Mary put her finger on it here:
That’s it exactly. There’s nothing wrong with encouraging people to take better care of their health, but I don’t think that’s really what anti-fat discrimination is all about. It is an appearance-based prejudice, and it has far more to do with fat itself than it does with “health.”
I’ve never heard anybody defend quite so passionately the notion that employers ought have a “right” to screen job candidates for blood pressure and cholesterol levels before deciding whether or not to employ them. But suggest, even in the mildest of tones, that perhaps discriminating against a fat applicant might be inappropriate, and people get very passionate indeed! Why? Why is that?
So what’s actually going on here?
One of the parallels that Amp did not cite between obesity and homosexuality–possibly because it is not quantifiable enough by half for his preferred standards of debate–is that whiff of religious righteousness that always seems to permeate these exchanges, that stench of moralism, or even of moral panic.
It strikes me as intrinsically connected to both misogyny and homophobia, this. The terror that fat seems to inspire, the moral terror, seems rooted in the same fear and loathing that has traditionally been reserved for the promiscuous woman. She is not obeying. She is “out of bounds”–much like the fat that oozes over the sides of the airplane seat. Her problem is a surfeit of appetite–which is the reason that no matter what medical studies might actually show, people will continue to frame the problem of obesity wholly in terms of eating and of appetite.
It is also very much the way the religious right views those who dare to break gender boundaries. Queers are disobedient, they are in “moral rebellion.” They are encroaching on our public life. Those who support them must have a “recruitment agenda.” They lack the will-power to restrain their nasty urges. They are not only weak, but also insatiable.
As it becomes less and less socially acceptable to try to regulate sexual behavior, we turn to the subject of eating instead. Whether eating habits really have all that much to do with obesity is irrelevant. We must define obesity in terms of voluntary appetite for it to serve the same social function that sex once served.
Eating is the new sex. Anti-fat hysteria is the new Puritanism.