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Fat Prejudice

WARNING: spoilers for the movie The Invention of Lying

I recently watched the movie The Invention of Lying and found it somewhat ironic that a movie focused on an individual learning to lie had one of the most honest portrayals of prejudice against fat people that I’ve seen in mainstream media. It makes sense, given that the premise of the movie is a world in which people are incapable of lying. All of those horrible, nasty, lurking thoughts are therefore voiced, but I couldn’t help feeling that a majority of them were directed towards people who were overweight. Although it was unusual that in this case, those comments were directed almost exclusively at boys and men; in most cases women are the target.

What particularly struck me was Anna’s assessment of her relationship with Mark, that she loved him but couldn’t imagine marrying him at first because then she would have “fat, snub-nosed kids.” She wanted someone with a better genetic makeup, who would product attractive, athletic, tall children – intelligence, kindness, humor all seemed beside the point.

It reminded me of a passage in Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher (p. 184): “[The] obese… are the social lepers of our culture. A recent study found that 11 percent of Americans would abort a fetus if they were told it had a tendency to obesity. By age five, children select pictures of thin people when asked to identify good-looking others. Elementary school children have more negative attitudes toward the obese than toward bullies, the handicapped, or children of different races. Teachers underestimate the intelligence of the obese and overestimate the intelligence of the slender. Obese students are less likely to be granted scholarships.”

Even now, I am afraid of being subject to such contempt. I’m no longer heavy, but the fact that I once was is evident over most of my body. When I go on dates, part of me always wonders, “Will he be disgusted by me when he learns the truth, that I was once fat, when he sees my loose, wrinkly skin and sagging belly? Would he want to have children with me, children who would have tendency toward obesity?” Clothed, I can present a good illusion, but eventually the truth will be revealed. And then what?

The movie, of course, had a happy ending, as Hollywood movies tend to. Reality is often harsher. What makes it even worse is when people don’t recognize it, or think it’s funny. But perhaps those watching this particular movie will pause to question some of those uncomfortable truths revealed when polite lies no longer mask them.

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