Bill Maher is Shameful

Bill Maher used his platform and privilege to encourage people to fat shame on Friday night. As if fat shaming ever stopped, but I guess he wants it to be even worse? There is so much wrong in his rant and his ignorance is disgusting. Fatphobia is never okay and it needs to be shut down.

The first problem is he uses stereotypes to determine who is healthy and who is not. In his eyes, all fat people are unhealthy and only eat meat and dairy. He literally said that fat people are “killing not only themselves but the planet”  since farmers are burning the Amazon “to make room for future hamburgers”. As if only fat people eat hamburgers. (Plus, the Amazon fires are much more complicated than just creating space for cattle, but is rooted in capitalism, discrimination of indigenous people, and colonialism.) Later in his tirade, he said that we now “fit shame” by looking at a slender person and telling them to eat something, and equates the slender person with being fit and working out. There is no way to know if a slender person actually eats “healthy” and exercises by looking at them. There has been a problem with people saying this sort of thing to very thin people, but this type of body shaming is also discouraged in body acceptance circles.

Reality is, you can not tell a person’s health by looking at them. There are fit fat people, just like there are unfit thin people. Although Bill Maher exclaims science says that fat can’t be healthy, that is simply not true. Science actually says you can be fit and fat, plus science says you can’t lose weight and keep it off. Science says the overweight category of the faulty BMI system is often the healthiest body size. Science also says that shaming does nothing but cause more problems- since social pressure can cause stress which changes hormone levels and can lead to weight gain.

As a vegan who eats a ton of vegetables, it also made me mad that the stereotype of fatness is completely equated with eating meat and dairy. I am tired of people looking at my body and assume I eat those things. The problem is not my body, but societies stereotypes of what a vegan looks like, and what causes fatness. Body size is not a simple formula of just eating “like assholes” as Bill Maher says, and not exercising. 

By ignoring environmental impacts, genetics, societal stressors, and more, we are doing a disservice to people’s health of all sizes. In fact, it is not only a disservice, but it is also racist, homophobic, fatphobic, ableist, xenophobic, transphobic, sexist, etc. since all the marginalized identies are faced with more stressors and adversity than others, especially compared to a rich white cis man like Bill Maher.

No one has a moral obligation (or guarantee) of health, but we need to create true resources and openness to everyone who wants to attempt a healthier lifestyle. Currently there are so many roadblocks on the way to health for people, which often revolves around access that many people take advantage of. Access to fresh vegetables, access to affordable healthcare, access to parks, access to affordable gyms, access to a life without unconscious bias and daily microaggressions, access to a therapist, access to ways to cope with stress, etc. 

Health is so much more complicated than what we put in our bodies. Trying to simplify a person’s body size hurts not only that person, but society as a whole as well. Trying to place blame on fat people for things like climate change and the healthcare crisis just shows how ignorant people can be about this issue and relies on old stereotypes that are not only untrue, but harmful.

Society deserves better than having to listen to tirades like Bill Maher’s who asks for further persecution against people who are already discriminated against. Any person who asks for an entire type class of people to be shamed and treated poorly, needs to be shut down. This is a person not worthy of a public forum. Please turn him off!

The stress of being fat

Dealing with chronic stress is something I decided needed to be my top priority this year. I have anxiety and I know it is caused by not handling stress and processing my emotions effectively. And I have a lot of emotions. I get physical pains that I know are the results of stress on my body. It is always changing. Some things stay the same, but I also have a rotation of other weird issues that come and go. I know my mom has similar issues and I see how this affects her daily life and I don’t want that to be me in 30 years.

One thing that is important for me to recognize is the role fat bias has had on me. It is a form of chronic stress that I have been dealing with since I was a child. Then, it was being bullied about my size and made to feel different and not accepted. I was constantly trying to change myself and be thin so people would like me and I’d have a chance of having a boyfriend at some point in my life. Since of course I was taught that was not an option at my size, but don’t worry, I had such a pretty face. I was one of the most athletic children growing up, but I was never recognized for any of my physical achievements. I wasn’t really recognized for my educational achievements either, mostly I was just ignored unless it was to discuss my size.

When my mom would take me to the doctor, they constantly wanted to test my thyroid, and any other tests to try and figure out why I was my size. I didn’t really understand it all then, but I knew they were telling me my body was wrong and they were trying to find a way to fix it.

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Me as an awkward kid very excited about holding “Zoomber” who we rescued after his mom died. He lived with us for a year before going back to the “wild” of our yard and lived on happily. Moments like this, connecting with animals, is what got me through a difficult childhood.

Although my parents were mostly too busy to deal with me and my issues, dieting would come up on occasion and my mom was constantly trying to lose weight herself. My grandma was the worse, constantly criticizing what and how I ate when she was visiting. Sometimes it would become a Cinderella story. One time while visiting her, I was forced to do a gross chore of cleaning chicken waste off of boxes she had me dumpster dive from a local fast food restaurant. I have no idea what she used those waxed cardboard boxes for, but I didn’t want anything to do with them. Having no choice, I was at the side of the house hosing them off and being disgusted, while my cute little (thin) sister was playing not far away in the swimming pool with no responsibilities at all.

Besides personal experiences, there is also the constant barrage of media messaging I received that I was not good enough, no one would ever be attracted to me if I was fat, I must be unhealthy, I will remain all alone, I am unsuccessful, I am unaccepted, I must use all my energy to try and lose weight, I must spend all my time exercising, I am not allowed to enjoy a cupcake, if I ate a cookie I must not be trying enough, I must be eating wrong, there is [insert fad diet] that you must try, you are not worthy. Isn’t that exhausting? Doesn’t that sound stressful?!

 

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Although the image is adorable, the assumption that weight is directly related to food intake is problematic and wrong.

As an adult I am so fortunate to be able to find body and fat acceptance. But the reality is that does not change some of my conditioning. No matter what I am doing with my body, I worry it is not enough and that will cause me to die, since I grew up being told fat is a death sentence. This creates a domino effect where I worry about my health, get stressed out, think I am dying, my anxiety gets worse, my stress increases, and my body pain increases, then I try to do more exercises or new exercises, and then I get hurt, and can’t do as much, so then I worry more since I am less active and more in pain. Yikes! And if I go to a doctor, they usually concentrate on my weight and not my actual health issues. I will have to hear about my BMI, or that I refused to get my weight taken. I may hear lectures from doctors concerned about my size when they have not asked me a single question. The doctor knows nothing about me, besides my size, yet think they know my whole story (eat poorly and am not active). One doctor tried recommending to me to eat more vegetables and try walking 15 minutes a day. At the time I was biking over 15 miles a day and already ate a very vegetable abundant vegan diet. She never asked me anything about my lifestyle before making her recommendations. Luckily I currently have a good doctor who addresses my actual health concerns and takes good care of me. This was vital for me to address my chronic stress.

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I also worry that I am not worthy. I second guess friendships and relationships. The only ones I rely on 100% is those with non-human animals. I know their love is real and reliable. They were the only ones I could rely on growing up. I have experienced communities where I did not fit in nor was I valued because of my size. Feeling like an outsider in a community I should otherwise thrive in is so infuriating. My partner is great and supportive, but I still allow some doubt to slip in on occasion no matter how much I am shown otherwise.

There are other ways fat bias affects my everyday life and creates stress. Going places where I do not fit into the chair, having to squeeze by someone who does not provide enough space, watching a friendly cashier chat up the people before you in line but suddenly get quiet when they talk with you, online friends who assume you don’t know anything about exercise and explain things like you are a dummy, watching a friend’s friend fat shame others and then ended up at an event and having to share the same space without punching them. I will also bring up doctors again since fat bias is literally killing people. These extra stressors for fat people are very real. I recently watched Brene Brown’s vulnerability ted talk after someone suggested it, and even that contained the disrespectful “headless fatties” imagery and stereotypes that fat people is just the result of food addiction. I can’t catch a break since fat bias is everywhere!

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Finding body shaming and stereotyping in the vegan community is sadly common place and especially frustrating to me as a long time vegan who’s faced bias in activism.

Research supports the claim that people who are stigmatized and marginalized by society experience increased mental and physical health affects. There is a strong argument that a lot of the health issues fat people face is due to these fat bias stressors themselves. Everyone is so quick to blame fat for every and all health issues. What fat people actually need for health is acceptance, quality care, being listened to, and taking weight out of the equation. Personally, if I could walk through life without these constant reminders of how society does not accept me and stereotype me, I would be a much better off. I know anyone who says they are mean to me out of concern for my health is completely full of bullshit. It should be simple to show respect for every person and advocate for health at every size. Anything less than this is simply bigotry.

Can we take a moment to talk about chairs?

Last year my workplace moved offices and the new meeting rooms came furnished with tables and chairs. The chairs have basic metal frames with cloth, and sadly, arms. The arms of the chairs press against the sides of my upper legs when I am seated and it is incredibly uncomfortable. Every minute I sit in the chair I get more uncomfortable and find myself twisting and shifting to try and fit a better way so I won’t be squeezed. But the chair is simply too small for me. Please notice that I did not say that I am too big for the chair. The problem should never be my size, but those objects not made to accommodate larger sizes.

I decided to be brave and tell my boss that the chairs are not an option for me and it would be great if they looked into getting new chairs. My boss, although friendly and often takes suggestions well, is also thin and would never have to deal with a problem like this. She cannot truly understand the effect it can have on a person. I feel like fat acceptance in the workplace is often dismissed as a society and is not something I am comfortable asserting (yet). I do have a small “You are in a body-positive zone” flier pinned up in my cubicle, but no one has mentioned it yet.

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Small flier from Nalgona Positivity Pride.

My boss heard what I had to say and commented that other people complain about the chairs as well, but that was the last of it. I told many people about my distaste for the chairs and made it clear to some teammates that I could not use those chairs. I ended up bringing in two of the old office chairs into the main meeting room I use. I was so upset the first time I got to a meeting and those chairs were taken, especially since people I had confided in were using them. I thought for a second about forcing myself into discomfort, but then I went and looked for another chair. Having to find another solution is incredibly frustrating. Although people are not purposefully trying to make me uncomfortable, their ignorance hurts me. It puts me in an awkward position of having the play musical chairs to find something that fits, or harm myself with something that does not. Or speak up and make all of us incredibly uncomfortable and me wanting to cry. I just want to feel like an appreciated and accepted team member.

Of course the workplace is not the only place this is a problem. Going out to eat, going to the doctor, at a sporting event, and anywhere else you sit in public you’ll find similar challenges. I have also been guilty of this! Just because I can sit somewhere, does not mean other fat people can as well. I have body size privilege as well and need to think about accessibility in public spaces for my super fat friends and had to learn that the hard way. I was so embarrassed, but that doesn’t help my friend. I made sure to correct the situation, took accountability, and now use it as a lesson.

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An inaccessible chair at a doctor’s office.

Please check local establishments for their accessibility, especially when inviting a fat friend out. There are now apps for this! (At least it is being established.) You can check out Allgo and Amble for more information.

It is not hard to be thoughtful and make sure people feel welcomed and comfortable. A chair that provides support and doesn’t cause pain should be the bare minimum. My work story has a happy ending. I went to HR about the issue since I was so tired of having anxiety around meetings. They listened and was understanding and while they were already working to get new chairs, they fast tracked it. I was shocked that while I spoke with HR on a Tuesday, by the end of the week the meeting rooms had new chairs. Impressive! And this is how it should be.

“This is discrimination for smaller women”

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Modeling a dress I designed for Portland’s Modified Style in 2012. Photo by Michael Zaugg.

There shouldn’t be anything less controversial than a clothing swap, right? Especially when it is being held at a local co-op that is all about sustainability, only carries vegetarian foods and has lots of vegan options. There is reduced cost yoga, cooking classes, potlucks, and more community events that take place in this same space.

This clothing swap was posted publicly on facebook event as “Large Size Women/Femme Clothing Swap” and the descriptor originally said it went from size 14 to 2X. Already not inclusive enough, but there was a capacity limit to 25. This was supposed to be a monthly event and naturally the interested list got to be in the hundreds. The organizer decided to narrow down the sizing more because of this, and changed the sizing to just 14 to 1X. I guess that one size was just too much!

I was looking at the comments to see if I was imagining the size change since I would not have marked interested if it originally only went to 1X. I then noticed the comment, “This is discrimination for smaller women.” Sigh. The organizer commented that there is another swap for smaller sizes at another day and time. No mention of how ignorant the statement was.

You see, there is no such thing as discrimination against smaller women. Let me explain! Fat bias and discrimination is embedded in our culture. Statistics show that fat people make less money- if they can get a job in the first place since they have a difficult time being hired regardless of their qualifications. They are also subject to harassment in the doctor’s office, which often includes a lacking or wrongful diagnosis. That is if they can get past the stigma of visiting a doctor’s office that tends to be a hostile environment for fat people. This is just two examples that impact the lives of fat people. Living in a marginalized body means never getting a break from this bias so rampant in our culture.

Body shaming is always wrong. I know there are awful stories of thin people experiencing harassment because of their size as well. The ultimate goal of fat liberation includes acceptance of all bodies. Fat people are disproportionately affected from systemic oppression from a culture that celebrates thinness. Thin privilege exists. Thin people can fly in an airplane without worrying about fitting in the seat or having to pay extra, get proper health insurance coverage, have clothing availability with more stylish options, have medical issues treated directly, don’t have assumptions about their eating or activity habits, not see copious amounts of weight loss messaging telling them their bodies are considered unacceptable, and not being told you are a bad example of a vegan. Trying to say that thin and fat discrimination is the same diminishes the stigma fat people experience.

Back to the clothing swap story! So, another attendee also noticed this change in sizing. Well, I reached out to her to see if I was remembering correctly. Then she saw the ignorant comment and also got upset. She ended up commenting that the swap was already not inclusive enough of larger sizes and how it was frustrating for the sizing of the swap to be changed. I can’t quote exactly what she said because, guess what? Her comment was deleted!

So the organizer felt a comment about not having a swap for smaller sizes and called it reverse discrimination was okay, but a fat woman calling out this change in sizing was deleted without discussion. You know what that is? It’s fatphobia. I am sure the organizer did not set to treat the fat woman differently, but she did. She treated her comment as out of line, or unnecessary, or inappropriate. But a thin woman creating an unsafe space by calling the swap discrimination simply because it didn’t include her smaller body size that most clothing swaps are inclusive of, was okay.

I commented. I pointed out this fact. The organizer just said she was trying and creating the event is difficult and she can’t please everyone. Completely missing the point. She ended up saying she will learn and do better next time. I replied that she could delete the ignorant comment now, there is no need to wait.

Then the entire event disappeared! I did not set out to cancel this event, nor is it something I would have wanted. Asking for fat women to be treated fairly should not cancel an event, but if the organizer can’t handle that, then I guess it’s not an event people should be supporting.

Fragility is real and it hurts social justice. If we cannot discuss issues that affect our communities, we cannot make change. Even though I was angry, I was civil and respectful in my comments. No one should stay silent because an organizer is incapable of treating people equally. I know it is hard to be called out, or called in, but the truth is we all make mistakes and are unaware of the biases we carry. We need to be able to take criticism in order to progress our awareness and equality for marginalized voices. Otherwise, we are not truly creating an inclusive and trusting community.

 

Please note: I will also state that the clothing swap name was already not inclusive since there are many people who do not identify as a woman or femme who could have been interested in the clothing and have this clothing to trade. Also, anyone over the size of 3X are usually excluded from clothing swaps, even in fat communities, which is also something that is problematic and needs to be addressed. The amount of fat bias a person experience increases considerably with their body size. While I may be fat, I still have some privilege compared to my friends who self identify as super fat, for example.

My Fat Vegan Voice

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Swimming with my grandma while visiting her and my grandpa in Texas. I had a love/hate relationship with that pool since I loved to swim, but I didn’t love being in a swimsuit.

It’s sort of ironic that I want to tell my story, because I have a horrible memory. I don’t recall the first time I was called fat, or even the first time as a vegan I was targeted for being fat. But I do recall my whole life feeling ashamed and silenced for being fat. I do recall not fitting in because of my size. And I do remember experiences of fatphobia throughout my life. One of my earliest memories came back to me when I was looking back at childhood photos awhile back. It was a picture of me in a navy polka dot bathing suit enjoying a swim in my grandparent’s pool one summer in Texas.

In the picture I looked so happy. I was smiling, obvious laughing. I always loved being in the pool since it was such a freeing feeling. The lack of gravity of my body felt so good! That must have been the real before picture.

My grandma asked me to get out of the pool, so I did. She asked me to stand sideways and as a good granddaughter I did what I was asked. She then asked me to suck in my belly, tuck in my butt, and stick out my chest. So I did. It was a polaroid camera so after a few minutes she showed me the photos. One next to the other.

“Look how much better you look in this one” she explained. So proud to show me a version of myself that looked thinner. I didn’t fully comprehend at the time what she was trying to say, but I did know she was telling me that I was not good enough as I was. I did know that she wanted me to change. I did know I was a disappointment.

In vegan circles we talk a lot about compassion. My grandmother did not show me any. I was not accepted as who I was and it hurt. I think one reason why I was so open to veganism is because I knew what it felt like to not be understood or feel loved just as I was. It caused me to think about others differently. I knew compassion towards others was important, since the lack of it towards me was so challenging.

There are so many little and big ways that veganism and fatness connect in my world. There are also a lot of ways that they combat with each other, since fatness is so often heavily attacked in vegan communities and in fat acceptance communities, veganism is rightfully seen as not accepting body diversity (or any diversity for that matter). I hope to combat that.

This is just the beginning of my story, my voice. Do you have a voice you want to share? I would like to hear from other fat vegans! Please email me at fatveganvoice@gmail.com.