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Respect In Theory Versus Respect In Practice*

I mostly read and link to blogs that would fall in the broad category "political." I find it easier to get into and engage with posts that are written as philosophical essays addressed to the world at large. But the same kinds of issues come up on "personal" blogs -- sometimes even more powerfully for being shorn of abstract theory. A case in point is Frankie's description of some fat-bashing comments made by some friends:

The rest of the evening, I couldn't forget the tone of distain in their voices even though we had moved onto other topics. I felt worthless and invisible. Disrespected. Even the people I consider my friends don't really respect me because of my weight. I bet if I asked them whether or not they respected me they would say they did. But to speak like that in front of me was a blatant disregard of my feelings, of something I struggle with every day.

The kind of "present company excluded" thinking she describes here is deeply pernicious. A number of commenters replying to her post seem to me to miss the point, by reassuring her that while her friends may hate fat, they probably don't think of Frankie as fat.

The problem with that is that Frankie is fat. She knows she's fat, she has the objective physical characteristics that would meet any reasonable definition of fat, and people she interacts with, from strangers to family, reinforce that judgment. And so fat-bashing stings even when the basher would claim not to apply their comments to her personally. By the logic of their language, they're still talking about Frankie's body. The "oh, but you aren't fat" dodge makes things worse -- it in effect says "we know you're a good person -- smart and funny and caring and hot -- so you couldn't possibly be one of those fatties." That makes the person to whom it's directed invisible, refusing to see a significant aspect of who they are and what they have to deal with in their life, forcibly redefining them as part of the "in group" so as to avoid having to question the hostility directed at the "out group."

Even if Frankie could interpret her friends as using some definition of "fat" that excluded her, there are still lots of people out there who do count as fat. To ask anyone to accept a "present company excluded" type caveat is to demand selfishness, to demand that they accept hurting others as long as they (and/or those close to them) are spared. That's wrong, and all the more so when you know what it would be like to not be spared in that way.

*Some day I'm going to go count up the proportion of my posts whose titles are "X and Y" or "X versus Y."


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