I used to hate the backs of my knees. Like, even as I worked proactively to accept my body and come to terms with it and not spend all my time hating myself, I still hated the backs of my knees. I wore a lot of tights, not just to avoid chaffing and not just because omg tights but because they disguised the back of my knees from view.
After a certain point, though, I just didn’t have the energy to despise that part of my body anymore. I moved on to another – the backs of my elbows. I hate that for a while and then I moved on to a slightly broader hatred of my back.
And then I realized that every body part I had trouble with was a part I never saw. OF COURSE the backs of my elbows looked weird to me – I’d never actually looked at them before so when I saw them, they seemed strange and unknown. Since part of my body hatred involved staring at the part that I hated (I don’t know, maybe I thought confronting it like that would make the unruly parts behave), I kind of accidentally fell into seeing those parts more – they were visible to me, finally.
Visibility aids normalization.
(And I don’t mean that in a conforming sense but a broadening of the accepted standard for visual representation – it happened with body mods over the last two decades: what once was shocking is now the absolute norm. It’s why any subculture that gets attention is thrust into the mainstream for a little while and then ceases to be shocking.)
It was my Intro to Lit Theory class, I think, where I first read American Knees. Shawn Wong writes about interracial dating and identity in this book (it’s not very long, maybe you should read it *grin*) and one of the discussions that grew out of it was that for many protestors of interracial relationships, it seems to come down to visual dissonance. They’ve never SEEN this pairing before – and they expect people to be with other people who look like them.
This is, of course, insanely limiting. And in more areas than just dating! But there is also a lot of truth there – many, many people are more comfortable with things they are already used to seeing – things that do not look unfamiliar.
I think this is why fat people who do not play by the enforced cultural rules of shamed behavior take a lot of flak – this is not what people are used to seeing.
People are used to seeing fatties who are properly dressed in slimming colors like brown or black. Fatties who avoid bold accessories that draw attention. Fatties who pick miserably at a small salad while their thinner dinner companions feast. (Though, if you ask, I’m sure you’d hear that most people only remember the fatty who eats whatever the hell zie wants to eat with no regard for diet!)
And that’s why visibility is, in almost any struggle against systemic oppression, one of the most important tactics. It’s not glamorous or particularly flashy and there generally isn’t a lot of immediate feedback (at least not in any sort of positive way). But consistent visibility ensures that people can’t just write us off and forget about us. Our bodies stop registering as visual dissonance – to ourselves and to others.
If you search Flickr for “fat” there are very few results (you’ll find some of my pictures but I’m bad at tagging) – though there are some great images if you search for 300 pounds (hi, Lesley!) – and most of them are taken by people gawping at a person they consider a spectacle of obesity. It’s ridiculous. I started tagging my photos as fat in direct response to that – someone searching for that tag should see representations of actual fat people. They should be able to see people removed from any false frame of spectacle or voyeurism.
We need to be visible. All of us. Whether it is through clothes or speaking up at the office when one of those awful Biggest Loser competitions gets started in the name of health. Whether it is through being the fattest person at the gym or one in a group of fatties out for a day of shopping.
It’s not always easy to be visible – it opens you up to commentary. Some people will respond to your challenge by hurling insults (or even milkshakes) or catcalling or mockery. But I tend to view these instances as confirmation that I am seen. I possibly watched Pollyana the movie and read the book way too much as a child. *grin* I would rather be seen than be invisible. I would rather exist as a vocal and visual body than as a silent and hiding one, occupied mostly with minimizing myself.
Be seen. It’s way more radical an act than you might think. It’s subversive and powerful and actually useful. Be seen.
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, Fatty Politics
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