13th of august 2020

In modern society fat people are a marginalised group who are affected by systemic abuse. This has been revealed through numerous studies for the last six decades. When we see a fat person, society has conditioned us to judge them from stereotypes e.g. that they are lazy, greedy, unattractive, dumb and morally inferior. Our environment confirms these stereotypes by showing fat people in this negative light in the media, often in a way that makes the consumer feel disgusted and angry. Ever since the World Health Organization defined obesity as an epidemic in the year 2000, the fat body has also become a burden to the health care system and society as a whole. Fat people are the perfect example of the disobedient citizen that is met with exclusion from society for its supposed disobedience. This sort of fatphobic discourse comes at us from all directions, every day and it has for decades.

And we know that when a minority is faced with systematic abuse it clears the way for other kinds of violence, for example domestic violence and sexual abuse.

However, there has been little to no discussions about fat people and the unique forms of violence they face. One of the reasons is the indoctrination of fat biases among the victims of the abuse. Fat people have been made to believe that they are less human, that they do not command the same respect as other people and that they can only blame themselves. This is how abusers have managed to silence their fat victims; by using societal views to serve their purpose. Marginalisation for being fat acts as an extra layer on top of the gender-biased violence that women face just like exclusion based on sexuality, gender identity, disability, origin, race and skin colour.

Fat women in close relationships are often victims of body shaming on behalf of their spouse. They are often called fat and disgusting and that no one else could possibly desire them because of it. This can result in making it nearly impossible for fat women to get away from these abusive relationships because sadly there is a smidge of truth in the words of the abuser. Society definitely consider fat women as disgusting and unattractive. Often the abusers also try to control their victims’ food intake and physical activity in order to discipline their bodies as well as speaking about their sexual attraction to women who are closer to society’s “perfect” body.

The reason that this type of violence is as hidden as it is, is that it is socially acceptable to view this abuse against fat women as “helpful”.

It is easy for the abuser to insult the body of their fat victim when society has not only validated the abuse but celebrates it because it could result in the fat person finally “getting their act together”. In the Icelandic Women’s Shelter report from 2018 it was revealed that abusers use the weight of their victims as an excuse for the abuse.

(Text in image: “You are not in the right to claim my body, even though I’m fat.”)

When it comes to sexual abuse we can see the same themes with fat women and disabled women. Fat women, just like disabled, have been de-sexualized by society. At the same time they are seen as disgusting and repelling, they also have been fetishized and objectified, and we can see evidence of this in certain types of porn that focuses on fat women. This has resulted in society being less inclined to believe fat victims of sexual abuse as they are considered too unattractive for anyone to have sexual desires for them.

In the few instances they are believed, they are met with the attitude that they should be lucky that anybody found them attractive enough to rape them.

It is not difficult to imagine why fat victims might find it especially hard to speak on their experiences. Systemic violence also plays a part, as the police and justice system are also less likely to take these victims seriously and push their cases through. It is important to keep in mind that sexual abuse is not about sex or sexual attraction but the power of the abuser over his victim, which explains why minority groups are especially vulnerable to sexual abuse.

Another kind of sexual abuse that fat women experience is called “hogging”. This is a type of organised sexual abuse where groups of men go to bars or parties for the sole purpose of getting a fat woman to have sex with them, and they even make bets about who can “nail” the fattest woman. The “sex” itself then revolves around humiliating their victims during the act. In interviews with abusers of this kind of violence, or hoggers, they have revealed that they share their experiences or videotape the abuse, without the woman’s permission or knowledge, and show their friends to elevate their status among them.

The individual that can provide evidence of sleeping with the fattest woman or having treated her the worst wins the competition, sometimes even a cash reward.

Hogging is used by these groups of men to strengthen their bond as abusers refer to this type of violence as a bonding experience amongst themselves. One embodiment of hogging refers to rodeo and I would sincerely like to issue a trigger warning regarding the descriptions for the next paragraph. It involves the abuser going home with a fat woman for something that resembles traditional sex. He binds her hands and legs to the bed with her permission. He then begins having sex with her from behind but suddenly hops on the womans back, calls out for his friends who are usually hiding close by and tries to stay on the womans back while she tries to get free. During this his friends stand by, laugh and take photos. The men that participate in these rituals justify their actions by reasoning that fat women are abnormal and that they therefore deserve this treatment. They are believed to be up for anything and being desperate for sex because of their abnormal appearance.

We have heard very little from the victims of this fat-phobic form of sexual abuse. It is certainly not because they do not exist but rather that it is almost insurmountable for victims to come forward with their experience in the fat shaming society that we live in.

Fat prejudice, the dehumanization of fat people and ill treatment of them is socially acceptable and justified.

We have not accomplished creating an environment that gives fat women the space and the approval to express themselves about their experience. The victims are out there. The abusers are out there as well. We know this because they have been unafraid to participate in interviews with researchers and media about the abuse they have enacted. They simply find it funny.

We as a society need to accept and acknowledge fat people, and especially fat women, as a marginalised group that needs special attention and care.

Violence towards this group takes on forms that are not seen among other minorities and we will never be able to tear down the patriarchy and rape-culture without being aware of it, helping victims identify the fat-phobic violence they have been submitted to and keeping abusers responsible for their actions.

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Tara Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir is a social worker and chair of the Icelandic Association for Body Respect.

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