Somebody I loved dearly shared something on Facebook last week that hurt… It was one of those oh-so-funny posts. Except, well, it wasn’t particularly funny.
The post in question spoke of ‘fat skanks’ living on benefits with their kids.
There are so many things about this one post that I find offensive, but perhaps the biggest problem is that lots of people believe this kind of shit.
I was one of those ‘fat skanks’ once, a single mother claiming benefits. If my marriage going down the pan, and having a small child with special needs wasn’t enough to wrap my mental health around, this stereotype followed me everywhere I went. Even when nobody said a thing, the spectre of the single-mum-on-benefits was ever present in my head. Now this isn’t some kind of ‘limiting belief’ nonsense, or me projecting my own beliefs onto others. This was, and is, a very prevalent attitude in British society. Let’s spell it out shall we? (I should give you fair warning: this is going to be a bit rambly and ranty. Continue at your own peril.)
What the original poster was implying alongside this was laziness. Shall we go into how fatphobic this is? Fallacy number one: fat people are lazy. People have been telling the world this just isn’t true for years, and the world still isn’t listening. You know why? Because there is this insinuous and unspoken accusation that fat people cannot be believed about how much they eat or how much they exercise. It also implies fallacy number two: fat people don’t exercise. Fallacy number three: fat people all over eat. Fallacy number four: fat people have no table manners. Seriously, all these things are hidden under that ‘fat skanks’ phrase. At the end of the day fat people are… people. We’re all different. I know, hard to believe isn’t it. We are all different. Some of us over eat. Some of us don’t. Some of us love working out. Some of us don’t. You know, like the rest of society basically. There’s is no way to decide is somebody is a ‘good’ person from any of these behaviours. I hate working out. Does that mean I am disposable? Does that mean I am less worthy that somebody who has hit the gym? The answer to these questions, should be obvious I hope?
Huh. Well this one, like a nice venn diagram, pulls ‘fat’ and ‘mothers on benefits’ together. So, fat people are skanky? Single mothers who need financial support from the government are skanky? Skanky: low class. Overtones of bad hygiene. Suggestion of questionable morals. I don’t think anyone can argue that calling any group of people ‘skanky’ is offensive.
You know what? The benefits system is there to help people who need support. That is what it is designed to do. Personally I am super grateful that I live in a country that has such a safety net. Being a single mother on benefits does not make somebody a bad person. A few people cheat the benefit system, yes, this is true. But most of the people claiming benefits do so because they need help. They do so because they don’t have other options. This stretches out beyond single mothers. This touches those who desperately want a job but find our ageist society won’t employ them because they’re over 50 and so they get stuck on benefits. This touches the many, many individuals who cannot work because they are unwell. This attitude of hating on benefit claimants has a lot to answer for. In the UK right now, thousands have had their benefits taken away because society is on the war path against those who claim benefits. Most of those who have had their benefits taken away truly need them. If you don’t believe me I suggest you go and read the stories and the lives that have been effected.
To those who still say they don’t want their taxes to be spent on single mothers on benefits I would ask this: When your sister, cousin, aunt, best friend, finds themselves in a situation of not being able to support themselves, are you going to support them financially? Are you going to care for them and provide for them? Or will you be grateful that there is state help available to them? Are you going to make them feel worthless and a drain on society? Or will you still value them as a human being?
So can we please agree that mothers on benefits are not ‘fat skanks’?
The person who shared this probably didn’t give it a moments thought. Probably they scrolled through their facebook feed, thought it amusing, and hit share. But when I saw this, from somebody I have always loved, it really hurt. I had to go have a moment with one of my best friends to process the feelings that came up. Social media can be a wonderful thing. But so often we use it mindlessly, with no thought for others or who we might hurt. We don’t consider what we are reinforcing with every single share. It’s so easy to click… That is only half the problem though. It’s not even the biggest part of the problem.
Because it is just a symptom. It’s a symptom of a fatphobic, classist society. We’re socialised into it. We don’t see it. Just like white people, like me, are socialised not to see white privilege. We don’t see it because we’re too close. Bring your finger closer and closer to your eyes — eventually you won’t be able to properly see your finger any more — it’s too close. This is exactly where our society is at with fatphobia and class. Until we intentionally look at it, we can barely even see it exists.
It hurts people.
Isn’t that enough reason to look at it?
People have called me a snowflake and a bleeding-heart. To which I say ‘why, thank you very much.’ Rather that than the alternative, don’t you think?
Originally published at www.elennabentoncoaching.com on June 3, 2018.
Originally published at medium.com