Puff Piece

A dishonest melange of irrelevant and empty arguments

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Truth in advertising – or where I stand on a contentious issue.

I won't lie; in the not-so-distant past I've used the incendiary phrase, "the last socially acceptable prejudice" to describe fat discrimination as I perceived it at the time. Suffice to say I've done a fair bit of reading since then and my stance has shifted a tad - though, I suspect, not enough for those who most strenuously object to it.

So, what brought on this sudden urge to blog and probably make myself unpopular? Well, a post by definatalie from the fatshionista livejournal community concerning two spoof ads supposedly promoting Fat Acceptance for a kick-off. Commissioned for a segment on The Gruen Report, an Australian TV show examining advertising and its effect on the public, the brief was to come up with "a campaign for the idea of Fat Pride; to end shape discrimination and make overweight Australians feel less humiliated by the constant public disapproval of anyone who isn’t a size 10 or under". This hard-hitting ad produced by hot shot Oz agency, The Foundry, was deemed too offensive to air. (By all means take a gander but be warned it's not for the faint-hearted). In stark contrast, rival agency JWT came up with this ad in response to the brief. Branded a softer option it duly won the pitch and was aired.

While the Foundry commercial made me blanch, ultimately, it got the job done. (Frankly those gruesomely graphic ads about drunk driving with folk bouncing off and flying through windscreens upset me just as much, especially since I don’t drive, and I expect they achieve their objective too). The JWT ad, however, I found infinitely more offensive. It's bad, lazy advertising; condescending, dripping with insincerity and, crucially, doesn't answer the brief. Instead the entire concept hangs on exactly the kind of crass stereotyping that fuels fat discrimination in the first place – the most obvious being that we're all insatiable gutbuckets; metaphors for mass consumerism. But, lest you forget, Greed is Good! (Well, jumpsuits and bat-wing sleeves are back so why not Gordon Gekko). What's more, according to JWT, it's down to us that farmers grow more crops and airlines burn more fuel to get us off the ground. Sound familiar? It should do since these are the very same points fat bashers routinely use to shame us, right down to the blaming language. Throw in the gratuitous shot of stumbling headless fatties on the beach, (most likely suffering with fat related joint problems), and you've got the very reason an ad like the Foundry's is so desperately needed in the first place. The JWT ad is essentially a fat joke. Of course it won and wasn’t considered too offensive to run. After all, who is it going to upset? Only fat people with no sense of humour, who should really lighten up. Jeez, the irony, it burns.

Yes, the Foundry ad is shocking but, in my view, it needs to be. How else are you going to persuade bigots to wise up to themselves in a culture that not only refuses to recognise the bigotry you’re practicing but actively encourages it? Sizeism, as amply demonstrated by whole the JWT debacle is not taken seriously, at least not in Australia and not in the UK either – and that’s the perspective from which I rant. As a fat Jew brought up in London I can tell you that I've experienced infinitely more sizeism than anti-Semitism in my life. This doesn't mean I think it doesn't exist in other parts of the country or other parts of the world, or that it doesn't have an impact on other Jews’ lives, or that I think sizeism is worse than or equivalent to Nazi genocide, (how could I for pity's sake?) Rather that society has evolved sufficiently for it to be commonly understood that deliberately offending or publicly hating on Jews will cause one hell of an ugly fracas and there will be serious consequences if anyone in a position of power or influence tries it. As in it will make the national news and be discussed in Parliament. Likewise things are very far from perfect for POC or the LGBQ community but at least there is some kind of progress, (civil partnerships recognised by law), and discourse, (institutional racism in the army and the Metropolitan Police Force), springing up around these forms of discrimination. The same is not true of sizeism. When a UK member of Big Fat Blog attempted to get 200 signatures to mount a government petition concerning discrimination against fat people wishing to foster or adopt, he barely got 20. That is how little support for and awareness of FA there is here.

I'm not trying to infer that fat discrimination is worse than racism, anti-Semitism, ableism or homophobia nor am I trying to say it's exactly the same in nature. They're all different, they're all life blighting, they all still go on and they all stink. What I am saying is that here, in my experience, sizeism has yet to be acknowledged as a form of discrimination at all - by the media, the government, the medical profession or anybody else save a handful of those who experience it. There is no public discourse, no self-examination, no glimmer of change on the horizon, no protection enshrined in law which, given that we we make up half the UK population, is shameful. That doesn't make tackling sizeism more important than tackling any other type of discrimination, but it does mean there's an awful lot of work to be done before it's taken as seriously. Sizeism may not be the last acceptable form of prejudice but it is a younger one and it’s on the rise in the UK and manifesting itself in ways that would have been unimaginable twenty years ago.

One thing that's often noted in the fat-o-sphere is how often the most appalling anti-fat invective is spewed by those who would otherwise consider themselves liberal. These, in my opinion, are the very people most likely to benefit from seeing the Foundry Ad and the most likely to get it.

Eventually.

19 Comments:

At May 15, 2009 10:37 PM, Blogger Andee J. said...

Welcome back!

And I agree. I too have suffered more anti-fatism than anti-Semitism personally. And I always thought the idea of fat acceptance was to prevent pogroms and holocausts from happening against fat people. As a Jew, I see a LOT of parallels between the way Jews were demonized in Europe a century ago and how fat people are demonized today, as Greedy People Who Ruin Everything.

Andee (Meowser)

 
At May 16, 2009 12:20 PM, Blogger buffpuff said...

Thanks, Andee!

I totally agree with your analogy, given the way government approved sizeism is starting to manifest itself in the UK. Taking fat children into care and branding their parents irresponsible liars and abusers; testing in utero to determine if a child will born with a genetic predisposition to be fat; lowering the age a person can legally have bariatric surgery to 12; summoning the entire country to their GPs for compulsory 'fat-checks' - not to mention demonizing fat to the extent that some people would rather be hit by a car, lose a limb or even years off their lives than even be associated with the word.

My very real fear is that things will have to get a great deal worse before the liberal-bleeding-hearts crowd throw their hats in the ring with the FA movement. Perhaps those women carrying children predisposed to be fat will be forced to abort them or those with fat forbears going back several generations will be pressured into sterilisation; or maybe those who fail to diet or lose a specific amount of weight after their compulsory fat check will be denied health treatment period. Or maybe Oprah will showcase some Pelzer-esque heart-wrencher detailing what it was like to be ripped out out the bosom of a loving family, shoved into a lousy care system and starved for the sin of fulfilling your genetic inheritance before someone other than us finally sees the writing on the wall?

 
At May 22, 2009 12:46 PM, Blogger Maria said...

Hello you! remember me?

Its good to see you posting something again! I happen to agree with you totally, but didnt have the courage to really put it into words like you have here.

It kind of broke my heart to see so many people involved in FA missing the point - that fat discrimination is discrimination and people, no matter what political and societal stance, are simply not realising that. This advert really addressed that, and sure, it has its faults (one being the massive disparity between the merely demoralising joke about fat women and then the rest being utterly violent making it hard to make the mental association - who knows, maybe it was meant to communicate that no matter how mild, its still discrimination, i hope so...) but I am dissapointed that it was so readily dismissed under the guise of being opression olympics.


And I really didnt know about the in utero testing thing. are you serious?! Thats terrifying.

 
At May 22, 2009 8:29 PM, Blogger buffpuff said...

Yo, Mrs Woman! I've been meaning to email you for absolutely ages and promise I will asap.

The oppression olympics thing is awkward but unavoidable in this instance, given the content and agenda of the ad. If you are trying to educate the kind of people who wouldn't dream of making a racist or homophobic joke, (since, frankly, there's no educating the kind of people who would and do), you have to make them recognise that sizeism is discrimination in the first place. I know the world isn't entirely comprised of liberals but you have to start somewhere and, as has been frequently noted in the fatosphere, liberals are among the most vitriolic when it comes to anti-fat rhetoric.

I do agree the fat joke wasn't in the same blood-freezing league as the others, though it was misogynistic and therefore guaranteed to ruffle the feathers of your average Guardian reader. Someone on another blog suggested that "save a whale; harpoon a fat chick" might have been more in keeping with the general tone of the ad and I agree. since it's sizeist, mysoginistic and murderous, but it doesn't conform to the Q&A theme they had running through the ad.

...and yes, regrettably the in utero testing is a reality. If you click on the youtube link in this article, you can hear Tam Fry, (our very own Meme Roth), discussing it with Jeremy Vine.

http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php?/site/article/5797/

 
At May 22, 2009 10:46 PM, Blogger SC said...

"There is no public discourse, no self-examination, no glimmer of change on the horizon, no protection enshrined in law which, given that we we make up half the UK population, is shameful."

We're trying to make a start. Google HAES UK, if you haven't heard yet.

 
At May 22, 2009 11:22 PM, Blogger buffpuff said...

Hi, SC, yes I've seen word on HAES starting to be promoted in the UK. I hope it does make a dent on public consciousness - in terms of spreading the message that fat doesn't have to mean unfit, and eating well and exercising won't necessarily result in an individual not being fat.

However, in a culture where the pursuit of health is seen as an indicator of morality and virtue bogus concern for fat people's health is frequently used to cloak bigotry. Personally, where discrimination is concerned, I'd like to see health left out of the equation altogether. In my view, a fat person is worthy of respect regardless of the state of their health.

 
At May 23, 2009 11:38 AM, Blogger Dee said...

Great post. Well put. The "oppression olympics" accusations sometimes (not always) feel more like " Don't you dare suggest there are parallels between size discrimination and xxx. You deserve the discrimination you face, but I don't!"

And, in the sense that being fat seems, superficially, to be something that can be avoided or done away with and (for example) skin color clearly isn't, I've always thought that the movement with the most in common with FA is gay rights.

 
At May 23, 2009 2:16 PM, Blogger buffpuff said...

I've heard the sizism/homophobia correlation several times, Dee, occasionally made by (fat), gay people themselves in the same way that Andee made reference to pogroms and holocausts. However, this doesn't always play well and there are those who believe that, when these kinds of comparisons are made, the fact that, sooner or later, references are made to folk not being able to "help" or change something about themselves is in itself evidence of that form of oppression still being widespread. (I have to say I concur with this view - after all, if it was perfectly acceptable to just be whatever the hell you are, why would changing some aspect of your persona or appearance even be up for discussion?)

The general consensus in the fatosphere, when comparing or drawing parallels between different forms of oppression, seems to be that it ultimately serves no one and ends up with all parties bickering about who has it worse. However, the world is not the fatosphere, (if it was, one would not have to resort to dubious/contentious methods of consciousness-raising), and, in this instance, the ad was drawing the parallel.

My feeling is that sometimes it is useful and/or necessary to draw those parallels, particularly for the benefit of otherwise rational people who have no notion of FA. I also personally find it hard to talk about some of the distinguishing features of FA without making some comparisons or drawing some parallels because there are lessons to be learned from how certain forms of oppression play out, and how they are currently being perceived and dealt with by the portion of society that is open to enlightenment and change. That's why I've been pretty reticent about it until now.

 
At May 25, 2009 12:41 PM, Blogger Dee said...

I understand that and I agree with you. My point was that individuals that are part of other oppressed groups often see themselves as fighting for a more equitable society in general, but are sizest themselves and are threatened by the the idea that sizism might be a legitimate social justice issue.

 
At May 25, 2009 1:07 PM, Blogger buffpuff said...

I think we're definitely in agreement over that one!

It bugs the hell out of me that society always has to have some portion of the populace to hate. I think the threatened feeling you describe springs from a " Who am I legitimately allowed to condemn/blame for society's ills now?!" mindset.

 
At June 05, 2009 6:50 PM, Blogger richie79 said...

Late to this one Buffpuff, but apart from agreeing wholeheartedly with pretty much everything you said on the topic of protected and non-protected classes of discrimination, can I just say that the fat parenting rights petition I started is still open and will remain so until July 22nd, so any additional signatures would be extremely welcome!

And talking of child fat being equated to child abuse, have you seen this charming little piece of vitriol that's shown up on the petition site in the last couple of days? It's crap like this that made me start one; a small if completely futile attempt at redressing the balance.

 
At June 05, 2009 7:42 PM, Blogger buffpuff said...

Cheers, Richie. I guess I can have a recce around my social circle and try and get some more signatures.

With regard to Mr Hollingsworth's bag o' shite petition, I fondly hope the commenters on Marianne Kirby's piece in the Guardian don't get wind of it or it might even come to pass.

 
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