As an activist one of the most frustrating things that I hear when I discuss things that I think should be changed is “Well, that’s just reality.” Maybe I’m talking about the way that fat people are discriminated against in hiring and pay, or the way that we are mistreated by doctors, or that I wish we could choose our singers, actors, and dancers based on their talent instead of their looks. It never fails that someone says “Well, that’s just reality, deal with it.”
I agree, that is reality. My issues is that, in this context, “reality” is thought of as a fixed state and “deal with it” typically means “acquiesce and conform” or suffer the consequences of a reality you “can’t change”.
And that’s where I disagree. Conforming is not our only option. We could refuse to conform and, in doing so, dismantle stereotypes, confound expectations, and change popular culture. “Reality” is not unchangeable and I know that because I was wearing pants when I voted for the first time, because we no longer put people under house arrest for saying that the Earth revolves around the sun, because I stood witness when my best friend married his husband.
Obviously, not conforming comes with sacrifice. If you love your body and focus on your health instead of your weight, if you refuse to be a “good fatty“ – always self-deprecating, trying to be thin and telling everyone how you struggle with your weight, or if you stop wearing make-up, or speak your truth, or refuse to participate in “fashion” or do anything that challenges the status quo, then you probably will get less job offers, you probably will get paid less than your culturally conforming co-workers, you might get kicked out of the doctor’s office, you may get fewer dates. People might very well be nasty to you. Those can be big sacrifices and you might not want to make them, and that’s totally ok.
But for change to happen somebody has to do it. Somebody – and then more somebodies – must buck the system. In the course of changing “reality” I notice that a lot of people to sacrifice a little, some people to sacrifice a lot, and a few people to sacrifice everything. None of those people has to be you, but they could if you choose.
I am very clear that I stand on the shoulders of thousands of people who sacrificed time, money, relationships, personal comfort, and even their lives to create parts of reality which I now enjoy. I don’t take those sacrifices for granted and I can’t think of any better way to show gratitude than to become part of that tradition.
And remember that it doesn’t have to be something huge. Every little bit helps. So consider organizing a “No Make-Up Monday” at your school or work, or wear a sleeveless shirt and proudly show your arms, tell people your real weight. To be clear, I have nothing against those who choose to wear make-up, or try for intentional weight loss cover their bodies, or lie about their weight. If that’s what you want to do then I respect your choice just like I want my choices respected – what I’m interested in is having the opportunity to choose things just because we want to, without the consideration that if we don’t choose them, the herd will say we’re baaaaaaaad and we’ll suffer consequences.
Maybe things in my life would be easier if I was willing to accept “what is” and conform, or was at least willing to be a good, self-deprecating, I’m-trying-to-lose-weight- so-you’ll-find-my-body-acceptable fatty, Maybe people would think I was less weird. But I, and a lot of other people, have had enough. We are standing up and saying “No more.”
And maybe the sacrifices my friends and I are making will change the world. Maybe we’ll see a fat woman as a leading lady in a movie that never even mentions her weight, or have a National dialog about health that doesn’t center around just trying to have a smaller body. Maybe we’ll see a world where we accept and respect the diversity of body sizes, and we’ll feel the same pride that suffragettes felt when they watched women vote.
Or maybe not. Maybe we’ll just know that we lived a life of integrity and strength, part of a tradition of people who didn’t just want things to be different or complain about their reality, but worked and sacrificed for the reality that they wanted. Maybe we’ll just know that we refused to be whittled away trying to trim ourselves down to suit somebody else. And maybe that’s enough.
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