Stares, Sneers and Snickers

Published February 14, 2013 by Fat Heffalump

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.”

Wait, what?

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!”


Some people just stare.

Sometimes I'm stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Sometimes I’m stared at by multiple people, not connected to each other.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

Some people show their disapproval quite clearly on their faces.

It's not just women that stare either.

It’s not just women that stare either.

Even "nice little old ladies" stare and grimace at me.

Even “nice little old ladies” stare and grimace at me.

Some don't even bother to hide their laughter.

Some don’t even bother to hide their laughter…

... until their companions stare too.

… until their companions stare too.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Nor do they hide their disapproval.

Even sunglasses don't hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

Even sunglasses don’t hide their disgust at the sight of a fat woman eating in public.

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.


90 comments on “Stares, Sneers and Snickers

    • Thank you Jenna. I bleach the bejeebus out of it and then use Fudge crayon colour in Raspberry Beret. It starts off a kind of magenta until I wash it twice and then it goes that vibrant pink. Though not everyone gets as strong results from Fudge.

  • Oh Kath, my mouth just dropped open looking at those pictures and the expressions on people’s faces.:-( It reminded me of films I’ve seen about apartheid. It’s appalling that you and others are subjected to this. I do not understand people.

    • You know Joanne, that’s the thing… it gets even worse when you factor race, disability, gender etc in. I don’t doubt that there are those who experience it even worse than I do.

  • I get the stares too. I have had people stop in their tracks, with mouth hanging open staring. I started venturing back into public last year. I finally bought a wheelchair, a massive looking thing which my husband pushes me in. It was so hard to sit there are be subjected to the gawking and at times laughter. My husband gets quite defensive and has been known to say “Take a picture it lasts longer”. Me, I cringe and my gut curls up inside. But then sometimes I get brave and think fuck them, I can go whete I want when I want and if people want to make comments or sneer or stare that’s their issue, not mine.
    I’m not 100% confident yet but hope to be one day. Thanks Kath I love your photos.

    • Jan I’m sorry you suffer this rudeness too. And yes, I have had people do that whole slack-jawed gawp at me too! I often use the “Take a picture it lasts longer” line too! Or “Have you had a good look pal?”

      Remember my dear friend, the problem is not yours, it is theirs for being such judgemental arseholes.

  • Its one thing i absolutely hate, being pointed and stared at in public by random strangers. I get it at the shops (i’ve had a couple of jerks film me while i was getting my kids and the shopping in the car), i’ve had teenage boys walk past and say stuff, or laugh. I’ve had teenage girls snigger behind their hands. Most of the time I just stare at them, or flip them off, to let them know they’ve been caught. A few times, when the little itty bitty teen girls have said something particularly nasty, I’ve commented out loud, ‘I’d rather be me and fat, than look like you’. I had one lady abuse me because my 4 yr old had just had some chocolate ice cream (shared with her bigger brothers), and I should be feeding her fruit or else she’d end up like me. She even asked if my daughter knew what a banana was! My kids are the healthiest kids i know! I’m lucky my kids haven’t noticed the stares or the nasty comments. It would probably humiliate them more than it does me. I guess they’re still young enough to not notice. My partner doesn’t notice really, but that’s because he’s not really used to it all. and because i guess im hyper primed for it to occur. I would be great if people could look past the outer shell and see our gooey centres. They might never expect what they’ll find.

    • Nicole I’m infuriated for your sake. How dare people treat you like that, and make judgements like that just based on your appearance. What arseholes there are in this world.

      And don’t get me started on being photographed/filmed… happens to me all the time!

    • Nicole, that is harassment! Those people should be charged by the police. It is unacceptable to make sexual or racist comments so why should this be any different? You should take their picture and tell them you are going to post it on a Global Douchbag Website (doesn’t exist but it should). Sorry, I’m just a little mad. It’s especially upsetting because of your children.

  • I must admit it’s fear of these type of reactions that makes me avoid eating in public. I don’t go to restaurants by myself because I don’t want the judgement. I eat alone at my desk or wait until I get home. You, my dear, are much braver than me. People are such assholes.

    • I used to be the same Hugh, I never ate in public, or even in front of friends or colleagues. It took a lot of work to get to the point where I can. It’s still difficult though, I constantly catch people making comment, and I still get harassed for it.

      I just keep reminding myself that the problem does not lie with me, but with the douchebags who think they have the right to police other people’s lives.

  • I know for a fact this phenomenon isn’t made up or exaggerated. I would definitely never doubt anyone who said they experience this.

    I’m dating a man who’s pretty big (I am 5’1″ and of a much smaller body-frame, so there’s a lot of contrast when we go out together) and he doesn’t get a lot of overt shouting or namecalling, but there are a lot of stares and double-takes. Most hurtfully, I took him to my company’s Winter Gala last weekend and all my coworkers were very friendly to his face after the initial double-take and snicker, but on Monday I got the full load of “Oh, your boyfriend seems nice but he should really lose some weight,” or “How long have you guys been together? Why don’t you get him to work out?” or “Wow, I didn’t know he looked like that, he looks less fat in pictures.” So far I have been too stunned to respond in any kind of polite or incisive fashion. I think he looks perfect the way he is, and am always saddened when people don’t treat him and people who look like him with respect and courtesy. Especially behind their backs.

    • I’d say exactly that Premee “I think he looks perfect the way he is, and I’m always saddened when people don’t treat him and people who look like him with respect and courtesy.” Say that to them and see how their faces fall!

  • Ah yes, the ‘it isn’t happening you oversensitive cow… but if it is happening, it’s your fault for being visible’ double-pronged argument of shaming. My personal fave, you know.

    Funny thing, I hear it directed at Mr. Twistie a lot when he notes that he gets treated appallingly by some people because they can’t quite work out his ethnicity, but they know it’s something scary. I know some people are scared of him (and he’s really one of the gentlest people on the planet!) because he’s tall and wears his hair long with mutton chop sideburns and a bristly moustache and tends to dress all in black with a beret and a leather jacket. But you know what? He gets the same panicked rabbit and angry responses when he’s out in a suit and tie and actively smiling, too. Just a very tiny percentage less.

    So some friends who haven’t seen the prejudice in action tell him it isn’t really happening. Some who do see it tell him he could make it all go away if he cut his hair and wore happier colors (nope, doesn’t work, I’ve seen it happen when he’s cut off his pony tail, shaved off his sideburns, and gone out in tie-dye or in an Italian suit with a blue shirt). I have to admit that in the early days of our relationship, even I questioned quietly whether it happened as much as he said it did. But I held my tongue and observed for a while. Guess what? It was happening. It still happens. I’ve been in the car with him when police have followed him all across town. I’ve been in the store with him when people take one glance and hurriedly change direction and moments later, security started ‘subtly’ keeping an eye on him. I’ve heard people lob racist taunts at him… most of which, ironically enough, are as inaccurate as they are offensive because most people can’t immediately identify his correct ethnicity, so they assume it’s whatever isn’t quite white, isn’t quite black, and scares the shit out of them.

    At least when I started hearing taunts lobbed at me for being fat, Mr. Twistie never once questioned my experience. All he’s ever done is support me. He’s a hell of a guy.

    Oh, and the nastiness? Is not his fault. It’s the fault of the narrow-minded, judgemental douchebags being nasty.

    • One of these days I will get back to the US to hang out with you and Mr Twistie. You sound like my kinda people.

      It’s funny, but even though the photos above were taken by Isaac (and I also had Lauren Gurrieri with me as well, who took some photos and video, and witnessed the derision too), people STILL tell me I am imagining it. I didn’t even see most of the people in the photos above, I was concentrating on what I was doing, but Isaac DID and captured them.

      Aye caramba!

  • I’ve very literally had to make a conscious effort to become unaware of the reactions of people around me. Also, I tend to do my shopping and such at times when not too many people are out. It may be cowardly, but it’s the way that I can deal with things. Otherwise I’d become too depressed to function.

    • I’m the same way. I sort of block out the other people whereever I go. I know if I don’t, it will be a long while before I have the courage to leave my home again. While I so wish none of this public cruelty were real, at least hearing it from you all and seeing visual evidence of it makes me feel validated. Because I, too, always heard that I was just being overly sensitive or paranoid. Sadly, I wasn’t.

      • Me too. I purposely avoid eye contact, especially when I am feeling particularly vulnerable, like at the gym. I know that I sometimes will project onto other people and imagine they are staring when they aren’t, but more often than not, they are staring.

  • Thank you so much for posting this.

    I’ve had this shit happen to me for YEARS and constantly told it was all in my head by my thin friends. Then by my family, “It’s because of how you dress!”

    But then I saw I got the same exact bullshit wearing jeans or sweatpants and wearing my hair its natural color and long-ish. Even when I was a size 12/14, I STILL GOT THAT SHIT.

    I know exactly what it’s like to get the stares of derision like the ones photographed, just for existing in the same space as these close-minded assholes.

    But the way I see it, if I’m going to get morons staring at me anyway, I may as well dress however I want and dye my hair whatever color I please!

    • Whether it’s how we dress, what we look like or our size doesn’t matter. Nobody deserves to be ridiculed in public by strangers (or anyone else for that matter. And as you say, dressing conservatively doesn’t change it. As I mentioned, at the moment I have my natural hair colour (dark brown with a bit of grey) and as it has been so hot, I’ve been fairly simply dressed. It hasn’t lessened the derision at all.

  • Ah I needed this today-this wasn’t my experience exactly but the denial that this stuff happens WAS. I was furious that some folks for denying my experience (although they weren’t there).

    I wish I did not have to thank you but I am glad you have documented this-

  • A couple of years ago, at my mother’s funeral (which was, by far, traumatic enough on its own), as I was approaching the door to the funeral home a man who was coming out of the building jumped aside and threw his arms up and said “Wow Big Momma coming through! Everybody make room for the giant lady!” These things do not happen that often to me (probably because I have become agoraphobic and rarely go out) but at my lowest point in life, they did. And it was completely devastating to me. Unfortunately, I will never be surprised at how hateful people can be.

    • I can’t even imagine what kind of horrible person has a mind like that. It’s terrible to say that at any time of day or anywhere but at a fucking FUNERAL? I mean, how horrid and small minded can a person possibly be?

  • Your post about Haley’s work yesterday was so validating and saddening. Its like you know its going on around you, but no one is going to acknowledge it, and, as Twistie so eloquently said, “…it isn’t happening you oversensitive cow… but if it is happening, it’s your fault for being visible’. These photos are hard evidence of the disgust that some people harbor for fatties. My wife and I are at a big ol’ fuck you, world, sort of a place with it having seen these faces. We deal with it differently. I’m inclined to make things as awkward as possible for the person expressing prejudice. She’s inclined to just get the hell out. Both are totally valid. I’ve completely had it with people intruding into my life with their shitty opinions about me that are based in fear, mostly, and expressed as hatred. I’d rather be feared than fucked with. You know?

    • Amee you do what works for you. I am a combination of both, depending on how many sanity points I have that day. It sucks that we have to do anything, but we and our needs are more important than some douchecanoe on the street who is projecting hate.

  • I clearly remember these looks when I was a very small child and they were directed at my mother. People don’t notice the kids. They would try to hide their judgement and pointing and snickering laughs from my mom, but they didn’t care if the kids (me and my bro) saw them making fun of mom.

    Looking back on it, this experience of seeing the stigma against my mother’s body, was a huge part of my own body loathing and fear as I got older and bigger. I hated myself…but I didn’t really hate myself, I hated the way people treated me because of my body, and that felt like hating myself.

    Thank God for the freedom-giving wisdom of size acceptance!

    Keep up the good work, Kath!

    ps. Pink-haired fat girls RAWK!!

    • Thanks Duckie – I’m going back to pink in the next week or so, when I finally have enough hair to bleach and dye again!

      That’s the heartbreaking thing isn’t it? Not only are these people being shitty to the victim, but kids notice this stuff. Not just the victim’s kids either, the perpetrator’s kids are absorbing all of these messages too.

  • Obviously this is a very different experience, but I’ve certainly noticed stares whenever I take Binny out with me. And it makes me sad and angry every time. I am angry that people have chosen to invalidate your lived experience, especially when the proof is RIGHT THERE. Ugh.

  • I’ve taken up swimming in the last year, and yeah, the looks and stares and sniggering are by far the hardest part of it. Much harder than the actual swimming. And it can’t be how I dress – because it’s at the pool and *everybody* is wearing bathers! Sometimes I think “fuck you all” and swim more, but sometimes the hate is overwhelming.

    • Lilacsigil, I get those same stares and sniggers at the pool. Even when I’m IN the pool doing laps! I had a guy tell me to “get some exercise” as I swam past him once. What do you think I’m doing, dickhead!

  • It’s unfortunate but I think you are a double whammy of “offensive” to the general public. I’m not a big girl but I have pink hair, lots of tattoos an wear “interesting” outfits and I get such ridiculous stares, many of which I ignore, but those I do notice are downright rude. Like the old man at the train station the other day, he just kept turning around and staring me up and down, not even caring that he was 3 feet away and I could plainly see what he was doing. Whenever I’m with my mum and she notices people staring, nudging each other or pointing me out, she gets so angry and usually shouts at them “Staring is RUDE!” to which some have the audacity to shout back “We just thought she looked cool”. Ugh, please. One girl went out of the way to come up to us and say “We were staring because we think you look awesome” which is nice, but you didn’t have to make me feel uncomfortable by nudging your friend and whispering.
    I got into a fight on facebook about it once, I complained about the rude people in my building who stare at me while waiting for the lifts. I was told I must like the attention to look the way I do and I didn’t have the right to be upset about it at all. I don’t think that’s fair at all. I appreciate I look different and accept people want a second look but there are politer ways to go about it. Like saying you like my hair/dress/tattoos to my face!
    Anyway, I’ve waffled on enough (I just feel very passionate about it). I just wanted to say I see you around thr city now and then and think you look super cool! I especially admire the pansy on your foot as I have pansies tattooed to my feet too (but like your one way better than mine)!

  • I think this is awesome. No one believes me when I tell them people sneer at me, or ‘look’. I’m apparently being suspicious (according to family and friends) and people don’t look at me like that, despite me noticing it in a myriad of situations.
    I hate it when the grocery or store clerks do it, when I buy food that they deem me too fat to eat, or that I shouldn’t eat because of my weight. I notice it when I buy ice cream, or chips or dips or soft drinks. Yet when I buy something they deem ‘good’ for a fatty to eat like salad they smile at me like at least this fatty is doing something about her fatty-ness.

    I’m so sorry to all of you who get these looks and sneers and cruel laughter. It’s mean and nasty and reflects the general fatphobic attitude of our society/world. You’d think if the people were right about the “obesity epidemic” us fatties wouldn’t have to put up with this crap because we’d be the majority, but I guess real life doesn’t reflect what the media and many health professionals waffle on about.

  • This makes me really want to do something like this– have a person with a camera take pictures of me with others around. I never notice if people do this to me, unless they are trying to make it obvious (i.e., verbalizing their disgust at me, which has happened). This makes me think I’m just giving the people around me too much credit and they really are doing this, but I’m oblivious.

  • I’m normally pretty oblivious while out in public. It’s only when I’m out with someone else that I actually notice other people’s reations to me – and that’s because the person I’m out with points them out. Apparently it ranges from checking me out (in a good way) to grumpy stares and open disapproval. I think I’m probably sitting in the privleged section when it comes to this topic. However, I still think it’s disgusting that people react this way. I don’t care if you say you’re laughing/staring/whatever because of bad fashion or bright hair, it’s damn rude no matter what way you slice it. And hurtful

    • Believe it or not Riley, I have had DOZENS of comments (which I have deleted) which have told me that people who dress “weird” and have coloured hair “deserve” to be ridiculed in public. That is just as douchey as ridiculing people for being fat. Many of them fail to read this post properly to see that it happens to me, and others, when we are conservative in appearance too.

      Interestingly, several people took the opportunity to shame me because “as a fat woman, you shouldn’t be making yourself visible”. Yep, they seem to think we should be hidden away in shame.

  • I’m calling myself out and apologising for saying people look at you because you are awesome. You are awesome, but I can see now that I was denying your reality. Thank you for taking the time to show me how dismissive that was. I can understand people’s glances being attracted by your pink hair or amazing clothes, but the stares/glares/etc that follow are totally the product of a nasty frame of mind that thinks that fat people shouldn’t be seen or if they must be seen then they should be dressed to minimise themselves, never seen to eat – of course they just assume we stuff ourselves at home when no one is looking – and that we should try to be as unobtrusive as possible. I have had people look at me and nudge one another before, I’m sure I have been someone’s ‘if you eat that you will end up like her’ story. But I’m sorry I was an arsehole and I’m sorry that so many people continue to be.

    • Mindy I appreciate your honesty and genuine apology. To my knowledge, you only ever did it once and we talked about it and it never happened again.

      And yep, you’re exactly right, the whole public ridicule thing is about trying to force fat people (or any other people outside of the cultural rule of “acceptable”) to be invisible. That and to feel superior to us.

    • It would be deeply satisfying . . . but unfortunately in many areas it would also be a potential misdemeanor charge.

      I still remember sunbathing in my own front yard in a T-shirt and a long skirt (because I wanted a tanned face and ankles and arms and that was all) and having some asshole slow down on the road to holler “SOOOEEEE! PIGPIGPIG!” and laugh. And the guy at the next table in Subway who watched my badly made tuna sandwich fall apart in my hands as I bit into it and said with face twisted in loathing, “Well, I just lost my appetite.” (Why the hell was he watching me in the first place? Do I exist for your perusal? Go away, jackass.)

      It hurt for years. But I eat cookies in public now. Fuck ’em.

      • Jennifer, I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with that shit too. Rock those cookies or tuna sandwiches or anything else you desire to eat whenever and wherever you desire to eat them.

  • Kath, thank you so much for this post! I have experienced all this and more (I seem to get the ‘disgust’ or the ‘ooh, that’s unfortunate’ the most). On days when I just can’t be strong enough, I deliberately don’t look people in the face, and don’t wear my glasses so their expressions are blurry. Some days I just don’t go out at all.
    I tried to explain why I do these things to my friends, but gave up. I got responses like: “it’s just in your head”, “you’re too sensitive”, etc. But when someone looks you up and down as they’re passing you in the street, and barks like a dog or goes ‘yeugh!’ as they’re *looking right at* me, how can that be in my head?
    Ever since I read Lesley Kinzel’s article on XO Jane a few months ago, I remind myself that getting out there and letting these people SEE me is important. My body and others like mine need to be SEEN as much as possible in order to be normalised and society to shift back to inclusiveness. I’m actually teaching these people something. Leaving the house is actually a community service! 😉
    Thanks again for this wonderful post. xx Katie.

  • This post made me realize just how differently we look at men’s and women’s bodies. I don’t know if it’s cultural, but when we see stocky men with big beer bellies, we don’t riase eyebrows or stare at them critically. We accept them and expect them to be built that way. In one way or another, we are biased to accept their bodies because they are not sexualized, they are not gazed at, they are not supposed to be anything else but men. Women, on the other hand, are often subject to abuse, ridicule, and judgement as though women’s bodies are supposed to be built and shaped in one mold. What makes it worse is that there are women who hate women too. Your pictures definitely showed how women can view other women. Shouldn’t there be more love among women? Argh. I could go on, and on, and on.

    • Lezgomelbourne men definitely do get body shaming, but you’re right, to nowhere near the extent that women do. And sometimes women can be the harshest critics of other women, but as my photos show, it comes from all genders, ages and walks of life.

  • Wonderful post.

    I tend to be oblivious as well unless someone makes it a point to be really direct. I agree we should be SEEN.

  • I am 59 and have had to catch a bus to work on a regular basis,When I boarded the bus I began to notice how many people put a bag on the seat next to them so that they would not have to share a seat with me. I am well dressed and always smell nice so it could only be my size. If the bus was so crowded that I was forced to approach one of these ‘bagged’ seats, often the occupier would pretend not to notice me (yeah right!) or straight out stare me down forcing me to have to ask them to move said bag. How many thin people are forced to beg for an available seat that they have paid for?

    • Angela I totally hear you on the public transport thing. I catch the train to and from work every day, and the expression on people’s faces when they realise the empty seat they just spotted is next to a fat lady is unbelievable. If I ever get on public transport and there isn’t a seat on it’s own, I just stand. It’s not worth tolerating the shitty behaviour from people. Yet nobody says anything about the bags spread out, or the dudes with their legs wide open.

  • Hi Kath,

    Really glad you brought this up. Very valuable. I’m overweight but am still skating by with enough thin privilege to avoid most of the looks, and I sometimes catch myself accidentally glancing askance at a fat person. Which is crazy, when most people in Australia are now overweight (like I said – including myself). But although I would be caught out in one of the projects you mentioned, your blog particularly has helped me to at least get rid of the negative thoughts we’ve been conditioned to have. While I may glance, I consciously remind myself that I am being impolite and focus on not doing it again.

    Why we do it, I don’t know, but I suspect it comes more from self-hatred than a comment on the people they glance at/judge.

    I’m sorry.

    • I want you to be conscious of what you are doing. I want you to think about what you are projecting to the people who you are encountering in public. That is the only way forward.

  • I remember trying to tell my dad about this happening. He couldn’t believe it. He said “maybe they are admiring you or think you are attractive”. Bless him. The truth is seen and never heard. People have to witness this for themselves before they will believe.

  • I just looked at Haley’s pictures and noticed that a lot of people look angry. What psychological phenomena is going on that causes people to get angry and disgusted? I ask because I believe that if we can break down and understand the psychological aspect, we may be able to change our culture. I remember an old saying that ‘when you hate someone/something it is because you recognize that you hate it within yourself’. Could people’s own self-loathing be at the root of this? Just food for thought.

  • I saw Haley’s project posted on a size positive Facebook group, and the majority consensus was that we couldn’t be sure that the people were starting because she was fat, maybe it was because there was a camera set-up, etc. I’m glad you posted your pictures that were taken with a “hidden” camera so that possiblity was negated. I’ve been on the receiving end of stares, giggles and photographing with my mousy brown and gray hair, and conservative clothing. Sometimes I do my best to ignore it by avoiding eye contact, etc. If I am out with my husband, he notices and gets angry. Sometimes I wish he would just ignore it too, because once he points it out, I have to deal with it. We do have to keep getting out there and letting them see us as Katie stated. Maybe if more of us went out and lived our lives in public, they would be less disgusted by us.

  • I’ve been wondering if people of color experience this kind of behavior? I know my (thin) friend in a wheelchair gets a certain amount of crap for being in a chair.

    My question is, does this sort of judgemental behavior come from the same internal place? Or humans somewhat hardwired to be judgemental? If it’s cultural, can we eventually overcome it?

    Should we start a shaming website where we post pictures of people being obnoxious to other people?

    • Very much so lsstrout. I am pretty sure that people from all marginalised groups experience it, some more than others.

      I don’t believe we are hardwired to be judgemental. I have to admit I was once a judgemental person. Not to the point of ridiculing people in the street, but I definitely had those thoughts. However, fat activism has taught me how shitty that is and I have trained myself not to do it. I don’t even think those things 99% of the time now, and when I do slip I’m instantly aware of what I am doing.

      And I believe Substantia Jones has already started that website!

  • Also, and this does not excuse glaring and so forth, I wonder how many people with a negative attitude towards fatness are caught up in the falsehood that it really is dangerous for your health? I know that was my primary concern until I started reading up about fat v health.

    If we could squash that myth, would it help at all?

    • We shouldn’t have to. Nobody has a moral obligation to be “healthy” whatever that is. Everyone, even “unhealthy” people deserve to live their lives in peace and dignity and without being ridiculed in public.

  • Lsstrout, I think the health thing is just a line to cover up disgust. Our culture is afraid of “excess” flesh. I personally think it’s fear of our own appetites,of being overwhelmed and consumed by them. Not appetites for food; appetites/desires for anything. At this point in time it’s focused on fat. In the past it was focused on sex. Before that – I don’t know?
    But none of that is any excuse for the appalling ways people are being treated. It’s bullying, plain and simple, of those who are currently vilified in our culture. And people bully to make themselves feel superior. If people with brown hair were culterally portrayed as inferior, I believe mindless bullies would look at them with the same disgust.

  • Thanks for posting about that. I saw “Wait Watchers” on Tumblr several days ago and was mortified, though hardly surprised, by the photos. As a deathfat, I notice that perpetual gaze/judging/ridicule wherever I go. When I’ve mentioned it to thin[ner] family members or friends, I’m told that I’m imagining it. Or, worse, my motivation for thinking that is judged; I’m told that I’m “paranoid” or “egotistical.”

    Yet if I mention my sometimes-visible disability as being a source for stares and judgment from strangers, I’m met with sympathy and absolute credulity from these same family members and friends.

  • Hey,

    Good post. I have had to endure similar stares (not only due to fat but unusual proportions), and my sister also reports receiving glances (she believes due to her unusual facial features). This is an issue that gives me a lot of thought because derisive glances makes me feel threatened and unwelcome in my places where I feel I have every much as right to be as anyone else. At the same time (and this is not to dismiss people’s experiences at all), I feel like these kind of scenarios do put me on the defensive and make me inclined to interpret neutral or coincidental attention as negative, just because that’s what I’m used to.

    My questions are twofold:

    1. As a fat person, what can I do to make myself less susceptible to this rude unwanted attention. The main thing way I deal with it is to not look at other people in the face when I’m out in public. I actually think it works quite well and I like the idea that, if I don’t notice someone’s nasty glance, then it really is just their problem. However, sometimes I worry that it is unsafe because it makes me a less aware of my surroundings.

    2. Unfortunately, I have found myself giving someone an unfriendly look before. It was early in the morning and no one was around and I walked by this guy whose face and scalp were covered in boils. I was terrified and filled with fear so I’m sure I must’ve looked very unfriendly. I felt really guilty about it because as someone who is the victim of unwanted attention you would think I’d be good about not doing that. So how can people who do find themselves being rude in public and want to stop improve their behavior. I think the answer is that people need to be exposed to more different kinds of people so that they aren’t taken by surprise as much. This only applies to people who want to improve of course.

    Anyway I’d appreciate any thoughts on dealing with this important issue.

  • I haven’t been out much, or rarely notice people being rude to me for being fat. However, I think the best way to deal with it is to be really nice. Now, it’s not because the person being rude deserves that niceness. It’s that if you’re acting kind, then they will look terrible in perspective. People will just see this awful bully picking on this poor kind fat girl, and wonder why they are acting like that.

    • I don’t have to run around fawning at people when I’m going about my daily business. I’m not looking at these people, I’m not talking to them, I’m merely sitting in public, eating my lunch or reading a book. How am I supposed to “act kind” to people who are just passing by? If I’m sitting on a park bench, eating my lunch, how am I supposed to project that I’m a “poor kind fat girl”? No, regardless of who I am, or what I’m doing – or anyone else who is subjected to this kind of ridicule, it is NEVER the victim’s job to mitigate other people’s behaviour by changing their demeanor or behaviour. We have the right to be in public without constantly asking ourselves “Am I projecting that I’m kind/nice? Do people perceive that I’m nice so that I make other people look rude when they bully me?” No, I should be able to sit in public and go about my business without giving passers by another thought.

  • I have people laugh, point, and sneer… and then I have people take pictures of me. I visited Adelaide last year, and while doing some shopping, drinking coffee while sitting on a bench in the mall, etc I was photographed several times. Some people would stand with their back to me, hold their phones over their shoulders (with the camera set to point in) and take pictures of me that way. I am sure more than a few got shots of me staring right back at their camera.

    But that was NOTHING compared to what happened while I was waiting for my husband to get back from the loo. I was sitting on the bench in the mall, drinking coffee and someone sat on the other end of the bench while their friend took a photo of them looking at me. When I turned and looked at them, the person slid all the way over right next to me, threw their arm around my shoulder and grinned for the camera. I was so shocked I could barely speak.

    • How dare they? This is just unspeakable. Just horrible. No wonder you were speechless. I am aghast just reading this. What do they think you are, a Ronald McDonald Clown statue on a bench to have happy snaps taken with? GRRRRRRRRR!

      • I am just furious at this! By even touching you without permission that could be considered aggravated assault. This just denies your humanity, and the respect that all human beings deserve. Who the HELL do they think they are?

  • I dress differently and have unique hair, tattoos, piercings, and I’m fat. I do not mind stares, people staring or gawking we all look at things or people that catch our attention and I know even stares can be hurtful. I think it is when people make comments that it becomes a problem as they are deliberately taking the effort to put someone down. Posting photos of people on the internet without their permission and put on a website where there are captions ridiculing them or saying mean or untruthful things about them the poster can be sued. I have never had anyone say anything about my weight that I could hear in public. The one time I was seriously verbally accosted in public the issue was about my hair. The people even followed me in the car and rammed the back of our car as we were leaving the mall. All because they made a nasty comment about my hair and I retorted. It’s despicable how people can act in public and get away with it. I would have hoped their parents taught them better. Even if you find someone disdainful, keep it to yourself. I’m sorry anyone has to experience any hate due to being themselves in any manner.

  • If i ever find myself looking at you in public it’s cos i’m thinking “daaang where’d she get that cute dress!?”

  • Oh Kath you poor gorgeous lady. I’m a UK size 14 and, while I’ve been fortunate enough to not be the subject of hyper-visibility, my size has been more than enough to cause stares, comments from strangers and family members and friends, and stop me from even food shopping let alone eating in public. I have the most gorgeous wonderful supportive bearded chubby boyfriend, and together withe and my tattoos and short skirts and dresses (refusing to be invisible) we get a lot of sniggers. He’s been the greatest help to me and he’s so strong and brave, but I’m not quite so lucky on that score. I’ve had friends who’ve told me that he’s ‘looking less healthy’ since he’s recovered from an ED and gained some weight, but he’s absolutely perfect, just like every one of you. I’m so sorry that all of you babes have to suffer this disgusting, abhorrent treatment, and I wish you all the happiness in the world. Viva la body revolution!

    • Please BettyBones – spare me pity. I’m not looking for pity nor am I pitiful. The people to pity are those who are so caught up in their own self-loathing that they project it on to random strangers in the street.

      • I don’t see you as pitiful – I see you as strong and beautiful, and I sympathise with the awful things you have to go through and think that it’s disgusting. They were meant as words of encouragement and disappointment at the general public, not of pity!

  • I haven’t noticed more than a couple people giving me those sorts of looks–and even with them I wasn’t 100% sure–but that may not mean much. When the man who’s currently my boyfriend said “Hi” to me one time when we were still just coworkers, I didn’t notice. He thought it meant I wasn’t interested, but I was just oblivious!

    There’s also the fact that I’m fat, but not so fat that I really stand out. Fat in a commonplace sort of way. (But I’ve seen people online at about my size describe harassment/microaggressions.) And that I don’t use public transportation (doesn’t go anywhere I need to go, for the most part), so there are fewer opportunities.

    One time a guy did take a picture of me in a grocery store. I don’t know if it was my looks/size, what I was wearing, or most likely, some combination of the two. Or maybe it wasn’t for mocking and was instead for his creepy “photos to masturbate to” collection. I tried to give him a Look but he studiously looked at the floor. Maybe if I hadn’t been stuck in disbelief I’d have managed to say something to him.

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