Imagine you were in that locker room — naked. Across the way, the fellow club member secretly eyeballed you, critiqued your nakedness, then immortalized you by surreptitiously taking your photo and posting it for all the world to see, accompanied by what she thought was a witty comment about your body shape. Later, that picture-taker, Dani Mathers (a former Playboy playmate) was outed, suspended from the health club, chastised by many. Not surprisingly, she then self-published one of those nonapology apologies (most likely because she got caught) that we’ve come to expect, announcing that she “will take some time to myself on why I did this horrible thing.” Meanwhile, the snapshot of you — naked — remained.
In a recent Star Tribune article (“ ‘Fat shaming’ requires a long look in the mirror,” July 24), columnist Gail Rosenblum and Katie Loth, a dietitian and University of Minnesota assistant professor, suggest we look beyond this locker-room ambush and instead at the bigger picture and think about why people like Mathers — and us — “fat shame.” The article even dutifully provides examples of celebrity and everyday-people fat shaming. And it summarizes the results of surveys and other research to demonstrate that fat shaming is pervasive.
Agreed. We get that. It’s everywhere. You’d be a fool or worse to reject the idea that fat shaming is widespread and dead-wrong — legally and morally.
But. It seems to me that Rosenblum and Loth are a bit too quick to zoom out and push aside Mather’s cellphone snapshot attack as another “wildly inappropriate” action. On the contrary, it’s not “absurd” to single out Mathers for fat shaming, as Rosenblum claims it is. And despite Prof. Loth’s expertise and good intentions, she seems to concur when telling us she wants to refocus on a higher level on “how society has helped to shape [Mathers’] thoughts and worldview,” with only a mention that “Mathers is ultimately responsible” for her actions.
“Absurd”? “Refocus”? Are you kidding? Mathers took a photo with her cellphone of an unsuspecting naked woman in a locker room and published it on Snapchat without permission with intent to shame, degrade, demean, dishonor, humiliate. (Choose one, some or all of these.)
The fact is that Mathers is a quintessential bully and, like all bullies, she needs to be called out. So while of course we must pick apart bullies’ brains and hearts to try to understand their need to feed on the frailties and differences of others (although it doesn’t seem like rocket science to figure out why they do), they still need to be held accountable. Just acknowledging they should doesn’t cut it in my mind.
By all means, investigate all of the sociological and psychological reasons why Mathers and bullies like her inflict pain and humiliation on others, and “look in the mirror” as Rosenblum suggests we all do. But, for Pete’s sake, don’t be so quick to brush aside Mathers’ illegal and nasty behavior.
Look, courts can take away your license to drive a car, own a gun and even own a dog if you break laws concerning them. Sounds silly perhaps, but why can’t a California court — if it determines Mathers broke the law — along with whatever fines and jail time she has coming, take away her cellphone. After all, she used it as a weapon. Maybe not to physically harm that unsuspecting naked woman in the locker room, but, nevertheless, as a weapon used to intentionally degrade, humiliate, and deprive the woman of her legal and moral right to privacy. You abuse it; you lose it.
Remember, Dani Mathers secretly photographed a naked woman for the world to see. Mathers laughed about it and invited others to laugh at the woman, too. That said, Rosenblum suggests that it’s “absurd” to single out Mathers for fat shaming because what she did is not “unique.”
Now that’s absurd.
Not singling her out is precisely why acts of bullying keep happening again and again and again …
Dick Schwartz, of Minneapolis, is a retired teacher.