I believe that those of us who are fat know what people say and do that result in our feelings of sadness and anger. We also can detect attitudes that make us that uncomfortable and get in the way of our having a good life. It is my hope that what follows will heighten the sensitivity of readers toward what we experiance. My goal is to shed light on attitudes historically and in our modern culture.

• Literary References
• Cultural Studies
• Material Culture
• In Politics
• The Health Care Community
• Navigating the Job Market as a Fat Person
• Attitudes of Fat People about Being Fat

1. Literary References

Fat people have been victims of negative prejudice from a variety of quarters for many years. The Bible includes the 7 deadly sins of which the first was "gluttony." In the 5th century, Aristophanes, described fat men as "bloated, gross, and ... fat rogues with big bellies and dropsical legs.

William Shakespeare seemed to have a "thing" about fat. When Falstaff dresses as a woman he becomes "an old fat woman." He writes of a "fat rogue", "a gross fat man," "ye fat paunch," "fat rascals," "fat villain",and "that fat belly of his." [B20] (Wives, IV, v). (Henry IV: Part I, I, ii, 18,) (Henry IV: Part II, II, iiii, 4);

Apparently, even Hamlet was chubby. Late in the play when amlet is dueling with Larides the queen expresses her concern for him because he is "fat and scant of breath."

In an essay written in 1839 by the resident physician of the Middlesex Pauper Lunatic Asylum at Harwell, we are informed that the "ancients held fat people in sovereign contempt ... certain medieval humanists considered obesity the outward and visible sign of the inward and invisible 'indolence and apathy...and laxity of fibre' chracteristic of decadent clerics durin that period."

Between August, 1862 and August 1863, William Banting of London, England, at the age of 66 and standing 5'5" tall lost 46 of his 202 pounds. Based on his experiences before and during his weight loss, Banting wrote and distributed three pamphlets in 1863 and 1864. Each pamphlet in the sequence adding to the pamphlet(s) that went before it. He titled the original pamphlet "Letter on Corpulence." In that pamphlet he wrote:

I am confident no man laboring under obesity can be quite insensible to the sneers and remarks of the cruel and injudicious public assemblies, public vehicles, or the ordinary street traffic; nor to the annoyance of finding no adequate space in a public assembly if he should seek amusement or need refreshment, and therfore he naturally keeps away as much as posible from places where he is likely to be made the object of the taunts and remarks of others. I am as regardless of public remark as most men, but I have felt these difficulties and therefore avoided such circumscribed accomodation and notice, and by that means have been deprived of many advantages to health and comfort. [B41]

In the 1906 book "The Aristocracy of Health" the author wrote "Surplus fat is to be avoided as an embarrassment to all the internal economy." [B 10]

In the 1890s and early 1900s Sarah Tyson Rorer wrote 54 cookbooks, one of which had sold 152,000 by 1914. She wrote a kitchen column for the Ladies Home Journal and trained thousands at her cooking school. She really hated fat. At one point she wrote " An excess of flesh is to be looked upon as one of the objectionable forms of disease, and must be treated as such."

Political caricatures, popular in that period, showed the following images: a fat man dwarfing a hotel bed, a fat woman plugging up the aisle of a streetcar, a fat couple peering up a narrow staircase or hesitating in front of a turnstile.

An oversize political boss and grand eater was shown being unable to fit into a theater seat, and President Taft was shown getting stuck in his White House bathtub.

Another cartoon depicted a judge sentencing a defendant: "It is the Court's opinion that, although innocent, you are dangerously overweight."

2. Cultural Studies

Researchers have found that various groups in Western cultures have "strong negative attitudes about the obese."

Those who study the subject of discrimination against fat people now suggest that fatness "may now draw more open and widespread discrimination than race or gender or age ...."

Some argue that fat people are the most stigmatized in America. Whether or not that is true, it is the case that "obesity at all ages is associated with decreased social acceptance."

One academic commentator went so far as to say "Not only are the overweight the most stigmatized group in the United States, but fat people are expected to participate in their own degradation by agreeing with others who taunt them."

The antipathy of many Americans toward fat people can be intense and overwhelmingly negative. The intensity of this antipathy is reflected in a study done by Dorothy C. Wertz, an ethicist and sociologist at the University of Massachuetts Medical School. She found that 16% of adults would abort an unborn child if they thought it was going to be untreatably fat. This is about the same number as would do this to an unborn child they thought would be mildly retarded.

Just how mean spirited the manifestation of this prejudice can be is suggested by snippets from several of many letters received by the National Association to aid Fat Americans, after the organization was featured on the Phil Donohue Show.

After observing representatives of your association on the Phil Donohue Show, I was totally disgusted. Sure, people have a right to look any way they please and expect not to be discriminated against..., but how can you support people abusing their bodies in such a way!

Your glorification of your disgusting malady on national television was a pathetic attempt at the justification of a severe psychological disorder.

A great many obese persons use their apperance as a scapegoat for severe antisocial tendencies, You can't imagine how angry I am at you justifying being fat. You make me sick to even look at you ... Yes, some of the nicest people I know are fat, but they could also be nice to look at if they wanted.

Even supposedly educated people can be remarkably insensitive, as is demonstrated by material published by two "scholars" at the University of Illinois in the late 1970s. They calculated that if all overweight Americans were to diet down to their 'ideal' weights, enough energy would be saved in food production to fuel 9,000,000 automobiles for a year, or to meet the annual residential need for electricity in Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.

Children and young people are affected more radically in a sense than adults because they are particularly vulnerable. In examining how their peers feel, some of what I learned follows. Children seem to have more negative feelings toward fat children than they do towards children in wheelchairs, missing a hand or facial disfigurement. Even very sick children would rather be sick than be fat.

Normal and overweight children shown drawings of children with rounded body shapes and asked to describe them used words such as "mean, naughty, sad, ugly, lazy, dirty, awkward and stupid. In a story describing the background of a man charged with shooting two police officers at the Capitol in Washington, D.C. a high school classmate had this to say, "Rusty was basically overweight and in small towns like that it's terrible but kids like that tend to be outcasts."

For fat youngsters school can be a totally unpleasent experience filled with prejudice, discrimination and harrassment from students and teachers. From nursery school to college fat young people face ostracism and discouragement.

Studies have shown that fat people, especially women, may be disadvantaged when it comes to admission to those college that require admission interviews.

Roughly the same numbers of fat and unfat men applied to college. A slightly larger number of the unfat men were accepted. While roughly equal numbers of fat and un-fat women applied to college a substantially greater number of the unfat women were accepted. And there has been some demonstration that once they are admitted, fat people got lower grade point averages in college than did tall thin folks.

3. Material Culture

The public exhibition of the negative attitudes toward fat people is all around us.


Insurance vendors have used the depiction of a "fat slob" to go along with advertising suggesting that those who are overweight drive up the cost of insurance.

In San Francisco the "24 Hour Fitness Center" posted a billboard which had a drawing of a space alien and read: "When they come, they'll eat the fat ones first."

The Air Transport Association ran full page ads attacking the federal bureaucracy. To draw attention to the ad it included a large drawing of an obviously overfat man slouching behind his desk with his feet up as a symbol of a bloated bureaucracy.

And in a somewhat different kind of advertising, the anchor on a morning show doing the teaser, about a coming segment on a new diet drug, described the new pill as "viagra for fatties."

TV, movies and books

Fat people or being fat are regularly disparaged on television and in the movies.

From the TV program "Bart Simpson": "Union rules, everyone must win worker of week award at least once regardless of 'gross incompetence, obseity or ripe odor.'"

In the last episode of "Seinfeld" there is a scene in which a very fat man is being held up by a robber. Here are selected lines from that scene.

Thief: "Allright, fatso! Out of the car!

* * * * *

Jerry: (laughing) "Well, there goes the money for the lipo!"

Elaine: "See, the great thing about robbing a fat guy, is that it's an easy getaway, you know? They can't really chase you."

George: "It's actually doing him a favor. There's less money for him to buy food!" (everybody laughs)

* * * * *

The "comedian" Martin Short, an unfat person, (wearing a fat suit and related appliances) has created a character, Jiminy Glick, who is very fat and who often has a hard time manuevering his bulk around the stage. Not content to make people laugh with his words he finds a need to parody in the extreme those of us who are fat.

* * * * *

In the movie "You've got Mail" Tom Hanks is talking with Meg Ryan about the man with whom she is communicating by e-mail. Hanks says " maybe he's fat, he's fat, he's a fatty."

Ryan says "I don't care about that."

Hanks continues, "he's so fat that he's one of those guys that has to be removed from his house by a crane."

* * * * *

In the popular Harry Potter series, author Joy Rowlings uses the fatness of Dudley one way to portray his character as spoiled, self centered and generally unpleasant character. Here are some examples. "Dudley had spent most of the summer in the kitchen, his piggy little eyes fixed on the screen and his five chins wobbling as he ate continuously."

"Uncle Vernon clapped Dudley on his porky shoulder."

"Dudley looked furious and sulky, and somehow seems to be take up even more space than usual." "...Dudley had reached roughly the size and weight of a young killer whale."

"Dudley, had finally achieved what he'd been threatening to do since the age of three, and become wider than he was tall."

In Newspapers

Some people just don't like fat people. I came across a letter written to Ann Landers that was written by one of those folks. Here are some of the more "creative" lines.

...obesity is not a disease or chemical addiction...there is nothing in food that causes a chemical addiction in the human body. ...Obesity is due to gluttony....

Please, Ann, let us not shed any tears for that 350-pound woman who can't wedge herself into an airplane seat. She got that way by choice....

If everyone ate and drank everything they wanted, the world would be full of 350-pound hippos....Most fat people choose immediate gratification over long-term health and appearance.

Ann Landers responded in an appropriate fashion beginning with the following sentence. "Your belligerant attitude toward overweight people makes me wonder what is at the root of your mean-spirited hostility."

Those who were at one time among the un-fat and become fat often get special attention as Marlon Brando did from Cindy Adams in the New York Post.

"What they're doing with their tax rebates: Brando's having a mirror installed on his briefs so he can see his feet...."

Dating and mating

"I don't want her, you can have her
She's too fat for me
She's too fat
She's too fat
She's too fat for me"

This is the chorus from a song that Arthur Godfrey first made popular. The title of that song is the "Too Fat Polka." It was the 8th most popular tune in the year it was introduced, 1947.

If we listen to one match-maker who focuses on Wall Street, being fat is a real show stopper. As she said, "I don't do fat, I don't do short, I don't do poor and I don't do schlubs."

"Some men say they like a full-figured woman, and when I say I've found one, they are always careful to say, Well, she's not fat, right?"

After an arranged date is over the match-maker calls her client and asks "Did you like her? Was he smart? Was he too fat? Did he wear cheap shoes? Did she smoke?"

One of the match-maker's clients said " But one of my dates turned out to be a very nice man, but with a huge belly. I called her the next day and said "Woman, what were you thinking....?' I mean really.'" People seeking companionship sometimes advertise in newspapers and magazines. And while they generally don't say "fat people need not apply," they often make clear their preferences.

In a November 2000 issue of the "The Times" of London, there was a secion called "Saturday Rendezvous." It included 32 ads placed by men and women seeking to meet people with a possible relationship in mind.

In 18 of the 32 ads (8 of the 17 ads placed by women and 10 of the 15 ads placed by men) the person placing the ad either described herself or himself as "slim" or indicated that among the characteristics there were looking for in a person was that they be "slim."

4. In Politics

Since I have a special interest in politics, it was natural that I would explore a references to fatness in political exchange over the years and in current venues.

President Grover Cleveland's arrival in Washington in 1885 was described thus:

"And then there arrived in Washington a huge, bejowled man, a walrus in wingtips.(G. Cleveland)...Cleveland was an unlikely looking reformer. He resembled Boss Tweed, carrying 280 pasty pounds on a small, beleaguered frame. Even by the standards of the day - in which heft in a politician was said to be a sign of substance and prosperity - he was considered porcine. His suits were like tarpaulins, and still they strained at the buttons, which would sometimes pop."

During his second term in 1896 Cleveland's opponents began refering to him as "The Fat Knight." William Howard Taft was apparently bothered by his fatness and struggled to get rid of it. "...the stolid Taft was lampooned in 1906 as a fat peacemaker setting foot in Cuba and upending the island, in 1909 as a Kewpie Doll and as Billy Possum playing golf: 'It's a Great Game for us Fat People, Isn't It?'"

In 1981 a freshman Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives referred to than Democratic Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O'Neill, as "big, fat and and out of control."

Another Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich recounted in his book "Lessons Learned the Hard Way" a friend's admonition on how he should deal in public with the fact that he had gained some weight.

" we were getting ready for Clinton's State of the Union Address, Senate majority leader Trent Lott, a friend of twenty years' standing, dropped by my office. He came to give me a few tips on how to sit property and look presentable. He told me I should wear a certain kind of shirt, and that I should lean forward so as to minimize for the camera how overweight I had let myself become. I was bathed in embarrassment. Things had obviously gone pretty far downhill."

On another occasion Gingrich is said to have told friends that he would never ride in the back of a plane again. This statement allegedly followed his irritation with the seat he had been given during a trip on Air Force One. Commented the writer of one article on the incident "Of course, that's a plus for other travelers: now that Newt's on the steak-and-mashed-potatoes circuit, they won't have to worry about getting a sat next to a fat man."

At a breakfast of a large number of people in New York City, during the 1998 U.S. Senate campaign, the Republican incumbent Alfonse D'Amato, reportedly mocked a large New York Democratic Congressman by the name of Jerrold Nadler by calling him Jerry Waddler. As if that wasn't enough he is then said to have waddled around in a circle in an apparent attempt to make more fun of the Congressman's size.

This is not the only time that a public official has made an unkind reference to Nadler's then size. In comments during a House Judiciary Committee session, the Chairman Henry Hyde was heard to say, "Early in this meeting, my good friend from North Carolina, Mr. (Melvin) Watt - I don't see him here; he was here a moment ago. Oh, there he is. You were behind Mr. Nadler."

"You always have trouble seeing me, Mr. Chairman," said Watt

"When you are behind Mr. Nadler, it is difficult," Hyde observed."

During the 1998 election, Alabama's incumbent Republican Governor Fob James Jr. was challanged in his party's primary. His opponent, Winston Blount called on Alabamians to "elect a governor who would not 'continually embarrass us.' James, described as "no svelte figure" shot back with the suggestion that Blount was fat. James's wife, then supposedly call Blount a "big, fat sissy."

"CNN's Wolf Blitzer quoted House Speaker Newt Gingrich as saying, "We have a spectacle in Washington of the president frankly as defendant-in-chief." President Clinton's counsel, Paul Begala, fired back: "Getting lectures from Newt Gingrich on ethics is like getting lectures on obesity from Rush Limbaugh."

During a 1999 speech to a forum of world business leaders in Davos, Switzerland, Gerhard Schroeder, the then relatively new prime minister of German expressed some of his feelings toward is predecessor, Helmut Kohl, whom he referred to as "the fat man."

Following the 2000 election former Vice President Al Gore apparently gained a little weight. Beginning apparently with a reference in Newsweek magazine there began series of unflattering references.

In "Newsweek - "Buff to the max early last year, he's ballooned to near-Taftian proportions." In the New York Daily News under the headline " Hey-Hey, Fat Albert, Ex-veep tipping scale" the following from one of the students in Gore's class at Columbia University "His suits are definately at least two sizes too small. I'd say he's put on like 30 pounds."

The Washington Post couldn't stay out of the act and referred to the fact that the New York tabloids has been "tormenting" Gore for "allegedly porking up."

In the National Review there were references to the Newsweek and Daily News articles at the line " Gore's gorging is now international news, as London's Daily Telegraph reports, tongue-in-cheek, that Gore is no 'political lightweight."

5. The Health Care Community

Negative attitudes about fat people also present themselves in the more private but particularly important interactions between fat people and the medical profession.

I suppose it should come as no surprise that doctors, nurses and others in the healing profession are subject to the same "cultural beliefs and attitudes held by society."

In one survey of health professionals involved in the treatment of obesity 87% thought that fat people are self-indulgent. 25% thought they had family problems and about a third thought they had no will power. Intestingly only 10% thought that fat people were indifferent about appearance.

In a survey taken of members of the National Association to Aid Fat Americans, more than half reported dificulties in dealing with the medical profession.

I have been lucky. In almost every case, even before I knew its importance, I have found and been treated by health professionals who dealt with me as they would with other patients or clients suffering from a chronic disease.

Others have not been so lucky. They have found that doctors and other health professionals have treated them disrespectfully and with special disdain because they are fat. As a consequence many fat people report avoiding doctors except in emergencies.


Fat people talk of doctors who seem to avoid looking at them and even some who seem to shy away from touching them.

There is some evidence that female physicians treat fat people with attitudes and advice that are more thoughtful and less perjorative than many male doctors.

A group of 77 doctors when surveyed described their fat patients as "weak-willed, ugly and awkward." In another survey, doctors reported their feelings about those of us who are fat. They said that:

• we lack self-control - 67%

• counseling us on weight loss is not professionally gratifing - 47%

• we are lazy - 39%

• we can not maintain weight loss - 37%

• we are sad - 34%

• we cannot lose significant amounts of weight - 29%

There seems to be some tendency among doctors to feel free to criticize fat people because they are trying to help us.

A study of a 100 medical students found that they viewed those of us who are very fat as "unpleasant, worthless and bad. What's worse, after 8 weeks of a psychiatry rotation working with fat people there was little or no change in their attitudes.

One doctor reported that during his medical training, fatness was seen as a character problem.


Generally nurses seem to evaluate fat patients more negatively than non-fat patients.

Nurses report a whole series of negative emotions when they deal with fat people; guilt, disgust, embarassment, hopelessness, and resentment.

A quarter of nurses surveyed indicated that taking care of fat people repulsed them and half that number said they would rather not touch a fat person.

Nutritionists and dieticians

This group of practitioners are ambivalent and surprisingly negative about the fat people who they treat. By some we are considered to be self-indulgent and others believe that we cannot set realistic goals or follow eating or exercise programs.

Mental health professionals

In a mid-1980s study of mental health professionals, the investigators found that mental health practioners may labor under some of the same biases as the population at large when it comes to fat people.

6. Navigating the Job Market as a Fat Person

Fat people in the United States carry a public burden of being the target of discrimination in employment. They are less likely to be selected for positions in which they have regular contact with clients or customers or jobs in which the fat person and other employees must work in a relatively small space, like behind a counter. And fat business executives appear to earn less than their lean counterparts.

40% of fat men, in one study, said they had not been hired for a job because of their weight. Another study showed there is a strong relationship between weight, height and income for men. They found that men who were at least 20% overweight made less money those those who were not overweight.

Some owners of small business (10-50 employees), assured of their anonymity, freely admitted they would not hire individuals whom they considered to be obese....

7. Attitudes of Fat People about Being Fat

There have been a number of studies that have examined the attitudes of fat people about being fat.

In one study researchers collected the spontaneous reactions of fat people when they saw themselves in a mirror. One man responded as I respond when he said "Just looking at myself in a store windown makes me feel terrible. It has gotten so I am very careful not to look by accident."

Another study surveyed 47 fat people who had lost 100 pounds and maintained the loss for three or more years. These were people that had chosen surgery to deal with their fatness so the impact of fatness on them might have been particularly extreme.

The respondents were asked whether they would prefer being fat to a variety of other physical challenges.

In previous studies using similar questions it turned out that most physically challenged people would rather have their own disability rather then anyone of a number of others. Not so with those who had struggled with their weight.

Each of those interviewed said they would rather be "deaf or have dislexia, diabetes, bad acne or heart disease" rather than be fat again. A substantial majority chose being blind or having a leg amputated rather than being fat again.

Another study set out to determine whether fat people would choose reaching and maintaining their goal weight or receiving some other benefit. Large majorities chose achieving their weight goals over winning a car or house of their dreams, retiring with full pay, being promoted, winning an all-expense paid vacation or eliminating the national debt.

Roughly 45% chose reaching their weight goals as opposed to winning a million dollars or ending world hunger.

As fat people we are often angry about the prejudice that is expressed against us yet we often have similar feelings about other fat people.

Another recurrent attitude among those of us who are fat is a sense of shame. Psychologist Susan Wooley had it about right when she remarked, "If shame could cure obesity, there wouldn't be a fat person in the world."