I was thinking today about how often we are told that, as fat people, everyone who is not fat is a better witness to our experience than we are. How often someone is considered an expert in weight loss, or becoming thin, simply because they happen to be thin.
We are told that we’re not competent witnesses to what and how much we do or should eat, or how much we do or should move. Our bodies are held up as proof that we must be lying or deluded and that we can’t possibly know, or be doing, what’s best for us. We are told that, because of how we look, we should be subject to more scrutiny than those who don’t look like us, we should lose our right to speak for ourselves, we should be stereotyped and stigmatized and bullied and war should be waged against us – that the way we look means that we shouldn’t get to choose how highly we prioritize our health or the path we choose to get there like everyone else does.
We are forced to listen to people like Jillian and Bob on The Biggest Loser prattle on insufferably about how fat people think and what fat people do and what it’s like to be a fat person as if we are all walking around under the guide of the same brain just because we share a single physical characteristic. We, and the rest of society, are told that everyone from Dr. Phil to Dr. Oz to random people on the internet know more about how and why we think and act, and what it’s like to be us, than we do.
When we tell people that constant social stigma is damaging to our health, we are told that it’s for our own good and we should be grateful to hear that our bodies are socially unacceptable more often and more aggressively than we already are. When we tell people that we are not suffering from obesity, but are suffering from stigma and oppression, we are told that we are responsible for solving bullying and social stigma by changing ourselves.
We are told that if we don’t accept someone else’s account of how we think, eat, and exercise, then we’re “in denial”. It’s a system designed to make us powerless. Our oppressors (well-meaning or otherwise) get to tell the world who we are and what we do and how we think and what it’s like to be us, and if we disagree they call us liars, and claim that we are not capable of speaking for ourselves. Not only are we denied a place in discussions about us, we are actively silenced and shouted down when we attempt to speak up. People have managed to successfully stigmatize and stereotype our bodies, and then argue that those stereotypes make us unqualified to advocate for ourselves. Successful stigmatization and oppression should not become self-perpetuating by virtue of self-justification. In other words, this is seriously fucked up.
So if you start to question yourself, to wonder if Dr. Oz really is a better witness to your experience than you are, then I implore you to stop and consider this possibility: You are not wrong, it is not you. It’s a system set up to make us feel that we are not the most credible witnesses to our own experiences. It’s wrong, it’s oppressive, and it shouldn’t happen. The next time somebody feels the need to tell you “something you don’t know” about being you – your body, lifestyle, behaviors, thoughts or health – feel free to tell them (out loud or in your mind) that it’s not you, it’s them; that you know everything you need to know about being you, and when you want their opinion they will be among the very first to know.
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