Rob Ford is the mayor of Toronto. He was elected in October 2010 and took office on December 1, 2010. He campaigned on a platform of saving taxpayers money and cutting out “gravy” (what he sees as unnecessary spending) from the city’s budget, without removing services.
Canadian mayoral candidates do not run as affiliated members of political parties, but Ford is both fiscally and socially conservative. He has also, over his time as city councillor and as mayor, shown himself to be racist, homophobic (and clueless), and generally about as unprogressive as possible. He and his inner circle of like-minded city councillors also hate cyclists, public transit, libraries and keeping his economic campaign promises.
All of these are completely legitimate reasons for progressives (and centrists, and conservatives, and apolitical people, and people outside the spectrum) to criticize Ford. And Ford is facing lots and lots of criticism from the left. But mixed in with the criticism of Ford’s politics and his actions, I’m seeing a disturbing trend.
I have to pause now and tell you that Rob Ford looks like this:
Rob Ford is fat. And because Rob Ford is fat, much of the criticism he receives, from otherwise progressive-minded folks, is tinged (or outright doused) with fatphobia.
There are a lot of assumptions, “jokes” and metaphors that are just too easy to pass up, it seems, especially through mediums like Twitter, where people strive for the perfect re-tweetable 140-character put-down. Ford’s fatness is likened to the metaphorical bloat of conservative corporatism. His disdain for cyclists and pedestrians is killingly obvious (“you can sure tell he doesn’t ride a bike or walk around much, har har!”). His use of the term “gravy train” is hilariously ironic (“if anyone needed to cut out the gravy …”). His brother Doug’s comments about there being more libraries than Tim Horton’s in his riding (false) spawned a Twitter hashtag, #BooksNotDonuts, which was clever and funny, but provided another opportunity for fat-hating comments to emerge in too-obvious ways.
It kills me that so many of these comments, “jokes” and criticisms come from progressives, because we’re supposed to know better.
We decry sexist criticisms levelled at conservative politicians like Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann, not because we agree with their politics or want to defend them personally, but because we know that attacking them on the basis of their gender is unfair, demeaning, and reduces the legitimacy of the criticism.
Why, then, the carte blanche for critics to call Rob Ford names like “fat fuck” when he does something we can’t stand?
Let me tell you something: I am fat.
I am fat, and I am right here when you say that Rob Ford would do better to lay off the gravy. I’m right here when you say that grotesque individuals like Ford would be a lot better off if they got on a bicycle now and then, because they’re harming the environment as well as being grossly obese. I’m right here, and in many cases I am putting myself out there and directly questioning your need to bring Ford’s weight into a conversation where it is completely irrelevant, and you are either ignoring me or telling me that his weight is a fair point of criticism because it represents his supposed sloth, greed and disregard for the environment, because he’s a bully who “throws his weight around.”
Let me tell you something else: this hurts me personally.
I am a fat person who bicycles. I am a fat person who does not own a car. I am a fat person who cares about the environment. I am a fat person with progressive politics, who volunteers for progressive organizations, and who happens to carry around more adipose tissue than average. When you tell Rob Ford that he’s a fat fuck who needs to get on a bike, you erase me as a fat cyclist. When you say that mentioning Ford’s weight is justified metaphorically because it represents conservative values, you erase me as a fat progressive. If you think that correlating Ford’s fatness with his terrible politics doesn’t also strongly imply a criticism of fat more broadly, you aren’t thinking critically.
When you use fatness as an insult, you are chipping away at my hard-earned sense of dignity, acceptance and self-love of my fat body. And when you brush off my concerns about the language we’re using in our critiques of the mayor, I’m hearing, loud and clear, that I don’t have the right progressive body, that I fall outside your realm of acceptability as a progressive person in Toronto.