What My Weight Doesn't Tell You

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[content note: fat phobia/fat shaming/disordered eating]

This evening, prompted by a joke about Rush Limbaugh that made the rounds, my twitter feed ended up discussing the varied ways in which fatphobia affects people. It seems a lot of people – even self-professed liberals and progressives – don’t get that body snark is never okay, precisely because it denies the person’s humanity and individuality and pulls the focus away from criticizing their ideas. It’s like when people make sexist jokes about Sarah Palin or racist jokes about Obama – fat jokes about people like Rush Limbaugh, Chris Christie, Barney Frank, or Rosie O’Donnell should be off the table.

These jokes are often predicated on the misapprehension that 1. A person somehow gives up a right to dignity when they exist as a fat person, and 2. A person’s body is fair game in a debate, especially if you don’t like them. But a person’s weight tells you literally nothing about that person as a human being, other than that they weigh a certain amount and it is distributed a certain way upon their body frame.

Weight doesn’t tell you, for example, the person’s eating habits or self-control. There’s a popular meme that fat people are just lazy folks who lack the ability to say no to bad food – this unfortunately does the double duty of proscribing a moral value on food and perpetuates an evil stereotype about people. But it's not even close to true. I have low blood sugar, which means I always carry some kind of snack with me and can often be found – like a Brad Pitt movie character – chowing down on some type of nuts, granola, or pretzels. My weight tells you absolutely nothing about what I eat or how often.

In a related stream, weight cannot tell you where or not a person has an eating disorder. Jokes about a fat person wearing a shirt saying “I beat anorexia,” for example, erase people who are heavy and struggle with disordered eating or bulimia. When the face of eating disorders is the super-skinny person with their ribs showing, we ignore that the root of disordered eating is not always weight loss, but a disordered attempt to control in the midst of chaos, which affects people of all sizes.

Likewise, weight doesn’t tell you a thing about a person’s health or physical fitness. There are people who weigh 100 pounds more than I do who have no problem running several miles a day or lifting a ton of weight. If you assume that just because of my weight that I am healthier than say, my brother, who lifts weights and plays soccer on a regular basis? You’d be assuming very wrong. I can’t even walk up to my apartment (on the fifth floor) without gasping for breath.

Additionally, the weight = unhealthy assumption can cause deadly errors in medical diagnoses. When fat people are judged as unhealthy solely on the basis of their weight, doctors – yes, doctors – have the tendency to totally ignore other causes of ongoing illnesses and instead ascribe it to the weight. As a result, it takes longer for people to find a diagnosis, for people to fix ongoing issues, and they end up struggling for years trying to lose weight only to find that this prescribed solution is impossible because of underlying conditions that a doctor didn’t bother to check for (this has happened to friends of mine).

This list is far from comprehensive. Mainly my point is this: stop making jokes about people’s weight. The only ass you’re revealing there is your own.