Caitlin Seida recently published an article on Salon about an embarrassing photo of herself that went viral, garnering her ridiculously cutting criticism. The photo depicted an overweight Seida in her Lara Croft Halloween costume accompanied by the caption, “Fridge Raider.”
The photo and caption didn’t particularly bother Seida. Rather, what wounded her were the offensive comments that ensued:
“What a waste of space.”
“Heifers like her should be put down.”
“[She] should just kill [herself] and spare everyone’s eyes.”
If you in anyway insinuate that someone should off themselves or be offed simply because of the way they look, aren’t you perhaps, the one that should be offed? After all, aren’t you—not the person whose appearance allegedly “offends” you—the true menace to society?
To make such offhanded heinous comments, you have to lack empathy. And isn’t the inability to empathize with others a hallmark of a sociopath? The horror! The horror!
In all seriousness, though, we are all guilty of ridiculing other people for petty reasons. Seida suggests that such ridicule stems from a failure to view one another as human.
After sending private messages to the most offensive commenters asking them “to just do the right thing and delete the post and stop sharing it,” Seida said the most common response she received was surprise: “They were startled that I could hear what they’d been saying. . . .They hadn’t really thought of me as a person.”
Which makes sense. With 7+ billion people in the world, it’s easy to stop viewing each other as real people brimming with emotions. Which must in part be why we continue judging each other for the way we look, despite knowing it’s petty, immature and, above all, cruel.
Maybe the fear of being able to in any way identify with or relate to sociopathic individuals is enough to stop us from saying people should kill themselves for being fat, or from saying less benign but still hurtful comments like, “She looks like a frumpy middle-aged soccer mom.” But I doubt it.
I’d like to think it’s as simple as imagining yourself in someone else’s shoes. Imagining the pain your inane wisecrack would cause them. You know—actively practicing empathy.
Or, rather than imagine yourself as the other person, imagine they’re next to you and can hear your shitty comments. Based on my own experience, the average adult doesn’t appear to have the gall to insult someone directly. At least in the circles I run in, people seem fearful of confrontation.
Plus, I would hope if any of us could actually see the pain our words inflict, we’d think twice before speaking.
The point, though, is to stop viewing each other as mere jokes in order to uplift our own sad egos. Remember our shared humanity. As Seida said,
“My attitude toward these throwaway images of mockery on the Internet has changed. I no longer find them funny. Each one of those people is a real human being, a real person whose world imploded the day they found themselves to be a punch line on a giant stage.”
As an ancillary note, I’ve written previously about how some try to justify such ridicule by saying the overweight person in question chooses to be unhealthy (thereby choosing to be ridiculed, perhaps?). I argued that weight is not an accurate measure of a person’s health. So what first struck me about Seida’s article was that it reinforced my point: Despite a healthy diet and “an inordinate amount” of exercise, she remains overweight.
“It does little, thanks to a struggle with polycystic ovarian syndrome [a common hormonal disorder that can cause obesity] and a failing thyroid gland. I’m strong, I’m flexible and my doctor assures me my health is good, but the fact remains: I’m larger than someone my height should be,” she said.
So in addition to reminding us of the importance of viewing one another as human, Seida’s piece reinforces that judging a person’s health based on their appearance is a myopic vision of what it means to be healthy.