Fast food worker is fighting back after being fat-shamed

Published 11:01 am Monday, August 21, 2017

GULFPORT, Miss. (AP) — First, she was shocked and hurt. Then she became angry.

Jessica Pruitt knows she’s overweight and has an overhanging stomach. But the 20-year-old Saucier woman never imagined a stranger would take a picture of her at work to make fun of her. Or that the picture would turn up on Facebook. With fat-shaming comments.

The picture showed Pruitt at the Raising Cane’s drive-thru window on U.S. 49 with her stomach resting on top of the counter. The woman who shared the original post referred to Pruitt as “nasty and disgracing” and said, in part, “I talk about fat, nasty disgusting people.”

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Pruitt, a Harrison Central High School graduate, said her manager has been supportive, by calling to check on her and contacting the corporate office, which reported the post to Facebook.

“Being overweight runs in my family,” Pruitt said. “I’ve tried to lose weight but I was recently diagnosed with a disorder that makes it hard to do that.”

But Pruitt was in for another surprise.

Saucier resident Laurie Carter, also a stranger, saw a post and was so upset that she contacted Pruitt in a private message on Facebook. Carter said she’s also been body-shamed and bullied. With Pruitt’s approval, Carter decided to hold a rally in support of Pruitt and to raise awareness about bullying — all types of bullying, to include body-shaming.

Pruitt will be the guest of honor at Stand Against Bullies, planned for Sept. 2 at Jones Park. The rally will be at the splash pad from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Children are welcome, and people are encouraged to come and go if they wish.

Carter described the post as “very rude and hateful” and said it brought tears to her eyes.

“That could have been me standing there that day at that counter,” Carter said. “I have a pudge in my stomach. But it was her this time. I wanted her to know she doesn’t have to go through this alone.

“It’s a harsh reality of a heavy-set person. Your flaws get pointed out more than anyone else.”

Body-shaming recently made local and national headlines less than two months ago when television meteorologist Carrie Duncan called out a viewer who sent her a derogatory email because of her weight. “Ugly people always have something ugly to say,” Duncan, of WLOX TV, wrote on her Facebook page. She had shared a screenshot of the email, which said she should get “defatted.”

“Please think about the person you are saying these things about and to,” Duncan wrote.

Duncan also has been praised for taking the high road in the Sun Herald blog, Throwing Shade, and in the Sun Herald’s Sound Off column.

Pruitt said she appreciates every show of support.

Pruitt said her fiance was even angrier than she was over the post.

The woman who posted the picture later made comments on Facebook that she was exercising her freedom of speech. She made no apologies. The woman said someone took the picture and sent it to her.

“The person who made the post feels like freedom of speech gives freedom to publicly humiliate someone,” Carter said. “I don’t believe in that.”

“I feel like bullying starts at home. If your parents are not necessarily nice to you, and they’re being negative toward you, you’re going to school and you’re going to do what you learn.”

“I can just pray for her and wish her the best,” Carter said. If the woman has children, “I hope they don’t go through what (Pruitt) is going through.”

Carter said she’s had to deal with her own daughter being bullied. She is thinking about starting a support group.

She and Pruitt had not met in person, but both women said they’re looking forward to it.

“I just want to give her a big hug and tell her I’m there for her 100 percent in anything and everything she needs,” Carter said.

“If it’s someone to talk to at 2 o’clock in the morning, or she’s got a flat tire at 5 o’clock in the afternoon. The only thing I ask is that if she’s ever in a position of seeing someone else being a bullied, that she will take a stand and be there for somebody like I was there for her.”

Carter said her grandmother helped her face bullies by encouraging her.

“She always told me how beautiful I am, that weight is only a number. That’s not who I am. That I’m a beautiful person inside and out, and to have confidence in myself because I’m a beautiful girl.”