Grievances with fatphobia

By Ada Baggil

I don’t know this group very well. Four or five guys, plus a girl who they would call fat. I am not close with the girl, either, but whenever I look back on this set of interactions, I feel a weight that pulls at my chest.

I am skinny. I suppose that’s why they felt safe when the girl left us in the guys’ dorm room. One of the boys asked in a nonchalant, conversational tone whether any of them would date a fat girl. Oh no, I sigh in my head, already cringing at what is to come. 

After a show of consideration, the boys release a chorus of tittering Nahs. For the next several minutes, I am subjected, as an outsider, as a sort of stranger, to the men’s gossip. They go on disturbing debates on an issue that, really, boils down to whether you are utterly superficial (and perhaps a dash misogynistic) or not. It seems in this group that they are the former, with more than a dash. They talk about how they prefer “healthy” women but denigrate those who are not the right form of healthy. They seem to think chubbiness indexes a lack of exercise, a lack of dietary control. I notice they mention the stomach and arms, but not the butt or chest. They are selective in their contempt, and this makes it evident to me the misogynistic underpinnings of this specific preference. I cringe the whole time, and I will always, always, regret not saying a word, even though this was a group of men I did not know and was thus intimidated by. I will especially regret not speaking up when one of them offhandedly asks, “What about [the female friend]? Would you hit?” 

They look around awkwardly, trying to hold in their laughs at the idea of dating her. I hear “No way!” in an offended tone of voice, then a few chuckles. I think they’re aware that they’re being mean, but their subconscious attitudes, the ingrained fatphobia that seems drilled into some from puberty onwards, overpowers that awareness. Of course, not wanting to date your friend in itself is not a bad thing; in fact, it’s necessary for the sake of friendship to not be romantically attracted to your opposite-gender friends. But these platonic feelings do not stem from respect and boundaries. No—it’s more transactional, more dehumanising than that. They stem from fatphobia at its intersection with misogyny.

The girl re-enters, ignorant. The boys at once change the subject, pulling at their vapes, releasing clouds of e-smoke into the small room. I excuse myself under the pretense of a meeting. Leaving the stuffy building, I call one of my best friends to distract myself from the complicated cloud of emotions in my chest; I feel heavy, weighed down by my incredulity at the boys staying friends with a girl they hold in such contempt, as if she’s no longer a person based upon a number on the weight scale. My friend on the phone is overweight, too, listening as I rant about what I just saw and heard, knowing she’ll mock them.

Instead, her reply is brusque: “Well, yeah. What did you expect?”

Her composure unsettles me, so we crack jokes and make each other laugh to move on. Although I struggle to keep up with her wit, I have lots of fun. I still think about those guys from time to time, wondering at their crudeness, their shallowness. Wondering at their lives and the arbitrary constraints they wrap around themselves. Wondering whether the boys and the girl are actually happy…

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