Being big isn’t exactly a civil rights issue

Why I don’t buy into “sizeism”



Journalism student Gemma Michael, in a recent opinion article in The Charlatan student newspaper at Carleton University, wrote that “fat-shaming” is “society’s final ‘ism.’” According to her, “ideas about beauty, and the outrage and disgust that persists when someone in media doesn’t fulfill that idea, is a social issue.”

It’s an example of how activism against those who promote smaller body sizes has gained ground on campuses. Last week the idea of “sizeism” entered the mainstream consciousness when blogger Jes Baker’s letter addressed to clothing-maker Abercrombie & Fitch’s CEO Mike Jeffries went viral. The Militant Baker, as she’s known on her blog, also posted provocative pictures of herself and a parody of the brand’s logo: “Attractive & Fat.” Some of these pictures have her posing nude, others in an actual A&F t-shirt and one has her flipping both middle fingers at the viewer—or perhaps at an imaginary Jeffries.

What did the CEO say that so offended her? “In every school there are the cool and popular kids, and then there are the not-so-cool kids,” he told online magazine Salon in 2006. “We go after the attractive all-American kid with a great attitude and a lot of friends. A lot of people don’t belong [in our clothes], and they can’t belong. Are we exclusionary? Absolutely.”

Jeffries’ comment was undeniably offensive, but is being overweight really the next “ism?” Can the experience of fat people really be compared to racism or sexism? Or is this an overreaction?

In my opinion, the comments were akin to Kanye West’s antics—more insensitive and attention-seeking than horrific.

Those who cry “sizeism” ostensibly see themselves as the sole victims of Jeffries’ offhanded remarks. But it’s a cruel world. Schools have cliques and kids and adults alike are scrutinized and criticized for being ugly or fat or poor or stupid or different. It’s wrong, but until the day we all dance around a bonfire holding hands and singing Kumbaya, people like Jeffries will continue to exist. Young people need to learn to overcome this taunting rather than see themselves as victims.

And “sizeism” is hardly the new Civil Rights Movement. Are bigger people kept from the polls as women and African Americans were? Is it illegal for fatter people to marry? Last time I checked, no.

Being overweight doesn’t mean one can’t have a successful career. Just look at Girls creator Lena Dunham, actress Melissa McCarthy and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.

Or look at Ryerson University fashion communications student Diana Di Poce, 22, a self-described big girl. She recently founded Dare magazine, a digital publication featuring only plus-size models. Her goal is to increase representation of “curvy” women in the fashion industry and show that “style has no size.” That seems like a more productive reaction than nude photos and middle fingers.

Vivien Chang recently graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from the University of British Columbia.


Being big isn’t exactly a civil rights issue

  1. This is written from the point of view of one of a person who hasn’t experienced much bullying in their life. It is true that sizeism isn’t necessarily a civil rights issue but it is a human dignity issue. Telling the victims of systematic bullying and hate by telling them to just “overcome it” demeans victims and is permissive of the behaviour of the bullies. You further belittle the circumstances of bullied people by showing three example of people who have overcome the crap they went through and then generalizing the point by suggesting that it’s easy to move on. Yes, it is possible to overcome these situations. No, it isn’t easy.

    Attitudes like the one you present help people like Jeffries justify their actions as merely “insensitive and attention-seeking” instead of holding him accountable for his hate.

  2. Well to expand this issue of obesity and social values pertaining to obesity. There is an interesting psychological shift occurring. Because the obesity epidemic is growing to such an extent, and there is the movement to beautify obesity, you can present a row of pictures of people who are obese and of healthy weight and people will say the obese person is of normal weight and the heathy weight people are too skinny. This is a scary issue. You can read the article in the British Medical Journal (BMJ. 2008; 337: a494)

    “Changing perceptions of weight in Great Britain: comparison of two population surveys”
    F Johnson, research fellow, L Cooke, senior research associate, H Croker, clinical research dietician, and Jane Wardle, director of health behaviour research centre

    And from The International Journal of Behavioural Nutrition and Physical Activity (Int J Behav Nutr Phys Act. 2011 Mar 22;8:20. )

    “Does perception equal reality? Weight misperception in relation to weight-related attitudes and behaviors among overweight and obese US adults.”
    Duncan DT, Wolin KY, Scharoun-Lee M, Ding EL, Warner ET, Bennett GG.

    Have you ever seen the health effcts of obesity in the intensive care unit of a hospital? Have you seen obese people have to have limbs removed because of the diabetic cirulatory problems and polyneuoropathies?

    If it takes some ignorant businessman to say “you’re too fat for our clothing line” to bring more attention to the declining health of our society, then so be it. There is no reason for obesity. You can argue it is a person’s genetics that they are too fat – this is a flawed perspective. Just because a person’s body is attuned to store energy more than another person, genetics is still no excuse for over supplying the body with energy. Eat less and move more and you won’t be unhealthy. Also, the obesity epidemic is to the point at which todays children are outright expected to live shorter lives than their parents.

    Now, I am not advocating that the fashion industry’s values of ultra skinny people is good. In fact, for my own opinion, seeing some woman walking down the street who is too weak to keep her knees from knocking together because she is so skinny she does not have the muscles to walk straight, is as disappointing to me as seeing some other person eating a donut while their belly is so big they have not seen their feet in 12 years.

    So, please explain how there is a net benefit to population health and to reducing the healthcare funding drain by pampering the feelings of people who are obese and by celebrating being overweight.

  3. The author is confusing civil rights with civility.

    Many people assume anyone over 220 pounds is any combination of lazy, unhealthy, or stupid. It’s not everyone, but it’s enough to have a real effect on those people’s lives and livelihood. Casual dismissal of this stereotype (such as this article) is part of the problem.

  4. Looks like the feelings police is out in full force!

    Another wonderful gem of a person who can’t seem to take accountability for their actions. People CAN lose weight. People can’t change their race, sexuality, place of geographical birth or their height.

    Stop appealing to emotion and start taking accountability for your actions.

  5. Wow. The privilege and willful ignorance dripping from this person’s attitude is appalling. So is the ignorance about how fat people get fat (I do not consider fat derogatory unless used that way.) Yes, there is a percentage of obese people who get that way from their behaviors. There is also a percentage of them that exercise, eat real food and STILL end up getting subjected to condescending verbal abuse like the above. Sometimes it turns physical. People don’t die of obesity – they die of diseases like heart failure and diabetes that, interestingly, seem to claim an equal number of traditionally thin people that happen to have unhealthy lifestyles. So yes, it is a civil rights issue – and Ms. Chang, you are as bigoted as any member of the American Confederacy.

  6. First they ignore you. Then they ridicule you. And then they attack you and want to burn you. And then they build monuments to you.