Tag Archives: Fat Bashing

Bullying is Ugly, But we Need to Look at it with “A Brave Heart”

schoolHallwayThis ugly, UGLY picture was taken today of a poster that was taped to a wall at Northern High School in Calvert County, MD.  There’s a lot of argument about the poster–which we will get to in a minute.  But in the meantime, let me tell you just what interesting timing this poster has for me personally.

As I sat in the audience last night at a Producers Guild Pre-release screening of “A Brave Heart–The Lizzie Velasquez story” I heard the people around me gasp.  We had reached the part of Lizzie’s story where she recalled at age 17 finding an unauthorized video of herself posted on YouTube.  The video was captioned “The Ugliest Woman in the World” and had been seen over  4 million times.  And the comments–oh the comments.  People said things like , “Why didn’t her parents abort her?” and “Kill it with fire!!!” I heard people whisper things like, “oh my God!” and “I can’t believe it.”

I could believe it.  I haven’t lived Lizzie’s Velasquez’ story.  Nobody but Lizzie has lived that amazing life.  But I’ve lived with the hate.  I’ve read comments like that on my own blog and twitter feed and especially my YouTube account.  I’ve swapped stories with other fat activists about the death threats and the rape threats and the doxxing and all other forms of online harassment that so many of us experience on a daily basis.  And I thought how privileged some of the people in that audience were–that they didn’t really know that sort of online hate existed.  That they found it difficult to believe.

I was so proud of my husband, who stood up during the Q&A to relate that he had been completely ignorant of how bad the online climate was, of how unbelievably ugly it could be, until he started reading some of the comments that people have directed at his own wife.  He reiterated how important this movie was–how relevant it was–because adults need to understand just how bad it is out there.

The movie, directed by Sara Bordo also talked about how dire the consequences of bullying can be.  Lizzie arose triumphantly out of her bullying experience.  But Tina Meier’s daughter didn’t arise from the bullying at all.  After some particularly bad cyberbullying by her peers, Meier’s daughter committed suicide.  Tina and Lizzie have teamed up–working to get new federal antibullying legislation passed in the US.

Again, as the audience came to this point in the story, many gasped or covered their mouths in shock.  I simply nodded my head and cried.  Because I already knew Megan’s story.  I knew what had happened to her.  And I knew, just a little of what she felt.  Because as I told Lizzie and Sara after the screening and the Q&A, I could have been one of those kids.  I might have not made it out.  I was bullied relentlessly as a teenager.   I came home sobbing, vomiting and covered with hives from the stress of it.  At times I felt I could no longer take it.  But I got relief.  I didn’t have email or a Facebook account.  At the end of the day, I could escape at home to my loving family.  I had two whole days per week free of it.  Today’s kids do not.  Because of social media, these kids have to deal with this 24 hours per day and seven days a week.  Given that situation, I honestly don’t know if I would have made it.

Lizzie and Sara at the PGA screening.

Lizzie and Sara at the PGA screening.

But this is not a fun or easy or comfortable subject.  Many people who don’t have to deal with this sort of bullying would rather imagine that “it’s not really that bad” or “it’s not that big of a deal.”  Which leads me to the picture posted above.  A student took a photo of that poster.  The picture was posted online and has gone viral.  The original poster stated that the photographer believed that the poster had been taped up with the at least tacit permission of at least one teacher.  And the feathers are flying.  Many people are demanding answers.  Did a teacher know about this poster?  Did a teacher give permission or at least know it was being posted?  Who is the kid responsible for this thing?  And are they being disciplined?

Naturally the social media frenzy puts the school in a bad light.  But in a classic case of spin cycle, the Superintendent stated:

We are aware that a photo is being circulated on social media of a poster from NHS that makes a mean and inappropriate reference to obese students. That poster was not approved by any teacher or staff member and was up no longer than five minutes. The matter is being appropriately handled by the administration.

This is a good example to all of how a 5 minute bad idea can live forever on social media and be distributed with inaccurate references to good people. Rather than having a lifespan of 5 minutes, this poster (with the help of many well-meaning people) was effectively copied and posted in every hallway, classroom, and home. You can help put an end to the unfair reference to NHS staff and the continued distribution of this inappropriate message by deleting or, at the very least, refusing to pass it along. Thank you.

There is a certain amount of sense in choosing not to spread hate with wild abandon.  That’s why I didn’t link to Ms. Arbour’s nonsense and don’t give clicks to a lot of other ugly things out there.  But there are some problems with this response.  First of all 5 seconds in the eyes of a particularly vulnerable person are enough to do irrevocable harm.  5 minutes, in a high school hallway, is an eternity.  And while I respect the school’s right to deal with this problem according to its own policies, I have to vehemently disagree with the idea that simply not sharing this photo will make the problem go away.  (It won’t.) And I think that people need to be confronted with the level of nasty that truly exists before they are tempted to say they don’t have time to be “P.C.” that fat people are just whining and that fat shaming is an imaginary concept.  It is so very, very, very real.

That’s why I applaud Sara Bordo and Lizzie Velasquez for having the courage to show the bullying it all its true ugliness.  Refusing to censor Lizzie’s hate messages along with refusing to drop Megan’s suicide story resulted in the movie receiving a controversial PG13 rating.  This means that most schools won’t be able to screen the film because of the rating.  I find it fascinating that any kid old enough to move a mouse can be exposed to this online without warning and without context or support.  But a movie that explains how bad it is and gives kids and adults tools to discuss it is rated PG 13.

JeanetteAndLizzie

With Lizzie at the screening.

I really want to recommend that you and yours find a way to see this amazing film.  It is a stark look at the brutality of bullying.  It is also a warm, ultimately uplifting story about how bullying can be (sometimes) overcome.  It’s a great starting point for the deep conversations we need to be having about this topic–however more comfortable it might seem to simply walk (or run) away from it.

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

P.S. I’d like to remind you that the Fat Activism conference is just a few short weeks away.  Ragen and the organizing committee and I have put together an absolutely amazing lineup of speakers who can help you figure out just exactly what can be done.
Register for the Fat Activism Conferenece!

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In a World of “Click Bait Hate” Let’s Share a Little Love

On Saturday’s post, I hinted about certain people that serve as a proxy for hate.  They say the things that people no longer may wish to say for fear of reprisal.  They serve as a lightning rod for gleeful malevolence.  They act ugly to win clicks.  And by Jiminy, it certainly works.  I referred to a certain person who posted an extremely hateful video online.  (You can look up her name in my previous post, but I don’t recommend it.)  Now the video is down.  She’s all up and down twitter and other social media feeds saying the big fat bullies got her video taken down.  She’s crying about her right to free speech.  Meanwhile, all the evidence points to the fact that she took the video down herself to get, you guessed it, more publicity.

So what are we to do?  I talked about this with a few of my other size acceptance colleagues and we agreed that continuing to draw attention to her is giving her exactly what she wants.  She’s sowing click-bait hate and is reaping results.  And in this case, I think the answer is to sow a little love.  So throughout the day, I plan to share body loving pieces from people who are doing awesome work.  I’m going to share this love in my blog, in all my social media feeds and to everybody I know.  I’m going to do my little bit to drown out that hateful attention seeking behavior with a little bit of positive good work.  And here’s my first entry.  My dear friend Marlene sent me a link to this one.  (It’s not perfect but it’s mostly awesome…)

So now it’s your turn.  How can we drown out some of that ugly hater stuff? Let’s link to love! I challenge you to post 3 pieces of body love in your social media feed. Let’s share the awesome!  And while we’re talking about awesome, let me remind you:

The Fat Activism Conference Is Back!  

This is a virtual conference so you can listen to the talks by phone and/or computer wherever you are. Whether you are looking for support in your personal life with family, friends, healthcare providers etc. or you’re interested in being more public with your activism with blogging, petitions, protest, projects, online activism, or something else, this conference will give you tools and perspectives to support you  and your work, and to help you make that work intentionally intersectional and inclusive, so that nobody gets left behind. Get the info and register here!

Love,

Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)

The Power of a Few Unkind Words: Project Runway Fail

Well the world is buzzing with the recent antics of new Project Runway “super villain” Ven Budhu.  Apparently the past week’s challenge was to create looks for average people rather than models.  Ven’s model Terri was, horror of horrors, a plus-sized girl.  Now at about a size 14, Terri is actually pretty close to the US national average for women of about a size 12 on the top and a 14 on the bottom.  She definitely met the “Project Runway” criteria for an average person.  Yet Ven could not keep his yap shut from the beginning of the show to the end about how unfair it was that he was asked to work with this model who “has no shape” and “no personality”.  He said these things to Tim Gunn in the workroom.  He said these things in front of Terri.  He made her cry.  He did not put a particularly attractive look on the runway and he wasn’t the one sent home this week.

For the record, Terri is a beautiful woman with a modified hourglass shape.  And she didn’t deserve to take the blame for Ven’s basic incompetence as a designer.  And she didn’t deserve to be exploited at the hands of “Project Runway” in order to boost ratings either.  But that’s exactly what happened.

Let me let you in on the world’s worst kept secret.  Reality shows are not real.  They are heavily edited and produced to one end–bump up the ratings.  And the producers of the show saw an opportunity to stir up drama and controversy.  Ven played his part.  The super baddy is often one of the last to go home on these shows because people love to hate them.  And viewers tune in so they can boo and hiss at the bad guy.  The villain creates drama and drama drives ratings.

So don’t just be mad at Ven.  He did his part.  He chose to be the bad guy character and had to use whatever was at his disposal to stay on the show.  Be mad at the producers of “Project Runway” too.  Because they exploited Terri every bit as much as Ven did.  And worse, they did it because they felt pretty certain they would get away with it.  Because as a nation, we seem to think it is still okay to pick on people who have the audacity to be anything larger than a size 2.

Let’s look at that for a second.  Do you think Ven would have had this tantrum with a model who had dark skin or naturally curly hair?  What if his model had a physical challenge and was in a wheel chair or had artificial limbs?  Do you think Ven would have pulled this garbage and “Project Runway” would have aired it in those situations?  In a word, no.  Because “Project Runway” and Ven would have known that picking on people in those situations would have caused a backlash with negative consequences for both the designer and the show.  But they pulled that garbage with Terri because they knew they could spark controversy, but not too much controversy.

The whole thing makes me sad.  Because as I said yesterday, a few kind words can have incredible power to make the world a better place.  Conversely, a few unkind words can tear someone down forever.  Fellow contestant Fabio Costa said of Ven, “It’s really sad that you have the power to make someone feel bad about themselves and you use that deliberately.”  To which I say, I agree Fabio.  But don’t let the show’s producers off the hook.  They are at least as guilty as Ven.

So my little Chicklettes.  I won’t be watching any more “Project Runway” this season.  I would rather place my eyeballs and my energy on something that makes the world in some small way a better place.

Love,

The Fat Chick