Living Our Fat Lives of Active Isolation

This isn’t going to be the most coherent post. I’m angry, sad, and exhausted. I’m tired of being marginalized, and see no end in sight. I’m afraid of the opportunities that will be denied to me; I’m afraid of both hyper-visibility and invisibility — all due to the number on the scale.

My day job is in a corporate environment. Every year I help run a big event. Lots of photos are taken during the event — sometimes we hire photographers, sometimes students/staff take photos. We use the photos on our website and for promotional purposes afterwards. Since I help run the event, I’m there during all these ‘happening’ moments when most people are taking photographs. I tend to get into the photographs.

And those photographs I’m in? — get relegated to the dustbin, year after year. That is, there are no photos of me — though I’ve been helping to run the event for four years now — on the website, except in my profile in two shots of more than twenty people standing in a group.

Why, you ask? Well, because I’m both very tall (which isn’t any image-related crime in itself) and I’m very fat (bingo!) so in photos I often look like I’m from some planet of giants while everyone else are happy citizens of Normalville.

It’s pretty obvious. I see it. Still, I’ve got body dysmorphia from a near-lifetime of self-hate related to my body size, which I’m still working to get over (and might never get over), so I understand how I can see everyone else as normal and myself as the daughter of the Jolly Green Giant’s fat cousin.

But who the hell gave other people the right to just cut me out, like I don’t exist, like I don’t deserve to be there? Like my interest, my friendliness with the participants, my intelligence, my talent, my hard work — like those are traits of some invisible ghost and not a real, breathing, live, actual human who exists and takes up space?

I get it. Big fat people like me are a ‘blight’ on photographs, right? We’re ‘disproportionate,’ we stand out like ‘sore thumbs’ amidst the petite women and tall men (who are allowed to be a bit chunky, but not more than a bit). We ‘throw off the balance’ of the photo.

Except that that’s nonsense. How in the hell does a human throw off the balance of any group of humans? Do we not deserve to take up whatever space we’re programmed to take up? Says who? Are we any less human because we’re the size of two (or three) small ones? Is a ‘good’ picture one that lacks as much diversity of the human form as possible? Why? Why am I the ‘blight,’ the ‘disproportionate one’ — or is it that photographers just lack the skill to shoot fat people and thin people together?

And how does this effect the photographs we see of real people doing real things (not advertisements, that is)? As a fat person I often feel like I never see other fat people (especially fat women not in service roles) in photographs of conferences, schools, and professional events. It sends the message that fat people do not attend conferences, schools, or professional events. Could it be, rather, that fat people are being cut out of the photographs, or not photographed at all, because they’re an ‘unattractive blight,’ ‘throw a picture off balance,’ etc?

We attend conferences, schools, and professional events. We exist. Why are we being rubbed out? What is so goddamned offensive about our existence that we get treated the same as the accidental picture you didn’t mean to take of your blurry thumb, in the discard pile without a second thought?

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8 comments on “Living Our Fat Lives of Active Isolation

  1. vesta44 says:

    Very coherent post, and I understand completely where you’re coming from. It’s like being erased from the company – you work there, do good work, work hard and make a valuable contribution, but because you don’t fit the societal “ideal”, you don’t get the photographic recognition that everyone else gets.
    Is there anyone at the company that you can talk to about this? Ask them why photos that you’re in aren’t showing up on the website? Or is that a kettle of fish that’s best left alone?

  2. notblueatall says:

    I totally get what you’re saying, but have you asked about this to whomever does put the pics online? I have these thoughts, too. Is my size hurting my business (cafe)? But you know what? It’s my space so I don’t care! I know it’s different in the corporate world (been there), but I also feel that we don’t speak up because we carry all of this shame and guilt and I hate that! It wasn’t until I chose to speak up about what I wanted in my career that I started to get recognition and promotions and things. I know it’s different for everyone and I do hope you find a way to make peace with this. You deserve recognition! You’re amazing!

  3. Whoa, devastating. Total erasure. I also found this post to be very clear and coherent. I can empathize with the pain you must feel at being removed from the records of this event that you’re probably pretty proud of helping to make happen each year. It’s not like they’re just not taking pics of you, they’re actually tossing them out?!? Inexcusable!
    I hope there’s someone you feel you can talk to about this and get some actual engagement with and not just lip service.
    Sucks, and I’m sorry this is happening. I have the same experience with family reunions. Lots of pictures of everyone but me. No good.

  4. bigliberty says:

    Just to clarify, there isn’t any formal policy about this, it’s just that I know those pics won’t be used, and they’re not going to be used specifically because “fat girl is in them” but because they aren’t “attractive or appealing,” etc. So it’s an insidious thing where I don’t even have any policy or outright statement to point to, just a knowledge that they would much prefer I don’t appear on the website. I mean, there are a ton of pics and we only ever use a few of them, so I doubt it would ever be as blatant as tossing my photo out in favor of a similar one with thinner people, or nothing. That’s the ‘invisibility’ part that’s so frustrating.

    And I *am* proud of the event. I’ve even been a participant (a student) twice before, and my first publication (an article) was based on a project that came out of this event. But the feeling of being an outsider just for the way I look is really, really strong.

  5. I don’t have anything much coherent to add except that I have the same thing happen to me repeatedly. Photos of almost all of my colleagues have been used at some time for promotional images – only those who have opted out themselves, and fat people are excluded. In fact, time and time again the people of colour, non-heterosexual and those with disabilities are actively pursued to be in promotional imagery (some kind of awful “quota” has to be met of marginalised people – it rarely makes the people themselves feel very valued). It’s like a double insult – put in “token” people but make sure there are no fat people. Insulting to those used as tokens, insulting to we fatties.

    • bigliberty says:

      You know what’s the most frustrating thing about it to me, Kath? It’s not an explicit policy. And, if asked, I think those who choose or vet the images will rarely admit their bias. It’s just like, by definition, fat people are excluded. By definition, fat people are blights, unattractive, and ruin photos. By definition, fat people are embarrassing things (not even entirely human!) to tuck away in a corner of the company, acceptable only if they work hard (often harder than thinner people) and don’t parade their fatness around everywhere.

      Ugh.

      • Yep, I totally understand. There is no policy that says hide the fatty and find a token POC/gay person/PWD – it’s just deeply rooted prejudice. Prejudice that fat people are unsightly, prejudice that “we’d better fill the quota with an ‘other’.” It’s sickening.

  6. Jackie Yoshi says:

    It’s interesting you happened to post this now, as I’ve recently been in a situation where issues like this came up. I was talking about how ridiculous it is that there are thousands of fat and healthy people who can’t simply go out shopping, because stores would rather live the fantasy that being thin is the norm. So you go in and see all these thin clothes hanging, nobody buying them, because they fit no one. This is good business sense?

    Then this person in the chat I was in discussing this, gave me a lecture on how science proves that calories in/calories out is reality. I said “Really, and those scientists aren’t being monitarily compensated for coming to that conclusion?”, as you know nobody wants to listen to research saying it isn’t so. They said well it’s science and they believe in science, apparently even corrupted science. So I go to sleep thinking like you were, when is it going to change? I’m upset and terrified that if they’re going to kidnap kids from their home for just being fat, where things will lead. The fact that people still believe offering clothing to fat people, is supporting them in being unhealthy is disturbing.

    I guess this is just a difficult time, I don’t know what will come of this. However, people have been pointing out that the more they poison kids with the obesity hysteria, the more likely they are to have starvation eating disorders. I want to say, “Well duh!” You think that if children can’t even watch a family movie, without being preached to about how bad fat is, they’re not going to fear their life over it. Now they have to fear being taken from their homes? I’m guessing if this happens, there will be thousands of children in pediatric eating disorder wards. What then? Will that even be reported? Or will people still harp on about how obesity is killing kids, while the obesity hysteria is causing fat kids to kill themselves.

    I just want to be able to go to the *bleep*ing mall, and be able to find some cute clothes. Why is that so much to ask for? I’m a fan of My Little Pony Friendship is Magic, and they released the shirts for it. Now either they think the only fans of the show are:

    A. Anorexic teenagers

    B. 2 year olds

    Since the shirts they provided would only fit those in the above categories. What the hell, how many fat and healthy people do there need to be before someone finally realizes we’re a market for clothing? It’s unreasonable to suggest that clothing for thin people is supposed to motivate fat people to get thin. It’s simply not going to happen, unless people continue thinking self starvation is the norm. Now they have the children beliving that, the children who have been denied a childhood by this. The children who will probably suffer some sort of growth problems, because they refuse to eat, because the media tells them eating is bad. Will people be happy then? When will everyone be satsified? Oh and this crap that well fabric costs money, and it takes more fabric to make clothing for fat people. That’s okay, that justified while children are killing themselves to be thin?

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