Fat mailbag

All right, how about a moped?

All right, how about a moped?

This week, SN&R’s letters editors were inundated by letters regarding Jaime O’Neill’s essay (“Fat bastards,” June 28). Blogs and Web sites devoted to ending discrimination against overweight people linked to the essay, and readers near and far contacted SN&R to make sure we understood how hurt and outraged they were at O’Neill’s use of them and their bodies as “a living metaphor for the way the United States is viewed by much of the rest of the planet.” To give a fair representation of the response, we’re publishing a full page of the letters we received.

Creepy mentality

So, in Mr. O’Neill’s eyes, the ugliness that is global warming and energy over-consumption is solely the fault of Americans who are obese?

I do not for a minute believe that you really believe such a thing. I do however believe that you and your ilk despise overweight people and your bigotry of them has you pointing a finger at them for something Americans of all body shapes/sizes have a part in. You blame fat people because, well … because we’re here, we’re unattractive to you, and therefore you loath us.

I imagine that now you can no longer easily get away with openly hating people who belong to minority groups, non-mainstream religions or who are disabled, you must delight in that there is one group you feel free to torment and scapegoat: the obese.

I’ve always been fat, so no doubt you blame me for global warming. Still, your article didn’t make me worry about my energy consumption, as I work for an environmental agency, recycle and pay attention to my carbon footprint. But your article did make me wonder if I should take a hint and flee the country before you and your kind begin to herd your tubby fellow Americans into railroad cars and ship them off to be gassed in concentration camps.

You must know the roots of all true evil and the source of heinous things such as genocide are those of your ilk, who harbor such thoroughly creepy mentalities.

Claire Miller
Fair Oaks

Hitler was fit

Mr. O’Neill blames fat people for nothing less than the decline of the American spirit and our tarnished reputation overseas. Thank goodness we have lean luminaries like Mr. O’Neill and President Bush to help us out of this predicament! I certainly wouldn’t want to be led by a group of dumb and disgusting fatties, like that tub-of-lard Ben Franklin or that lazy porker Winston Churchill (whose nemesis, Adolf, was admirably fit).

History has no shortage of svelte tyrants, despots and lowlifes. Body size is not related to moral depravity, as Mr. O’Neill so passionately, and illogically, argues.

Creepy is in the eye of the beholder. Mr. O’Neill tells us that he finds fat people creepy. What creeps me out is when self-righteous authoritarian-types use fuzzy logic to humiliate, dehumanize and scapegoat an already stigmatized group.

Sarah Quinn

Shame on SN&R

Shame on you, SN&R. Shame on you for paying for and publishing this horrible, hateful Jamie O’Neill screed against fat people. People are entitled to whatever opinions they wish, no matter how reprehensible, but there is no reason you need to encourage this hate speech by rewarding it with money and newspaper space.

You wouldn’t allow people to bash flouncing gay men and butch lesbians in your space—and rightfully so—but you allow the anti-fat bigots to run rampant? You should be ashamed of yourselves.

And the bashing of fat people needing assistive devices is, truly, beyond the pale. O’Neill can’t conceive of a fat person needing an assistive device for any other reason besides loving doughnuts so much they eat them by the truckload? He is an idiot. Many fat people become fat as a result of being disabled, not the other way around. If he actually took the time to speak to any of those people—if he could get over his superior, skinny disgust long enough to recognize that they are people, not pigs—he might know that.

But enough about him. He is an ass, but the problem, quite frankly, is you, for putting hate speech—because that’s what this is—on such proud display. None of us ever got thinner as the result of being hated on, hated on, hated on—and believe me, we have been hated on in ways you cannot imagine, with articles like this being only the tip of the iceberg.

Shame, shame, shame on you.

Andee Joyce
via e-mail

If they’re unhealthy, why are there so many of them?

You can’t have it both ways. If there are lots of fat people in the United States, then being fat can’t possibly be a deadly condition. In fact, it is a characteristic that has increased in prevalence precisely along with the longest U.S. life spans in history.

Americans are taller, heavier, healthier and living longer than ever before. But that’s not the story that Jaime O’Neill is given space to tell. Instead, SN&R gives O’Neill space to vilify and dehumanize a group of people based on a physical characteristic.

What’s that called? Prejudice.

Mr. O’Neill, don’t you dare claim to be hating people like me for our own good. It simply is not possible.

Marilyn Wann

San Francisco
Marilyn Wann is a board member of the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (www.naafa.org)

So much for stereotypes

My congratulations to Jaime O’Neill; his essay is the most outrageous and rude stereotyping that I have had the privilege to read in print recently.

Stereotypes are often perpetuated by people who have no personal connection to the group that they are stereotyping, so I thought I would step forward to give a face to fat. My name is Kari and I live in the Bay Area. I am a social worker and a therapist. I am fat.

I am not going to go into a long spiel about how I exercise and eat right. I’m not going to try to justify my life to you, or my body. I’m sick of having to do that all the time. What I will say is that my father comes from a long line of fat folks, and that I grew up the short, fat kid in a house with a tall, skinny sister, so obviously it isn’t just about what you are taught to eat.

Let me tell you what this example of “devolution of the species” does with an average day. I get up in the morning and go to work. I work with people who are chronically ill, many with illnesses attributed often to obesity. But the majority are not obese. They are just sick.

I help people with their benefits, with dealing with the stress of having an illness and having to face the medical establishment every day. I help people access resources because we barely provide enough in benefits for people who have worked to survive in the Bay Area. I share the grief of losses and the joy of new hope. It is an emotional roller coaster. A couple of nights a week and on Saturday mornings, I see individual clients dealing with the stress of day-to-day life.

When I come home, I may sit to watch a television show or I may go out with friends or my partner. I like to do lots of strange and interesting things: swimming, belly dancing, music, theater, hiking, going to readings, singing.

Because I am fat, I have had to deal with people like you all my life. Believe me, I know that I’m fat. I think I got the hint when a classmate left an anonymous note in third grade with the words “Fat Pig” on the one side and the picture of a pig on the other. As an adult, I realize that this behavior is not unexpected from children. Children need to be told that bullying is antisocial behavior. I would think that an adult would know better.

I am no one’s “living metaphor” of anything, let alone “a rapacious, gluttonous, nation of swine.” I am a person who takes pride in the energy I put into the lives of other people. I am a woman who loves—despite the messages I am inundated with on a daily basis—her body and her life.

Before you decide to write another article based so grossly on stereotypes, why don’t you try to get to know a person who represents what you think of as the stereotype. Once you have that person in your life, think of them as you type the words “fat, dumb and ugly” and see if maybe, just maybe, you might be compelled to look for a different analogy for the way in which our country squanders our resources.

Kari Petersen
via e-mail

Jaime O’Neill replies: The editors at SN&R forwarded your eloquent letter to me, and that letter deserves a reply, though it’s not likely that anything I say will change your view of the piece I wrote.

First, let me apologize for any pain my essay may have caused. My intention was not to belittle fat people, but rather to make a serious point about the epidemic of obesity in our nation, and to connect that epidemic with the laziness and apathy I find in the American populace. I did not intend to offer insult, though your letter clearly shows that I did, and I regret that. It was not my intent to make fun of people who have often been the target of derision.

But when some 60 percent of the nation has become obese, and when rates of Type II diabetes due to diet are skyrocketing, clearly there is something wrong. And, though it may seem a stretch, when a majority of Americans fail to exercise their bodies, their minds, and their franchise to vote, that also suggests that something is wrong.

The target of my piece was not individuals who are overweight—though your letter gives me to know it came across that way—but a nation that has grown flabby in character. And, though I know that many people fight the problem of weight just as I sometimes do, I also know that, for most people, weight loss can be accomplished rather simply by minding caloric intake, along with a program of exercise.

Beyond the laziness and the ignorance that leads a big swath of the population to eat processed foods and super-sized portions from fast food restaurants, there is the problem of high fructose additives in much of what is sold to us. And, though many people struggle mightily to manage their weight, I think you must agree that a significant percentage of people who are currently overweight have taken no responsibility for their own health, neither by informing themselves about nutrition, nor by attempting in any way to control their caloric intake.

I don’t blame you for resenting a writer who presumes to use you as a metaphor for a national malaise, though there surely is some correlation between the large number of people who refuse to take responsibility either for their weight or the state of the nation, who are lazily indifferent to the news whether that news is about nutrition, justice or wars in distant lands.

I admired your letter, both in style and substance, and I regret that my attempt to express an opinion about the sorry state of the nation bore hurt for people struggling to control their weight or their attitudes about their bodies.

How could SN&R?

Re “Fat bastards” by Jaime O’Neill (SN&R Essay, June 28):

How could you publish such a cruel and ignorant piece of hate speech as Jaime O’Neill’s writing? I’m beyond words. I don’t understand how anyone could write anything so cruel and misinformed in the first place.

But how could a newspaper, any newspaper, decide to publish it for any reason? Have you no ethics or humanity? Seriously: Have you no ethics or humanity?

Our excesses have nothing to do with the size of our bodies—all sizes of people contribute to the problem. We all need to fix it. It is disgusting to try to lay it in the lap of fat people.

Study after study has shown that fat people eat about the same amounts and same foods as thin people—some people in each group eat more, some people in each group eat less and some people in each group eat moderately. Food is not a moral issue and it is dangerous and wrong to make it one, but for the sake of argument, lots of fat people never touch fast food or corn syrup or “fattening” foods. Lots of fat people are brilliant and intelligent. Lots of fat people exercise.

Lots of thin people live on fast food and corn syrup. Lots of thin people never exercise. And lots of thin people are dumb as rocks (just look at Jaime O’Neill, for example). You cannot tell a person’s eating or lifestyle habits—or level of intelligence—by how they look. The assumption that one can is the pinnacle of ignorance—a pinnacle that O’Neill apparently likes to live on. Must SN&R join him?

One possible reason that people have gotten fatter over the years is that dieting makes you fatter, and we have been a nation dieting relentlessly to get away from the hateful sort of assumptions and treatment of fat people that are exhibited in this article.

Finally, do the concepts of compassion and basic human decency mean anything at all to you people? How dare you publish something that compares any human being to an animal?

Fat people, like all people, are worthy, beautiful, valuable, important members of this society, and you need to apologize for this fat-hating, stereotyping, evil, ignorant, ugly, uncompassionate, unethical and nasty spew.

Kathy Barron
via Email

Leave if you don’t like it

Tell Jaime O’Neill that if he’s so repulsed and “creeped out” by what he sees on the streets of America today, then he should stay at home. Lock your ignorant self behind closed doors and stay there! Or better yet, move to one of those other countries whose food consumption you admire so much. We don’t need you here.

Peggy Howell
via Email

Rice cakes and tofu

I found this article extremely offensive, distasteful and quite honestly hurtful. I can’t believe you printed this. There is nothing cute, witty nor “community minded” (as you pride your publication on being) about blatant slander.

I understand how consumption may very well be the downfall of this country, however, pointing fingers at any certain demographic is never a solution. This article sounds a whole lot like pathetic, insecure high school ranting and a lot less like the positive movement for change it hides under. Obviously, this Jaime O’Neill has never known the torment of struggling with a weight problem. Perhaps he knows the torment of constant rejection from women, even of the larger kind. I suppose he eats rice cakes and tofu while patting himself on the back for being such a good American.

[It’s a] bunch of bullshit. You owe the community more than this.

Keri [Last name withheld by request]
via Email

Where’s his heart?

This article is one of the most offensive things I’ve ever seen printed in an editorial column of a “respectable” newspaper. If you replaced the word “fat” with “African American,” “Hispanic,” “Jewish,” or “Handicapped,” I suspect the piece would never have seen the light of day. That an editorial writer can let loose his utter contempt for those who don’t look “right” to him and get such a piece published is proof-positive that the “War on Obesity” is in fact an all out war on the obese.

Without any sense of irony at all, you cite Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds. Mr. Hitchcock was one of the most brilliant, and most obese, directors of the 20th century. He didn’t let his obesity stop him from fully expressing his artistic vision and sharing it with the world. Would you have preferred that he spent his life ashamed, hiding in his room, so that his fat body wouldn’t have offended the delicate eyes of the slender?

Mr. O’Neill, stop concerning yourself so much with the size of other people’s back-sides and worry more about the big, fat empty space in your chest where a human heart should be.

Rose Seeman-Roby
Jersey City, NJ

He’s creepy

I am appalled. I guess fat people don’t have feelings, either? “Fat, dumb, and ugly"?

I run my own business, run a non-profit organization, and am told on a daily basis that I “just don’t know how amazing and beautiful” I am by friends and strangers alike (The strangers’ notes come via email from my blog).

I don’t think I am dumb, or ugly. Fat, yes.

I also have multiple sclerosis, a nicely “hidden” disease, which is the reason you will see me on my scooter, in a wheelchair, or using a walker. I used to run around like an Energizer bunny before MS hit me, and I was about the same size. I am not going to tell you what my weight is, because it makes no difference—O’Neill has insulted people who are anywhere from a few pounds overweight to the morbidly obese. People who, I might add, go out every day and work, shop, take care of their families, volunteer, etc.

O’Neill writes, “As Alfred Hitchcock understood, even things that are benign in small numbers become creepy en masse. Little birdies are cute—even sweet—but when the flock blots out the sun, it’s creepy.” What if we said the same about—oh, I don’t know—African Americans, women, children, people with disabilities, homosexuals, or immigrants?

It is people like Jaime O’Neill that are the ugliest and creepiest of all.

Donna DeLorme
via Email