START A PETITION 27,000,000 members: the world's largest community for good
START A PETITION
x
1,797,492 people care about Human Rights

Living in a Sizeist Society: Woman Attacked on Evening Commute

Living in a Sizeist Society: Woman Attacked on Evening Commute

British businesswoman Martha Coupe was sitting in an almost-empty train car on the way back from work.  Suddenly, someone screamed “You big fat pig” before physically attacking Coupe, leaving her with forty bruises and one eye swollen shut.  The attacker was restrained by another passenger, but got off at the next stop before the police could arrive.  Coupe’s crime?  She was taking up two seats.

An article on BBC News and a subsequent commentary by Kate Harding explore the implications of hate crimes committed against fat people, abuse that is both generally unnoticed and socially accepted.  Some people, Denise Winterman writes for the BBC, would be surprised that Coupe’s attacker was another middle-aged woman.  But Coupe herself was not. 

“Fat people are fair game for everyone,” said Coupe, who weighs around 300 lbs. “Yes, I’ve had beer cans thrown at me by youngsters, but the abuse doesn’t just come from the obvious places.  The normal rules about behaviour, respect and common courtesy don’t apply to us.”

The reasons for the alienation, abuse and open criticism of people who are significantly overweight stems from many causes, and Winterman’s article goes into these in depth.  Susie Orbach, the author of Fat Is A Feminist Issue, thinks it comes down to society’s all-consuming pressures to be slim: “Often,” she says, “it’s not the larger person’s excess weight that is the problem, it’s the other people’s obsession with being thin.”

Still others blame fat people because of the common perception that their weight is their “fault,” or that people are overweight because of laziness and a lack of control.  This ignorance is not something that many go out of their way to correct.  And although genetic makeup has a lot to do with weight, the dialogue around personal health has created a significant stigma around being overweight, even though weight is not always the best way of determining health.

“The government and the press have created an atmosphere where people think they have a legitimate right to go up to an overweight person and tell them how to live their lives,” said Coupe.  “To them we are all the anonymous pictures of fat people they see in the papers and are the cause of all society’s ills, as well as a drain on the NHS. We deserve what we get. We’re not people with feelings.”

Winterman also posits the idea that people have innate negative reactions to people they find unattractive, and that dislike of excessive weight often provoke even more negative attitudes.  However, Kate Harding is right to point out that we can’t excuse ourselves so easily on this point – as she writes, “Noting that negative reactions to “unattractive people” are not completely within the average person’s control…is one thing. Implying that this means we all have an instinctive aversion to fatties is quite another. The idea that fat people are categorically, universally unattractive is a function of fat hatred, not a reasonable explanation for it.”

This incident happened just days before the release of the new issue of Glamour, the one that has the much-touted spread of plus-size models.  Many hope that the move toward models that actually look like real people in major fashion magazines will open up a necessary conversation about body image, one that can dispel some of the sizeism promoted by the mainstream media.  But it’s also hard to see the Glamour spread as a huge step forward.

Ximena Ramirez wrote a great post for Care2 about this a few days ago, and she rightly points out one of the more interesting aspects of Glamour‘s coverage: the fact that “plus-size models aren’t all that ‘plus.’”  Turns out, “plus-size models” can actually be as small as a size 6.  One model in the photo shoot even had to pad herself out because she was too small for plus-size clothing.  And although it’s encouraging that Glamour is trying to convince designers to produce clothes in larger sample sizes, moving up from a 4 to an 8 is less significant than the media buzz would lead us to believe.  The “average American woman” is 4-6 sizes bigger than that, and a woman who is a size 8 would never experience the emotional and physical abuse inflicted upon people who are significantly more overweight.

This is something that filters into even the most liberal bastions – Cintra Wilson’s now-infamous article about Manhattan’s new J.C. Penney published in the New York Times last August is a case in point.  Yes, there was a huge online outcry about Wilson’s snobbery and prejudice, and she was forced to issue an apology (although it was resentful and qualified), but what about the editors who let that article through?  And the people who said that it wasn’t so much sizeism as it was classism?

Mulling over the abuse that was inflicted on Coupe, Harding writes, “We can’t pretend that such abuse is somehow separate from the moral panic over obesity, the fiction that looks-based hatred is hard-wired, the way our collective guilt about overconsumption is projected onto fat people, the automatic equation of fatness with laziness and greed, and a million little fat jokes that people “didn’t really mean anything by.”  And it’s true that sizeism is still one of the most acceptable prejudices (think about all the fat jokes you see in mainstream films) – and although Coupe’s story is extreme, it’s far from abnormal.

This is something we can change, starting with our own relationships to our bodies and the way that we discuss weight generally.  Don’t crack that fat joke – or obsess loudly over the number of calories in your lunch.  Don’t make the assumption that weight is directly correlated to laziness or greed.  It’s hard to do, because our society makes sizeism and fattism so normal, but it can start with us.

What do you think?  How can we expand the discussion about sizeism so that anti-fat hate crimes – and smaller emotional abuse – become unacceptable?

 

Read more: , , , ,

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

quick poll

vote now!

Loading poll...

have you shared this story yet?

some of the best people we know are doing it

64 comments

+ add your own
9:27AM PST on Dec 20, 2009

thanks for the post

12:04PM PST on Dec 4, 2009

I hate to say it but I think a lot of average everyday people have a tough time dealing with the idea of obesity. It's hard not to stare and judge when a morbidly obese person orders enough take out for three people. People (including myself) can never know the underlying issues that's making those people eat excessively. But like any emotional problem that manifests itself in some kind of self-harming behaviour (if that is what's causing the over eating), I really think if people are able that they should seek help for themselves. By not seeking help you are causing more harm to your health and well being.

6:56AM PST on Nov 23, 2009

That is why it IS a big deal when your kid pushes a fat kid or calls him names, this little bully is going to grow up and become an adult bully, and you know what you can do now and not then? stop him, and teach him right from wrong.

12:03AM PST on Nov 11, 2009

I said "So obesity can be an excuse for rudeness?"

Sarah said “So you assume people with medical conditions that cause them to gain weight, or people who are just naturally bigger than the average person, are being rude?

Why's it okay for thin people to be rude to people who are bigger than the average person?”

I don’t think is OK for anyone to be rude. You don’t seem to be listening to all I am saying. It is not their size that I think is rude, it is their behaviour. I have never had a thin person insist on sitting on half of my seat. You may not think someone wanting to sit on my seat as well as their own is being rude. I disagree. And I would at least expect someone to be apologetic for doing so. But like you, they seem to think it is me that is in the wrong for actually wanting a seat to myself.

10:41PM PST on Nov 10, 2009

"I have sat on a four hour flight pinned into half of my seat with no arm rests, no way of using the headsets for the movie and no way of leaving my seat without climbing over a sleeping obese person."

So have I but I don't complain. I've also been crammed between people of all sizes on 14-hour flights, I still don't complain. I just take a nap. I've also been smashed between old people on planes and buses but I don't complain. I don't use a person's condition, especially a medical one, as an excuse to complain.

"Obesity is never a justificaiton for abuse"

That also includes verbal abuse.

"So obesity can be an excuse for rudeness?"

So you assume people with medical conditions that cause them to gain weight, or people who are just naturally bigger than the average person, are being rude?

Why's it okay for thin people to be rude to people who are bigger than the average person?

12:56PM PST on Nov 10, 2009

Sarah, I have sat on a four hour flight pinned into half of my seat with no arm rests, no way of using the headsets for the movie and no way of leaving my seat without climbing over a sleeping obese person.

From what you are saying, if the obesity isn't self induced, then that person shouldn't apologise to me, and I should just put up with it? So obesity can be an excuse for rudeness?

Despite the words you keep trying to put into my mouth, I have no problem with obese people, I have a problem with rude people of any size or creed.

9:29AM PST on Nov 10, 2009

"Sarah, I have never thought that obesity is self induced."

Not consciously.

"I suppose I am saying that those who are obese also need to consider the impact they have on others. Maybe booking a larger seat on an aircraft? Or being apologetic when they squish others out of their seats."

So if a person has a medical condition that causes them to gain weight, they're a problem for society?

3:08PM PST on Nov 9, 2009

Lisa - "But unless we address this issue, then people will carry on resenting those who are infringing on their rights."

Sarah - "Obesity is not always self-induced. "

Sarah, I have never thought that obesity is self induced. I suppose I am saying that those who are obese also need to consider the impact they have on others. Maybe booking a larger seat on an aircraft? Or being apologetic when they squish others out of their seats.

Obesity is never a justificaiton for abuse, but it is also not an excuse to be inconsiderate? I am not justifying the abuse in this particular case, because it was not a packed train and seemed to be completely unprovoked. I am just suggesting that obese people also need to be considerate of those around them.

12:26AM PST on Nov 9, 2009

"But unless we address this issue, then people will carry on resenting those who are infringing on their rights."

Obesity is not always self-induced.

12:25AM PST on Nov 9, 2009

"But I also have rights, and I do resent when those rights are affected."

Passive discrimination can be just as bad as physical, open, discrimination.

"in my opinion junkfood should be less easlily available."

Like you can't get fat gorging yourself on fruits, veggies, grains or the occasional t-bone steak or the favored subway sandwich? What about medication or treatments that may cause a person to gain weight?

"Hum-Over the past 5-6 years I gained 50-60 lbs, now I'm obese. My "dear" hubby does not like fat people."

So leave him. If he's that shallow you don't need to be with someone like him.

"I do not advocate violence against any living creature."

You say that, then you go and imply that women bring the abuse on themselves.

"Sorry ladies... you have a long way to go yet in overcoming your evolutionary and biological needs to be thin and look pretty."

Not only are you ignorant, but you are hypocritically ignorant, and misogynistic.

add your comment



Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

Care2 - Be Extraordinary - Start a Care2 Petition
ads keep care2 free
CONTACT THE EDITORS

Recent Comments from Causes

In a recent visit to Las Cruces, NM and traveling through Texas to get there, I was appalled at the amount…

Did you know there is FOX HUNTING in Georgia as well as in the UK ? In Georgia, there are two…

ads keep care2 free

more from causes




Select names from your address book   |   Help
   

We hate spam. We do not sell or share the email addresses you provide.