The Mobilization Against Fatphobia

The fatphobic billboard reads: Save the Whales. Lose the Blubber: Go Vegetarian. PETAWhat do advocates concerned with obesity, feminists, and progressive vegans, vegetarians and nonhuman animal advocates have in common? These are all people who mobilized over the last week in solidarity with people targeted by a fatphobic billboard ostensibly designed to promote vegetarianism.

Obesity Objections

Both the Obesity Action Coalition and the Obesity Society released statements last week denouncing the campaign on grounds that it contributes to the oppression of people affected by obesity.

Joseph Nadglowski, president and CEO of the Obesity Action Coalition said, "This campaign blatantly stigmatizes the overweight and obese. The OAC fails to find the informational value of promoting vegetarianism through the hurtfulness of mocking the obese."

The Obesity Society agrees, stating: "This ad is an unmistakable example of stigma and prejudice against individuals who are overweight and obese. The campaign is disrespectful and offensive, and is not an effective or appropriate way to encourage vegetarianism or healthy eating behaviors."

Both organizations noted the oppressive effects of fatphobia. According to OAC:

With more than 93 million Americans affected by obesity, this type of unacceptable stigmatization of obese/overweight individuals has no place in today's society. Obese individuals are often stigmatized or discriminated against in a variety of areas, such as employment, school, healthcare and much more. The OAC finds obesity stigma to be extremely detrimental to the obese population as it furthers the all-too-frequent negative perceptions of the obese.

And the Obesity Society says:

Research evidence demonstrates that weight stigma often leads to and may reinforce unhealthy eating behaviors. With two-thirds of Americans overweight or obese, this type of deliberate weight bias is unacceptable. Stigmatization of individuals who are struggling with their weight results in considerable suffering and impaired quality of life. ...

The prevalence of weight discrimination in the United States has increased by 66 percent in the past decade, and is now on par with rates of racial discrimination.

Feminist Fomentations

Starting with some brief attention on the blog Feministing, feminist bloggers took on the fatphobic campaign. Maria-Mercedes of Zelda Lily says:

Vegetarianism and veganism is more than fad diets, they are complete lifestyles that require a lot of dedication. Considering that most people don't stick to diets (or at least that is what I guess by seeing all the fad diet books and tips there are out there) you would think that PETA wouldn't even bother marketing to the people to whom fad diets would be appealing.

But, again, I guess actually promoting animal rights instead of promoting celebrities and an unhealthy body image for women isn’t really what PETA is all about.

Prof Susurro of Like A Whisper makes connections between PETA's billboard and its other campaigns targeting women and people of color for oppression. Susurro says:

PETA's fatphobic sexism, much likes its previous oppression laden campaigns, are doing nothing for the cause. They mobilize a particular supremacist narrative about bodies, gender, and people that demean people with the least amount of power for the actions of the people with the most, motivating neither to question animal abuse.

Renee of Womanist Musings posted on Feministe about the oppressive effects of sizeism and fatphobia, such as that perpetuated by the campaign. She says, "Calling people that are fat whales and inferring that their bodies are like blubber, is fat hatred. There is no other way to spin this. You will note, that once again PeTA’s attack is aimed at women." She also says:

I no longer believe that it is the goal of PeTA to advocate for animal rights. It would seem that their sole purpose is to use animal rights as a shield, so that they can wield power over marginalized bodies. Playing upon institutionalized isms only asserts the very hierarchies of power that PeTA claims to be fighting against. I would say shame on you PeTA but clearly this organization lost the ability to feel shame long ago.

A group of Portland area feminists mobilized an impromptu protest of PETA co-founder Ingrid Newkirk at a local book signing. Erin Fairchild, an organizer of the protest, covered the local action on her blog, What's Written on My Body, including some details on the exchanges that took place when feminists confronted Newkirk. She also gives a personal account of the oppression perpetuated by the billboard.

Vegan and Vegetarian Voices

Vegans and vegetarians were not absent in denouncing the sizeist campaign. Some of us already have a long list of grievances, such as Vegans Against PETA.

A post on VegetarianWomen.com called the ad campaign misogynistic and identified it as part of a larger pattern of misogynist ads by the organization. Marla of Vegan Feminist Agitator agrees, calling the campaign an "ill-conceived but predictably mean-spirited billboard campaign against women."

Natala Constantine of Vegan Hope calls the campaign "hateful" "bullying" in an open letter that gives a ten point counter demanding respect and an apology. Stephanie Ernst, who blogs about animal rights on Change.org, backed up Constantine's demand with her own call for a broad-based apology:

PETA owes women an apology. It owes all people who struggle with their weight an apology. It owes the animal advocates who have to constantly explain to offended people that we are not PETA--and that this crap infuriates us too--an apology. It owes animals an apology because of the number of people who tune out serious animal advocates' compassionate message because they wrongly associate us with, and are so turned off by, PETA's offensive campaigns or who use PETA as an excuse not to take us seriously. And it owes those apologies now. If PETA wants to remain even remotely relevant, this has to be where it finally ends, where they wake up, apologize, and change course.

Kelly Garbato of easyVegan.info put a new spin on the PETA billboard with a Boycott PETA parody:

Save the Whales. Boycott PETA. Vegan.

These are just a sampling of the people who have been opposing PETA and its fatphobia. I've found over two-hundred blog postings, two-dozen news articles, and I didn't even start with who knows how many tweets almost universally denouncing the sizeist campaign.

Earlier today, PETA announced that it will replace the billboard with a new outdoor advertisement that reads: "Gone. Just like all the pounds lost by people who go vegetarian." The billboard switch is no doubt the effect of those who spoke out and mobilized public opinion against the ad campaign. But, as I'll write more about later, PETA isn't exactly apologizing or even admitting it did anything inappropriate in perpetuating sizeism and fatphobia.