Friday, January 10, 2014

Unexpected Side Effects

As a privileged, university-educated, straight-size, fit, able-bodied, middle class, white woman, I would like to whine that my frequent posting about fat acceptance, body positivity, anti-dieting, feminist, activist, and related topics seems to make some men think I'm insecure and soliciting validation when I'm really just spreading information and ideas.

Logic brain understands that these men are tone-deaf and simply don't understand any of the actual issues I write about and probably cannot without endeavoring to do difficult mental gymnastics. Jerkbrain now worries that I come across as insecure and weak and will make me think twice about all the things I post going forward.

Ironically, it's when others declare themselves the expert on my lived experience by telling me I'm insecure that makes me feel unsure of myself. I never knew I had a poor body image or poor self-esteem until men told me I did and patronizingly lectured me about inner beauty and offered their unsolicited opinions to validate my appearance and self-worth. (The fact that their actions were well-meaning does not change or conflict with the previous statement about them.)

A friend once messaged me privately with a page-long lecture about beauty, acceptance, and self-worth, in response to my many fat acceptance posts on Facebook. I explained to him that:
I’m fueled by a lot of anger at having spent most of my life swallowing the message that I'd have to spend the rest of my life battling my weight in order to be happy, healthy, wealthy, or loved, and so much anger that so many others continue to believe this.
Beyond just posting links on my own page and seemingly yelling a lot, I frequently engage in discussion in private groups about weight, health, and beauty with women who haven’t heard it yet and are grateful when they do. (And am also contributing a chapter to an anthology of perspectives on the fat acceptance movement.) 
Personally, I’m bored to death of being told I’m physically attractive, especially by men who are often clearly expecting my gratitude for their thinking so. I know I’m conventionally attractive; it’s boring. I didn’t earn it and don’t feel complimented. I don’t want to settle for reaping the benefits of my privilege without a though and I don’t want a world in which women of different sizes, abilities, colors, etc., have to accept that bigotry either. 
I can silently work to accept that I will never be a "normal" or a "healthy" weight according to the "experts." Or I can teach and remind everyone that BMI is not an indicator of health and should not be used to make policy, and I can influence the attitudes and opinions around me and ultimately convert everyone I know to the "Yay fitness!" party and not have to hear about diets and weight loss and body shame all around. 
I didn’t always know these things or feel this way; I came to them by reading and learning, and others will, too.
Ultimately, we realized he had meant to ASK about my feelings on the subject but in a strange misfire had ended up TELLING instead. Apologies were made and accepted and life went on.

Months later, I posted a selfie with a sign about setting a distance PR in the pool and completing a "Fit Fatty Virtual Event." I received a comment on the photo from another male friend along the lines of "I know you're insecure, but I don't consider you fat, and the people who know you know you're beautiful. Blah blah blah patronizing validation blah blah."

I responded with:
Alternatively, you could ask me what the Fit Fatty thing is about instead of projecting assumptions onto me. It's the name of forums and a Facebook group that are weight-neutral places to discuss fitness from a Health at Every Size perspective and are hosting a virtual decathlon event this year, which is why I'm posting the pictures. 
It's exceptionally rare to find communities where we can discuss fitness free from weight loss and diet talk.
And he deleted his comments before anyone else could see them.

I question whether my response was appropriate, too harsh, or too soft for the comment and the person and whether I should also have added:

1. I'm not fat. I know this and don't need you to tell me so.
2. There's nothing wrong with being fat and I genuinely look forward to the day that I fulfill my dreams of growing up to be a jolly, round Hobbit. (I come from an overwhelmingly obese family [no value judgment, just a fact]; it's really only a matter of time. But by then my body may be able to support competitive amateur weight lifting, and how cool would that be? /tangent)

As often as we think of the perfect comeback far too late, I think I did alright and managed to hide and overcome the shock and hurt feelings that the original comment triggered so suddenly and strongly.

Regarding this, a woman friend pointed out: 
Many women are insecure. Many women fish for compliments; not necessarily consciously. Men develop certain habits and assumptions in response.  
Mentioning weight, shape, diet or exercise is likely to trigger these habits more often than it triggers actual thought about what you posted.
I can't keep myself from judging people who fail to think before speaking.

Things that might have influenced such a bizarre, presumptive, and invasive comment:

I don't feel like I need to explain posts promoting equality, body positivity, size acceptance, healthy behaviors for all people regardless of body size, not judging people based on appearance including clothing size, etc.

When I complain (often at great length) about the obscene prices of gender-specific underwear required for exercise due to my apparently abnormal and grossly misproportioned body, nothing in that complaint is directed at my body. I'm angry at apparel makers for only catering to a paper-thin range of body types and I'm angry at the patriarchy for the fact that good sports bra designs don't even exist and I'm angry at both that I have to spend a minimum of $70 on an essential piece of clothing to support my running and fitness endeavors that only works because I happen to run slowly anyway.

My body is just lovely, but I could write a book about issues of access to safe, enjoyable forms of fitness and even finding exercise clothing in the necessary size, much less being able to afford it. (I wish I had time to write a book. That would be a good book.)

I said this about a photo taken immediately after running a fast mile:
"I fucking hate photos of myself working out and am this close to quitting the challenge because of the photo requirement."
When I complain about photos of my running and post-running because my hair is disheveled, my face flushed, and my body pouring sweat, it's really not a cry for validation and definitely not part of an overall trend of complaining about my appearance. Even as an advocate for body-positivity, surely I am allowed to despise gym and fitness selfies? Or do I have to love and brag about my appearance ceaselessly? I'm certainly capable, but it wouldn't be real and I'd probably lose a lot of friends.

I wish I had some snappy way to wrap this up: Think before you speak, learn to recognize a request for help or reassurance when there is one instead of reading it into random statements and offering help unsolicited, and just fucking Google it.

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