Edinburgh based plus size style and fat positive blogger AmandaApparel discusses her experience being fat shamed while eating in public, and shares stories from others with similar experiences.
It’s recently been increasingly obvious that my thinner friends and peers have NO idea how much harassment fat people receive on a regular basis. Several are even under the assumption that fat shaming only happens online. I’ve personally experienced fat-shaming on public transport and at the doctor, which you may recall.
A lot of the harassment I've received recently has been while purchasing, ordering, or eating food in public. I’ve had shop workers at the grocery store give me unsolicited diet advice while ringing up my purchase at the till. I’ve overheard “No wonder she’s so fat” from restaurant patrons at the table next to mine while out to eat. I’ve even caught teenagers photographing me eating on my lunch break, and I can only assume the photos were posted to social media.
This public harassment is one of many ways that fat people endure daily stigma. Fat people are viewed as lazy, sloppy, weak-willed, physically and sexually unattractive, and gluttonous even if the people passing these judgements are patrons of the SAME restaurant eating the SAME foods as us terrible fatties (Nutter et al., 2016). Individuals who shame fat people for eating seem to think that they’re offering up brand new information that will save us poor, poor fatties from ourselves. But the truth is, “It is unlikely that bias, ridicule, or perceptions of being defective have anything other than a negative impact on individuals. Anti-fat prejudice has extremely negative effects on individuals exposed to weight stigma…individuals discriminated against are more vulnerable to depression, economic hardship, and isolation” (McHugh and Kasardo, 2011, p. 619).
Fifteen people responded to my survey about being harassed while buying or eating food in public. Participants ranged from 23-49 years old, and recalled being harassed at least once a month and up to 3+ times per week. Participants recall being harassed at many locations including the supermarket, corner shop, fast food restaurants, sit down restaurants, fine dining establishments, work, the pub, school, on the street, at the pub, and family gatherings.
I asked participants to share if particular experiences stood out in their memories, and these were some of the stories they shared:
“I was excited for weeks when I learnt that a new Five Guys restaurant was being opened where I live, I went down on opening day to enjoy the delicious burgers. I was sat at a far table on my own because it's a natural defence mechanism I use, if I'm right in the corner of the restaurant maybe people can't see me. It didn't work cos I caught someone very obviously filming me eat on their phone. I was caught so off guard that it started to make me feel sick so I had to leave and throw my half eaten burger in the bin. I've never done that before and that's why it stuck out in my head, I prepare myself for it every time I'm seen with food in public now.”
“I was in a strange city, on my own, so after a 10 hour day at a work conference I took myself out for dinner. I ordered 3 courses - 12 oysters, a steak and dessert. I had just been served the oysters when a woman from the table next to me commented to her friend 'If I ever get that big and sad, shoot me'. She was looking directly at me, not even pretending to be discreet. I felt like I had been punched. The steak came out and she was laughing and making 'omg gross' comments as I ate. I ended up leaving before dessert came out. I was in tears for most of the meal and this woman thought it was hilarious.”
“I had one co-worker who would comment on any food she saw me consume at work, not always in a negative way, but always audibly note my eating. This included snacks, meals, or beverages at my desk or in the break room. She would ask about my food if I left the building on my break.”
“A car sped up to try to hit me as I was crossing at a zebra crossing holding a bag of food and the woman passenger screamed ‘that's what you get, you fat bitch.’”
Participants recall a range of emotional responses to harassment such as feeling anxious, upset, awful, angry, sad, pissed off, ashamed, and embarrassed. One says they were made to feel “absolutely repulsive, like my personal space has been violently invaded, like I never want to leave the house again.” One recalls “It's changed how I eat and what I buy- I will not eat a chocolate bar outside the house. I tend to order salads when dining with more than just my boyfriend/immediate family.” Another says they feel “Ashamed to be in public, angry that people feel they have the right to comment on my basic human rights to enjoy my food. Sad that it happens when meals can often be the only time I get time to myself to enjoy outside of work.”
Anti-fat sentiment is pervasive, and incredibly persistent (McHugh and Kasardo, 2011). Clearly, something needs to happen to dissuade people from engaging in this dehumanising form of harassment. I agree with one participant’s notion that to end prejudice we need to change the public’s perception of fatness. Several participants noted that bystanders need to act like allies and speak out against this kind of behaviour, rather than doing nothing or worse, encouraging harassment. One participant says “I wish punching was accepted,” but I can’t condone that kind of retaliation…*wink*
Special thanks to the following for sharing their stories:
Anna • Anna G. • Annie • Anonymous • Becky • Carrie • Jacq • Jessica
Jessica • Mel • Sandy • Sarah • Sarah • Sophie • Terri
NUTTER, S., RUSSELL-MAYHEW, S., ALBERGA, A. S., ARTHUR, N., KASSAN, A., LUND, D. E.,
SESMA-VAZQUEZ, M., and WILLIAMS, E., 2016. Positioning of weight bias: Moving towards social justice. Journal of Obesity. vol. 2016, pp. 1-10.
MCHUGH, M. C., and KASARDO, A. E., 2011. Anti-fat prejudice: The role of psychology in explication, education and eradication. Sex Roles. vol. 66, pp. 617-627.