“Acceptable” and Fat Phobia

“I’m a part-time fatso – Fat one minute and just a big boy the next. Jerked dizzyingly between genders, between ways of difference, I’m never sure whether I’m going to be acceptable or not. Even while I am working like crazy to make a world in which we’re all acceptable no matter what size we are, I am sometimes, even still, reduced to asking for a Coke just to see for sure what gender someone thinks I am” Bergman 142).

The above passage is from S. Bear Bergman’s article Part-Time Fatso in which they discuss how their “fatness” changes based on which gender they are perceived to be. When Bergman is perceived to be a woman, then they are fat, however, when they are believed to be a man they are simply a “big boy” despite their actual weight never changing. It is through this example from their own life and experiences that Bergmen discusses the ways in which gender norms affect perceived fatness. Women, confined but certain standards of beauty (which often means thinness) therefore are held to stricter expectations of weight, and less allowances for “deviant” weight (i.e. not thinness) are made. However, for men, it is an unstated expectation of society that they are supposed to take up space. Men are supposed to be big, muscular, and tall while women are supposed to be petit, caring, and take up as little space as possible. Due to this base expectation, it is more normal for a man to take up more physical space which pushes the line of “deviant” weight or fatness to a further extreme than with women. As someone who then oscillates from being perceived as a man and as a woman, Bergman oscillates between being fat and not being fat. 

The expectation that women are supposed to take up less space and be thin leads to much regulation of their bodies and body shaming, such as is prevalent in diet culture. This is what Bergman is referring to when they say they are, “even still, reduced to asking for a Coke just to see for sure what gender someone thinks” they are. This is because when a waiter reads Bergman as female, and they ask for a coke, the assumption the waiter makes is that Bergman is fat and therefore as a fat woman must be on a diet and actually have asked for a diet coke, or that they should be drinking a diet coke instead in an attempt to lose weight. This does not happen when a waiter reads Bergman as a man because as a man, Bergman is not fat. 

These behaviors are based on incredibly ingrained fatphobia within our society, which takes a heavy toll on everyone, fat or not. In Bergman’s case, though they discuss a lot of their experiences explicitly in the article it is the phrase in the above excerpt that reads, “I’m never sure whether I’m going to be acceptable or not” that sheds the most light on how fatphobia affects them. Bergman uses the word “acceptable” not accepted. This is a small difference, simply the difference of an end suffix but the implications are different. The word accepted would make the sentence mean that Bergman does not know if they will be accepted by the people they encounter- this is a judgment made by the other people and does not question Bergman’s innate value. However “acceptable” implies the ability to be accepted and questions whether it is possible for them to be accepted, which questions an innate aspect of Bergman themself. By not knowing if they will be acceptable, there is an implication that one’s level of worth is dependent upon if one is perceived as fat or not. While this is not true it is a rhetoric that society perpetuates and that many of us, myself included, have unwillingly taken to heart and are working to undo. 

3 thoughts on ““Acceptable” and Fat Phobia”

  1. Society has long dictated the way women’s bodies should look and it changes based on generation, creating this demand for sudden change at a moment’s notice. We as women feel defined by the way we look, but not by the way we feel. Susan Stinson is one of the many modern women who are trying to tackle this challenge that women have faced for years. However, there is this numbing feeling that this will never change and that we will never live up to societies standards. It is a hard concept but I hope that we can all be happy with accepting ourselves and not focus on others acceptance.

  2. Fatphobia is a violent, prescriptivist force that inflicts itself on women as a method of control, and much of it is based on the fact that perpetrators believe that they can dictate another person’s body shape, or that it can even be changed without heavy consequence. That ignorance feeds from the motivation of fatphobia, which is to manipulate and brutalize women into performing ideals put together by the male gaze. To be thin and small is not simply a beauty standard, but a heightened (percieved) vulnerability to men: fat bodies must become thin bodies so that they can be more easily controlled, more easily taken advantage of, more easily brutalized.

  3. That’s a really interesting analysis of the difference between “acceptable” and “accepted.” I think that a lot of people in today’s society struggle with being acceptable, because they feel they are not what they should be in terms of society’s standards. It’s really unfortunate that we must think in terms of how other people perceive us, for how am I able to live my life while constantly tripping over your opinion? Saying that you are accepted means that you also accept yourself; saying that you are acceptable means that you rely on others to assess and make a decision based on your worth, and this latter interpretation is dangerous to our identities.

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