If you follow me on my Fat Heffalump Facebook page, you may have seen this article I posted yesterday. Photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has documented the reactions of people around her, a fat woman, in public. If you go to Haley’s page, you will see the full suite of photographs called Wait Watchers as she documents people laughing at her, sneering, and generally just being douchey.
Now I don’t advocate reading the comments on PetaPixel articles (actually, on any articles about discrimination and bigotry for that matter), but I did, and I also saw them elsewhere, suggesting either that Haley just captured “general expressions” (not necessarily aimed at her) or that perhaps they weren’t deriding her because of her weight but because of the way she dressed (which is no different than most of the thin people around her – only fat people are considered “sloppy” in shorts and a top), her looks, or as one said “Those people aren’t looking at her because she’s fat! It’s because she’s doing x, y, z. But if she doesn’t want to be ridiculed in public, maybe she should lose some weight.”
Regardless of the reason why people behaved like they did, they were behaving in a judgemental manner, and judging her negatively, which their expressions and behaviour showed.
Well, I can tell you now, I have further proof to add to Haley’s testimonial of the derisive surveillance fat people are under. Because some time ago, I engaged in an experiment with Stocky Bodies photographer Isaac Brown, where I spent time in the Queen Street Mall here in Brisbane doing things that I am normally likely to do in public, as anyone else is (reading, using my phone, eating a salad, eating an ice-cream) and Isaac blended into the crowd and photographed people’s reactions to me.
Before anyone says “But it’s because you have bright pink hair!” let me address that. Firstly, lots of people have bright coloured hair these days. But many of them are not ridiculed in the street. I am a fat woman with pink hair, I get a very different reaction from Jo Public than a thin woman with pink hair. Secondly, I currently have my natural hair colour (dark brown with a bit of grey) and I get the same treatment no matter what colour my hair is. Just two days ago I spotted a guy on the opposite train platform to the one I was standing nudge the woman next to him, point me out (brown hair, tattoos covered up, wearing quite a conservative dress and plain ballet flats) and they both laughed at me. When they realised I had seen them pointing me out and laughing, they both clearly knew they had been busted by me.
And finally, do people with pink hair or any other bright, bold appearance deserve to be ridiculed in the street? No they do not.
Others suggest people stare because “You look awesome Kath!” People do not scowl, laugh derisively, or have expressions of disgust at people they find awesome. They do not nudge and point. When people find me awesome, and yes, some do, they smile at me. They pass and say “I love your hair!” Their faces are open and friendly, not closed and hostile. Believe it or not, fat people are emotionally intelligent enough to be able to distinguish between negative and positive reactions to them.
I asked Isaac to send me some of the photos he took, so that I could share them with you. You will see quite clearly that these are not the expressions of people who are thinking “That pink haired, fat lady is awesome!”
As you can see, it’s not just a phenomena that Haley Morris-Cafiero experiences. I do too, as do many other fat people who spend time in public places.
But what is most offensive is the routine denial of those experiences, as though we are either imagining the stares, disapproving/disgusted looks, the nudging and pointing and laughter, or they are somehow our fault. Having our experiences dismissed is actually part of the systematic oppression of fat people. Portraying us as overly sensitive, or imagining the way we are treated is also a form of abuse. It labels us as “deluded” or emotionally damaged. It is ironic, many of us do have emotional damage, not because we are fat, but because of the way society treats us as fat people, which includes the regular dismissal of our experiences.
The thing is, it’s not just me that notices the way people behave towards me in public. It affects my relationships with others as well. I have had a boyfriend leave me because he couldn’t handle being subjected to so much derision from strangers (yes, I am aware that I am better off without such a man!) and it often diminishes the enjoyment of time out with friends, because they see how people behave towards me and because they care about them, it upsets them and makes them angry, as they want to defend me and respond to the general shittiness of strangers behaviour. Not to mention that even though I’m mostly pretty thick skinned about it, some days it gets too much for me and affects my mood – it’s hard to relax and have fun with your friends when you are being subjected to the kind of derision and judgement shown in the photographs above.
It is sadly just another example of the way fat people are viewed as inferior in our society. Not only do we “deserve” the vilification, ridicule and judgement, but if we acknowledge it, we are viewed as irrational, over-sensitive or deluded.
If you are experiencing these things, you are NOT irrational, over-sensitive or deluded. Your feelings and experiences are valid, and you are not alone.
Note: Any comments denying my or anyone else’s experience with judgement and ridicule in public will be marked as spam and have you blocked from commenting. You are welcome to state that you are fortunate enough to have not experienced it, but DO NOT suggest that I or anyone else is imagining our experiences, as you will be doing exactly what I call out in this article.