We Don’t Imagine It, We See It

Published March 26, 2012 by sleepydumpling

I noticed the old woman at the table beside me first. Watching every morsel of food I put in my mouth with a look of disgust on her face.

Then I notice the two guys in high vis vests, their hard hats on seats beside them, nudge each other and look my way.

So I sit back and start to observe people around me.

I’m sitting in the food court of a large suburban shopping centre, somewhere I rarely visit, on my lunch break from work. We’re working on a big new project due to open this week, which is a high pressure, messy environment, that I thought I’d take some time away from over my lunch break.

As I look around me, I would estimate that at least 90%, possibly more of the people here are not fat. There are a handful of we fatties, dotted around the place.

At the nearby McDonalds, there are about 20 people lined up. Only one of them is a fat person. Not an eyelash is batted at the not-fat people lined up, ordering their burgers, fries, chicken nuggets and shakes. However the fat man is attracting sneers and giggles, all eyes glance over him and none of them bother to hide their disgust, disdain or their ridicule. Even the people ordering burgers and shakes themselves are staring and sneering at the man, lined up at the very same fast food restaurant as they are.

This scrutiny and public judgement is nothing unusual for those of who live in fat bodies. Most of us are used to it, many of us ignore it, simply because it is nothing unusual. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t hurt.

Quite often we are told “You’re just too sensitive.” or “I think you imagine it.” On the rare occasion that someone who is not fat notices, they respond like its an anomaly, just the occasional rude jerk one encounters. Or they say “Just ignore it.” as if it is the singular occurrence of the day.

In my own case, I’m told that people sneer and stare because of my brightly coloured hair, tattoos and clothing. As if that is somehow a suitable excuse for their behaviour. But I can assure you that I got the stares and sneers back when I was a fat brown mouse, doing everything I could to be invisible to the world.

The truth is, in this “anti-obesity” culture, people are taught to sneer, stare and ridicule. They are taught that people like me are a scourge on society, that we are burden to humanity. You only need to look at the comments on my recent piece in The Hoopla (if you have the sanity points) to see someone refer to me (and people like me) as revolting, using up the public health system, slothful, idle and an overeater. Despite knowing nothing more about me than I have a fat body (though one claimed to know all about me from this blog, my twitter, though I think it’s my photos of myself as a fat woman she is judging me on) the judgement has been passed on my value as a human being.

Living with that amount of scrutiny and judgement is like physically carrying a load on your back. When you hear people referring to fat people as “struggling with their weight”, the reality is that our struggle is with the weight of society’s judgement and scrutiny, not with the weight on our bodies.

I can only speak for myself when I say that physically, I do not feel limited or as if I need to struggle to do anything in my fat body. But the pressure of being under constant scrutiny and subjected to the assumptions and judgements of complete strangers is a burden to bear. I am quite sure however that I am not the only one who feels like this.

What really bothers me are the double standards. Thin people who eat fast food are considered “lucky” that they are “naturally thin”, yet no matter what a fat person eats, by default they must be lazy and greedy, with denial and stupidity thrown in for extra measure. Nobody ever suggests that inverse to the lucky/naturally thin that humans can be unlucky/naturally fat. Nobody demands thin people who are sedentary and/or eat fast food (or a lot of food) change their lives and “get healthy” because they are “costing us money with their unhealthy habits” – quite the opposite, they’re cheered on for their habits. Two people, both living the same lifestyle, can have vastly different life experiences if one is thin and the other is fat.

These double standards and snap judgements of people’s value based on their body size don’t help anyone. They don’t make fat people thin, they don’t encourage healthy behaviours and they certainly don’t change the number of people needing health care in our society.

All they do is allow some people to feel superior to others, which to me, is a pretty screwed up way to look at the world.

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46 comments on “We Don’t Imagine It, We See It

  • And my husband wonders why I make myself a salad sandwich to eat before we go out to a dinner function where I sip on champagne, nibble on small dainty looking food items and refuse desert (with much regret).

  • This is something I still feel really conscious of when I go out into public. Because I was fatter when I was a teenager and I dressed super casually growing up in the country, when I moved to the City, suddenly I found people looking at me judgingly. Because you know, how dare a fat girl just wear a t-shirt and shorts! And eat a chocolate bar!

    I’ve slowly lost weight over the years, not by any real effort, and I’ve found I’m being looked at judgingly less and less but it’s still something I am actively conscious of because it was behaviour that was encountered every day for years. (Also maybe because I’m a constant people-watcher too!)

    It became more honed the more I spent time with you too. I’ve noticed people looking & sneering or subtly elbowing their friends to look at you and it makes me so mad. I don’t think I don’t think I’ve ever told you this but there have been times when we’ve been standing in line somewhere and I’ve noticed people behind you sneering either at your sheer audacity to be all fat up in the place or maybe your hair and tatts (though I tend to think it’s hidden envy) and my blood has started to boil. I can feel the adrenalin rising and I’ve fixed them with a glare as piercing as I can and maybe a challenging eyebrow raise until they notice me looking at them and they shift their glance! :D

    The self-righteousness of some people is so angry-making and absurd.

    • I notice Toots. I notice pretty much every time, but I choose to ignore it almost all of the times. But while I hate that you have to deal with it as part of being my friend, one of the things that makes you so special is that you see these things, you don’t stay ignorant to it.

  • Your piece is very close to my heart. Both my Mum and Sister were considered to be overweight and I was ‘lucky’ enough to have the skinny gene. I too saw first had growing up eating out how people wouldn’t take a second look if I were to order a burger however if my Mum or Sister did then I saw people laughing and sniggering! I don’t understand how people can be so crewl or ignorent!

    Thank you for sharing and just know not all people are judging xo

  • wow, i have been working on a blog post about just this thing. I find that I rarely go out anymore.except for grocery or doctor appointments and even when I do, I walk round in a dissociative fog which insulates me from some if the hatred. Even when there is a fat friendly event in NYC, I don’t get there because the commute back and forth to the event is more than I care to deal with (hence skipping the last two NAAFA conventions) Coming to terms with this has been emotionally paralyzing. I just don’t have the sanity points to discuss why I will not discuss intentional weight loss with folks who are outside of the paradigm of HAES(tm) I am also still haunted by the old belief system which blames me for not trying hard enough. anyway, I feel really stuck in the problem and I do not have a solution nor am I soliciting here for one… I just feel that this blog post about all the judgement and hatred is where my head is at and I am disheartened and staying home is just easier and safer for me right now.

    • That’s so heartbreaking! And it shows how fat hatred is actually taking lives – in the sense that days, months and years go by where people like us don’t live their lives like they want to.
      In my past there’s a wast amount of time spent not living, experiences not being had, streches of time filled with unlived life. The version of me that would have lived that life and had those experiences was killed by a judgemental society.
      But there is hope and for me it started with deciding that I would take my life back and live it, visibly and in the middle of events. I’m not all there yet, but at least now I feel more often that I’m living instead of observing.
      I hope you find what you want and need to live as you want to as well!

      • thanks one thing my gut tells me is to be gentle with myself and let this process unfold without too much self hatred or self inflicted pity or what not.

        I try to focus of the stuff I have to be grateful for and I try to “act as if” relief and/or inspiration is coming my way even when I sometimes fear in my heart that I am done trying to dig myself out of the isolation and self inflicted hermitage.

        One good sign is that I am commenting more on the blogs and have been drafting some posts for my blog….

    • I can sympathize. Between being fat in NYC and having social anxiety, I often don’t feel like going out. It’s exhausting to have one’s defenses up constantly.

    • Ivan it’s lovely to see you commenting here again.

      It’s just simply not right that this happens to people because we don’t fit into some stupid, arbitrary measure of “normal”. I wish I could hook you up with some locals to travel with you to help boost your confidence.

  • Thank you for this. My husband is an amazing, supportive man in every way but one. I suffer huge anxiety in public and also have clinical depression. When I feel someone staring at me or judging me for my weight, he insists gently that I’m just being paranoid. After showing him this article I think he understands how much that hurts a little more.

    It opened up a great dialogue between us and this is a great post to help people understand a little more.

  • Living in the Midwest, I my daily experience as an obese woman is generally to be ignored. As I’ve gone from 20-something plump girl to a mid-30s woman with no waist, I’ve become invisible, and not just to men. But since half the people here are over-weight, I rarely encounter the judgement and disdain described above. I wonder if it would be less disheartening if I could give dirty looks back at rude people rather than being unable to even catch their glance. *shrug*

  • Thank you for writing this. I have always been fat and my niece, in second grade, is slightly over the average weight for her age. Her mom, my sister in law, has always been very thin and she was telling me how she ‘just tries to ignore’ body image/body size discussions around my niece in order to avoid any negative feelings. I told her straight up that ignoring it at home will only reinforce all the negative messages she is getting (will be getting) from her peers, and society. I told her she’s GOT to give my niece the tools for self-love and acceptance rather than just ignore her size. As a thin person my sister in law just doesn’t understand how horrible it could be for my niece in this world, with all the hate and shame and ridicule she will likely encounter. I know it very personally and I shudder to think that my niece is not getting the love and acceptance at home that she should be.

  • People don’t even seem to notice this phenomenon when it’s written down in black and white.

    A few months ago, I was reading the memoirs of Gesine Bullock-Prado (pastry chef and sister of movie star Sandra Bullock) and she discussed in there how she struggled for a while mentally with the morality – her word, not mine – of owning a bakery that specialized in sweet cakes, pies, candy, and pastries during an obesity epidemic. Then she came to the conclusion that since her customers weren’t fat, she wasn’t doing anything wrong.

    I mentioned this passage in disgust to a good friend… who is so mired in the dominant paradigm about weight that she just nodded and said that sounded reasonable to her!

    That makes me wonder what would happen if a fat person dared to walk through Bullock-Prado’s door and ask for cake. Would she throw me out and shutter her business, even though I’d never had a single bite of her pastry? Or would she blame me for being fat and go on selling her sweet, sugary treats to her local thin customers?

    All I know is that she has already decided that I’m an epidemic, so I don’t need to eat her pastries.

    Guess I’ll stick to eating the ones I make. And I’ll share them with anybody who wants them and treats me with respect, fat or thin, tall or short, any color of the rainbow, any sexual/gender orientation they happen to identify as, any religion or none at all… I don’t care. If you treat me like a person, you’re welcome at my table.

    • Twistie that is some seriously messed up thinking – and such a double standard – from Bullock-Prado! By her thinking, food causes the obesity epidemic, but not her food in her neck of the woods. What, does she have magic powers in her cooking??

  • Because of this, over the last few years, I relish eating in public. Perhaps because there’s a side of me that loves to get people all riled up over nothing, if they’re willing to do so. It’s like a trick on them. They’re all worked up over me, and I’m busy enjoying a delicious sandwich or whatever it is I’m eating. If they’re that bigoted, they deserve to have their day ruined by seeing someone fat eating in front of them. I hope it ruins their whole afternoon so they feel sick. Let their superiority complex make them sick. It is what they deserve.

  • “When you hear people referring to fat people as ‘struggling with their weight,’ the reality is that our struggle is with the weight of society’s judgement and scrutiny, not with the weight on our bodies.”

    OMG yes. This. And it’s breathtaking to me when I realize (again and again) just how much of this judgment I have internalized, and I have to consciously step back, and set it down, and walk away from it.

    Theresa Bakker
    The Fat Personal Trainer
    http://www.biggirlsworkout.com / bigguysworkout.com

  • “When you hear people referring to fat people as “struggling with their weight”, the reality is that our struggle is with the weight of society’s judgement and scrutiny, not with the weight on our bodies.”

    This post, and particularly the above quote, ring true in my life. The crazy thing about being shamed in public for being fat is that it happens regardless of whether you are eating dessert or vegetables or engaging in healthy behaviors such as riding a bicycle or working out at the gym. In other words, we fatties will be punished no matter what we do.

    In light of this, we have to remember that society is wrong on this issue, just as it is on so many others. Society is wrong – not your fat.

    • This is so true. I was once sitting waiting for a tram (streetcar- we have lots of them here in Melbourne), eating a banana, waiting to head home with a bag full of vegies and fruit bought from the market. A woman came up and told me off, and told me I shouldn’t be eating it – the banana! OMG – I was so gob-smacked I couldn’t actually reply. Nothing quite like being fat while outside the house to attract attention, or perhaps it’s just being fat while breathing that offends them so much.

    • You’re absolutely right thefatlibertarian – no matter what you do, that judgement and scrutiny is there. It proves it’s not about our health or wellbeing, it’s about the need to feel superior that many people have.

  • I can only apologize for humanity that such disgusting fat hating behavior exists. I hope that such inappropriate, unwanted scrutiny didn’t prevent you from enjoying your meal.

    It’s beyond unfair that fat people are meant to feel as if they’ve no right to consume food in public. It’s no one’s business but your own about how, what, and where you choose to eat. Anyone that says differently can shove it.

  • I guess I’m lucky to be naturally oblivious. If anyone’s getting their entertainment by watching me in public, I haven’t noticed.

  • Thank you for writing this! Sometimes I can get convinced or even convince myself that I’m just imagining things or that it’s better to let things slide. It feels horrible being “that person who makes a big deal out of things”, but equally horrible to just let people be mean to me or others, so it’s a no-win situation.
    The other day I actually tracked down the phone number of a guy who whistled at me while driving by. Of course I couldn’t prove it, but I knew his whistle was ironic, to have a laugh on my expence with his his friend in the passenger seat. So I wrote down his license plate number and from that you can get the car owners name and adress (at least in Norway you can). And I sent him a text saying it was cowardly and that I didn’t appreciate it.
    It was scary and i felt silly, but I had promised myself that’s what I would do the next time someone made fun of me while driving by. He answered with a half assed apology, but at least now he knows that actions like that sometimes have consequences.

    BTW, “Living with that amount of scrutiny and judgement is like physically carrying a load on your back. When you hear people referring to fat people as “struggling with their weight”, the reality is that our struggle is with the weight of society’s judgement and scrutiny, not with the weight on our bodies.” – I want to print that sentence on cards and hand them out to people.

  • I thought you looked great when I saw you yesterday at the opening, your hair especially :)

    Keep on keeping on, Kath: you’re an inspiration in many ways for many different people, myself included.

  • I would love to congratulate you for not being a ‘brown mouse’. I feel the same way. Further, I would like to let you know that over the last few weeks you’ve been something of an inspiration to me! Yes, you! Here I am all the way over in Australia and I get invited to an 80s party. “An 80s party!” I think, “I’m twice the size I was in the 80s, what the HELL am I going to wear?” So I do some googling and I happen upon an idea – but it’s waaaaay out there and I don’t know if it will work. Will I look stupid? Will I look fat?

    The idea is to wear a tutu. Thing is, I’ve wanted a tuto since I was four years old and my Mum told me I wasn’t old enough but I could have one when I grew up. I never got one. I’m 53 now, I reckon if I’m not grown up enough for a tutu now, I never will be! But, could a large lady like me wear a tutu?

    So I did a google image search and who came up but YOU looking amazingly GORGEOUS in the tutu your friend made you. I nearly skipped around the room. If she can do it, so can I!

    So I ordered yards and yards and yards of tulle from America (it’s cheaper over there) and, this morning, set about making my own. Your photo was a fabulous guide as to the right length. A couple of hours later it was done. I showered, got made up, did my hair, put on my black leggings and black t-shirt and a pair of high-heeled patent leather shoes and pulled on my new frou-frou tutu and – guess what – I looked GORGEOUS!

    Originally, I intended just to wear it as a ‘costume’ to the 80s party, but the week after I have to go to a ‘gala dinner’ in Melbourne – at an event packed with famous and important people. And, you know what? I’m going to wear the damned tutu. (Although I’ll leave off the pink leg warmers!)

    And some people will point and say, “Look at the fat lady in the tutu!” and some will say, “What is she THINKING?” But I’m going to think, “I LOVE this tutu, and I feel beautiful, and if you don’t like it, well too bad.” And I think some people might just say – as I did after seeing you, “WOW! If she can wear a tutu, maybe I can too!”

    See, you did good – and you didn’t even know it!

    Thank you!

  • As a fatty who has a metabolic condition (reason, not excuse), I totally sympathise with this blog. From the final onset of the condition until it’s diagnosis was torturous, frustrating 15 years. I even had doctors dismiss my pleas for help, pre-diagnosis, and literally tell me to “Eat Less, Exercise More” when I went for help after actively trying to loose weight for 6 months and gaining a clothing size (in Australia that means 2 clothing sizes as Female Adults clothes only come in even sizes) instead.

    At that point I decided to screw it all and to enjoy life because it didn’t matter what I did I was going to plateau and gain weight when I did. I also stopped weighing myself, because that was only going to put me on the road of misery. And the stares, the open comments, the abuse hollered out by strangers has taken it’s toll over the last 25 years

    While I subscribe to the Healthy at all Sizes philosophy, I am currently on a campaing to loose weight simply because my knees have developed arthritis and need to be shifting around less weight. I also have an increabably sympathetic and supportive husband who doesn’t care what size I am so long as I am healthy and happy.

  • I took a stand today over a throw away comment about not getting fat from a friend, I figured if I can’t do it in a safe space to someone I trust then I’ll never be able to speak up to random people. One person in the room decided I was reading too much into the comment and ‘projecting my own issues’ and that it was all in my head. >.<

    I messaged my friend privately to make sure he understood my position and he gets it, he also knows that I don't eat that much, mainly 'cause he can eat up to 4 times what I do at times and stay lean, he is more active than me, but he's also built differently and accepts me for me – I wasn't in the mood for a full teaching moment, but at least my friend will think about throwing out comments about weight without thinking about them.

    Your blog is one of the things that has empowered me. I have met a lot of people online and have recently come out to a couple of them as 'fat', it went much better than I expected. Thank you
    <3 Pyx

  • I reckognize this too. Not too long ago, I went to a meditation workshop. I was the first to be there, along with some guy I didn’t know. When he approached me for greeting, the first thing he said was ”SHOULDN’T YOU START LOSING WEIGHT??” before he even said hello.

    I was so dumbfounded, I stammered ”I guess” and he then started to rant about the sandwich I was eating and how I clearly couldn’t withstand ”temptations”..

    I was sooo angry afterwards, at myself for not standing up for myself, and at the guy for being the rudest person I ever met. Like a troll in real life. I didn’t even know him at all!

  • Thankyou so much.

    I have been following your blog for a while, and as someone who has always struggled to deal with my body, and as someone was ridiculously thin and is now fat, I find such power in your words.

    Best of all, I love your fuck-off attitude (did I tell you, you rock!).

    Next time someone diminishes all my extraordinary achievements with a comment about what a pity it is that I am not thinner, I will think of this blog, look them in the eye, and say, ‘what the fuck is it to you? Because it’s MY body!’

    Thankyou once again for saying what I have felt for a while but couldn’t articulate,

    Big Aussie cheers
    KIrsty

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