On Thursday night, you referred to President Donald Trump as an “obese turtle,” which rapidly turned into a viral hashtag. I was in the car listening when you said it, and I immediately tried to call you out on Twitter for it, but didn’t have a good signal. However, I wasn’t alone in that, and others did succeed in pointing out your fatphobic comment. Unfortunately, when it inevitably turned into a hashtag and then into memes, the vast majority of the comments were disgustingly fatphobic.
Listen, there’s no denying that Donald Trump is a despicable human being ― but that has absolutely nothing to do with his body size, and everything to do with who he is as a person. Criticise his lies, criticise his attempts to steal the election with fraudulent lawsuits, criticise his behaviour... but don’t criticise his body, because you cannot do that in a vacuum.
You cannot mock one fat person without mocking another fat person. It doesn’t work that way. Every single one of your fat viewers or listeners last night heard those words. Some have internalised fatphobia enough to be ‘okay’ with that, but many of us are not even remotely okay with it ― and none of us, fat or thin or in between ― should be okay with fat-shaming.
Certainly, you’re hardly alone in using his body size as a way to insult or mock him. It’s been going on his entire time as a candidate and as president. The author Your Fat Friend wrote about how the left has a fatphobia issue, and how it specifically relates to Trump, well over a year ago. Blogger and activist Ragen Chastain wrote about fat-shaming Trump ― and how his nastiness does not justify it ― almost three years ago.
Earlier this year, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi took heat for making it clear how she felt about his body size, referring to him as “morbidly obese,” which is not actually even true when using the source for the phrase ― the horribly problematic and racist BMI charts.
Former presidential candidate (and CNN political commentator) Andrew Yang has mocked Trump for his size, joking that Trump’s “so fat” he could only beat Yang at an “eating contest,” conveniently ignoring the fact that the vast majority of competitive eaters are actually thin.
People defend these actions by pointing out that Trump has himself made many fat jokes, that he’s a notorious bully. Somehow that makes it ‘okay’ for many.
The problem here is that Trump is unlikely to ever see most of these jokes. But your fat viewers, your fat friends? They hear it, and many of them care deeply.
The problem here is that Trump is unlikely to ever see most of these jokes. Obviously, ones made by people with a platform like yours, he’s probably going to hear about. But the millions of retweets and memes? He won’t hear about them or see them ― and the reality is, even if he does, he’s not likely to care. But your fat viewers, your fat friends (assuming you have any)? They hear it, and many of them care deeply.
On Nov. 4th, fashion designer GabiFresh tweeted that fat folks have been asking people to stop making fat jokes about Trump (and really, anyone else) for what feels like eternity now.
As Gabi wrote in her Twitter thread, “Trump isn’t seeing your jokes. Your fat friends (or fans) are. And now we know you think our bodies are a punchline [emphasis mine]. Stop.”
Here’s the thing. Whether meant as a “joke” or as a pretend expression of concern for his health (specifically regarding Covid-19), it’s not funny or helpful. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s harmful.
I notice that none of you who were so quick to prognosticate about his potential demise from Covid-19 due to his fatness (and, yes, also his age) have bothered to comment on how he not only survived it, but how within a few weeks he was doing dozens of campaign rallies. Regardless of what you think of the man, that requires stamina. A man on death’s door from his body size (or any other reason) isn’t likely to pull off that kind of show.
Yes, he had access to the best possible medical care. But hey, maybe that is in and of itself telling, huh? Maybe if a doctor is treating someone with the best quality of care, they don’t die just because they’re fat. Imagine that?!
Your comments comparing Trump to an “obese turtle” do not help us get better treatment. They don’t help us get better care. Quite the opposite, in fact. They just add to the seemingly insurmountable struggles we face merely trying to exist as fat people in a world that could not more clearly hate us. They just make it that much more likely that doctors, scientists and researchers will continue to view us as a “problem” rather than work toward treating us as human beings, deserving of equal care and compassion.
Anderson, your words matter, as do those of your fellow journalists, as do those of people like Pelosi or Yang or many others in positions of power and influence who have “joked” about Trump’s weight (or anyone else’s) over the years.
When you “joke” about or “concern troll” Trump’s body, you are doing that to the bodies of every single fat person watching, reading or listening to you at that moment. Even those who never watch you aren’t immune, as they will inevitably see your hatred be picked up by friends, family members or social media.
Donald Trump is only the vector in this. He’s the current target for your fatphobic behavior and thoughts. But us fat people know ― we KNOW ― that you can’t talk about his body the way you do without also thinking it about every other fat person. Even the ones you supposedly care about.
I won’t give up hope that you (and the rest of the fatphobic world) can ― and will ― someday be better. I can’t afford to give that up because it’s what keeps me fighting every single damn day. It’s what sustains me through the soul-crushing feeling of someone I respected talking about bodies that look like mine in the cruel and unnecessary way that you ― and so many others ― have.
A fat (former) fan
Update: On Saturday, November 7, 2020, Anderson Cooper responded to the controversy about his comments, saying, “I regret using those words... That’s not the person I really want to be and it was in the heat of the moment and I regret it.”
This article first appeared on HuffPost Personal