- Fat shaming Trump has been widely accepted and popular among progressives and liberals for years.
- Fat shaming doesn’t harm Trump, but rather average fat people, who internalize public fat-shaming and get the message that their body is a subject of ridicule and should be a source of shame.
- Trump is one of the most inept and harmful presidents in our country’s history, but he should be critiqued on his words and actions, not on his body.
- Rebecca Bodenheimer is a freelance writer and cultural critic with a PhD in ethnomusicology.
- This is an opinion column. The thoughts expressed are those of the author.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Joe Biden has been elected as the next president of the United States. There is a light at the end of the long, dark Trump tunnel. While Trumpism as a phenomenon is far from defeated, the man himself will exit the White House in January.
Donald Trump will go down in history as one of the most inept and harmful presidents in history. From his disastrous handling of the COVID-19 pandemic to his cruel immigration policies and tacit condoning of white supremacist rhetoric, it’s clear that Trump is a miserable leader and abhorrent person.
Despite this, I’m tired of the pervasive and wrong-headed body-shaming of him by progressives and liberals.
Fatphobic comments directed at Trump don’t harm him—he’ll never see most of them, as he lives in an echo chamber of media that strokes his fragile ego. Instead, these barbs telegraph to the fat friends and family members of progressives that our bodies should be a source of shame and are deserving of ridicule. Progressives’ mocking of Trump’s body let us know exactly how you feel about fat people.
Progressives are often fat-phobic
Most recently, while the election results were coming in and Trump was falsely claiming they were rigged, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper characterized Trump as “an obese turtle on his back, flailing in the hot son, realizing his time is over.” The fact that Cooper resorted to fat-shaming by calling attention to Trump’s obesity reflects a widespread acceptance of fat phobia within our society. It was entirely unnecessary to reference Trump’s weight to comment on how anti-democratic and dangerous his misinformation campaign is.
On October 8, former Elle columnist E. Jean Carroll fat-shamed Trump on Twitter in a now deleted quote-tweet that read “Sir, I hear you weigh 1300 pounds.” I replied directly, writing that while I supported her and believed her claims of being sexually assaulted by Trump, it was inappropriate to body-shame him in order to critique his awful behavior.
These examples follow House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s fat-phobic comments in May, when she (erroneously) referred to Trump as “morbidly obese” (his reported height and weight would classify him as “obese”). And in 2018, when Trump’s doctors publicized his weight, MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes joked, “Has anyone coined ‘girther’ for those who [sic] belive the president weighs more than his doctor reports?”
I see plenty of support for these fat-phobic cheap shots in my social media feeds. In the past week, I’ve been unfriended by someone for critiquing their support of Anderson Cooper’s comment. Some defend their right to fat-shame by mentioning the fact that he has fat-shamed women many times, so he deserves a dose of his own medicine. But why anyone would want to defend their right to perpetuate a form of bigotry just because Trump does it himself is beyond me.
Unlike racism, xenophobia, homophobia or misogyny, fat-phobia is still widely acceptable within progressive public discourse. It’s also a form of bigotry that harms many more people, as it’s experienced across race, sexuality, and gender—though of course it’s much more commonly deployed against women. Over 70% of American adults are classified as overweight or obese, meaning our societal fat-phobia — reiterated by the media we consume — negatively affects roughly 231 million adults.
Fat phobia is more harmful than obesity
One very tangible way we see fat-phobia causing harm is how deeply ingrained it is within the medical profession. As reported in this 2018 Michael Hobbes piece, doctors have routinely ignored the “mountains of evidence” finding that shaming and pathologizing fat people as a method for getting them to lose weight is completely ineffective — instead, it’s actively harmful. Researchers have known for decades that diets don’t work long-term for losing weight, and that body size isn’t necessarily correlated with overall health.
Fat patients are reluctant to go to the doctor’s office due to the prejudice they experience. Their medical problems are often reduced to their weight (even if their symptoms are unrelated), which leads to them being under-diagnosed for a variety of conditions, including cancer.
As Hobbes reported, “Negative words—’noncompliant,’ ‘overindulgent,’ ‘weak willed’—pop up in [fat patients’] medical histories with higher frequency.” He also noted that some doctors outright refuse to see patients weighing more than 200 pounds, which is discrimination, plain and simple.
The irony of progressives perpetuating fat-phobia is that the people who it hurts the most are those we purport to support and advocate for: people who are already marginalized, either by their race, their class, or both.
The Body Mass Index (BMI), the primary measure for categorizing people as overweight or obese, is deeply flawed as an indicator for how healthy someone is: it was designed solely with white people in mind, and doesn’t take into account one’s bone density or muscle mass. This means Black Americans are more likely to be considered obese and at risk for diseases like diabetes, while Asian Americans are commonly assumed to be healthy (and thus not at risk) simply because they have a low BMI.
Compounding the flaws of the BMI, fatphobia is rooted in anti-Blackness. Sociologist Sabrina Strings traces the fear of fatness back to slavery, arguing that it was used to justify Black people’s enslavement and classify them as slaves when skin color wasn’t a reliable marker. She also believes it was the structural conditions slavery created, not obesity (as is commonly thought), that explains why Black Americans have been dying from COVID-19 at a higher rate than white people. Black women already suffer from maternal mortality at three times the rate of white women, and report their pain not being taken as seriously by doctors. Fatphobia among medical professionals only exacerbates the risks Black women face within our healthcare system.
Soon we will no longer be forced to endure countless news cycles debating Donald Trump’s latest lie or inhumane policy decision. But when he’s gone, there will still be a lot of fat people in this country—many of whom abhor him.
Fat people aren’t inherently inferior, lazier, or less disciplined than thin people. The reason we need to do away with the concept of obesity—often assumed to be a moral failing of fat people—is that it doesn’t have any meaning beyond a number on a scale.
When I say it’s time to stop fat-shaming Trump, it’s not because I care about his feelings or don’t enjoy gloating over his loss. It’s because I want all body-shaming to stop, because its psychological effects are much more harmful for fat people than being fat is. Trump isn’t awful because he’s fat. He’s awful because of his callousness and cruelty. Slam him for what he says and does, not what his body looks like.
Rebecca Bodenheimer is a freelance writer and cultural critic with a PhD in ethnomusicology. She writes on a wide range of topics, including pop culture, gender, fatphobia, parenting, and Cuba.