These days, it seems no personal grievance can be allowed to go by without being filmed and shared on social media. So it was when model Natalie Hage sat next to a passenger on an airplane who was put off by her girth—so she decided to film him and socially shame him to her 140,000 Instagram followers.
What should have been a minor controversy between two individuals suddenly became a viral sensation. It was treated as an inspirational story of a brave woman shutting down a bully. “Model Natalie Hage Perfectly Calls Out Man For Fat-Shaming Her On Plane,” HuffPo wrote in a headline. “Model has the best response to the guy who body shamed her on a flight,” noted Metro UK.
The moralism is grating. If you think about it, the man who was just minding his own business sitting on a flight could just as well be seen as the “victim” here. Airplane seats are already small enough without someone else partially spilling over into your seat. According to Hage (hardly an unbiased source) he made some loud sighing sounds when she sat down.
Then he started texting his friend about how annoyed he was to have to sit there. The headlines say he was “fat-shaming” her, but how, exactly, was he doing that? He didn’t post anything on Instagram or Twitter. He sent text messages that no one else saw until Hage invaded his privacy to share them. Even Hage wouldn’t have seen them if she hadn’t craned her neck to look. Hage admitted the man was “purposely turning his phone away from her,” as he should have done since he was trying to text a friend, not incite a social media mob, as she was. The texts were “mean and ugly,” but they weren’t meant for public consumption, and Hage had no right to see them. So what if someone has a negative opinion about another person? Don’t we all have opinions?
The bigger question is this: Do we have a right to control what people say about us, even in private conversations? And do we have the right to expect strangers to approve of our appearance at all times? That’s the implicit message in Hage’s Instagram feed.
I know there are going to be people who will make negative comments about how this article is excusing “fat-shaming,” and I will likely hear about it on Twitter. There always are; that’s apparently the main purpose of Twitter. And those people have an absolute right to express their opinion, just as anyone does about Hage. Unlike Hage, however, I am not going to claim I’m a victim to attract more Instagram follows.
No matter how many times sanctimonious activists tell us how “brave” and “gorgeous” people like Hage are, or how “edgy” she is for running an Instagram account called @EffYourBeautyStandards, where she advances uncontroversial arguments that conventional journalists praise in glowing verbiage, the truth is, some people will continue to find her unattractive, especially if she is invading their personal space on a flight.
There’s no little irony, either, in the fact that Hage’s livelihood depends on her looks, and that her Instagram account consists mostly of photos of herself posing and stuffing herself with self-praise. If she were average sized, or even just slightly overweight, she likely wouldn’t have the following she does.
Besides being a “fat lady” and a “dog mom,” she also tells us she is an “influencer” on social media. And so she is. In the age of the smartphone, a person’s character is not measured by their virtue but by their number of followers. So Hage or Ann Coulter or some other minor celebrity can get on a plane and attack an ordinary person for a perceived grievance without letting their target share his or her side of the story. Is that not the definition of “punching down?”
In the past, we would have settled these issues between ourselves. I give Hage credit for one thing: unlike Ann Coulter’s recent (and ridiculous) complaint about Delta Airlines, Hage did not show the face of the man in her video. In fact, when I looked online, I could only find an excerpt of the video that had been cut for inclusion in a report by Inside Edition. One of Hage’s original posts now leads to a broken link, stating, “The page may have been removed.” Maybe even a grievance monger like Hage finally realized her social media vendetta went too far.