This past weekend, I discovered that an animated .gif of me had been posted to a subreddit on Reddit called /r/fatpeoplehate. I proceeded to read the comments on said post, which I probably shouldn’t have done, but oh well. Here we are.
The .gif–in which I, an overweight man, attempt to look sexy for the camera and fall in the shower as a result–is one that I myself purposefully created and posted to Reddit two years ago. So suffice it to say that it’s not any kind of invasion of privacy that concerns me. I’m an actor, an entertainer, and overall a pretty open guy. I’ve even shared actual, unironic nudes over the internet before–so sue me. The point is, I unscrewed my shower curtain rod and struck that overly confident pose and filmed myself falling in that shower nine or ten times before getting it juuust right precisely because I wanted people to see it. I wanted to entertain people. I wanted to make them laugh.
Part of my original intention–with the shower .gif as well as several others that I made (not nudes by the way, but potentially NSFW)–was to send up some “gone wild” tropes that crop up on the internet. Specifically, I was interested in the subreddit where I posted them, /r/ladybonersgw, which features self-posted photos of often very conventionally attractive men (i.e, the ladyboners in question) in various stages of undress. The guys in these photos typically exude confidence and sensuality, their captions casually mentioning the work-out session that they’re either about to start or have just completed, as well as various parts of their body that they might or might not be genuinely insecure about (but come on, probably aren’t).
Bear in mind that my intention was never to ridicule folks who are health- and fitness-conscious. As a man who dates men on occasion, I have a deep appreciation for fit guys. I happen to find fit guys pretty darned attractive. That’s why I frequented /r/ladybonersgw in the first place. All I wanted in creating my .gifs was simply to subvert some of the expectations of the subreddit to (hopefully) humorous effect. And most of the responses that I got indicated that I’d succeeded in doing that–so much so that, to this day, my falling-in-shower .gif is still the number one upvoted submission on /r/ladybonersgw of all time*. (Not bragging, just giving context.) (Okay, I might be bragging a little.)
*(Admittedly only because the one submission above mine, a picture of a guy who looked like a mixture of Jake Gyllenhaal and Ryan Gosling, was later deleted.)
All of that to say that I really thought it was self-evident from the .gif that, yes, I know I’m fat, and no, I don’t think I’m conventionally attractive, I’m just having fun with the classic fat-guy-falling trope because life is funny and our bodies can be too so let’s just laugh about it all together, ha ha ha, right?
Well it turns out that, for some people (namely the subscribers of /r/fatpeoplehate in this case), being fat is no laughing matter. In fact, for some people, my being fat isn’t just something that makes me unattractive to them (which by itself I could totally understand). Beyond that, for some people, my being fat is something that makes me less than human, a waste of space that should just kill itself, and–ultimately–deserving of their complete and unapologetic hatred.
Just to give a taste, these people had the following to say about my falling-in-shower .gif:
His tits are bigger than my fiance’s tits… That’s fucking disgusting
I don’t understand. Does he think he is good looking or funny?
The sad thing is, this is the top upvoted post OF ALL TIME in ladybonersgw.
The best thing is it’s up voted so much because it’s funny that he’s fat and not attractive
I mean do we really need a towel? I’m sure his fat covers his tiny** dick.
This ham is in dire need of a roundhouse kick to the face for thinking anyone would want to see this shit.
At that point i would just turn the water on and drown myself.
ewwwwwwww … just … ewwwwwwwwwwwwww
What pisses me off is that this is at the top of LBGW. No one thinks you’re attractive, we’re just laughing at your fat fuck self falling and taking the rod down with you. Doesn’t he realize that people are laughing at him, not with him? He has more and it’s disgusting.
**This part’s true, though I prefer the word “subtle.”
The below letter is my response.
Dear People Who Hate Me Because I’m Fat,
First of all, I get it. I do. You’ve got your reasons for hating fat people, and in a certain light, they make a certain kind of sense. I can admit that.
For beginners, I can only imagine what it’s like to be a thin person trying to get around in a world full of people who are much larger than you. We larger people take up more space, are usually slower walkers, might have trouble getting in and out of movie and airplane seats and other narrow spaces, and typically sweat more due to the extra weight we’re carrying around, which for some of us might result in an inadvertent and unpleasant body odor at times. I’ll be the first to admit that these realities can sometimes result in us larger people coming across as gross, lumbering, self-indulgent animals. In fact, I can imagine you feeling about fat people the same way I feel about many of the careless, immature undergraduates where I work: “Hoooly fuck, fuck fuck fuck, you’re the worst, stop talking, stop being this way, stop being what you are, please change now or go away because you’re driving me insane and making the world a worse place to live in, ughhh.” And I can only imagine how much angrier I’d be if those undergraduates literally physically intruded into my world, taking up two or three or even four times the amount of space I do and just plain being in my way all the time. I imagine my claustrophobic resentment would only get worse if that were the case. So, I understand.
And then there’s the fact that many of us larger people–not all of us, but many of us–are large because of things that, for the most part, we control. We eat more when we could eat less. We eat unhealthily when we could be more nutritious. We lead a more sedentary lifestyle when, with the right amount of willpower, we could be more physically active. So I understand why you’re offended by us. You value moderation in consumption. And you put a lot of effort into maintaining a healthy body because you value good health and want to lead as long and happy a life as possible. And when you see us larger people eating burgers more often than you, and walking more slowly than you, and having trouble fitting into spaces that are perfectly easy for you to fit into, it must almost feel like a slap in the face. Like we’re disrespecting you. Like you’re actually playing by the rules, you’re being good stewards of your bodies and mindful of what you consume, while we larger people just don’t give a shit, going around and breaking the rules and consuming whatever we want with abandon and expecting the world to accommodate us no matter what.
And then you get the Fat Acceptance Movement, which, in light of the above, must seem absurd. You must be thinking, why do these people who are eating without discipline and letting their bodies get out of control and overall just leading really unhealthy lifestyles feel like all of that’s worth celebrating and being proud of? Why are they not ashamed? What the fuck?
So in a way it’s only natural that you feel like it’s your duty to call fat people out. To mock them, to ridicule them, to make them aware of how ridiculous they are so that they realize the importance of losing weight and start making healthy changes to their lifestyle.
All of that to say: I understand why you hate fat people. I understand why you hate me. Or at least I think I do. Maybe there’s more to it than I laid out above, and if there is, the omission wasn’t purposeful on my part and I apologize for it. But I’ve really and honestly tried to put myself in your shoes here, to empathize without judgment, and I do think I understand at least partly where you’re coming from.
Now, I don’t necessarily identify as a member of the Fat Acceptance Movement, and I’m not here to repeat that movement’s arguments. I’ve never really written formally about fatness or gone out of my way to read the various blogs and editorials about Fat Acceptance. It’s just not an issue that I’ve felt the need to be actively involved in, per se. (And that’s almost definitely because, as a man, it’s easier for me to get away with being overweight in this society than it is for a woman. Large women are far more stigmatized than large men, which is bullshit, but that’s another thing entirely.) (I’m also ashamed that it took personal attacks on my weight for me to care enough to write about this issue. I’m sorry for that.)
I am, however, a big proponent of body positivity. Because I think one of the most important things for being happy and motivated is simply feeling comfortable in your own body, even if your ultimate goal is to change it. Of course, I’m sure there are some people who have lost weight motivated solely by self-loathing generated by not being comfortable in their own skin. But my sense is that that’s the exception rather than the rule. I’d venture to say that, for most people, self-loathing is destructive rather than constructive. It feeds back into the very behaviors that make them loathe themselves to begin with. A vicious cycle.
So I can appreciate those of you who think you’re doing society a favor by openly hating fat people–but, just speaking practically, if your goal really is to motivate fat people to lose weight, making them feel shittier about themselves than they already do isn’t going to work. It might happen to motivate 1 in 10 fat people to say, “Shit, I don’t want people to hate me anymore, especially myself, so I’m going to lose weight.” But that’s still 9 out of 10 fat people left over who you’ve just made feel really, really terrible and completely unmotivated because of all the negativity swirling around inside of them–negativity that you’ve gone out of your way to add to. So if your goal really is to help people be healthier in the long run, you might want to try building them up rather than tearing them down. That doesn’t mean condoning what you view as unhealthy behavior or pretending that obesity isn’t a legitimate health issue. It just means operating from an orientation of love and understanding rather than outright hate.
And I get that you think society is too accepting of fat people. Otherwise, why would there be so many of us? Makes sense. But here’s the thing: just because obesity is statistically prevalent in the United States, doesn’t mean that some very powerful and pervasive cultural messages aren’t telling obese people every day of their lives that they’re ugly and worthless and human garbage. And if being exposed to those already hateful messages every day hasn’t been enough to motivate us, what makes you think that you hating us is going to help in the slightest? Like I said above, it just isn’t.
Of course, I’m not so naive as to think that everybody who hates fat people does so out of tough love. I’m sure there are plenty of you who just plain think we’re disgusting and couldn’t care less about helping us be healthier, you just really, truthfully, totally want us to die.
I guess all I can do in light of all that is extend an invitation. A genuine, heartfelt invitation.
I invite you, Fat People Haters (and anyone who hates any group of people so cavalierly), to consider deeply the fact that underneath all our differences–differences in appearance, in ethnicity, in lifestyle, in sexual behavior, in worldview–we are all, every single one of us, human beings. We all have thoughts and feelings. We all hope and, at times, despair. We all have dynamic inner lives that are heavier than any amount of weight we could carry on the outside, burgeoning interiorities that swell up at the experiences of loving and being loved, and either curl inward or lash out when on the receiving end of hate. That morbidly obese woman you see breathing heavily while she walks down the street isn’t just some animal for you to scorn. That overweight man trying to squeeze past you in the movie theater seat row isn’t just some large, annoying object making you feel uncomfortable and restricted. They’re real human beings with entire lives behind and within and in front of them. They have memories, regrets, aspirations. They could even be the kindest or funniest or most generous people you’ll never meet. So why do they deserve your hate? Just because they look different, have a different body than you? Just because, for some reason or another (probably more than one), they happen to be bigger than you at this point in their lives?
This is getting to be a long letter, and I’m sure it’s not the best-organized piece I’ve ever written, but I’ve got other things to do so I should probably wrap it up.
I guess what I’m inviting you to do is to practice the same empathy that I’ve afforded you. Because just as you’re disgusted by us larger folks at first glance based purely on appearance and on your appraisal of our lifestyle–and just as I myself am so annoyed by college undergraduates the moment before I remember that I was once just like them–it’s really tempting for me to be disgusted by your hatefulness and negativity and let it end there. But I acknowledge that you’re strangers to me, that I don’t know you, and that I don’t know the full story behind why you feel the way you do. I don’t know anybody’s full story–nobody does.
So I’ve tried to understand where you’re coming from, and I honestly believe that most of you don’t actually want to hate anybody. You might believe certain things about what’s valuable and important in life and about what are good and bad ways to treat one’s body, and that’s great–but deep down I think you know that hating human beings with different experiences and bodies and beliefs and appearances and priorities and challenges than you isn’t good for anyone. Not for them, and not for you.
So why participate in that negativity? Why tear other people down when you can build them or up, or at the very least just ignore them? Why not appreciate the inscrutability and dynamism of other people’s inner lives before you respond to their outward appearance with hate? Why not just love?
Again, just an invitation. We’d love to have you.
Sincerely (and with love),