Fat People


I’ve written a number of posts about women’s weight issues, from an early post about looking for a size 14 at the Beverly Center to an inane post about Lindsay Lohan and Nicole Richie which still gets comments from crazed, anorexic teenagers.

It probably doesn’t make much sense why this issue interests me so much.  I’m not a woman and I’m not overweight.  I think what bothers me the most is the way being overweight is being demonized in our society — for both men and women, and “fat” has become a code word for something more than just weight, with meanings now associated with class and social standing.

This might sound weird to you, but I’m sure part of my sensitivity to a singled-out group comes from being Jewish.  I feel lucky to have grown up in New York City, where being Jewish is so common that even the Puerto Rican bus driver who took us to school knew when Yom Kippur was coming up.  While there were some tensions between blacks and Jews in my public schools, I never experienced traditional “anti-semitism.”  It wasn’t until I went to college and met Jews from other parts of the country, that I learned that the word “Jew” could be used as a dirty word.  Some synagogues in the South even used the word “Hebrews” so as not to appear too “Jewish.” 

I learned about “jewing down” the price, with its negative connotations of cheapness and unscrupulous behavior.   Was my mother “jewing down” all these years?  After all, my mother’s whole shopping strategy was to “shop for the bargains.”  I always thought that was what you were supposed to do!  But then I learned that wealthier “Manhattan” Jews went  to the more expensive stores to buy the products at higher prices — so they can look less Jewish!  After all, if the non-Jews are too dumb to look for the bargains, then we should become dumb, too.  But this never really worked, because then buying at the better store became the Jewish thing to do, so it undermined the whole reason for shopping there in the first place.  Luckily, things have changed, and now everyone is like my Jewish mother from Queens, shopping amazon.com to save ten bucks on a digital camera (with free shipping!).  (note to Arab media:  does this mean Amazon.com is a Zionist tool?)

I remember having a Jewish friend from Louisville in college and he was so obsessed about not being seen as a “cheap Jew,” that he would scold me if I picked up a “lucky penny” off the street. 

I don’t need to go into a history lesson about how Jews have been demonized throughout history.  You still see those images of beady-eyed Jews with hooked noses in Arab newspapers.   It’s the dehumanization of a people that makes it easier to exterminate a group or blow up a bus.

Not that Jews don’t have their own bigotries.  I’ve always been a bit of a snot-nosed kid on this subject of bigotry — always on a crusade.   I remember when my uncle would come visit, he would always used the word “schvatza” when talking about blacks.  (schvatza simply means black in Yiddish, as does the name Schwartz (like Schwartzenneger.  It doesn’t really have any negative connotations to it — it means black — but when Jews say it, they usually say it with a negative spin, meaning “ghetto blacks.”   When my uncle would say this, I would leave the table, angrily saying, “I will not listen to any of this racism!”   In retrospect, if I met a kid like me today, I would find him a humorless prig.

Now what does all this about Jews and blacks have to do with “overweight” people? 

I think the association started when I was listening to this song from one of my favorite artists, Ben Folds.   While reading the lyrics, think about how the imagery of “fat” people is used symbolically to represent everything that is wrong with our American consumer culture.

All U Can Eat (They Give No Fuck)
by Ben Folds

Son, look at all the people/In this restaurant
What do you think they weigh?
And out the window/To the parking lot
At their SUVs taking all of this space

They give no fuck/They talk as loud as they want
They give no fuck/Just as long as there’s enough

For them

Gonna get on the microphone/Down at Wal-Mart
Talk about some shit/That’s been on my mind
Talk about the state/Of this great nation of ours
People look to your left/Yeah and look to your right

They give no fuck/They buy as much as they would want
They give no fuck/Just as long as there’s enough

For them

Son, look at the people/Lining up for plastic
Wouldn’t you like to see ‘em/In the National Geographic
Squating bare-assed in the dirt/Eating rice from a bowl
With a towel on their head and/Maybe a bone in their nose

See that asshole/With a peace sign on his license plate
Giving me the finger and/Running me out of his lane
God made us number one/’Cause he loves us the best
But he should go bless/Someone else for a while
And give us a rest

(They give no)Yeah and everyone can see
(They give no)We’ve eaten all that we can eat

Fat people = all you can eat = SUVs = Walmart

Now, I actually agree with Ben Folds about our culture of overconsumption.   But I don’t feel comfortable singling out larger-sized people to make the point.  Poetry can be used for harm as much as for beauty. 

I can hear the twelve year old kid in me asking the questions…

“Do you mean that skinny people never go to all-you-can-eat buffets?  Or that skinny people don’t own SUVs?  Isn’t it a fact that most rich people are actually thin — and they are the ones who are most benefiting from our society.  Isn’t it an easy target to use the fat Midwesterner as the symbol of the ugly American?”

Am I being a snot-nosed prig again? 

Recently I saw some reformed racist on Oprah explaining to her that “nigger” isn’t that bad of a word; he would never think of Oprah as a “nigger.”  And I’m sure there are people who still use the expression “jew down.” 

Maybe you’re thinking, “What’s so wrong with demonizing fat people, just like we’ve successfully demonized smokers?  Maybe it will force them to change.  We do have an overweight country.  And being fat is not healthy.”

But do we really want to shun those who are full-figured in the same way we force smokers out of the restaurant?   Why do so many women, for example, avoid “hanging out” with an overweight girlfriend?   Are they afraid that getting fat is catching?   And isn’t the very fact that I’m using the word “overweight” a sign of my own brainwashing by society?  By whose standard is someone overweight?  Am I talking about someone 400 pounds or a woman who is size 12?

Have you read about this poll done by Fitness Magazine?

“More than half of Americans say they’d rather lose their jobs than get fat.

Fifty-eight percent of women and 54% of men say they’d rather be unemployed than gain 75 pounds. And 63% of women and 55% of men say they’d rather be poor with no extra pounds to lose than rich and substantially overweight.

75% of men and 80% of women say they wouldn’t give up 20 intelligence-quotient points to gain the perfect body.”

Clearly, there is a large percentage of the population that fears being fat more than being poor  (I doubt these respondents were ever poor).  Being poor has some coolness to it  — songwriters write about it all the time.  But being fat is “shameful.”  And I’m sure there are many intelligent, liberal-minded, perfectly politically-correct people out there who would never think of saying anything bigoted against Jews, blacks, gays, Muslims, etc. — but who see no problem at all singing along with Ben Folds:

“Son, look at all the people/In this restaurant
What do you think they weigh?” 

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108 Responses to Fat People

  1. Kaylie says:

    I wish men were as demonized about their inability to make their cocks bigger as women are about their “fat asses”. So I decided to take it upon myself to do that. I’m not fat, but I have tons of friends who are. THey are briliiant, funny, ACTIVE, sexy, and completely multifaceted. When a guy (with a itty bitty peter) was trashing one of my girls I was like, “Well, I suppose she could ditch that weight, but what are you do about your 3 inch cock?”

    Cock size like body (particularly body that hasn’t been destroyed by years of dieting and foolishness) size is largely due to genetics. There isn’t always a lot you can do about it. Demonizing fat people is so ridiculous to me. It always comes from people who don’t really understand bodies and what are capable of doing and what they aren’t capable of doing.

    I know, because I used to be one of you assholes. And then a really really great friend had WLS (weight loss surgery) and died. She was 27. She was amazing and I haven’t gotten over her. I feel like I killed her. All the times I pretended not to notice jerks laughing about her weight. All the times I ignored how uncomfortable she got when couldn’t find things to fit. All the times I just assumed if she stopped eating so much and moved her lasy ass…

    Yeah, boy good thing she had me as a friend!

  2. evita says:

    l00k i like nicole richie’s b0dy and she is so skinny bUt her outfit l00ks absolutely perfect on her d0n’t y0u think s0??….

  3. Jean Brockman says:

    Hi Neil, I was surfing in search of the origin of the phrase “jew down the price” and came across your post. Appreciate you and to the lady signed a buxom size 14, honey you ain’t even in the neighborhood of buxom. I’m 1-X and I’m a happy camper. :)

  4. FredericaBimble says:

    These arguments and the blog itself could only come about from a wealthy nation. Food is fuel. That is what it is. We may get enjoyment from it through the sensations, texture and smells from eating food but it is fuel for our bodies. The issue of ‘weight loss’ and the ‘moralising’ of fat would become a non-issue in a developing country. People who live in poor countries eat when they are hungry because they know that food will keep them alive and not to fulfill some emotional void. Anyone of the fat people in the US – barring those with actual medical reasons for the extra weight which is extremely rare – would not be fat in countries where food is not plentiful. Sounds silly but seems to be a logical statement that so many people deny.
    I read the last post and I think this person ‘Jean Brockman’ gives an interesting clue to the problem of obesity in America. Her post reads like a put down to another and invitation to a competition to see who can get the fattest. Yes, a US size 14 and large breasts is ‘buxom’. This poster, Jean Brockman, is most likely really fat but it really isn’t a competition. She would do better to ask herself what she has done for the rest of the world instead of bragging about being large.
    On a different note, I am a thin woman. I’m average at the moment but when I train for marathons, I get quite slim. When I worked with a bunch of overweight women who would make comments such as: ‘Oh, I’m being so bad, I shouldn’t eat this’ – when they were eating a slice of chocolate cake or some other fattening item, I would simply say: ‘Ok, then, don’t eat it if it’s going to cause you so much despair’.
    Food isn’t ‘bad’. It isn’t ‘good’ (yes, it can taste good and yes it can spoil, therefore being labelled ‘bad’ but that isn’t what we’re talking about here) People put emotional labels on food and forget too easily that it is energy to make our bodies run.
    When I went to visit my mother who lives in the Southern United States, I was bombarded with her and my sister coming out with ‘you’re too skinny’ or ‘you need to put some meat on those bones’ and other such comments. I finally said: Actually, YOU could do with eating balanced meals, having the occassional desert or snack and going for walks to burn off the excess calories you’re carrying. I went on to say: ‘I look in the mirror and I like my body. I think my body looks great’. That shut them up.
    It IS a case of misery loves company and fat does beget fat. I stayed at my mother’s home for about 3 weeks and after hearing their comments, eventually, I ended up compulsively eating pretty much everything in my sight and continuing this when I got back to the UK. I ended up putting on about 30 extra pounds which luckily I lost by going back to being sensible. I remember the lack of control and fury I felt towards my mother for drumming it into me to ‘eat, eat, eat’….I’m happy that I look in the mirror and see a fit and healthy body now. If I come across these ‘fat and happy’ women who try to say to me: ‘You need to put some meat on your bones’….I say: ‘No, I don’t. You need to lose weight and stop lying to yourself and the rest of the world that you’re ‘happy’. You see, truly happy people don’t tell the rest of the world how to live. That is more a sign of discontentment. If you’re happy, you don’t go around announcing to the world that you’re ‘happy’ as in the case of the poster who wrote: ‘I’m 1-X and I’m a happy camper.’ Well, good for you, ‘honey’ now go share that happiness by helping others and making yourself useful.
    I, for one, do not feel ‘happy’ at this moment. I have work I need to do and do not feel motivated so I feel more ‘disillusioned’ than ‘happy’ but let’s not split hairs.

  5. FredericaBimble says:

    Update: That should read ‘dessert’ and not ‘desert’ but in the case of the subject, maybe a desert wouldn’t go amiss.
    Also, I know I spelled ‘occasional’ incorrectly as well… to all you spelling police out there….Ha, ha, ha, ha.

  6. Browsing says:

    Is there a “discredit fat people” campaign similar to the discredit Jews & Blacks campaign? Is it new & gaining momentum? Maybe I don’t see it because I’m not considered fat/overweight. Maybe it’s secret & underground because I don’t see fat people on the news being attacked the way Jews & Blacks get attacked in the media/society. We all get talked about no matter what we are (rich, poor, Black, White, ugly, pretty), but I don’t see anywhere in history where entire peoples/generations are persecuted, enslaved & killed because they are fat…talked about-yes…joked about-yes…but shot & destroyed-No.

  7. Pingback: Citizen of the Month » My Yearly “Fat” Post

  8. Bubbledin says:

    The song is not about just fat people, its about whats wrong with this god awful country. You take a look at most other countries and its not half as terrible as ours. Sure some fat people cant help it but for most of them its their own damn fault and they get what they deserve. If they were not as lazy they could get up and go work out and lose the weight and try to live a healthy life. Especially the ones that have children and cant even bring themselves to get in shape to make sure they see their kids grow and not die from a Sodium overdose. In regards to the racism….well thats just plain ignorance and retardation on those people. Its 2010 not 1950 anymore and these idiots should have thir own island where they live with rebel flags and nazi symbols. If it wasnt for the Japanese and Mexicans our country would probably be worse than it is. They are the smartest and most hard working people I have seen. So being fat is contributed to being lazy for some people and racism is contributed to having a lack of intelligence, since those 2 things make up probably half this country its safe to say we are the worst country in the world

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