As Christmas is approaching you’d expect to see festive kindness in abundance – but for some London commuters, it seems that the season of goodwill has passed them by. This week, women on the underground were surprised by the handing out of cards – not celebrating festive cheer, but demeaning and bullying fat women about their size, apropos of nothing.
While we are as a society leaning towards a more diverse idea of what bodies should look like, there are still some who take it upon themselves to try and lay down the body-shaming law.
This abhorrent practice came to light when commuter Kara Florish tweeted a photo of the card that was handed to her by an anonymous man. Upon reading the card and seeing the vile tripe that it was spouting, social media exploded in defence of the young woman and others who had also been targeted by the so-called Overweight Haters Ltd group. One man detailed on his Facebook page how he had watched a woman burst into tears after being handed one of the cards by an apparent stranger.
As a fat and body-positive activist, I am hardly ever surprised by the extent that some people will go to when trying to shame bodies that don’t conform – but this one is new to me. Hateful and derogatory comments regarding a fat person’s size in public? A fat person – myself included – has probably heard them all. But what shocked me about this was the downright gall that a person had to actively and insidiously try to provoke a reaction from someone who was doing nothing more than going about their daily commute.
There are a myriad of social pressures forced upon women to look a certain way, and to present themselves as carbon copies of one another in order to be valued by a corrupt culture.
The body-positive community works tirelessly to help rewrite these ‘rules’ about body image and teach a new style of positive acceptance, one that it is strong enough to withstand this kind of ignorance. But it’s often hard to be strong in the face of mindless hatred.
The Overweight Haters cards have left me with so many questions. Why, when it’s continually reported that body image anxiety is tied to suicidal thoughts in teenage girls, is someone happy to attack a woman’s image for no reason and with no provocation in a publ space? Why, when self-esteem is at an all-time low among young women, would someone care so much about analysing – and criticising – a body that isn’t their own? Surely nobody – indeed, no body – deserves to lose their dignity or their life just because of what they look like?
These cards attempt to demean fat women and make them feel unworthy to go out in public: they comment on their appearance, feign concern about health issues, even mention their relationship statuses. Because they are fat, and because they are female, they’re not allowed to go about their daily lives without being reminded that their appearances should be a pretty performances for others. How affronted those people are when fat women’s performances aren’t up to scratch.
A friend of mine once said that people in the body-positive community are “the recovered, the recovering, and the struggling”. Although this is true, wider society needs to acknowledge that everyone is fighting with their own demons, and to comment on someone’s body can open a whole Pandora’s Box of pain.
There is nothing more powerful than solidarity, compassion and declarations of love; these are more powerful even than the most detrimental of body image misconceptions. We fat women have heard it all, and we refuse to live by your descriptors any longer. We live, not for the acceptance or appreciation of mankind, but for ourselves. We exist in a bodily space that only we can pioneer conversations from.
So, Overweight Haters Ltd, we will not run scared from your negative comments and I’ll be damned if this puts a black mark next to fat bodies. For we might be fat, but we’re equal to everyone else, and we’ll continue extending ourselves that fundamental courtesy.
This article was originally published by me in The Independent, here.