Do We Have Secret Fat Envy?


Rebecca DiLiberto (producer/executive editor of The Ricki Lake Show, which my inner ’90s child is randomly a bit excited about although I usually consider myself strictly an Ellen girl) has a post up over on Huffington Post called Why You Can Have Everything You Want (Even Though You’re Fat). 

And at first, I though it was going to be the usual “I finally realized that there’s nothing wrong with being a size 14″ coming of age/finding love tale, which I’m all for (there is nothing wrong with being a size 14) but I get a lot of, if you know what I mean.

But DiLiberto actually posits a more interesting notion: “One of the reasons skinny people make life so difficult for fat people is that they’re jealous.” My head made a tiny record scratch noise when I heard that, and I bet yours did too. After all, we’re conditioned to believe that it should be the other way around. Raise your hand if you’ve ever heard a skinnier-than-you friend express some form of “I’m so fat!” and immediately thought, “if she hates her body, what on earth can she be thinking about me?” Right.

DiLiberto claims otherwise. She says skinny people are:

Jealous that fat people eat what they want. Jealous that fat people don’t derive their self-esteem from the labels sewn into the clothes on their backs. Jealous of the psychic freedom that comes from refusing to live by everybody else’s rules.

Now, admittedly, this is an op-ed. DiLiberto hasn’t dug up some sort of placebo-blind controlled study proving that thin people carry around this huge pile of fat envy, and it would be painting with an awfully broad brush to say they all do. But I will say this: Every time a new study comes out showing what skinny people do to stay skinny, I wish somebody would ask them how they actually feel about their bodies while doing this.

Case in point: The Centers for Disease Control’s annual National Health Interview Survey just reported that women who study nutrition labels tend to weigh about 8 pounds less than women who don’t evaluate the nutrition content of their meals. Every media outlet — even Jezebel! — interpreted this finding to mean “hey, we should all be reading a lot more nutrition labels.” And I’m not saying reading nutrition labels is inherently bad (I do it myself).

But here’s what the study didn’t ask the label readers: If checking fat grams made them feel super guilty about eating that donut? If their need to total up calorie counts and sugar content stems from negative feelings about their bodies? If the information they glean from labels ever caused them to restrict food in an unhealthy manner? If occasionally they’d like to take a break from constant label-reading vigilance and try listening to their bodies to determine what to eat?

So yeah. Being envious of people who don’t appear to obsess over this stuff even if it means they’ve forsaken being thin? I can see it. 

But to whatever degree it is true, I can’t say I’m exactly happy about it. This is why I tell women not to indulge in skinny women-bashing of the “go eat a sandwich” variety. Nobody wins when we have one group of women enviously assuming that another group has it so damn easy just because they wear a different jeans size. And of course, lots of fat people don’t actually eat whatever they want/do derive self-esteem from clothing labels/etc — just like people of all sizes get caught in these traps.

But what I like about DiLiberto’s post is that we’re establishing the possibility that you could eat what you want, derive your sense of self-worth from something other than a clothing size and refuse to live by everybody else’s rules. And really, you can do this no matter whether you’re fat, thin, or somewhere in between. We can all choose to opt out of the preconceptions. DiLiberto concludes:

You can be both fat and pretty. Both fat and handsome. Both fat and self-confident. Both fat and rich. Both fat and wildly attractive. Both fat and — yes, it’s true — happy.

And I love that. But I’d replace “you can be… fat” with “you can have your current body.” And you can still be all of those things.


[Photo: "Seven Deadly Sins by Rox Steady" via dingler1109's flickr photostream. A little intense, I know (and actually about Louisiana oil spills) but I didn't want one of those terrible stock photos of a skinny girl looking mad at a fat girl or vice versa. Because, oy.]

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  1. Kathy Carter Woods
    Posted September 19, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Permalink

    I too loved what Rebecca had to say in her piece. The idea of fat envy is an intriguing one. I think that ever woman wants to eat what she wants and not worry about it. The dirty little secret is that we call can. Not in some far off space, place and time, but now. It’s a matter of moderation, personal choice and courage. I, for one, throw up my middle finger to the “you can’t eat that” crowd, just like I do to the “you have to wax everything” crowd. I’ll skip the brazilian and have a little birthday cake thank you very much. Who the heck makes all these rules anyway?

  2. Kara
    Posted September 19, 2012 at 3:52 pm | Permalink

    Always love your perspective. Great post.

  3. Samantha/GlassCannon
    Posted September 19, 2012 at 4:06 pm | Permalink

    I definitely agree with you. It’s an interesting thought, being jealous of someone who doesn’t have to worry about all the things we worry about (whether that’s weight or health or money or family or whatever), but in the end, it’s still about comparing ourselves to *someone else*, and that’s what I have a problem with. If your best source of self-esteem comes from occasional thoughts of “Could be worse, I could be her”, then you’ll always be looking for outside validation that you’re doing alright, especially compared to everyone else. “I might be overweight, but at least I can eat whatever I want, unlike *that girl*.” “I might have to deny myself the foods I love, but at least I’m thin, unlike *that girl*.”

    But if you turn the idea on its head and instead strive to become that person who doesn’t derive their happiness from a clothing size or a number on a scale (or a number on a paycheck, the car parked in your driveway, or the grades your kids bring home, etc), that person that other people supposedly envy, then it becomes the best kind of self-fulfilling prophecy. If you derive your happiness from things that *actually make you happy* and not from thinking “well, at least I’m better than her”, eventually all those numbers stop meaning anything. How can a pant size compare to spending time with friends, or the number on the scale to the joy of a new hobby? Treat your body with care and respect, sure, but don’t expect to insult it constantly and get only happiness back. It doesn’t work that way.

  4. Posted September 20, 2012 at 10:40 pm | Permalink

    I remember hanging out with a friend in the park, people-watching; both of us are pretty aware of our appearance and though neither of us is high-maintenance, it’s definitely on our minds a good deal. We saw two fat women walk by holding hands, looking happy as clams and totally in love. My friend’s eyes followed them, and after a beat she said, “They can have ice cream whenever they want,” and though I think she meant for it to be sort of a joke, I actually got really wistful for not feeling like I could eat ice cream whenever I wanted.

    Now, obviously we could both eat ice cream whenever we wanted, and we know that. But…we can’t. We’re both too invested in looking a certain way, and that investment is the biggest reason I don’t eat ice cream whenever I want. And while I’ve never gone out with men who expect me to look a certain way, I also felt like she was acknowledging the idea that by rejecting the paradigm of heterosexual relationships, the women were also rejecting certain expectations that go along with it–that women are to be smaller and daintier than their partners, for example. None of which I consciously buy into. But the key word there is probably “consciously.”

  5. cici
    Posted October 8, 2012 at 6:32 pm | Permalink

    wait whattt?? lololol

    im naturally skinny, and i of course exercise for health and all (im on the track team) and i eat whatever the hell i want and still stay my fab, fit 108 and 5’6. ive always been slim, no matter what i eat!! and i think its funny how all overweight ppl can come up with the “perks’ of fatness is “we can eat whatever we want without feeling guilt”…ummm so can us skinny people losers.
    dont be jelly n stop makin false claims about ALLLLL people (aka stereotyping)

  6. Amy
    Posted October 21, 2012 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

    I’ve experienced this. The happier and more successful you are as an overweight person, the worse it gets, and it gets doubly bad if you refuse to act like a “fat girl friend” sycophant and kiss the butts of thin women who think their size-four butts are entitled to a kiss. I am happily married to a nice-looking guy, we have a beautiful son, we own a lovely home, I have a great career, and I am a size 18. I have had thin women literally clench their jaws and grind their teeth when, in response to thinly-veiled jabs at my weight, I shrug and say “I dunno, it’s never really kept me from doing anything I wanted to.” Which is the truth. I dated in high school, went to prom, had a serious boyfriend all the way through college. Got married pretty early, and not to the first person who asked me. I still get whistled at on the street and hit on in Starbucks. I am not saying all this to humblebrag. But apparently, my audacity at being fat and not crying into my ice cream, home alone every night, seems to drive some women absolutely insane, especially if they aren’t married/don’t have kids/don’t have a job they like. It’s like I am adding insult to the injury I am doing them – not only am I fat and making the effort to look nice and hold my head high instead of wearing dirty sweatpants and not combing my hair, but I get male attention and have a nice life and so somehow that is taking something away from them. And WHOA, are they mad about it. I have dealt with everything from snide comments to dirty looks to a full-on verbal assault from someone (that was fun), to what I think was probably job discrimination over it. I would love to know how other overweight women handle this.

  7. Posted December 3, 2012 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Hmmm yeah I am going to have to disagree with Rebecca’s post…but very interesting otherwise!


  8. Justin
    Posted February 20, 2013 at 7:01 pm | Permalink

    Ahahahhahaha skinny people being jealous of fat people.. Have I gone crazy? Does this article exist? lol. Us fat people don’t like eating stuff like icecream whenever we want.. We wish we could stop cause we want to be like you! We are fat and disgusting. If its possible to be handsome while fat I obviously haven’t been able to master it. Nobody has EVER commented positively on my appearance. I am real depressed because of it. I want to be skinny grrrrrrrrrrr. Im only 20. I must have some sort of fat gene -.-

  9. Carlotta
    Posted July 6, 2013 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    Sorry I can’t say I’ve ever once felt jealous of an overweight person. I already eat whatever I want when I want it, but I can also fit through doorways and I don’t have to worry about dying of a heart attack. The benefits of being a healthy normal weight are far more than the opposite.

  10. Tammy Faye
    Posted October 17, 2013 at 5:04 pm | Permalink

    Seriously? The sort of things that fat denial types come up with is outstanding. And it always seems to be women. You rarely hear a bloke try and justify being fat as a lifestyle choice…

    Yeah, and nice try stereotyping thin people as neurotic, image-obsessed anorexics who look longingly at fat people, wishing they could be like them. Sorry, it’s just not true. I eat plenty of sweets and stuff, and I love it when I do, but that doesn’t mean I wish I could be one of those people who can cram down a bucket of chicken and follow it up with a cake. Most thin people aren’t doing healthy things so they can fit into a bikini. They’re doing it because they want to be healthy, and because they have a basic understanding of standards and dignity. And yes, society HAS standards. It should. We need basic expectations of what we should do. If you eat until your legs buckle, you’ve failed. Doesn’t mean you’re unhuman, or not worth helping, but it certainly doesn’t mean you’re a victim or a hero.

    You’re not rebels bucking society’s rules. You’re fat. And rather than accept your reality, you’re CONSTANTLY trying to make reality change around you. So, keep telling yourself things to make yourself feel better, and keep trying to villify people who take basic care of themselves.

  11. jacqueline williams
    Posted March 23, 2014 at 4:20 pm | Permalink

    what nonsense.. i am a thin person i have treats but check my weight the last thing on earth i would want to be is fat, am not jealous of you or any overweight person stuffing their face with junk, i speak for most thin people i think we can eat what we want but love being slim more than we love junk food therefore that’s why we are thin

  12. neni
    Posted February 9, 2015 at 10:47 am | Permalink

    Ummm… no thin people aren’t jealous of fat people sorry. U just trying to feel better about yourself and finding excuses to stay fat. Some people confused curves with obesity and being thin and fit with anorexic (another fat people excuse) to justify the fact that they rather be fat and lazy. Being anorexic isn’t healthy but what’s wrong with thin people in general? Fat people say thin people discriminate them but they forget they also discriminate us for wanting to be healthy , fit , and look gold in clothes. Every person has the right to decide to be in whatever shape or figure they want to. If you are happy with your body then good be happy. If other people decide to take care of them selves such as health and figure I don’t see what’s wrong with it? Sounds like u are lying to yourself don’t generalized. I’m not criticizing just but I rather stay a size 5 then a size 16. Nop we thin people aren’t jealous.

  13. mrk
    Posted June 28, 2015 at 1:58 am | Permalink

    Fat women act as though they’re jealous of all thin women. I am naturally thin and this seems to frustrate fat people. Fat women are always telling me that I need to eat more than I do. I actually do eat enough for someone of my height. Thin women don’t need to cram food down their throats to please fat people. If someone says they’re full than fatties should listen and not try to force other to eat beyond the point of fullness. Just because fat people eat and eat and eat when they’re not hungry doesn’t mean that everyone else need to do the same. I am sick to death of it! I am full after eating 3 slices of pizza and salad. Fat people eat an entire pizza and they’re still hungry. In public I would never tell a fat person that they eat too much why is it acceptable for fat people to pick on thin people! I have put up with it my entire life and I am sick of it! I will eat when I am hungry and stop when I am full. I don’t need to listen to fatties telling me that I am too thin.

  14. Posted September 6, 2015 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    This makes me laugh. If I eat the way fat people do, it makes me feel sick and lethargic and my self confidence will plummet. Assuming active and slim people are jealous of fat women is delusional at best. Try harder to make us feel bad : )

  15. A Surprise
    Posted March 2, 2016 at 11:34 am | Permalink

    As someone who feels this way, wishing to be thicker and NEVER seeming to have it unless I’m pregnant…yeah I have it. I DO NOT envy the fact that they can eat more or whatever the heck this says. I literally just envy that they CAN put on weight. I feel like it’s impossible. I have people tell me I’m gorgeous and theyd love my body, but I feel small and thin. I think a woman should be big and curvy, and thankful for it.

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