TRANSCRIPT: Episode 43: Anthony Bourdain and Strategies for Addressing High Profile Fatphobia
Hello, welcome to The Fat Lip, the podcast for fat people, about fat people. I’m your fat host, Ash, and today on the show it’s just me! Haven’t done one like this in a while, but I wanted to do a short little pod today to talk about high profile fatphobia and strategies for how we as fat activists should address that.
If you follow me on Instagram, you probably know what the impetus for this episode is–I made a story post last week that has spurred a lot of discussion. Now in the post I was specifically talking about Anthony Bourdain. I’m sure if you have spent any time on social media since Anthony Bourdain’s death, you’ve seen countless people talking about being inspired by him, talking about the way he encouraged people to experience other communities and cultures, about his support for the MeToo movement, and about his irreverent attitude. These are all true things that I admired about him too. But Anthony Bourdain was also vocally fatphobic.
Now, when I said this on Instagram, I got a lot of messages asking for a source. I want to make it clear that I do not recommend seeking this out. I’ve seen it half a dozen times, but it makes me feel a uniquely icy kind of despair every time. If you’re at all sensitive to fatphobic comments, this is not something you want to watch. If you feel like you can handle it, though, and you must see for yourself what those of us in fat activism are talking about when we talk about his fatphobia, there’s a Travel Channel video called “Anthony Bourdain Chews The Fat with Ted Nugent” that you can google. And you can probably guess by the fact that it’s with Ted Nugent that the content is going to be pretty awful, and you’d be correct.
But I want to make it clear that I don’t think his fatphobia negates all of the good things Anthony Bourdain did or stood for, and I don’t think because he was fatphobic that we can’t be inspired by the good parts of him. But I do think we have to acknowlege where our heros get it wrong, ideally while they’re still around so they have the chance to grow and change and get it. So my goal today is to talk about strategies for addressing this high profile fatphobia.
But first I want to go back to that Travel Channel video. It’s really shocking, and it’s even more disturbing that the Travel Channel continues to allow this thing to exist on their website. I just think about Roseanne’s racist rant and how ABC cancelled her show that same day. It wasn’t even on their platform and ABC recognized the damage that allowing the show to continue would do to their network. And maybe part of it is just that this video is 10 years old (it’s from 2008.) I think social norms have certainly changed, and I don’t think that if this video were new it would ever make it to a major cable network’s website. I really hope it wouldn’t, at least.
But we do see fatphobia coming from high profile people all the time. And I think our first response has to be an evaluation of the source of that fatphobia. In the case of the Travel Channel video, it’s so vicious that it’s pretty clear that those men would not be interested in hearing what fat people have to say about our experiences or how fatphobia effects us. Like neither of the men in that video are interested in a heartfelt plea from a fat person.
And this is honestly clear in a lot of fatphobia. Many, many people who would openly talk shit about fat people or “obesity” are not willing to listen to fat people. If you’ve ever spent any time on fat social media, you know this to be true. Most vocal internet fatphobes do not and will not hear what a fat person has to say.
So what do we do? Let it fester? Don’t feed the trolls?
I think that it’s clear that there’s nothing that we as fat people can do about virulent internet fat hate. They don’t think we should exist–why would they listen to us? So I think what we need here are thin allies. Real allies, not just people who claim to care about fat people. Not just thin people who use bodypositivity tags without examining their complicity in diet culture. We need thin allies that are willing to use their tiny piece of the internet to fight for fat people. I’m honestly tired of watching thin people in the fat community liking and commenting on fat women’s photos but never clapping back at fat haters. We need thin allies that are fighting this shit even when fat people aren’t watching.
And for our part, fat people should be better allies for people who are more marginalized than we are. We need to fight for people who are fatter than us, for non-white people, for disabled people, and not because we want social justice gold stars but because we genuinely care about making the world better for all of us. And if we do that–if we all make efforts to use the privileges and influence that we each have to fight for people who are less privileged, shit can really change.
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So back to high profile fatphobia. Now, there are some high profile personalities that are probably not even worth thin allies’ time at this point. Ted Nugent is one of them. I think we can file a lot of his friendlies in the “lost cause” bin also. The Donald Trumps and Milo Yiannopolises of the world will never be able to get out from behind their massive egos and love for hearing their own voices to care about anyone but themselves. There’s no use wasting bandwith on these turds.
But there are people who have said fatphobic things that I think can be swayed. I’m thinking particularly of celebrities who have shown that they care about social justice and marginalized people but whose compassion doesn’t seem to stretch to fat people. For example, Shalene Woodley gained some notoriety last year when she stood with water protectors at Standing Rock, but in one of her interviews with media while she was there, she listed “obesity” as one of the evils that the government should be contending with rather than accosting peaceful native protesters. I think this is the kind of high profile fatphobia that could be changed. She seems like she’s a person with a platform who is also compassionate and willing to listen.
So this is where we need those thin allies–we need people who will simply tweet “Hey, Shalene, when you say “obesity,” please remember that you’re talking about actual human beings who already face incredible societal disadvantage and treating those people as a scourge on the country is a lot more cruel than I think you actually are.” Because I think people like that will be able to hear that criticism and be willing to listen.
Matt McGory is a prime example of a social-justice-minded celebrity who, when thin allies opened his eyes, spoke out against fatphobia on social media. It can totally be done. And it’s going to take baby steps probably. Diet culture is thick and murky and we’re all still trying to dig our way out of it on some level. But if we can shovel it away little by little, things will improve.
So. If you’re a thin person listening to this, I’m not saying that you should tweet at every celebrity who has ever exhibited fat hate. What I’d like you to do is start in your own community. If your friend says something on facebook that is fatphobic, whether it’s easy or not I’d like you to say something. You are in a privileged position, and your friend is more likely to listen to you than a fat person, so even if it’s awkward, I want you to address it. Even if all you can say is “hey, the way you talk about fat people is cruel.” Start the conversation. And start the conversation *every time you see it.* Because fat people don’t have the luxury of brushing off fatphobia and if you care about fat people you shouldn’t allow yourself that luxury either.
And if you’re a fat person listening to this, which is probably more likely, I want you to do the same for those who are less privileged than you. If you’re a small fat and see a comment about larger fat people, say something. If you’re a white fat person and see something said about a person of color, say something. Stick up for the marginalized. Every time. Even if it’s hard. Because we owe that to each other. And ripples create waves, and waves can erode even the hardest rocks. So make a ripple. Every time.
And I think, ultimately, that Anthony Bourdain may have someday come to our side as well. He was clearly a someone who suffered a lot in his life, and he had clarity of purpose and encouraged people to expand their worldview and see humanity across borders and religions and skin colors. I wish he was still around so he could expand his to include compassion for fat people. What we can do, though, is to keep talking about the places that our heroes get it wrong and to find tiny ways to encourage those who are still here to learn and grow.
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Andddd come back next week because Alison and I are going to finally be talking about Dietland and I’m so excited! Okay, but until then, I hope you enjoyed today’s show, and I’ll see you next time. Buhbye!