This is Thin Privilege

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The Danger of Internalized Fatphobia

Awhile back I worked for the U.S. Forest Service doing archaeological survey. Basically, for ten hours a day, four days a week, I hiked through the woods with a group of four other people. From the beginning I felt a lot of internalized pressure to make sure I didn’t hold the group back. I was the fat one and I’d make damn sure I wasn’t slowing everyone else down. To my group’s credit, no one ever said anything about my size or implied physical fitness. So of course, it turns out most of the other people in my group were at about the same level of fitness, which is to say average. We were all capable, but we also all got tired, slowed down at the end of the day, and required short breaks every now and again, etc.

So that was all fine, aside from a little internalized fat stigma on my part. One day my regular supervisor couldn’t make it, and so instead we had a substitute-superviser. We started out hiking up a hill that was steep enough we shouldn’t have been on it. The whole point of our job is to look for artifacts, and if a hill is steep enough the chances of finding any artifacts drop significantly. So there’s a company policy, if the slope is steep enough, we don’t walk it. But I wasn’t in charge, and I was the fat one, so I wasn’t going to raise a fuss. It was tough for our whole group but we all eventually made it to the top. We ate lunch, and then we had the extreme pleasure of trying to get ourselves back down. And then we had to hike some more, because we weren’t yet finished for the day. And after a bit of nearly-flat area, we came to another extremely steep hill. This one was had an even steeper slope than the other, or so I remember. And again we were all told to climb it.

But this time I was exhausted; we were all exhausted, except my substitute-supervisor who I later found out likes to “challenge himself” and “push himself to his limits.” It was near the end of a very hot day and I was not going very far. At one point I guess I started to black out, because one of the other people in the group was apparently trying to get my attention and I didn’t hear her. She basically told the sub-supervisor that we needed to stop because I was very clearly not well. You know when you are so tired and exhausted you start to get tunnel vision, lose your hearing, and become unable to really talk? Yeah, that was me. It’s dangerous to get to that point. I don’t remember the rest of that day, except that somehow I made it back to the car.

The next day the woman in the group who had helped me, made a complaint against the sub-supervisor with the proper boss, boss. What did I do? I put all the blame on myself. “I should have realized I was getting that tired,” I said. “I should have spoken up.” I agreed that we were in hills that were too steep to have been surveyed, but I blamed myself for my own exhaustion. At the review at the end of the job, my normal supervisor talked to me about the incident. He basically said that I should have spoken up and been more aware of my own exhaustion. He seemed to think I just hadn’t been self-aware enough to realize I was dangerously tired.

So there you have it: the screwed up nature of fat stigma. I felt like I couldn’t speak up during the incident about being exhausted because it’d be dismissed as the fat woman who just can’t hack it. I felt like I couldn’t speak up afterward, because I was blamed for not having spoken up sooner. What really gets me is that no one (except for the fellow group member who tried to stick up for me), understood that I was totally aware of how exhausted I was, but I felt pressured to shut up about it.

Notes

  1. kaosafro reblogged this from bumsquash
  2. chemicalskeepmetogether said: I’ve been overweight my entire life and I can totally relate to your story. I’ve always either avoided activities/events where I knew I’d just “slow people down” or gone and been miserable because I was the slow fat girl.