Actress/writer/funny lady du jour Rebel Wilson recently launched a line of t-shirts featuring cupcakes and donuts over the titty zone (that’s a scientific term). The line, called “Fat Mandi” after Wilson’s character in Pitch Perfect, carries the slogan “NOT FOR SKINNY BITCHES.” Yeah. *Deep, energizing breath*…okay, let’s talk about this. This brings up two unfortunate trends: 1) celebrities can put anything on a t-shirt and that shit will sell. We have no standards anymore. It’s like when we let Will Smith be a rapper. And 2) we have collectively become entirely too tolerant of acts of so-called “reverse discrimination,” wherein members of a historically dissed group of people engage in unfair treatment of people in a typically dominant or advantaged group. In this case, a self-described “fat person” is calling skinny people “bitches,” and we’re all supposed to laugh. We should so not be laughing at this. The utterly backwards precedents upheld by approving Fat Mandi’s anti-skinny slogan have infinitely more far-reaching implications that should make us all want to throw a heavy side-eye and speak up in opposition.
The problem is that it’s awkward to object in these instances. Our fear is that if we speak out critically, even in the most undeniably justified cases, against members of any classically disadvantaged group (fat people, racial minorities, women, etc.), that we will be accused of discrimination. Please believe, when I rain shade upon Rebel Wilson and her t-shirt line, I’m not fat-bashing. My bashery (it’s a word now. Get on my level) isn’t aimed at her BMI; it’s directed at her abrasive, casual, unnecessary name-calling, and general attitude that flippantly calling skinny people bitches and telling them that her shirts aren’t for their kind is a fun act of fat empowerment, rather than a classic act of discrimination. It’s entirely fine to create clothing specifically for heavier people… it’s just not okay to call everyone else bitches in the process. And endlessly more egregious than the slogan itself is that this marketing gaffe is somehow considered acceptable (even funny?) because it’s aimed at skinny people. It goes without saying that if a skinny celebrity launched a clothing line under the heading “NOT FOR FAT SLOBS,” they would be violently, relentlessly torn apart, subjected to highly-publicized backlash, and probably never get past the damage done to their image and career.
Here’s the deal: Equality isn’t about letting a historically disadvantaged group of people fling whatever spicy vitriol they want, while everyone else smiles approvingly, and validate their heinous, prejudicial behavior lest we be labeled fatty-haters, or racists, or sexists. Are skinny people supposed to pay emotional reparations for Rebel Wilson’s weight-related hardships by letting her call them bitches? If the people who — whether by their maleness, whiteness, or non-fatness — are automatically lumped in with traditions of oppression and discrimination, have to expend boundless energy trying to not perpetuate (deliberately or accidentally) the bad behavior of other members of their group, doesn’t it stand to reason that people of all kinds should at least make a perfunctory attempt at not being discriminatory assholes?
Anything bad I could say about Rebel Wilson’s t-shirt line has nothing to do with the fact that it is created by or for robust babes; my criticism is entirely based in the fact that this line’s central marketing strategy is built on hateful labeling (skinny people as “bitches”) and exclusion. (And a little bit based on the boring designs, but to each their own.) Why not focus on preaching positivity? How about finding a more thoughtful, intelligent, and forward-thinking way to raise the public image of full-figured women than by blatantly putting down people who aren’t that? Don’t make me say some bullshit about an eye for an eye making the whole world blind, because I fucking loathe to speak in clichés. It makes me nauseous and if I puke, Rebel Wilson might call me bulimic. But when people act this painfully basic, it means we don’t get to have any conversation but the simplest, most boring one. We can’t still be at the point where we don’t have any means for boosting out self-esteem outside of beating down others? Really, this is still where we are?
We need to forget the notion that it’s somehow acceptable for long-discriminated against groups to now justifiably exercise hateful words and actions against the groups that have previously, and often still do, oppress and belittle them. It’s not okay. If anything, doesn’t it seem more reasonable that people who have experienced the infuriating, disempowered reality of being marginalized wouldn’t want to be on the inflicting end of that same kind of damaging behavior? Or are we all really just under-developed animals, running around, striving for any moment of power that will enable us to mimic the abuse that was done to us in the past?
On the issue of “with great power comes great responsibility” (whaddup, Spider-Man / Voltaire!?), let’s look at Rebel Wilson herself. She’s having her moment right now, which is cool and earned because she’s funny as shit and clearly works hard. So now she’s got a measurable amount of fame, thus influence, thus power. One of things she has chosen to do in this moment, while her light is bright and her reach is wide, is create a line a t-shirts that is not just being marketed to a specific group of people, but to the specific exclusion of another group of people. That’s hate. And it’s really just name-calling, so it’s not even, like, clever hate. Is it somehow kosher because between the two groups in question, the hate traditionally flows in the opposite direction? NO. When people who hold power choose to issue messages of hate and discrimination, they are not only causing damage with their actions, they are perpetuating a regressive and dysfunctional social dynamic, validating hate as a legitimate antidote to hate, and igniting everyone in their sphere of influence to do the same in their own lives. And this is how nothing gets better.
I’m not proposing that the typical channels of discrimination are waning. A lot of average sized and skinny people are total dicks to fat people. A lot of white people are dicks to, like, everyone who isn’t white. Even more common (and arguably more dangerous) are the more subtle, more deeply embedded superficial prejudices that affect how we view and interact with each other even when we’re making every conscious attempt at being even and equal. My point is that there’s nothing to be gained from this trend towards overcorrection. Is our goal actually equality, respect, and acceptance, and possibly true celebration of our differences? Or do we just want to bemoan our painful oppression when we’re down, and then when we’re up, turn around and stick it to our former oppressors using the exact same, shitty tactics we learned when they were enacted against us? I mean, I guess this does establish one kind of equality; we get to see that all people are equally capable of being awful to those who are different than them. With her “not for skinny bitches” t-shirts, the only preconception that Rebel Wilson is undoing is the idea that all fat people are jolly and friendly.
As a not-so-insignificant aside, there is a massive problem with the term “reverse discrimination,” being that it establishes it as something separate from “regular” discrimination. Reverse racism, reverse sexism, reverse size-ism…these things don’t exist. When a black person is unfoundedly prejudiced against a white person for being white, that’s just plain ol’, terrible, deplorable racism. When women make generalized degradations against men, that’s just sexism. And when fat people call skinny people “bitches,” it’s no more excusable than when skinnies label fatties as “gross” or “lazy.” And I’m not talking about “racism” and “sexism” in relation to their inescapable, deeper context; these words can also absolutely refer to singular actions that exist in any present moment, which cannot ever be justified by historical context. Calling it reverse discrimination makes it seem like a new issue to be discussed and judged and decided on, which would be a redundant waste of time. Once we appropriately label these behaviors as being what they really are, the conversation is over. Discrimination is bad and hurtful. We’ve already had that conversation. Let’s not pretend that new manifestations of a tired methodology are in any way different.