Project Harpoon Is (Temporarily) Dead, But Fat Hate Isn't

Photoshopping fat girls into svelte versions of themselves proved unexpectedly unpopular, but it won't be the last time.
Publish date:
August 24, 2015
fat acceptance, fatty fatty two by four, reddit, fat ass

In case you missed it, last week brought us the rise of Project Harpoon (also known as Operation Harpoon), which took photographs of awesome fat women doing fat lady stuff and 'shopped them into smaller women doing more or less the same stuff, only less fatly. Oh, and along the way it bodyshamed, snarked at fat women, claimed to be fighting the GLORIFICATION OF OBESITY, and stuff. You know. Like people do.

("Harpoon," geddit? Like for whales? I guess "Project Elephant Gun" didn't have the same ring.)

Facebook and Instagram accounts were taken down after a concerted effort by people who think that other people shouldn't be jerks, though their Twitter was still live at the time of this writing. Almost immediately, replacements sprung up, with members of the community trying to stay one step ahead of moderators processing abuse reports. And, of course, their reddit community is alive and well, because reddit really doesn't give a flying fartle about policing its community, no matter what its stated community guidelines say. The reddit is, of course, called #ThInnerBeauty, because you can't be pretty unless you're thin.

Sadly, one of the misguided phrases people use when talking about fat people in a way they think is positive is that they're "beautiful on the inside" or "have inner beauty," a popular catchphrase redditors are clearly playing on. Which, one, fat people are beautiful (hot, sexy, gorgeous) on the outside, and two, not everyone wants to be or needs to be beautiful, and beauty shouldn't be a standard of social, cultural, and political value. People matter because they are people, not because they are pretty (or not).

So, like, fat hate is a thing. As is the notion that people who are fat and perfectly happy minding their own bodies are somehow GLORIFYING TEH OBESITYZ. Lesley in particular has a big problem when it comes to preventing herself from glorifying obesity — she can't stop! She needs your help! In her fantastic piece about the seriously hateful notions behind "glorifying obesity," she points out that not only is the idea a big pile of cat poop on a stick, but that we actually should be showing images of proud glorious people (healthy, not healthy, beautiful, ordinary, whatever), comfortable in their bodies or working towards that state. Why not glorify obesity along with the many other multifaceted and excellent parts of humanity?

Fat hate is on its surface just about fat hate. Fat bodies are gross and yucky and unpleasant to look at and won't someone think of the children and we just care about their health, right? But more specifically, fat hate is about fat women, and the misogyny embedded in fatphobia has to be acknowledged. The decision to focus on fat women in general and fat celebrities in particular on Project Harpoon matters because it illustrates the misogynistic intersections of fat hatred.

Like, this is the same week that brought us the following extremely charming quote from one of the denudistas who works Times Square topless for tips. The women have been repeatedly dragged through the mud and slammed in the media for being naked! And shocking! And Latina! Sluts! Which is beyond gross, let's be clear: There's nothing legally (or otherwise) wrong with choosing not to wear a top in New York City.

But then one of them said this:

[Complaints usually come from]—and I hate to be rude about this—overweight women. They're the ones that are rude to us the whole day. To be honest, men don't harass us that often. I feel like men are a little bit nervous about us. It's the women that come past who are overweight and have their kids around and they're perpetuating this negative view that their children should be afraid of their own bodies. It makes me really angry because I feel like the naked human body is a beautiful thing and nobody should be afraid of it. These ghetto fat women walk past us with their children and go, 'That's disgusting. Put some clothes on.' I feel like saying to them, 'Stop feeding your children McDonalds. Tell your girls that they have beautiful bodies and raise them as strong women to understand that their body is their body and they have control over it. They don't have to be afraid of being harassed or feeling belittled because they have a beautiful woman's body.'

Like, this is the society that fat women live in. They walk through public spaces and people don't just "feel like saying," but actually do say these kinds of things. Because people view women's bodies as common, public property and fat bodies in particular as something to be policed. Project Harpoon was taking place in that landscape.

They targeted people like Tess Holliday, Meghan Trainor, and more — but mostly countless ordinary fat women celebrating their lives and bodies. It's unspeakably awful to see images of yourself used that way. But these are "motivational" images, you see.

Project Harpoon claimed to be showcasing bodies that are "in shape and normal" (the very athletic fat women I know will be surprised to learn they're not in shape). And apparently it was promoting "thin acceptance," which, don't even get me started on this particular derailing tactic. Photos, used without the permission of their subjects, included captions like "fat acceptance is death acceptance" and "from Miss Piggy to Miss Pinup."

One of the reasons Miss Piggy is an icon to so many fat women is that she is a pinup. That's part of her persona. She's a gorgeous piggy with cascading blonde locks, huge eyelashes, and a diva personality to match. In official Muppets publications, she's dressed to the nines and staged in sultry poses. She projected body positivity and self-love long before the issues hit the mainstream media.

Perhaps tellingly, the project has its origins in a bunch of whiny crybabies upset about the fact that women in videogames were rescaled to have more anatomically probable proportions. Instead of having bodies that defied the laws of physics, they had, you know, bodies that actual women out in the real world could have, but this apparently was a bridge too far, one that pushed women down the slippery slope and into the Valley of Not Exercising and Giving Up On Themselves.

The trend of posting pictures of fat people — altered and otherwise — on the Internet and then mocking them goes way, way back. (Who else remembers "Fat Chicks In Party Hats?") Tellingly, this kind of abuse is often tolerated by social networking sites and web hosts until heavy (haha) hitters like major celebrities, modeling firms, and publications go after them on the grounds of intellectual property violations. We don't care about the fact that our users are being horrible human beings, but we definitely don't want to get sued.

Unsurprisingly, the Project Harpoon people are strategizing on reddit about how to rise again, and they're also toeing the party line on how they care about the "health" of the people they feature — as though everyone has an obligation to be healthy and as though everyone pictured isn't healthy. They'll return — under new names, on different social media sites, picking different targets — because people like this always do. And that alarming commitment to detail in those 'shopped images will persist too, because apparently these people have nothing better to do with their time.

Images: Southbank Centre, Dan Century, Emilio Labrador (CC)