Thursday, July 26, 2007

Acceptable prejudice.....


(Note: Just wanted to wish safe travels to all leaving for the BlogHer conference this weekend. I hope it is wonderful for all of you! )

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Yesterday, during our discussion of political correctness and prejudice, Snoskred made a comment that stuck with me most of the evening. It's not that I wasn't aware of it. It's just that I hadn't thought of it in any consistent manner. It flew through my head, I agreed with it and went on to some other burning thought ~ you know, usually something like "where's the remote control?"

Anyway, she raised the point that overweight people are experiencing the latest socially acceptable prejudice.

In so many ways, this is true. It's subtle... but it does seem to be okay to mention openly when someone is heavy, but we'd never think to say "geez, that guy has such a big nose" or "she has really ugly teeth." It just wouldn't happen. Well, at least it wouldn't happen among intelligent people who manage to focus on more important things.

I've even caught myself a few times saying things that bordered on unkind. One day, a few weeks ago, I drove Miss D. to the base to pick up some things she needed. There was a woman hanging out in front, waiting for someone. She was a heavyset woman. She was wearing tight polyester pants and a horizontally striped shirt.

I commented to D. that I didn't understand why heavyset people wouldn't know better than to wear tight pull-on pants and certainly shouldn't be wearing anything with horizontal stripes.

"It only makes us look bigger!" Being overweight, I felt justified in using "us" instead of "they".

"Most fat people don't care," she said back.

As I was driving back home, I realized what a rotten thing that was to say. By then, we'd switched to another topic so I didn't have an opportunity to redeem myself.

But I can do it here. That was a catty and petty thing to say and, honestly, I feel some shame in admitting that I was so small-minded.

Snoskred stated a truth. This is one of the final bastions of acceptable prejudice. Commenting on the body types of others and making judgments about it is still considered harmless in most circles. Where are the PC Police when it comes to sensitivity to heavy people?

Perhaps the woman at the base didn't realize it. Maybe she doesn't know that horizontal stripes make her look bigger. Not everyone is like me. Not everyone is concerned with fashion. Not everyone has the luxury of spending an hour each morning pouring over and choosing Thai outfits. Maybe she had much bigger things on her mind than her striped shirt.

We never know these things and truthfully, it was none of my bloody business at any rate! It certainly qualifies as a violation of my own cultural values.

It would be interesting to hear from others. Do you find this prejudice to be true in your circles as well?

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20 comments:

Anvilcloud said...

I think people are far more careful than they sued to be, but I'm sure it happens. BTW, baldness still seems to be an acceptable thing to sneer at.

heartinsanfrancisco said...

I think the pervasive view is that fat people are reaping the benefits of their own overindulgence. It's not fair, and it reeks of superiority.

And yet, my daughter, who is tiny and very thin, was accosted by a heavyset woman while doing yoga on the beach at Santa Monica in the early morning who laughed raucously and sneered at her for being so thin.

My daughter's question was why it is not ok to mention someone's weight if they're heavy, but apparently acceptable if they're thin.

When she was in high school, I was still very thin, and all her friends used to ask her if I was anorexic, which I was not.

Weight is a sensitive topic for everyone, and it doesn't help that our culture has assigned values that have nothing to do with most people's natural body types.

It is difficult to have a healthy psyche when we are constantly made to feel that our bodies are inferior.

Anonymous said...

People need to remember that what they say can be very hurtful to others even without that intent. Weight is a serious issue to many people with many physical as well as mental things going with it.

Science For Kids

Wayfarer Scientista said...

One of the things I learned while living in Africa was how to love my body for what it was. This was partially because I lived somewhere where their was little to no exposure to media and everybody's body was acceptable and well on display. In fact, the villagers used to watch me bathe because they had never seen a white girl naked! It was a bit unerving at first but I lost my modesty. I remember being sad when I traveled to a larger city to here girls talk about "whitening" their skin - clearly in the city they were starting to feel societal/ media driven pressures.

Tabba said...

certainly, Chani. I do see it...and it's all about this topic in particular - obesity.

Example: my MIL asked who a particular woman was at the birthday party that we had for the kids. she described the woman to us as such: long black hair and she was wearing a two-piece speedo bathing suit that she had no business wearing.

WTF?!?!?!

I replied, she did just have a baby. And so what? Good for her. She wanted to enjoy a day in the pool and why shouldn't she? And her bathing suit was plenty appropriate and tasteful.

The stone-throwing that she (MIL) does is rather exceptional in that she leaves no one out. She's an equal oppurtunity stone thrower.

It's sad. And sickening and I just can't stand it.

That being said...there are times we (collective) do that in regards to obese people and don't even realize it. Because it's considered rather acceptable in our society. By plastering images of waifs all over the place and telling us how we 'should' look.

MsLittlePea said...

oh. I missed yesterday's post so I went back to read it and the comments(it was so good by the way). This is true- I think it seems acceptable because people assume that eating right and exercise is something everyone can just 'control'. Most people don't realize or believe there are all sorts of health problems and mental problems that can lead to being overweight. We just assume it's always the individual's fault and say, oh if that lazy person would just stop eating/go for a walk...

MsLittlePea said...

Oh and I wanted to add, I once heard a father calling his daughter all sorts of silly names because she still had her baby fat. My goodness, she was only 10 years old and I thought she looked cute-not chubby at all. I was a close friend of the family so I felt comfortable saying that he might think he's only joking but he's probably really hurting her feelings and mentioned my bout with an eating disorder when I was a teen. He said without blinking that his comments were to 'help' her because he didn't want her to get really big and then get made fun of later on in life....this is the kind of mentality some people have. That hurtful comments actually 'help' the person. I wanted to shake him, I said to him, Oh you mean she's just going to up and realize how disgusting her father thinks she is and start caring more for her appearance, is that what you're trying to say. His reply was, you'll see when you have kids. Nice.

flutter said...

Without a doubt. Although people are careful to say things quietly around me, because I call them to the carpet, everytime.

Emily said...

There is a character in the Thomas Train books. In the US, he is called Sir Topham Hat. When we moved here to London, we found he has a different name in the UK. He is The Fat Controller. Apparently, in the US, it is not PC to call someone fat, but it is OK here.

Food for thought.

Laurie said...

When my mom was sick and dying, I gained an incredible amount of weight. I have been losing that weight for the last 9 months. I've lost nearly 90 pounds, but still have around 35 to go.

Since I've lost weight, some of the people (OK, MEN) that would barely speak to me before, are suddenly striking up conversations for no reason at all.

On the flip side of that coin, I am still overweight and my feelings have been hurt many times (even recently) by unkind remarks that have been made to me. It does seem to be socially acceptable to ridicule people who are overweight.

slouching mom said...

Emily -- Wow. I didn't know that! The Fat Controller? Sir Topham Hat is a favorite -- or was -- in this house.

Chani -- I absolutely agree. People feel free to disparage overweight people because they believe that it is a mere failure of will that makes a person overweight, whereas one cannot change the color of one's skin, for example.

It's a shame, because there are lots of reasons for someone to be overweight, of which failure of will is but one. And maybe not even one.

Snoskred said...

I wrote on my blog once about being forced to sit through a lecture in high school named "why fat people are dirty people".

http://www.snoskred.org/2006/11/politics-and-truth.html

I'm not stick thin, and I have no desire to be. I'm also not so heavy that it affects my health or prevents me from doing the things I want to do. I've got to a place where I'm ok with the outside but I've always been ok with the inside, and if people can't look past the outer shell that's their loss. ;)

I really love it when I come here and you say something that sticks with me, and I like that it happens the other way, too.

I think all of us has that demon on the inside who says things to us - with me it always points out women showing me their butt crack which I really have no desire to see. I know it's not always their fault, the fashion designers are to blame, and most people don't put on clothes and then bend over while standing with their back to the mirror trying to see if the crack is apparent. It's not something we test clothes for. We make sure other things are covered to our satisfaction and I bet if people knew how much of their butt I could see in those clothes, they'd be setting fire to them, possibly while still wearing them but I hope they'd take them off first. ;)

If we feel comfortable enough with the person we're with, often we will express those "demon" type thoughts. I've said things before that have been catty and possibly nasty, I think we all have done it. :) I will turn to The Other Half and ask him if he wants to post a letter, or if he has a spare coin I can stick in the slot. And I wonder, do these people not have good friends who want to tell them about their crack exposure?

Snoskred
http://www.snoskred.org/

crazymumma said...

The word fat, or overweight is not really used in our house. How do I say this? I want my girls to look beyond what anyone may look like and see the heart, the soul. Not an easy taske in a judgemental world.

The creed here is it matters not what a person looks like, it is who they are, how they behave, how they treat others and themselves that matters.

As for the Dove photo. Yes. I would say refreshing. Refreshing to see NORMAL women not overweight, but airbrushed nonetheless.

They still need to make it sell.

ewe are here said...

Ah yes, the Thomas books. What I think people don't realize is that they were written years and years ago, and 'the Fat Controller' wasn't an issue the way it would be if the books were written today. While I was a little startled to see 'the Fat Controller' over here as a character on a kids' tv show, too, I also had to think that to change it would be reacting solely for pc reasons. And I think that would bug me. Kind of like Huckleberry Finn arguments that come up rather frequently in the states. The book was written at a different time; why do we assume kids can't' figure it out (with a little help from their parents) re context and discuss accordingly?

I do agree that fat people and white men are a couple of the last bastions of society people feel justified in making fun of.

River said...

It's entirely possible that the woman in stripes simply doesn't see herself as fat or heavy or plump, or any other similar adjective. Maybe she just loves stripes and wears anything striped no matter which way the stripes go. Maybe, like me, she is so comfortable with her body and clothes she doesn't care what she looks like.

blooming desertpea said...

Yes, it applies to here, too. Body shapes have always been a topic to talk about. I guess it starts with puberty and we strangely never get out of it ...

I don't think what you said was thatbad. I was merely a thought, you were just wondering (and I wonder the same thing) and by uttering your question you were hoping to get an answer from the person with you. By saying that she could wear more suitable stuff you in fact accept that a certain amount of people is overweight, and that you find that ok. Of course, one could argue that everyone can wear what they want if they're confortable with it and that goes for the weight, too.

We could become even more philosophical by argueing - even you hadn't uttered your thoughts, you were still thinking it and maybe that would be the part you'd like to work on. Then again, if the time came when you wouldn't even notice maldressed people, that could be a thing of concern, too ...

ThomasLB said...

This is a side topic (at best), but I never thought those fashion tips really worked. A big person wearing vertical stripes doesn't look thinner, he just looks like a big person wearing vertical stripes.

mitzh said...

I think that it will always be a topic no matter where you came from. Body image these days are such a big deal. And it is quite saddening to be judged based on how you look...

Emily said...

I think it is a testament to how much I have changed living in another country that I am not bothered by the Fat Controller any more. I just cannot decide if I like that fact. He is not being insulted for being fat -- it is just a description. Is it bad to describe someone as fat, thin, tall, short, rotund, whatever, if there is no judgement?

capacious said...

Thin people wear crazy inappropriate clothes too and you can't help but say in your head, "What the heck were you thinking when you put that on?" It's more about clothing than weight - not all the time, but some of it.

When I was younger, people said things about my weight to me all the time. Now they don't. Why this is I don't know. Maybe they're afraid I'll knock them out.