Last week news broke that a judge called a 17-year-old sexual assault victim “overweight” and said she was likely “flattered” by the attention that her 49-year-old abuser inflicted on her.
An official complaint filed against the judge states that he said that although she was fat, she had a “pretty face” and that she was probably flattered because “perhaps this is the first time” a man was interested in her. He also described the non-consensual kiss as an “acceptable” gesture. (The man also licked her face and touched her breasts and genitals over her clothes and, though he was found guilty, has not yet been sentenced.)
“If you have ever questioned why some women choose not to come forward when they have been sexually assaulted or harassed, here is an example that may help you understand it a little better,” wrote Monique Judge over at The Root. “Rape culture. It’s a real thing.”
But rape culture isn’t the only thing that’s happening here.
In August of this year, several women came forward to file a lawsuit against recording artist Usher for knowingly exposing them to herpes without their consent.
But when one of the plaintiffs, a fat Black woman named Quantasia Sharpton, came forward, something enraging happened: few people believed her.
I refuse to believe Usher fucked this 😂😂😂😂 pic.twitter.com/wDE9MWiCaj
— lil duval (@lilduval) August 7, 2017
When I was in graduate school I sought therapy for an anxiety disorder. My therapist claimed to be body positive, and even had a poster up in her office that said something to the effect of “change how you see yourself, not what you look like”.
One day I was telling her about how, growing up, a younger relative received a lot of sexual attention from men, and how, when we got older, that attention turned into harassment and assault.
“Is that why you let yourself get so fat?” she asked. “Because you wanted to protect yourself from that kind of attention?”
At the same time, my OkCupid inbox was full of messages from men I didn’t know saying things like “is it true that fat girls give the best head?” and “why don’t you come over to my place tonight?”
Your myths about fat girls are hurting us
Why is it so hard to believe that a man would sexually assault a fat woman, or that a superstar like Usher would have sex with one? And if my fatness is supposed to protect me from unwanted sexual attention from men, why do I continue to get sexually explicit DMs from total strangers? How can fat women be simultaneously undesirable AND super slutty blowjob connoisseurs???
Regardless of the many (fucked up and fatphobic) reasons behind these conflicting stereotypes, they have real world ramifications.
One study in 2010 purportedly showed that fat teen girls were more likely to engage in “risky” sexual behavior like having sex without a condom. And while some suggest that this may be the case because fat girls have lower self-esteem (the core belief behind the “fat girls are easy” myth), I think something else might be happening here. Because if you don’t believe fat girls are desirable, why would you waste time and energy educating them on sexual health practices like condom use in the first place?
Your belief that my body is not desirable hurts me. It means that if I am sexually assaulted, you are less likely to believe me or, in the case of the aforementioned Canadian judge, that I at least sorta kinda wanted to be assaulted.
Your belief that I am “easy” hurts me. It means you are perhaps more likely to harass me on the street or in my inbox, because you think it’s possible that I’ll say yes to you when a thin woman would not.
Your belief that I am good at oral sex doesn’t necessarily hurt me, but it stems from a stereotype about fat girls that DOES hurt me and other fat women like me quite a lot – the belief that we are orally fixated because we love to eat, and that we overeat because we can’t control ourselves.
“The doctor looked at me and said, ‘Maybe you can cut back your McDonald’s to twice a week’.”
When Kasey Smith couldn’t stop gaining weight–despite daily exercise and a restrictive 900 calorie-a-day diet–her doctor accused her of lying about what she ate. Her weight went up as her calorie intake went down. By the time she finally received the correct diagnosis many months later (PCOS), she had developed anorexia and needed extensive treatment to get better.
It’s not just courtroom judges, therapists, and strangers on the internet who believe dangerous myths about fat people – it’s doctors, too. In fact, as many as 1 out of 3 doctors responds negatively to their fat patients, viewing them as “lazy, lacking in self-control, non-compliant, unintelligent, weak-willed and dishonest.”
Many doctors literally do not believe us when we say anything that contradicts the stereotypes about us. This often makes getting properly diagnosed incredibly difficult, and has resulted in many, many fat people going to the doctor for health problems that they are told will go away if they just lose weight. And some doctors will not prescribe us life-saving medication or surgery until we weigh an often arbitrary number on the scale.
This discriminatory treatment not only makes it hard to access quality health care, it also keeps many of us from going to the doctor altogether – which can mean even worse health outcomes for us. As writer and activist Kitty Stryker said, “why bother continuing to try to get to the root of my health problems when I know the only thing they will ever tell me is ‘Lose weight’?”
Fat people are just that – people
Some of us are slutty. Some of us have low self-esteem. Some of us are lazy, no-good liars. And some of us are really good at oral sex. Sometimes, the myths are true.
But a lot of the time? They’re really fucking not.
Because fat people are just that – people. There is no universal fat person experience, and there is no universal fat person. And while it is true that many of us experience fatphobia and sizeism in similar ways, our responses to these oppressions are often varied, and inextricably linked to other parts of our identity (like race, gender, sexuality, and class). Fat people, in short, are not a monolith.
And yet, your myths about us matter. They can lead to teasing and bullying, medical mistreatment, harassment, sexual assault, and even death.
So, you want to be less shitty to fat people? You can start by choosing to believe us.