Rabbi Avi Weinstein

Three Plus Size Women Take Umbrage at a Casino Restaurant

In Uncategorized on December 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm

It was a news item that made it at least half way across the country. A waiter had identified three female diners as fat girls on their receipt. One of the women noticed, and with the help of social media, sympathy and outrage abounded throughout Stockton, California and beyond. I became aware of the incident fifteen hundred miles east of Stockton. An item that was deemed newsworthy enough to make the news on a Kansas City television station. One of the women appeared on TV claiming to be so mortified by the insult that the emotional scars had reverberated for days afterward. Her anguish was genuine, but worthy of understanding further. 

Granted that all diners should be insulated from unflattering descriptions while they are patronizing an establishment that should be dedicated to their pleasure and comfort. Granted that the waiter should have at least been suspended if not fired. Granted that instead of offering a twenty-five percent discount, the manager should have comped the bill immediately. I’m just amazed that insulting a customer garnered so much attention.

Was this the first time that she had been made aware that others notice that she was overweight? Or was it the fact that someone had the temerity to bluntly express what he was thinking?

The truth is that intention matters here. If the waiter was harried and was trying to give a defining quality to the table beyond the table number, and did not think that the offending description would be noticed, then his insensitivity might be understandable. If, he was having a laugh at someone else’s expense, then a plague on his house and anyone else who thought it was funny.

It is a reflection of society that “thin” or even “skinny” is never considered pejorative. “Fat” however, as evidenced by this reaction, has become an expletive, and not merely a description. A person can describe himself as fat, but woe to the one who would use this word to define others. “Blondes”, “Old ladies/guys”, would have never elicited such a reaction, but labeling someone fat is the same as calling someone “crippled”. Fat which is so normative in this society, is, somehow, considered abnormal. While labeling someone as drunk would probably not provoke the same response, calling someone fat is crossing the line, It’s not done, it’s offensive, even if it’s accurate.

The worse problem is the society that would judge a person who is overweight as somehow inferior, as someone who is less than the rest of us. So prevalent is this understanding that calling someone “fat” is accepted as name calling, even when it might  have been done without malice, but merely without thinking.

I marvel at the fact that once “Rubenesque” women represented an ideal of beauty, and it was the skinny people who were objects of ridicule. Does anyone remember the Joe Tex song “Skinny legs and all”?

The Talmud is very explicit that we must be vigilant when addressing others, and that we are responsible for ensuring that we do not hurt anyone’s feelings. “If you knew that there had been an execution by hanging in your friend’s family, do not say, ‘Hang this fish on a hook for me’ (Talmud, Bava Metziya 59b) Certainly, if we knew someone was sensitive about her weight, we should avoid the subject altogether, but one has to wonder why something as pervasive as obesity in absolute numbers, has not made a dent in making it more acceptable. 

Does anyone think that this societal obsession will be changing anytime soon?

Fat chance.

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