Thought Catalog reprinted my response (sadly without the links) to the ridiculous “6 Questions I Have About Fat Activism” piece by Carolyn Hall. You can read my post about it here, but the short version is that the article didn’t so much ask questions as it ranted against fat acceptance using common fallacies (stereotyping, equating body size with behavior and eating disorders and heroin addiction, and generally misconstruing Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size.) Immediately the haters descended, as I knew that they would because I chose not to mitigate my tone to suit them.
This time they weren’t just upset that I stood up for Fat Acceptance, this time I was also accused of the heinous crime of being angry at being mistreated. People chose to ignore the long piece I had written to complain about the way that I wrote it (aka Tone Policing) and “for my own good” tell me that I wouldn’t convince anyone to agree with me if I wrote that angrily, saying that I “squandered the opportunity” to respond without anger.. Meanwhile other commenters called me names and said that my committing suicide would be a favor to the world. Why on Earth would I be angry?
A couple of things. First of all, let’s be clear that what these people are saying is that they want to both oppress fat people, and control our behavior around how we deal with that oppression. How entitled must one be to think that the people who they are oppressing owe them a smile and a kind word? We are not obligated to deal with bullying, stigma, and oppression in a way that makes our bullies, stigmatizers and oppressors comfortable.
Activism can have many different goals. Sometimes activism is about politely asking people if they wouldn’t mind not oppressing us so much, and sometimes it’s about demanding better treatment. Sometimes it’s just about standing up for ourselves and giving other fat people an opportunity to see that, thus demonstrating an option they may not have been aware of.
I’ve discussed this before and I’m going to re-post a bit of that here:
I am definitely very, very angry – I am, in fact, pissed. There is no excuse for the way that fat people are treated by everyone from the government, to strangers that we meet – I’m angry that treatment happens. That doesn’t mean that I’m not happy – I’m happy about a great many things, and I’m perfectly capable of holding happiness for some things and anger for others at the same time.
Then there is the argument that if I was really at peace with myself, if I really loved my body I wouldn’t be so angry. I’m at peace with myself – I’m at war with a large part of the world, and not of my choosing. Perhaps you’ve heard of the “war on obesity?” That war is against me, and my body. That war tries to convince people (including me) that I, and everyone who looks like me, should be eradicated based on the shaky assumption that it will save society money (as if it’s ok to suggest that a group should be eradicated in order to save society some money.)
Not only am I at peace with myself, I’m at peace with myself despite the fact that I’m being given the message that the way I look is proof that I’m a bad person who deserves shame, stigma and oppression. It is that peace that makes me want to fight for my body and my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which includes the right to exist in a fat body without having the government wage war on me for how I look. It’s my love for my own body that drives the anger.
Let’s try this – Imagine that you have a best friend, and every single day that best friend is bullied, shamed, stigmatized. If you become angry about the way your friend is treated, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a good relationship with your friend, it means that you are justifiably angry at their mistreatment.
I spend a lot of time smiling politely and asking people if they wouldn’t mind not oppressing me. I don’t begrudge that and I don’t apologize for it – it’s effective, it gives people the benefit of the doubt (that perhaps they weren’t aware of the consequences of their actions,) and it’s reasonably pleasant. That doesn’t mean that I’m not angry at a society that condones the behavior and the social constructs that support the behavior. That anger is because I love my body, because I’m at peace with myself and I’d like some peace with the outside world. Nor does it mean that I give up my right to speak out about my oppression in any tone that suits me for any reason I want.
To try to characterized the anger of people who are oppressed as a sign of deficiency in their relationships with themselves is dangerously dis-empowering – it suggests that to prove that we are happy with ourselves we must not speak out against our mistreatment (not to mention the serious issues with having some obligation to prove anything to anyone about how we feel about ourselves in the first place.) That’s flat out wrong – it’s way out of line, and, perhaps not surprisingly, it makes me very, very angry.
I do want to take a second to thank the Rolls Not Troll Facebook community and everyone who took to the comments to defend, educate, and model Size Acceptance – y’all rock!
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