I Hate People Who Take the Elevator

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A friend of mine made an off handed comment the other day. “I’m sick of lazy people taking the elevator!” To say that I was taken aback would be an understatement. I pushed him a bit, and he simply said he hated that everyone did it, that it was an engrained social structure, that obesity was an epidemic, and that it was a waste of energy.

I think it’s time to review both fatphobia and ableism 101, as well as how they’re intertwined. The first thing to note about something like whether other people take the elevator or not is that it’s none of your damned business because you know nothing about this random other person and their behavior isn’t hurting you (we’ll get to questions of obesity soon). There is nothing morally wrong about not wanting to be active right this instant. And in many cases, someone might be incapable of taking the stairs: some people have invisible diseases, and your assumption that everyone should take the stairs is part of the underlying cultural norm that other people’s bodies belong to us and they all have to be able and thin or they are doing something wrong. They are causing harm.

There are a lot of things wrong with the assumption that you should be able to tell someone else what to do with their body or that it’s any of your business what someone else does with their body, whether that’s how/when they have sex or their choice of diet and exercise. The moment we start deciding what the correct way for another person to treat their body is, the moment we’ve decided to try to take away their basic autonomy.  Everyone has the right to decide what to eat, how to move, where to go, and when you assume that their actions are fair game for your shame and criticism because you don’t like what someone else is doing, you’re implying that someone else’s body is public property. And that’s just really uncool.

There is nothing wrong with being fat. Spoiler alert: it is entirely possible to be healthy, happy, and active while being fat. The Health at Every Size movement has a great deal of information on this, but suffice it to say that genetics plays a huge role in your size, and that body composition makes a large difference. The “obesity epidemic” is based on the BMI scale, which does not take body composition into account at all and reduces many complex health problems down to “you’re a fatty, lose some weight,”. As this article points out, fat people often have to fight for the right to be able to eat food. Relatedly, they also often have to fight for the right to be inactive or rest. Any time we see an overweight person sitting down or watching TV or taking the elevator, we assume they’re lazy. We don’t do that with thin people, even though there’s not any law that says the thin person is more active than the fat person.

We tend to only accept a fat person as a “good fatty” if we see that they only eat salad or take the stairs every time. Fat people are by default considered unhealthy and lazy until they have proven that they do all the correct healthy behaviors and are still fat. Many people assume that if a fat person is engaging in any “unhealthy” behaviors, those behaviors are what has caused them to be fat (and thus a drain on society because all fat people are the worst ya know). Never mind that some people are fat because of disabilities.  Never mind that you literally have no idea whether or not that individual just came from the gym or not. Never mind that you have literally no evidence that taking the elevator is what caused this person to be overweight or whether or not this overweight person is unhealthy. Never mind that some people physically can’t take the stairs, even if they look able bodied.

It’s none of your damned business what anyone does with their body, what food they eat, and how they exercise. Bodies are complicated, and unless you’re someone’s doctor or intimately close to them, you don’t know even close to enough to make a judgment about whether or not they’re lazy. A lot of this is straight out concern trolling, and there’s good evidence that it’s not really about health in the fact that I don’t see any of these concern trolls telling me that they have a right to tell me to eat more and deal with my eating disorder because insurance! Public health! You need to be able to work! They’re not concerned with the state of my health and body because I am thin and able bodied and sometimes I rock climb and swing dance for hours. You cannot read someone’s health off of their body.

Maybe taking the elevator is an engrained social structure, and maybe we could do more to promote exercise. But any fat person or depressed person or sick person can tell you that they’ve heard it. They’ve heard it a thousand times. One more piece of shame is not going to help (it may actually make people fatter). There are more positive and more helpful ways to promote movement. I take the elevator because the stairs take longer and are boring. I’d rather exercise in a more fun fashion. So maybe that “just take the stairs” approach is alienating some people, and is actually an excuse to complain about fat, lazy people.

Yes, maybe it is more energy efficient to take the stairs. But we all make trade offs in our lives in terms of values and priorities, and how we treat our bodies is incredibly personal. If it’s so important to you, then take the stairs yourself, but stop haranguing others when you have no idea what their lives are like.

 

Before and After Stories: Time and Social Justice

What do narratives about trans* people, fat people, neurodiverse people, immigrants, and chronically ill people have in common? Yes they are all narratives about oppressed groups of people, but what sets these sorts of narratives apart from the narratives we hear about people of color or women? These stories almost always neatly fall into the narrative of before and after stories, with the before identity being the oppressed identity.

We rarely think about time in relation to social justice. Generally we view oppressed individuals as having characteristics or traits that don’t disappear with time. We may think about how these traits fit into categories, systems, treatment, prejudices, and the like, but we rarely think about how they change with time, or how the concepts of change and time are used as oppressive tools by majorities that wish these minorities to disappear. Oftentimes these stories are told as a journey with a movement from bad to good.  The acceptability of these minorities is often tied to time, and where they are in relation to a journey or a movement in time.

Recently I read an article on academia.edu that explored weight loss stories and how fat individuals have subverted the before and after weight loss narrative to empower themselves. In particular, “fat” is nearly always painted as the “before” and “thin” is the desirable “after” status. I was struck with this discussion, because this same narrative is often used in eating disordered stories wherein sick is before and recovered is after. This type of narrative is applied to many kinds of individuals, and could be an interesting lens with which to understand certain tools of oppression and new ways to empower oppressed people. Let’s start by looking at what is common across many of these narratives and how they are used to create binaries and enforce the view of society that certain halves of the binaries are acceptable.

One important thing that social justice advocates often talk about is that oppressed identities are often viewed as something that should change, generally in movement towards the “normal” or acceptable identity. When we speak of the identities I mentioned above, that identity is rarely viewed as the true identity of the individual, but rather it’s seen as a layer that needs to be shed to reach the “real” person underneath. You can see this for fat people in movies like Shallow Hal, or for people who are neurodiverse when you see narratives about the disease “possessing” someone, or that “functioning” is supposed to be the end goal. Oftentimes we don’t hear people tell stories of being this identity in the present tense: you don’t hear “I am anorexic and this is what it’s like” or “I am fat and this is what it’s like”. You hear “I was a teenage anorexic” or “my weight loss story” or even “here is my journey of transition from male to female, but now I am firmly female and no longer challenge the gender binary nuh uh”.

This use of the past tense does a great deal to undermine the experiences of these individuals, because it distances them from their experiences, and paints now as reality and the past as distant unreality. We are told that these experiences don’t persist through time: that it’s “just a phase”, or not enough of who we are to continue to be a part of who we are. Particularly when an individual does change, that process and the experience of change through time are often erased by creating a simple before and after picture that does not illuminate the complex and personal procedure of change. We get a sentence as simple as “I recovered” that erases the growth, the change, and the incorporation of the past into a new identity.

These are not always the stories that individuals with oppressed identities want to tell, but they’re the frameworks that society provides for us and appear to be the narratives that society wants to hear. They require us to give up ownership of parts of our lives, to distance ourselves from what we used to be and to look down on it as miserable or wrong. This means that the ability to claim full ownership of your entire life and to see positive and negative elements across time is a great privilege.

The other element of these narratives is that you’re considered fair game for judgment, pity, and condescension when you’re on the “before” end of the spectrum, and most people assume that you’re trying to reach the “after” end of the spectrum. They view you as unfinished until you change, then they see you as complete or acceptable. If you don’t want to change, you are often labelled lazy, wrong, stubborn or broken. It’s considered tragic if you never change. These views of individuals as simply on their way to something better completely erases the day in day out experiences of time, of change as a choice, or of narratives that don’t fit this pattern. The time that you were “before” is often considered lost, and you don’t get to claim it as your own. Relapse, or change back, is completely erased. These kinds of narratives, and the dominant societal interest in the before and after narrative take away many of our choices and remind us over and over again that we are so unacceptable that we are not even real until we have changed. Our experiences are changed from “lives” into “journeys” without our consent, and we are absolutely not allowed to be in between the two poles. These identities are only acceptable if they’re in the past.

So what do we do about these narratives? Are there ways  to rewrite our oppressed identities as things that persist through time, or to subvert some of the narratives? I think there are, but they require us to be extremely vigilant about when we talk about our lives and how we talk about our lives. It’s important for us to tell true stories about our lives at all points in time. When we have an eating disorder, we need to speak up about what it’s like. When we are fat, we need to speak up about what it’s like. When we are transitioning, we need to tell that story as the here and now. But we also need to remind ourselves over and over, and remind each other, that every iteration of us is the real us. You are always you and your experiences are always valid. There is no time when you are becoming yourself. You already are. When someone else tries to paint you as changing, in flux, or incomplete, fight back against that. Remind them that YOU ARE YOU right here and right now.

Stop using the past tense. Talk about now. And beyond that, ask for services and recognition in the here and now, not for the you that you will be. Ask for adequate medical services for yourself WHEN YOU ARE FAT. Ask for respect of your voice and your opinions, support of your struggles and confusions, and good relationships WHILE YOU ARE STILL STRUGGLING WITH YOUR MENTAL ILLNESS. Finally, find ways to rework the narratives. Use a frame that doesn’t have a clean ending. Make your oppressed identity the end rather than the beginning. Parody the narratives that exist a la Judith butler. Claim your identity right here and right now in any way you can.

Our identities are not a step on the path to acceptability. They are who we are. And ya know what? They’re pretty fucking awesome in the here and now. I have an eating disorder. That’s me. Get over it.

Achievement, Self-Hatred, and Goals

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Yesterday I saw a lot of people linking over to this comic at the The Oatmeal. It encompasses something that I think is extremely common and also somewhat worrisome, so I’d suggest that you read it UNLESS you feel you might be triggered by fatphobia. Cause there’s a major trigger warning on this baby. If you can’t get through the whole thing, I understand, but just give yourself a little taste of what it’s like.

So after I read this comic yesterday (and I forced myself through the whole thing, thinking there must be some redeeming feature to it, as people I respected had linked to it), I found myself somewhat flabbergasted that people were holding this up as funny and true and something they identified with. This comic signifies to me about 99% of the reason that everyone I know is miserable and hates themselves. The author openly admits that his behaviors are atrociously damaging, but people were happily linking to it and saying “oh yeah that’s me!” I find myself somewhat perplexed, and so without further ado I’m going to break down exactly what I find wrong with this fat-shaming, self-hating, disturbingly-reminiscent-of-bulimia comic.

 

So let’s start with The Blerch. The Blerch signifies to me everything that is wrong with American approaches to mental and physical health. The author describes the Blerch as the thing that asks him to slow down or to stop. He calls it blerching when he is sedentary with “no good reason to be sedentary”. He is constantly trying to escape The Blerch, and makes it out to be something terrible or horrible that will ruin his life if he allows it to catch him.

There are a lot of problems with this. First, it seems to pain laziness as the greatest evil in the world. This is weird to me, as laziness really is not that harmful of an action. No, it’s not great, but all of us need a little bit of relaxation in our lives and that’s ok. It’s part of recharging our batteries, staying sane, taking care of ourselves. Giving yourself rest is not a sin. It is in fact necessary, good, and worth it.

Second, The Blerch is predicated on the idea that you need an excuse to be sedentary. Let that sink in: if you want to sit down or lie down, you need to earn it. The only time you get to stop accomplishing things, or eat, or have fun, or relax is if you’ve earned it somehow. That’s bullshit. These are all basic human rights and no one should feel as if they can’t do them unless they’ve run 20 miles. I often hear friends and family members speaking disparagingly about themselves for taking the afternoon off or for sleeping in, because for some reason this equates to be lazy and worthless and pointless. This comic just reinforces that over and over again. You need to have earned the right to sit on the couch, otherwise you are The Blerch. The examples the author gives of the “bad things” The Blerch asks him to do are such horrendous activities as sleeping in or reading bad book reviews. Sleeping in is actually a wholly human impulse and a part of self-care, as is doing something silly like reading bad book reviews. We really shouldn’t be demonizing activities that allow us to take care of ourselves. We should be allowed to things we want to do simply because we want to do them sometimes.

The third thing that’s really scary about The Blerch is all the fat-shaming that it seems to represent. Apparently it’s the author’s previous fat self (who was really horrible?? I don’t know, but I guess he doesn’t want to be that person anymore), and somehow The Blerch manages to equate self-caring actions with being fat and then equate fat with lazy. Not good.

So then we come to the second page, wherein the author describes his eating habits. He says he eats to reward himself for things. Ok, this is not the healthiest thing in the world, but it’s fairly common and there’s a lot of therapy programs out there that can help you find a healthier relationship to food. However apparently in his mind, this makes him a horrible glutton. The most telling piece of this comic is to me the following: “I run to eat. I punish my body outdoors to atone for my atrocities indoors”. There’s a lot to break down here.

A.Food is not something to atone for. It is not a sin.

B. Do you notice how he equates eating with atrocities? That is fucked up beyond belief. And our society does that ALL THE TIME. Eating a lot is somehow on par with criminal behavior. Notice how he portrays himself in these panels: disgusting, grotesque, disturbing. As if there is something horribly, horrifically wrong with eating, or with eating unhealthily. Being unhealthy is not the same as committing atrocities, and equating the two is a huge part of how fucked up our relationship with food is right now.

C.It appears that in this world there are two ways to be: perfect, calorie counting robot, or self-destructive binger. This is sad. It’s also a really unhealthy way to approach food, and it’s a dichotomy that gets reinforced a lot. It also seems like it’s destroying something he actually enjoys: he says that running makes him feel alive, but he also acts as though he compulsively has to do it to work off his food. Recognizing that there are other options could make both food and running more joyful (this could apply to all sorts of behaviors that people use to cope with overeating or guilt about food).

But what disturbs me most is the end. He recognizes that it’s unhealthy and then he says he’s not going to stop. The problem is that he doesn’t seem to recognize just what is unhealthy about his behaviors. He appears to think that it’s just physically unhealthy to eat that much. Unfortunately, what he’s describing sounds an awful lot like bulimia. Obviously I can’t diagnose him over the internet, but what he’s describing is unhealthy not just for what it might do to his body, but moreso for the self-hatred, shame, guilt, and disgust he has. Even more worrisome is that many people felt that they could relate to this picture.

And now we are on page 3. Here is where we start to get into what the author views as positive things or positive feelings, and they mostly seem to center around accomplishing things. He says that cleaning the house, paying your bills, and catching up on email feels like nirvana. This seems a little weird to me. Shouldn’t bliss be more like spending time with someone you love or doing something you really enjoy? Why the obsession with accomplishing?

For some reason, getting stuff done is once again treated as the end all be all of being a good person. This is screwy, but again, part of the fabric of our society: we’re trained to believe that the best thing we can do is get stuff done, and that if we’re not getting stuff done then we’re fuck ups. We’re trained to think that we shouldn’t feel good about ourselves unless we’ve accomplished things. This is a highway to depression, and this comic is reinforcing it over and over again. The fact that sometimes you can’t clean the house or check your email doesn’t mean you’re a fuck up or you should be able to do those things: it means that hard things are hard, or that you’re tired, or that you just don’t like doing those things.

So now we move on to page 4. This is where he begins to talk about vanity, and makes it VERY clear to us that he’s not running out of vanity because he’s not like those shitty people at the gym over there who are stupid and use tanning beds. We get another heaping pile of shame for other people’s choices all over this page. Why the hell does he care if these people choose to go to a tanning bed? I don’t know, but apparently it’s a really big deal to him.

And then he goes on to say that he runs to feel good, not to look good. It’s interesting because this seems to contradict all the self-hatred that he had in the previous 3 pages. He seems to have been saying that he runs so as not to feel like a miserable waste of space, and then he says he does it because it makes him happy. Perhaps it’s both, but accomplishing for accomplishment’s sake is just as empty as looks, so maybe those of us who are highly motivated need to be careful before we look down on the gym rats.

And now we arrive at page 5, which sounds like something out of Dante, and disturbs me all to hell because it is yet another example of how in our society feeling miserable and in pain is equated with earning something, finding serenity, and being a really great person. So the first sentence describes this as the most wonderful and terrible run the author has ever had. Now I hope I don’t have to be the first to point out that suggesting wonderful and terrible should be descriptors of the same thing is a little off, and that maybe we should rethink our concept of wonderful if it includes things like giant hornets and crazy heat and dehydration.

Also the whole scenario he describes is horrifically unhealthy and kind of unintelligent: why would you go running in that kind of heat? That’s asking for something bad to happen, because it’s nearly impossible to keep yourself hydrated enough. But it’s considered something awesome because he was pushing himself through pain, he was showing what he could do. I can only ask, to what end? Why is it amazing? What is it about feeling like shit that we think inevitably leads to a great gain of some kind?

For some reason pain and good have become linked in our minds. If we did something through pain then we are good. Unfortunately that doesn’t make any sense. Because it doesn’t.  Sacrifice, particularly self-sacrifice, requires an end: you can’t just put yourself through a lot of pain and think that something great will magically appear because you sacrificed. It has to be for a reason and a purpose. You have to jump on a grenade that’s actually going to explode in front of someone else, not just jump on top of a grenade. And it seems to me that this particular page is promoting jumping on random grenades: make yourself feel miserable! You’ll get so much out of it! You’ll be a better person! Huzzah! It openly admits that there was no pleasure in this run, but it’s still holding it up as the best and most meaningful run.

Ok. Final page. In this page, we are treated to the part where the run gets better: it doesn’t matter what the purpose of life is because he is KING OF THE MOUNTAIN because it started raining and he feels better. Um…ok? I mean, it’s nice that you can just say that the purpose of life doesn’t matter because you feel very full of life. But why does that have to come at the cost of extreme bodily deprivation and pain? I have a hint for you: it doesn’t. And when you say that the reason you don’t care about thinking about the why is because the world is full of beauty and agony…well that sounds a little fucked up to me. Your agony did not earn you anything in this case. It would be really nice if we could start separating beauty from agony and realizing that sometimes great insights come from completely not painful and not shitty situations.

The final conclusion tries to be positive, because it wants to spin the whole thing into meaning that everything will be ok if you experience life. Unfortunately this doesn’t cover up all the self-hatred that was the reason for running in the first place, and it doesn’t cover up how much shame is bleeding out of this comic, and it doesn’t cover up the fact that the obsession with doing more and going further for no particular reason even if it makes you miserable gets pushed over and over. Somehow I get the message from this comic that when we’re feeling bad and shitty about ourselves, the answer isn’t to ask why, or try to do something nice for us, but rather the solution is to beat ourselves into a bloody pulp to live up to some masochistic ideal that society has painted for us. It’s screwed up, it shames people who might have any kind of illness or disorder and thus CAN’T do these things, and it glorifies pain, and suffering for no reason. It ignores what might actually create a fulfilled or positive life and eschews those things in favor of getting stuff done, regardless of what the end purpose of that stuff is. And in the end, it says that the part of us that is afraid and hungry and needs something should be stuffed away and run from so that we can get more done.

Now here is the point where I’m going to insert a caveat: I’m not really all that mad at the writer of this comic. It appears to me that the comic was written out of a really unhappy place, and that he’s in some way trying to come clean about how miserable he is. There are places that he acknowledges that he is doing things really badly and trying to trick himself into thinking he’s happy. I think that he’s a product of a society that tells people these same shitty messages over and over again. And I wish I could say something to him that would snap him out of this mindset.

But I do think it’s important to dismantle what’s wrong with this comic because he is contributing to the general milieu that suggests we always need to be moving and accomplishing. I also feel that this comic crystallizes very well many of the negative impulses in our society that people view as positive, and I see this in the positive reaction the comic is getting. So. I don’t blame him, he recognizes he’s being unhealthy, but I do want to call out how he’s playing into unhealthy stereotypes. He says that his need to run comes out of his wish to do really amazing, good things like cure cancer. This makes me incredibly sad, because it seems to me that as the writer of The Oatmeal, he’s already shown that he has some pretty amazing talents and is doing something with them, but it’s not enough for him.

I don’t like this mindset. It’s made me miserable and it’s made people I love miserable. Accomplishment is not everything, nor does it determine your worth as a human being. And this shaming comic implies over and over again that it does. I wish people would stop sharing it.

Intersectionality: Mental Illness and Fatphobia

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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.

Thin Privilege and Fat Phobia

This is me at one of my lowest weights. Lucky me I got light-headedness and heart palpitations!

I spend a fair amount of time on tumblr, which means that I spend a fair amount of time hearing about thin privilege. At first I was kind of annoyed by this concept (as I think every privileged person is at each new iteration of their privilege), but I have come to understand that there are elements of being overweight that I will never understand, never experience, and that are difficult. I understand that it can affect your job prospects, and that it can affect the way that doctors treat you and diagnose you. I understand that there are difficulties being a fat person that a thin person will never experience.

But there is still something that rubs me the wrong way about many of the examples of thin privilege that people have provided to me. Partially this is because I have an eating disorder, and so it is INCREDIBLY difficult for me to view my size as a privilege, because it has come at the expense of my health, well-being, mental stability, and many of my relationships. But beyond that, many of the examples of “thin privilege” or “fatphobia” that I hear being thrown around seem to me simply to be examples of sexism. For example, many fat women have said that thin women can eat whatever they want without being judged for it. This is patently untrue, as I have been judged for eating anything that appears low-calorie, or as if I’m watching my weight as a thin woman. The problem seems to be that people feel they deserve any say over what women eat because they deserve a say in women’s health or beauty or appearance. I have rarely heard men complain about this same thing, and I have certainly seen thin women judged on their food choices, just like fat women.

I also have heard many fat people say that they have been denied medical treatment because of their size, and told that all they have to do is lose weight. Well even when I was underweight, even when I was severely damaging my health and really truly ill, doctors never looked any further because my size appeared “healthy”. Those standards of weight and size negatively affect everyone involved. They may come down more harshly on those who are fat, but many of those same problems can be traced back to expectations of women’s bodies. In one study, new healthcare professionals even professed more bias and judgment towards individuals with anorexia than they did towards individuals who were overweight or had diabetes. Each is considered a disease in its own way.

Now there absolutely are examples of fatphobia and thin privilege. The attempts to charge more to overweight individuals to fly, or the constant labeling of the “obesity epidemic” spring readily to mind. But I think that many of the problems that overweight individuals face overlap heavily with sexism and general expectations of women’s bodies, and that we should be willing to accept that some of these problems cut all ways and harm EVERYONE. 

(The featured image is me at one of my lowest weights. Lucky me, I got light-headedness and heart palpitations! Remembering that time it’s hard to view my weight as a privilege, but I’m doing my best)

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“Because it’s so GREAT and ENVIABLE to have your womanhood validated by straight men’s demeaning cat-calls. Because, in some fucking alternate world I’ve never had the luxury of visiting, being deemed sexually attractive by the standards of our culture means no longer being subject to body-policing (seriously… in what fucking world?!?). Etc.”

I recently ran into this quote on Natalie Reed’s blog (hurry up and get over there, she’s leaving soon and the archives will disappear. You’ll miss out on LOTS if you don’t read some of her stuff) about “passing” in trans* culture, and how for many people, passing is the gold standard of “trans-ness” (I’m really bad with this language because these issues really aren’t my personal ones and I’m still educating myself so please forgive any offensive or inappropriate language, I am trying my best and if you see something that’s wrong feel free to comment and let me know). It’s in response to the idea that as a trans woman, being found attractive by straight men is wonderful.

What really stood out to me was the last sentence: “In some fucking alternative world I’ve never had the luxury of visiting, being deemed sexually attractive by the standards of our culture means no longer being subject to body-policing”. OH MY GOD YES. This is something that has driven me crazy for ages. The dialogue about bodies and body shaming right now very much centers around fat, fat phobia, fat acceptance. That’s fine. Those are obviously the bodies that get the most shaming and policing. But there’s something far more insidious that goes on, even with bodies deemed “attractive”. And that goes beyond fat shaming, and into straight up sexism.

I have always been relatively conventionally attractive. I’m white, I’m slim, I’m tall. I personally don’t think I’m all that much to look at, but in general I fit into the basic demographic categories that should make me “attractive”. That doesn’t mean that I escape from body policing or body shaming. While I obviously agree that a dialogue around fatness and the cruelty people bring to fat individuals is important, I also think it’s important to point out instances in which EVERYONE is body policed, and to recognize those as instances in which female bodies are viewed as public property.

As a skinny individual, I have had people tell me that I need to eat more. That I look unhealthy. People have congratulated me when I eat unhealthy foods. I have had friends tell me I should wear more revealing clothing to show off my assets, and I have had boyfriends tell me to wear less revealing clothing because they didn’t want guys staring at my body. I have been told that I can firm up my fat into muscle if I exercise more, I’ve been told I’m too pudgy, I’ve been told my boobs are too small. Yeah, I’ve been cat-called. Starting when I was 13. I’ve been told my skirt is too short, that I should get contacts, that I should cut my hair or grow out my hair or wear my hear up or wear my hair down.

While many people who are fat think that they are the only people who get this type of interaction, the interaction that says “oh your body would look better if only…”, that is simply not true. They may think that other people pay no attention to how skinny people eat. Again, not true. All of these are marks of the way that many people feel as if they have a right to others’ bodies, or a right to some measure of attractiveness from the bodies around them. Most often this is in relation to women, which is why it appears to be a sign of sexism to me. More often than not, I get these kinds of comments from strangers or bare acquaintances, who feel that it is their business or duty to tell me how to look attractive or what to do with my body, although in some cases it’s someone who’s very close who feels that my body belongs to them. Most often it’s males, but sometimes it’s females who think they’re “doing me a favor”. I believe that on some level, the societal belief that they’re entitle to fat people’s bodies might be related to sexism. Often we see overweight men emasculated: the first derogatory term I think of when I think of an obese man is “manboobs”. Masculinity is supposed to be associated with strength, with physical ability, with virility, with power. These are not things we associate with the overweight, and I think that for many, being overweight is emasculating. This seems to allow other men to feel they have a right to criticize or control that body.

What all these ideas do is tell me and others that we need to be attractive (or masculine and fit). That that’s the rent I owe for taking up the space I’m in. That it is other people’s business how I look and what I do with my body. In reality, it should not affect anyone around me if I went out wearing a burlap sack, because what I do with my body and my clothes is my business, and I owe no one “cuteness”. And in high school when I was told over and over that my skirt had to be a certain length, or my shirt had to buttoned up so high, they perpetuated the idea that my body was dangerous, that boys would do bad things or be distracted or that it was simply WRONG if I let people see my body. And that my body had to be arranged in the appropriate way for those around me, both looking good (shirt had to be tucked in, right color shirt and shoes, no hair over eyes), and not showing too much to cause a ruckus.

Perhaps it should be time to start leaving other people’s bodies alone. Someone’s body is an intimate part of their self, and as a society we have cut ourselves off from that. We have decided that bodies are vessels that we need to perfect, and when we’ve perfected them then we’ll be free from any of this policing. But that’s not how it works. Bodies are an integral part of how we experience the world and ourselves, and our physical reactions to things make up a huge part of our identity. That is not something to perfect, but something to embrace. And no matter how “perfect” we become, if we view our bodies mechanically, we will always see how we could get better and continue to rip each other apart, because why would you keep something that is subpar? Our bodies don’t owe anyone else anything. Not attractiveness, not skinniness, not whiteness, not femininity or masculinity, nothing. We don’t have to earn our space or our bodies.

Body Policing and Attractiveness: They Can Live Together