Plenty of Problems to Pick From

I was on HuffPo Live today on a panel talking about the petition to ask Barneys and Disney to please not make Minnie Mouse into a 5’11 size 0 just to fit into a designer dress for Barneys holiday window.  The segment went really well and, with the exception of the fashion designer, all of the experts on the panel agreed that Disney and Barneys are sending a dangerous message to girls. They also agreed that we should take weight out of the conversation about children’s health.  As reader Isabel said “Wow. There were so many people making sense in that conversation that I got really confused and thought I was dreaming maybe??”

See the Segment here:  HuffPo Live: Skinny Minnie

One of the things about the interview that stuck out to me was a reminder about the derailing technique that people use when they say that you shouldn’t work on this problem because there are other problems.  This happened a number of times in the segment and it’s something that happens to almost anyone who tries to make a change in the world or address a problem.  People who do animal rescue are chided that they could be helping people.  People who help starving adults are chided that they could help starving children. As I said in the segment, the fact that there are other problems does not negate the fact that this thing is also a problem.  This is an extension of what I call “never enough” activism – the idea that no matter what you do it will never be good enough. In this version we are told that we shouldn’t try to solve a problem that we are passionate about because there are other, bigger problems in the world.  This goes wrong because if we decide that we are all only going to work on the biggest problem, then what will actually happen is that we will spend all of our time arguing about what the biggest problem is. Also, let’s remember that the “bigger problems” may well be bigger because people were told that they shouldn’t bother to address them when they were small.

I’m telling you this by way of saying that I hope that if you want to get involved with activism you will pick a change, or a problem, that you are passionate about and work on that, whether by leading work or joining work.  I hope that you will not be dissuaded by those who try to tell you that your best isn’t good enough or that your problem isn’t big enough. It’s nobody’s job to address every problem that exists – none of us can do everything, but everyone who wants to can do something.

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15 thoughts on “Plenty of Problems to Pick From

  1. When my daughter was 10 (she’s 18 now), her Grandmother took her shopping for a dress and told her that if she just lost 10lbs, the dress she tried on would look great. My daughter has been struggling with this ever since. Her relationship with her grandmother, her body, and her eating have suffered tremendously. She is just now starting to realize how amazing she is, outside of what she looks like.
    Thanks for posting the link for the video. You rock!

    1. Ugh, that makes me sick and it also makes me tempted to not even introduce my daughter to my mother (my daughter is only a few months old right now, so my worry is probably a little premature).

      But my mom and I have never been close and her assertion that every life problem I’ve ever had from bad hair to trouble with math in college (skinny girls with weird hair are “edgy,” teachers are nicer to attractive girls) could be solved with weight loss. If she said something like this to my kid, I would probably lose it.

      Your daughter sounds amazing!

      1. My daughter is freakin’ awesome, if I do say so myself.

        One of the things that has motivated me to accept my body and my weight as it is stemmed from observing my mother. She is over 70 and still diets to lose weight, still constantly talks about food, and is still judgmental about other peoples’ weight. I’m 44 and I’m just not going to spend the rest of my life worrying about something as insignificant as a number on the scale.

        Your mom sounds a lot like mine. She told me the other day her doctor advised her (and she agreed it was a good idea) to lose some weight because she has back pain. As I said, my mom is over seventy and in great health for her age but she’s older and shrinking and has arthritis and other things that come with aging. How is losing weight going to fix that? Oy.

    2. One of my grandmothers once gave me a hard time about my weight, too. I’m so sorry that happened to your daughter. It’s 100x worse hearing things like that from your own family. And your daughter should also know that although we do have a cultural standard of what’s “beautiful” and desirable, for individuals beauty is much more variable and subjective. It’s great that she sees herself as more than just “pretty/ugly,” but she’s beautiful, too!

  2. I, for one, see nothing ‘small’ or insignificant about the systemic longterm oppression of a population. The Barney’s window issue is merely one iteration of a much larger problem. It’s one that is being protested as part of a much larger social justice issue.

    You know, sort of like how sitting at lunch counters and refusing to give up a seat on a bus were ‘small’ things. After all, where you can sit or where you can be served a meal isn’t really that important, is it?

    Well, it isn’t until you’re not allowed because of a physical characteristic that the world has decided is somehow ‘bad.’

    I believe that any step toward a good goal, however small, is worthwhile.

    And I firmly believe that the ‘smaller’ issues out there are still more than worth fighting for. From rescuing feral cats to knitting prosthetic breasts for cancer survivors to taking one day a week to deliver meals to the elderly or entertain children in hospitals to dropping some loose change in a bucket to support the local community garden, each act taken for the betterment of even one life adds to the sum of good in the world.

    How can anyone say that is not important enough?

    1. And doing those things benefits both the doer and the receiver, it contributes to an outlook of love and support which helps counter all the selfishness and hate that’s circulating out there. We make the most impact when we work on an individual level. And every time you do one of those good things, you poke the devil in the eye. 😉

  3. I’m reminded of an interview I recently read with environmentalist Wendell Berry. I’m paraphrasing here, but he said that he chooses to be hopeful. And that this is the best way to actually do something about issues in the world.

    He said that pessimists will become overwhelmed by how many problems there are in the world and will do nothing. And that optimists will overestimate how great everything is and will think that they need not bother to work to make anything different. So his choice was to be deliberately hopeful.

    I think you are absolutely right in this post. Thank you!

  4. “Also, let’s remember that the “bigger problems” may well be bigger because people were told that they shouldn’t bother to address them when they were small.”

    Exactly. Thank you for pointing this out.

  5. It was a wonderful panel, aside from her, and you did great. I hate that derailing method myself and thought you were great in responding to it. As I noted recently when the same thing came up for me I have an endless supply of rage and can be POed about many, many things all at the same time without detracting from each other.

  6. The phrase “it’s all in good fun” is guaranteed to cause instantaneous disgust and rage for me. “Oh those boys keep teasing you? Just ignore them, it’s all in good fun.” “You thought I was being mean? It’s all in good fun.” “You didn’t like me pinching your waist? Lighten up, It’s all in good fun.” Saying it’s all in good fun is negating every real and hurtful feeling and ignoring any possible repercussions that have been created. I. hate. that. phrase. Which certainly colored my perception of the fashion designer on the far right.

    Otherwise I thought it was a fantastic panel and that you did beautifully. Well done, Ragen!

  7. I’m an elementry school teacher. I often get the excuse for meanness that “I was just having fun!”
    I tell the kid that it’s not fun unless BOTH people are having fun.

  8. I agree with Isabel! There were so many people making sense I too got confused and stopped feeling “itchy” waiting for the clanger that usually ruins something for me. That NEVER happens. (Well not unless I”m watching a conversation about fluffy bunnies or something benign like that)

    “…the fact that there are other problems does not negate the fact that this thing is also a problem”

    “Also, let’s remember that the “bigger problems” may well be bigger because people were told that they shouldn’t bother to address them when they were small.”

    I’m going to type up both of those statements of yours in big FAT, shiny colourful letters and put them somewhere I will see them often. The things you say Ragen. The things you say! Well they really make a difference. Thank you so very much.

  9. Ragen, I love the way you speak and I really enjoyed watching that discussion. I, too, was a little needled at the way the conversation did seem to drift to everything else under the sun from Victoria’s Secret, to Barbie, to Disney Princesses, woosh! But you really directed the conversation back to the topic at hand with the excellent explanation that you’ve written in a longer form above.

    As another reader mentioned, these are all problems contributing to a HUGE cultural problem that can really only be addressed by articulating the way in which these “small”-er problems are part of it. I like this blog because it manages to do both at the same time, tackle both the small and the large (oh jeez, no pun intended there) of issues surrounding body acceptance, size positivity, and HAES.

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