Home Fat Shame and Stigma No, Chubby Mannequins Aren’t Selling a ‘Dangerous Lie,’ but Shitty Writers Certainly Are

No, Chubby Mannequins Aren’t Selling a ‘Dangerous Lie,’ but Shitty Writers Certainly Are

by Erika Nicole Kendall
photo of six women of various body sizes and complexions, all wearing nike products

I know I’m late on this, but I had to make sure that my kids (!!!) survived the end of the school year before I could seriously take a look at this.

From the Telegraph:

Nike Inc, the multinational company named after the Greek goddess of victory, has introduced plus-sized mannequins to its flagship store in London to “celebrate the diversity and inclusivity of sport”. They wear the famous Nike tick, which says: welcome to the mainstream.

 

Yet the new Nike mannequin is not size 12, which is healthy, or even 16 – a hefty weight, yes, but not one to kill a woman. She is immense, gargantuan, vast. She heaves with fat.

 

She is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement. What terrible cynicism is this on the part of Nike? [source]

What fresh hell? She “heaves with fat?” What kind of person describes another human being’s body as “vast?”

I’ll circle back to that. The essay doesn’t get any better, though.

The fat-acceptance movement, which says that any weight is healthy if it is yours, is no friend to women, even if it does seem to have found a friend in Nike. It may, instead, kill them, and that is rather worse than feeling sad. Fat-acceptance is an artifice of denial – they are fat because they do not accept themselves – and a typically modern solution to a problem, if you are a narcissist. It says: there is no problem. Or if there is, it’s yours, not mine. As soothing as that may be to hear, your organs and your skeleton will not agree. [source]

See, that’s funny—my understanding of the fat acceptance movement was about issues like the way stigma affects the quality and efficacy of care overweight people receive, or the way public stigma has left people feeling like the only relationship they’re allowed to have with their bodies is a violent, shame-riddled one.

In fact, there’s an irony in referring to fat acceptance as narcissistic. So much of the talk about fat people and how awful it is to be fat (and how awful you are as a person for being fat) is about the public’s own narcissism: a need to feel good about themselves, the need to hear their own voice, the unsubtle humblebrag of being able to lord this kind of social power over someone. You’re fat and I’m not, they think, therefore you’ve lost the right to make your own decisions about your body or even feel good about your body. I now have the power to strip you of your self-esteem because you’re fat. I have the power to decide, unilaterally, that you no longer deserve empathy.

It’s the most self-centered, self-aggrandizing, non-sensical bullshit you’ve ever heard—certainly more non-sensical than the average person refusing to submit themselves to this kind of social and emotional power grab thanks to the encouragement given to them by the fat acceptance movement.

What kind of person believes that fat people are so, I don’t know, problematic, that they don’t even deserve to have products sold to them in a way that showcases how those products would look on their actual bodies? What kind of person believes fat people don’t deserve to have their dollar respected, don’t deserve to be courted properly by corporations just like any non-fat person? Who would think fat people don’t deserve empathy, or respect?

I’ll tell you the kind. The kind who, a few years earlier, would write this for another publication:

Perhaps I’ll always be fat. Perhaps I have a lifetime of largeness ahead of me. Perhaps I will waddle a lonely, fat road towards death, as society expects me to.

 

But is that my problem? Or is it yours? Here’s a thought: what if the only barrier between me and my future happiness is not my tsunami of flesh but your giant prejudice?

 

Trust me, I’ve had a lifetime in its shadow and it sucks.

 

I have been overweight since about the age of ten, so I was bullied at school, naturally. ‘You’re fat!’ the other (mostly female) children would say, ‘and we won’t play with you.’

 

One terrible day in 1983, the popular girls came up to me. They had shiny blonde hair and skinny knees and they dazzled me. ‘We are sorry we were so mean to you,’ they said.

 

And to seal the new bond of friendship, they gave me a Minstrel to eat. I swallowed it, and they all fell about laughing. ‘Why are you laughing at me?’ I asked. ‘Because that Minstrel,’ they said, ‘has been on the floor of the changing rooms since last term!’ [source]

Yes, that’s right*—the writer who, in 2019, has “solved her addiction to sugar” and has joined the ranks of fat shamers to commit her size hatred to print… is the same writer who, in 2008, was defending the humanity of fat people (one of which she professed to be) and talked extensively about the cruelty heaped upon overweight people and how it makes them feel.

And what is my terrible crime? What have I done to deserve this outpouring of scorn and opprobrium? Eaten too much, that’s all. I have breached one of the boundaries of polite society with my giant bottom. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I am fat.

 

You want to know how fat? OK, I am a size 16 and I weigh 14 stone. And at the moment, most of that is rage.

 

I have written about my yo-yoing weight many times in this newspaper. I have written fashion pieces and health pieces and reports about diets I have tried. I have done juice fasts, yoghurt fasts, and a diet where I had to chew a lot (I chewed so much my jaw muscles bulged out of my head).

I have written many jokes about my weight  –  far too many jokes, I am afraid. They were funny, yes  –  ‘Some people go out for a Chinese. Last week I ate China!’  –  but when I read back over them, I realise that I wrote them partly as an apology for myself.

 

It was as if I was saying: ‘I’m fat, reader, but will you forgive me if I’m funny? I may not be decorative, but I’m amusing! Doesn’t that count for something?’ [source]

You know what this all sounds like? This sounds like someone who believes that all the cruelty heaped upon them in their own lives was somehow a motivating force, and sees it as their newfound responsibility to “motivate” others in an equally cruel way. This reads like someone who truly believes that fat people must apologize for their bodies and, once she finally ‘freed herself from her sugar addiction‘—I’m assuming that means she has lost some weight since?—she wants to feel the power of denying someone else’s humanity.

This is what lingers at the core of just about all fat-shaming you’ll ever see. Even worse, because fat discrimination is so common, very few people even bat an eye in response or even think to defend the person on the receiving end. It leaves so many plus size women feeling desperate to lose weight to free themselves of the stigma. The number of women I encounter regularly who believe they deserve to be dehumanized into thinness is why I am such a staunch advocate of size acceptance—who are you, without your humanity? Why does being fat mean you don’t deserve to have yours recognized?

And, to me, that was always what fat acceptance was trying to change—to remind people of the humanity of overweight people and the consequences of shame. The shame is the most dangerous part of all this, not the idea that you, too, big girl, can be stylish and comfortable and safe while you work out. The isolation that shame encourages—the feeling of, because you’re too different you must hide your differences from the world—only ultimately worsens whatever addiction you believe an overweight person may have. In that case, the mannequin with the jazzy sports bra on the curvy frame actually undoes that shame. But none of this actually mattered.

This was never about some stylish mannequins. It was never about health. It was always about a person with obvious body image issues forcing us all along for the ride at gunpoint as she tries to figure out which side of the argument feels more powerful.

Unfortunately, she’ll never know that the truest, most meaningful power we could have lies in ending the cycle of manipulation and shame.

*You caught the similarity in those reddened/bold phrases, right?

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4 comments

Charlene Jahnert July 2, 2019 - 7:28 PM

You’re the best thing on the internet and that’s a fact. Thank you for this.

Lex @ Flecks of Lex July 5, 2019 - 6:53 PM

This is a great post! All of the ire reporters have directed at the mannequins is just absurd, but it’s even worse in this case because of the history of this reporter!

Alecia August 6, 2019 - 8:13 AM

This is a great post!

VV August 27, 2019 - 9:32 AM

“he is, in every measure, obese, and she is not readying herself for a run in her shiny Nike gear. She cannot run. She is, more likely, pre-diabetic and on her way to a hip replacement. What terrible cynicism is this on the part of Nike?” – OMG, this got me so angry!!!! I weight 94 kg and I do Crossfit 3 times a week. So – yes I do need shiny gear as everyone that is fat and trying to get not to be fat!!! So annoying!
Great post! 🙂

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