#MarALard*ss and the Left’s Fat Problem
Progressives’ point of gleeful ignorance might also be our Achilles’ heel
It started on Sunday morning. Jon Cooper, Chairman of the Democratic Coalition, called his 239,000 followers to tweet using the hashtag #MarALardass. By the end of the day, the hashtag was a trending topic on twitter, replete with an endless stream of fat jokes.
I sat at my laptop, a lifelong fat person and a lifelong progressive, watching it all unfold. My stomach sank, turning in on itself, as thousands of anti-Trump tweets targeted him not for his racism, xenophobia, transphobia, ableism, misogyny, proud history of sexual assault, destructive policies, bold power grabs, or the vast and serious harms he’s causing in communities across the country and around the world. Instead, they posted pictures of his belly, his buttocks, his double chin. Photographs that didn’t look fat enough were enhanced to look even fatter. One person after the next — people with equality and ally in their twitter bios — took aim not at Trump’s actions, but at his body.
Unsettled, I went to bed, hoping for deep sleep, but finding little of it. My night was restless, my sleep light, and what little dreams I had swirled around the wave of angry responses I knew would follow.
And they did. I woke up the next morning to hundreds of twitter notifications, angry replies from fellow progressives incensed at being asked to consider the collateral damage of their insults. The initial tweets were troubling, but when fat people (including me) called for critiques more substantive than “he’s fat,” many responses became dismissive, aggravated, aggressive. We’re hitting him where it hurts. This is how we get to him. He needs a taste of his own medicine. Some turned speculative. You’re probably just some Republican troll anyway. Only a Trump employee would defend him this way. Who made you the PC police?
I sat at my keyboard, feeling despondent, powerless, exhausted and perplexed in equal measure. I understood their responses, feeling so driven to anger, so impotent that shouting schoolyard insults at strangers felt like the only rejoinder. If I can’t make him stop, at least I can make him hurt. But hurt hasn’t stopped his virulent anti-immigrant rhetoric. It hasn’t tempered his misogyny. And it hasn’t ended his presidency. There was no strategy here, just the frustrated belief that any retaliation might be useful.
I thought about the fat people who would read those tweets in this tsunami of proud mockery of fat bodies. I thought about the people who would feel emboldened in their desire to shame and shout down fat people by the simple virtue of our bodies.
I thought about myself among them. How thin was the ice where I stood? How many political disagreements would it take for my body to be ridiculed this way? Which of my friends, family, colleagues would use the hashtag? How long would their gleeful laughter ring in my ears? How much of my suffering would they need to see in order to consider a simple request for decency? When could my actions, as a fat person, be considered on their own merit, divorced from the body that was seemingly to blame for so much?
Once again, my body was expendable.
This has happened so many times before: having to choose between the movement I love and the only body I have. #MarALardass is so far from the first time my fellow progressives have made their feelings about bodies like mine abundantly clear. For years, the American Left has attacked its opponents, created public policy, and written off voters — all in the service of anti-fat bias.
I was 27 years old in 2010, but suddenly felt like a child.
Michelle Obama, then the First Lady of the United States, launched Let’s Move, a campaign to “reduce childhood obesity to 5%” in two decades. That same day, the President created the Task Force on Childhood Obesity, aimed at creating a national action plan to meet the goal of Let’s Move.
The launch of the campaign loosed a wave of new, panic-ridden conversations about the scourge of childhood obesity. News networks and entertainment shows, already saturated with content about the obesity epidemic inundated the airwaves with reports about fat children. And in amongst all those stories, all that attention, there were virtually no voices of fat people. We were always talked about, never talked to. Always lectured, never asked.
Here we were, our size made an epidemic, our wayward bodies creating some national crisis, always on display, but never listened to. Fat people were to be seen, and never heard. We were the bogeymen, the instructive moral of a sad story, and who would listen to a cautionary tale? Who would consider what this new war did to its child soldiers, the fat kids who were suddenly enemy combatants?
I held off news coverage as much as I could, changing channels and turning pages in the paper when the topic came up. But it wore on me. News footage regularly featured fat bodies milling around in public, filmed from the neck down, without their knowledge or consent. I found my eyes searching the screen for my own body.
Friends, coworkers, acquaintances — largely members of the political Left — would wring their hands about the fate of our nation. They played out gory, imagined dystopias of where we were heading, their voices thick with a salacious kind of fear as they described a world in which every body looked like mine. How terrible. My otherwise progressive family in my otherwise progressive hometown joined in, too. The undertow of their own judgments proved too strong to resist.
I shut it out as much as I could, opting instead for the comfort of my own queer and trans communities. But before long, the epidemic appeared there, too.
Dan Savage, frustrated with straw man arguments against marriage equality, set up a scarecrow of his own in a piece titled Ban Fat Marriage:
Since we know that obesity is “contagious” — someone with an obese spouse is 37% more likely to be or become obese — then we shouldn’t permit the obese to marry. If an outright ban on fat marriage seems too draconian, then we shouldn’t permit the obese to marry the non-obese. The odds that the skinny spouse will be ultimately be seduced into the risky obese lifestyle are simply too great and the potential health consequences too severe.
I hadn’t let the wave of fat panic get to me until that moment. As I read on, I wished the ground would swallow me whole. Even in my own community, the community I had dedicated my young life to serving, I was little more than a rhetorical device. My body made me a punching bag, and I was exhausted and bruised from going so many rounds.
Throughout the day, other LGBTQ people chattered about the piece, scandalized and delighted by its risqué take. One sent me the link. Thought you’d like this. Commiseration had never left me feeling so alone.
I have spent my life as a progressive, taking regular and sustained action for social justice, economic justice, and more. And I have spent the duration of that same life as a fat person. Too often, those two facets of my life are pitted against one another, and the progressive community I love leaves me to choose between the only body I have and the politics I have dedicated my life to pursuing.
#MarALardass, Let’s Move and “Ban Fat Marriage” were hardly the first times the Left had taken aim at fat people, and they certainly wouldn’t be the last. The political Left had long since used the deep-seated fear of fatness to attack opponents, galvanize a base, and symbolize capitalism, greed, poverty and ignorance.
As a proud member of the political Left, I say this with love and heartbreak: we have made it abundantly clear that we hate fat people.
We make it clear that we hate fat people when we attack our political opponents for their size. Chris Christie, the former governor of New Jersey, was cartoonishly corrupt, but still, most critiques of Christie focused on his size, rather than his actions. Time magazine even released a cover story on Christie titled “The Elephant in the Room,” accompanied by a photo of Christie’s fat silhouette. After the 2016 presidential election, statues of Trump, with a fat body and a small penis, appeared around the country, despite the protests of fat trans and intersex people. Even critiques of Monica Lewinsky disproportionately focused on her size. Why would he want her?
We make it clear that we want to rid the world of fat people when we advance policies related to the “obesity epidemic,” a framework that insists that the mere existence of fat people is a threat to thin people. Programs like Let’s Move! and the national task force don’t take aim at preventing diabetes, hypertension, heart disease, mental health, or any other specific health conditions. Instead, they take aim at a body type, making two thirds of Americans enemy combatants in a war we never wanted. We make it clear, too, when we advance sugary beverage taxes, focusing more on the weight gain sodas can cause than their myriad of direct, preventable harms to public health.
We make it clear that we will readily mock and deride fat people when we create and buy into fat caricatures of political bogeymen. We disproportionately characterize conservative people as fat and poor, using the two as a shorthand for backward, regressive thinking. Trump voters are depicted wearing ill-fitting, food-stained confederate flag and MAGA shirts, despite the fact that most Trump supporters are affluent, not working class.
We do all of that without regard for what it says about us, much less what it says about the fat people we know and love. We champion the war on obesity and the childhood obesity epidemic without regard for what our tactics actually do to the fat people — including the fat children — we hold dear. Yes, we have passively accepted scripts that were staged long before our time, but each time we recite their lines, we send a clear message that we don’t respect fat people, and that fat people’s dignity isn’t worth considering.
We make all of this clear while we fail to listen to fat people. We fail to respect fat leadership. When we like a fat person, we divorce them from their unsightly bodies. And when we dislike them, we take aim at those same bodies we otherwise ignore.
We may not intend it, but as progressives, liberals, and radical leftists alike, we have made it abundantly clear that we don’t like fat people, we don’t want fat people, and we believe the world would be a better place without fat people around.
This is a matter of hurt and harm, but it’s also a matter of strategy and values.
70% of Americans are fat — designated by their BMI as either “overweight” or “obese.” Fat people make up a majority of this country — and a majority of its voters. Fat people vote, organize in our communities, and play political leadership roles. Strategically, fat people aren’t just a bonus. We’re a political necessity.
But every day, fat folks on the Left are asked to sacrifice our bodies for our values. We are asked to ignore our own skin, to shoulder the insults hurled at bodies like ours, so that we can continue making a political impact. Continuing to take aim at our bodies means writing off a supermajority of voters.
Continuing to forsake fat people is also out of step with our own stated values of dignity, justice, inclusivity, equality. When we talk about fatness and fat people, we use the logic of bootstraps, tough love and personal responsibility, hallmarks of the rightwing thinking that sacrifices humanity at the altar of judgment. We talk about calories in, calories out like we talk about poor people saving money. We assume that we could outwit poverty, outsmart our own bodies. Suddenly, we become so deeply conservative.
What are your values? Is the way you talk about fatness and fat people in line with those values?
I can’t answer those questions for you. Only you can do that. But I can tell you what my experience has been like, spending countless hours dedicated to the Left as a 340-pound woman.
It is exhausting to dedicate myself to a movement that finds my body, and its dignity, so readily expendable. I am singed and ragged from being so readily used as kindling to stoke the flames of public disdain; battered from so long being used as a political football. I long for the day when, in my political home, my body can be simply a body.
It feels telling, too, that I have long since given up on the dream that my body might be loved, respected, supported by my cohort. No, my goal now is to simply live in a body that is ignored, no longer the collateral damage of what so many allies call friendly fire.
Until then, my question for my compatriots on the Left: where do you want your values to end? Do they extend only to your political allies? What about to people whose bodies you find unsightly? What of the people you use so readily as metaphors? How far do your values extend? Will they stop short before they reach my feet?
Could you agree to a ceasefire with bodies like mine? Could you focus on the substance of your political opponents’ arguments, rather than taking aim at their bodies, and mine? Can you name Donald Trump’s racism and Chris Christie’s corruption without mocking their bodies and, by extension, mine? Do you talk about me the same way if I do something with which you disagree?
What do you want this movement to stand for? Who do you want to stand with you? Am I allowed to stay?
Like this piece? There are more like it, including What Chris Christie Fat Jokes Teach Your Fat Friend. You can also find Your Fat Friend on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.