The nation seems shocked at the treatment bus monitor Karen Klein received by a bunch of unruly school kids. But why are we so shocked at these kids behavior when our society does the same thing, day in and day out. Is our concern just big fat hypocrisy?
How COULD they??? Are you KIDDING????
A viral video of grandmother Karen Klein being bullied has apparently shocked us so much it is making MSM (main stream media!) That is not the reason for my incredulity! The real surprise to me is why are we so shocked when a group of ill socialized kids mimic the values they have heard their entire lives! The question is not how could they, but why the hell have we taken so long to finally wake up to the abuse?
As a disclaimer let me say I am more analytical and less emotional than most people on this issue because 1) I researched weight stigma for my master’s in sociology and 2) as someone who has been fatter than average since birth, that kind of abuse was a constant in my life from K-8th grade. Being fat, Polish American, the smart kid, the kid raised by a grandmother from a different generation and an introvert who always wanted to keep to herself made me a popular target for bullies. There was not a week that went by that someone didn’t make an unpleasant comment and prolonged, center of attention abuse like the bus monitor experienced happened to me regularly. So when I saw the video, it didn’t make me an emotional wreck, but almost downright violent there is such a disconnect between how we act on a daily basis and the outrage we feel when we see others do it!
Don’t get me wrong. I am not defending those mini ruffians, (or Joan Rivers wanna bes) although I do give them credit for apologizing. But an undeniable fact is that kids absorb whatever values society indoctrinates in them! How many people shocked by these boys laugh when Leno, Letterman, or any number of other comedians pull out the fat jokes on a regular basis? How many snark along with the gossip columnists when a celebrity gains weight? And no one has to even get fat to be mocked. Let any famous person go from Hollywood emaciated to average human sized and it gets more headlines then the unfixable nuclear reactors at Fukushima! What rock can we crawl under to avoid fat bashing? Fat people are lampooned in sitcoms, villainized on the big screen, stereotyped on talk shows. Even if we turn off our t.v. sets, who can go to the supermarket without noticing those in your face tabloids about best and worst beach bodies?
What is really sad is that we don’t demonize fat because it is inherently bad. Historically and culturally, other societies have been neutral or even revered fat. So much of the legitimized abuse is about profit, pure and simple! The purpose of media is to help sponsors sell products. Here is a clip everyone should watch, Frontline’s The Persuaders. (If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, go to #3 Times Are Changing)1 There are agencies in Hollywood whose jobs are to review scripts and find places to insert product friendly propaganda. This clandestine marketing is not always as obvious as your favorite character drinking a particular brand of coffee or driving a particular type of car. Often it doesn’t recommend a specific product; it simply reinforces the need for it. So that sitcom plot about the fat blind date from hell may have just been created because a weight loss sponsor commissioned it. Still not convinced? Ever hear of Ed Bernays? He was Freud’s double nephew and father of modern public relations. At one time Bernays persuaded Arthur Murray to publicly proclaim fat people are an embarrassment on the dance floor2. Why? Because Bernays was working for big tobacco at the time and smoking was seen as a form of weight control 3. Imagine that! How many mothers have passed on body hatred to their daughters? How many women let the scale determine their self worth? How many people pass up plump but practically perfect potential partners? All because some PR hack thought of a clever way to sell cancer sticks!
It is not just entertainment that is the problem. More “credible” (said with a grain of salt and a choking noise) sources also demonize fat for fun and finger pointing.
All those pharma sponsored health scare studies that tell us obesity is driving up health costs! (Pretty clever of those fatties actually, to both die early and drive up health costs!) Laughable studies tell us fat people are contagious! (Take away their friends and they will make new ones at Weight Watchers!) The White House tells us fat kids are a drain on their communities!4 (Never mind those innocent bankers and the global economic crisis! And I am sure it was pure coincidence that on other obesity related topics they included affirmations in the comment section from the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, close allies of Johnson & Johnson who make weight loss products.) Lets not forget global warming, yet another academic sell out from the UK claims obesity is responsible! (Forget about the oil companies who have been suppressing alternative energy for years!) When every institution in our society conveniently blames fat people for every conceivable social ill, just why are we so surprised when kids treat them like public enemy number one???
Lets also not forget that abuse against fat people is legitimized as a motivational factor to “help” them lose weight. School kids are admonished not to bully, but they read stories about fat kids who respond correctly to teasing by losing weight and “getting healthy.” (Real healthy except for the years of therapy required to de-stigmatize!) Infamous diet Dr. Atkins advocating shaming people into slimming! One reason I almost put my fist through the t.v. when I heard Brian Williams ask “How Could They?” is that NBC is responsible for one of the most destructive and disempowering shows of all – The Biggest Loser. Contestants desperate for attention and approval undergo all sorts of pathetic, unsafe, and counterproductive weight loss methods for an audience who would rather sit back on the couch and watch someone else’s transformation than work on their own issues. Dysfunctional all the way around! Any contestant who questions a trainer is portrayed as rebellious and self-sabotaging, no matter how legitimate their point is. The message that is carried away - your condition is all your fault and until you diminish, shut up and take what we dish out. Since bullies always go for the weakest target, why wouldn’t they pick on fat people who are discouraged from ever fighting back!
Some may be shocked by the sheer fact that this was an elderly woman and respect for seniors should trump all else. No, fear of fat trumps all else. Consider a Jenny Craig commercial that was played after 911. I don’t remember it exactly, but the gist was that the ad’s spokesperson went to Jenny Craig because after 911 she realized she was too out of shape to get her family out of her home safely in the event of an emergency. The emotional manipulation in that commercial was sickening. Virtually NO other company would have dared exploit 911 that soon after it happened. Imagine a security company or an energy drink trying to use the same dynamics. There would have been a public outcry! But fat stigma is so effective at turning off our reasoning, so efficient at disabling our defenses, so expedient at returning us to our wounded inner child they got away with it!
The biggest tragedy in Karen Klein’s case is that airing this video over and over again will drive many people to more of the same. Many will flock to the diet products, but because their own sense of self worth is so conditional, they will never achieve the power they think getting thin will give them. Even if they do manage to beat the odds and keep weight off, their stomachs will still turn, their knees will still go weak, their heart will still beat faster when they see this kind of thing! Real protection does not come from diminishing the outside, but reinforcing the inside! We need to stop letting ourselves be manipulated! Period! Take small steps. If someone tells a fat joke on late night, change the channel! If you see an article unfairly scapegoat fat people, post a comment under it! If a friend or co-worker nags you, tell them your body is not public domain! Most importantly, stop buying diet products. Stop using your own money to feed the very forces that keep you oppressed. This will not change until WE change it! Not just for the grandmas who have endured years of abuse, but for all the young children who can be free of the obsession to do so many more important things with their lives!