I want to talk about death threats against fat people today. Not literal ones, like “I’m going to kill you!”, which we do receive sometimes, particularly if we commit the “crime” of being publicly and unashamedly fat. But the more subtle ones. Brian over at Red No. 3 wrote about them a while back, in his post “A Culture of Death Threats“.
It’s the kind of message that fat people hear every day. The message that boils down to “You’re going to die, fatty!!” All those times you hear “But don’t you know being fat is unhealthy??” and “You’re going to get diabetes/high cholesterol/heart disease/bowel cancer/etc.” right through to the ridiculousness of “Your fat is crushing your bones! Your organs are going to liquify into fat! Obesity destroys your immune system!”
We, fat people, hear those messages every day. From sources near and far – friends and family, the diet industry, mainstream media, the government, strangers on the street, and indeed, from many health care professionals.
As Brian says in his post, this is a method of control, trying to get us to do as we are told. We must diet, punish ourselves, be invisible, feel shame, loathe our fat bodies. Be a good fatty and do whatever we can to stop being fat.
However, something else happens too. Even if we opt out of the societal norm of loathing and shame for fat bodies, something happens to us that even the most deeply entrenched fat activist can be susceptible to. We begin to fear our fat bodies. We stop listening to them as part of ourselves, and see them as the enemy, something to be feared and fought, other than/outside ourselves.
It happened to me this week.
I’ve mentioned plenty of times before that I suffer from anxiety. Some of it is genetic (most of my family on both sides have some form of anxiety issues) and some of it is a result of PTSD. Of course, my anxiety has been blamed on my fatness too, but I have thin relatives who also suffer it, and that never gets acknowledged.
Most of the time, it’s well managed these days. I recognise many of the triggers, I see the warning signs, and I have learned the skills to mitigate most bouts. But sometimes it blindsides me, and then it’s very difficult to work through it, even with the recognition and skills I have learned.
So I got a cold a couple of weeks ago. It swept through my office like a brush fire, and as I had a nice open tattoo wound at the time, I could hardly avoid it. My doctor (who is awesome and I am very lucky to have found) and I have noticed this phenomena of me getting a cold every time I have a fresh tattoo – otherwise I hardly get the bugs that go around. I had a pretty full on cough, got a rather interesting husky voice for a couple of weeks, felt a bit run down and tired, but wasn’t that bad so I didn’t have any time off work though many of my colleagues who got the same lurgy did.
However this week, I noticed a pain in the left side my chest.*
And every voice that ever told me that I was going to die because I’m a disgusting fatty, fat, fat came flooding back to me. Every concern troll, every narrowminded bigot, every doctor who didn’t bother to examine me and just looked at my fat body and made a diagnosis, every arsehole on the street who told me I would die because of my fatness was suddenly back in my head, telling me that my fatness was going to give me a heart attack and I would die. I was hearing those old recordings in my mind, and I was afraid.
It was stupid. But it happens, even now. Because the relentlessness of those messages, that are literally inescapable, means that even though I’m consciously rejecting them, they still get through from time to time, when I’m not feeling at my strongest.
This is what we’re up against in our culture. Relentless messages that tell us, regardless of any actual facts about our personal situations, that we’re going to die, and it will be all the fault of our fatness. People who are not fat, or who can pass as not fat, don’t have to constantly brace themselves against that avalanche of negativity every day. But those of us who have unhideable bodies, bodies that can never pass as “not fat”, are subjected to it, everywhere. Dozens and dozens of variations of that same basic message, “Fear your fat body.”
The thing is, having that kind of constant threat of death spouted at us is what makes many of us sick, not the fatness of our bodies. Having that much negativity, shame and loathing constantly thrown at you has got to wear at times. It’s the nocebo effect – where those messages are so deeply ingrained, that we start to believe that we are going to get sick, that we are going to die and that message is so powerful that we actually DO get sick.
But it’s still our fault. Because we’re fat, and being fat means that you caused all bad things that have happened to you.
Of course, we are then accused of being “weak” when those messages weigh too heavily on our shoulders. When the constant call to fear our own bodies actually filters through, and we succumb to that fear. If we admit anxiety or stress, then it is somehow our fault, and we’re to blame for that as well. If we go to the doctor, we’re often told that we’re hypochondriacs, or that we’re being overly dramatic, if we would just go and lose weight this wouldn’t happen. Our anxiety and stress is dismissed as whinging or attention seeking, with no question as to what is causing such anxiety and stress. We are tossed out the door yet again, with “lose weight” as the cure for all that ails us.
So what do so many of us do? We ignore the REAL messages our bodies try to send us. When we feel pain, we avoid going to the doctor, because we’ll only be told that we’re weak, that we should just lose weight and the problem will go away. We won’t get a real diagnosis, they won’t care how we feel. We’ll just be shamed and sent packing with instrutions to eat less and exercise more.
Is this ever factored into “studies” into mortality and health of fat people? Is it ever acknowledged by those supposedly researching into issues around obesity that the very culture we live in is a) making fat people sick and b) preventing us from getting adequate health care when we do get sick?
It strikes me that the lazy ones aren’t those of us who are fat. It’s those who don’t bother to actually listen, and investigate the health of individual fat people on a case by case basis. It’s those who take one look at our fatness and diagnose every ailment we have as “obesity”, merely on sight. It’s those who don’t ask WHY there may be evidence towards fat people having health issues and just assume that fat is always to blame.
Wouldn’t you say that’s pretty hypocritical? I know I would.
*It’s ok, the pains in my chest turned out to be pulled muscles in my ribcage due to coughing with that damn cold.