Social Justice Advocates Handbook: A Guide to Gender Understanding

An apology and reflection: my accidental fat-shaming

by Sam Killermann · 14 comments

in Op-Ed

My mistake.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again right now: I make mistakes.  In fact, I’m pretty good at it.  I take a lot of risks in what I do here and on stage, and sometimes those risks are fruitful, and sometimes I screw up.  This time I screwed up.  I want to take a moment to explain what happened, apologize, and reflect on the experience in hopes that others can learn from my mistake.

I posted the above graphic (without the black bar edits) to the It’s Pronounced Metrosexual Facebook Page with two main things in mind: (1) this will help normalize gay while debunking a common misconception; and (2) this is clever and will work well on Facebook.  It was supposed to be a commentary on popular public opinion.  What didn’t pop into my mind was (3) and make folks feel targeted and “demonized” for their body weight, or (4) be a really damaging thing to do.

But as you know I know, intentions don’t matter, what matters is what happens.  And while I only intended for 1 and 2 to happen, 3 and 4 also happened.  And for that I am incredibly sorry.  I removed the graphic after a few folks commented and explained the error of my ways to me, but I also wanted to turn this into a beneficial experience.  I’m very new to this whole “war on obesity,” fat-shaming debate, so there was a lot to learn.

Why it was fat-shaming

If you don’t see any issue with the graphic, let me synthesize some of the comments from the page into the major points:

  • Many folks feel persecuted for being big-bodied and saw this graphic as another form of persecution, or at the very least as passing judgment
  • Some people read it as something like “it’s okay to be fat in the US but it’s not okay to be gay,” when in reality it’s not okay to be fat in the US and it’s not okay to be gay (both by general society standards — certainly not how it should  be)
  • Others received the overall message as it should be okay/accepted to be gay, but it should not be okay/accepted to be fat

What I learned

Beyond simply learning that the graphic above was a poor attempt at a positive thing, I learned a few generally helpful bits:

  • Comparing two marginalized groups (or even referring to two separate groups in a manner as shown above) is dangerous business, and is best avoided to not inadvertently spur one targeted group at the cost of helping another
  • Tread carefully in waters you’re unfamiliar with.  I am not well-versed on the “war on obesity” and fat-shaming stuff, so I was not really equipped to make the decision of whether the graphic above was “edgy” or “over the edge”y
  • If you misstep and someone tells you so, don’t run away from them.  Take that opportunity to learn why what you did was wrong so you can prevent yourself from doing it again in the future

So, to make this incredibly clear, I want you all to know I do not condone or support fat-shaming.  I think that we should be loving and supportive of one another regardless of body size or type, as well as all the other identities one embodies.  I believe that the one of the greatest sources of health comes from loving oneself, and it’s hard to love yourself if you’re told by your peers and society at large that an aspect of you is unlovable.  As someone who has struggled with his weight and body image all his life, you’d think I’d've been more attuned to this.

Above all else, I want to ensure that this website is and remains to be a safe space for individuals of all identities, and I’m going to work hard to make that the case.

One last thing: I decided to do a bit more investigating about this whole health/social issue, and if you’re interested in reading what I dug up I just posted another article with a few considerations about health and body size.

Written by Sam Killermann

Sam is a writer and performer who uses those skills as an ally to advance progress in the realms of LGBT equality and social justice. He tours the country speaking to college students about stereotypes, prejudice, and oppression, and writes for this site when he's at home in Austin, TX.

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  • Susie Lynch, England

    I really like your approach and attitude, Sam. I came across IPM a few months ago and I’ve signposted loads of people here and use your ideas in discussions regularly. I really like the way your articles always seem to have a light, positive vibe that makes a discussion of difficult and sensitive issues feel inclusive and accessible to people of all views and levels of knowledge.

    Again, I’m impressed with the way you’ve handled this situation, particularly the lessons you’ve drawn from it. I didn’t see any of the comments that were posted about the original graphic, but from seeing this article it seems like you’ve genuinely considered the outcomes over your intentions. I’m just a little bit unsure about the final section on health considerations: it kind of reminds me of situations I’ve been in where someone has apologised but has then put a disclaimer on that apology. I agree with what you’re saying, I’m just not sure how appropriate it is as the final words of this article; somehow it feels a bit like, by referring back to your intentions, it takes the wind out of the sails of the apology for the outcomes. Maybe it would be more appropriate to have it as a separate article which is linked to as part of this one…? I don’t know, I’m

    • Susie Lynch, England

      D’oh! iPhone fail, sorry :)

      What I was going to say is that I’m just looking at it in terms of how I, and possibly others who stumble across IPM, can use this article. When I read your stuff I’m always thinking: 

      • “What can I learn from this?” and
      • “What can my dad/that guy at work/the next person I signpost to IPM learn from this?”

      Aside from the apology to those who are offended, I see the primary function of this article as being a tool for generating thought on a macro level about how to deal with mistakes, and how to apologise, resolve offense caused, and move on meaningfully. I also see the benefit of exploring the micro level issue of health and body fat, but for my agendas, doing both in the same article muddies the waters and detracts from the likelihood of achieving the primary function. 

      • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

        That’s a really good point, Susie.  My biggest concern here is simply that I don’t want to perpetuate any type of unhealthy behavior, whether that is socially/emotionally unhealthy, or physically unhealthy.  I can make that more clear, because I think you’re right about it diluting the main point of the article.

      • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

        Separated the articles.  Feels much better now.  Thanks for the suggestion, Susie, and thanks for reading and sharing!  :)

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  • Kmerrifi

    I am very impressed with your response to the situation.

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Well thanks.  I’m pretty sure that if I had PR representation they would have wanted to shoot me in the face for the whole thing, this article included, but I just try my hardest to do what’s right, even if what I think is right (making that graphic) changes to something drastically different (writing this apology) in the span of a couple of hours.

  • Stephanie

    Thanks, Sam.  I appreciate your apology but mostly I appreciate your ability to put yourself out there, learn when mistakes have been made, own up to them and move forward.  I also agree with Susie’s comments and am glad that you have separated the apology from the article relating to the health and body fat.  I have recently noticed that there is an uprising fat bashing/shaming on many of the sites that I find inspirational and motivating.  I am glad that this site will continue to be a space to advocate for equal human rights for all.

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      I absolutely want to make sure this site is a safe space for all groups.  One of my personal frustrations when I peruse the web is when I find an LGB site that’s transphobic, or a feminist site that’s homophobic, etc.  That’s not what I’m about, and that’s not what I want to reinforce here, inadvertently or otherwise.  

      Susie’s suggestion was a great one.  The articles being separated is much cleaner, and can allow for the inevitable diet/nutrition debate (something slightly off-mission for this site) to happen in a separate, contained place, while this article remains on-point.Thanks for the comment, Stephanie!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=73801795 Megan Vermillion Kean

    Thank you, Sam, for using this experience as an opportunity to grow and learn.  When faced with the fact that one has offended others, the most common reaction is to become defensive and throw around justifications instead of really listening and respecting others’ life experiences.  I appreciate that you are thoughtful and humble enough to do the latter.  Thanks again, and keep up the good work.

    • http://samuelkillermann.com/ Samuel Killermann

      Thanks for being one of the people willing to step up and explain what I was doing wrong, Megan!  I really appreciated that.  I didn’t want to delete the image simply because I knew that once I did the discussion would be over and erased (one of the downsides in having that conversation on the offending image instead of elsewhere).  I’m happy that you found this article.

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  • ashearer1

    Wow, I am so impressed. You really practice what you preach, don’t you? I could really take a lesson from you – I am not the most open-minded person when it comes to being wrong (I usually close my ears and say NO NO NO NO NO). Cheers.

  • Lou

    So well handled, kudos to you! Also, I just want to say the layout of this website with its quirky imaging and your meaningful (and humorous) well attuned social commentary makes this such a pleasure to read as a young lgbt individual. Keep it up!