This month has been an especially taxing time to be a woman in America.
We watch coverage of the presidential race and see thin women talk about being called “not my first choice” and “Miss Piggy.” It is outrageous, and it is visceral.
A wave of shame washes over us. The memory of a stranger’s hands on our skin sends an electric charge through our legs, willing us to run. Blood rushes to our cheeks as we try to figure out where we would fit on a bleak one-to-10 scale. Would he call me a one? A zero? Would he reach back into negative numbers? Who else thinks about us, about me, in such reductive terms?
As a woman, this wondering is all too familiar. Often, it is forced upon us, a biting reminder of the simple mathematics of femininity — that appearance only and always equals worth. It impacts every woman.
But this televised bullying frequently targets women based on their weight.
It made Miss Universe into “Miss Piggy,” one of many women singled out for gaining weight. So many women have been called fat these last few months and so few are.
Those of us who are fat know that this kind of name-calling is just the beginning. It is only the tip of the iceberg that has struck our shared ship. Fat women have seen the craggy mass beneath the surface, its sharp edges cutting us down to size every day.
It is horrifying that a man running to lead a nation would talk about women this way. But to fat women, it is not surprising.
As a fat woman, I know that Trump is only the tip of the iceberg, the most visible part of a massive monolith of attitudes toward fat people. Humiliation of fat women happens daily, publicly, hidden beneath a waterline that can only be traversed by having a body within shouting distance of acceptability.
We feel the jagged edges of that iceberg in fat jokes in movies. (Whole careers have been built on pratfalls and fat suits.) We feel its cut when strangers give unsolicited diet mandates at the grocery store or when colleagues offer gym memberships to fat co-workers.
We have become accustomed to the rush of blood in our cheeks when our bodies are so readily commented upon — by anyone, in any venue. The stomach that drops like a faulty elevator. The hollow echo of friends’ laughter at cruel fat jokes. The thudding heartbeat when a family member insists “she shouldn’t be wearing that” about another fat stranger.
The way fat women are talked about is terrible. The way we’re treated is worse.
We know the sinking feeling of "grab them by the p***y." Because some fat women have been and, upon reporting our assaults, have been met with disbelief — who would want you? The horrifying logic of who would rape a fat woman is so ubiquitous some of us never report at all. Others of us haven’t been assaulted and somehow feel invisible in a culture that conflates groping and rape with affirmation. All kinds of women are sexually assaulted. Fat women are told we’re too disposable to be raped, even after it’s happened.
We didn’t start with a presidential candidate who felt comfortable, all on his own, to comment on women’s bodies. He has seen — as so many of us have — the aggressive, prescriptive, dismissive fate that befalls women who dare to gain weight. He’s got the backing of a whole culture that demonizes all women, yes, and fat women in particular.
The comments about starting a diet or joining a gym, the unchecked bullying, the harsh jokes and slurs hurled at fat women — all of that softens the ground for this kind of public abuse. It comes from all sides: movies, politics, family, friends, workplaces, doctors. It’s only from below that we can see the enormity of that slow, massive iceberg. It’s only from close-up that we can see its razor sharp edges, only from experience that we can know how deeply it cuts.
Thin women are under immense pressure not to fall from the iceberg into the frigid waters below. For fat women, it is not a cliff to fall from, it is a boulder to be pinned under. You may not feel sure-footed — you may feel your feet slip from time to time, may just be breathing at the surface — but you are breathing. Fat women are drowning. And we’re drowning with or without a bombastic fat-shamer on television each day.
We don’t just need you to dispose of the noisiest bully. We need you to challenge the culture that created him.
You have the key to the oxygen we need. You can chip away at the heavy, hurtful iceberg. You can interrupt others when they call fat people names or pass judgments on their health, relationships, appearance, or value. You can talk to family members who offer unsolicited advice on dieting, exercise, fashion, or health. You can stop seeing movies with actors in fat suits, stop listening to comedians who target fat people.
You can ask better of those around you. You can do better for yourself and for the women you know. Because targeting women for their weight hurts all of us.
None of us owes anyone access to the bodies we have — to touch them, to change them, to criticize them, to cut them down to size. You don’t owe strangers, pundits, or politicians your desirability. Your body is not a debt to be paid, not a problem to solve or an albatross to carry. Your body is yours.
All you need to do is have the body you have, keep yourself safe, and build the momentum of your own goodness. Feel it whirring away inside you. Fuel its engine. Remember who you are, regardless of the body you have.
You have the extraordinary strength of character that only comes from living in a culture that stubbornly refuses to acknowledge you, much less affirm you. You have an unparalleled ability to empathize and to know just how essential empathy is. You know the difference between the abundance of love and the mirage of desire. You know that desire leaves you with less; you know how to give the kind of love that makes us all whole.
You have the extraordinary love of friends, family, and partners — many of whom are learning to love you in their actions as they love you in their hearts.
It’s going to take all of our warmth to melt this iceberg. Thankfully, all of our hearts are furnaces. Now let’s get to the hard work of firing them up.