I was recently interviewed for an
article on public food shaming as a form of street harassment on Huffington Post. The article's author, Emma, told me that a TOTAL STRANGER commented to her on the street that she shouldn't be eating a frozen yogurt because it was going to make her fat. She was obviously hurt and shocked and couldn't even finish her froyo.
I'm no stranger to strangers feeling they have the right to comment on my body. With the full scale war being waged by the public health sector against fat people the budget for "anti-obesity" measures has increased considerably over the last 5 years. This highly visible war has essentially deputized any and everyone into an honorary member of the fat police. The thing is that fat people have long been at the center of scrutiny and public aggression. Public health messaging adds to pre-existing stigma.
As I spoke with Emma I was pushed to think about my public consumption habits. As I read the article I saw that she quoted me as having said that I typically avoid eating in public because I am sensitized to people's hostility toward my fat brown femme body. I'm usually wearing neon or a crop top or a large lobster on my neck so I'm just generally hard to miss.
As I read my words I thought:
"Well, that's shitty."
After all that I've overcome I still police myself around my consumption. And I realized two things:
1. It's not my fault that some people feel the need to share their issues with my body or food I'm putting into my body with me. THEY are wrong. THEY should be embarrassed of their bigotry. THEY should control their unruly behavior. The fact that I am checking my behavior so that I can feel safe outside of my house is normal survival behavior. So yay me for having a brain that wants to protect me. The truth is that I don't always have the emotional reserves to deal with people's idiocy and I don't have to represent for all women or all fatties all the time. But..
2. Nobody should stop me from doing what I want to do with my body. Echoing the words of my friend, Isabel Foxen Duke: your body isn't a democracy. It's a dictatorship with you as its autocrat.
Though I won't be having every meal from here on out on my front porch, talking about food policing as a form of street harassment reminds me that I own the streets and the treats. And I have a right to eat pizza, froyo, donuts, or a whole frakkin cookie bouquet where I want and when I want.
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.