IMPERFECT Urchins

I’m back from the fabulous Birthdacation that my awesome girlfriend Julianne took me on.  In addition to hiking over rocks to get to amazing beaches (pictures up soon on the Fit Fatty Forum picture gallery), viewing the stunning coastline of Northern California, and marveling at Big Sur, we went to a very cool shop in Morro Bay called The Shell Shop.

They had shells from all over the world.  I was admiring the beauty and differences between all of the shells when I was jarred by a piece of paper that said, in big blog letters “IMPERFECT”  It turns out that there was something wrong with these urchin shells, and so they were less valuable.  Stick with me, I’m going somewhere with this.

It occurred to me how sadly human that perspective that is.  The idea that there is one right way for a sea urchin shell to look and anything outside of that is somehow less valuable is a uniquely human idea.  Happily, since there are no under the sea fashion magazines or photoshopping these urchins probably had no idea that they were IMPERFECT – they likely lived very full lives with no idea that some slight imperfection meant that their shell would someday be less “valuable.”

I wish that we, as a society, could shift our perspective on this.  The whole “there’s only one right way to have a body” perspective doesn’t help anyone as far as I can tell.  Most people will never achieve that look but  many will spend their whole lives, and a large portion of their time, energy and money trying.  Those who do happen to have the “perfect” body can spend their whole lives trying to keep it, terrified of losing it.  People are allowed to choose to do that if they wish, but imagine how different things would be if we lives in a world where all body sizes were celebrated:  Where you turn on the television and the fat leading lady get the guy or you go to the movie where the fat dude is the hero.  Where Disney and Barneys demand a designer talented enough to design a dress for Minnie Mouse, rather than trying to make Minnie into a 5’11 size 0 .  Where there are models who are 5’4 and nobody worries that their body will prevent them from being appreciated for their talents. Where we choose actors based on acting ability and singers based on singing ability and people of every size see themselves represented in all aspects of culture.  We could create that. Here are some ideas and options for how:

Opt out of it for ourselves.  Stop all negative body talk about our own bodies and assert that there is nothing wrong with the bodies we have. Here’s an idea to get you started.

How about an end to body snarking as we know it – no more “fat” as a negative descriptor, no more “she needs to eat a sandwich” when we see very thin women.

Stop confusing weight and health – no more making guesses about people’s health based on their weight – absolutely no assuming that fat people have health problems or that very thin women have eating disorders.

Stop concerning ourselves with other people’s health and stop using health as any kind of barometer of worthiness or sucess.  Health is multi-dimensional and not entirely within our control, health is not a personal, or societal obligation and other people’s health is none of our business which is cool because it means that our health is nobody else’s business.

Stop allowing these behaviors to go unchallenged.  You can engage directly “Body snarking is just not ok” or say something more gentle like “I wish we lived in a world where we could see the beauty in every body” or whatever resonates with you.

Stop giving time and money to places that perpetuate this ideal – don’t buy fashion magazines, don’t buy anything with a weight loss message, stop clicking on “worst bikini body” links.  This system is fueled by our time and money and we can make it run out of gas.

Of course these are just ideas, there are lots of ways to opt out of the system (feel free to add your own in the comments!)  So maybe you love the current system where one body type is seen as “right” and the rest are “wrong” – you have every right to feel that way. But if you’re not having fun here, then let’s make here someplace else.

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I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 5,000 e-mails from readers each month, giving talks to groups who can’t afford to pay, and running projects like the Georgia Billboard Campaign etc. is unpaid, so I created a membership program so that people who read the blog and feel they get value out of it and/or want to  support the work I do can become members for ten bucks a month  To make that even cooler, I’ve now added a component called “DancesWithFat Deals” which are special deals to my members from size positive merchants. Once you are a member I send out an e-mail once a month with the various deals and how to redeem them – your contact info always stays completely private.

So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, I would ask that you consider becoming a member or supporting my work with a  one-time contribution.

The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is always completely free. If you’re curious or uncomfortable about any of this, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

Published in: on October 12, 2012 at 10:36 am  Comments (14)  

14 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Wow. Those urchin shells are IMPERFECT? I love the variation in shading and shape. It makes the display so much more interesting than if they all looked alike.

    Hey! Just like people!

    I keep flashing back to an episode of the Twilight Zone entitled Number Twelve Looks Like You. In it, once a person reached a certain age – about eighteen or nineteen, as I recall – they had an operation to become ‘beautiful.’ Every person had to choose which model they wanted to be, and there were a limited number of models to choose from, so everyone wears their names on the fronts of their clothes so people can tell whom they’re talking to.

    Of course, in addition to all looking alike, the operation also did something to peoples’ brains so they would never question the state or want to think for themselves about anything more important than the latest fashions or how to amuse themselves through another monotonous day.

    That’s not a world I want to live in. I like that I can tell people apart just by a glance. I like that different people have different ideas that may vary drastically from mine and challenge me. I like living in a world where I am allowed to be equally passionate about Project Runway and size acceptance and the novels of Anthony Trollope and baking delicious cakes and protecting the First Amendment and I get to choose where all these interests and dozens more fit into my world.

    Society may put me in the IMPERFECT bin and pity me, but I don’t. I’d much rather be unique.

    • there is a middle school book series ( i dont recall the author) called Pretties, followed by Uglies. They are very similar story lines to your Tv episode example. The teen-age heroine of the series, rebells against the notion and ends up leading a revolution.
      I have a pin , given to me , that says, Have the courage to be inpurfect.

    • That sounds like the Scott Westerfeld “Uglies” series, too. (Wonder if that’s where he got the idea?) The operation in the books turns everyone to “pretty standard”, gives them perfect health, and also makes them passive. I’d rather be fat, unique, and active. Although never getting a cold or having to go to the dentist would be pretty cool.

      • We’re having a book discussion on that tomorrow at my library.

  2. I could use some guidance on this one. “Stop concerning ourselves with other people’s health” struck me sideways.

    I agree that people have the right to make choices about their bodies & health without outside interference. I realize you are likely saying this in the context of “health-based fat critiques/interventions”. I’m all for people making conscious choices about their health.

    That being said, health & appearance can be barometers of a person’s inner life. Right now I am thinking of the people in my life who developed mental illness. I watched their health & self-care go downhill as their mental illness accelerated. The majority of those people lost a lot of weight, and some developed grooming issues. They were not taking care of themselves on a lot of levels.

    How would you suggest I express concern about someone’s health in a respectful way? Is it possible, from your point of view? I was/am close enough to them that I felt some responsibility to address what I was seeing (best friend, sister-in-law, aunt, good friend). Also, I was just scared for people I really cared about. In the end, I brought up what I was seeing calmly & as non-judgmentally as I could, heard them out, & then backed off as much as possible. In some cases it helped, in some it didn’t.

    The boundaries are so confusing here, I’d like to hear your take.

    • From my perspective there is a huge difference between the fact of taking note of the health of other people based on whatever a person feels obligated to poke their nose into vs need based concern due to illness, diagnosed mental health status, etc. I do not feel it necessary to judge another person based on their size, physical status or even mental health/emotional status. Other people’s business is their own just as our business is our personal concern. Forcing our opinion or action upon another unless there is a need is outside the grounds of personal boundaries. I would not tell a parent that their child should do XYZ because it’s my business or believe my insurance rates are going up because somebody’s coworker uses “too much” of their insurance and so I must take that on as a personal mission to qualify, quantify and “fix”.

      With that being said, if you are a caregiver, family member, friend, etc. and have a need based concern or situation, that can differ. Granted our society very poorly manages healthcare for those with mental health disorders (well, many things actually), although more so if they don’t have insurance or if they do but cannot afford to even see a doctor or related. Someone who obviously is hurting themselves or more so, hurting others, more than likely would benefit from intervention. Although a person who has the capacity to make their own decision generally cannot be forced into making changes unless they so choose to do so.

      We can certainly offer our opinion although asking for permission to do so firstly is important. We need to remember that our opinion is solely based on our own perception of what we’ve encountered and experienced our our own life; not the lives of others. Allow the person you want to speak with to voice their feelings and if there is trust and they feel they want help, then allow them to ask. Yes, I very much understand being concerned for others, I also know that there is only so much, and so far, we can do for another. Or that they want us to.

      In the long run, a person’s life, body, health, etc. is their business and it is not up to everyone else to determine otherwise. Even if we “feel” it’s something we should worry about. Yes, if I truly believe a friend/family member/other is in a crisis I will want to help in any way that I can. But unless they request for additional assistance (outside the boundaries of obvious physical harm to them or another), I can only be supportive of the decisions that they make.

      Again, just my viewpoint based on what I’ve experienced and dealt with in my life.

    • I understand what you’re saying. To me there are two hallmarks. One is whether this is the norm for a person, or if I am noticing marked deterioration over a period of time. The norm is just who they are; the changes indicate that something in their life has shifted. Two is my level of intimacy with the person on a regular basis. If it’s a dear friend, you can bet I’m not going to hesitate to ask, “Hey – I’ve noticed some different things lately. Are you really doing OK?”

      If it’s a person I know less well, I’m either going to keep my mouth shut until things are clearer, or I might make note of a couple of things and then find some private time to say, “You know, the last thing in the world I want to do is offend you, but I’m going to risk that because I care about you. I’ve noticed some changes in you lately and I’m worried that something might be going on.” That puts it in caring and non-judgmental nebulous terms and gives them a good opportunity either to put your mind at ease or to tell you to butt out. I would take my followup cue from their response and my level of friendship and intimacy with that person.

      For example, if it were my good friend telling me that he’s noticed some weird changes lately – I am suddenly gaining a lot of weight, or my attitude has become very critical – I would be prone to listen to him. If it were my sister, I would expect a level of interest bordering on invasiveness because her level of honest caring is higher. I once had a very close friend who noted such marked deterioration in me in a very short time frame but who did NOT bring her concerns to me at all. I was flabbergasted and I even asked her why she didn’t say anything to me. Her answer was very cold and it told me that she really did not care about me at all and it signaled the end of our friendship.

      If they insist that nothing is wrong, then let it be for now. If you continue to note additional deterioration or if you begin to notice cognitive changes in the person, then you can follow up more at a later time. At that point I might thinking about involving a third person, preferably someone very close to them. I would let them know my concerns privately as they would be in a better position to observe the person. Chances are they already know what’s going on, but that isn’t always the case.

      In the end, it comes down to using our best judgment.

      I hope that helps.

    • Hi QuiteLight,

      This is a good question. I think that if someone is close to you has changes that are out of character for them, you can try to address in a way that isn’t shaming and separates the behavior change from the outcome. I would start by asking permission, maybe saying something like “Can I talk to you about something uncomfortable” then say “I’ve noticed that things seem to be different with you recently, it may just be me but I wanted to let you know that if there’s something going on I’m always here to talk?” That gives them an escape, doesn’t pressure, and doesn’t shame. If someone is dealing with mental illness, making them feel shame about the result may compound the problem. Does that make sense?

      ~Ragen

      • This very gentle approach probably works in most instances, but sometimes a firm intervention is needed before the person does something that may have irreversible negative consequences (e.g., suicide, job loss, exhorbitant spending spree). Back in the 70s, if someone was clearly out of touch with reality, you could have them committed. Now, it’s a lot more difficult, so family/friends might need to provide aggressive support. My dad has struggled with some form of mental illness for most of his life and was diagnosed with schizophrenia in his early 20s. My dad’s doing pretty good now, but occasionally he starts acting really bizarre, and when that happens, my mom talks to the church elders, who sit down with him and explain that they think he might be hallucinating, rather than hearing God’s voice. When they tell him that, he restrains his behavior until the unstable episode has passed. I’m sure he probably feels ashamed and embarrassed when the church elders confront him, but BELIEVE ME, he would be a lot more ashamed if he didn’t have a loud wake-up call and ended up doing something that could get him in trouble with the law, his job, etc. Since he has realized how effective these interventions are, he has asked us (his family) and his church to let him know when he starts to act weird. He cannot detect this change in himself (perhaps because he’s never 100% with reality; for example, he thinks he’s a prophet, and his fundamentalist church accepts him as one, which is one reason why he’s alarmed when the elders confront him).

        By the way, the gentle approach is completely ineffective with my dad. You can’t say, “I’ve noticed some changes. Let me know if you want to talk about it,” while he’s filling his gas tank up with apple juice. His response would be something like, “Yes, I’m filled with the Lord’s Spirit! God is telling me to buy a mansion and fill it with sociopaths, and go live there among them and share my prophecies with them, so that they too may be filled with the Holy Spirit!” He has to hear from both us and the church elders that he is NOT filled with the Spirit, he is having an episode.

        • Yikes. How scary for all of you!

          • It definitely felt very, very scary when I was a kid, in part because I believed some of the stuff he would say (like that the end times were near). Now I’m confident that if my dad has one of my episodes (which usually happens when there is a big event, such as a family death or job change), his whole support community can help bring him back.

            I should emphasize that I agree with Ragen and everyone, in that I think that the confrontational intervention approach is generally a bad thing, and would be devastating to most emotionally fragile or depressed people, and possibly push them over the edge. Interventions are for people who are already over the edge.

    • Ladies, thank you so much for your thoughtful responses. It sounds like the consensus is to talk respectfully about it if they’re willing, with permission if possible. Then give them space & try to respect their decisions. Unless they’re a threat to themselves or others. Then I guess it’s try to figure out what’s appropriate to the situation. Seriously, I could use a chart or something. A magic one, with the perfect answers, while we’re at it.

      This has come up for me several times in my life, starting when I was a teenager. I have pretty much always waited for the other person to bring up some aspect of their condition & used that to sound them out on the idea of getting some help. (I figure if they bring it up, that is saying they want to talk about it, at least a little bit.) Some have listened, some haven’t, and it’s just starting to sink in that that may be more about them more than me. I can be as thoughtful & eloquent as anything, & they still won’t listen if they don’t want to. Or aren’t ready.

      I believe when issues come up repeatedly in my life it’s so I can learn a particular lesson. I see a pattern of people in my life developing mental illness after I have known them for many years. I can’t see that I’m playing a part in that – they’re not ill when I meet them, so it’s not something I’m searching out. I am seeing it again in one of our oldest friends. My guy & I have each suggested therapy several times when he brought up being unhappy & seemed open to hearing it (he talks to us together & separately) but it kind of feels like he now he wants to crash & burn. (e.g. Divorce, scorched earth to start over, not self-harm, I don’t think. I’ve seen self-harming before.) I don’t understand it, but I think I am at the limit of what I can actually do to help at this point, other than try to support him & his wife & kids as they go through this. I can’t make him get help. I wonder if that’s my lesson in all this, recognizing limits & boundaries. It’s not much fun.

      This was originally a lot longer; I’ve edited it down it a couple of times. This is a complicated issue with a million unique variables for each person & situation, but there’s no need for me to go into them all. The overarching principles seem to apply regardless.

      Thank you for your advice. Good to know it’s confusing for other people too, & it’s reassuring that you’ve wound up with the same kind of answers I did.

  3. I once bought a pair of “imperfect” jeans at a discount store. The zipper was not centered; that is, it was like 2 inches to the left. They were absolutely JUST WHAT my boyfriend needed, what with his “situation”. Imperfect for the general public but perfect for him. And a great markdown!


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