Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Fat is Fat But That's All

This is Rob Ford. Most Canadians will know that on Monday he was convicted in a conflict of interest case and has been ordered to vacate his office, as Mayor of Toronto, in 14 days. Let me make something clear. I didn't vote for Mr. Ford. I don't like Mr. Ford's politics or his manner. I am not a fan. I believe the court made the right decisions because what he did was so obviously wrong that I can't believe his defence of, 'I didn't read the guidebook on conflict of interest' would even matter.

But this post isn't about Mr. Ford or his crime. It's about how Mr. Ford is being discussed. And more selfishly, how he's being discussed around me. It's obvious from the picture that Mr. Ford is a fat man. Don't you all be jumping on me for using the word 'fat'. Fat is fat. I am fat. I have no problem with the word, I have problems with how that word is valued.

Mostly over the day I was part of discussions about Mr. Ford's oust from City Hall, trust me it's a big talking point here in the city. Most people spoke about being embarrassed by Mr. Ford - because of his weight and what he looked like. They said this to me. They said it in front of me. They laughed as they made jokes about his weight and his looks. Again, in front of me. Several times in several conversations I said, "Um, I can hear you. I'm right here." And each time I was looked at with a degree of curiosity, like they couldn't understand what I was saying, or why I would protest. Several said things like, "I never imagined you for a Ford supporter."

I am not a Ford supporter.

However I believe that Ford should be spoken about for his behaviour, for what he DID that lead to the charge and the conviction. Not once. THAT'S NOT ONCE, did anyone talk about the actual case, in fact many didn't know what he'd been accused of, they just love the FAT GUY getting kicked out of office so we can have someone more seemly take his place. All this, to me, in front of me, around me, like I couldn't hear - or if I could I wouldn't have the temerity to speak up against that kind of shallow discussion about a fellow human.

Mr. Ford did something wrong.

And that wasn't having cheesecake.

And it wasn't midnight snacking.

And it wasn't fried egg and peanut butter sandwiches.

It was a decision, it was a huge political mistake, it was doing something wrong. Mr. Ford should have the dignity of having his actions, not his weight, be discussed. We should want a new mayor because the old one did something that ended in a court ousting him from office, not because we want someone prettier. Shouldn't we want someone more honest.

The degree of comfort that people have with their prejudices around certain kinds of difference is astonishing to me. Not once, when I spoke up, did someone apologise. Not once did anyone even look slightly embarrassed. It was as if they thought that I should join in because after all ... doesn't everyone hate fat people?

Even fat people?


Not this one.

I didn't vote for Ford because I heard what he had to say, I didn't like how he spoke to others, I didn't like his casual use of the 'R' word. It never occurred to me to make a decision for any other reason.

It scares me that the elections of the future might have a swimsuit competition.


Jayne wales said...

I am sick to death of people commenting on how people look before they comment on how someone is and acts. My little holiday was nearly ruined by just hearing people, some of whom I love, constantly saying he looks gay, he or she is so fat etc etc. you really feel like screaming so f ing what is important about that! In the interest of just not falling out with everyone on what was supposed to be a nice little break, I just seethed but it more than bothered me. So once again Dave you have from much more personal experience summed up this awful load of prejudices against a range of people in the search for God knows what. What is this ideal look, personality and preference we should all be? Sounds like either some nasty little Nazi type or a damn robot to me.!

Anonymous said...

Dear Dave,

this kind of judging people is a result of the advertising-industry. And we the consumers are flooded daily, hourly, secundly wiht images of good looking, functioning people. Thus our brain is uncunsiously developing such values and make fun about everyone not fitting them.

I for instance would love to be the first superhero with chd on TV :-).

But alas, that might never bee.


Anonymous said...

I've been saying for the last few years that "fat" is the last of the "polictically correct" platforms. Almost anyone thinks it is ok to poke fun at fat. After all it is tied to ignorance, laziness, poor diet, poverty - and all the medical research supports that it is bad. Therefore - fair game. My mother wouldn't believe me until she witnessed it first hand. A few of my friends couldn't believe it - until they saw a documentary on TV about it. (I didn't see the show - but I heard it was well done.) It is a tolerated predjudice. Sadly.

No doubt they didn't feel badly saying anything in front of you - as they felt the fellow was fair game. And perhaps they don't see you as that way, knowing you.

It is sad - someone could call you stupid and you can argue the point intelligently. They call you fat - and you are - well, you are. You can't say you are not. You can't argue with medicine. And even if you have a list of reasons - medically related - they are viewed as excuses.

I've had doctors blame me for everything from migraines to skin disorders on my weight. Yet a thin friend will get a full work up - just because they are thin.

I use to have to work 4 times harder to let people see I was an intelligent, capable, fun and energetic person just because I had to work them around my weight. I've had people say to my face that they were surprised at my abilities. Why? Because of my weight. It is like someone with buck teeth, or missing teeth - many don't see beyond.

As shown by this mayor and many others - stupid comes in any size. Let's focus on people's actions rather than their pant size.

Andrea S. said...

Sizeism can have real consequences for people's health. There may be some real consequences directly from just being overweight, but I often wonder if a lot of the health problems so typically attributed to size may actually be a consequence of a tendency among many doctors to refuse to treat or even test fat women when they report certain kinds of symptoms and problems, instead only prescribing diet and exercise (even if the woman is already eating right and exercising). I suspect this is probably an important factor in at least some of the poor health consequences seen so often among fat people, in the exact same way that people of color and people who are poor are also impacted by these factors--but researchers never seem to formulate research questions around this idea (to verify whether this is the case or not) or otherwise give it any credence. There is a whole blog which shares the experiences of women who face sizeism from doctors (

And impact on health is just one of the many potential consequences of sizeism. There are many others, and Dave highlights some of these here.

Having said this, I do get uncomfortable any time someone tries to claim a particular form of prejudice is the "last politically correct" form, because oppression olympics rarely helps anything and can result in some forms of oppression being overlooked or discredited.

Some segments of society, for example, still view certain types of disablism as pretty "acceptable" also, such as negative attitudes toward people with psychosocial disabilities (consider, for example, the casual use of the word "crazy" as a slur that many people indulge in, sometimes even among people who have other types of disabilities). Certain forms of racism toward indigenous peoples also tend to be viewed as pretty acceptable. The name of the football team in my city, for example, is basically a racial slur against indigenous people, which Native Americans have protested against. But most people in this city seem to see nothing wrong with this.

I'm not saying there aren't segments of society that recognize that disablism or racism toward indigenous peoples is wrong ... as long as you are talking in the abstract. And if it is something really blatant like, "We don't want any of those people around" (anything blatant enough that you're basically hitting them over the head with it) then yes people may recognize it for what it is. But we've discussed at this blog many times over how people with disabilities will sometimes bring up access issues to friends, colleagues, peers, etc. as a form of prejudice only to experience others looking blank or confused looked from people who can't see the connection. And there are still people who can't see what the fuss is about the "r" word. And so on. Some of the same people who will insist loudly that, yes, of COURSE they are opposed to racism, disablism, or prejudice based on how a person looks then turn around and casually say things that, at least from the perspective of the people affected, are very blatantly racist, disablist, or "lookist".

Can we fight all forms of oppression together without playing oppression olympics?

Belinda said...

"Present company excepted" never works--an attitude is an attitude. And Rob Ford has more than enough concerns that belong in the public arena that this focus just shifts his opponents dangerously close to being guilty some of those themselves.

Colleen said...

Dear Dave:

I have no respect for Rob Ford and it has nothing to do with his weight. The man could be an Adonis and I still would not respect him.

To paraphrase Martin Luther King Jr. he must be known not by the size of his pants but by the content of his character. And the content of this man's character is seriously lacking!

I wonder if the focus on his size allows people to avoid addressing his character. Weight is one of the most superficial assessments we can make of another person. In Canada in the last few decades we have elected some politicians who are completely lacking in integrity - in fact we have re-elected some. And nobody seems to care. In fact some people think that integrity is not necessary. This scares me. As long as we can talk about appearance we do not have to focus on what really matters. We are all vulnerable.

I do agree Dave that ridiculing people who are fat is still acceptable in our society. And if ridiculing is acceptable so are many other forms of harm.


wendy said...

Absolutely right on!

Anonymous said...

It’s so wrong to talk like that. And I am flabberghast that people are oblivious to how it’s out of order to speak like that in front of you.
But, but, but, I’m finding it hard to understand that peanut butter and fried egg sandwiches aren’t wrong. Love the peanut butter sandwiches, love the fried egg sandwiches.... I’m gonna have to try the combination but it will be warily cos it doens’t sound good to me.

joanne said...

thanks Dave for talking about was even an issue on "This hour has 22 minutes" with Marg saying that the problem was the "fat between his ears"....yes, I know that our brains are fat...but I do believe that she was eluding to something else.

Heaton said...

I've never understood why people get uppity and (sometimes angry) about other people's weight. I know a guy who acts as if there's some unspoken social contract that everyone has to be skinny, and overweight people have violated it.

In regards to Mr. Ford-- I spent a year working for the US Congress, and I am continually saddened by the kind of inane nonsense people focus on. My theory is that people are inherently tribalistic, and so love supporting their party and their candidate, and hate the other party and the other candidate. But people rarely do research on actual things like policies, so not wanting to sound completely oblivious, they focus on things like haircuts, weight problems, and vague statements like "I just don't like/trust him."

Having only visited Toronto once and for a long weekend, I am utterly unaware of local politics. As an objective person in this matter, it's refreshing to hear someone assess the situation based on applicable facts rather than biases.

Rosemary said...

I have been in the company of people who were making jokes and and speaking negatively about some fat "friend" they know. Really nasty talk. Meanwhle, there I siat, a hundred pounds overweight. I figure that I must be invisible, (ha!), or the trash- talking people completely insensitive (much more likely). The person being joked about was an intelligent, extremely-successful business executive.

Words can really hurt.

Tamara said...

I absolutely agree. I hear the same mine of remarks about the governor of New Jersey. I don't agree with his politics, but the comments about his weight are just rude. Letterman is always making jokes about him. I enjoy watching Letterman, but would like him more without the day jokes. My mother, who now has dementia, makes negative comments about people's. weight. I'm probably about 60 pounds overweight, and was really skinny going up. She mentions my weight frequently. ugh.

Rickismom said...

Overweight is just about the only "deficiency" that is apparent to all to see. Without opening your mouth, without doing a thing, the entire world can see where you have been "remiss".
Once (right after I had a baby), when I was in a hospital, the woman beside me said"You know, you're really fat" My reply: Do you think you are informing me of something I don't know?"
People somehow envision that if we will truely realize that we are overweight, and the detriment of that state, we will join the crowds of the thin. Unfortunately, it is not that simple. Most people who are SERIOUSLY overweight have some type of emotional relationship to food. [I know that even today, 3 years after starting my diet, and 75 kilos lighter, I STILL have an urge to grab a cookie or some chocolate when live throws me a curve-ball.]People have NO idea of how difficult it is to make the changes necessary to take off the weight. And thus they feel themselves OH so superior.
And it all comes down, again, to your point--- pure discrimination, pure hatred, of anyone we feel is unworthy.