Tag Archives: disgust

Sorry, RogerEbert.com, It’s Not Okay that Sadness is Fat

Guess which one is Sadness. Go on. Guess.

Recently I saw a piece by columnist Olivia Collette Roger Ebert. com called “Why Can’t Sad Be Fat?”  The piece was written in response to the recent backlash regarding Pixar’s recent release “Inside Out”.  In the film, which takes place primarily inside the head of an 11 year old girl, there are characters embodying various emotions including anger, disgust, joy, fear and sadness.  In particular, the article skewers Joni Edelman, editor-in-chief at Ravishly.com, feminist and body-positive activist, about a piece she recently wrote for The Huffington Post.

Let’s first address the fact that Joni admits she wrote the article without having seen the movie first.  In retrospect, this was probably a bad idea.  I don’t believe it invalidates Joni’s argument.  It just makes it awfully easy for the opposing side to take cheap pot shots at her.  And they did.  Yes indeedy.

I did see the movie.  And in many ways, I liked it.  But immediately afterwards, I asked my hubby, why did they have to make Sadness fat?  You see, the character called Sadness is blue, wears a frumpy sweater and glasses and is, well, fat.  This is in contrast to the character called “Joy” who is thin, yellow, tall, twirly and wears a gorgeous green Doris Day dress.

I was frustrated.  Because I liked the movie quite a lot.  The movie featured a female lead who loved to play hockey, came from the Midwest, also loved unicorns, and was all around cool.  I loved the fact that sadness was recognized as an important human emotion, and that when the main character Riley is told to put on a brave face regarding a cross-country move to San Francisco, and tries to squash her feelings of sadness, all heck breaks loose.  It’s important to acknowledge that we need to feel sad sometimes.

In many ways the movie is great.

But why did they have to make “Sadness” short, frumpy, bespectacled and fat?  Why did they feel the need to pair fat with lazy?  In the movie, Joy actually picks up Sadness’ leg and drags her around because she’s “too sad to walk”.  Check it out (if you want) in the clip below:

And I can’t help but shake my head at Olivette’s critique of Joni.  In the article on RogerEbert.com, she suggests that Joni is the one equating fat with bad.  Olivette suggests that since Joni hasn’t seen the film, SHE’S the one projecting negative stereotypes onto the fat character and therefore missed the nuances of the film.

Firstly, if she’s a body-positive activist, I wonder what led her to assume that the fat character is a bad one. Not in an evil way, of course, but at least in a way that’s not as uplifting as Joy.

To which I reply:

right animated GIF

Look.  I love the fact that Sadness is important and that Joy misjudges her.  But (and this is a big but) you are still portraying sadness as a character who is fat, and lazy and frumpy.  There is a very, VERY strong notion in our country that being fat is an outward manifestation of being emotionally unbalanced.  That we are fat because we are sad and then we are sad because we are fat.  If I had a dollar for every time I came across an ad or a program or a person in my life who insisted that once I learned how to be happy, once I learned to be emotionally fulfilled, I would stop eating and the pounds would just melt away.  “Fat people shouldn’t be hated.  They should be pitied.  Because they are sad which makes them eat, which makes them more fat, which makes them more sad, bless their hearts.”  Grrrrr.

I understand fully that the Joy character initially misunderstands the Sadness character in the movie.  And I am really clear about the transformation that happens as Joy understands the importance of Sadness to Riley.  But it still doesn’t do anything to take away from the Fat=Sadness=Fat trope in the movie and in the world.

And I don’t buy the argument that if we made Joy fat, the movie would be criticized for furthering the Fat=Jolly stereotype either.  (I.E. you just can’t make those fat people happy no matter what you do, so why try?)  I am glad that this film gets so many things so right.  But it doesn’t take a away a little feeling of Sadness that they had to do it by showing very young girls that the fat girl and the thin girl can be friends, but the fat girl can’t ever really be happy.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. Want to hear me speak about body positivity at YOUR school?  Check out my speaking page HERE.

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Weighing the Verdict–Punished in the Courtroom for Being Fat

PoundsFat

Recently I ran across this article in Scientific American about how certain stigmatized groups are more likely to elicit harsher punishments than other groups.  In particular, the article talks about a study where participants were asked to read a paragraph about people committing acts that are commonly considered to be “impure” like watching pornography, being sloppy or cursing.  The participants were then told that the people committing these acts in the story had various characteristics.  The study found that when the fictional characters were described as hippies, trailer trash or obese, the judgements of the study participants were much harsher.

Now I gotta put a trigger warning here, and say that the author of the article described those three categories in a way that wasn’t particularly positive.  You can skip on down to the last paragraph if you don’t want to read this part.  But the study and the author suggested that those groups elicited harsher judgements because they were more likely to elicit “disgust” in the minds and bodies of the participants.  The study (as well as a series of follow up studies) indicate that the study participants were also more likely to praise members of these groups for doing stuff perceived as more “pure”.  For example, if a member of the stigmatized groups (fat people, trailer trash and hippies) were described as keeping a neat cubicle, they were more likely to receive a virtual “pat on the head” from the study participants.  And in the study, when the  person described was committing a heinous act not related to “purity” like illegally parking or not tipping a waiter, the stigma they faced was far less likely to affect the judgement of the study participants.

“The assumption people have is that we draw on values that are universal and important,” says social psychologist E. J. Masicampo of Wake Forest University, who led the study, “but something like mentioning that a person is overweight can really push that judgment around. It’s triggering these gut-level emotions.”

After the study, the researchers went on to check the results against real world situations.  And to nobody’s surprise, the scales of justice were not balanced in favor of fat folks.  They looked at the records of all Police Patrol stops by the NY Police between 2003 and 2014.  If the stops were for a crime against “purity” (drugs, lewdness, prostitution) fat people were a lot more likely to be arrested.  In fact, for every point of increase in BMI was equal to a one percent greater likelihood of arrest or summons.

None of this is news to those of us who study weight stigma.  In fact, Sondra Solovay’s excellent book “Tipping the Scales of Justice” was a key work in helping us understand how fat people are treated by our justice system both on the streets and in the courtroom.  And while I’m a little disturbed by some of the wording used by the researchers, I’m a lot more disturbed by the reality of this injustice.  And I’m glad that this work is being done.  I can only hope that this work, in conjunction with so much other work being done about the effect that all sorts of stigma have on policing, judging and jailing actually leads to real significant change in how our policemen, judges and juries are trained.  It’s a big dream, but I think it’s worth having and pursuing.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie, AKA The Fat Chick

P.S. Want me to come talk to your group about size discrimination?  You can learn more about my speaking engagements here.  And you can contact me here to schedule a date!