Tell Me Who’s Your Bogey Man

I found some old CDs and among them were several by Ani Difranco that I hadn’t listened to in years.  I thought about doing an entire blog of her lyrics that apply to size diversity activism but instead I decided to focus on just one for now:

Tell me who’s your bogey man

And that’s who I will be

You don’t have to like me for who I am

But we’ll see what you’re made of

By what you make of me

Fat people have been made into a bogey man of society.  People attempt to group us by how we look and calculate our cost on society as a way to figure out what they can blame us for.  Exercise classes full of people are told that they should work out for the sole purpose of not looking like us.  The media colludes to keep positive representations of us hidden under the ridiculous guise of not “promoting obesity” and in doing so constantly reinforces to us and everyone who interacts with us that we are walking, talking stereotypes who deserve to be ridiculed, judged and treated badly because of how we look.  People even try to suggest that our fat is actually contagious  so that not only do people not want to look like us, they don’t want to be around us either. Absolutely everyone is being told that looking like me is the worst thing.

I am well aware that I’m the bogey man – that people dedicate many hours and even more money trying to keep from looking like me, that writers are proud to write articles about how glad they are that their kids don’t look like me.  I know that regardless of who I am or what I accomplish almost everyone I meet has been heavily encouraged by the media – and even the government – to stereotype me, make assumptions about me, and judge me based on those assumptions before they ever meet me.

I think it’s important to be clear that the way people react to a fat person says nothing about the fat person, and everything about the person doing the reacting. Are they willing to accept us as the best witness to our own experiences or will they insist upon trying to replace our actual experiences with their stereotypes and fabricated ideas of what it’s like to be us?  Are they able to see the pattern of fat bigotry in our society?  Are they able to rise above them? Are they willing to challenge them?

Fat people can choose to educate and/or do activism around Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size, but if we do it’s a courtesy – we aren’t obligated to do it. The rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not size, health, or healthy habit dependent, and they come with no obligation of activism – they are inalienable, not contingent. When a fat person chooses to do something, and that thing happens to challenge someone else’s stereotypes, preconceived notions, or bigotry, we are not asking for their approval, we are doing them a favor.  We are giving them the opportunity to question their stereotypes.  Their choice to stick to those stereotypes and prejudices, or to challenge them, is entirely on them.

We didn’t make ourselves the bogey man – factions of society did.  This is not our fault but it does become our problem, and each of us gets to choose how to deal with that and every person’s choice is valid. If you choose to become involved in activism and education around Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size it can be helpful to remember that we can control the message that we give, but we can’t control how that message is received.  We can make being the bogey man about providing an opportunity for people to break out of a cycle of shaming, stigmatizing and bullying us and perhaps even become allies and activists in their own right.  We can reclaim the bogey man identity – be the bogey man on our own terms – and see what people are made of by what they make of us. But it’s always our choice.

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I do size acceptance activism full time.  A lot what I do, like answering over 4,000 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 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.

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10 thoughts on “Tell Me Who’s Your Bogey Man

  1. ani is my fave. love the quote. i find that pretty much every time someone has an issue with me (those someone’s who aren’t close to me), it ends up really being his/her issue – not mine. be a duck man, let it roll off you like water.

  2. Go see the Sundance channel show “All On The Line with Joe Zee” when he visits Domino Dollhouse. I loved it.

  3. Weirdly enough, when I saw your headline, being the cautionary tale or the monster under the bed was as far as possible from what image popped into my head: a fabulous fat man dancing to Rubber Band.

    He’s just boogieing along to his own soundtrack and nothing can get him down.

    I just thought I’d share that gigglesome and delightful image. It’s going to keep me smiling all day long.

    Then again, he’s exactly what a lot of people would find terrifying: a fat person ignoring the vitriol and daring to be fabulous without shame. I think I may join him.

    1. I have a five year old niece, and she is the light of my world! This just reminded me that one day (maybe sometime soon), she is going to have THAT realization. I hope I’ve helped influence her enough so it won’t matter. Only time will really tell. Sorry, this article just made me think about it. I don’t want to ever be the fat boogie man to her.

  4. This reminds me of the crap I get in Oklahoma for being queer. I still have to gauge who I’m talking to before I decide whether to say “girlfriend” or “other half.” Tulsa, the area where I live, has the second largest GLBT population per capita in the country, right after San Fran, but the conservative portion of the area is so very conservative that some people genuinely believe “the gay” is contagious. I’ve gotten more hell for my sexual preference and my (lack of) religion here than I have for my weight, apart from the odd kid being an asshole. It’s strange, given how completely reversed the mass media is on those topics. On the macrocosm level, it’s “allowed” to ridicule someone for weight, but not religion or sexual preference, whereas my microcosm is Opposite Land.

    And, uh, this may be me being a weirdo metalhead, but who’s Ani Difranco? (My favorite band is Orden Ogan, and I barely know anyone who’s even heard of them.)

  5. My first thought was KC & The Sunshine Band! Does that date me?!

    I’ve been on a tear lately, commenting on the articles that say simply “fat people cost us money and it’s got to stop” without actually stating how and why. So I comment asking that they be more specific.

    It’s sad reading the other comments because people spew hatred and condemnation without hearing the how and why. Like little lemmings.

    If it wasn’t for you, I wouldn’t be making comments demanding facts. I would be hanging my head in shame…I don’t want anyone hanging their heads in shame.

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