Recently, I came across a Facebook post that kind of got under my skin. It’s been shared pretty extensively across social media, so chances are you’ve seen it, too. Probably with a comment along the lines of “OMG, SO TRUE! We need to be more accepting!”, or “This guy is SO right, everyone deserves respect!”.
I don’t want to link to the post, because I honestly just don’t want to drive clicks to the sites that share it. But if you Google “to the fatty running in the park”, one version or another will pop up.
Essentially, an anonymous person wrote a letter to another anonymous person that he or she saw running in the park. And that person that he or she saw running happened to be fat.
The author starts off by calling the anonymous runner a “fatty”, and gives a pretty disparaging description of their characteristics and running style. Then, the author flips it around, with a “BUT WAIT! THIS ISN’T CONDESCENDING! I RESPECT YOU!”… before going on to make another series of rather condescending and disrespectful assumptions about that person’s lifestyle and health behaviours.
Because, if a person is fat, they obviously stuff their face in the middle of the night, standing in the light of the open fridge door, grabbing whatever they can find. Right? If a person is fat and running at the park, they’re obviously trying to change their weight. Right? Because that is the universal imperative.
I’m sorry for the dripping sarcasm. But I feel it is warranted here.
Right from the start, when the author refers to this person as a “fatty”, that person’s entire existence is reduced down to one single factor: size. This wouldn’t be so bad (how many people get called “blondie” or “freckles”?), except that this particular factor is so laden with moral judgements. We have been force fed a series of “facts” about fat people – that they eat too much (gluttons!), they don’t move enough (sloths!) – so we feel safe in making rather horrible assumptions about them and their lives.
This is exactly what this poster does. Oh, and to rub salt into the wound, he or she makes it abundantly clear that their perspective comes from the holier-than-thou thin-person side of the divide. Because, no matter how much “respect” you have, or how much your gaze “lacks condescension”, being a fatty is still gross. And you only get that way by making bad, sinful choices. That’s what the post tells us.
You know what a truly non-condescending and respectful post would have looked like? “Saw a person running at the park today. Looked like he/she was working really hard. Good for them.”. Not so hard, is it?
I get that the author had good intentions. He or she clearly thought that they were being really open-hearted and accepting and positive, encouraging the rest of us to be nicer to the fatties that we encounter in our own lives. But, speaking as a person who doesn’t look quote-unquote “fit”? Don’t do us any favours. If you can’t talk about me without reducing me to nothing but my size, then don’t talk about me at all. I’m doing just fine without your brand of “encouragement”.
If you want to be open-hearted and accepting and positive, check your assumptions at the door.