The Soapbox: Did Fatphobia Enable Jared Fogle’s Predatory Behavior?

Quick, what is literally every single thing you know about Jared Fogle? My guess is that it is:

  1. He lost a lot of weight by eating Subway sandwiches, and
  2. He was recently arrested on charges of raping children.

It seems like a lot of people are having a hard time marrying those two realities. It is as if the first fact makes the second even more shocking than it would be otherwise. Because in our culture, the most morally pure thing a person can do is lose weight.

A few years ago, the infamous then-Mayor of Toronto Rob Ford was embroiled in a Venn Diagram of scandals involving crack cocaine, alcoholism, racist comments, conflict-of-interest charges, graphic sexual comments about his colleagues, and overall incompetence. As these issues were exploding around him, he explained how he was going to regain his credibility:

“The only way people are going to respect me, to bring back my image, is if I lose weight,” he said. “The rest falls into place.”

This attitude was echoed in the mainstream media. Even though cocaine use and alcoholism are linked with weight loss rather than gainNational Post Editor Jonathan Kay insisted,“If Ford shows up at election time having dropped a bunch of clothing sizes, many of us might be inclined to believe that he’s dropped the booze and crack as well.”

The same redemption arc plays out with celebrities. Tabloid punching bag Snooki appeared on the cover of Us Weekly smiling and repentant after losing 42 pounds, next to a heavier picture of herself with an opaque spray tan and duckface. After Paula Deen’s use of racist language became public, she resurfaced 35 pounds lighter and shilling a new low-fat cookbook.

No matter who does it, or what their methods are, weight loss is is consistently described as “inspiring” or “a triumph.”

So when Jared Fogle first appeared on the scene in 1998, having lost 245 pounds through eating at Subway, he was given a hero’s welcome. Over the next 15 years, he appeared in 300 commercials, earned over 15 million dollars, and established his own not-for-profit foundation to fight childhood obesity. But did he even try to hide his predatory behavior? I mean, the guys told a female reporter that he found middle school girls “hot,” and asked for video footage of her own children.

At the same time this was going on, Fogle was considered a wholesome and positive role model for everyone. And since his foundation focused on “child obesity,” he was given steady access to children across the country. Because how could anyone who had successfully reduced his percentage of adipose tissue be anything but a fantastic guy?

This deification of those who lose weight is a natural offshoot of fatphobia. This attitude towards weight and a person’s character starts really young, with small children not wanting to play with “the fat kid.” As that fat kid grows up, they will earn tens of thousands of dollars a year less than their thinner counterparts, and suffer possibly life-threatening misdiagnoses as a result of anti-fat-bias present in many doctors.

Favoring thin people over fat people has been happening for ages (although certainly not for all of history), but it is rapidly getting worse. There is a constant media frenzy about an “obesity epidemic,” in spite of evidence that such a thing doesn’t exist:

“The average American’s weight gain can be explained by 10 extra calories a day, or the equivalent of a Big Mac once every 2 months. Exercise equivalents would be a few minutes of walking every day.”

There is no link between body size and morality, full stop. Reinforcing the opposite is dangerous for all of us. It creates a situation in which Chris Christie can let a citizen die in a manufactured traffic slowdown, then lose 85 pounds, and be declared “fit enough to be President.” It also let Jared Fogle walk into a Subway with a pair of giant pants, and walk out headed towards nearly 20 years of fame, fortune, and credibility.

Audra Williams first connected to another computer via a modem in grade 7, when she dialed into a local BBS and got in her first internet argument. She’s been online ever since, talking about feminism, politics, and culture, while attempting to achieve the credibility and confidence of a mediocre white man. Follow her on Twitter at @audrawilliams.