The Problem With Laziness

To many people, laziness is a moral failing. We use it to denote someone who doesn’t deserve things because they don’t try hard enough. It’s used to slam someone, to decrease their credibility, to insult them for not being good enough.

I don’t think that laziness is a moral failing.

Whoa whoa whoa, I’m sure someone out there is saying. Shouldn’t people be willing to work for what they want? Isn’t it bad to just sit back and make other people do work without putting in any effort yourself?

To this hypothetical naysayer I say hold your horses. Lazy is a huge term that refers to all kinds of behaviors. Let’s take a minute to pull apart all the different things it might be referring to and all the potential downsides of adding a moral judgment to calling someone lazy.

The first and largest problem I see with the term lazy is that it’s unclear (making it a somewhat lazy turn of phrase itself). Some people use lazy to mean that others aren’t working as hard as they do, or up to their expectations. Some people use it to mean people who are doing things in an easier or more effective way. Some people use it to mean entitled. Some people use it to mean selfish. Some people use it to mean they can’t see another person doing work.

Many people use lazy to point out behaviors that don’t make sense to them. People who are disabled, have mental illnesses, are chronically ill, or are in some other oppressed get labeled as lazy because their behavior doesn’t make sense to people with privilege. When I’m depressed it can take all of my energy just to get out of bed and make it in to work. I sleep a LOT and cannot get by on less than 10 hours of sleep a day. Many people would label that lazy, but I’m physically incapable of doing much different.

So first and foremost, I don’t necessarily know what someone is criticizing when they call something lazy. In many cases it is a fundamental misunderstanding of mental or physical illnesses that assumes everyone should be able to keep up with an able-bodied, healthy person. I don’t hold with that. It’s oppressive and is one of the ways people keep disabled and ill folks from having access to basic services.

Second, calling another person lazy often relies on a lot of assumptions. If you really do only mean it’s bad to be lazy if you’re choosing not to work when you could be working, then you better know someone’s situation quite intimately before you call them lazy. You need to know how hard they’ve tried, their health (both physical and mental), their abilities, their family situation, every other drain on their time and energy…so really unless you’re best friends or living with someone I don’t know how you can reasonably call them lazy and assume it’s justified.

But really what kills me about accusations of laziness is that more often than not they’re about someone getting some kind of payoff without trying hard. And I hate to break it to you all, but that’s not a bad thing. There’s no moral law that says you’re a bad person if you get nice things with some ease. What IS a problem is when your behavior affects others. If you aren’t willing to do work but you expect others to take care of you, you’re being selfish and entitled. Yes, also probably lazy, but that’s not the problem so much as your attitudes towards others are.

Every single human being has times when they don’t want to work. Probably lots of times. If that were a moral failing we’d all be screwed. All of us have some times when we choose not to work, despite technically being capable of doing it. That is actually incredibly healthy most of the time. The problem then isn’t “not working” it’s “not working and forcing someone else to do work for you.” Those are two very different things, and I’m not so sure we can even call the second one laziness.

Beyond all of the issues with what we’re actually referring to when we say laziness, I also see people calling others lazy when they ask for help or support. This is especially troubling to me because most of the people I see doling out accusations of laziness are relatively privileged people. People who already have basic support systems that help them out if they can’t make rent or if they need a new car or if they need help moving. All those things that they seem to think others should do on their own. It’s easy to look at someone asking for money to help raise their kid and say “they should have thought of that before they had a kid.” But most middle class people get the benefit of a baby shower and hand me downs and grandparents as baby sitters, and all kinds of other hidden benefits of having a supportive family.

 

 

I worry that the language of laziness is another way to berate people in oppressed groups for not having the same privileges that “normal” people do. I worry that it’s a way to shame fat people for not being able to exercise the same way as thin people, a way to shame queer people for not having family supports, to shame poor people for having poor families and neighborhoods, to shame atheists and non-religious folks for not having a church community to support them.

I am happy to see people asking for more. I am happy to see personal fundraisers, and people openly talking about their welfare or food stamps. I am happy because I like to see people asking for what they need. It cultivates a culture in which we can all speak up about our needs and wants and all take responsibility for how we respond. And I’m happy because I don’t know anyone’s situation, but I do know it takes a lot to get past the shame of feeling lazy and worthless.

I’m a Duck

It’s been a rough few weeks for me. I’ve had a lot of stress happening, and some close friends have had bad things happen to them, and I’ve been left feeling like the best I can do on any given day is make it to work, sit my butt in the chair, and not cry. I have a lot of friends who have been trying to help, giving me advice, telling me what works for them. Unfortunately, these tend to be people who are not suffering from mental illness or who have never suffered from mental illness. And so I’ve spent a lot of this week staring people’s privilege in the face while they tell me I should just “be more social” or “stop watching TV”, and I have to explain how that’s not possible for me right now.

People don’t understand why I can’t make certain changes in my life. That makes sense. I don’t look sick or injured. I am not mentally incapable in any way, and sometimes I can get a great deal done in a short period of time. I sleep enough, I don’t have an excess of things going on. What is it about my life that makes it so impossible for me to adjust my priorities and work on things like socializing or reading more often or cutting TV out of my life or exercising?

The difference between your life and mine is made up of spoons. For you, getting out of bed, eating your breakfast, and going to work might not take much out of you. For me, it’s a difficult process that requires a lot of high level thinking and a lot of emotional regulation skills. The best metaphor that I know of is that my dad once described me as a duck: people watching me on the surface of a lake might think that I’m placidly swimming along without putting much effort in, but if you look just below the surface I’m paddling my little heart out. That’s what having a mental illness is. Now you might ask what am I doing under the surface just to get out of bed and make it to work in the morning. Well, I’m fighting my own brain.

Let’s just take today as an example. Last night I had a meltdown about socializing, which means that today I woke up tired. I spent a good ten minutes convincing myself that yes, I did have to go to work today and face people again (typically it takes me ten minutes between waking up and getting to work, so that’s a lot of time for me). I then spent the next ten minutes trying to decide whether to buy coffee now or later. To you this is no big deal. To me, this is an important choice. Coffee is an appetite suppressant. If I drink my coffee first thing in the morning, I’m more likely to get hungry for lunch. Drinking coffee first thing in the morning rather than later is a conscious choice to try to set myself up to eat. However leaving my office to go get coffee halfway through the day can be an important act of self care. I spend half my morning trying to decide whether I want to prioritize eating or breaking up the boredom and anxiety of my day.

After I get to work, I look at my to-do list. I have about enough actual work to last me an hour, then the rest of my day is spent killing time. Boredom triggers anxiety for me. Huge anxiety. I try to think of as many possible things to distract myself as I can, and then I write them down. Now I have to decide how to start my day. Generally if I go until 10:00 without accomplishing any work, I begin to wallow in self-judgment, however if I usually don’t have much energy first thing in the morning and if I finish all my work first thing I fall back into boredom by the end of the day (see: anxiety). Over and over I renumber the things on my list to try to find the perfect combination of real work and social media work to keep myself engaged and not feeling like a failure.

Currently, my phone has a single message. I know who it’s from. I can see the little red light blinking at me. It’s from someone who doesn’t speak English, who’s called me repeatedly. I tried to send him to intake where they have interpreters, but thus far I haven’t been able to get him the help he needs. I’m afraid to listen to the message and be reminded that I couldn’t help this person, so instead every time I glance over at my phone I have a flashing red reminder of it. This means more mindfulness and emotion regulation work to keep my anxiety and self-hatred in check.

After I finally get my list in order and start doing work, I have a hard time concentrating on one thing because I always think I should be completing everything at once. Periodically my work will devolve into rabid clicking between tabs, typing two words before jumping to something else. When this happens I have to take five minutes to close my eyes and breathe slowly, reminding myself of one-mindfulness. Finally I make it to writing this blog. Some of you might say this is a waste of my time or that I could be spending the time saving my energy for something more beneficial later today. The reason I’m choosing to do this is because it’s a distraction, and when I don’t distract at work I start to get extremely anxious (see again, boredom). Anxiety takes more energy, and leaves me potentially incapable of staying at work for the rest of the day. In the back of my mind there’s the ever present knowledge that my to-do list is not long enough for eight hours. I am always playing out little arguments with that fear, trying to keep myself in the here and now.

It’s now about 1 PM and I haven’t eaten lunch yet. I’ve been thinking about lunch since I got to work though. I’ve imagined what I could eat, how long it would take. I know that eating is a nice break from staring at the computer for me, and that it leaves me feeling a little bit refreshed. However it also leaves me with a lot of judgments and depression about myself that distract me and require a good deal of work to leave behind. Thinking about food is stressful, so the past five hours have been rough, thinking of how good it would taste before immediately jumping to the fat on my stomach or my thighs and the jeans that I didn’t fit into this morning. Back and forth, back and forth I go, my brain constantly ping-ponging between the arguments for and against food. By the time I actually get around to eating I’m almost out of the ability to manage stress, and so eating leaves me very vulnerable. Simply making it to the end of my work day might take all the rest of my energy.

But I also have therapy today, and as anyone who’s been to therapy knows that’s emotionally draining. So by the time I get to the end of the day I will be fairly worn out. I’m planning to cook dinner, because one of my goals is to be able to cook instead of eating out so that I can afford to feed myself in the future. This has also been a balancing act of anxiety about money and anxiety about food. I have to go to the grocery store, which at times has left me bawling in the fetal position, so I’m already steeling myself against that experience. This all will take a great deal of my emotional energy because food makes me worried and afraid, and I will need to use a lot of calming strategies to deal with it. Every one of these stressors not only takes up some of my attention and my energy, but then asks me to engage a complementary skill or coping strategy so that I can make it through the day, keep my job, and not have a melt down.

Add in to all of this that if I don’t eat, I’ll be dizzy and tired by the time I leave work, and the fact that I spend all day at my office freezing cold and trying to warm myself up, and it leaves me fairly exhausted by the end of my day. If I were to go out and try to socialize, it would be all I could do to smile and nod. I have no energy left to read instead of watching TV because my eyes would fall out of focus and I’d read the same paragraph over and over and over. I have spent all day reviewing the DBT skills options and trying desperately to engage skills that I’m still learning and which are incredibly difficult for me. This is a light day for me. Every day of my life I spend constantly calculating how much I can handle and how to manage my emotions.

Some people might say that we always get to choose how we act or what our attitude is, however the fact that I have to deal with all this anxiety is not a choice of mine. I can make choices about how to react to it, and about how to use the small amounts of energy I have. I can make choices about where to spend my time and focus when I have the energy to calm myself. And yes, I do get some choice about what to do with my spare time. However I don’t get to make a choice about the fact that my brain is nearly always screaming at me with something it wants to take up my full attention. I’m left with a very limited number of choices: listen and freak out. Engage skills. Or stuff it all down and pretend it’s not there. I don’t really get to prioritize other things over these because these are always immediate, strong emotions that demand attention. Survival is always my priority.

With all this going on just below the surface simply to keep myself a functioning member of society, is it any surprise that it sounds ridiculous to me to suggest that I should just change my lifestyle up, or face my social fears? Is it any surprise that I simply CAN’T strike up more conversations or spend a lot of time emotionally prepping myself for social encounters? Is it any surprise that I’m hurt and upset when people suggest these things because they invalidate all of the work that I’m doing and then tell me that I should take responsibility for being lonely and frustrated with my life?

I realize that for the most part all of this work is invisible, and so no one means ill when they suggest things to me. But from the perspective of anyone with an invisible illness, you all need to know that it hurts when you say that.

It’s hard enough to validate myself and the work that I’m doing as it is. Society is hardly patting me on the back for giving myself permission to take a nap last night instead of calling my loan company. I already feel useless and incompetent at many things because I don’t have the energy to figure them out right now and because the work that I am doing hardly looks like work (right now my to do list includes things like “cook”,  “Hot bath”, “make it to the end of the work day”, and “eat lunch”. I feel like I should probably just add “breathe” on there with how basic most of this stuff is). Being reminded that I have so much more I could be doing, or that I supposedly have the ability to change my situation if I just tried hard enough feels horrible. It makes me feel like everything is my fault, and it tells me that if I want to have a better life I should just change.

Remember that having extra energy or the choice of how to prioritize things in your life is a privilege. Survival is my priority and it has to be right now. Whenever it looks like someone isn’t doing very much but is worn down and complaining, contemplate how much they might be doing under the surface.

Empathy for the Neurotypical

Note: for the purposes of this post I’m using “neurotypical” in a more inclusive way than usual. Generally it’s used to contrast with Autism Spectrum Disorders. In this case I’m going to use it to refer to anyone without a diagnosis of a mental illness or disorder.

I have to admit something: I am not always a person who has a lot of sympathy for others. School comes easily to me, so when I hear someone say “I had to study for TEN HOURS for that test”, I have a hard time replying “That sounds horrible” instead of rolling my eyes and saying “Why the hell did you waste all that time? I didn’t study at all and I got an A.” I’ve spent a lot of time trying to teach myself the empathy required to understand that I’m highly privileged in that regard. But the area that’s actually the MOST difficult for me to be sympathetic is one in which I am highly underprivileged: depression, sadness, and difficult life situations.

One would think that with all my colorful and varied experiences of depression and mental illness, I would be the perfect person to talk to when you’re having a rough day. I’ve been there. I understand. I get that feeling. When I’m talking to someone else with mental illness, I”m fairly good at this (except when I can recognize stupid behaviors that I’ve done in the past like emotional manipulation or passive aggression or compliment fishing). But this week I had a neurotypical friend who is generally very happy and who has had a fairly easy emotional life get hit with something really hard and I’ve been trying my absolute best to be there for him. And I’ve found that my patience dwindles a lot more quickly than I would have expected.

Because here’s the thing: I have spent the last four years of my life spending the vast majority of my days in the emotional state that this friend is in. For the most part I’ve kept quiet about it to him and the majority of those in my life. I’ve worked and worked and worked to even survive to where I am right now. For the most part, my friends have been kind, but they haven’t particularly wanted to hear about how I hate myself. Getting through a week of depression is every week for me. And so when someone says they don’t know how they’ll survive because they’ve spent four days hurting I just want to scream back “THIS IS MY LIFE EVERY FUCKING DAY. EXCUSE ME IF I DON’T ROLL OVER AND ASK WHAT I CAN DO TO FIX YOUR WEEK.” I realize that it makes no sense to compare suffering. Just because my base level of suffering is higher and I’ve learned to handle it doesn’t mean that what my friend is feeling is any less of a major life crisis for him.

But when you see someone have their privilege taken away and they’re landed in the same boat you’re in all the time, it’s hard to work yourself up over it. So for those of us who do not have privilege and who spend all of our lives battling in a way that’s invisible to the privileged, we might have to practice empathy in a new way. We are totally familiar with these experiences and feelings. But we have to have the empathy of remembering or imagining what it’s like to experience them for the first time, to get hit with that wave of depression and anxiety without knowing what it is or whether it will end and how to get through it. We have to remember that we’ve built up skills and resistances, that we have had an education in emotional regulation simply by existing with our mental illness, and that those around us don’t necessarily have that education.

Very rarely do I suggest that the un-privileged take a lot of time out of their day to practice empathy towards the privileged. But when the privileged get knocked off their pedestal, they’re left in a place that those of us who live down here have never experienced, a place that’s scary and lonely and neither privileged nor un-privileged. It is often an eye-opening experience for those people, and if we can bring ourselves to see that they’re experiencing something we don’t have to experience every day, we can help them take some good lessons from that experience. Hopefully it can help us create a situation in which the neurotypical is left with a greater understanding of what it’s like to have a mental illness, and the neurodiverse person is left feeling like they have been compassionate and kind, and gained a stronger friend or ally from the experience, as well as helped stop a cycle of oppression.

And for the neurotypical among us, let me just say that your behavior towards your neurodiverse peeps when you’re doing ok can have a big impact on how much empathy they’re willing to have when you’re in a rough spot. If you never give them the benefit of empathy or of listening to their experiences or of accepting that their experience of the world is radically different from yours, they’re not likely to try to do the same for you. If you tell them they should just change their attitude, or that nothing’s really wrong and it’ll all be ok, or that you just don’t get why they’re unhappy or how they can be so introverted because it makes no sense, they’re not likely to spend the time understanding the nuance of your problems. Empathy goes both ways.

All of that said, no matter what the situation, taking care of self comes first (ESPECIALLY WHEN YOU HAVE A MENTAL ILLNESS). You don’t have to practice empathy at the expense of your own mental health. If you’re having a low spoons day and your friend is breaking down about not getting a job, you get to beg out of being the shoulder they cry on because you never have to give out of what you don’t have. If the difficulties your friend is experiencing and word-vomiting everywhere are triggering to you? You get to tell them to tone it down or stop.  Relationships are always about finding the balance between your own needs and the needs of the other.

The Privileges of Space

One of the most common forms of privilege is the privilege of not having to think about or see something. The privilege of being able-bodied is often not having to think about how you’ll get somewhere. The privilege of being male is not having to think about whether your gender will affect how people treat you or respect you. I think we all know this, but it was driven home to me in a conversation I was having yesterday. I was talking to a friend about public transit, and he said that he didn’t like to see the crazies on public transit, or the moms trying to juggle a bunch of kids, or all the other sad things that you often see on a bus. I mentioned that those things don’t go away if you don’t see them, and his response was that he still didn’t want to see it.

 

There’s a huge amount of privilege in being able to say that and then hop in your car and drive yourself to work so you don’t have to notice things like poverty, mental illness, or disease around you. It is the amazing privilege of being able to choose your spaces, and put yourself only in situations that you feel comfortable in. I have always thought that space and the ability to own a space is one of the most important forms of power. Space is sacred for many people: even acting in certain ways in particular spaces is considered dirty, wrong, or sacrilegious. Someone who is “in your space” immediately feels threatened. And for those people who feel they can’t take up space, they often feel invisible or useless.

 

Being able to create and choose spaces is a huge privilege. These spaces allow you to choose what to see and what not to see. You can choose where to erect walls, who to let in. And often these spaces are created by how we get from place to place. Now more than ever we have all kinds of people mixed together in cities. But if you don’t have to take public transit, you don’t have to interact with those people one neighborhood over or see anyone from the district that isn’t so healthy. You can keep to those places that bar who can enter based on money or on status or on appearance. This is why I believe that everyone should try taking public transit for a while. No, there’s no way to enforce this and no particular real reason to, but it would be an intensely interesting social experiment to see what happens if you require an entire city to take public transit for a week or a month. See how people’s perspectives of each other and of their city change when they start to come into contact with all sorts of people.

 

As someone who used to take public transit regularly and now doesn’t, I know that I have become much more sensitive to difference. After spending 3 years at a heavily white, upper middle class, private college, I became far more aware of race and of difference, more afraid of it, more worried about it. I had never had that hyper-sensitivity, that innate sense that I would treat someone differently because they are different. I’m still not worried about taking public transit or being around people who are different from myself, but I have to be more conscious of it. I have to say to myself that this isn’t my space, it’s space for everyone and everyone deserves it. I wish others had the experience of simply being in space with people of difference. It changes your perspective. It changes what you view as normal. It changes how you see the world. I wish that there were more obligatory spaces that belonged to everyone. I see how privileged my friends are to NOT see the spaces where everyone mixes together and how afraid they are of those spaces and that makes me so sad. Those spaces are to be celebrated.

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.

Thin Privilege and Fat Phobia

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)

Social Justice 101: Intersectionality

So here is the beginning of my attempt to create a backstore of blog posts that I can whip out at a moment’s notice so I don’t have to go through the work of re-explaining privilege or intersectionality or institutional sexism again and again. I’m going to do my best to explain intersectionality in a nutshell, although it is an incredibly complex topic. I’m also going to try to link to a few articles that get into a bit more depth or explain particular aspects of it as well.

SO. Oftentimes when we think about social justice problems we think of them as separate. You might be a feminist, or an advocate for the rights of disabled individuals, or working on race issues, or fighting for GLBT rights. Most often we see these things separated out in the practical work that advocates do (at least partially because it’s really hard to tackle more than one thing at once). But this can also be a serious problem. In feminism in particular, there have been many instances throughout history and today in which feminists use certain kinds of power and privilege to oppress other women: in general, feminism has been for white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, able-bodied, upper-class women, and for people who don’t fit those definitions it has been incredibly difficult to gain recognition in the feminist community and have their concerns heard.

And so out of this problem, the concept of intersectionality was born. Intersectionality is the idea that all of our kinds of privilege interact. It’s not a simple question of having privilege for one thing, and then getting part of your privilege pile taken away because you’re part of a different marginalized group. Different oppressions can build on each other, like trans-misogyny, or they can affect each other in really complicated ways (for example being black and having a mental health concern is very different from being white and having a mental health concern). In some cases, even though you have a lack of privilege, you may be using your other privileges to oppress others in the same marginalized category as you (white women do this to black women in feminism all the time by silencing their concerns).

Intersectionality is also about understanding that we exist in a variety of different systems, and sometimes one system is acting on us more strongly than another. For example if I enter into a conversation with a disabled individual about able-bodied privilege and I try to say that I understand because I have mental health concerns, or that it’s just like ____ or say that they’re ignoring my perspective because they’re talking about their own issues, I’ve just effectively used my oppression as a silencing technique for someone else’s oppression. Intersectionality requires a great deal of listening to all kinds of experiences, and yes, even respecting the one black, Jewish, lesbian, trans-gendered woman you know and understanding that her experience of privilege and oppression is different from other experiences of privilege and oppression.

While there is no time in our lives that oppression doesn’t exist for us because we are female or a person of color or disabled or fat or lower class, that doesn’t mean that all of those oppressions exist in the same ways at all times, or that they are pertinent to all other forms of oppression. Intersectionality asks us to examine what privileges we may be using at any given time, and how that interacts with our oppressions, as well as how it can create unique forms of oppression for other individuals.

For some more resources on intersectionality, I suggest Natalie Reed’s blog (although it may be taken down soon, so get over there while you can), or these websites:

http://blog.twowholecakes.com/2009/07/101-thoughts-on-intersectionality-or-why-theres-no-dark-skinned-fat-black-women-on-more-to-love/

http://www.reddit.com/r/SRSDiscussion/comments/p8k1z/effort_intersectionality_101/

http://lipmag.com/opinion/broadening-feminisms-intersectionality-101/