Eating Bull May Be Fictional, but Sadly the Fat-Shaming It Depicts Is Not

“There’s not a day goes by I don’t know I’m fat, because no one will let me forget it.”

By Larali21 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Larali21 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons]

I heard the above sentence from a tearful, severely overweight teenager several years ago in my clinic. The words haven’t left me since. In fact, they’re part of what led me to make an overweight fifteen-year-old boy the protagonist in Eating Bull. That, along with the research I’ve done over the years on overweight/obesity, went into Jeremy’s characterization.

I gained further insight into the emotional toll of obesity after attending a seminar led by overweight public health practitioners. The focus of the meeting was to highlight the frequent fat-shaming that goes on in our society—including from the healthcare industry—and to shift the onus from weight loss to size acceptance.

Though I’m not ready to write off weight loss as a goal, the seminar was eye-opening, and it made me reevaluate some of my thinking. Although I’d already written Eating Bull when I attended, I made some changes to my protagonist’s characterization as a result, including how he is treated by a less-than-supportive ER nurse.

It is not an overstatement to say I was appalled by the tales these speakers told, tales of the shaming they experience on a regular basis (at least here in the U.S.). The horrible things complete strangers say to them. The horrible things healthcare providers say to them. The horrible things family members say to them.

Image from Microsoft Clip Art

Image from Microsoft Clip Art

So I knew if I wanted to recreate this inescapable cloud of shaming for my hero, I’d have to make his life hell. He’s fatherless with an overworked and often absent mother, verbally abused by his agoraphobic grandfather, and bullied in school for his weight. Plus, he has little in the way of coping strategies other than to get lost in his online game and eat.

As if that wasn’t bad enough, I added a serial killer. Because, you know, first and foremost Eating Bull is a thriller, and in a thriller, horrible things must be heaped upon our protagonists, at least until they can stand up and fight on their own.

Writing about my character’s pain wasn’t easy, and I doubt it will be easy to read. Sitting in that seminar wasn’t easy either. But it got those of us who attended thinking, and it got us recognizing our own responsibilities in the issue.

So I’m sorry I put you through the ringer, Jeremy. I hope you’ll forgive me. Maybe between the two of us, we can get you to a happier place.

Any subject matters you find difficult to read about or watch?

*     *     * 

Rubin4Carrie Rubin is the author of Eating Bull and The Seneca Scourge. For full bio, click here.

274 Responses to “Eating Bull May Be Fictional, but Sadly the Fat-Shaming It Depicts Is Not”

  1. hilarycustancegreen

    I am torn. I am really interested in the subject and the experience of being overweight, but thrillers make me really, really miserable. I’d rather read your seminar notes…

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  2. earthriderjudyberman

    I hope your story does shift people’s focus on the need for more compassion for those who are different – whether it’s by size, religion, race, gender, etc.

    Years ago, I worked with a young woman who had a delightful personality. By medical definition, she was obese. I can still recall a photo of her at that time. This normally happy girl’s sadness and pain was evident in the photo. She had surgery to rid herself of some of the weight. She looked terrific, but her view of herself did not change and that affected her outlook and interaction with others. Very sad.

    Subject matters I find difficult to watch or read? Anything where someone – a person or animal – is abused. Sybil, a 1976 movie starring Sally Field, haunted me for years. It was based on the book of the same name. After that, I couldn’t watch or read another book or movie like that.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Oh yes, Sybil. I watched that when I was young and read the book. Has stayed with me forever too. So horrific.

      And you’re right. Often when people lose the weight, they still feel overweight inside. More than physical weight loss is involved, no doubt.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Matt

    I’m looking forward to the bok, Carrie. I like how you went back and added new elements as you continued to learn more about what Jeremy might have experienced. I watched an episode of Homeland last week where a woman was insulted by two strangers while eating in a restaurant because of her side and it made me squirm with discomfort.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      It’s surprising how many overweight people have heard comments from complete strangers about what they’re eating. Pretty terrible and eye-opening.

      Thank you! And I love Homeland. I saw that episode you’re talking about. The woman out eating with Quinn.

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  4. MamaMickTerry

    Dear Carrie,
    I’m sorry that I’m late to seeing this! As always, you speak to so many important points. Yet another place our lives seem to intersect. First with vaccines and now with fat-shaming and everything that accompanies it.
    I was a pediatric/ICU/post-surgical dietitian for several years. Working with people like your character broke my heart. We spent way more time on self-esteem than we did on calorie-counting. I’m pre-ordering your book today, because I’m fascinated with the story line as well as who your character is. I’m starting to feel like a fan-girl…hope it’s not too creepy for you!
    Michelle

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Haha, not creepy at all. I appreciate your support and interest in my book. Thank you! One of my early reviewers is a dietitian, and she really enjoyed it.

      It broke my heart too to see the struggles these kids face. Other kids (and sadly adults too) can be cruel. Even when they’re not intentionally being cruel, the words they say can hurt, even if meant to be helpful. It’s interesting that words by fathers and brothers carry the most weight in being triggers for eating disorders. Studies have shown this. Comments as innocent as a father saying, “Ooh, looks like someone’s getting a little muffin top” can really have an effect on a daughter.

      Liked by 1 person

      • MamaMickTerry

        Spot-on with the fathers and brothers. My grandpa was notorious for “keeping score” on weight between my sister and myself when we came home from college. My sister is wonderful, healthy, and content right now – but, not after a 20-year battle with anorexia. Words matter! Can’t wait to read your story.

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        • Carrie Rubin

          Yikes. “Keeping score” is definitely not helpful. And I’m sure he meant nothing by it, but it just goes to show the weight words have (no pun intended…).

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  5. Celine Jeanjean

    It doesn’t matter what the issue is, shaming doesn’t help anyone or anything, and it’s sad that so many people feel that it’s somehow ok to shame someone for being overweight. Although I have to say I do agree with you: while a change in attitudes is sorely needed, weight loss should still be very much a goal for those struggling with obesity.

    As to things I struggle to read/watch – overly violent or overly abusive abuse I just turn off, especially if it feels gratuitous. Any kind of abuse on young children, and also cruelty to animals. so quite a few things! lol

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    • Carrie Rubin

      I’m with you–I can’t watch or read about abuse of young children or animals. Even writing about a 15-year-old who’s bullied was difficult. I also don’t like reading about or watching torture–especially if, as you say, it’s gratuitous. I saw one “Saw” movie. That was enough for me. Ugh.

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      • Celine Jeanjean

        I’ve never watched a Saw movie and I never will. It’s one thing to read/write/watch difficult scenes (such as your MC getting bullied) because it’s necessary for the narrative, and because it is part of an overall character and story arc, but movies like Saw are just pointless violence. It’s not exploring the impact on a character of said violence, or looking at someone surviving incredible odds or in fact bringing anything of value to the table. It’s just disturbing and gory for the sake of it.

        It must have been hard to write those scenes with your MC though. I can imagine that you’d have to fight the impulse to want to protect him a bit, or to make what he has to go through a little more bearable.

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        • Carrie Rubin

          Well said about movies like ‘Saw.’ Exactly true. And yes, I did indeed want to protect my main character. I have a soft spot in my heart for him. 🙂

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you. I have a hard time reading about abuse too, especially with little kids. A 15-year-old was about as young as I could go for this character. 😦

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      • Gail Kaufman

        I imagine it was hard to write because you would have had to feel his pain to bring the reader into the scene, like an actor preparing to play a part.

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  6. L. Marie

    I don’t know how I missed this. I was really distracted last week.
    Thank you for posting this. As someone overweight, I can attest to the fat shaming. I’m not sure why people think that shame is a great motivator. It really isn’t. At a previous job a guy shamed his girlfriend. She wasn’t technically overweight. Yet to him, she just needed to lose another five pounds. I told him she needed to dump him.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Yes, shaming often has the opposite effect: it makes people feel worse about themselves, which just makes it all the more difficult to make positive changes.

      Thank you, and again, so sorry to hear about your mother. Best of luck to you both.

      Like

  7. frederick anderson

    It’s that old witch-hunting instinct of ours, which gets revived in ’cause’ after ’cause’, and it just proves we really haven’t come as far as we think from the Middle Ages – we certainly haven’t evolved in any real sense. One of the major issues that has to be dealt with is the ‘fit’ lobby, comprising those with streamlined figures, tightly honed muscles and an astonishing absence of tolerance or brain. Their peculiar brand of fascism is narrow-minded and simplistic, which makes it attractive to those unaccustomed to thinking for themselves. Well, that’s exercised my Monday morning dose of vitriol! Now for a word on the book. It promises to be very, very, very good. Read it, people!

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! And I think you’ve described my antagonist here: “comprising those with streamlined figures, tightly honed muscles and an astonishing absence of tolerance and brain.” 🙂

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  8. Kourtney Heintz

    Great post Carrie. It’s really cool to hear how your real life experiences and research shaped your character and your story. I really don’t like reading extreme torture scenes. 🙂 If you plan on doing a blog tour, you always have a place on my blog.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thanks, Kourtney. I appreciate that. Wow, you’re really working through the blog posts tonight. You’re sweet to visit all mine. I know how busy you are. When I get back from vacation or have been away from the blogosphere for a while, I have no hope of catching up with the posts I miss. I just start with the new stuff. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kourtney Heintz

        I try to set aside an hour or two every two weeks to catch up on posts. But I got really behind in October/November. So my default mode right now is to make sure I reciprocate comment for comment. I really appreciate all your support. If you took the time to leave one, you are a priority when I get time to read blogs. 🙂

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  9. michellejoycebond

    Hey Carrie! That’s an incredibly worth while topic to write about, and I hope you message spreads!

    As far as topics that are difficult–sexual abuse/assault is something that makes me shut the book or turn off the movie every time. I know it’s fiction, but I just can’t deal with it.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you! And I hear you on that. I have a hard time reading about sexual assault too. There is a lot of violence against women in books and movies, and if it’s too much, I have to turn it off as well.

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  10. Nightwriter11

    Fat shaming never has a positive affect. The scars of this type of bullying never goes away and I doubt many people recover from it. I have several female friends who lost 50+ pounds and they look great, but they swear they are still fat. Carrie, thanks for stopping by my blog. Really appreciate it. Perhaps one day I can be as successful as you. Love your blog.
    thelonelyauthorblog

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Thank you, and thank you for stopping by mine as well. Much appreciated!

      And I’ve heard the same from others too–that even when they lose the weight, they still feel “fat.” Just goes to show we need to address the underlying emotional issues as well. It’s not only about numbers.

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  11. Andrea Stephenson

    I wonder if as it becomes more unacceptable to criticise other groups, people move on to a new one – of course there has always been bullying of overweight people, but it seems to now be more acceptable to talk about people’s weight.

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    • Carrie Rubin

      Very true. I mention in my Author’s Note that fat-shaming seems to be one of the last acceptable bastions politically incorrect humor. I do think we need to address weight in terms of keeping our country and future generations healthy, but doing it by shaming others is probably not going to get us far.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. BunKaryudo

    I see this problem as just one part of the human tendency to pick on others. It can be because of weight, height, race, taste in music or preference in ice cream flavors. Whatever the reason, it’s all horrible.

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