Over the past week or so, a number of things have floated across my path about the objectification of fat bodies. Whether meant for good or for ill, the objectification of any body is not good. Whether fat or thin, we are not simply boobs and butts and bellies that happen to be floating around in space. We are people–whole and complete.
While both fat and thin people suffer from objectification, it seems there are some sorts that are more common for fat people than thin. One is the “headless fatty syndrome”. Anybody who has ever read or watched anything about fat people in the news ever has encountered the headless fatty syndrome.
Headless fatty is a term coined by activist Charlotte Cooper which refers to photographs or video of anonymous fat people used in news media stories about obesity. The term was created in 2007 when Cooper first noticed the trend in anxiety-laden news coverage of the Global Obesity Epidemic and the War on Obesity. A “headless fatty” photograph features one or more fat person, usually in a public place and unaware of being photographed, with his or her head cropped out of the image. Cooper argues that this representation of fat people is dehumanizing, decontextualizing, and results in the continued disenfranchisement of fat people.
As Charlotte notes in the above definition, showing a fat person in this way treats them as somehow less than human. It characterizes them as bellies or butts walking around and not as unique people with needs and wants and talents and personalities.
One of my famous friends also went off on a journalist who recently interviewed her for a piece festooned with decapitated and chubby torsos. While she admits that the journalist may have not been responsible for choosing these images (often the publisher adds them after the story has been written), she says the journalist should have insisted that respectful images be used.
The reality is that using “headless fatty shots” in the media is currently completely unnecessary. There are several stock libraries available which include whole fat people doing a variety of amazing things like cycling and dancing and eating vegetables and going to the doctor. Two notable libraries are available at stockybodies.com or the Rudd Center.
The Rudd Center claims that they created their stock image library after an analysis showed that over 65 percent of overweight/obese adults and over 77 percent of overweight/obese young people were portrayed in a negative light. Images in both stockybodies and the Rudd Center library may be used by the media free of charge. So there really is no excuse for using the headless fatty shot. It costs less than many of the stock images media outlets are already using. The only reasons for still using these shots are prejudice and/or laziness.
But quite aside from the headless fatty trope, I came across another fascinating video this week (CAUTION NSFW):
This video is interesting to me for so many reasons. First of all, I want to give a shout out to button poetry. They are posting some righteously awesome stuff. And a shout out to Samantha Peterson, one amazingly talented woman. But this poem really made me think of how we so often use inanimate objects as references for a large woman’s body. How we talk about the landscape and the rolling hills of her. And the problematic nature of so many of the euphemisms we use to talk about fat women. What does curvy mean? Does it refer only to model bodies that are amped up hourglasses with nipped in waists and swelling hips? Are bodies only curvy if they come with large breasts? Do curvy bodies include round tummies and flattish bums? And really, aren’t all bodies curvy in some places? What is the definition of pleasingly plump? Who is is pleased? How do we know? And who the heck really understands what zaftig really means? And don’t even get me started on how the comments section of virtually any of my carefully moderated social media outlets define me as an animal–rhino, hippo, elephant, land whale.
In the end, I think it all comes down to seeing fat people as people. We have to move beyond our deconstruction. We must insist that we are seen as more than a collection of boobs and bellies and butts and seen in our rich, beautiful, sophisticated, personal entirety. We must be allowed to inhabit the media and the world in all of our glorious, individual richness.
Love, Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
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