One of the most painful things about being massively obese (and there is quite a long list) is the social stigma and the cruel treatment that one faces at every turn, in every arena of life, public and private. At every turn, one faces rejection, disrespect and dismissal. I had often wondered about this, turned it over in my mind, but I could not figure out why the phenomenon was so universal and persistent.
As a massively obese person I could understand why no one found me an attractive romantic prospect, I never found obese people attractive myself. I could understand being turned off by obese people who were also dismissive of their appearance, or dressed like they did not own a mirror (for years, I did not own one myself). I was similarly turned off by skinny people who were similarly inattentive to their dress and public demeanor.
But it seemed to me there was something more going on. People who knew me well and professed concern and affection for me still kept me at arm's length and it was not an uncommon experience to find someone who was mostly kind to me display this cruel insensitivity and prejudice against other fat people.
Further, and perhaps the most perplexing aspect of this was that I didn't feel this pattern arise from within myself. I couldn't find even the seeds of Fatism even in the deepest reaches of darkest and repressed areas of my nature. Most things I can sort of get, even though I see through them, I can understand why people go that route. Not Fatism.
Then I lost 100 pounds and something changed. I get it now. This essay is primarily an attempt to explain this to people who might still be similarly confounded by it.
Visually, massive obesity sends a subtle yet powerful signal of rejection and dismissal to other people. It is as if the massively obese person is screaming "stay away from me! I don't want you near me! I don't want anyone near me!" The distance that fat people put between themselves and others is both literally physical and metaphorically figurative. You can't really hug a fat person closely, and the fat person can't really hold you close. It can be scary to see.
This perception of blanket, prejudicial rejection by the fat person of all those around them is compounded by the assumptions made so automatically about the fat person's behavior (and the presumed causes of their obesity) that they often fail to even really be noticed as assumptions. It's astonishing how prevalent and consistent these assumptions (e.g., constant binge-eating on high-calorie foods, laziness) are across age-groups, cultures, and backgrounds.
We all know that "consequences be damned" place within us that can compel us to indulge our appetites to excess, particularly in times of distress. We've also all struggled with varying degrees of the self-discipline required to keep this part of ourselves in check so that we don't harm ourselves. When we see someone else who apparently lacks even the desire for this kind of self-restraint we resent their display of that indulgence and experience it as a rejection of our own self-concept. It is as if the fat person is screaming "hey, idiot, self-care is for fools!"
Further, the fat person is seen to use an unfair proportion of the shared resources in the public commons. They take up more space. They use more than one seat. They are difficult to circumnavigate. They often move more slowly. They often eat more. It is as if the fat person shouts "I demand more than my fair share!"
So, if a visually beautiful person were to encounter you by shouting "Stay away from me! Don't tell me how to live you self-deluded idiots! And by the way, I demand more than my fair share around here!" you might come away with a less than favorable attitude about that person which is unrelated to any distaste for the contours of their body. In fact, you may be encouraged to poke cruel fun at them and ridicule them for this implied antisocial countenance. I think, very subtly, this is what happens to the massively obese.
It is very subtle. This operates mostly below the level of conscious self-awareness, and it occurs in concert with the simple distaste that most people have for the visual appearance of obese human bodies. I have come to realize this phenomenon by watching it arise within myself as I ceased to identify with the massively obese.
To be sure, i doubt I can fully explore every distant reach of Fatism in this short essay. Obesity and the problems that surround it are bewilderingly complex and often unique to particular situations, people and cultures. Further, it is always important to appreciate the difference between understanding something and knowing it. I can explain this to you so that you might understand it, but if you want to *know* it, you'll have to realize it on your own, just as I did.
In fact, I fully confess that this is about me, not you. I can't look inside anyone's heart but my own. However, I find that I now easily understand and appreciate the release offered by dismissive disdain for the massively obese in a way I simply did not have access to when I considered myself a member of their ranks. I get fat jokes now. I even think the more clever ones are funny.
Why? How can this be? How can I so soon leave that sensitivity behind like so many XXXXL shirts sent to Goodwill? I'm sure there are many reasons I don't see, but one reason I do see is that this humor can be a release for pent-up frustrations I associate with encountering very fat people. It's not fun to feel categorically rejected, to have your own self-concept challenged, or to get less than your fair share. That's how I can feel around them.
Ironically, that is identical to the actual experience of being massively obese.