I’m assuming that most of you who don’t reside under rocks have heard about Jennifer Livingstone and her awesome response to the concern troll who chastised her for being a bad example by being fat at people on their television screens.
In case you have been vacationing in Bedrock and don’t know about it, her response was to go on air and call the bully out for what he is: a bully.
All the wrapping it up in diaphanous garments of concern for little children who might be exposed to the horrific sight of a woman who isn’t thin leading a valuable life and succeeding in a demanding profession can’t hide the ugly message of ‘get off my screen, you’re wilting my manbits.’
Plenty of fabulous bloggers have discussed this episode in some detail. Check out this great entry by Michelle, the Fat Nutritionist. She does a lovely job of breaking down how it’s bullying and why that should be called out.
But one thing in the entire conversation has really struck me: the conflation of body type and behavior.
I’m not just talking about the random assumptions of how people who are fat behave as opposed to how thin people behave. I’m talking about the fact that the original email to Livingstone and quite a few of the ‘but it’s not bullying’ comments on Michelle’s blog all claim that fat is – in and of itself – a behavior.
Here’s a quote from that original email:
Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain.
I don’t know about all of you, but I did not choose the size of my body, nor is it a habit I maintain.
I have a lot of habits. I make a lot of choices as to my behavior every day. I can choose the behavior of taking walks, eating foods I enjoy, playing The Sims, washing dishes in a timely fashion or leaving them to marinate a while, how much attention to pay to Jake the Cat’s constant need to be cuddled, what books to read, and whether or not to sing along with a song I enjoy.
These are behaviors and habits. Some of them may or may not affect the size of my waistline on at least a temporary basis.
But my waistline is not a behavior any more than my height is a behavior. That can also be altered temporarily if I choose, should I take up the behavior of wearing heels, but it is not in and of itself a behavior.
My eyesight is not a behavior, though some of my habits can affect it on a temporary or a permanent basis, such as if I spend many hours on the computer. Still, my eyesight is not a behavior.
My hair is not a behavior, though my behavior can affect it dramatically. I can choose how often to wash it, what products to use on it, how to style it, whether or not to change its color with dye… but all of that does not change the fact that my hair is not a behavior.
My height, my weight, my eyesight, my hair, and dozens of other things are simply physical characteristics and nobody who does not know me can hazard a useful guess at how the are the way they are. Any of dozens of behaviors or choices may or may not affect them.
My waistline may or may not be affected by the choices I make in regards to food and exercise… but I know people who try out every diet known to man and beast without their weight changing one iota in either direction. I’ve heard the story of many a person with an eating disorder diagnosed as EDNOS (eating disorder, not otherwise specified) who had every single symptom of anorexia nervosa except the weight loss.
There are those who struggle with clinical depression and find taking anti-depressants helps a lot. But you know what? Many of those drugs have the side effect of weight gain. I don’t know about anyone else, but I think it’s probably better to take the drugs, gain the weight, and be able to function than to be thinner and trying to cope with suicidal ideation.
Genetics play a huge and uncontrollable part in body size. I’ve got five generations of family photos on my wall that illustrate the inherent unlikelihood of my being thin.
I am fat.
It’s. Not. A. Behavior.
But you know what is a behavior?
That’s right, making the choice to treat people as less than worthy of existence because of a physical characteristic.
I didn’t choose my height, my weight, my eye color, or my skin tone any more than you did. But every single day I can make the choice to treat others with dignity and respect.
And that really is a behavior.