Intersectionality: Mental Illness and Fatphobia

Ok so this should be my last super subversive post for a while because I need to have some time to learn how to deal with comments and disagreement (yay learning adulthood)!

 

But since this is a followup to one of my recent posts I figured I should post it now rather than later. I recently posted about fatphobia and thin privilege, and I got a few comments from people who said that I “just didn’t get it” because I straight out said “I have a hard time accepting my privilege”. Now I’m still slightly confused as to what this means. If anyone can parse it out, I would be forever grateful. I was under the impression that when you’re trying to accept that you’re privileged sometimes it can be difficult to accept but that as long as you keep reminding yourself of your privilege and listening to those people who are oppressed and trying to get better, then you’re being an okish ally.

 

However when someone tries to call me out on something, even if I can’t quite tell what it is, I do try to think about it. And so I spent some more time with my experience of weight, my experience of thin privilege, and I came to a realization, which is that I think the intersection of eating disorders and thin privilege is one of the most confusing ones there might be in the social justice world, because it is the only one that I can think of in which someone may understand that a certain privilege exists, but refuse to believe that they are part of the privileged group.

 

I objectively am thin. If I look at my BMI, it is on the low side of average. It has dipped into underweight a few times, and is always hovering around there. If I look at my clothing sizes, I am thin. If I ask my friends, family, or even strangers, they will tell me I’m thin. By all objective measures I fit into the group of privileged people who benefits from their size based upon the attitudes of society.

 

However despite these facts, I cannot believe that I am thin. My brain reminds me every day that I’m not. No matter how many times I look in the mirror I cannot see myself as thin. I try over and over again to remind myself that yes, I experience privilege from something I cannot believe is true of myself. I cannot think of another form of privilege where this happens: is it ever the case where a white individual firmly believes they’re black? I wonder if any trans* individuals can speak to this. It seems like a unique situation to me. How can accept my privilege when I don’t believe I am thin? How can I be a good ally when I don’t see myself accurately, when my perception of reality is so distorted? How can I fight against oppression when I’m too busy fighting against myself to even accept reality? I think that as an ally being open about our hangups makes us better allies. It means that people can call us out a bit easier and help us when we need it and ask. It means that we’re not lying just to say the right words. So I want to be open when I have a hard time getting past my privilege so that we can more thoroughly understand what helps entrench that privilege.

 

This next section I want to be very careful about. I absolutely do not want to co-opt any experiences of the fat community or reduce their experiences in any way. I am trying to be honest about my experiences though. So in addition to having a hard time accepting my own privilege because I have a hard time accepting my thinness, I believe that I have also experienced some forms of fatphobia. These have never been forms that come from society. They are not external. They come exclusively from my own mind. It reminds me every day that I am fat, and that when I am fat it means I am lazy and worthless and useless. I am reminded that the most important thing in my life is to lose weight. I am told that none of my accomplishments mean anything unless I am thin. I am told that everyone is staring at me when I go out, and that I should be ashamed. I’m told people only like me despite my body. I am told that I shouldn’t wear revealing clothes because my body is too disgusting to be seen. I’m even sometimes told that I should hurt or starve myself because I take up too much space.

 

Is it possible to be oppressed by one’s own brain? Probably not. Obviously there is a HUGE (hugehugehuge) qualitative difference between this and true fatphobia because I cannot systematically oppress myself. Again, I 100% understand that this is NOT the same as the experiences of fat individuals and that it is NOT bad in the same ways and that it is NOT oppressive in the same ways. However it certainly leaves me feeling confused about how I could have privilege for something that I’m also firmly ridiculed for. It is distinctly a mind-fuck that the same thing which causes other people to give me privilege is also the thing which causes me to hate myself and compromise my health.

 

And I believe that this is one of the most important things that we need to be aware of as allies and as privileged individuals: WE DO NOT GIVE OURSELVES PRIVILEGE. The thing that gives us privilege is not INHERENTLY giving us privilege. It is only the reaction of others that gives us privilege. It could be anything in the world, but society has chosen things like whiteness and maleness and able-bodiedness and thinness. My brain may hate whatever piece of me has privilege. I could despise being white, and still have white privilege. I KNOW these things. And I know that I always have to be aware of them. I know that while my experiences differ hugely from those of the average thin person because of the intersectionality between my mental illness and my thinness, that doesn’t change the attitudes of society and I need to continually fight against those attitudes.

 

But I also want to be open about the fact that I’m actively fighting those battles in my own head. Each of us has to do our best to eradicate the bad beliefs we hold. When I admit that I struggle with my own privilege, that is what I’m doing. I’m saying that I have had some fatphobic or thin privileged beliefs that went unquestioned for a long time, and now I’m trying to challenge them and remove them. And it’s a struggle. Is this a bad thing? I don’t think so. I think it’s the work of every person who wants to fight oppression. And it’s hard. I’d rather be open about the work I’m trying to do so that others can see it’s possible than hide it so as to be a “better ally”. But maybe it does do more harm than good. Thoughts? Maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I am doing something really wrong by publicly admitting to these struggles. What do you think?

 

PS-the reason I post so many pics of myself is a.I talk a lot about me and b.I’m nervous bout copyright issues.

4 thoughts on “Intersectionality: Mental Illness and Fatphobia

  1. edgyhedgy says:

    Yes, as a tran individual, I get in a lot of fights with the mirror. We are not friends, my reflection and I. The strange thing to me is that even after these years of hormone therapy, I do not have any less struggles with the person I see in the mirror, they are just different. Hell, even now when I know that I could dress myself in women’s clothing that I STILL wouldn’t be seen as female, my brain picks out the feminine curve of my hips, the obtuse angle of my jaw line, the fat distribution of my mid section that isn’t exactly male but isn’t quite female… I’m horribly self critical.

    I know I am lucky in the realm of trans individuals. My genes and the way my body embraced hormones made for a very easy transition. I am very privileged this way and yet it doesn’t seem good enough because I always find something wrong. Or, alternatively, I realize how good at passing I am and it makes me mad because I HATE when people I would love to date or who would have dated me before I transitioned don’t see me as an option.

    There are always ways to be self critical, but I don’t think it makes you less of an ally or a supporting figure to someone. I think it makes you aware of your short comings, and how you deal with them can be a big inspiration to the people you are an ally to. I personally like it when my allies and such tell me where their struggles are. It makes me feel better about not being perfect myself.

  2. wysewomon says:

    I think it’s absolutely possible to be oppressed by your own brain. In my belief, that’s what happens when you internalize a social stigma to the point where you don’t even recognize it as a social stigma; it simply is “the truth.”

    The intersection of fat phobia and eating disorders is so complex. I grew up a “chubby” child and I heard about it constantly, from everyone. I developed anorexia at 14 or 15. At my lowest weight, I was 67 lbs, and yet the message of “fat loser” remained. As I lost all that weight, I never heard a word about it other than praise: “You look so good!” But none of the praise did anything to relieve the anorexia vision.

    I’m now 53 and fat. I don’t like it. I still ask myself on a daily basis how much of not liking it is “real” and how much is an inability to see my body true. I haven’t performed the behaviors of my eating disorder for 30 years, but the attitudes remain. Sometimes they’re debilitating.

    I guess I don’t have any answers, and I’m not even sure I’ve said anything worthwhile. Mostly, this post struck a chord with me and I wanted to say you’re not alone.

    • oj27 says:

      It’s really good to hear from another person who is concerned about fatphobia and eating disorders. I have also gained a lot of weight and (mostly) don’t act out the disorder anymore, and I 100% am there with you about not knowing where my hatred for my body really comes from. It’s so confusing and frustrating. Thank you so much for commenting. It always helps to hear you’re not alone.

      • wysewomon says:

        You’re very welcome! I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to figure out the pieces, and that I didn’t still have so much work to do. But I guess progress has its own time. Take care and stay in touch if you like.

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