Simple Thoughts? More like simplistic.

Some time ago, I wrote a post called “Simple Thoughts from the Lunchroom.” This is my apology and reflection about that piece.

I immediately started getting some feedback telling me my privilege was showing. I took the post down so that I could try to reflect on this without further comments saying the same thing getting my hackles up (I suck at not getting defensive, but I know this so I try to correct for it).

It has been well over a month, if not two, since I wrote that post. I promised honest and thoughtful reflection and, for those who asked, an accounting of just where the privilege was sneaking in. My bio on the Author page notes that I am not as good at thoughtful analyses as Chrissy. There often seems to be a disconnect between the keyboard and what I think I’m saying. Usually I just go with it and try to correct when I get constructive criticism, but I am writing from a privileged perspective on this blog. I can’t just let it slide anymore. I vow to take more time to critically analyse what I’ve said/written from this point forward.

Now that I’ve gotten that bit of the defensive “I meant well, I just suck at writing” bit out of the way… It is time for me to get down to the nitty-gritty. Ultimately, the biggest problem with the post was this (which I’m quoting from below the jump):

I knew nothing about this woman, and I simply used her and the fact that she was fat and eating a classically-demonized food like Wendy’s to paint a story onto her.

That’s the privilege, there, folks, in case you were wondering.

There was more that I did not do well, at all, and so if you want to read through some of my thoughts about it and where I think I messed up or could have done better, please continue. The original post, in all its sloppy glory, with my thoughts and statements about it made inline, below the jump.

Simple Thoughts from the Lunchroom

An update that will clarify a bit of this post: I’m currently doing summer research at the University of Michigan.

So, on Thursday I ate lunch in the University’s student union. There is a Wendy’s, a Subway, a Mrs. Field’s, a fruit smoothie place, and a convience store, for food. I’ve been eating Subway at least every other day, it seems, since I got here, so I went for Wendy’s.

A while after I sat down to eat, another lady came and sat at a table near me. She’d gotten Subway. She was also fat. And I found myself wondering if she got Subway because that’s what she felt like eating, or because she was worried about what other people would think if she ate at Wendy’s – something I, as a thin person, do not have to worry about.

This paragraph does not say what I wanted to say, and comes off as very… condescending, at best. I see, now, that this is very much offensive. I will avoid this, in the future.

A related thought that came to me while I was eating this same meal was, “What happens when Fatties are denied service at, for example, Wendy’s because of the vendor’s ‘conscience’?” à la birth control and pharmacists. Scary thought, no? They’re already in that zone to an extent with social services taking children away from parents because of “concern” about fat.

With respect to the FA movement, I am like a man with respect to the feminist movement. So I am pretty sure that it is not okay (based on how I feel about allies interacting with those more intrisically related) for me to use the term “Fatties.” I capitalized it to emphasize that I was trying to use it in the non-negative sense that so many FA bloggers use it, but… It kinda squicked me back when I wrote it, and I am especially unnerved by it now, as I ponder how much more lurking I need to do. I think it would be much more appropriate for me to have written “fat people.” It is accurate. It forces me not to skirt around a term that I find uncomfortable. It is, as far as I can tell from the FA blogosphere reading that I do, acceptable to the community when done well-intentionedly. And it does not convey the sense of familiarity that “Fatties” does, which as a new ally and not a direct member of the group, I don’t feel that I’ve yet earned the right to use. I need to spend a lot more time learning, and even then, maybe not. Maybe I could use it in a one-on-one with Chrissy, but it’s not appropriate for an Internet discussion, where I am unable to establish conversation boundaries with each of our readers.

Also, way for me to minimize the seriousness of health care and social service discrimination. “…to an extent…” It’s not “to an extent.” It’s the whole frickin’ extent! This is becoming an ever more serious problem in countries around the world. Ahem, Japan? Or freaking Alabama?!

The feminist in me also wants to comment on how a fat construction worker dude (of whom there were many in the union) wouldn’t get or give a second thought for eating at Wendy’s – it’s dudely not to care for your health. But thank goodness, this has been covered ad nauseum thanks to the recent Hungry-Man issue, so I can just provide links and give my fingers a break.

^_^

This last bit was addressed in one of the two comments that this post received before I took it down, and I’ll talk about it there.

Comment #1, by Mary

You are right that some fat people feel self-conscious when eating in public, and I appreciate this post, but I disagree with a couple of your points.

First, I think you may have been feeling upset on that woman’s behalf unnecessarily. A fat person isn’t any more likely to prefer Wendy’s over Subway than you are, and Subway isn’t necessarily healthier than Wendy’s anyway — it all depends on what you order. So I’m not sure what led you to suspect that the woman ordered Subway because she felt inhibited from going to Wendy’s.

And second, although I won’t deny that fat women face some pressures and hassles that fat men don’t, I think we have to be careful not to invalidate the prejudice that fat men do experience.

I absolutely agree with your general point, though, and I look forward to a day when fat people can do whatever they want in public without facing moralistic judgment from others.

Comment #2, by Kristie

It’s entirely possible she didn’t give a thought to eating at Subway, but I find it interesting that you DID give a thought to her eating there. While you came at it from a compassionate point of view, the fact of the matter was, you were still questioning and judging a fat person’s dining choices, and the rationale thereof, as if there were ample room to question the idea that she made a conscious, fully self-actualized choice for herself, just as you did in choosing Wendy’s. Something to think about.

I agree with effectively everything the commenters said. I thought I was saying those things in the post, when I wrote it, and I obviously wasn’t. Again, I like to hope that a lot of the legitimate criticisms that the commenters had were spawned more from my bad writing than from anything else. I meant to write the original post as a sort of factual allegory – one anecdote to describe a broader range of that. I didn’t do that and DID end up writing a post that focused on one woman’s eating habits, to the neglect of her humanity. In a sense, I used this one woman as an unwitting example to pontificate on my own S-M-R-Tness. Look at me! I understand that fat hate impacts our lives in many ways, big and small! Don’t I deserve a cookie?!

I knew nothing about this woman, and I simply used her and the fact that she was fat and eating a classically-demonized food like Wendy’s to paint a story onto her.

That’s the privilege, there, folks, in case you were wondering.

As for the fat men thing. You are right. It IS important, very important, not to invalidate the prejudice that fat men experience. I could have addressed this a lot better in my original post. That paragraph was as cold and unthinking as the rest of the post. On the other hand, I think it is important to note that, for future posts, I support the feminist principle that when discussing an issue that disproportionately affects women (which body issues DO), making sure to add the clause that “this hurts men, too” is not high on the priority list.

I would love to end this with some great, thought-provoking self-revelation. But I don’t have one. I have privilege. I’m trying to unpack it. Thanks for putting up with me! ^_^

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15 thoughts on “Simple Thoughts? More like simplistic.

  1. It looks like you hit upon one of the aspects of thin privilege that you hadn’t noticed before, but that many fat people have.

    Being thin means you’re conditioned to see fat people as lessons. In this case, you saw a fat woman as a lesson in fat acceptance, though you still saw her through thin eyes–and through the position of privilege.

    I do agree with you on seeing fat phobia as gendered. To say so isn’t to say that fat men don’t suffer–because clearly they do. But I’d definitely say that hunger is gendered masculine (and thus women are penalized for giving in to it) while fat is gendered feminine (even as it’s loathed, or perhaps loathed because of that), such that fat men are sometimes seen as less potent.

  2. I agree with pretty much everything said here, but I do have to say, as a fat person, I DO think that way when I’m eating in public. I’ll get a salad instead of fries because I assume that if I get fries, everyone is going to look at me and think, “well, no wonder she’s huge, look at her wolfing down those fries”. Which of course is unfair on my part, because I’m projecting a bias onto other people that they very well may not have.

    Miriam, I definitely agree with what you say about hunger being gendered masculine. When my mom was 12 or so, she was out for lunch with her mother and she ate everything on her plate. After they finished, another diner, and older man, came over to the table and complimented my grandmother on having a daughter with such a good appetite. My mother was mortified, and hasn’t cleaned her plate since. Among other issues she has with food, but that’s another post altogether.

  3. Okay, as a fat person, I’m not offended at all by your original post. I AM aware of what other people think when I eat in public. You seem like a nice person. Of course you’re going to think about stuff like that when you’ve recently become sensitive to size issues.

  4. I really appreciate how willing you were/are to take criticism of your post, and to examine yourself for thin privilege. Personally, I was like Deeleigh and didn’t find anything offensive about your first post, but I guess that doesn’t mean it wasn’t there. Or something.
    The reason I didn’t find it offensive is that I am very concerned about what other people might think of my food choices. It’s kind of a lose-lose situation though. If I get the McDonald’s combo meal I really want, I imagine they’ll be looking at me with disgust, thinking, “Well obviously she’s fat cause she eats like that” (and usually while ignoring the combo meal on their own plate at the same time). But if I get the salad or something, I imagine they’ll be saying “Who is that fat girl kidding? We all know she doesn’t eat like that when she’s alone! I bet she’s gonna go binge on some cookies right after this!” or maybe “Well that’s good – I guess she’s finally trying to do the right thing and stop stuffing twinkies in her face all day!”
    Anyway, this is long, but I guess I just wanted to say that I related to the story you painted on that woman.

  5. Lalaroo, that is exactly what I always think people will be thinking too! 🙂 I still go ahead and eat what I like, whether salad or chips… these days!

    Jiggly, I am just glad that you, as a non-fat person, are able to put yourself out there and try to think about how another person’s life might be affected by TEH FATZ! If everyone did that about everyone somehow different to them, we would all be a lot closer to being nice to each other.

  6. I wasn’t offended by the original post (and I’ve been called “whale”,” “slug” and “elephant,” among other things. The only objection I had was the quote

    The feminist in me also wants to comment on how a fat construction worker dude (of whom there were many in the union) wouldn’t get or give a second thought for eating at Wendy’s – it’s dudely not to care for your health.

    Why is a burger automatically considered unhealthy? If it’s only a part of a well-balanced diet, why is the burger from Wendy’s eeeeeevil, but the $75 angus burger at a trendy restaurant perfectly fine?

    Sorry, pet peeve.

    For the record, I love your posts.

  7. Got a question: If you, an admitted thin person, are engaging in “priveledge” when you wonder about a fat person and her motives for eating at a certain place, than what am I, a fat person, engaging in when I wonder if the skinny person is only eating at a certain place because it has ‘good for you’ foods? There are times I wonder if people looking at my husband and me sharing a desert and think I’m doing it because I’m dieting or something. I mean, seriously, I do.

    I read this post when you first put it up, and I seriously can’t see the priveledge, even though you pointed it out.

    It’s natural, human even, to wonder about others. Whether it’s with the best of intentions (like yours seem to have been) or not (like my thoughts would be from feeling of envy and possibly jealousy).

    And I would question anybody who says they never question the motives of another’s actions.

  8. AGH! That should have been “privilege”. Don’t mind the spelling folks, I flunked out of college! 😀

    Bad spelerz uv de whirled, UNTIE!

  9. To sort of respond to everyone…

    It is definitely one thing to question someone’s motivations. That is, indeed, human.

    It is another thing entirely to write a post about it on an FA blog AS THOUGH IT WERE thoughtful, analytical, useful.

    I hope that makes sense. This is a quick one-off, as I am in the middle of a WoW raid… 🙂

  10. Hi

    On the issue of not recognizing the experiences of Fat Men. i think that one reason is that Men are far less likely to report problems than women. The second issue is that bias against Fat Men is far less likely to be acted upon in public by the Fat-o-phobic, but that does not mean that it does not exist.

    I think that the behavior of Fat Men says a lot, we do not show much “skin” in public and tend to wear lose clothes. Saying that I know that there are plenty of gray areas and also we are talking about individuals that live in different regions and social economic sectors.

    William

  11. llencelyn: I respectfully submit that (“It is another thing entirely to write a post about it on an FA blog AS THOUGH IT WERE thoughtful, analytical, useful.”) is EXACTLY what we do on many FA blogs.

    We try to divine the motivation of the people who are not us, and then blog about it as if it were thoughtful, analytical, useful.

    At least, that’s what I’ve been seeing.

    So again, why can I, a fat person, ascribe motivations to a normal weight or skinny person and it be okay, but a skinny person doing so is coming from a place of priviledge? Sorry, this just doesn’t come from a place of logic for me.

  12. Hmmm.

    So again, why can I, a fat person, ascribe motivations to a normal weight or skinny person and it be okay, but a skinny person doing so is coming from a place of priviledge?

    I think it has to do with the whole oppressed vs. oppressor thing, where the voice and opinion of the oppressor is given more value/weight than that of the oppressed.

    When a straight white dude voices an opinion (or writes a book or a treatise or gives a speech at a national convention…) his view of the world is given more weight and value and legitimacy by the culture as a whole than the voices and opinions of individuals who fall into one or more of the “oppressed” categories.

    Basically, if I, as a thin person, make a sweeping generalization about fat people, or as a white person about people of color, or as an abled person about disabled folk, my sweeping generalization is given enough weight that folks either a) think I’m right or b) are willing to let it go unsaid that I’m making a generalization based on the summed average of my experience.

    When an oppressed person makes a sweeping generalization about the oppressor, this does NOT happen – as we have all witnessed everytime an FA blogger makes a broad statement about body-privileged folks and a troll comes in and says, “But I’m not like that!” This is especially prominent, for me, on feminist blogs. Someone will write a post saying “Men do/say/act like [X].” And someone will come flying in and basically try to tell us that our opinion doesn’t count because not all men do/say/act like [X]. Which we know, but our experience of the world is not given the same weight/value as a man who hypothetically made a broad statement about women.

    To sum up: this is how we end up with negative stereotypes about minorities/oppressed groups that actually impede their ability to function in the world (women can’t do math, so they are discouraged from math/science; fat people can’t raise children properly so social services takes away their kids just because they’re fat; all black men are criminals so let’s pull them over and interrupt their day because they must be doing something wrong; etc.).

    Because society DOES impart privilege to me, as a thin person (the most blatant instance of which is that despite being more sedentary than most everyone I know, I am never on the receiving end of criticism about my health/lifestyle/eating habits), when I am writing in an FA space, I need to be more careful about what I say and how I say it so as not to inadvertently enforce the culture around us that we are trying to fight.

  13. Hi

    As a after thought if this Blog is truly a Fat Acceptance Blog then the Experiences Fat Men are just as important as those of Fat Women even if Fat Women get more public abuse. I do not think that the exact acceptance of Fat Men and Women by Society can ever be accurately measured.

    If this was only a Feminist Blog them maybe the Experiences of Fat Men could be ignored or if this was a Fat Admiration/Fetish Blog then I would understand why Male Fat could so easily be discounted.

    In Fat Acceptance all Fat People of all genders and age need to be accepted and supported

    (please delete the previous post)

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