As times change society changes with it. As standards evolve we as a group must learn to evolve with it. But society has a memory. We, as a people, have a collective standard still preserved in our minds, and while we can change with the changes, there still lingers the ghost of our old ways. And these ghosts are powerfully hard to exorcise. When they do finally let go it is slowly, almost resentfully, and even so these traces seem to leave traces themselves. It takes a long time to become truly free of old ways of thinking and behaving in a culture.
Recently the social media world has been in a tizzy because a plus sized model was signed to a major modeling contract. She was not the first “plus sized” model to do so, but she might be the biggest physically in current memory. “News” like this normally slides onto and off my notice instantly, it makes no difference to me who or what is a model, but the responses to this did catch my attention because it illustrated something ive been thinking about for some time.
Some folks were naturally jubilant that this person was being accorded the respect that other, slimmer, models enjoy. These people saw this as a milestone in ending our societies undeniable fear and/or loathing of overweight people. It was a sign, they said, that being proud of yourself is a right regardless of where you fall in the body size scale that fashion institutions attempt to impose on us. Others, predictably enough were not happy, lets call them the “antis” for short, and it was these folks and their response that I found particularly telling.
The Antis didnt post things as blatant as, “shes so gross” or ” that is disgusting”. Instead there was a surprising amount of “concern”. The posts against this model usually looked something like “Good for her, but Im afraid of what message this obese person being a model sends to kids” or “is this the type of health image we should be rewarding?” More versions of the same thing popped up, with the gist being, “im not judging, but wont rewarding this person with visibility teach people that being obese is a good thing?” Now, of course, if you have lived in the western world for any length of time it is patently obvious that these arguments are bullshit. For one thing we live in a culture that punishes the overweight at every turn, so there is no way that one single model signing a contract will suddenly make millions of girls go on a cheese fry binge. Second, this model is one person not a trend, to have so strong a reaction to one single exception to the “norm” while the health of hundreds of clearly undernourished models is unspoken belies the idea that this issue was of concern for the health of this (or any) model.
The truth is, as far as I can tell, is that lots of people read a sensational news story about a plus size woman and really, really wanted to point and yell “ewwwwwwww she’s sooooo FAT!” Its the same instinct that makes the “mainstream” voice concern over how my tattoos will look when im 60, or the same urge that makes “normal” people worry where vegetarians will “get your protein from!?” Disturbingly, It is also the same reason that “urban” has become a cover word for black person.
Did these people suddenly become nutritionists? Sociologists? anthropologists? Sadly, not. They are racists, bigots, and whatever you call people who hate tattoos (squares?) and they have been denied their ability to voice their true opinions. What is frustrating for them is that the denial came not from a government edict, it came from the same society they live in! These days we live in a world where it is no longer socially acceptible to gawk at or make fun of fat people, where being anti-tattoo marks you as “uncool”, where using racial slurs to routinely refer to black people marks you as an ignorant racist instead of a middle-of-the-road American. But, and this is important to remember , these are relatively recent changes! Less than 50 years ago things like Freakshows, blackface, and anti miscegenation statutes (laws forbidding black/white dating and marriage) existed, even less than 10 years ago gays were routinely portrayed in all media as silly perverts. The wave of sentiment against judging and calling out “minorities” for special abuse is still new and is only slowly becoming the norm.
Until this new morality has thoroughly soaked into the social conscience, the ghost of a time when fat people were “funny” and a fair target for public condemnation will linger. Those who still want to feel superior have had to find sneakier ways to mock and compare themselves to those who were formerly a fair target. Some of these folks rail against “political correctness” even when all they are really looking for is a way to avoid changing with the rest of a society that is growing up around them. For others the new way of mocking fat people is this bullshit concern for the plus sized models health. These folks don’t care about the health of this person, they simply want to point out that they themselves are not as fat! That they are somehow morally superior to someone they still characterize as lazy, gluttonous, and stupid regardless of the real facts about their chosen targets character.
As long as someone feels so compelled to elevate themselves by shitting on another, especially shitting on another who belongs to an already denigrated group I have to wonder how small this “anti” feels inside! Heaping blame and/or abuse on someone considered to be ’lesser than’ (whether socially or economically) has come to be known as “punching down”. It is result of someone so insecure that the only group/person they feel comfortable trying to belittle is a victim they perceive as being unable to “hit back” (due to their inferior position in society). As our culture grows and matures, this kind of thing becomes frowned upon and the only way these insecure cowards can punch downward is with false concern and pity.
So the next time you detect that whiff of faux concern or the not-so-well camouflaged code word for a minority, might I suggest that instead of trying to argue against the “antis” specious “points” that you instead just point out the underlying real reason for all this sudden “concern”. If there’s one thing the insecure abuser hates its for their real motives to be revealed as the sad ghost of a shittier time that they miss so much! When these folks racism/bias/bullshit is clearly (but compassionately) revealed we can all help to exorcise those rotten old ghosts a little quicker.