I went and saw the movie What to Expect When You're Expecting earlier this afternoon. It wasn't really that great of a movie (a bit of "stupid humour" which I detest). However, it also had significant amounts of fat hate/stereotyping going on. One moment in particular had an impact on me. This post contains a small amount of plot details, but I wouldn't call them spoilers.
One of the women in the movie is a fitness coach and runs a "biggest looser" style TV show. The first clip we see of the show is fat contestants sliding, head first, down a slip-n-slide. Their arms back, their bodies in the positions of large seals, or whales. The others in the theatre audience laughed. I almost got up and left. I wish I had. It would've been just as easy to show the clip with them having fun. Sliding down in different positions, with smiles on their mouths and laughter in their voice. That is not what the director chose, however.
While the TV show in the movie is fictional, It is very clearly based on the show The Biggest Loser. I've paused on that show a few times while flipping channels, but the dehumanizing of the "contestants" literally makes my stomach churn. Not to mention my knowledge of how unhealthy and uneffective it is. I always gave people who loved the show the benefit of the doubt though: they watched it because they too hoped for weight loss and here were people "achieving it." Or, they watched it and cheered on the contestants, giving them credit for fighting a battle.
And maybe it was because the movie was fictional, but the people in the theatre watching the movie - they laughed.
As bodies that looked like mine particiated in what would've been a fun summer activity, slipping and sliding and speeding down the side of a hill, my fellow movie-goers laughed at how funny it was to see the fat rolls pressed against the wet shirts of the contestants. How funny it was that they resembled large blubbery mammals making their journey back to sea.
I know it's a movie. I know it's a comedy. I know the audience was supposed to laugh and that those people would most likely not have pointed and laughed had they seen the same thing in person. But, that's kind of the point too. While we may have facades of politness, the things we find funny and worthy of our judgment when we think we've been given permission to be superior is noteworthy.
I also know that everyone gets picked on in comedies. There were other groups of people picked on in this movie as well. However, it still bothers me because the fact remains that my body is still fair game to be publicly judged, mocked, and ridiculed As I listened to the laughter, there was a voice in my head that said, "That's why. That's why I never participated in sports, learned to skate, admitted I liked a boy, went skiing on the youth trips, initiated friendships, cannonballed into the pool with my friends, or joined a dance class at the gym."
The only reason I didn't get up and leave the theatre is because I didn't want the laughs to turn directly to me: "Fat lady can't handle a joke." It's been a long time since I felt ashamed of my body to that degree. It was not a welcome remembrance.
I want to scream at the world:
Do you not get it??? Do you not get that shame does nothing but shame? Shame does not motivate. Shame does not empower. Shame does not validate. Shame does not encourage. Shame does not think about the future. Shame does not rise above. Shame does not have courage. Shame does not make you healthy. Shame does not make you take a stand. Shame does not seek the spotlight. Shame does not want to be noticed. Shame hides. Shame curls into itself and tries to dissapear.
Shame will shame itself, compounding one on top of the other, feeding the lies until all that is left is the feeling that the shame you feel is the truth about who you are.
Do you hear me, Children's Health Care of Atlanta?
Do you hear me, American Association of Orthopaedic Surgeons?
Those aren't even fashion mags trying to sell you beauty products. Those aren't weight loss companies trying to get twenty dollars out of you for the promise of losing twenty pounds. And while they, and the entertainment industry, are complicit in the human cost of our shame-driven "war on obesity," they are not the only ones. The groups linked above are medical organizations. People who should know better. People who should consult with advisors for a holistic approach to health and know just how little, and how much, shame does.
I'll continue to fight back the only way I know how: lessening my shame. Venturing out with sleeves a little shorter than I'm comfortable with. I will swim in the summer and then lay in the sand as I let the sun dry my bare flabby arms. I will one day join that dance class and let all jiggle as it will. I will take up space and I will be visible and if I ever go slipping-n-sliding down a hill I will spread my arms wide and laugh with abandon at the joy of the moment.