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When Is Disagreement Bullying?

When Leah of Mamavation received a press release from Chuck Runyon of Anytime Fitness about his new fitness book, she was stunned by the subject line of the email, which is also the title of one chapter in the book: “Money is allergic to fat people.”

As a former fat woman herself, Leah saw red at this statement. In her passionate denouncement on her blog, she talked about how calling people fat leads to shame and self-hatred rather than motivation:

…when I see things like this, I automatically go back to how I felt years ago when I was morbidly obese. And people who said things like this were the LAST people I was listening to. They made me feel worse about myself, not better. They made me feel helpless, not empowered. They caused me to shut down, not open up. I can promise you, I wasn’t about to go to their gyms to workout while I was demeaned.

She goes on to say that she feels that based on the rest of what she’s seen of the book, she feels quite sure that Mr. Runyon is showing evidence of a bigotry against fat people, and this actually contributes to the obesity problem rather than helps it.

In the comments section, Chuck Runyon responds.

 

“Don’t judge me, or the book, on only a six-word sentence. Don’t practice word bigotry without reading more of the book—just as you ask people not to judge others by their weight. … You’ll understand that I have a huge heart filled with compassion for those that battle disabilities and unlucky genetics. In fact, 100% of the book profits are being donated to http://www.Limbsforlife.org, which provides prosthetics for those who can’t otherwise afford them.”

At the heart of the matter is a simple, clear disagreement about the best way to motivate people to become fit and lose weight. Leah’s approach of support without judgement, and Chuck’s “no bullshit” approach with much sharper language.

However, what happened next was typical of the internet. Sides were taken, the language grew even more inflammatory, Leah’s site was soon filled with comments using terms like  “fattie” and “nut case” (comments have since been deleted) and it wasn’t long before the term “bully” was being used.

But, astonishingly, it was Leah that was being called a bully.

There is no doubt that Leah is fired up in her responses to Chuck on her blog, and in her angry denouncements on Twitter. But Leah runs a small, one person business for moms while Chuck is the CEO of a national fitness company. It’s hard to imagine that she’s bullying him just for disagreeing with his (to quote one of his co-authors) “by any means necessary” method of fitness and weight loss.

But this is a typical online; because a blogger has a platform, they are often called bullies when they disagree with other individuals or companies. But is this accurate? Is someone writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper about something they disagree with a bully? If a newspaper columnist complains, say, that a television network cut short a debate for a tv show, is that columnist bullying the network?

The answer is, of course, NO. So why are bloggers held to such a different standard? Discuss.

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In the spirit of full disclosure, I should say that I am friends with Leah, although I disagree with her about the use of the word “fat” which I as a fat woman feel is fine when used as an adjective such as “tall” or “blond”. However, I agree with Leah that the intention Chuck Runyon had when he wrote “Money is allergic to fat people” isn’t so much a statement about society’s bias against the obese as it is a shame-based cheap shot meant to sell books. Donating the proceeds to charity doesn’t, in my opinion, erase that fact. However, my argument here is less about the details of the discussion between Chuck and Leah as it is the different standard that Leah is held to as a blogger.

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