health

'Overweight Haters Ltd' isn't the anomaly you might think.

By REBECCA SHAW.

The anti-fat brigade that’s abusing people on London’s public transport is awful, but it’s no more dangerous than the subtler forms of fat-hating that bigger people face every day, writes Rebecca Shaw.

You can have a lot of bad experiences catching public transport. Usually, simply having to catch public transport is one of them. But then there are the delays, the cost, the never-right temperature, the people (sort of) who cough and sneeze everywhere, manspreaders, creepy men, drunken people … the list could go on, but I will choo-choose to stop there.

I thought I had experienced almost every bad thing that could happen to you on a train until I read about the experience of Kara Florish. Kara was on the Tube in London when she was handed a card that claimed to be from “Overweight Haters Ltd” (what a profitable-sounding business). The card had the incredibly inventive word “fat” written on one side, with the other side reading:

Our organisation hates and resents fat people. We object to the enormous amount of food resources you consume while half the world starves. We disapprove of your wasting NHS (National Health Service) money to treat your selfish greed. And we do not understand why you fail to grasp that by eating less you will be better off, slimmer, happy and find a partner who is not a perverted chubby-lover, or even find a partner at all.

They then continued:

We also object that the beatiful (sic) pig is used as an insult. You are not a pig. You are a fat, ugly human.

First of all, everyone please remember to run your hateful diatribe through spell check before going to the effort to put it on a card and hand it out to people, lest you be embarrassed. Secondly, “Overweight Haters” is a terrible and forgettable name. I would have gone with something like “Large Loathers” or at least “Heavy Haters”, something with a nice alliteration to really help people remember your small business.

In reality, this card and the attitude it so ineloquently expresses are no laughing matter. As someone who is fairly confident and also ready to fight mean men on public transport at a moment’s notice, receiving that card while trapped on public transport would no doubt still embarrass me. I hate to think what it would do to someone who had lower self-confidence, or mental health issues. It could be incapacitating. It is undoubtedly dangerous. But the ugly and awful card is simply an overt fat-hating action in a world full of other kinds of subtler, constant, and just as dangerous fat-hating.

As a fat woman, I am hyper-aware about the space I am taking up in the world because of that hatred. I have learned to be constantly vigilant, and to be considerate to a fault. I have been taught, through negative responses from others, to have my body impact on other’s space as little as possible, and even more so than a non-fat person. Nowhere is this truer than on public transport. I never board a plane, train, bus, hovercraft, or a clown car (with my 12 clown friends) without thinking about it. And no matter how considerate I am, how aware I am, it doesn’t stop people judging and disliking me on sight.

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This goes for places outside of vehicles too. If I am not being ignored completely, I am called hideous names. I am given dirty looks, I am fat-shamed by doctors, and thin people are given priority and jobs and positive attention ahead of me. Anti-fat discrimination is still one of the most widespread (no pun intended) and accepted forms of bias that exists.

Fat people are still an accepted punchline, and “you’re fat” is still a go-to insult to truly wound people (women especially). When Amy Schumer, a woman much smaller than I am, is heralded as brave for appearing in her underwear in a calendar because she is smashing body-image standards (and is still called fat and disgusting), you know things are in pretty bad shape (OK, pun intended this time).

There are a thousand ways that society and the people in it tell fat people that we are not worthy. Sure, someone handing out cards blatantly pointing it out is terrible, but the only difference between them and most people is that they are being honest and directly abusive.

There is no doubt in my mind that many of the people outraged at the card, or who think the card is too unkind, have themselves participated in some form of fat-shaming or fat-hating. Hopefully a silver lining of this incident is that it will force people to look at their own behaviour as they travel alongside fat people in the world.

Hopefully non-fat people can use this as an opportunity to find more empathy and more consideration. Because at this point in time the Overweight Haters Ltd business is hating people who are overweight, and business is booming.

Rebecca Shaw writes for SBS News and Kill Your Darlings, and co-hosts the Bring A Plate podcast. Follow her on Twitter.

This post originally appeared on ABC’s The Drum.

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