Posted by Pattie on 8/09/2002 11:39:00 AM

Last night on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show the actor Paul Rudd made a fat joke. It wasn't as rude as it could be. It fell into the category of "good intentions" instead of "out and out hostility." But it hurt nonetheless. It hurt most because I've seen Stewart be far more considerate of fat acceptance. He had Camryn Manheim on his show a few months ago and I thought he was going to jump her right in front of the cameras, he was so flirtatous. He obviously respected her as well and allowed her to talk freely about the fat acceptance movement. I was heartened.

It made last night even more disheartening. In truth, Stewart could have been much ruder. There were no "ass" jokes (and the opening was there, he chose not to take it). But it would have been nice if it just hadn't come up. He tried to be polite about calling someone a "fattie." It would have been nice if being a "fattie" were considered something other than an insult.

A long and heated debate took place last week in the cafe about whether fat bodies are really different from thin bodies. It was in the context of questions about beauty and modelling and stripping and pornography. Two people I really like reading seemed to be very angry with each other over the question of who is fat and who is not. I thought they both missed the point. The point is that we do not get to decide who is fat. Fat is a social construction and like all stigmatized characteristics, the biggot gets to choose who is fat. Kate Winslet is fat in the world out there. Fat acceptance is not about accepting bodies, it is about accepting ourselves in spite of the pressure to hate ourselves. Debating over what is a fat body, and what is not, is irrelevant in a world where we do not get to decide for ourselves how to describe our own bodies, what to think about our own bodies.

That is why I believe that far from being in the "eye of the beholder," beauty is a taught value. We are told from a very young age what is beautiful and what is ugly. I saw a mother the other day in a local department store tell her daughter to "shut-up" while she was singing. She threatened to hit the girl for singing. Do you think this little girl will grow up believing it is okay to sing, that it is beautiful to sing? I was steaming with anger and wanted to scream at the mother, "what the hell is wrong with you?" I didn't though, because such an outburst would be "ugly." Beauty can be a conscious decision. I think it is a political decision to describe fat as beautiful, to describe old as beautiful, to describe dark as beautiful. It is radical politics to change one's perceptions of beauty. That is why "plus-sized" models wear size 10s. To look at a size 30 as beautiful is too radical for the fashion industry.

It is irrelevant to worry about what is fat and what is not. Better to welcome all who would choose (and it is a choice in North American culture) to see anyone who doesn't fit the narrow standards as beautiful. We need all the allies we can find for acceptance.