Punching Down While Punching Up

There’s a phenomenon I’ve been thinking about for a while–I think it started after I read this Salon piece about Justine Sacco–I think of it as ‘punching down while punching up’. People like Justine Sacco, who become not just targets of internet outrage but disproportionate and widespread internet outrage, that spreads beyond subsectors of the internet like the social justice community and is picked up by the mainstream media–I think there is usually both an element of punching up and an element of punching down. People get to experience the self-righteousness of getting angry at someone for being, in Sacco’s case, racist, while at the same time getting the naughty thrill of misogyny.

Once I started noticing it, I noticed it in a lot of other places besides internet outrage-scapegoats-of-the-week.

In the case of Chris Christie, they get to be mad at him for corruption, a bullying attitude, and/or being a Republican, but still get to put him down for his weight.

In the case of an article called, cluelessly, Why The Fat Guy Should Lose His Privilege, they get to be against male privilege but for thin privilege (for men).

In the case of Paula Deen, they get to be anti-racism, while engaging in a little obesity panic, a little fatshaming directed towards Deen personally, a little misogyny, and a little regionalistic prejudice.

When it seems like the entire internet is going past proportionate response, past disproportionate response, and straight into complete loss of perspective, scratch the surface, and there’s usually some punching-up-while-punching-down going on.

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This is what an apocalypse looks like

And here I thought an apocalypse would be the sort of thing where, as a thoroughly domesticated human being, I’d be dead within a month. Turns out I’m in the midst of one right now.

You see, we are currently experiencing an “obesity apocalypse”, according not to some troll or unpaid blogger, but an actual published writer. And I thought I’d seen some ridiculous hyperbole, sensationalism, and fear-mongering on the obesity epi-panic before this…

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Photographs of Historical Fat People

A couple of stout gentlemen from the Edwardian era

A couple of stout gentlemen from the Edwardian era

A while back I read a post at Manolo For The Big Girl with examples of fat and not-thin people from the past, and it inspired me to make a post with an example I came across, Anna Tillinghast. I’ve been looking up stuff about the Victorian and Edwardian period (because I’m getting married, and I’m going to wear a late Victorian/early Edwardian dress, and I’m trying to decide what accessories, hairstyle, etc. I should have), and I’ve found some more examples of historical fat people.

I found a post with great examples of a few larger ladies, and a one larger gentleman, from the Victorian time period: Va-Va-Voom Victorians: Historical Costuming in the XL. In comments there, there was also a link to this video from the 1950s about fashion for “fine women”–equivalent to the modern-day plus-size category, though their models seem perhaps a bit larger than the plus-size models used today.

The third picture down in this post shows a larger Victorian lady with an unfortunate jabot-doily-thingy. (Unfortunate according to the author of that post, at least. I saw a steampunk necklace on Etsy made from a doily today.)

245_Edwardian_331_1911I also found an extensive collection of period photos at The Barrington House Educational Center’s website. It doesn’t allow me to easily link to individual photos, but I started on this page and found one plus size woman right away, one row down from the top of the page on the right. There’s also a portly gentleman one row from the bottom on this page. There are too many examples to link to each one, and I’ve only looked through the 1890s and Edwardian photos, so if it’s something that interests you, take a look! There are more pictures of women than men, but there are some men as well. (Unfortunately, but not surprisingly given the time and place, I did not see anyone who looked like a POC in the photos I looked at.)


Looking through all this also reminded me of the existence of a famous Victorian-era woman of size, Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Va-Va-Voom Victorians ends on a very positive note:

The point of costuming is to express something within yourself. Lots of us have “born in the wrong era” syndrome, so a hoop skirt here and a button boot there makes us giddy. Size doesn’t matter if you are a painter, wood carver, perfumer, knitter, or any other type of craftsman. Why should size matter in the costuming community? It’s an art just like anything else–an especially grand and fun one at that! Sure, body measurements matter when it comes to making patterns, but clothes should fit bodies, not vice versa.
So if you are a big woman with big dreams, don’t think you have to squeeze your hopes (or yourself!) down to size just because you don’t match the “normal” historical stereotype. It’s 2013! Resolve to costume bravely!

480_Edwardian_193All photos featured in this blog post came from The Barrington House.

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Who SHOULD Be On The Cover of The Swimsuit Issue?

(Instead of Barbie.) Here’s my suggestion: Lynne Cox. (Diana Nyad would be another good choice.)

An offline acquaintance of mine recently recommended a book by Lynne Cox, Swimming To Antarctica. I haven’t read it, but I found a couple of good articles about Cox and her cold-water swims online. She also has her own website. Her background page lists many swims where she was either the first person to swim a route, or she broke both the women’s and men’s record. Her photo page shows a baby-boomer-aged, smallfat-sized woman with light brown hair past her shoulders, sometimes tucked up in a swim cap.

According to CBS News, it should not even be possible for Cox to do the cold-water swims she’s done:

The swim [in 40-degree water from Alaska to the Soviet Union] also fascinated scientists. Based on all they knew, Cox should be dead after that swim.

Professor Bill Keatinge of the University of London, a pioneer in the study of hypothermia, brought Cox to London for experiments in his lab.

“We were able to confirm that she can maintain stable body temperature with her head out of the water and in water temperatures as low as 44 Fahrenheit,” he said. “We’ve got one other person that we know can do that. He was an Icelander who swam ashore from an overturned boat.”

Anyone else would immediately feel the pain like an electric shock, their muscles would flail and the heartbeat would stop in minutes.

“The whole beating of the heart goes completely adrift,” says Keatinge. “In technical terms, ventricular fibrillation. Then, you’re dead in a matter of minutes.”

Keatinge thinks Cox has somehow trained her body to keep most of her blood at her body’s core and away from the skin where it’s exposed to the cold. The blood stays warmer. But there is something else — call it her natural insulation.

“She’s got an extremely even fat layer going right down the limbs and it’s an ideal setup,” he says.

Cox herself thinks this is the key to her success: “If you look at the marine mammals in Antarctica, the whales, the walruses, the seals all have body fat to stay warm. Their blubber is very dense whereas mine will be more like a cotton sweater. But I’m not going to be in as long as they are.”


More on Barbie and Sports Illustrated:

A Modest Proposal

Barbie Pursues New Career As Internet Troll

The Problem Isn’t Barbie in the Swimsuit Issue. The Problem is the Swimsuit Issue.

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Fat, Food, and the Anime Series ‘Silver Spoon’

I’ve been watching an anime series called Silver Spoon. (It’s free to watch the first eleven episodes here.) It’s about students at an agricultural technical school in Hokkaido. The protagonist comes from a prep school and is unsure what he wants to do with his life, and chose the school because it was a boarding school*, but the other students all come from farming families and have fairly specific dreams for what they want to do after school. So far I’m on episode 7. I was a bit worried going in, because I noticed that there were a couple of fat characters featured in the theme song montage, so I wondered if the way they were portrayed would ruin the series for me. Given the choice between no fat characters and characters who are a walking fat joke, or for whom fat is one of many traits meant to signal that they’re contemptible, I’ll take no fat characters. So far, although they’re not perfect, I’m relieved that they’re portrayed fairly sympathetically. And I’m somewhat impressed by the way the show portrays food and the process of making it.

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Walmart, Poverty, and BMI

Truthout published an op-ed called Walmart Is Not The Bargain You Might Think. (I’m not a regular reader of theirs, but I occasionally read things by them.) It has some interesting I-knew-they-were-rich-but… facts–for example, “The six heirs of Sam Walton have more money than the bottom 41.5 percent – or 48.8 million families – of all Americans, according to an analysis of Federal Reserve data.”

The op-ed argues that while Walmart has cheap prices, it leaves communities worse off economically:

Stacy Mitchell wrote in Grist in December 2011, pointing to a study in Social Science Quarterly that showed that neighborhoods where a Walmart store opens have more poverty and food-stamp usage than communities without a Walmart. This might have something to do with Walmart’s record of putting other employers out of business – and more people out of work.

And then they talk about the effect on BMIs as though it’s a separate issue:

If that’s not bad enough, another recent study concluded that Walmart makes us fat. “An additional supercenter per 100,000 residents increases … the obesity rate by 2.3 percentage points. … These results imply that the proliferation of Walmart supercenters explains 10.5 percent of the rise in obesity since the late 1980s.”

It seems likely to me that the primary way in which Walmart increases local BMI is by increasing poverty. Our phenotypes (bodies) are influenced by both genes and environment, and in an environment of poverty a lot of people end up with a higher BMI than they otherwise would. (The “if that’s not bad enough” phrasing makes it sound like they may think that an increase in BMIs>30 of 2.3% is worse than higher poverty and food-stamp usage.)


Walmart and fast food chains, with their low prices, convenience and addictive high-fat, high-sugar content, are really just a part of a much bigger picture

I can’t muster much more than an eyeroll and a link to a Fat Nutritionist post for this line.

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The Elephant in the Room

Jack Marshall at Ethics Alarms reports that Time Magazine’s cover story is called “The Elephant in the Room”. It’s about Chris Christie. Yup, their cover story’s title is a fat joke. Time thinks that that’s in good-enough taste to print.

The Ethics Alarms post is right on in its description of Time’s use of “a desperate, tabloid-style habit of using intentionally gross, disturbing or controversial cover graphics”, but it quickly takes a strange turn….

As I have mentioned here often, fat-bashing and weight-related slurs are among the three culturally acceptable forms of prejudice (the others are anti-elderly and anti-male) embraced by the Left, including journalists, when they want to denigrate a denizen of the shadowy right—even one who peeks into the light of moderation from time to time, like Gov. Christie. (Hillary, last I looked, was looking decidedly portly and long in the tooth, but she’s a woman, see, and also a “progressive.” Would Time ever, ever dare to reference her age or weight on a cover? If the National Review did, would it not instantly be used as more proof of the Right’s “war on women”?)

In what universe is Hillary Clinton “decidedly portly”? It occurred to me that it was possible she’d gained weight recently and I hadn’t noticed; I did a Google Image search on her and found photos showing most of her body here and here. I guess I wouldn’t quite call her thin, but “decidedly portly” she’s not. I suspect the reason that her weight is not generally being mocked is because she has a lot of size privilege relative to Christie. I’d guess that Clinton’s BMI is around 25 or 26, and Christie’s is probably over 40.

I remember reading a news story or two about George W. Bush being just barely overweight, i.e., BMI of 26. (I dug one up, but I don’t recommend reading it.) Strangely, although George W. Bush was neither progressive nor a woman, I don’t remember anyone, left or right, making fun of him for being fat. A search for “george w. bush fat” doesn’t turn up anything on the first page actually calling him fat, though a couple photoshopped fat versions of him pop up in the images. Most of the first page of a search for “hillary clinton fat” is articles about the “2 fat thighs 2 small breasts” buttons that were sold at a California GOP convention. (Actually, her breasts don’t look small to me, not that that’s one of the qualities I look for in my politicians.) The only exception is a Daily Fail article about an author saying that Clinton looks “overweight and tired”. On the other hand, Michelle Obama has been mocked for her supposed weight problem (though not on the left, as far as I’ve seen).

I’m not exactly inclined to take a statement that we’re surrounded by anti-male slurs seriously, and even less so when the writer demonstrates moments later how much more harshly women are judged for even slightly straying from the thin ideal.

As to the “long in the tooth” bit, I will say that I agree with Paul Campos that if we’re really concerned about health, we should be more worried about Hillary Clinton dying in office than Chris Christie. But we’re not really concerned with health, are we?

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