I was born fat, and I’ve been fat all my life. I was my mother’s ninth pregnancy. She was an immigrant, often working two full-time jobs as a factory worker and cleaning woman. She said she had nothing to offer me, not even love, so she compensated with food. Food was often noodles dressed with margarine for dinner and grits garnished with margarine for breakfast. You had to eat a lot of that to get anything close to your nutritional needs. Fat kids are likely to grow into fat adults. The body has a set-point, a weight it thinks it should weigh, and the body will fight to maintain that weight. When I eat less, my metabolism slows, I dream about food, I can’t think straight, my energy crashes, migraines strike, and sometimes I get really sick – my body thinks I am starving.
I can tell the same fat sob stories as every other fat person. When I walked to work on the street I grew up on, one of the neighbor boys would shout “Minnesota Fats!” over and over. My fourth grade teacher called me “big ox.” My childhood friends called me “The Female Hulk.” Just before a terribly intimate and vulnerable moment, one of my first boyfriends said, “We guys were sitting around talking, and we decided that you were the least attractive of the girls in our group, but you are really funny and smart and you have a great personality.” A dance teacher, without even attempting subtlety, pulled me aside from a strip-mall night class in ballet. “Look in the mirror! You don’t have the body and you are wasting your money and my time.” There have been times when I have been standing on a street corner and a carful of men slow down and make snorting pig noises. Studies show that fat women pay a penalty in lower salaries than equally qualified thin women and in marriage rates. Fat women can develop an even darker view of human nature than priests who hear confession.
Nepal’s Himalayan mountains were a turning point. I was so alien to the villagers that my size was the least of their concerns. One asked me what planet I came from. I had to walk to these villages over mountain trails that took me to 17,000 feet. I admired my body’s ability to traverse, in one day, sweltering valleys of mango trees and parrots, and then climb up to a snow-covered pass with ravens and eagles overheard. Most blessedly, I almost never saw a mirror when I was teaching there. Suddenly, being fat was not the center of the universe, and I learned to focus on other things.
I learned to focus, for example, not on what I don’t have, but on what I do; not on who I can never be, but who I am. No, I’m not the hot prom queen. But I am the smart girl, and I get great joy from study, learning, and writing. Rather than crying over being alone, I can be grateful for the time I’ve devoted to my intellectual life, time married mothers might envy.
For the better part of twenty years, I’ve watched my neighbor, who has cerebral palsy, wait for the state bus to take him to daycare. He can’t mount the two steps onto the bus himself; the driver elevates my neighbor on a power lift. When I first encountered him, he was a teenager; he’s now in his thirties. His patient, daily wait for the state bus informs me of how much I have that so many others do not. Envy, self-pity, and self-concept as a victim blind us to what we have, and prevent us from enjoying and exercising our unique gifts. “Accentuate the positive,” is not just a song lyric. It’s a powerful route to a sane and productive life.
Another turning point for me as a fat woman was realizing that if I stop obsessing on my own weight, if I stop obsessing on others’ ability to hurt me, and if I just focus on our common humanity, no matter how differently rewarded our bodies may be, I can have pleasant, mutually beneficial interactions. Decades ago, I met a beautiful, charismatic, actress. As I approached her, I said to myself, “I’m not going to focus on how much better looking than me she is.” I spoke to her as if she were a human being just like me – because she is. That actress and I are still friends, over thirty years later.
The other day a news article about a rapper named Lizzo popped into my feed. Lizzo’s weight is estimated at over three hundred pounds. On April 20, 2021, Lizzo released a nude photo of herself. Lizzo has released many nude photos, in which her stretch marks, skin folds, cellulite and sagging breasts are all evident. On April 26, Lizzo posted video of herself twerking in a bikini while muscular black men sprayed her buttocks. In another twerking video, Lizzo appears to be naked below the waist. Lizzo’s sexualized nudity is often characterized as “inspirational.”
In early November, 2020, Lizzo posed partially nude, draped by an American flag. This “inspirational” image was meant to encourage viewers to vote in the upcoming presidential election. Lizzo said, “I believe in … a complete removal of religion in places where it does not belong.” “This country is owned by the oppressor and how the oppressed are locked in a valley of capitalism.” She wants America to be, she said, “a county that respects and restores land to ‘communities of people who owned America before colonizers renamed it.'”
The nude April photo had a less ambitious goal than returning America to Native Americans. It was part of the Dove Self Esteem Project to help “change the conversation about beauty standards.” Yes, Lizzo’s nudity was literally selling soap.
I gazed long and hard at Lizzo’s “self-esteem” photo. The photo didn’t work for me, and I said so, in a small, private internet venue. I said that it has never occurred to me that, as a fat woman, I need a liberation movement, and I see much to criticize in movements that claim that they are about liberating this or that identity demographic. In this, I feel kinship with black conservatives.
Yes, as a fat woman, I’ve been paid less. But I think that capitalism is the best system for everyone, including me. I think that inserting the government into employers’ hiring and salary decisions would gum up the works and hurt me in the long run. I also have never wanted any governmental control, in place of consumer purchasing power, over others’ speech about fat. Freedom of speech and expression are foundational to Western Civilization. I’m all for anti-bullying campaigns, but singling out fat kids and ignoring other victims would be wrong. All lives matter. All bullied kids matter. Teaching kids not to bully is not enough; we must also teach the bullied how to cope with human life on planet earth. Our lives will always include challenges that demand our courage and will also include pain that demands our fortitude. Any liberation movement that promises a tomorrow without pain cannot prepare our youth.
I’m wary because liberation movements all too often slide into revenge. Whites on their knees is a recent trend: see here, here, and here. The craving for vengeance reached a nadir on April 24, 2021. A black man verbally harassed a white Holiday Inn employee, including calling this gay employee a “f—-t.” The overwhelmed employee, who suffers from schizoaffective disorder, began to beat himself, hit his head on his computer monitor, and sob uncontrollably. The black customer publicized this cruel video of another human’s nervous breakdown; filmmaker Tariq Nasheed and rapper Freddie Gibbs gleefully shared the video, and it went viral. The employee announced that this exposure drove him to suicidal thoughts.
Everyone watching the video, black or white, is capable of such behavior. Once you categorize yourself as perpetual victim, and define an entire class of people – whites, thins, men – as your enemy, morality flies out the window and any sadistic revenge becomes moral. Yes, when I was a fat girl being picked on in high school I had sadistic revenge fantasies. But I’m a grown-up now, and I strive to be a Christian. Such dramas of domination no longer appeal.
One of my worst tormentors died a couple of years back. I surprised myself when I felt absolutely no sense of jubilant triumph that I had outlived him, and also no relief over the death of this sleazy jock who I used to think was omnipotent. I merely realized that I had reached the age when my high school classmates were beginning to die off. My turn would come soon enough. “All flesh is grass.”
I don’t want to define myself as a victim, and other people as my oppressors. I don’t want to use my very real victim status as carte blanche to behave sadistically towards others. Yes, others have been cruel to me – but I’ve been cruel, too. We are all sinners in the eyes of God. The answer is not to divide humanity up into victims and victimizers with a different moral rubric for each group. The answer to universal human cruelty can only ever be a universal ethic. My answer is to strive to live according to Judeo-Christian ethics for a humanity that is universally fallen.
I also said, in my internet post in a private group, that I find especially creepy the demand that people must be punished for not finding fat bodies sexually attractive. It’s both cringey and terrifying that totalitarians would use the excuse of “fatphobia” to attempt to invade the intimate roots of our desires, tinker with them, and “adjust” them. I think that sexual attraction is hard-wired. I think it’s normal for most humans to find thin people sexier than fat ones. Leftists also say that sexual attraction is hard-wired. When arguing for gay rights, they argue that gay people are “Born This Way” and cannot change. Leftists abandon “born this way” reasoning when arguing against “fatphobia.” The same leftists who rage at parents who socialize their sons in traditionally masculine activities in order to aid the boys’ development of a secure self-concept feel perfectly confident in ordering “fat phobic”people to masturbate while watching fat porn.
It’s not okay to say you are not sexually attracted to fat people, declares fat activist Sonalee Rashatwar. Not being sexually attracted to fat people is a “systemic” – there’s that word – “oppression.” There is no such thing as human nature, says Rashatwar. “Sexual preferences are not hardwired, they are socially ingrained ideas that we ingest and rarely question … The actual roots of fatphobia come from anti-Blackness and colonization … through European colonization of West Africa, there was this specific usage of fatphobia in order to establish a hierarchy.” To overcome fatphobia, Rashatwar advises cultivating arousal while watching fat porn stars.
“There is no such thing as ‘human nature’ – rather, the greed and selfishness that we see within society today are a reflection of the ruthlessness and competition demanded by the capitalist system,” says the Socialist Appeal. In Marxism, in place of human nature, there is only so much meat, so many cattle, who can be infinitely manipulated to obey the ideology of the moment. Ironically, Rashatwar acknowledges the inescapability of a hard-wired reality beyond malleable ideology. On her webpage, she warns, “Travel arrangements should not be made on Sonalee’s behalf by the host organization due to her disability needs.”
In his 2003 book, “The Evolution of Desire: Strategies of Human Mating,” David Buss cites massive amounts of data from around the world. Worldwide, men prefer their sex partners to be thinner, younger women with clear skin and symmetrical features. Women work hard to live up to that physical ideal, including through subterfuges like cosmetics and wigs. Evolution formed humans who find healthy, young, and fertile partners sexier than unhealthy, old and infertile partners – that’s how we got here. Obese women are not just less healthy overall, they are less likely to have successful pregnancies. If our ancestors preferred less fertile partners, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.
When I look at Ava Gardener, Cyd Charisse, Florence Griffith Joyner, or Julie Newmar, my senses react totally differently than they do to the nude photo of Lizzo. Not only do I find the above-listed women’s bodies beautiful, I would like to have a body like theirs. In my fantasies, I do have a body like theirs. I don’t want to be brainwashed in any attempt to make me want to have a body like Lizzo’s, or to have sex with a body like Lizzo’s. Evidently, Lizzo feels the same. Lizzo has bragged that she flirted online with Chris Evans, who starred as Captain America. In that role, Evans displayed a body to rival a Greek god.
I also said that the message that a fat body is an equally healthy option as a thin body is inaccurate. The ten leading causes of death in the US are heart disease, cancer, accidents, respiratory illnesses, strokes, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, influenza, kidney disease, and suicide. Data shows that obesity clearly increases the risk of death for all of these conditions, with the possible exception of suicide.
I mentioned that, as a teenager working my way through college, I worked as a nurse’s aide. One of the most nightmarish conditions I confronted were pressure ulcers. Pressure ulcers result from a cessation of blood flow to a portion of the patient’s body, often the buttocks, thigh, elbow, or any other body part where the patient habitually rests his weight. The body’s own weight cuts off blood flow. The greater the weight, the greater the pressure, and the greater the risk.
Ideally, nurse’s aides move a sedentary patient every couple of hours, but in understaffed facilities, that ideal is often not met, especially with heavier, harder to move patients. All too rapidly, a site of merely red skin disintegrates into an open wound that penetrates as far as the bone and might kill the patient. Patient rooms would smell of pus and decaying flesh. The odor was an almost physical presence. Some nurse’s aides would pass out. I was proud that I never did. Nurses, almost always Filipina immigrants, would struggle against the advance of decay, trying anything to stop it and restore healthy flesh, including pouring granulated sugar into the wound. It’s not easy to watch a helpless, bedbound person suffer such a hideous condition. Obesity is correlated with a higher rate of pressure ulcers. It’s not “compassionate” to bury this biological fact.
In one of her topless photos, Lizzo’s skin folds are visible. Intertriginous dermatitis is an inflammatory skin condition found in skin folds. Skin folds can harbor Candida albicans, a pathogenic yeast, as well as Staphylococcus, Enterococcus faecalis and E. coli, usually found in the intestine, and Proteus mirabilis, typically found in urinary tract infections. “Hygiene after toileting can be challenging for patients who are obese, increasing the risk of skin breakdown or infection in the genital and perineal area,” reports one online guide.
Fitness author Jillian Michaels attempted to point out that Lizzo is championing a condition, obesity, that kills. Michaels was, of course, slammed. Michaels is a lesbian and the Woke usually champion LGBT people, but in this instance fat and black won out over homosexuality in the Woke sweepstakes of identity worth. Katelyn Esmonde, PhD, a Hecht-Levi Fellow at Johns Hopkins, bashed Michaels for stating simple truths about obesity.
Parents are raising fat kids right now, kids who will, as I do, face struggles against deadly excess weight for the rest of their lives. It would be a service to humanity if Dove, Lizzo, and Dr. Esmonde developed a way to help parents to raise normal weight children.
Instead, Dove, Lizzo, and Esmonde are sending a perverse self-contradictory message. Note that none of them is saying “Let’s celebrate Lizzo’s success as a singer.” No. Lizzo must be seen as a sexual object. She must pose naked. There’s no liberatory or feminist logic to Lizzo’s insistence on being a sex object. Kate Smith, Rosemary Clooney, Jessye Norman, Montserrat Caballe, and also male singers Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Luciano Pavarotti: all were very fat and well respected, boasting spectacular, international careers, without twerking nude.
Lebanese-born, Canadian Professor Gad Saad has himself been overweight. He admits that before a recent diet, he was the size of a Sumo wrestler. Because of this, he said ,”I’m allowed to comment on the lunacy of the body positivity movement.” “It’s perfectly reasonable to expect to be treated kindly … but if someone says I don’t want to mate with someone who weighs four times my weight, that’s not fatphobia. It’s personal agency. You get to decide whom you are attracted to.” Saad cites a 2019 article from the Philadelphia Inquirer. In it, Sonalee Rashatwar argues, “To end fatphobia, we need to dismantle Western Civilization.” Fatphobia, she says, is “white supremacist.” “Fatphobia is tied into capitalism.” “BMI is a tool to criminalize fat people.” “People who are Nazis, people who are white supremacists, people who are trying to think of the perfect race are also super fatphobic.” “Rashatwar traces contemporary fatphobia to colonial brutality and how enslaved people were treated,” the Inquirer article states. “Citing researcher-advocate Caleb Luna, Rashatwar said curing anti-fatness would mean dismantling society’s foundation: ‘I love to talk about undoing Western civilization because it’s just so romantic.'”
The above-mentioned Caleb Luna‘s self-description reads, “Caleb Luna (they/them) is a fat queer (of color) critical theorist, performer, poet, essayist, cultural critic, and performance scholar. As a Ph.D. candidate in Performance Studies at UC Berkeley, their research focuses on performances of eating, and historicizing cultural representations of fat embodiment within the ongoing settler colonization of Turtle Island. As an activist political thinker, they are interested in engaging embodied difference as a generative resource toward fatter understandings of collective freedom.”
Gad Saad testified before the Canadian Senate in 2017 regarding Bill C-16, an “anti-hate” bill that might criminalize using pronouns the referent disliked, that is, “he” in reference to a biological male who preferred to be called “she.” Dr. Saad testified, “The slippery slope of totalitarian lunacy awaits us … What about fatphobia? There are many more Canadians who are overweight than transgendered, and the collective abuse that they experience is sizeable. Should the government legislate such hate? … I am weary of the ethos of victimhood that has parasitized our culture. The operative motto is not, ‘I think therefore I am,’ but ‘I am a victim therefore I am.’ I refer to this condition as Collective Munchausen, namely the pathological quest for sympathy by proclaiming victim status using identity politics and intersectionality. People have the right to live as equal citizens under the law. They do not have the right to demand that their identities be coddled and celebrated lest they might otherwise get offended.”
Again, I voiced my reservations about so-called fat liberation and body positivity in a private, small internet venue. I hoped for intelligent conversation. I was ready for polite disagreement, and I hoped that any such disagreement would help me better to plumb my own views.
Instead, “Alex,” a woman I had invited to this small group, attacked me with the ferocity of a rabid dog. Her words knocked the wind out of me and I’m still stunned. I’ve known “Alex” for over ten years. I had thought that we were friends.
Alex is elegantly thin. Unlike me, she’s never known the agony of being relegated to less-than-human status because of her size. I thought she might be respectful of a fat woman’s ruminations on whether or not fat liberation is a good idea. Instead, Alex accused me of maliciously contributing to the miserable life and early death of a fat woman she knew. I had never heard of Betty till I read Alex’s post. I’d never met Betty – she lived thousands of miles from me, in another country. Somehow I was responsible for Betty’s sadness, Betty’s fights with her family, and Betty’s death from cancer. Alex accused me of calling Betty “greedy” for being fat. In fact I never used the word “greedy” in any of my posts about obesity, nor would I.
I’d encountered this kind of shrill, over-the-top, utterly unhinged leftist rhetoric before. Object to any aspect of Black Lives Matter, and you are a white supremacist. Criticize Islam and you are a colonialist. Mention that fat causes health problems and you have Betty’s blood on your hands. Even if you never knew that Betty existed.
A couple of years ago, I had tried to converse with someone I thought was admirably intelligent and rational about why I think that it’s wrong to force people to use biologically inaccurate pronouns – that is, to call a biological male “she.” If one wants to use such pronouns, great. But to force people to use those pronouns smacks of totalitarian speech control. This previously rational person began, physically, to tremble, and to shriek that I was guilty of genocide against transgender sex workers of color. How do you respond?
The left labels the cutting and poisoning required to stop a beating human heart in abortion as “health care.” Planned Parenthood never uses the word “fetus” on its page describing how abortion works. Rather, the abortionist will “use a small, hand-held suction device or suction machine to gently take the pregnancy tissue out of your uterus.” “Gently.” “Pregnancy tissue.” Such delicate language. Referring to a male as “he” is, on the other hand, participation in genocide, and saying that you’d rather have sex with a thin person than a fat one renders you guilty of Betty’s murder.
One thing Alex said stunned me: “You are not fat.” Alex is a lifelong thin person. She, though, assumed the mantle as “the official voice of fat people.” She had the authority to exclude me from fat identity. Alex, after the Oprah interview, championed Meghan Markle as the voice of black America. Markle is so pale-skinned when I first saw her photo I didn’t understand why anyone would call her “black.” Alex also supports the concept that a man who identifies as a woman is in fact a woman.
Alex was doing to me, a fat person, what I’ve seen leftists do to conservative black people, LGBT people, and women. None of my social media contacts who support Black Lives Matter has ever quoted a black conservative. This is remarkable. I’ve seen hundreds of posts from them re: Black Lives Matter. Never, ever, a word about Shelby Steele, Candace Owens, Jason D. Hill, or any other black conservative. Black conservatives are “Uncle Toms;” they are “not really black.” LGBT conservatives like Dave Rubin are “not really gay.”
My mother was a cleaning woman and my father was a child coal miner. I’ve worked as a nurse’s aide, carpenter, landscaper, cleaning woman, and waitress. Leftists tell me I’m “not really working class; not really poor.” I am a woman who refuses to identify men per se as the enemy. I’m “not really a woman.”
Identity is the golden coin of the realm for the left. Human life qua human life does not matter. Only identities that can be commodified in the Revolution matter. Being a fat woman has been a central fact of my life. No matter. I wasn’t signing on to the Revolution; I was not really fat. Caleb Luna divides fat women into categories, some more valuable to the Revolution, and therefore more authentic, than others. Just as Marxism condemns the Lumpenproletariat, workers not attracted to Revolution, fat activists bemoan women who aren’t fat enough to rebel. Luna writes, “Instead of challenging notions of body terrorism, visibility that focuses primarily on the smallest – and therefore most privileged – group of people can recreate what fatness should look like, re-stigmatizing those fat people who don’t look this way … Microaggressions from smaller fat people can feel especially betraying.”
Elegantly thin leftist Alex co-opted fat women’s pain. Others’ pain is a commodity to Alex. Alex used fat women’s pain to dictate the only allowable narrative: fat women as helpless victims versus oppressors who hurt those victims with fatphobia. Fat women’s pain exists only to grant power to thin leftist Alex, power she used to dominate and silence anyone who didn’t endorse her Marxist narrative. Alex and other Marxist heroes can claim, “I see that you are in pain. You are in pain because of Western Civilization, the patriarchy, and sexism. I can rescue you. Join with me, and we will smash bigotry against fat people. Join with me, and fat women will suddenly become as sexually attractive and powerful as the most fit thin woman. After the Revolution, Chris Evans will want you!”
Douglas Murray and Coleman Hughes characterize our current moment as one of “moral panic,” of “the madness of crowds.” We wonder when this madness, this panic, will pass. One thing is clear. There is no shortage of raw material, that is, human pain, on which leftists can batten. Alex senses human suffering like a wasp senses sweets. Leftists swarm toward human suffering and claim ownership more aggressively than Cortes claiming the Aztec empire. Your pain is mine, they shriek. I alone can comfort you. Join in the Marxist revolution, and fat people and gay people and black people will know the sweet bliss of the brave new world’s soma. We will outlaw facts. No longer must anyone confront such inconvenient realities as actual police shooting statistics, or the impact of obesity on the heart. We will demonize the objective facts of mathematics and actuarial prognostication. We will relieve you of personal responsibility. You had no choice. You couldn’t help yourself. Did you overeat? Did your abandoned child attempt to stab a neighbor? You are not responsible! Western Civilization made you do it. We will silence anyone who goes off narrative. They are all haters, bigots, white supremacists!
In addition to there being no shortage of pain, there is no shortage of identities. I am a fat woman, but not to Alex, not to Caleb Luna, because I do not wish to join the Revolution. The category of fat women is further splintered into good fat women and bad fat women. Similarly, senior black scholars who lived through and survived Jim Crow like Shelby Steele and Glenn Loury are “not really black,” but pale and privileged Meghan Markle is the voice of blackness, because she protests alleged royal family racism.
I know what it feels like to be dehumanized because I am a fat woman. I know what it’s like to sacrifice hours, days, years of my life to being too ashamed to be seen in a swimming suit or to attempt to throw a ball or flirt with a boy. All of that hurts. What would hurt even worse would be for me to sacrifice my hold on objective reality, my Constitutional right to say what I think, or my agency that places me as the driver of the car of my own fate. What would hurt even worse than the worst I’ve been through would be to surrender all of those gifts of individuality to Marxists. Marxists try to seduce me with the promise of a world after the Revolution where there is no pain. They would use every precious gift I surrendered to them for their own inflated egos and their million dollar mansions. As painful as it is, I choose this post-Eden reality, the only one in which I can claim a self.
Danusha Goska is the author of God through Binoculars: A Hitchhiker at a Monastery