To celebrate the release of her new book, Aubrey takes Mike on a tour through the statistics and debates surrounding weight bias. Anyone interested in body positivity, airline seats, 'skinny shaming' or the sugar content of melons is legally obligated to join us.
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Thanks to Doctor Dreamchip for our lovely theme song!
Michael: You want to start this off? I think you're better at these than I am.
Aubrey: [laughs] Hi, everybody. Welcome to Maintenance Phase. My name is Aubrey Gordon.
Michael: No tagline? Nothing?
Aubrey: Okay, okay, okay.
Aubrey: All right. We will take it again.
Michael: How about, "Welcome to Maintenance Phase. We're just a podcast standing in front of a listener asking them to love us."
Aubrey: "And reconsider their bias against fat people."
Michael: You ruined it. That's worse.
Michael: I'm Michael Hobbes. I'm a reporter for The Huffington Post.
Aubrey: I am Aubrey Gordon. I am a columnist for Self magazine, a newly minted author and a pro at ruining tag lines.
Michael: But it's the middle one that we're talking today. This is a very special episode, because Aubrey has a new book out and you should go, click on order this now on your internet.
Aubrey: Yeah. We're going to talk about weight bias today and stigma against fat people.
Michael: Which is basically what Aubrey's book is about. Aubrey's book is basically a primer on all of the ways that fat bias affects fat people and it is called what What We Don't Talk About When We Talk About Fat.
Aubrey: That's my book. I wrote it.
Michael: It's very good.
Aubrey: Thanks, bud. Appreciate it.
Michael: My brain is broken from having a podcast for two years. So, I went through it, and copy, pasted paragraphs, and I've got a bunch of statistics that I pulled out. But if you're a normal person, you can also just read it normally.
Aubrey: Yeah, totally. It is a quick little read that will get you through a bunch of information.
Michael: Yes. But before we dive into the book, we should have a little house meeting.
Aubrey: Yes, house meeting.
Michael: Basically, this is our sixth episode. We recorded all of our episodes without releasing any of them. Basically, over the last three months, we recorded all of those episodes. But because we weren't releasing them, we had no idea what the reaction was going to be, we had no idea if we were going to do more than six. Since we started releasing them, it seems some number of Americans enjoy our podcast, and have been listening to it, and downloading it, and tweeting things at us, and it has been really gratifying, and really wonderful. So, we wanted to thank everybody.
Aubrey: Thank you all so much for listening. Thank you all so much for spreading the word and we got to do some catching up.
Michael: Yes. And also, we're also were buttering you up before we tell you that we're fucking off for a while. We're taking a break. We don't know how long it will be. As short as possible, we want to get recording again. But we thought of these first six episodes as Season 1. We're coming up with some schedule, some way to make this a more regular thing. We're going to take some period of time off, and then we're going to come back with a more regular release schedule. So, we're here to thank you and to warn you.
Aubrey: Yes, that's right. Mike and I are already researching our next episode. We're already working on booking some fun guests potentially. We're moving forward. We're full theme ahead and we just need to be honest with ourselves and take a little couple of weeks.
Michael: Yes. This episode is our season finale. And essentially, the Paul Simon line, "She comes back to tell me she's gone."
Michael: This is us coming back to tell you, we're not going to see you for a while.
Aubrey: Yeah. "As if I didn't know my own bed."
Aubrey: So, I got you.
Michael: Now, that we've disappointed you. We also want to inform you about fat phobia and weight bias or whatever we end up calling this episode.
Aubrey: Listen, now, that we've disappointed you. We want to disappoint you in new and exciting way.
Michael: Only this time about the world. Aubrey, tell us about-- You basically set out to write a book exploring the parameters of weight bias in America.
Aubrey: Yeah, that was a lot of it. And also, I just felt like-- Look, our conversations about fatness and fat people get stalled out in a couple of ways. One is that we all get really focused on talking about fat people without talking to fat people. All of our conversations about the "obesity epidemic" and the "war on obesity," all of that stuff is overwhelmingly thin people functionally pointing the finger at fat people and telling us that we are a disease that we are responsible for healthcare costs. There's a lot of scapegoating, there's a lot of stuff that gets called into question when fat people enter the conversation, when fat people enter the chat. [laughs]
Aubrey: And I wanted to write a book that was about both my own personal experiences with anti-fatness, but also the ways in which those are not just individual blips on the radar. Those are the results of policy choices that we have made, of cultural shifts that have been pre-intentional over time, of profit driven decisions of all kinds of things. I wanted to do a little mapping of like, "How did we get here?" Your fat friend might not be telling you about all of their experiences with anti-fatness. But I think 74% of fat people have experienced, even just other people making negative assumptions about them based on their size. 10% of fat people have been physically attacked because of their size. This is not a minor issue and this isn't something that you should pity an individual when they come up against it. These are systemic things that we need to address as systemic things.
Michael: Right. One of the numbers I pulled out of your book was that 68% of American women wear above a size 14 dress.
Aubrey: Yes, correct.
Michael: And yet, it seems like, "Well, okay, these are people with actual experiences of this." We should actually be talking to those people as opposed to talking to everyone else and saying, "Here's how to prevent yourself from becoming the majority of Americans."
Aubrey: It's super structurally odd and it has become such a prevalent way of thinking and talking about fat people that there are fat people, who also do this. Our whole logic of anti-fat bias is predicated on the idea that, it's okay to treat fat people this way, because we choose to be fat and we choose to shirk our responsibility to be thin. What we actually know just based on a whole lot of studies about a whole lot of people and frankly, what many of us know from our personal experiences is that, people really like to talk about weight loss being a really simple thing that anybody can do and it actually, really isn't.
Michael: It isn't.
Aubrey: We just don't know how to make fat people thin in the long term.
Michael: You know what my overwhelming impression reading the book was?
Aubrey: Tell me.
Michael: I don't know. I felt conflicted because I know you and I know that you're a pretty private person generally. And yet, the book is full of these really rough anecdotes about the way that people have treated you. It just made me think of the way that these forms of discrimination work. The onus of responsibility is up to you to put yourself out there enough to get people to see your experiences as legitimate.
Aubrey: Yeah, totally. It's really tricky, especially if you as someone who's been an organizer around other communities that I call home, an organizer for queer rights, women, and reproductive health, an organizer for lots and lots of things. It's really shitty, because I feel I have seen the ways in which there's this economy of trauma that gets people to pay attention and reconsider and it sucks that [crosstalk] I feel they need to see someone who's experienced is different from their own. They need to see them vivisected in order to buy into the idea that what they personally are saying or doing is harming this other person.
It's actually not enough currently for fat people to just say, "Hey, this hurts me and I wish you would stop." There are too many people, who just won't take our word for it or will say, "Well, then you just should have lost weight, or you shouldn't have gained it in the first place or whatever," that it's extremely unforgiving. That the only way that I have found to write that is through both data and research. But again, I know as an organizer, that data and research isn't what changes people's mind. It helps, but that's just not how our brains are wired. Our brains are wired to pay attention to other people's stories. These are the stories that I've got.
Michael: But that just means you have to tell your own stories over and over again-
Aubrey: Yeah, totally.
Michael: -of like, "Bad things that happen to you."
Aubrey: Yeah, absolutely. Many, many, many communities have had to do that for a long time-
Michael: Oh, absolutely. Yeah.
Aubrey: -putting this trauma front and center.
Michael: And making it more central to your life than it is in a way. Even though, of course, this is central to people's lives, because you're trying to get attention to this one aspect of your personality, you have to highlight the degree to which that has been this massive factor in your life.
Aubrey: Yeah, totally.
Michael: It just made me feel bummed out that like, "Oh, Aubrey's going to do a book tour now. I just going to have to again ask the same shitty questions."
Aubrey: [laughs] Well, you're getting me real jazzed for the book you are impressed.
Michael: I'm sorry.
Michael: I'm literally doing this to you.
Aubrey: No, it's really interesting to me, because I think you're right that it all gets collapsed into, you're going to be the fat lady, who's going to go talk about fat stuff. I think it's really interesting in context of my own life. The way that this has operated is, I didn't really talk to people about being fat until last five or 10 years.
Michael: Oh, so, it's pent up. You have 33 years of backlog that you need to get to.
Aubrey: I have a lot of years with stuff.
Aubrey: I have all these years and years of experience, but I haven't really talked about it in the last five or 10 years. In terms of the way that anti-fatness shows up in my life, 95% of the time, I'm just out living my life being a big muppet. The way that anti-fatness shows up is an interruption to an otherwise normal existence, that I'm going about trying to get a cup of coffee or get to work and somebody tells me, they don't want to see me in a sleeveless, like, a sleeveless shirt, or somebody threatens to kick me off a plane, or on, and on, and on. Not only am I and other fat people confronted with very overt, very proud anti-fat bias. We are also confronted by the many bystanders, who choose not to address it.
There is research about that exact effect, which is, thin women believe that anti-fatness is motivating to fat people, because it is motivating thin people to stay thin. Not only are thin people not conditioned to interrupt, they are conditioned to perpetuate it. Harvard has these implicit bias tests, which millions, and millions, and millions of people have taken. What they found was that, anti-fat bias was significantly on the rise and by the end of that time period, they found that about 80% of us have bias against fat people and in favor of thin people. I think it's also an important orientation to the conversation to say, "Anti-fat bias isn't something you decide to do and you decide to pick up. It is something that is part and parcel of growing up in a society that has declared a war on obesity, that makes fun of that people every chance it gets," right?
Michael: Right. This is a good way to get us into the content of the book, because as I mentioned, my brain is broken and I pulled a bunch of categories out of the book for us to talk about. Because there's a lot of themes that you return to in the book, and it's got a really good data, and really great passages in the book. I think the first thing we should do is just establish that discrimination against fat people exists. Because I don't think to us that is really obvious and to fat people in general, that's pretty obvious. But that's not necessarily obvious or an accepted form of discrimination that is really recognized by society at large.
Aubrey: Yeah. Fat people earn substantially less money than thin people. Fat people are regularly fired or denied jobs altogether, because we're not the image of the company. In my last five years of writing about this, I haven't heard from anyone who has disputed that fat people are discriminated against. I have only heard from people, who dispute whether or not it is deserved.
Michael: Mm-hmm. That's another thing I pulled out of your book. You mentioned that there's a study in 2006 that finds 59 types of obesity.
Michael: There are all these different reasons why people end up fat. People have polycystic ovarian syndrome or people have medications that they take. Some people just fat their entire lives. I still remember that, you know that photo of the fattest twins, like, the two dudes on the motorcycle that we've all seen a million times?
Michael: I remember a documentary about them as a kid that talked about how they had been fat. They were fat basically from birth and their parents were always worried about it, and their parents sent them off to some fat camp, where it was like, "Exercise constantly, fucking kayaking all day, eating salads." The most hardcore regimen for weight loss that you can imagine. And they both gained five pounds.
Michael: Some people's bodies just hold on to weight and that's just the dice that got rolled.
Aubrey: Yeah, and that doesn't mean that there are not fat people, who do choose to be fat. There are fat people who are like, "I just like being fat. That's fine." But that myth of everyone is choosing it and I don't have to respect their humanity, because I believe it's a choice. It feels an echo of what happens in conversations about queer people. It feels an echo of what happens in conversations about trans people. We are in a really unfortunate and really upsetting way. Once you step outside of it, you can see the ways in which we are looking for opportunities to stop treating people like people.
Michael: Do you also were the same age?
Michael: We both grew up in the time when there was this endless tedious debate about whether gay people had chosen the lifestyle. Remember sexual preference?
Michael: Remember lifestyle choice and there's total bullshit that went around? I think it is the same thing with fat people that A, a lot of the data indicates that it's not a choice, but B, who fucking cares?
Michael: It doesn't actually matter. It was always such bullshit that entire debate for gay people, because it's like, "Well, yeah, maybe I did choose like. Maybe I literally filled out a form. I would like to be gay. I applied, I got approved, now, I'm gay." Fuck you. It's still an okay choice, even if it's a choice.
Aubrey: That's right. And also, if you take away sequester the idea of like, "Is it or is it not a choice?" And you look at your own actions in vacuum, they start to look pretty gross.
Aubrey: I think that's the other thing, right? That you're like, "Well, I shouldn't have to respect it, because it's your choice or whatever." The conversation that led to that point is like, "Hey, why did you beat me up?" Or, "Hey, why did you deny me healthcare?" They're all these things that are unquestionably, every person should be able to walk down the street with a sense of safety. Many of us don't have that sense of safety, including fat people.
Michael: Yeah, absolutely.
Aubrey: Before we even get to the question of like, "Is it a choice or not?" There are already all of these violations of just basic decency. Thin people are conditioned not to treat fat people like people and fat people are conditioned to understand that thin people won't believe us, won't trust us, and won't change their actions. So, we also learn not to bring this stuff up.
Michael: Totally. One of the things that really struck me from the book is that, there's these experiences that are just like people being absolute warlocks. And then every single one of those stories is followed by you telling a friend like, "Hey, this terrible warlock ass thing happened to me." And your friend being like, "Did it though? Wasn't that person trying to help?" Some gas lady follows up conversation that doesn't recognize just like, "Hey, that sucks. That person sucks."
Aubrey: Yeah, totally. I think the one that folks really tends to make people's hair stand on end is this story of being at my local neighborhood grocery store, doing my grocery shopping, and being in the produce section, and putting a melon in my cart, turning around to get something else and seeing a stranger reaching into my cart, and taking it out, and putting it back. And that stranger explained to me that it has too much sugar for me.
Michael: A melon.
Aubrey: A melon.
Michael: Give me fucking break. It's a fruit.
Aubrey: Also, melons are-
Michael: Fuck you.
Aubrey: - generally, lower in sugar than other fruit.
Michael: Yeah. They're not even correct.
Aubrey: They're not even correct. An apple actually has more sugar and higher carbohydrates instead of melon.
Michael: Oh, I will say, don't try to fucking out food science fat people.
Aubrey: it can't be done.
Michael: I know this from my mom, like, "Fat people and habitual dieters know so much more about food [crosstalk] than skinny people." It's so noticeable.
Aubrey: And also, I would say just anecdotally in my own personal life, I know way more fat people with eating disorders than thin people that eating disorders don't come from nowhere.
Michael: Yeah, exactly.
Aubrey: [laughs] Yeah. But that was absolutely a person, who I remember distinctly imagining that this person has, my body, my choice bumper sticker on her car.
Michael: That is a, "In this house, we believe house."
Aubrey: Yeah. [laughs] In our America, yeah, that's exactly right.
Aubrey: That's the thing like I would then take back to friends and family, and they would say, "Oh, she was just trying to help you."
Aubrey: My theory about this is that, they can see themselves doing something like that. They feel more aligned with the person doing the thing that feels to me like a violation and they want to defend themselves and their own logic, which is totally understandable and totally human, and also, the effect of that on fat people is absolutely gaslight.
Michael: Right. You're prioritizing the intentions of the person, who did the main thing over the effect of the main thing.
Aubrey: Totally. Well, and I will say, this isn't just a matter of defending individuals. This also comes up in conversations about institutions. I've been a community organizer for the last 10 or 15 years. Even amongst those folks, including union organizers, I will never forget a conversation I had with a friend at the time, who was a union organizer and I told him about a passenger asking to be re-seated when I was on a plane. He immediately went, too, well, but the airlines have to protect their bottom line. I was like, "You're a union organizer."
Michael: That's fascinating.
Aubrey: There is this thing that happens, where folks even very thoughtful, very intentional, very justice-minded folks, their brains will just drop back into defending the status quo when it comes to fat people.
Michael: Physical accommodations was another theme that I pulled out of your book.
Michael: The airplane thing is the one that always comes up. But also, a lot of the people that I interviewed for my article would say that, "I can't go to restaurants where there's booths." I get the sense from fat people that that's one of the hardest things to talk with thin people about.
Aubrey: Totally. I went to high school here in Portland. Every week that we have assemblies, I would sit in the theater and I would hug my arms to myself as closely as I could, so that I wouldn't encroach on anyone else's space. I would always sit in the aisle, I do that to this day, so that I can tilt myself out into the aisle and away from the next person, so that they won't complain. I will reliably leave with bruises. I will come home, change my clothes that night, put on pajamas, and see giant, deep purple bruising off my thighs. I think that this is the thing that thin people don't have to think about and that it is a very noticeable omission that we are living in a country, where again, most people's BMIs put them in the overweight or obese categories, and yet still, the designs that we are making for physical spaces are centered around a minority of people.
Michael: Yeah, one of the people I interviewed for my article, who's become a friend of mine. Hello, Emily. She told me that, one of the biggest ally things that people can do for her is, in a restaurant that one of her thin friends will go up to the maître d' and be like, "Sorry, we can't sit in that table. That chair won't hold my friend."
Michael: She said the first time that one of her friends did that for her, she started crying. Because that's such a huge thing to have a thin person just recognize the basic humanity of like, "That's not the right accommodation for my friend."
Aubrey: Yes. I have friends, who'll just walk into a place and they'll just turn to me and go, "Where do you want to sit?" It's very simple, it doesn't call any attention to itself, and it makes all the difference in the world.
Michael: We also have to talk about airlines.
Aubrey: We should do.
Michael: You made this the first chapter of your book, which I know you did deliberately, because everything in the book is very deliberate. This is one of your main, this is one of your most viral articles too, and something that you tweet about all the time.
Aubrey: Yeah, I think last I checked, just the original version without reprints had been read by two or three million people.
Michael: Oh, look at her. [crosstalk] Audrey, famous on the internet.
Aubrey: But yeah, I think because listen, how many of us have heard someone just go, "Oh, God, I was on a plane and I just don't want to have to sit next to this great, big, fat person, and they were spilling onto me, and they were sweaty and da, da, da, da."
Michael: Yeah, totally.
Aubrey: And it's almost small talk about flying.
Michael: Oh, yeah.
Aubrey: I think what a lot of thin folks don't necessarily know is that, pretty much every airline has something that they call their customer of size policy. On Southwest Airlines, which is the best one, you can go get an extra seat and they will refund you at the end for free, I believe is the state of their policy. You just pay for one seat even if you use two, that's the best, best, best one we've got. Everything else is like, if a flight attendant determines that you don't look comfortable in your seat, they can escort you from the plane. Even if there is not a second seat available, you can be charged for a second seat at the day of price.
Michael: And also, it sounds like the anxiety comes from the lack of predictability.
Aubrey: That's right.
Michael: Because it sounds like a lot of airlines have these policies that like, "Yeah, we'll give you an extra seat or buy two seats. It's no big deal." And then you get to the flight and they're like, "Oh, no, no, no. We filled the seat next to you."
Aubrey: Absolutely. I rarely sleep well for several days before flying. There have been times when I have had a prescription for Xanax or Klonopin and taken that before getting on a plane. Those are medications for a panic disorder. That shouldn't happen when you're just trying to get on a plane.
Michael: Yeah. Can you tell your terrible airlines story? Am I a monster for asking you to tell it?
Aubrey: No, it's fine. I was flying from, this was from Long Beach to Portland, and I got on the plane, and took my seat. Guy sat down next to me, who was middle-aged, white dude. He got increasingly agitated, and got up, and went to talk to the flight attendant, and then came back, and sat down, and got more agitated, and then went back up, and talked to the flight attendant again, and the flight attendant came back, and switched places for him. But switched him to the row directly in front of me. Not a lot of distance. I will say, when he got up to talk to the flight attendant, I absolutely-- I couldn't hear his conversation for the most part, but I absolutely remember him saying, "Paying customer?" I was like, "Oh shit. This is not going my way."
Aubrey: This guy got up, and changed seats, and he explained to me while he was changing seats, two things. One, he said, "You'll be more comfortable and you'll have more space." The flight attendant was like, "No, it's not," which is great. She was like, "No, no, there will be someone sitting here. You're not going to have more space. The flight is sold out."
Aubrey: We then went through the whole flight. I absolutely remember quietly crying to myself, because that is without question a humiliating thing to have happened.
Michael: Yeah, it's awful.
Aubrey: During the flight, the flight attendant brought extra snacks to people in my row, but did not offer them to me.
Aubrey: And as I was getting off the plane, the guy stopped me again, the guy who's sitting again, 18 inches in front of me for the whole flight. So, I'm on this whole flight and I'm staring at the back of his head. At the end of the flight, he said, "I just want you to know, I wouldn't do this with a pregnant person."
Michael: Jesus Christ. He's trying to preserve his like, "I'm not a terrible personness."
Aubrey: He said, "I wouldn't do this to a pregnant woman and I also wouldn't do it to person with a walker." I just looked at him, I said, "I know that's what makes this terrible."
Michael: Yeah, that makes it worse. Fuck you. Yeah.
Aubrey: And I left, and I went to the bathroom in the airport, and I cried for a while. [laughs] It was really an awful thing to have happened. That is far from the worst stories and just about this.
Michael: Oh, my God, I know you have them in your book of people being arrested, people fuck the lady who dies, because she can't get on a flight to get medical care. There's a weird thing in the rhetoric too. Because I've also been on airplanes, where I sit next to some big linebacker dude, which has just huge, broad shoulders. Some guy who's like 6'6". I've been on flights, where I've had to basically be leaning at a 45-degree angle away from the person in the middle seat the entire flight. You know what, it sucks. But also, it's not that person's fault for having a large body, and really broad shoulders, and being 6'6". There's nothing they can do about that and there's especially, nothing they can do about that on the particular Tuesday on which we are sitting next to each other on an airplane.
Aubrey: Yeah. This is a story that is not in the book, but is one of my favs.
Michael: Oh, besides deleted scenes.
Aubrey: [giggles] When I board a flight, I always, always, always try to be one of the first people in line, because whenever I have the chance, I request a window seat, so that I can just pack myself in. I don't drink any water beforehand. I won't have to get up and go to the bathroom during the flight, which thin people often get very angry about. I own a seatbelt extender for the flights, and I like to be able to get that out, and use it before anybody gets there, because people will make remarks and that will prompt people to make complaints to the staff, which is the first step to me getting kicked off a flight. So, I got on a flight at one point, it's one of those little regional jets, where there are just two seats on either side of the aisle. People start boarding the plane, and the people, who start boarding the plane are all wearing matching tracksuits, and they are from a college basketball team.
Michael: Oh, no.
Aubrey: I was like, "This is all of my high school nightmares."
Aubrey: I'm on a plane full of jocks like, "I hate this. No, thank you." This dude, he was easily over 6'3" sits down next to me, and stoops to sit down next to me, and gets in his seat. I am just putting your headphones, don't talk to me, I won't talk to you. I just want this to be over, I want us to both settle into our quiet flights and not have to worry about it. Instead of doing that, he leaned over to me, anyway. This plane isn't really built for either one of us, is it?
Aubrey: [crosstalk] Imagine that? Imagine if that was our outlook, right?
Aubrey: If people were just like, "Hey, man, you know who's comfortable in airline seats?" No human being.
Michael: [laughs] This brings us to the next theme from your book that I wanted to talk about, because one thing that you mentioned in quite a few of the chapters is, the intersectionality of all of this. Just one example of this. Fat trans people are often told that they have to lose weight before they get gender confirmation surgery, which is one of the things that has nothing to do with the actual procedure. It just what is done in the medical system. That actually blocks their access to confirmation surgery.
Aubrey: That's right.
Michael: Should we just talk about that aspect for a second? Because anti-fat bias, of course, is going to be different for everyone depending on all these other characteristics that they have. There's no such thing as vanilla anti-fat bias.
Aubrey: That's exactly right. Anti-fat bias turns up the volume on existing systems of oppression. I think another example is Eric Garner, who is one of the-- [crosstalk]
Michael: I was just going to mention this.
Aubrey: Yeah. Did you know about this?
Michael: I could not fucking believe it. No.
Aubrey: This is a videotaped murder of an unarmed black man and the defense put forth by the attorney for the police union and for this officer was that, the officer couldn't have murdered him, because basically he was going to die anyway, because he was fat.
Michael: The thing the quote that I cannot get over. This is a direct quote, which is in your book. This is from the lawyer of the officer, who choked him to death. "He died from being morbidly obese. He was a ticking time bomb that resisted arrest. If he was put in a bear hug, it would have been the same outcome." Are you fucking kidding me?
Aubrey: Right. When you are making it acceptable and natural for someone to die at someone else's hands, I don't know a greater measure of dehumanization than that. They know on some level, no one's coming to defend fat people. That's how you get away with that argument. It's often the straw that breaks the camel's back in terms of folk's ability or willingness to empathize with someone.
Michael: Right. Can I read another passage?
Aubrey: Sure. Go.
Michael: Because you have there's some very interesting stuff in the book about sexual assault and the way that there's this thing that especially, fat women, they deserve to be assaulted and then the fatness is a reason that they're lying about being assaulted, because well, who would want to rape her basically. This is a quote that people have said. This is from your book. "In 2017, 21-year-old Quantasia Sharpton filed suit against Usher for failing to share his herpes diagnosis with her before she says, they slept together. Quantasia was just one of three people to sue the singer, but she was the only one, who appeared at a press conference and she was a fat black woman. The online response was swift and ruthless. And then you quote one of the tweets which received over 6,000 likes, I refuse to believe Usher fucked this."
Aubrey: Yeah. I sifted through a lot of tweets [laughs] on that one.
Michael: That sounds dark. That sounds bad.
Aubrey: We have now been through me, too. We now have more of a vocabulary for thinking and talking about sexual assault, and more of a social script for how to handle it. Because we are talking here about a fat black woman, that social script got thrown out the window. And people from just all sides were referring to her as it and that there were jokes about, is diabetes communicable? Did she give that to him? With Eric Garner, we've got excusing the murder of a fat black man and with Quantasia Sharpton and the public response to that, we've got excusing the sexual assaults of a fat black woman.
Michael: Right. There are interesting gender dynamics here, because as you mentioned, weight starts to affect women's earnings much earlier than men.
Aubrey: Absolutely. The data is a little bit all over the place on the like how much do thin women earn more than fat women? But across the board, thin women are more than fat women. The low end is that thin women earn, I think it's $1,300 more than fat women and the high end is that they earn $20,000 or $25,000 more each year for similar jobs.
Aubrey: Fat people aren't fired for gaining weight. We're fired, because we are assumed to be physically unable to complete tasks that need to happen, even sometimes, when we demonstrate that we can. It's not just a matter of pay equity. It's also a matter of straight up employment and access to jobs, right?
Michael: Yeah, which brings us to the next theme that I wanted to talk about which you don't actually mentioned specifically in your book, but I have been wanting to talk about this ever since we started doing this show. Should we discuss skinny shaming?
Aubrey: Ah, yes, yes, yes. Let's do it. [laughs]
Michael: I have very strong thoughts about this. We have talked about this offline. I know you. I generally know your thoughts on this. But one of the first things that comes up as soon as a fat person starts to talk about the discrimination that they've experienced, there is always a skinny person, who pops out of a trash can to be like, "What about skinny shaming?" What about the people when I talk about my body, they say, "Oh, you should eat a sandwich? What about that, huh?" So, Aubrey, what about skinny shaming?
Michael: Aren't the real victims, Aubrey, the people with abs?
Aubrey: Yes, there's no question that thin people have it worse in this world than fat people.
Michael: Starting table stakes.
Aubrey: Let's just lay that out to begin from jump.
Aubrey: Listen, no one should be shamed for the size or shape of their body.
Aubrey: Or, for what it can or can't do, or for how it looks, or for anything.
Michael: Yes. Be nice to people.
Aubrey: There's something that happens though, where I'm like, "I don't actually hear thin people talking about skinny shaming in the absence of fat people talking about their experiences with anti-fat bias." So, that's thing one.
Michael: Ooh, yes.
Aubrey: There's not an independent conversation about skinny shaming that exists without a conversation about fat shame.
Michael: It's the all lives matter of weight bias, right?
Aubrey: 100%. I think a discomfort reaction, right? I'm not being discussed here and I don't know what to do in a conversation where I'm not being discussed and where I can't be an aggrieved party. That's thing one. Thing two is that, this is a pretty intense derailing tactic that flattens anti-fat bias. When we talk about anti-fat bias, we're not just talking about individual people being mean to you. We are talking about institutional policies, we are talking about millions of dollars being spent on a war on obesity. To say skinny shaming is bad, when a fat person is talking about employment discrimination or about airline policies is a complete red herring. It is completely designed to derail and to flatten all of anti-fat bias into the idea that an individual person is being mean to an individual fat person.
Michael: This actually reminds me of another passage from your book. What you say is, "The concrete external harms of anti-fatness are often reframed and reinterpreted as insecurity by thinner people, especially women. After all, thinner women simply aren't subjected to the same levels of societal prejudice, harassment, bullying, and overt discrimination as fatter people. As such, feeling insecure is among the worst things many thinner women can imagine. So, many interpret fat people's story of explicit interpersonal or institutional anti-fatness as insecurity." You talk about in the book of describing these experiences of, yeah, overt differential treatment and people will be like, "I've had days, where I didn't feel very pretty either."
Aubrey: That's right. For taking the classic setup of skinny shaming, which is fat person talks about some usually institutional anti-fat bias, thin person pops up and says, "Skinny shaming, isn't any better? Leave me alone. Stop telling me to eat a burger." The implicit follow up to that is, so, shut up. So, stop talking.
Aubrey: If there's one thing that I can hammer home about this book it is that, it is not a book about confidence or self-love. It is about what lies beyond our own individual mindsets and what are the social and institutional realities that create those mindsets, right?
Aubrey: You can talk to fat people all day long about needing to love ourselves and have higher self-esteem, but ultimately, the thing that will make that possible for many fat people is for us to create a world in which it is possible for fat people to have self-esteem.
Michael: Well, the other thing I wanted to talk to you about and we're going to eventually do an episode on this. Body positivity, why isn't body positivity the way to look at this?
Aubrey: Yeah. I'll back us up even one step from that, if that's okay.
Aubrey: There is a great deal of contention in body positive and in fat activist spaces about, what are the origins of body positivity to our point earlier about the ways in which thin people project onto fat people. This is a big one. Thin people will say, "Body positivity is for everyone to feel good about all of their bodies, except fat people, unless you're obese, unless you're using mobility device, unless, unless, unless." They are all these caveats that have come with the mainstreaming of body positivity. I think the reason for me that body positivity is not the way to look at it is two things. One, again, it reduces things to a problem of mindset. Thing two is that, as body positivity has become mainstreamed more, and more, and more, there is now that sense of ownership that thin women have over body positive spaces that they are actually the arbiters of who can and cannot feel body positive. Many, many, many harassing comments or very judgmental comments that you will see on pictures of Lizzo, for example, on Instagram, or social media or whatever are like, "Listen, I'm as body positive for as the next guy, but this is just unhealthy and we shouldn't celebrate it."
Michael: Oh, yeah. They're using it as a shield. It becomes the thing they put before the but.
Aubrey: Yes. I'm as body positive as the next guy, but not for any bodies that I don't already like to look at personally. [laughs] Most of the times that I step into spaces that consider themselves body positive, what I have met with is anti-fat bias that has been repackaged as empowerment.
Michael: Yeah. You have been in these spaces much longer than me and much deeper in these spaces. So, tell me if I'm totally off base with this. But I've always also been of two minds about the body positivity thing, because to me, it's always associated with those fucking Dove ads.
Michael: The only thing that a capitalistic solution can do is change your feelings about something. It can't actually change fat women make $22,000 less per year than nonfat women. It can't actually do anything about that. But it's also felt to me a gateway drug. There's a lot of people, who have found this body positivity stuff and-- They've seen the Dove ads, they've seen people with different bodies start to show up in Calvin Klein ads, and it's made them a little fat curious.
Michael: It seems that's opening a door.
Michael: You are liking the fact that you're seeing different bodies represented in media. Well, did you know that people, who are even larger than that have trouble getting medical care? But that could also just me being like, "Oh, let's work within the system." I don't know. I could be full of shit.
Aubrey: [laughs] Yeah, I think there are as many feelings about this as there are fat people, who are engaging in these spaces. I know and I've seen a number of people enter into body positive spaces and he used that as a logic that reinforces their anti-fat bias, no question. I have also seen people, who have stepped into those spaces, then called out really hard by fat people and then been like, "Oh, wait a minute, what am I doing here?" If you are a thin person, who feels validated by body positivity, that's awesome, great. And keep the door open, so that other people can get into those spaces as well. Don't use this as an excuse or a reason to become a gatekeeper or an arbiter. Don't use this as an excuse to move the goalposts of a beauty standard or a health standard that most of us can't reach anyway. Use this as an opportunity to just obliterate those boundaries and genuinely make it a space for actually everyone. The way that you do that is by checking bias as it shows up in that space.
Michael: Right. This is, to me, what feels the political organizing challenge of our era that it's very difficult to reach out to people on the right. The gains that you're going to make as a further left person are going to be from pretty normie left wing people.
Aubrey: Absolutely and that's my whole world, right?
Aubrey: I totally hear you on this front and completely agreed. There's got to be a starting point and there's got to be ways to move folks up the ladder of their own understanding of this topic and their own commitment to it. In organizing world, if you are out knocking on stranger's doors or calling them on the phone and trying to get them to vote in favor of a ballot measure that you think is important, for example, there's a one to five scale that you use for every person that you talk to. Most campuses, I should say, not all of them, where a one on that scale is someone who is all the way with you, they would probably volunteer if you ask them, they are on board all the way, let's go. Two is someone who leaning towards support. A three is someone who's undecided and four and five are mirrors of ones and twos. Five are the people, who are dead set against you, they're probably, actively organized against you. And pretty much every campaign that I have ever worked on and every organizing effort that I've been part of, we skip the fours and fives. I don't think I'm going to get Jillian Michaels on board [laughs] with what I'm doing.
Aubrey: Thinking instead about like, "Okay, how do we get folks in the door and then how do we deepen their understanding, deepen their commitment and talk to them about how to actually not just feel different, but do different things?"
Aubrey: This is also the purpose of this podcast, right?
Michael: Yeah, radicalize the normies. This is we finally found a tagline.
Aubrey: [laughs] That's it. That's it.
Michael: To me, the most challenging part of this is that, logically academically I know that the most gettable people on this issue are the people who are into body positivity. That's their entry point. The problem is, those people are really fucking annoying.
Michael: The people I'm interacting with are the kind of people who are semi-body positivity. They see the Dove ads, they're like, "Good for her." But then they also post memes about Donald Trump being an obese turtle.
Aubrey: Yeah, that's right. That's right.
Michael: The challenge is to not just flame those people.
Aubrey: [laughs] Yeah, almost every time I get a new batch of followers on Instagram, or Twitter, or whatever. I will do a little clicking through to be like, "Who are these people, how are they describing themselves?" Every time, there is a good chunk of people, who I click through to their Instagram bios or their Twitter bios, and they have CW and GW.
Michael: What does that mean?
Aubrey: Current weight and goal weight.
Aubrey: It is people, who are actively engaged in weight loss efforts and are for whatever reason curious to hear from someone who's like, "That doesn't work."
Aubrey: I think there are a number of fat people, I certainly know fat people online who are like, "That's an instant block. I don't want it in my life, I don't want to hear from you, I don't want to do it," which is that's a fair boundary to say.
Michael: Yeah, fair enough.
Aubrey: For me, it definitely, I have a very strong reaction to it. There's no question just emotionally. It makes me feel real bad for a while. And also, as an organizer, I think that's exactly who I want and need to be talking to is the person who's like, "How many times have I done this? I feel this time I might be able to do it, but also, I don't know, maybe there are other ways of thinking about this." That actually feels very promising and fruitful territory. That's a four leaning to a three. If we're talking organizer scale. The thing that matters most to me is that, they are cognizant of how they are treating fat people and that they are not just defaulting to, "I don't mean to hurt anyone. So, I'm not hurting anyone."
Michael: I think I've mentioned on the show before, I really have no interest in making people choose anything differently individually. If somebody wants to lose 20 pounds by Christmas, it just isn't what I want to spend my time on trying to talk them out of that. I've done so much work on homelessness. What people always ask me whenever I talk about all the homeless people I've met and all the policy stuff on homelessness I've done is, they always ask me like, "Well, should I give money to homeless people or not?" Some people do, and some people don't, and I don't care. If you're not comfortable giving cash to homeless people, fine. If you are, also fine. What I'm interested in is, you voting for city council candidates that will tax rich people and build housing for the homeless. To me, if you want to keep all the personal weight stuff and you want to believe that you are part of the 2% to 5% of people, who do keep weight off forever, then okay. I probably can't affect that belief of yours, but also, I can get you hopefully to think differently about the fat people around you, and behave differently, and vote differently.
Aubrey: 100%. I don't care how you personally eat, because I hope that you don't care about how I personally eat, because it's no one's business how anyone else eats. I will say I definitely noticed that people, who are actively engaged in weight loss absolutely treat fat people differently and often worse.
Michael: That is true, dude. Former fat people are so fucking mean to fat people and it drives me nuts. It's so noticeable.
Aubrey: And people, who are in the process, who are seeing some weight loss, we like to think that we are losing weight for our health and for all these other reasons, and that may be true, and that may be part of the reason. But ultimately, the strongest reinforcement that we get is social reinforcement. Part of what happens is when people start to lose weight, they start distancing themselves from people who are their old size or they start lecturing those people on like, "I used to be like you and you need to do this thing." I think we all like to think that we are more thoughtful and more actively directing our own actions than we actually are. Our brains are not that sophisticated.
Michael: We are thoughtful, tagline.
Aubrey: [laughs] And also, I am the first go to. For anyone I know who's trying to lose weight, and they just want to talk about how great their diet is, and how great they feel, and how awesome it is to lose weights, I am the first person that they go to and that is may not be explicitly intentional. It might not be a [crosstalk] just decision that they are making, but it's also not an accident.
Michael: I don't know where I read it or when, but I remember reading this thing, where a writer tried a juice cleanse, one of these cayenne pepper, something, something juice cleanses. One thing I will always remember from this article is, she said and the first, second day, when there's all this cayenne stuff in your system, and it suppresses your appetite, and you basically haven't eaten for a day and a half or whatever, she said the first thing that happened was she got really condescending.
Michael: She would look at people at work, who were eating and be like, "Look at these pigs." And of course, after 24 more hours, she gets too hungry and it doesn't. We're like, "No one can maintain that obviously." But even before the weight loss, she got this superiority complex.
Aubrey: Absolutely. Again, the first reinforcement that we get for weight loss is near universal affirmation from almost everyone we know. You're not being drawn to weight loss, because of your health or because of whatever. Again, maybe also that whatever, but we have to be real that what is drawing us into weight loss is the affirmation, the support and frankly, the privilege that comes with other people seeing you lose weight or even just hearing you talk about.
Michael: Yeah. It’s like getting a new haircut.
Aubrey: Yeah, it's like getting a new haircut. If you thought that getting a new haircut made you morally superior to people who have longer hair than you,
Michael: Do people not think that after they get a haircut?
Michael: Looking at their haircut and I'm like, "Oh, I look so sleek."
Aubrey: I'm a better person than you now.
Michael: Yeah. [laughs]
Aubrey: I do think we have to be able to separate out these conversations between what do you need to do to protect your own peace of mind and then also be able to have concurrent conversations about like, "What's the strategy to change those conditions and be able to respect that those two things are different things that sometimes align and sometimes don't."
Aubrey: I think there's a conversation to have about a strategy around divesting from diet companies.
Michael: Oh, yeah.
Aubrey: I think there's a strategy to talk about moving capital out of the diet industry and taking our money away from that. Decide to lose weight if you want to. Don't buy a fucking keto meal kit. Don't go to Weight Watchers and pay them money. I think that's a conversation to have and we could talk about when and whether that's strategic, that's a different thing, right?
Michael: Dude, I was at the store yesterday, and I was trying to buy soup, and they were all out of the kind of soup that I like, and the only thing that was left on the shelf was the weird keto soups.
Aubrey: Oh, no.
Michael: And it was seven bucks.
Michael: It was literally like a cup and a half of soup. It was the size of a fucking little juice box that you would get after a soccer game when you were a kid.
Aubrey: Campbell soup isn't going to keep you in ketosis.
Michael: I don't even know what these things mean.
Michael: Okay. But we should end-
Michael: -not talking shit about keto, I mean, also, talking shit about keto. But with your policy prescriptions, because you have a very good final chapter of the book, where just to spoil it for everybody. These are Aubrey's policy prescriptions like, "Where we need to go from here?" One, end legal widespread practice of weight discrimination. Two, realize the promise of healthcare for fat people. Three, increase access to public spaces. Four, end anti-fat violence. Five, end the approval of weight loss drugs with dangerous side effects.
Aubrey: Yeah, this is all harm reduction.
Aubrey: This is not liberation for everyone all the time to feel great about their bodies and be respected in them in every way at every moment. This is let's actually just address some of the most glaring disparities as a starting point. Like, "Hey, maybe you should have to pay us the same amount. Hey, maybe doctors shouldn't actually be able to set weight limits on the patients that they will agree to see." I don't think that's a radical statement.
Michael: Yeah. You're not shooting the moon here, Aubrey, with the last chapter of your book.
Michael: You're not getting out over your skis. [laughs]
Aubrey: None of this is like, "Fat people should rule over thin people. Now, we are in charge, it's none of them have. It's just straight up baseline things that I think a lot of people who aren't fat or haven't been fat. Think are already the way the world works.
Michael: Yeah. What do you want to end with? What should we say at the end?
Aubrey: I would keep your eyes on the prize, which is like, "How are you?" Not how are you changing your mindset, not how are you relating to your own diets, but keeping your eyes on, how am I materially showing up for fat people, who are getting short end of the stick?
Michael: Show up.
Aubrey: That's the sum total. If you learn one thing today and you're like, "That was interesting. I didn't know about that. I didn't think about standing up to that guy, who yells at that fat lady, I'm going to do that now or I work in a doctor's office. I'm going to talk to our other staffers about how we change our policy to make it clear that fat people are welcome here."
Michael: Or, I'm going to block some personal trainers on Instagram. You know what? Get those pics out of here.
Michael: We have not spoiled that much of the book. There's a lot in the book that we didn't cover, because we don't want to spoil future episodes. The book has a chapter on BMI, it has a bunch of stuff about Weight Watchers. There is great stuff in the book and you should buy the book. So, don't feel you've gotten everything you're going to get out of it just because you listen to this episode. You're still legally obligated to by Aubrey's.
Michael: It's actually an obligation. It's a contractual thing. I'm sorry. You've made it this far. We will see you in an indeterminate number of weeks as we go off and record more episodes. Thanks for making this such a fun Season 1.
Aubrey: Absolutely. We're so excited to come back with so much more. Keep sending us your diet jokes, keep sending us your-- Give us this day our daily 13 pieces of bread joke.
Aubrey: Keep sending us your episodes suggestions. We have a gigantic list, and are happy to grow it, and we're going to go get to work, and record a bunch more episodes for you, guys.
Michael: And we'll see you soon.