You've probably seen it happen. If you are overweight, it may have happened to you. A complete stranger looks a fat person over and, loud enough for everyone within earshot to register or maybe so quietly that only the victim hears, says something derogatory, perhaps even vicious about that person's weight.
There are usually very few repercussions for the speaker, as the harassed has only a few ways to respond: with a retort, which is hard to come up with in the shock and hurt of the moment and could also provoke further harassment; by fighting back physically, which doesn't benefit anyone; or with silence, which can make the victim feel more helpless.
Now photographer Substantia Jones, 53, is offering overweight people a fourth option. Her Tumblr Smile, Sizeist! invites those who experience public fat-shaming to snap a photo of their harasser and submit it for publication on the blog, ideally with the story of the incident.
So far submissions describe confrontations on trains and subways and one in a parking lot:
The guy made a little running motion, then mouthed “one hour, every morning.” It clicked that he was telling me I needed to exercise more.
As soon as I stepped through the doors onto the train, this woman let out an audible “tsk” of disgust and rolled her eyes.
I had overheard their entire discussion and reaction about a “funny” photo of a fat woman on one of their phones. The boys were all giggling ... while the girls were reacting with revulsion, one even going so far as to say that she’d rather die than be fat.
This isn't Jones' first attempt to use the web to encourage fat acceptance. Six years ago she founded the Adiposivity Project, a blog featuring her photos of often nude overweight and obese people "to promote size acceptance ... through a visual display of fat physicality. The sort that's normally unseen."
Jones told The Huffington Post in an email that she started Smile, Sizeist! because, "I want fat people to know there's a way to fight back non-violently, another way to shield against the shame and humiliation the harasser seeks to impose. I want to help facilitate a power exchange."
It is potentially problematic to accuse individuals of bad behavior without allowing them to defend themselves. Recently a woman posted a photo on Facebook that she took of a man on a train and included this caption: "If this is your husband, I have endured a 2 hour train ride from Philadelphia listening to this loser and his friends brag about their multiple affairs and how their wives are too stupid to catch on. Oh please repost..." When HuffPost Women posted the story on our Facebook page, commenter Christine Spuhler Gomberg wrote, "Wow. So many people are just assuming that what the poster said took place actually happened. Look for a whole new way to prosecute defamation in this online age."
Jones, whose real name is Kimberly Massengill -- she told HuffPost that "Substantia Jones" is her "nom de plump" -- is sensitive to the accused in certain ways. On the "About" page of Smile, Sizeist!, Jones writes, "Unkind references about the harasser’s appearance, age, race, gender, sexuality, or physical ability will be deleted."
But her sympathy is limited. She specifically states on the blog that fat acceptance education and bullying prevention efforts don't do enough to combat fat-shaming, especially in the moment it's happening. "Educating the perpetrator is a noble and worthy goal," she writes, "but ... your safety and psyche matter more than the harasser’s personal growth."