Ford, Fatness and Disablism

I have been incredibly frustrated for a while about the trite, lazy attacks on Rob Ford because he is fat. There are so many good reasons to attack Rob Ford: his austerity measures, his fucked up neo-liberal ideology, his attacks on marginalized communities (p.s. this does not include cyclists), his jerk of a brother, his love of the rich and hatred of the poor, his despicable calls to make Toronto refugee free, his love of cops, his anti-unionism or his overall threat to the few good things that we have in this city (parks, libraries, daycare, graffiti, public housing, youth programs and lunch programs, etc.); rather, I am writing it about his body. That people focus on his body really pisses me off.

A recent Huffington Post article "Why Rob Ford's Weight Is a Political Issue" by Ben Johnson argues that Ford's size is relevant to critiques of his politics. In this post, I argue that this position is sizist, disablist and dangerous.

Fatness is a disability
Fatness is medicalized and fat people experience oppression based on the fact that their bodies do not meet normative cultural standards. Like most disabilities, fatness has not always been a disability but it is now. (There are many resources that deal specifically with sizism [see Big Fat Blog] but for the purposes of this article, I will discuss the issue of fatness and sizism within the broader context of disablism).

Blame and Shame
Johnson says that "it would be impossible not to assign Ford at least some of the blame for getting that big." There is a presumption that fatness is self induced and, therefore, both the individual's "fault" as well as a justification for the oppression of fat people.

It is not fat people's 'fault' they are fat. This is an individualizing perspective that negates both the fact that fatness is a social construct as are the barriers fat people face. What is considered fat is arbitrary and shifts with cultural norms. A few hundred years ago, fatness was considered the ideal. This ideal did not shift with shifting medical information; rather, it shifted with social pressures.

There is nothing shameful about being fat - about being disabled. What is shameful is a society that judges certain kinds of bodies because they do not meet arbitrary and oppressive standards of desirability and productivity.

Even if blame could be assigned to individuals, it is irrelevant to their social positioning once they are disabled. Say you are driving too fast, flip your car and get a spinal chord injury. This was a predictable possible outcome. So, now you are a paraplegic. Are you less disabled because the accident was your fault?

The Slippery Slope
Questioning someone's ability to make decisions, hold political office and have personal restraint because that person is fat is disablism.

The argument that Ford is unfit to govern because he is at risk for a number of health conditions is a dangerous one. It endangers not only disabled people but many other groups of people. Johnson says that Health Canada names obesity as a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. Health Canada also lists age as a leading cause of heart disease and stroke. So, by Johnson's argument, we should really make sure not to have men over 45 or women who are postmenopausal or over 55 be mayor. It is just too risky to have them in office.

Family history is also a primary cause for heart disease and stroke. Imagine what it would mean to implement a system of genetic screening into the determination of mayor. This argument has eugenic implications.

There have been others who argue that women can't lead because PMS makes them too emotional (and post menopausal women are already out because of that heart disease and stroke thing). So, women shouldn't be able to take office.

These kinds of arguments open the door to argue that any group of marginalized people can't take office because they are inferior.

Disabled people should be an integrated and integral part of the fight against Ford. In many ways we are active in the fight (through groups like DAMN and OCAP), but in other ways many disabled people, especially fat people, feel demeaned and alienated by these petty, disablist discourses. Please, we have so many strong arguments against this guy, let's use them.

There are a whole lot of reasons Ford shouldn't be in office; his fatness isn't one of them.