Recently, I had an experience which brought this sketch to mind because I felt as if I had crossed over into the "normal" world and was being treated as a member of a different club. As Murphy made himself white instead of black, I have made myself "normal" instead of "freakishly fat". While I'm still fat, I'm in the range of normal middle-aged spread now and people don't treat me as an object of unbridled disgust and incredulity. Those who never knew me at a higher weight just see me as if this were the way I have always been or if I'd just put on weight as I knock on the door of my 50's.
I had an experience with a client in the past week in which he was telling me about the women in his office which dredged up the memory of that SNL skit. He told me that one of the women reminded him of a boneless ham because her legs were very fat and she had a habit of wearing black fishnet stockings. He went on to talk about a woman who he called a "kabuki actor" because she wore so much make-up it practically blinded him with the white that was reflected. Finally, he talked about a woman who wore no make-up and had long nose hair. In summation, he said that all the married women in his office were beautiful and the unmarried ones were not.
As I sat there listening to him ridicule these women, I had to contain my sense of anger at the way he was objectifying them and judging them based on appearances. I am not in a position to confront him about his behavior as it is simply not appropriate in the work I do. I did not condone it, but simply said that I felt sorry for those women. I also, frankly, felt sorry for him as I'm sure he wasn't aware of just how ugly a side of himself he was displaying by speaking this way and I think his need to speak of these women in this fashion reflected his own insecurities and pain at being rejected romantically.
During his continued discussion of these women, I wondered if I would have been hearing all of this had I not been much thinner now and perceived as normal, attractive, well-groomed and known to be married. Like Eddie Murphy in his white guy get-up, I felt like a super morbidly obese person in a normal person costume sitting in on an interaction that I would not have been a part of had I not been wearing a "disguise". This is how people talked about people like me when they didn't know that I was one of "those people".
Before I lost weight, no one even talked about fatness in front of me. They wouldn't mention it because of fear of letting on that they recognized the elephant in the room or offending me. Now, I'm not fat enough to be viewed as offend-able in this regard so people talk like they would to other "normal" folks. Since I got the part-time job at which this occurred last April, people there have never known me at a much larger size (though they knew me at a larger size than now as I've lost another 35 or so pounds over the 10 months) and don't know what I once was.
The interesting thing about this experience was not only that I did find that the world is rather different on the non-morbidly-obese side of the fence, but also that the flip-side equation applies as well. That is, Murphy parodied the perception of whites, but also the fantasy benefits they received in the minds of blacks. The "thin fantasy" in which life is magically better and all problems are solved at lower weights is equivalent to the "white privilege" fantasy in the skit in which money and goods are given away freely. There is some truth that there is a different world for smaller, more socially acceptable bodies, but it isn't as great as those who want to lose weight think it is.
I asked my husband if he felt that this man would have had such a conversation with me had I been at my much higher weight. He said that this client would not have chosen to deal with me at all had I been much fatter. Sadly, I'm sure he's correct, and that's just one of the reasons I decided I had to deal with my relationship with food in the summer of 2009. Much as I can sit and hope that the world will treat very obese people differently, there is still a reality in which people do judge you and reject you whether you feel it is unfair or "wrong" or not. You can change yourself, but you can't change the world.