Apples and Oranges

Back when the movie Wall*E came out, I decided I wasn’t going to see it.  I’d read a lot about it, both pro and con, and saw a few spoilers on youtube, and decided I wasn’t going to pay money to see something that was probably going to continue to feed into the prejudices against fat people.

It’s one of the few times my husband and I have argued about fat acceptance and what it means for me, personally, to be a fat activist.  It’s the only time my husband ever said I was too sensitive about a topic.

The movie has come out on DVD, and, since we have a NetFlix account, my husband put it in his queue.  It came in, and he watched it last night at work.  It didn’t cost us any extra, and so isn’t actually giving Pixar more money for their film, so I have no issues with that. 

What I do have issues with is the argument we got into this morning as he was getting ready for bed (he’s on graveyard shift right now).  He loved the movie, thought it was great, and that it didn’t play into all the fat stereotypes and wouldn’t further fat prejudism.  Even though I’ve not seen the movie, I’ve seen enough youtube clips and read enough reviews that I was able to argue intelligently with him about it.

The problem is, my husband comes from a place of privilege.  Yes, I said it.  I hate using that word, as I think it only furthers divides people, but really, that’s the truth of it.  Up until recently, he was always ‘normal’ weight.  His only issues with ‘fat’ in his life were when he was in the army, and that when his muscles started to fill in and the army just went by the height/weight charts and put him on a diet.  If you go by BMI alone, my husband is in the 28 range.  Overweight, but not terribly so.  Only, when you look at him, standing 6’2″ tall and extremely muscular, he doesn’t “look” like he’d be in the overweight category.  Yes, he carries a couple extra pounds around his midsection, but not so much that people would say anything to him.

Growing up, he was always skinny, his mother and father both were always skinny — well, his mother until she had the stroke, then she gained about forty pounds.  He’s never had to deal with fat predjudice.  When he went to a doctor and the doctor was an idiot, he knew it was just the doctor was an idiot.  His diagnosis were never “you’re fat” and his treatments were never “lose weight”. 

He also has a scientific mind, is in a scientific field, and light reading for him is either hard core science fiction (you know, the types that give the theory behind whatever the futuristic technology is) or science books, magazines, and websites.  His TV channel of choice is the science channel, followed by the military channel.  Now that he’s discovered we get National Geographic it’s starting to tie the Military Channel for second place.

He watched the movie, and saw the ‘science’ behind it, and came out if it saying, “but it’s not engaging in fat prejudism at all!  The shakes the people are eating is how they get their nutrition during the day, it’s not a real ice cream shake!  It’s all everybody eats.  The fact that they can’t walk has less to do about their weight than it does being in a low gravity environment, and being conditioned to be in a hoverchair all their lives.  They don’t have the musculature built up to carry them around.  The scene where the guy falls out of his chair and can’t get up is due to him not knowing how to walk because he’s never had to do it!”

He was so earnest, so sure there was no fat hate involved in the movie.  One thing he said was that he could see the movie was not made with the intent to further fat stereotypes.  My response to that was that the 2000 shoppers at that WalMart in New York didn’t intent to all help kill a man either.

He is a wonderful man, but he doesn’t see how children can view this.  Where he sees scientific theory and fact about the long term effects of a low or no gravity environment can affect the body’s muscular system, others see a fatty who is so pathetic that he can’t even stand up on his own after falling out of a chair.  Where he sees a nutritiously sound food, and compares it to the current astronauts eating ‘food’ out of tubes while in space, others see a fatty doing nothing but drinking shakes all day, every day.  Where he sees how the science of that universe all worked together over 700 years to create a society where everybody is fat and unable to care for themselves, others see fat, lazy, slovenly people.

On the other hand, I also know all the science behind it.  While I don’t read hard core science fiction, I do read soft core science fiction, I do like NatGeo, and the Discovery Channel.  I also remember when that one US astronaut (and I can’t remember her name, it was a few years ago) came home from space about 2 months later than she should have, and it was all she could do to walk down the steps of the space shuttle and get into a wheelchair they had waiting for her.  I know that on the news, she looked normal weight, and yet, because of being in a zero gravity environment, her muscles had atrophied and she couldn’t walk.  I do know about nutritionally sound ‘food’ that are pastes the astronauts eat today.  I also know that it takes a human a while to learn how to walk.  Muscles have to develop, balance has to be learned.  That’s why it takes babies anywhere from 9 to 13 months to learn to walk.

But I also know all the stereotypes.  Fat people are too lazy to walk anywhere, would rather drive their cars one block to the nearest c-store so they can get their donuts.  (The people in the movie using hoverchairs all the time.)  Fat people are couch potatoes who wouldn’t get off the couch/away from their entertainment for any reason whatsoever.  (The people in the movie talking to each other via vidscreen even though they are only two feet apart.)  Fat people eat nothing but ice cream, cakes, candy, junk food all day.  (The people drinking “shakes” that are there with them always.) 

My husband, honestly, has a hard time seeing “fat”.  Oh, he recognizes people come in all shapes and sizes, but he doesn’t see being fat as something inherently bad.  This really is very good.  But, it can create challenges (and arguments) when he can’t understand why I — or anybody else — would think this really cute children’s movie could in any way further feed into the fat epipanic that’s going on in the world.

His experiences in life aren’t mine, and as much as he tries to understand, he sometimes just doesn’t get it.  If somebody like him, who’s actually trying to understand, can’t get it, even when he sees the prejudice I live with often, how can somebody who’s not trying to understand going to get it?

13 Responses

  1. What I find interesting is that both the director and the screenwriter of WALL*E have said that the characterizations in the film have nothing to do with fatness per se; their concept is that the human characters are all boneless, because after all those years of living with zero gravity they have no bones any longer. But certainly much of the audience (including many critics) is interpreting it otherwise. (I haven’t seen it yet, probably will eventually.)

  2. As I understand the end of the movie, the humans go back to earth, and actually walk around. If they are boneless, how are they going to be able to stand in earth’s gravity? That makes no sense.

    To believe that goes beyond ‘willing suspension of disbelief’.

  3. I haven’t seen it either and have no foreseeable plans to watch it. I’m an environmentalist, but the whole premise of the movie and the anti-fat attitudes emanating from it turn me off of it completely.

    My husband has, for the most part, always been tall and very skinny also. We were talking a few weeks ago and he told me how schoolkids used to make comments like “You’re so skinny” and “Eat a sandwich” to him. I said, “Oh, it must be so terrible to be made fun of for being too thin” and he replied, “It is when you don’t want anyone to notice you.” Kudos to your husband for at least trying to understand your position even if he can’t be brought to the light, so to speak.

  4. After watching the movie, I found it a lot less offensive than supposedly “fat-friendly” movies like “Shallow Hal.” While I don’t think the characterization of “futuristic” humans was particularly good, the movie itself does go to some lengths to explain the decrease in bone mass, etc.

    Even once they return to earth and start exercising, the people in the film are shown as large and active (in the credits) and I actually thought that was pretty fat-positive! While I can understand the issues some had with the movie, I didn’t find it particularly offensive.

    My husband doesn’t totally buy fat-positivity but he at least tries.

  5. I went to see this movie because I am in animation and just wanted to see it. (The scenes on earth are beautiful but the ones on the ship i didn’t like as much.)

    Oddly enough, I don’t remember anybody saying anything about bone density and low gravity, guess I missed that somehow.
    I do remember the creepy feeling of how environmentalism and fatness are presented as conflicting. The whole fat-phobia being connected with concerns about overconsumption and ruining the planet pisses me off…

    I’m sure you all know that many people are fat and have a much smaller carbon footprint or negative impact on the environment.
    The production of “diet foods” and “health foods” is totally wasteful. (100 calorie pack of wasted packaging anyone?)
    And if everyone is so concerned they should stop eating factory farmed meat and animal products, and in fact maybe avoid meat in general. Of course I don’t expect people to do this, I’m just saying – as I’m sure you all know – our environment is not being ruined by fat people eating too much food. It’s the WAYS in which we produce food and everything else we use, and the amount of energy we consume. (treadmill anyone?)

    [The above are all random examples. I’m just too pissed off to go and really research it more.]

    Also, if there was no gravity, how could someone FALL off a chair? Obviously there WAS gravity on that ship. Why would it be lower than on earth? I don’t know. (To make everyone weigh less and be declared a success story?)

    And as someone already commented – reduced bone density doesn’t make someone fat so why was everyone so fat again?

    Scientifically none of it made sense. The idea that people won’t learn to walk is bullshit because human beings have an instinct to want to learn to walk. The ABILITY to walk is not instinctive, it’s learned, but the DRIVE to learn to walk is instinctive. Also, people would become uncomfortable and eventually develop bedsores from being seated all day. I just don’t understand how anyone could see this as scientific.


  6. (no offense intended to your husband of course, i’m sure he has his reasons for seeing it the way he does.)

  7. I did see the movie because I didn’t feel that I could develop a sound opinion on it based on clips and reports.

    I was not pleased with the film (my review can be found here:

    My problem with the boneless explanation and the science behind it was a blink and you miss it sound bite. My boyfriend missed it altogether. If he missed it, how many kids will catch it?

  8. My boyfriend comes from a similar place and we’ve had similar arguments/conversations. He doesn’t get why this stuff makes me so upset because “why should you care about what other people think?” I remember we came across some fatphobic joke while surfing the Internet together and I got really upset. He laughed and I gave him the look of death. His explanation was that he laughed because why would anyone seriously think that about fat people. Wasn’t that the joke? He has such a hard time believing the fat hatred that’s out there because a) he’s never experienced it and b) he doesn’t buy into it.

  9. cggirl: What I meant about science, is the REAL science behind what makes a person lose muscle tone in either a low gravity or no gravity environment. He’s read way too many science articles (when he was a boy, he wanted to be an astronaut when he grew up, like about 1/2 the other boys who can remember the first lunar landing). So he looked at the movie and didn’t really pay attention to what they said, and substituted the ‘real world’ science of why a person wouldn’t have any ability to walk if they’d been in a low gravity situation their whole life.

    It’s part of what makes talking to him about the movie difficult. He’s not seeing what’s actually THERE but how he knows things work.

    Devi: That was one of my arguements with my husband. Not specifically the boneless thing, but that he’s an adult with a big science background. He knows how things work in space because he’s educated himself on that. Children, on the other hand, aren’t going to necessarily know these things. And since this was marketed as a children’s movie, all the 10 second “we’re like this because our environment made us this way” explainations aren’t going to work to assage the director’s and writers’ guilt.

    I sent your review to him to read. Maybe seeing how it was recieved in the theaters will help him to see it differently.

    Shoshie: At least my husband doesn’t say “why should you care”. He’s finally understanding why I care. My whole debacle with the first knee doctor last year got him to realize that the prejudice really does exist, and that it has real consequences.

    Rachel: I think I’m going to have to watch it (if he’s not already put it back in the mailbox) just to really see how it is. As far as the skinny jokes, Conall’s father worked as a civilian employee to the US military, and so Conall’s family moved around a LOT when he was a kid. He was always the new kid, and so was always being picked on for something, but he doesn’t remember being picked on for being skinny.

    Heidi: But is the “they worked hard, stayed fat, but made a good and productive life for themselves and lived happily ever after” worth the fat jokes, the people falling out of a chair and not being able to get up because they are too fat? Is the ending really worth an hour of contributing to fat prejudice? Does the end justify the means? In my mind, no, it doesn’t. Yes, Pixar gets a small kudo for not making all the people be skinny once they get back onto earth. But considering all the laughs they got at fat people’s expense? Yeah, it’s only a small kudo.

  10. For me, what seemed to push this portrayal into the prejudiced
    catagory was that the producers and writers chose to have all
    of the humans in space have the same basic body type. Being
    of a scientific mindset, myself, I know that different bodies react
    to low/null gravity in different ways. Some people gain fat;
    others don’t or lose it. Some react to losing muscle tone by
    losing muscle mass; in others, their muscles retain mass but
    look flabby. Absent genetic manipulation or selective breeding,
    this is unlikely to change over generations.

  11. As a fellow overweight person (for a lifetime!) I have to respectfully take issue with the lady who conducts this blog, and with some others as well.

    First, children are innately cruel because that is part of being human, and they haven’t learned to hide it yet. Therefore, any effort to keep them from being mean to overweight kids by preventing them from seeing images overweight persons being clumsy, etc., is doomed to failure.

    Second, if carried to extreme, any such effort would backfire because lots of Americans are already sick of the current array of “political correctnesses”, and they are not going to take well to the addition of another.

    Third, and MOST IMPORTANT, the really dangerous unfair discrimination we must fight is not unflattering depiction in popular media, it is the idea that fat people are to blame for the diseases they get, so they should pay more for, or even be denied, health insurance.

    The genius of the leaders of this society is that they ar adept at redirecting popular anger at the society-wide absence of something people desperately need by making it seem as if there is a shortage of it, so we all must fight each other for some, and blame each other for said shortage.

    Lets not let them do that with health care–to the detriment of many of us.

  12. nightman1: I’m not saying “don’t show fat people in movies or on tv.” What I’m saying is stop showing fat people as unhealthy, slovenly, lazy, stupid people who are the cause of their own problems. From what I’ve read and the little I’ve seen of it, Wall*E has said it’s not the charector’s fault they are so fat, yet they still engage in the cheap laugh at the fatties expense (a man who can’t get back up into his own chair, half the ship falling out of their chairs at the same time and almost ‘capsizing’ the spaceliner (and that is a VERY obvious and cheap laugh, because in space, under artificial gravity — even low gravity — it would not cause a space ship to heave to like that)).

    Besides going for the cheap laugh at the fatties expense, it also perpetuates stereotypes: the fatty who’s always eating or drinking something high calorie and ‘bad for you’ (the constant shake they all have), the laziness of the fatties (not walking anywhere, always being hover chairs, the talking to people on vidscreens even when they are right next to each other).

    Yes, children are inherently cruel. So why do we, as a society, think it’s acceptable to make movies targeting kids, that perpetuate the stereotypes that leave fat kids and adults ripe as targets of ridicule?

    Proper healthcare is a major problem, not only for fat people, but for many marginal income people as well. But part of the issue with proper healthcare comes from prejudice on the doctors and nurses part, prejudice that is, in fact, helped made worse by a mass media pushing the obesity epipanic on a gullible world. It is made worse by mass media, such as movies like Wall*E showing that of course we are our own problems, because we never get off the couch, never stop eating, never do anything for ourselves.

    We need to work towards all people being able to have proper medical care (fat or not fat) as well as fight against discrimination (such as that “Bill” from Alabama last February). But we also need to be aware of how the media images we are seeing (from Wall*E to only super skinny women ever being able to be tv and movie stars, to so-called experts saying that everything from the energy crisis to global warming is caused specifically by fat people alone — and that being carried in all the major and minor news outlets) is continueing the prejudice and discrimination which puts our health at risk.

    It’s not just one thing. The health care and insurance problems you mention did not arise in a vaccuum, neither will they be solved in a vaccuum. This is a multi-faceted problem that requires multi-faceted solutions.

    You are right about not fighting each other though. We are on the same team. Some people are working on one area (how fat people are depicted in film and print), some are walking on the state senate building where benighted legislators think that they can legislate discrimination. Others are taking on insurance and the big medical complex. Some of us are working in more than one area. But those of us who are doing things are working for a common goal: To end fat discrimination and prejudice, whereever it raises it’s ugly head.

  13. That was a darn convincing response, ma’am!

    I consider the U.S. to be a society that is inherently cruel, in that it perpetuates widespread individual want in the midst of incredible wealth, and routinely conveys the idea that the unfortunate and afflicted are always manifestly culpable in some way (or they wouldn’t be “losers”, ya see!).

    I was walking home from work the other day, and I saw a man eating dinner out of a restaurant dumpster.

    Those of us who have ever been among the afflicted may have been gifted by our experience with an ability to see beyond this nation’s culturally-specific nonsense. Over the next year or two, a whole new bunch of new people may join us in having this clarity of vision, as they experience their own individual versions of the dumpster-dinner experience.

    As we all wake up, one by one, it is possible that we will be able to do something about this mess we have opened our eyes to.

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