Where Ableism and Fat Shaming Collide

Earlier SpasticFantastic posted a great article calling out Takei on sharing an ableist joke for which he later apologized. The joke centered around a picture of a woman standing from a wheelchair, with the caption “A miracle has occurred in the alcohol isle”. SpasticFantastic did a great takedown of the problems associated with the image including the idea that lots of folk use mobility devices who don’t have complete paralysis, who may only use it occasionally, etc.

I am one of those people. My arthritis on most days manifests as stiffness and soreness, but otherwise doesn’t impact my ability to walk (I say walk and not mobility because I do have hindered mobility always). Other days however, every step sends a shockwave of pain up my body. My hip feels like it is dislocating every time it bends. On those days, at the very least I need a cane to maneuver and at worst I require a wheelchair.

My decision about whether or not to use an accessibility device should depend only on whether or not I need to at that moment and nothing else. Unfortunately, because I am also a fat girl, the decision also has to take into account how much fat shaming I am prepared to handle that day.

I’ve written about my anxieties surrounding my weight, and the way in which fat-shaming overlaps with my sexual assault. My weight has also been intimately involved with my disability. For many years, my condition was ignored on the pretext that it was caused by weight. The fact that symptoms persisted even at my lowest weights never seemed to register. Later when my various illnesses manifested themselves fully, I was left in a difficult position when it comes to managing my weight.

One of the medications I take frequently is a steroid which causes weight gain. My joint damage rules out any intensive forms of exercise, and my Crohn’s rather than my weight dictates what I eat. That said, despite my weight and my disabilities, I have healthy habits. Most of my food is made from scratch and uses little sugar or fat. I eat a healthy diverse diet. But that doesn’t matter ultimately because fat-shaming isn’t actually about health the way those who engage in it claim. It is about feeling superior to someone else and reminding women in particular that their bodies are public property.

Whenever I take steps to accommodate my disability, I find that I have to fight hard to assert my right to do so in the face of public scrutiny and judgement. I hear the snide comments and mocking laughter, I can see the smirks and not-so-hidden looks of disgust when I have to take the elevator one floor up. It doesn’t matter that stairs are painful for me, because obviously I am just being a lazy fat girl. The judgement makes me feel as though I have to perform or rather exaggerate my disability in order to get approval. This might mean highlighting my limp, or making obvious pain faces while rubbing my hands across my lower back. I have to put on an act in order to be granted approval for self-care.

The need to do this is encouraged by a social perception that bodies are public property and that society has the right in that case to grant my disability legitimacy. They, without any information about my pain levels, my daily struggle, get to decide on appearance alone whether or not I am “really disabled”.

Among these people are the folk who believe that my disability must be the result of my weight. The people who think that maybe I wouldn’t be so fat if I just walked instead of using a wheelchair at the grocery store. The idea that I am fat because I cannot walk never seems to enter their minds as a possibility.

And so knowing these judgements are being made about me every time I go out, every decision about whether or not to take advantage of mobility devices is painted with the difficult decision: which disability is more pressing today: my physical one or my mental one. And that is a choice no one should have to make.

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