Political cartoons and memes made it clear that if there’s anything to agree on on all sides of the political spectrum, it’s that the big guys are an easy target.
At the start of the vaccine deployment, a political cartoon was released it depicted a thin, vaccinated person, trying to achieve herd immunity but unable to because of the ball and chain on his ankle; a fat man who had “anti-vaxxers” written on his back.
Now that the pandemic is dragging on, those who are against mask mandates circulated a cartoon which depicts a pro-mask and presumably pro-vaccine fat person who uses a mobility aid, asking the thin person to wear a mask to protect their health.
What is a person who is against aversion to fat TO DO?
In these cartoons, it is clear that both sides of the political spectrum use fat bodies to represent ignoramuses who hold back the “good citizens”. If you criticize the gross disgust in these cartoons, you risk political disloyalty and being swallowed up by whichever side of the political debate finds your protest useful.
under the radar
These “comic stigmata” are not limited to political cartoons; they are ubiquitous on television and through various forms of media.
Fat-hatred often flies under the radar in supposedly “progressive” left-wing circles, where they might see themselves as holding higher moral ground for body positivity and for being pro-diversity. However, most anti-fat cartoons are “progressive” pro-vaccine and pro-science perspectives.
Left-wing politics still holds up the big ones as precursors difficult times and environmentalists group them disproportionately like the cause of climate change. They are represented as a embodiment of cruelty to animals by PETA — marginalize fatty vegans who want to join the movement.
How can fat people, as well as fat-hating critics, be expected to align themselves with political movements using rhetoric that slanders their bodies?
An evolutionary retreat
Fat hatred has crossed political lines for more than a century in the United States. In his book, Fat Shame: Stigma and Body Fat in American CultureAmy Farrell details how both sides of women’s suffrage have portrayed their opponents as fat more than a century before anything”obesity epidemic” was created by changing and erroneous BMI designations.
Proponents of suffrage portrayed themselves as light-hearted, whimsical and feminine while those who opposed it were portrayed as old, fat and sour-faced. These cartoons sent the message that if women got the right to vote, they would still be feminine and good white mothers.
The opposition cartoons went backwards: pro-suffrage women were portrayed as tall, muscular and domineering (they don’t need the vote—they already have too much power at home!).
Some of these cartoons even depicted suffrage supporters in a way that evoked blackface, implying that white women collecting the vote would upset racial hierarchies. As the story goes, when white women get the vote it will upend gender roles, understood as women getting fat and fat, meaning evolutionary backwards.
“Fit” for citizenship
These representations and those related to COVID-19 demonstrate who is considered “fit” for the progress of a nation. In this case, progress is how well people navigate the pandemic.
Political rhetoric, as the cartoons show, focuses on who is a trustworthy citizen acting in the best interest of the nation. Fat isn’t just shorthand for to be misinformed or ignorantit’s about who owns the bodies considered ideal and who should reproduce to produce more citizens.
Think of high-level politicians who have disagreeable ideas. They are systematically presented as bigger than they are to show that they are not “fit” for citizenship, nationhood or respectable public debate.
It should be possible to point out the issues behind fat hatred without being politically aligned with the person whose body is being ridiculed. You don’t need to think too deep to conjure fat politicians whose ideas they disagree with — but should we be silent about these rhetorical techniques?
Fat Hate Effects
Fat has also been used to signify other “disordered desires” which must be brought under control through proper discipline. The book by community health researcher Lynn Gerber, In Search of the Straight and the Narrow: Weight Loss and Sexual Reorientation in Evangelical Americadetails how conversion therapy and mid-20th century weight loss movements had overlapping goals to punish appetites for both food and sex on the grounds that obesity and homosexuality offend one interpretation peculiarity of a Christian God.
Given these connections, many people who would consider themselves pro-sexual diversity would never think that the diet and weight loss industries are related. Yet gay men have significantly higher levels of body dissatisfaction than straight men, and fat-hatred in political cartoons continues to be a way of bashing anti-gay politicians.
I haven’t even discussed the practical effects of continued fat aversion in access nutritional care, high school socialization, academic performance, post-secondary education, mental health support, use, career advancement, go out together, Health care and Cancer screening. Or how fat people are prone harassment and bullying. Fatty compounds racialized police brutality and racial disparities.
Representation matters in the formation of political solidarities. These issues require attention that will only occur if obese people are empowered to criticize groups even if willing to instrumentalize their bodies for political gain.