or may not have. You may still be breathing because of how much self-control they have.

*And when I referenced healthy fat people earlier, don’t let this make you think that only healthy fat people should be given the time of day. Every person, regardless of their size, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. Let’s say that again because it bears repeating over and over and over: Every person, regardless of their size, deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. The only thing you know about a random fat person is that they’re fat and that they’re doing whatever they’re doing in the exact moment you see them. You see them inside a fast food restaurant? A) what are you doing there? B) are you making an assumption about their lifestyle? C) why the fuck do you care? Ohhhh, because of their heeaaallllth. This is called Concern Trolling. Stop it. Just fucking stop it. [Want a clear definition of a Concern Troll? This site has the best definition I’ve come across so far.]

Have you had food knocked out of your hand “for your own good”? Have you had people grab things from your shopping cart and put them back while they make “helpful” sizeist commentary? Have you been lectured by strangers about your health just because of your size? Check yourself before you open your mouth. Everyone has a right to exist in the body they’re in. If you’re uncomfortable with the appearance of that person’s body, Guess What! That’s YOUR problem. Don’t make it everyone else’s. Take responsibility for your own feelings.

But what if it’s your friend and you’re worried about her? Concern trolling your friend… Hrm… Did she ASK you for your opinion? If she did, that’s one thing. If she didn’t, fuck off. No, seriously. Fuck right off. She didn’t ask, so it’s not your place to say any damned thing. Support your friend by not being a judgmental asshole. Let her live her life however she wants to live it and be there to support her when she asks you to. If you offer that you have advice, give her the option of saying she’s not interested and leave it at that. Be respectful.

Getting back to the above image, let’s look at the inset text: “i’m dying ‘cos of it” Really? Guess what! We’re ALL GONNA DIE! We’re all going to die. Life is a terminal condition, my lovelies. No one gets out alive. This is concern trolling because the maker of this graphic probably just really wants you to live! rather than being in the throes of all the gloom and doom that ill-health brings, while failing to recognize the complex, multidimensionality of what certain types of challenges can bring for people. Enjoy life however you can and let fat people enjoy their food without shaming them for it. They’re people. PEOPLE!!! Actual real human beings with real, valid feelings. They have the right to eat whatever the hell they want and so do you. If you don’t want people judging you mercilessly and openly over every morsel you consume, do not do it to other people. Check your assumptions and check them thoroughly because your assumptions are doing a lot more harm than you realize. Listen to your internal talk and stop shaming yourself for what you ‘sneak’ or ‘cheat’ on. And stop feeling so smug about ‘eating clean’. Be grateful that You Have Food.

Speaking of shame, it really makes me wonder if the emotional state of the eater affects how much nutrition they gain from their food. Like, if you eat and feel guilty for it, do you retain more of the negative nutritive aspects of the food than the positive? What if there were no guilty pleasures? What if there were just pleasures? What if we took the guilt right out of it and all enjoyed our food so fully and so gratefully that there was no hand-wringing concern about the nutritive quality of it because we just got so much emotional benefit from the taste and the pleasure around guilt-free eating that it didn’t even matter? What if we stopped shaming people for what they ate? What sort of world would that be? It’d be a lot freer. Probably a lot happier.

Digressing from the health aspect here for a moment, I want to draw attention to the fact that there is classism tied up in this, as well. Like 69 cents for a hamburger (or however much it is these days) versus how much for a salad? Combos are cheaper than buying just burger and fries separately? Fast food being FAST because you’re working two maybe three jobs to make ends meet and possibly care for a family so y’all don’t starve? Why not attack THAT genre of injustice before you go around fat shaming pretending to be concerned about the quality of food, hmmmm? Why, because it’s easier to victim blame than to tackle an entire system of oppression, classism being just one aspect of it and sizeism another?

Gimme a break.

If you want to sign onto this campaign advertised by the above image about junk food and fast food having addictive qualities to it, then you had better be prepared to take a closer look at all aspects of the issue:  the societal addiction to fat phobia and fat discrimination, the classism that is woven throughout junk food accessibility, how urban planning and addiction to the car adversely affects accessibility, the addiction we have to shaming ourselves for eating food we think tastes good or that is convenient (OMG, you can’t enjoy your food! that’s so hedonistic and ungodly and unPuritanical. How dare you engage in sensual pleasures! you disgust me. *raises eyebrow*), the discomfort we feel with our own internal emotional state which we then unconsciously project onto other people (e.g. “I’m afraid that my being the slightest bit overweight or out of shape might make someone reject me, so I will distance myself vocally from people fatter than me in order to make me feel more accepted socially, and I will do this by focusing on how well I eat and whether I get exercise.” This is the typical thought process we attribute to the oh-so-prevalent phenomenon called bullying, btw. We do it internally and externally. Check that shit, loves.).

Also be prepared to take a look at how you’re contributing to the oppression of a growing number of people on this planet by your privilege-based, concern-trolling attitude because you’re too lazy to look at the heart of the matter. If you want to be part of the solution, then work towards actually being part of the solution instead of adding to the problem. Think critically. Because the problem is Not obesity or being fat. The problem is our attitude about it. The problem is our own shortsightedness and narrow-mindedness about body size and what it may or may not mean about a person’s worth. The problem is our own issues with self-acceptance. The problem is our fear of rejection. The problem is our issue with purity, which the taint of engineered junk food chemicals threatens, as well as the taints of overeating, lack of self-control, addiction, leading to the worst of all: the ‘taint’ of being fat.