Let’s start with something that happened on my Facebook page today, and then we’ll talk about it. I posted my blog from yesterday including the phrase “One of the most frustrating things to me as a fat person is that we are constantly told that we are not the best witnesses to our experience and that thin people -who are all experts on weight and better than us by virtue of their thinness – should be allowed to speak for us.”
Not all thin people are like that. This person who stole the photo probably has quite the ego and needs to learn some compassion and acceptance. I am thin and I think everyone is beautiful no matter what their size is. Society keeps forgetting that being happy is the most important thing in the world, and if you are happy with your body, fucking rock it sista. I’ll be cheering you on.
You know what I hear when someone insists on going “not all ___ are like that!” ? I hear “but but I need to be validated that I’m a good person! Stop insulting people I identify with and validate me!”
This is not about you, thin people who are not like that. Keep up the good work – do you want a freaking cookie for treating us like human beings?
Before Kayla could reply, 10 more posts went up educating her about how the posts’ authors found her comment inappropriate/derailing/privileged etc. and comparing her comment to unintentional racism and misogyny. (Several posts did go up suggesting that people were being too hard on Kayla.)
I apologize that my support has caused a stir and I’ll remove myself from the conversation. I didn’t mean to cause such a problem.
Two more educational posts went up.
I want to talk about this but before we get into it I want to be clear that I am not in the business of telling oppressed people how to respond to oppression, and I’m not suggesting that the way I do it is better or worse than anyone else, everyone who commented had every right to their comments and the beliefs and reactions that fueled them.
I see the situation differently. My original phrase, though meant to point out that our society elevates the voices of thin people and silences those of fat people, wasn’t clearly stated and could easily have been read as a sweeping generalization of thin people, which is even more problematic since stereotyping is what I was railing against.
I see Kayla’s post as saying “You seem to have a belief about all thin people. There are thin people who aren’t like that, there are thin people who support you, here is an example of that, I stand with you.”
Still, even if she did a poor job of being an ally based on the theories of oppression (and I don’t necessarily agree that she did), I choose to contextualize that within the reality that she tried while there are people who are epically not trying, on a global scale. There are people who are stealing our photos, slapping stereotypes on them and using them to sell diet products. There are people e-mailing me saying “Kill yourself you useless fucking fat fuck,” so when someone says “I think everyone is beautiful no matter what their size is…I’ll be cheering you on” I personally have a difficult time mustering a lot of offense, and I want to be careful not to take my frustration out on “imperfect” allies because they are around, and the people I’m really angry with aren’t.
I am a very outcome-based activist so even if I am well within my rights to call someone out on the imperfection of their attempt to be an ally, my question is always “will that get me closer to my goals?” The diversity work that I was trained on taught me that “calling people out” is likely to cause them to become defensive, more sure of the beliefs I am trying to challenge, and less likely to come to the work. That has been my experience (though that doesn’t mean it’s everyone’s experience, or anyone else’s experience.)
Just to restate – my way is not the right way, not the only way, and not better or worse than any other way, my goals are mine and don’t have to be anyone else’s. After a lot of thought here is what I believe for me and my work at this point in my life:
I choose to believe that if someone isn’t completely against me, maybe they could be with me. In a world where I get death threats for suggesting that fat people are human and should be treated as such, I choose to look for any glimmer of an ally and treat it like a precious spark which, if nurtured, could turn into a huge flame. So if a thin person says “I know how you feel because sometimes I feel fat” I consider that an invitation to activism, so I’m likely to say “yes, see how this oppression that I’m fighting hurts us all? Here’s how you can help!” There’s plenty of time to explain the difference between feeling fat and being fat, I don’t need to jump on their first overture as an ally to tell them how they’re doing it wrong and insist that they acknowledge their privilege.
I 100% agree that members of an oppressed group have absolutely no obligation to educate their oppressors ever. I’m personally not super excited about groups of would-be allies trying to figure out how best to support me without my voice at the table, so let me be clear that I’m offering to help. I can only give you my opinion which, obviously, is only one of many, but I’m here – ask me anything.
I think it would be fabulous if everyone understood thin privilege, how feeling fat and being fat are different, how the suggestion that fat people need thin people’s validation is problematic etc., but those concepts can be really dense and can take time to understand, so if someone can get to “everyone of every size should be treated with respect, free to enjoy their rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and what can I do to help?” then I think we’re at a pretty good starting place and I’m willing to give them the benefit of the doubt (and possibly a cookie because they had to overcome a lot of societal shit and programming to get to the point and it may well be cookie-worthy) and gentle education in due time as we work toward larger goals.
In the end maybe Kayla will really appreciate all of the education that she received today and become an even stronger fat activist. Maybe she will feel attacked and be put off of fat activism all together. There’s no way to know what will happen until it’s over and we can’t be responsible for other people’s reactions, so all any of us can do is respond to our oppression and our would-be allies in the way that makes the most sense and feels the most authentic to us.
Like the blog? Here’s more of my stuff:
Become a member: Keep this blog ad-free, support the activism work I do, and get deals from cool businesses Click here for details
The Book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details
Dance Classes: Get dance classes on DVD or by Download Click here for details