When I started this blog, I wrote imaginary letters. It was an amusing rhetorical device, kept me entertained – and, more importantly, it preserved the idea I had that, really, I’m just sitting here, talking to you as an individual. That was, and is, important to me because I believe activism in this format is most effective when we have a connection, when we see each other as human beings living unique experiences.
I’ve been so proud, over the years, to be part of the fat acceptance movement, to be part of the fatosphere. Some amazing things have been accomplished. Every email I get or person who tells me they have decided to stop hating themselves because there are other options, better options… That is transformative.
But from the beginning, the fatosphere has struggled with intersectionality. Specifically, the fatosphere has struggled with racism. There’s enough overlap between the worlds of fatness and disability (though I do not support the conflation of the two) that people seem to be good about acknowledging the intersections there. But fat acceptance has proven remarkably awful – I’d say almost as awful as mainstream feminism – at being sensitive to issues of race.
This is unacceptable to me. I have worked, here at the Rotund, to be as inclusive as possible – and I’ve also fucked up plenty of times. I’ve not done as much as I could to make this space inclusive. That is totally on me.
But what I have tried to do, as much as possible, is at least not let racist shit slide.
And, y’all, my supposed allies in fat acceptance, I have to say very honestly and with sincerest regret that this letter is necessary, some of y’all are fucking this up.
If fat acceptance is a safe haven for racism in the name of solidarity and keeping the movement together, then I gotta tell you the truth: we’re doing it wrong. And not just a little wrong. If we are building a fat acceptance that supports racism then we are doing social justice fundamentally wrong on so many levels I cannot even.
I am debating with myself whether or not to link the post that has me all up in arms – I’ve long believed that we trade in pageviews on the internet. I don’t want to be cryptic by any means, but I also don’t want to drive traffic to sites that flat out don’t deserve it based on their own words and actions.
Let me explain – no, there is too much, let me sum up.
The Strong4Life campaign in Georgia is pretty much a bunch of gross fat hate. As so many of these initiatives prove, the path to hell really is paved with good intentions about saving the children. There was a response from the fat activist community – which I was really glad to see, even though I did not have the time or energy to participate myself. That’s the great thing about community – we don’t all have to fight every single fight.
I tell you that I didn’t have the time or energy straight up because I am not ashamed of that. We all have to balance our lives and our activism. And I also tell you because Shannon Atchka emailed me one day and basically threatened to “out” me in some fashion for being unwilling to help him. I’ve had my minor run ins with him before but I tried to have a fairly reasonable email conversation about how I wasn’t avoiding the campaign because of him – but my life was in a little bit of psychological shambles at the moment and I needed to focus on that. That didn’t go so well.
My plan was to just write it off as another difficult conversation with someone who essentially means well.
But now Shannon Atchka has decided to have a pity party and, frankly, some people have joined him in comments on his post about the matter.
Some of the comments on his post make me actively ashamed to be associated with fat acceptance as a racist movement – and I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit quietly with that. Because fat acceptance belongs to me, too, just as much as it belongs to people making racist comments about how tired they are of being called out on their white privilege.
Listen, if you’re tired of being called on your privilege, consider that the people of color around you are probably EVEN MORE TIRED of having to deal with it. Plus they have to deal with living in an inherently racist society!
Yes, it absolutely sucks, my fellow fat white people, to be told that you have certain advantages. White privilege is a difficult concept for a lot of people.
But here is a basic fact of life: the people who most need to hear about something are the people who most protest hearing about it.
That means if you are kicking and screaming because someone called you out for doing or saying something racist… you might want to consider that the reason it feels so very awful is because YOU DID OR SAID SOMETHING RACIST.
Being called out is a favor, an act of kindness – someone is letting you know that your internalized racism is showing and getting all messy all over everything. It doesn’t feel very good at the time, but being corrected NEVER does. The key, the most important thing for you to do when you are called out, is to not freak out on the internet where you will only make things worse.
That’s what Shannon Atchka is doing. Atchka is calling out Julia Starkey because she dared to say something critical about Stand4Kids – the fat acceptance response to the Georgia campaign.
Now, I think Stand4Kids is a pretty cool concept. But I also accept and acknowledge that Julia was correct in her questions – and doing the people involved a favor by giving them a chance to explain what was going on.
It’s totally understandable to me, as a busy person, that the people involved in Stand4Kids were volunteers. And I definitely understand when people lack knowledge. But google exists for a damn reason. And creating a project or atmosphere of any kind that is welcoming to people of color involves more than an invitation to participate. That’s the tiniest step you can take in getting people of color involved. What you actually have to do – and if you don’t know how, that’s again why google is so very useful – is make your project or atmosphere actually welcoming. You have to create a space that invites diverse people to participate without fear of ridicule or hatred.
That is hard damned work. And I don’t think anyone is perfect at it.
The really great thing though is that no one is really expecting perfection. A genuine effort and a willingness to listen when we screw up is half the battle that we as fat white people trying to create diverse spaces have to fight. Screwing up is not the end of the world! It’s uncomfortable – we’re embarrassed and our feelings get hurt and we kind of flail around a little wishing no one had scolded us – but discomfort isn’t going to kill us. In fact, discomfort is a really great teacher, if we pay attention to it.
I see a lot of objection to the idea that people of color are not responsible for educating the people they call out. I get it, I do. It’s easy to think that if someone is going to call you out, they should put in the effort to tell you what you did that was so wrong and why it was so wrong. The problem with that is the obligation it places on the person who was offended or injured in the first place. The problem with that is that we as fat white people can, as I mentioned earlier, use google. Or we can talk to other fat white people! We are resources for each other in so many other things; we can help each other with this as well.
In fact, I’m going to volunteer to field racism 101 questions here – if you’ve been called out and you don’t understand why, you can ask me about it instead of the person of color who called you out. How about that?
There is a difference between saying a person of color is welcome to participate (and solve the diversity problem their own damn selves) and saying that it’s something that will be addressed. One is a deflection of responsibility – the other is an acknowledgement that it hasn’t happened yet but we want it to, we’re trying to make it happen.
I don’t beef on the internet. I have too many other things to do (fat things! and clown school!) to spend my time stirring up online drama. I love y’all and I want our time here together to be productive. I want us to feel empowered and amazing. I very very rarely post angry – mostly because I always feel bad for being all pissed off after the fact. But this is worth it, this is worth posting and waking up to dissenting opinions in the morning. Because I do not want to be part of a fat acceptance that claims it is divisive to point out racism. I do not want to be part of a fat acceptance that defaults to a white perspective, a white experience. A white face.
The strength we have is in our diversity, is in the uniqueness of our experiences. Our strength is in the summation of our identities, as varied as they are. Intersectionality is vital because it keeps us invigorated, strengthens us, teaches us.
I know that white people get tired of talking about racism. And sometimes it feels like we can’t get anything right. When that’s the case, we need to sit down and shut our mouths and listen. It’s difficult – but it’s worth the effort because we have so much to learn, so far to go. Because it is complete and utter bullshit that our social justice movement can be derailed by the racism of white fat activists.
There is a certain class of guy who, well-intentioned as he might be, thinks that reassuring an individual fat woman that HE likes fat chicks and thinks they are sexy. And, you know, I really do understand that this is supposed to be a compliment.
This is really just another example of “Acceptable Fat is the fat I want to fuck.”
And, lemme tell you: You acceptability and worth as a person is NOT determined by whether or not some random dude would tap that.
I mean, I don’t usually bust out with the feminist polemics but when men try to offer that reassurance – or try to insist that fat is unattractive because of hip-to-waist ratio and that means it is unhealthy and socially unacceptable (while inviting reasoned arguments to the contrary – yes, spammed comment, I am looking at you) – it really grosses me out.
That sort of thing makes too many assumptions. Assumptions like, oh, I don’t know, the value of women being determined by their fuckability. And not their fuckability in general – their perceived fuckability by white, middle class, mainstream guys.
Do I even have to throw the word patriarchy out there?
It also assumes that all women are performing attractiveness for the benefit, specifically, of the mens. Maybe that’s why lesbians are both super attractive and scary to so many straight men? The idea that men are not, strictly speaking, necessary?
In any event, it is not the job of women to be attractive. We have shit to do that does not include providing, for example, entertainment for construction workers as we walk down the road. We have things to accomplish that are more important than being eye/arm candy, than being fantasy objects, than being representations of what the dominant cultural paradigm tells us we should be even if that image is completely unrelated to the reality of our physical being.
And, you know, this is not to say that women need to reject “looking nice”, for whatever value of nice they prefer, out of hand! I mean, I love me the hell out of some makeup, which I may have mentioned a time or two here. And I like pretty dresses and fancy shoes and I spend more time thinking about shoes than I do about, like, calculus.
But I also don’t NEED that stuff to make me acceptable. None of us do.
So if I don’t meet up with some random guy’s notion of fuckable, that’s actually okay.
Because you don’t have to want to have sex with every woman in the world, dude. Women have value that is not tied to your penis.
I’m not offended that you don’t want to pork me. (See what I did there?)
In fact, I probably don’t want to have sex with you either.
And that’s okay – you still have value as a person. I’m not going to harass you or make assumptions about your lifestyle or try to force you into a mold that would make you more sexually attractive to me (I’m just saying, men in black eyeliner = A++). I’m not going to treat you as though you are subhuman or somehow a waste of space and societal resources. Hey, we can even hang out in a friendly fashion and then go back to our respective personal spaces and have sex with people who DO find us each attractive and whom we find attractive in return! Our personal relationship doesn’t have to involve that dynamic – or the desire for that dynamic.
Just… Guys, get it through your heads. Your cock doesn’t determine my worth as a person. Not if you think I’m hot and not if you think I’m disgusting.
So, I posted about The Morrissey Dilemma and then I went shopping. Because the universe has a sense of humor, I found two pairs of jeans with no problem for under $60 – not per pair but total (also, Avenue’s sizing is even more wack than usual). I found a fancy dress for a wedding reception this weekend that fit great, a neon yellow shirt, and even a pair of bathing suit separates that should kick butt once my size comes in (already ordered – and on sale, bonus, Torrid is turning into my go-to store).
This is one of those crazy situations where I am finding the stuff I need – and Lane Bryant is even having their annual bra sale. This is the time to strike while the fatshun is hot!
That’s often how it goes – there’s good stuff and then nothing (these waves of plenty vary in timing according to personal taste); it’s one of the major problems with the inconsistent availability of basics. So, if they can, a lot of fats practice fashion hoarding. But if you’ve not got the available funds to stock up, you’re up the proverbial creek without a paddle.
In other words: Poorer fats can’t hoard.
Well, poorer fats can’t hoard as easily – I’ll offer the qualifier because there is always the person who comes in and says “well, they can save up!” as if it’s just that easy.
ETA: I am inserting a note about thrift stores: Fat clothes in thrift stores are like diamonds, dude. Hard to find, hard to recognize, impossible to count on. My personal theory is that because fats tend to hoard their clothes, fewer things get sent to thrift stores to begin with. And the larger you are, the scarcer the thrifting gets. Thrifting is also not a viable option in all areas.
At various points in my life, especially when I was fresh out of college, buying a new bra was an expense that I had to plan for months in advance. I lived in actual fear of my bras wearing out, of underwires breaking, of elastic giving up.
When I hear criticism of fashion choices made by fat people, especially when those criticisms are offered by young, smaller fats with some degree of economic privilege (which is not to dog on young, smaller fats with economic privilege – I’m just talking about my own issue here), I often wind up really angry. Not because there is a difference of taste but because that difference in taste eclipses and obscures the very real differences in available resources.
In the last few years I’ve had more resources at hand. But I remember with perfect clarity digging through big black garbage bags of second hand clothes that people would bring me – stuff their fat family members had dug out of their closets because they didn’t want it anymore. There’s a certain smell to clothes that have been bagged up and brought to you as charity, I tell you what. It isn’t precisely a bad smell but it’s there and it lingers.
It lingers in my outlook, too. I can afford to stock up on bras a bit more now. But that attitude of making do, that sticks around, too, and I think that’s why it can be so frustrating to hit the brick wall of “I need shoes” or whatever it is.
I realize this is kind of rambly, but I think it has to be because there are no easy answers to how to negotiate this. There is no magical source of stylish, well-made clothes that exist at an accessible price point for everyone (hell, sometimes that is true no matter what your price point, it seems). But the style standards for fatties – often enforced with particular stringency inside the fatty fashion community – are even more exacting that standards for straight sizes. I feel like there has to be a way to build our community with the understanding that socio-economics and class are real issues that intersect and complicate the already thorny issue of fatshion. Throw in other intersections of oppression and it gets even MORE complex.
And I think we should not shy away from that complexity. I don’t talk about fashion a lot here because my style is, to borrow a phrase from HGTV, taste-dependent. But also because a lot of my fatshion is built around clearance items and things scrounged from the back of my closet that are 10 years old. I mean, that sort of thing is not really useful to a lot of people.
Maybe it’s time we start talking about that for ourselves.
Another ETA: Unapologetically Fat has been posting a really great Sewing At Any Size series that I wanted to link to. I do want to emphasize, though, that sewing is not a cure-all. I totally recommend that people learn to sew but even gaining a new, resource-intensive skill can tax already stressed finances beyond the breaking point. Sewing used to be a far more economical way to outfit yourself but there’s a lot more emphasis on sewing as an indulgence, as a luxury – and that’s reflected in the cost of supplies. So, totally, if you have the resources, it will make a huge difference but please don’t assume it isn’t something anyone can just pick up.
I’ve been thinking, this morning, about the ways in which being fat has an impact on my daily living.
I mean, it sucks when I’m trying to find a new doctor or when I have to deal with ingrained anxiety about being treated for an actual symptom (because my doctor is great but I still have anxiety). And it sucks when I’m waiting to board the airplane that has obviously been oversold and I’m the fattest person at the gate. And it sucks when I’m trying to negotiate my lingering resentment towards food and my need to, you know, freakin’ just eat something already.
But it mostly sucks when it comes to clothes. In other words, I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear*. In other other words, I’ve started calling this problem The Morrissey Dilemma.
BuffPuff talks about this a fair amount: if clothes are a form of self-expression and we are denied the means to express ourselves, what then? This topic comes up on the livejournal fatshionista community all the time, too. And the other day I was talking with Lesley about the highly performative nature of my own wardrobe.
See, I have been doing freelance and book promotion stuff for the last month – it means I don’t leave the house except to go do THINGS. And, really, the cats don’t care if I’m wearing the same black yoga pants that I wore yesterday. And the day before yesterday. Don’t you judge me.
The cats don’t need me to make a statement about my identity because they know me – and they have brains the size of walnuts so, you know, there is some debate about whether or not they would even care. *laugh*
So, in many ways, for me, getting dressed is the hardest part of being fat. And that is pretty much the most ridiculous thing ever. I mean, it’s CLOTHES. It’s one of those things we’re all taught is frivolous and a waste of our time and energy (especially when we’re running late or, you know, in high school).
But, in my experience, being fat means your clothes are never just clothes – they’re a political statement even if you don’t want to make one.
My cats don’t care if I wear the same black yoga pants but, you know, I’m not going to leave the house in them. And only part of that is about identity expression. The rest of it is because right now I don’t have the energy to deal with people judging me based solely on that. Sometimes I do and I run my errands dressed however the hell I want. And there’s a lot of political and personal power in that, too, in being able to brush off the looks of “oh, look, a fat person in baggy clothes”. But getting dressed is incessantly a tiptoe through the landmines of what energy I have, where I have to go, and what clothing is available to me.
With more and more plus lines being yanked from stores (most of which never went to a size that I could wear anyway), getting dressed is more and more a battle where a ceasefire is not going to be called.
I think this is why so many fatties pull together true personal style – working hard to find elements that work for them and then making those elements distinctly their own. I love it when people post about the look they have worked to achieve – a blend of personal style and political statement and ingenuity because it is damn hard.
My style? Is not that cohesive. *grin* And sometimes it just doesn’t come together because I don’t have the damn tools. I stopped going dancing entirely at one point because I can really only dance in flat-heeled boots and I couldn’t find any to fit my calves.
And that is the essence of The Morrissey Dilemma. I could go to the coffee shop, but what the hell am I going to wear? I could go out dancing, but what the hell am I going to wear? I could go to the fancy evening event, but what the hell am I going to wear?
It’s not a matter of having choices and discarding them as not good enough. It’s a matter of just not having any choices at all.
The Morrissey Dilemma means accepting invitations based on what’s available in a carefully hoarded closet full of things that almost work, things that don’t work at all, and a few golden objects – if you’re lucky – that are perfect but may not be appropriate.
The Morrissey Dilemma means that I’ve been putting off going jeans shopping for three months because I don’t have time to deal with not finding any options at all. The Morrissey Dilemma means I always pack my clothes in my carry on because if I lose my luggage, I’m left with nothing but the clothes on my back.
The Morrissey Dilemma means compromising between self-expression and just putting something on because it’s what you’ve got.
I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear.
This is why I haunt etsy looking at clothes even when I have no intention of buying anything just yet – I need a stockpile of resources when it’s time to buy. This is why I haunt Ross looking at dresses that are not seasonally appropriate (in as much as Florida has seasons). This is why being able to sew is a lifeline.
This is all really hard and I know it gets people down. It’s such a fundamental thing – it’s getting dressed. And while I think the new Beth Ditto line and the new stuff from Faith 21 is great and all that? It doesn’t do anything for me .
That isn’t a stylistic complaint. It’s a practical one. None of that stuff comes in my size. Even Target’s new line (which is not available in any of the local stores I have visited in an effort to at least look at it) stops at a 24.
The options are looking kind of grim, y’all. But I’m not staying in. And I hope you won’t either. We can go out tonight and we’ll figure out something to damn well wear. The alternative is just balls and we deserve better than that.
Whether it’s etsy or DIY or vintage, or some option that we don’t know about yet, we’re going to figure this out. No more staying in.
JupiterPluvius cointed the term mansplainin’ yesterday and, frankly, it may be my new fave term.
Look, I think dudes are awesome. I know a lot of guys, trying their best to be allies and not be jackholes and for the most part, they succeed.
But I also know a lot of guys, and interact with through the internet and, more recently radio, who think they get to be the sole voice of authority. This includes men who are progressives.
Last night, I spent an hour of precious nationally syndicated radio time arguing with Ron Reagan. Ron Reagan is, yes, THAT Ron Reagan (son of the former president). He’s a very progressive guy and I think he’s totally rad in many (primarily stem cell-related) ways.
And maybe that’s where we run into our first problem.
See, I consider myself a progressive. You may have noticed that if you’ve hung around this blog at all. I believe in intersectionality, analyzing systems of oppression to better bust them up, and generally doing my part to make all of our lives a little better – not just one segment of the population, you know?
But fat is not an issue that concerns most prominent progressives in any way other than OMG FAT IS BAD. Because progressives care about people’s health.
But not enough to, you know, actually pay attention to people’s health. Just to look at people and think they can judge your lifestyle and health levels based on your weight.
I was supposed to be on the Ron Reagan Show for about 10 minutes. Thanks to a mis-schedule with Helen Thomas (who is so rad), I was on for an hour. And during that hour, Ron repeatedly maintained that he doesn’t want anyone to treat fat people, you know, BADLY.
But he also, despite an hour of talking to me and a couple of callers, thinks I should try to just sensibly lose a little weight. He’s convinced that, yes, we DO know how to permanently and safely make fat people thin. The answer? Lifestyle changes.
Because we’ve never actually heard that before, have we?
The problem here is that, yes, Ron is a genuinely caring and intelligent human being who also happens to be steeping in privilege. And while he’s willing to think critically about and challenge things happening in politics, he’s not so willing to apply that same lens to medicine.
A lot of people aren’t. A lot of people are afraid. A lot of people think doctors are some sort of magical genius being with knowledge that the rest of us could never hope to attain.
There’s a certain amount of truth there – doctors spend a lot of time studying specialized subject areas. And it’s not easy material. But doctors are also human, subject to the same biases and, indeed hatred, that everyone else in our culture is. Taking every media report of every study that condemns fat as solid fact is lazy. And it’s a laziness that bothers me even more when it comes from progressives.
I mean, the dude throwing a milkshake at you as you walk down the road? That dude is honest. That dude hates fat people. And it sucks, but you know where he stands. Progressives, dudes like Ron, are appalled by behavior like that but they perpetuate it every single time they make patronizing statements about how wrong you are about your own personal experience.
Here’s a quick quiz: If you agree that fat people should not be mistreated, that they deserve the same rights and human dignity as anyone else, that I am not lying when I tell you about my habits and general health level, that health is not a moral issue to be used like a bludgeon, and then you still insist I should lose weight, what does that make you?
If you said it makes you a fat hater, you win!
Cover it in faux concern all you want, what it comes down to is that you aren’t listening to fat people relate their lives to you. You aren’t listening when fat people explain the consequences of conflating health with weight – and the negative impact that has on everyone. You aren’t listening when you’re told that, hey, bodies are not objects for public commentary.
You’re trying to exert authority, based on your own opinion – your own lifetime of being thin, over my body. MY AUTONOMOUS BODY.
And that means, you can suck it.
Don’t get me wrong – I had a good time arguing with Ron, for the most part. It was spirited without being overtly hateful. But, you know, it’s still douchey behavior.
If I’d known I was going to be on for so long, I think I’d have better anticipate the debate, brought some sources along with me. Ten minutes requires much less prep than an hour, you know? But, ultimately, I don’t think any number of articles would have made a difference. Not when people, particularly progressive males, tend to view themselves as the sole valid voice of authority on any issue.
Again – I know many men who are awesome and so if this doesn’t apply to you, it doesn’t apply to you and that’s cool. But if you find yourself talking over someone who is describing their lived experience to interject your own opinion about why they can’t possibly have lived that? This might be you.
Health is not a moral issue. Stop concern trolling me and live your own damned life. Leave my body alone.
Air America seems to have a subscription-based set-up for their shows so I’m not sure I can track down a recording but I’m working on it!
So, okay, I admit it. I was watching tv. Not only was I watching tv, I was watching reality tv. I was watching The Fashion Show on Bravo.
It was a rerun and I don’t know if it’s current – they just designed clothes based on freaking fabulous shoes.
So, the preview for the next episode comes on. And Isaac Mizrahi is talking about how you don’t design for models, you design for real people so these are the real people for whom the designers must design. There’s a montage – none of these people are very fat but they look like they have very regular bodies.
And then it all goes sideways. One of the designers goes off on the 43 inch hips of her person and another person is all, omg, my person has 45 inch hips like it’s the end of the world. And that’s when it happens.
Isaac Mizrahi – designer for Target-That-Broke-My-Heart – busts out with “Frankly, I think you’re being very sizist.”
Like, he used the word SIZIST. I am all a-flutter! Dude! I know it’s just a preview, but it seemed like it was a part of a larger chewing out. Dare I hope that this was an actual factual fat positive (or at least general body positive) moment on television?
Has anyone seen this? Does anyone know what I’m talking about?
I mean, maybe it’s ridiculous to be excited that an amateur designer gets metaphorically smacked for being sizist and nasty about someone’s body on a Tim Gunn sort of rip off show. But this may be the most fat positive thing I’ve seen all day and it was ONE SENTENCE.
So, caseyatthebat, on Friday, was talking in comments about being at the gym (or wherever), doing healthy stuff and having a good time. And then *insert foreshadowing music here* someone comments. Because someone always comments. “Hey, you look like you’ve lost weight! Great job!”
Like caseyatthebat, that sort of feedback makes me feel kind of totally gross. And I’m a pretty contrary person sometimes so it also makes me want to avoid the activity that is garnering the praise. That can mean avoiding really enjoyable activities.
Which is sort of like cutting off my nose to spite my face.
Because I enjoy those activities! It’s just the snoopy, though well-intentioned, comments that I hate.
Unfortunately, if you are a women, particularly a fat woman (and women on the other end of the spectrum get the same), your body is generally perceived as public property that anyone can offer commentary on. It sucks, but there doesn’t seem to be a real world safe space where it is avoidable.
So what can you do? How do you answer the comments without feeling like you have to give up on the enjoyable activities?
I try to keep my responses low key. The less of a big deal *I* make of it, the less of a big deal other people are prone to making of it. So if someone says they think I’ve lost weight, whether I have or not is totally beside the point.
“I wouldn’t know, I don’t track my weight.”
That sort of response works best if you actually don’t track your weight. *grin* It’s a little confrontational but not obnoxiously so, especially when delivered with a smile. After all, these people think they’re paying you a compliment, you know? I don’t have to thank them for it – but letting them know that weight is not an indicator can send them a really clear message.
If they push the issue, it’s okay to be firm. Stand your ground. Tell them that you appreciate that they are trying to compliment you but your weight is not a topic for discussion. This will probably make the person uncomfortable.
It’s okay to sometimes make people feel uncomfortable. It’s not your job to make people comfortable 100% of the time on 100% of the topics, particularly when they are making YOU uncomfortable.
Maybe that makes me a jerk (or just a humorless feminist) but I think defending your boundaries is good for you.
Internally, the important thing to remember is how much you ENJOY what you’re doing. You’re playing tennis/ riding the recumbent bike, going to yoga class, whatever because you like it. Physical activity has been claimed by the weight loss industry as a single purpose thing but that’s not true. You don’t have to do these things in pursuit of weight loss and you don’t have to avoid them if incidental weight loss (or even just the appearance of it as your body shape changes) occurs. Remind yourself, when you are looking at this person who has felt like it’s okay to comment on your body, of the buzz you get from weight lifting or the serenity you feel after a good aerobics class (or whatever the feeling it is that makes you enjoy your chosen physical activity).
Don’t let them take that away from you.
I try to view these happenings as opportunities to subvert expectations. I am generally all about just saying thank you to a compliment, usually, but in this case, telling someone that I don’t measure and track my weight underscores that weight is not a meaningful indicator of anything. I mean, if it was significant, I’d be keeping track of it. Why are YOU so obsessed with it, random person? Why are YOU so concerned about what my body is doing, family member? Why are YOU so comfortable assuming that I buy into all the crap body fascism pumped out by our culture, friend of mine?
Sometimes I feel like a broken record: Define your boundaries and enforce them. But it bears repeating because that primary thing we need to do as individuals when it comes to negotiating interactions with other people who may not be on board the FA train.
I’m going to go all dorky English major on y’all for a moment. Have you ever read Mending Wall by Robert Frost? I admit, it’s terribly cliche to love Frost’s work but I can’t help it. He’s right about life – “It goes on.” And he’s right about plenty of other things, too. Including, “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” which is the first line of Mending Wall. I know what it is that doesn’t love that wall, too. It’s that we don’t want there to be barriers between us and other people. We don’t want to define boundaries because it feels, sometimes too much, like we’re already isolated in our human experience and creating boundaries further isolates us. If humans (though I know some extreme introverts who are exceptions) are generally seeking connection, defining boundaries ought to be the polar opposite of that.
But good fences make good neighbors. Whether it’s apple orchards and pine forests or FA and unwelcome body commentary, good fences that are respected and maintained strengthen our connections to each other. I will keep your fences in mind when we’re talking – I will do the work of being your friend because I care about you. Care enough about me as a person to respect my boundaries, too.
In the end, what other people expect out of my physical activity makes no difference. *MY* expectations are the important ones there. *YOUR* expectations are the only ones that count when you’re doing something you love just for the fun of it or because it makes you feel good. Our boundaries need to be in good repair.
I didn’t think today was going to be such a big deal but it is! I’ve been giddy since I woke up and pretty much unable to focus on anything that isn’t book related. *grin* I am so proud of this book and the feedback from people who are reading it is just making me tear up like clockwork.
One of the most frequent questions I’ve heard lately is, “Isn’t this just giving up?”
And, you know? Sure, it’s giving up. It’s giving up on the idea that I have to conform to an impossible standard to have worth. It’s giving up the damaging (to both physical and mental health) practice of dieting. It’s giving up the rage that gets turned inward when yet another diet doesn’t work.
Those are all things I can give up with absolutely relief.
It’s taking on a lot of new things, too. Like the endless task of resisting cultural messages about the worth of women’s bodies. Like the responsibility of listening to your body and relearning its language when it comes to food and health and everything else, too. Like the strength to do things that you have been putting off (a la the Fantasy of Being Thin) and actually embrace living instead of postponing it.
It’s not the world’s easiest trade off. Body acceptance, no matter what size you are, is a contrary goal. Advertising and women’s magazines and popular culture is constantly telling all of us that we aren’t good enough, that if we try this one more product, we’ll finally reach acceptability. Body acceptance is hard work.
It’s work I’m glad to do, though. And I am glad you are here, doing this work, too. Thank you for being a part of this.
Holy crap, y’all, do we really need to go over all of this again?
Smaller fat people are fat. Full stop.
A size 14 is considered fat by American society so a size 14 is fat. In other countries, the lines are drawn in different places. It does not lessen our experience, no matter what size we are, when a person who is culturally considered fat describes themself as fat.
When a person who is not culturally defined as fat calls themself fat, it can be a totally anger-inducing thing because it lowers the bar for what fat IS, culturally speaking, and it is also an appropriation of labels. But because women especially are led to believe that ANY spare flesh (including, you know, the body fat required to keep people alive) makes them fat, we’re going to keep running into this.
A person wearing a size 14 calling themselves fat is not the same as a person wearing a size 4 calling themselves fat. They are very different and very loaded cultural phenomenon.
Basically, they may not look fat to you but the cateogry of fat people known as inbetweenies counts as fat.
Similarly: NOT ALL FAT EXPERIENCE IS THE SAME.
I repeat, in slightly different language: The idea that fat is fat is fat is deeply and disgustingly untrue. The experience of a smaller fatty is not the same as the experience of a larger fatty is not the same as the experience of a fatty who is larger than that.
Discussing these differences is not an attempt to create a hierarchy of fat and it is not a statement on who “counts” as fat.
It is a fact: sizes stop. There is a difference between not being able to find anything that fits you well and not even having the option of ill-fitting clothing period. That does not mean the first situation is fantastic and wonderful. In fact, it’s pretty shitty to shop for clothes if you fall between straight and plus sizes.
It is also shitty, in entirely different ways, to not be able to shop for clothes at all because retailers do not acknowledge your existence in even the most arbitrary and passing ways.
Moving beyond clothing, inbetweenies get to experience the wonders of “if you’d just work a little harder, you’d be so pretty.” Being on the cusp of “acceptability” is a horrible kind of pressure. This is not generally experienced by larger fats who are so far beyond the cusp that just “working a little harder” is a totally different country.
Larger fats, meanwhile, get to worry about things like load capacity. The Wii Fit board is apparently only rated up to 300 pounds. That actively barrs many larger fat people from playing with it. 300 pounds is the common limit to scales. 300 pounds is the common limit for people expecting you to be utterly bed-ridden.
In short: society treats fat people like crap. This manifests in common ways that most of us experience and it also manifests in more size-specific ways. As a person gets larger, the experience gap grows.
This is okay. This is normal. Acknowledging it doesn’t make smaller fats less fat and it doesn’t make larger fats more worthy of some More Oppressed Than Thou crown.
In short: Larger fats, stop telling inbetweenies they aren’t really fat. If you do not think they “count” as fat, that is your personal issue. (This is different from observing that what gets labeled as fat is getting smaller and smaller and being frustrated with that – that is a reaction to a trend, not an individual.) Smaller fats, stop erasing the experience of larger fats by saying all fat is the same and we should all just get along. (This is largely contextual – as acknowledged, it sucks to be in between size ranges and it sucks in a lot of other ways, too. Just don’t try to force the discussion around to how hard it is to be a smaller fat person when the topic under discussion is, for example, how hard it is to find decent clothes for larger fats – it isn’t about comparing oppressions and one does not negate the other.)
Acknowledging difference /= creating a hierarchy.
Pointing out privilege /= negating experience oppression.
Creating a hierarchy /= creating a safe space for fatties. So quit it.
When I write for the Guardian or any other place that doesn’t have my admittedly draconian comments policy, it’s pretty much guaranteed that I’m going to deal with really horrible and hateful comments.
Honestly, while it’s not nearly as much fun as, you know, a manicure and a massage, it’s not that bad. I don’t burn many sanity watchers points reading the comments and, when I’m able, I can comment right back at them.
This is not because I am especially tough or anything, I promise you.
It’s because, at their core, all of the comments come down to one, totally unoriginal notion:
The commenters don’t think of fat people as people.
It’s an interesting form of objectification.
Think about this way: when society and culture objectify women, women lose their humanity. They aren’t actually people, with lives and desires and fears and hopes and all of that messy human stuff. An objectified woman is a caricature of womanhood – a role to play instead of an individual identity.
But turning people into objects does not function in this way alone. Objectification desensitizes you, creates a distance. It’s why The Enemy gets painted with broad brush strokes during war time – a generalized caricature is easier to hate and kill than an actual person or group of people.
And at this point, what society is working with is caricatures of fat people. Remember, thin people are getting the same messages we are – that fat is bad bad bad. They’re getting the same component of “shun the fat, the fat is bad” that for us translates as body shame but for them translates more simply – it really IS straight up shun the fat.
To use another example – Susan Boyle walked onto the Britain’s Got Talent stage as a near-perfect caricature. An older woman from a small village who has never been kissed and has a cat named Pebbles. People reacted disdainfully because they know how the caricature works. They were relying on that to make a snap judgment about Boyle, rather than taking the time and making the effort to see her as an individual, as a real person.
When you’re dealing with real people, talent that seems inconsistent with image is not all that uncommon. When you’re dealing with caricatures, it’s unheard of.
She kicked their asses precisely because they thought they knew everything about her the minute she walked on the stage. Her voice is powerful, certainly, but equally powerful is her ability to subvert expectations.
People have an image in their head of what fat means. There is a caricature fat person in there who is constantly pushing children out of the way to get to the sweets. Especially online where there is already so much disconnect from the humanity of the other people with whom you are interacting, it’s damn near impossible to roust that caricature from people’s heads.
And that’s why the trolls here and the commenters in places like that don’t bother me – they aren’t reacting to me personally. Hell, sometimes you can tell that they haven’t even read a word that I wrote – they just saw the word fat and out came the automatic response.
Now, this in no way makes their behavior okay. It doesn’t write it off as unimportant – far from it, actually. When the automatic response is to rely on caricature and tell actual people they are lying, it speaks to a deeply ingrained prejudice.
But it gives us a thermometer, a way to guage people and culture. And it gives us our plan.
We need to disrupt that caricature, that stereotype. Not by directly arguing it – because sometimes fat people (just like skinny people) are unhealthy. Sometimes they eat all the time (just like thin people). Sometimes they aren’t very fashionable (just like smaller people).
No, we counter the caricature by being real people. By making it personal in as many ways and as often as possible. We get people to see us as human beings instead of a faceless and featureless (headless) crowd.
So, how do we do that?
By being visible.
I know I keep harping on this concept but, really, I feel like it is the single most important thing we as fat individuals can do. When we are visible without shame, when we go out and interact with people, we make people see us not as caricatures but as actual persons.
There will always be assholes (there are even fat assholes – just like there are thin assholes, imagine!) who refuse to grasp the concept. There will always be people who cannot possibly expand their world view to contain anyone who doesn’t look like them. But those people are the brick walls against which we need to stop bashing our heads.
Those fools have nothing to do with me and who I actually am. Their behavior reveals far more about them than it does about me. So why should I take that personally?