In 2000, we asked “Who Let the Dogs Out?” Now I’m wondering who let the mean girls (and boys) out? We’ve learned to keep our opinions to ourselves about people who are handicapped, no longer blame alcoholics for their disease, stopped wrapping the mentally ill in sheets and dropping them in cold water. But we still find it perfectly OK to make fun of fat people. Hate them when they get on airplanes. Make fun of them when they don’t fit into fashion clothing. Walk up to them in grocery stores and ask inappropriate questions or make hurtful comments.
My friend Ashley (all names have been changed) has lost 100 pounds. She has lost the weight of an adult, but is not yet a size 10. Despite the amazing effort and persistence, she still hears whispers behind her back. “Someone should tell her how fat she is!” Trust me, she knows exactly what she weighs. And how much she has lost.
My client Gina works 94 hours a week. She’s the sole provider for her family since her husband got laid off. She had to give up the gym membership, cut out size-restricted foods, and spend more time working and less time exercising. She’s put on weight. Are her co-workers supportive? The other morning one of them said, ‘If you can’t even control what you put in your mouth, you are so not going to control me!’
Brianna has arthritis. She exercises on good days. On bad days she takes medication. In combination with the medication she takes for he autoimmune disease, she gains wait, slowly and steadily. She would have to eat under 800 calories a day to lose weight. When her friends see her, they ask, “Are you gaining weight? If Elin Woods and Sandra Bullock can’t hold on to their man, how will you ever do it?”
Janine is from sturdy peasant stock. She eats well, exercises regularly, but once she hit menopause, her waist disappeared. When she gets on an airplane, she hears people sigh in relief when she passes their row. “Good she’s not sitting next to me! Fat people smell.” She wonders if the linebacker for a well-known team she saw in line will get the same remarks, although he weighs considerably more.
Finally, there’s my pal Alice. She munches her way through boxes of Sees Candies and bags of potato chips, loves hot dogs, makes her own fries (in oil), and never has lunch without a milkshake made with real milk and full-fat ice cream. At 5′ 8″ she has never weighed more than 127 pounds or worn a size larger than 6. “My brother and I got the looks, my sister has the brains,” she says, “I’m the envy of all my friends.” No one corrects her diet or makes fun of her. She’s slender, and that’s what counts.
All of these stories are true. They don’t happen once in a lifetime, the happen every day to fat people because they are the last class that it is acceptable to criticize out loud. Of course there are people who make bad food choices, have no self control and weigh too much. There are also bad doctors, unethical lawyers, sloppy writers and stunningly bad teachers who sleep with their students. Fat people do not need or deserve your derision, mean comments, smirks, or slurs. If you wouldn’t substitute a racial group, religion, or nationality into your sentence, because it wouldn’t be right, don’t say it about fat people. It’s not right then, either.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer and a life coach. She has been thin and she has been not thin. She thinks brains and compassion trump size.