Peaceful Angry Happy

credible hulkReasonably often someone brings up my “anger” in the blog as an issue.  Yesterday a reader named Ame brought it up in a comment and I decided that it’s time to address it:

I’ve read your blog and you are so immensely talented but so very, very angry. You preach like you are at peace with your size but to post blog entry after blog entry that are so filled with anger towards anyone (be they medical or man on the street) that contradicts that being heavy is healthy or a natural state for some, indicates that you are not happy, not at peace with yourself.

Thank you for the kind words.  I don’t know about immensely talented but I am definitely very, very angry – I am, in fact, pissed.  And not just at those who insist that body size and health are the same thing.  Even if health and body size were the same thing it would still not excuse the way that fat people are treated by everyone from the government to strangers that we meet, and I would still be very, very angry. 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.

To suggest that my anger with the way I’m treated indicates that I am “not at peace with myself” makes it seem to me that we should stop the logic train because we’ve had a passenger fall off.  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.

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.

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Published in: on October 7, 2013 at 11:37 am  Comments (68)  

68 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I totally agree with this. I am really happy in my life, but I’m angry too. I’m angry at the patriarchy, I’m angry at the kyriarchy, I’m angry at fatphobia etc etc.

    To say that if I’m happy within myself, the patriarchy (etc) would cease to exist, or cease to be a problem in the wider world, is a big logical fallacy!

  2. Hey, let’s all chill and then social problems will magically disappear.

    They will, won’t they?

    • Oh, how I wish that were true. If only all problems could be solved by chill people having a mug of something warm and a rational, respectful discussion with each other. But that’s not human nature and we haven’t found a way to overcome that yet, so we need legal advocates and activists. A certain amount of focused anger is necessary to those working for justice in the public sector, otherwise they’d collapse under the sheer enormity of the work left to be done. But hey, if we’d all just stop stressing about it, the world would be fair.

  3. I have never liked the attempt to invalidate someone’s position by telling them they are angry, as if anger in and of itself were some kind of psychological or spiritual problem. Legitimate anger can be a force to sweep away injustice, and that’s what I see going on in this blog. I hope the reader who asked the question understands the distinction now.

  4. THIS is why I love your blog… the PERFECT sentence:
    —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.

    Wish I knew how to needlepoint, Every pillow in my house would have that sentence on it. Thanks. –Jen

    • Cross stitch is surprisingly easy, especially if you’re only doing inspirational (or, in my case, ridiculous and/or filthy) quotes. YouTube’s got plenty of how-to videos, and you can get started pretty cheaply with a hank or two of embroidery floss (go to Jo-Ann or Michael’s – Hobby Lobby jacks up the prices), some blunt-eyed needles, and a cheap roll of 14-count Aida cloth. (Aida is a type of weave with really easy-to-see holes.)

      That said, if you knit or do Tunisian crochet, you can cross stitch on both of them beautifully.🙂

  5. Brilliantly stated, Ragen. I love how you empower people to love their fat bodies rather than taking on all the guilt, shame, and disgust that is piled on by society. We can love ourselves and still advocate for change! In fact, is there really any other way?

  6. You are awesome.

  7. For women especially, “strength” is often defined as cheerfully accepting any abuse people want to throw at you.

    • Yes! Well said.

    • Yes! Thank you!

    • Ugh, indeed. One reason I stuck around in an abusive marriage (where asshat had me by the throat via medical insurance) is because I didn’t want to be a coward by running away. How fucked up is that?

      • Susan, I’m so sorry that you went through that.

  8. Like any tool, anger has its uses. And like other tools, anger has legitimate functions. It can also be misused. Of course one doesn’t use a hammer where one needs kitchen twine… but then, one doesn’t use kitchen twine in place of a hammer, either. Both have uses, but one uses them for different tasks. Sometimes chickens need trussing and sometimes nails need driving into wood. Trying to drive nails with kitchen twine? Yeah, that doesn’t work so well. Trust me. I’m a rational human being.

    Can anger be destructive? Of course it can. But you know what? Anger has also been a major force in every single movement toward social justice. Without anger, women wouldn’t have the vote, slavery would still be an accepted part of life, children would still die every year in industrial accidents because more of them would work in factories than attend school, and ‘the love that dare not speak its name’ would still be unable to speak.

    Every social justice movement has been hammered with this ‘you can’t have a legitimate point because you are angry’ bullshit. We do have a point. The point is what makes us angry. Changing the point will allow us all to go much more happily along with our lives and relieve us of this ‘destructive’ anger.

    So if you don’t want us to be angry, here’s an idea: change the thing that’s making us angry. I’d love to spend less of my day being angry.

    Also? The Credible Hulk makes me very, very happy.

    See? I can be Not Angry, too.

    • Awesome analogies.

    • Very good, turn it around back on haters where it belongs. I love the Credible Hulk, too.🙂

    • THIS.

  9. SO MUCH THIS.

    Standing up for myself when I’m under attack is not evidence of personal failings on my part.

    Refusing to let people judge me, mistreat me or legislate against me is not evidence of personal failings on my part.

    Having normal emotional reactions to a world that constantly tries to legislate, bully, threaten and cajole me out of existing is not evidence of personal failings on my part.

    Using my emotional reactions to these injustices as fuel to help me fight on is not evidence of personal failings on my part.

    Normally, when someone uses anger and strength and the will to fight to do battle against an enemy, it’s seen as heroic. Odd, isn’t it, how in social justice work it’s often the opposite way around. That the person using their anger and passion and energy to fight against injustice is told that their anger and passion are WRONG.

    When we demonstrate in public we’re told that our presence sends the wrong message, that we’re inconveniencing people and need to be more CONSIDERATE.

    When we use swear words and anger, we’re told that our message pushes people away, that we need to be NICER.

    When we use words not yet fully understood by the wider world, like “cis” and “privilege” and “heteronormative”, we’re told that our jargon confuses the issue and we need to be more careful in HOW we phrase things.

    When we express emotion we’re told that we’re IRRATIONAL, that we’re too close to the issue and need to learn to be more in control, to use more logic.

    When we attempt to use humour, we’re assumed to be in on their jokes, to be okay with them turning the humour right back at us to hurt us, and told that if we don’t like it we shouldn’t play the game.

    And when we do exactly as they ask – when we ask quietly, politely, while attempting to frame everything gently in ways that won’t frighten them, apologising for our presence and working around their schedule…

    They ignore us.

    Which makes me wonder if they just want us to make ourselves easier for them to ignore.

    • DING,DING, DING, DING, DING! We have a winner, folks!

      Yes, Bunny, you are absolutely correct. That’s precisely what they want because then they can go back to their comfortable lives and ignore the problem.

      Because realizing that you are – however unwittingly – part of the problem is never fun.

    • Yes! It seems there are many who fell that any or all anger is misplaced. Anger at injustice is usually what fuels people to action.

    • It makes me think of the old saying that if you’re not outraged, then you’re not paying attention. Regarding that last paragraph, if you want to make an omelet, then you have to break a few eggs!

    • Of course they want us to be easy to ignore! But where’s the fun in that? So says the fat woman who wandered around the Tulsa State Fair in knee-high black boots, jeans printed with the Union Flag, a Planet Express shirt, a grey military-style jacket, my toile messenger bag with skeletons in period clothing, corpse pale skin, lime green and royal blue eyeshadow with neon purple mascara, a platinum blonde pixie cut, and a blue headscarf with skulls printed on it.😀

      They tell me to sit quietly in the corner because my existence is upsetting someone’s privilege? I put on an extra coat of lipstick and some bigger earrings and go knit in the best chair in the room.

      • My kingdom for your Planet Express shirt!

        • Hee! I actually got it from a friend who didn’t want it anymore. Now it’s one of my favorite shirts, alongside the one that says, “I LEARNED TO KNIT IN PRISON.” My sister got it for me for my birthday.😀

          • HA! i love smartass T-shirts.😀

            • ME, TOO!😄

              T-Shirt Hell has a reprint of a classic that I NEED DESPERATELY. I used to have it in a much smaller size, and I need a new one that fits. It’s a silhouette of a person bringing an asthma inhaler to his mouth, and below it says, “ASTHMA IS SEXY.”

              Of course, the reason I love the shirt so much is the irony. I’ve actually used my rescue inhaler in public, while very obviously wheezing and struggling to breathe to the point that a police officer asked if I needed help (I didn’t)–only for some asshole to come up and say, “I’ve got something better you can put in your mouth.”

              Sometimes, I really fear for humanity.

  10. I know the commenter probably didn’t mean it that way, but it comes off for all the world as “If you’d just suck it up and graciously accept the abuse society heaps on you, it would all be fine — honestly, you seem a little unstable when you get so angry about it.”

    I detest the “calm down” approach — seeking to marginalize appropriate anger. And really — what’s wrong with anger over injustice? Isn’t anger the *rational* response to seeing someone mistreated or being mistreated oneself?

    I often try to explain it to people by showing them how it sounds when applied to some other sort of bullying. After all, no one in their right mind would suggest that someone angry over gay-bashing must not be comfortable with their own sexuality.

    • Laney, you are SO right. Your first paragraph sounds remarkably like what men said to women when they wanted to vote. “Calm down – you’re just being hysterical,” they said, as they locked women up and force fed them. Hysteria comes from the Greek word for uterus, after all. It’s a special word coined just for women.

      Rats! I was all calm and peaceful, and now I’m angry!

      • But it’s the *good* kind of angry! Use it! 🙂

  11. Seems to me that anger at injustice is what fuels most activism. Syrup is for pancakes.

    God how I love this blog…. not only is Ragen the shizzah, but so are the commenters. Awesome comments here!

  12. I recall a poster or bumper sticker from back in the 70’s that one of my teachers had… ‘If you aren’t pissed, you aren’t paying attention’

    I often think of this as a reminder that it is very VERY easy to put my head down, manage my own little universe and ignore things around me that do not immediately impact my moment. But, if I just look up, notice, become aware… there are injustices going on around us all the time. We should be pissed.. we should let it motivate us to make change for the better.

    Thanks again, Ragen.. well said!

  13. Right on, Ragen. I hate the “nice” rules where anger is suspect at least and probably bad. Definitely a sign of lower class. Oh. were we talking about class (and privilege)? Nahhh, of course not. That wouldn’t be nice.

  14. preach on sister! I feel for your oppression. As a non-fatty, I love hearing things from your perspective – empowered, willing to talk to the “outside world” about what its like inside your experience. Thanks for fighting the good fight. You’re like the Martin Luther King of fatties. I love what you do.

    Sincerely,

    Lydia Jane

  15. I see this happen A LOT as a WOC, especially as a Black woman. Our arguments are forever invalidated by white people due to the trope of the “angry Black woman”. It’d dehumanizing and frustrating on a level I can’t even begin to articulate.

    • I can’t even imagine. I am so sorry you have to deal with that.

    • I’m sad to say this doesn’t surprise me a bit. Given the racism and white supremacy institutionalized in Western culture, I’m not surprised POC are angry! I’m sorry you get that bullshit.

      I know this is trivial, but something that irks me is that most of the indy makeup brands I use demo only on white people. It’s great for me, but every time I see the pics online, I think, “Yeah, but what’s it going to look like on someone with dark skin?”

      (Sorry for the tangent. This is something that’s been on my mind lately.)

  16. Hi Ragen,

    I love your attitude and your response to the person questioning your anger. I hear ya! I think that the word “obesity” should be eradicated.

    Syndy in Oakland.

  17. “It’s my love for my own body that drives the anger.” Yes. This. Anger is the engine behind activism, behind changing the world.

    • And being denied anger is being denied your own worth. Every time some atrocity, whether as immense as the Holocaust or as individual as a child being bullied or abused, is covered up or ignored, then whoever suffered is told that their experiences don’t matter–and by extension, they don’t matter. Equally, being told to let something go when it very clearly has not been resolved* is a form of denial. Trauma can run deep, especially if it comes with shame. Given the amount of shame and trauma that often comes with being fat in this culture, it’s not surprising we’re angry when we finally wake up.

      * As opposed to, say, someone simply being a bully and demanding their way.

  18. As always, a wonderfully liberating post for the likes of me; a trying-to-love-my-body-chick despite years of being told otherwise. Thank you xo

    • yup… thats why I love this blog—and the other FA ones, Its sooo easy to slip into the “trying to love my body” that hurts.

      I guess we need to love our body and our brain. —Jen

  19. Funnily enough, I don’t usually think of your writing as being angry in style. Sarcastic, yes. Righteous indignation and passion, yes. But angry, no. This one though…. yup, pretty angry. Well said.🙂

    • I was thinking the same thing! It’s beside point, but yeah I never thought of your posts as angry either, maybe due to the general lack of swear words, etc. But anyway, great post and I couldn’t agree more.

  20. Thanks for addressing these patronizing jerks – I’m reminded of one of my biggest pet peeves: random men in public being like, “hey, you dropped your smile!” Yeah, maybe I’m not happy to see your stupid face?!

    And as Lauren mentions, people like Ame function to keep WoC quiet, and/ or conflicted about speaking up, getting pigeonholed as an Angry Black Lady – even when stating things in a neutral and friendly way.

  21. Can I just say how very, very much I love to name of this post? ‘Peaceful Angry Happy’ – such an artful way of cutting out the either-or and just going straight for the meat.
    And thank you for being so CLEAR!! Sometimes I have trouble getting my head around it when people ‘preach’ being ‘at peace with yourself’=never feeling ‘negative’ emotions (Jeez a lot of air-quotes!), and also separating my anger and something outside of myself from the internalized shame/agony. So thank you for confirming that there is nothing wrong with me that tweaking society 95 degrees wouldn’t fix!

  22. It’s that chicken-and-egg thing. When the bigotry goes away then so does the anger. Which will be first? That’s a game of “chicken”.

    • (my personal preference is for the bigotry to throw in the towel)

  23. Only those who don’t have their rights systematically violated and their humanity constantly question have the luxury of being calm and not be angry. Anyone who is in a marginalized group and are even half paying attention are going to be angry. That doesn’t mean we love ourselves any less or are comfortable with ourselves any less. It means we care enough about our rights and being treated with equality to fight for it, and to be pissed off that we HAVE to fight for that equality.

  24. Brilliant. Thank you.

  25. I ran into somebody at the pool yesterday who lives where you can’t get Internet; she’s in town because her daughter is experiencing bouts of premature labor. She was afraid to go into the pool because fat. So I tried my best to give her a 10-minute rundown of HAES, fat acceptance, and underpants custody. I think she did feel better, but I wish she could get on here. She can’t even use ILL to get diet expose’ books from the library where she lives.

  26. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    I’ve gotten the old “you’re so angry” chestnut before. The way I express my anger has evolved (for the most part) but yes, I am angry, and I make no bones about it. Want to tell me I shouldn’t be angry about being treated like I’m less than human because I have identifiable psychiatric illnesses? Want to tell me that I’m not supposed to be angry about the fact that my chronic pain sidelines me, but except for the fact that now my knee problems are making me limp a bit I get accused of being “lazy” because I run out of energy? Of course you want to tell me that I don’t have the right to be angry about day in and day out seeing my body type belittled and used as the butt of mean jokes. Yes, I’m angry. I’m fucking furious, and I cuss too.
    People who are uncomfortable with my expressing my outrage need to examine why my outrage upsets them so. Maybe it forces them to confront their own privileges and prejudices.

  27. This reminds me of my ex, who really didn’t “get” the whole HAES concept. She’d frequently rail me, claiming that if I was truly at peace and happy with my body, then I wouldn’t have to be a fat activist. You read that right: Being an activist is apparently proof that you are just super insecure!

    Riiiiight… I mean, imagine if someone said the same thing about any other kind of activism. “If you were so secure in being queer, you wouldn’t need to keep advocating for queer rights!” AS IF! Like you can only advocate for something or someone in a selfish way. Like it’s no important to speak up against oppression.

  28. I’m sitting in my car shaking with anger because a stranger stopped me as I was walking to to tell me, “You’re gonna die if you don’t lose weight.” What the fuck is WRONG with people?! I am so pissed right now. I don’t know what to do.

    • I think I would have said, “I’m far likelier to die because of the stress of the stigma and shame bigots like you choose to heap upon me. You don’t know me, you don’t know my health. Keep your unwanted advice to yourself.”

      • That would have been a good response. I’ve never been good at snappy comebacks. I usually think of something I should have said hours later.

        • Oh, I’m GREAT with snappy comebacks – a week later, or when it’s someone else’s situation.😉 *hugs again*

          • Lol same here🙂

    • Also, I’m really sorry that happened.😦 *hugs*

      • Thanks Helena🙂

    • {{{{{HUGS}}}}} Assholes. If another douchebag dares to say that to you, reply with, “You’re gonna die if you don’t shut up.”

      Please note, I’m at a point in my life where I no longer care if I get my lights punched out so long as someone else has to pay the medical and dental bills.

      • Another great response, thanks Susan. I feel much better now🙂

    • Another possible good response, if you can pull off an unsettlingly blank/intense stare while you do it: “You’ll die too if you don’t lose weight. Or if you do. You’ll die if _I_ lose weight. Or if I don’t. You’ll die no matter what happens. Everything dies.” Then break into a bright sunny smile and say “Have a great day!” and walk off.

      … I admit this one is not geared toward making anybody less of a jerk toward fat people, but sometimes it’s fun to just straight up mess with jerks.

  29. This is an excellent, excellent post. And applies at so very many levels of oppression and discrimination. Thank you!

  30. Equally, one could say, the lack of “peace” experienced by people at lower weights indicates any assertion of perfection, healthiness etc., of said bodies is somewhat wishful in its thinking.

    • You know, you just reminded me that the majority of happy and/or peaceful images of the Buddha are fat. Now I’m curious as to the symbolism of his fatness. Is it representative of age? Inner comfort? Greatness? I need to look this up.

    • Huh. Apparently, the fat statues were based on a Chinese monk, and some Buddhists refer to the statues as Arhat. The fatness represents wealth, of which Siddharta Gautama had none after he renounced his place in the mainstream world, and good fortune. So, basically, they’re of a really cheery devoutly Buddhist guy who was naturally fat, and who became famous in his devout wanderings through… I’m not sure what region of China during I’m not sure what dynasty. Anyway, he’s not the Buddha. He’s just Buddhist, famous, and a good luck charm.

      Which makes me feel a lot better about wearing the jade Laughing Buddha pendant my sister got for me in Singapore when I was in high school. (I’m atheist, with Buddhist and Jewish leanings, but I’m most certainly neither Buddhist or Jewish.)

  31. I wish I could form words together into arguments the way you do. I read your blogs and go “yeah! yeah!” I quote you when I link your blogs on fb, and wish I was half so eloquent in my own anger.

    I read some fat shaming on something a friend posted and wished my words would form the amazing angry arguments yours do. Instead I called the person out on having a terrible case of fatphobia and concern trolling. Wish I could have done better! Thank you for giving me more to quote in my little fight!


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