Continuing the conversation about respecting and accepting fatness as a choice, I thought I’d examine some of the reaction to a recent sensationalist news story about a fat woman in New Jersey named Donna Simpson, who expressed her fantasy of adding 386 lbs. to her current 604 pound weight in order to be named in the Guinness Book of World Records as the heaviest woman alive. The story launched a thousand ships of concern trolls, fitness experts offering their services, and wanna-be cultural commentators talking about how disgusting the whole thing is. Another aspect of the story that was so disturbing to people was that she supports her “lifestyle” with proceeds from videos of her eating. People deriving sexual pleasure from watching fat women eat are commonly known as “feeders,” and it’s not a new phenomenon by any means, but apparently it’s new (and horrifying) to some of these people.
Reading the comment thread on a NY Post article on the story, I was struck at the cognitive dissonance most of the commenters appeared to be dealing with. On the one hand, they acted concerned for her health and the welfare of her daughter should she die due to trying to achieve the 1000 lb. weight. On the other, they were disgusted and often would express a desire to see her dead. How you can be worried that someone is going to die and then wish them dead, I don’t know. But thinking about fat does some amazing things to people’s abilities to reason. There were also the typical comments from misguided folks who apparently think that all fat people are necessarily receiving public assistance, often in contradictory ways—like getting disability AND welfare—and therefore were being supported by THEIR tax dollars. Since the woman rakes in a cool $4000 a month through her feeder pictures alone, I doubt taxpayers are footing the bill. But, of course, logic also flies out the window when talking about fat people.
Admittedly, this is probably an extreme case, but what is it about this woman’s acceptance of herself at such a large size that triggers such emotional responses? Other, smaller fat people also expressed disgust at her size and many stated that they were fat but would “never give up trying” to lose the weight. Again, fat people are expected to constantly be attempting to get skinny and if they aren’t, the shame train pulls into the station. As I stated previously, our fears and disgust over “excess” fat are reflected in some of the words we use for the act of “letting yourself go” and not fighting the fat—gluttonous, slothful, etc.. The implications being if you don’t die from being fat, you’ll get yours by going to hell in the end anyway. Even though Americans’ collective weight is rising, we’re all on diets now more than ever, ostensibly to ward off our ultimate fate. Though many people might not believe accepting their fat is a sin, they definitely believe they’d be in the wrong not to strive for thinness above all else. The U.S. may be the fattest nation in the world, but we make sure to hate ourselves for it.
The drama over Donna Simpson is less about health and more about choice—respecting the choices others make for their own bodies and protecting the right to make that choice and not be penalized for it by society. We are definitely afraid of fat, our own and other people’s. But just because one can’t get over their own baggage regarding weight doesn’t mean they should expect others to carry it too.