Rejecting Reality

Dream WorldAs 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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If my selling things on the blog makes you uncomfortable, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen


35 thoughts on “Rejecting Reality

  1. I really needed to read this article today, Ragen. (I apologise for the long comment, as I think the cold medicine is making me a bit rambly) I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine at the pub the other night on the subject of food morality. I have been trying to eliminate the words “good” and “bad” when talking about food, which has been a big struggle but a choice I made for myself in my pursuit of Health at Every Size.

    On my birthday a few months ago, I brought in cupcakes. When I offered them to my male coworkers, they either said ‘yes please’ or ‘no thank you’. However, when I offered them to some of my female coworkers, 99% of the time I was inundated with food morality. ‘Oh, I was good at lunch, I guess I can be a little bad’ or ‘No thank you, I’m being good today’ or other expressions that made me feel like Fatty the Chocolate Pusher (the first cupcake’s free!)

    The other night, I was relating this to my friend after she remarked that she could have dessert because she’d had a “good” (healthy) entree. I told her the story of my birthday and that I wished that people could just say ‘no thank you’ because frankly I didn’t care about why they didn’t want the cupcake and I really hoped that one day I’d be strong enough to tell them how I felt. I also told her that it made me sad that we lived in a world where food came with so much guilt attached to it.

    She told me that perhaps (with a patronizing hand pat) I was being a bit too sensitive and projecting my own insecurities on other people and that’s just the way it was. I think in the past I would have backed down, but reading your blog for well over a year I felt strong enough to disagree with her. I told her that I didn’t accept that it was “just the way it was” and there was “nothing I could do” about people using “good” and “bad” to describe food. So no, it’s not going to change the world to stand up for myself and try and express my opinion. But it’s something, and maybe one day something I say to someone else will trigger the spark that helps them make a change.

    1. Hi Jen,

      Welcome to the select group (few but mighty!) of DWF readers who comment while on cold medicine, I’m thinking about getting jackets for y’all! I love this story and I’m totally inspired by the way that you handled this. (In unrelated news, I may get a bumper sticker that says “Fatty the Chocolate Pusher.”) I think this kind of activism will change the world – you may never know it but this conversation could have been the tiny push that will start the HAES ball rolling for some of the people in your life. You totally rock, I hope that you feel better soon!


    2. Go you, Jen! That’s an awesome piece of micro-activism!

      And by ‘micro-activism’ I mean a small-scale thing that many wouldn’t even notice as activism, per se, because it isn’t a protest of 60,000 people or fifty-gazillion signatures on an internet petition. Micro-activism is little things we can all do every day (if we choose, because, hey, I’m all in favor of the Underpants Rule) that can eventually add up to a lot of people learning something new.

      You know, sort of like micro-loans are tiny amounts of money… but they add up to a hell of a lot of empowerment for a lot of people.

      1. Hi Twistie! I feel compelled to note that micro-loans, although an awesome idea in theory, have largely become a very predatory, for-profit enterprise. I don’t want to de-rail the conversation too much, so if you’re interested in learning more about the dark side of micro-finance, google “Omidyar Network suicides” and “microloan suicides India.” Tragic and horrifying.

  2. One of the best things about you and your blog is that I know that while I learn things and open my mind to differences, my personal choices and location on the continuum of activism will be respected. The only person ‘harshing’ me for not being more like you, is ME!…. LOL Happy Holidays to you and yours and I hope all of us in this community have positive experiences over the next few weeks.

  3. I agree except for this bit:
    “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 ”

    You’re implying makeup and dieting both come from a place of disliking your current self. This might apply to those who feel they have to wear makeup to look presentable but for many people it’s just a means of expression. Right now, i wear bright red eyeshadow and winehouse-esque eyeliner not because i hate the way my eyes look or because i want to follow a trend but because it’s fun. Where i live (germany) most people wear hardly any makeup and i get bullshit from other people all the time when wearing a red lipstick. Here- no makeup (or no makeup makeup) is the cultural norm. Also, dieting wreaks havoc with the metabolism and the psyche while makeup can be taken off without any consequences (unless you think it causes cancer but that’s a completely different can of worms).

    1. Thanks for your comment. I think I may not have been clear. The second part of that sentence is ” 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.” What I was trying (and could certainly have failed) to communicate was that one option for changing reality is not doing things, even if we like them, until we can create a world where there aren’t negative consequences for NOT doing them. That’s the sacrifice part that I’m talking about. If women are expected to wear make-up (and it sounds like that’s not the case where you are) and there are consequences for not wearing make-up (being seen as unprofessional, not put together, passed over for promotions etc.), then wearing make-up feeds into the status quo regardless of why a woman wears it. So, one option (but certainly not obligation) that we have is to refuse to wear make-up until the option lies with each woman, devoid of negative consequences regardless of her choice.


    2. It’s interesting how even Western countries can have such different cultural norms.

      In the USA, where both Ragen’s and I are from, it is the norm for women, especially professionals, to wear a certain amount of makeup. The minimum is usually a light foundation, lipstick, and mascara. And a lot of it comes from the place of chasing a “flawless” “youthful” look, so there is definitely an aspect of body dislike there.

      I prefer to go bare faced, and while it sounds like I would get no comments where you are, I have gotten several negative responses here in the USA. Usually questioning if I feel ok because my lips are so pale; the expectation of vibrant lip color is so pervasive.

      1. Even within the US, there are different cultural norms. I live in California where many of us color our hair. In Minnesota, where I grew up, very few women do. In California men wear shorts year round (like my SO), but back home, even in summer, men never wear shorts. That’s for boys. OH my, so many rules. Then there are those of us who choose our own path. Sometimes we are making a statement about how we need not accept the norm. Some of us just have a perverse sense of humor and enjoy other people’s discomfort in seeing our choices. I do enjoy wearing sleeveless tops to show off my big fat fleshy upper arms. It’s a combination of showing fat pride and just watching people gape and try not to stare. What discomfort they feel. Hmmm, too bad.

  4. I’ve gotten the whole that’s-just-the-way-it-is line so many times. The problem with “that’s just reality” shows up when you apply it to other situations:

    “You can’t marry your same-sex partner; that’s just reality.” — homophobic

    “You can’t build a mosque here. It’s offensive; that’s just reality.” — Islamophobic

    “You can’t use the same drinking fountain as the white kids; that’s just reality.” — racist

    And yet, somehow…

    “You need to lose weight. You’re ugly and your fat is going to make you sick and you’re costing me money; that’s just reality.” — is somehow well-meaning, helpful concern?

    I think not.

  5. As someone who has been involved in more activist movements than Carters has little pills, there are few phrases I hate more than ‘that’s just reality’ to describe human-created inequality. Those ‘realities’ can and do change.

    When my grandmother was born, women weren’t allowed to vote. My mother held political office for thirteen years.

    When I was born, marrying someone of a different race was illegal in quite a few states. Now biracial families are so common they’re showing up in mainstream advertising.

    When I got married, I was angry that the man who piped me up the aisle to Mr. Twistie didn’t have the right to legally marry the love of his life simply because they were both men. Today they would have their pick of sixteen states to marry in, if they decided to do so… including the state we live in.

    When I woke up this morning, bullying people for being fat was still the status quo.

    Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

    Man-made realities can and do change all the time. All it takes is enough people to stand up and say loudly enough that this reality needs to stop being real.

    Who’s up for shouting from a few rooftops?

  6. Love your blog post today! It was just what I needed to read before the in-laws stay for an entire week to help with the new baby. They are probably the last people who I have yet to stand up to. I have stood up for myself at the doctors office and to friends and family and even touted the HAES activism at work, but I have yet to do this with my husbands family who are incredibly judgemental about weight (among other things) and who are also incredibly healthist. My husband doesn’t say much to them but is starting to get more vocal supporting our choice to follow HAES. Eventually I am going to have to speak up since my oldest daughter is 2, and I don’t want their healthist bs and fat discrimination around her. This post has given me the courage to finally put an end to it.

  7. I’ve done the comformist thing… and you know, my life really wasn’t any easier for it. I still have things I want to learn to do, to not be afraid of, to embrace about my fat body, but comforming? Meh. It was really never my style, even when I was trying to diet.

    There are times when I think about how much easier it would be if I were 100 or 200 pounds thinner… but there’s no point in harping on something the research – and personal experience – tells me won’t happen.

    So instead, I try to be a voice of reason, and to educate myself as best I can. In doing so, when I have the opportunity, I can spread what I learn.

  8. This is reminding me of an irritating thing from Bradley’s Darkover fantasies– people would say “The world will go as it will, and not as you or I would have it”, and it was always about human institutions, not about something like the weather. (I have nothing against Bradley for this– she obviously got the psychology right.)

  9. wonderful post. I don’t know what else to say but “thank you.” Thank you for speaking your truth and encouraging others to do so as well.

  10. I can relate to so much of this, just change “fat” to “trans.” Thank you for for being most unapologetically You!


  11. I was just having a conversation earlier where I said that I hate it when people say, “Well that’s just the way it is.” Nothing infuriates me more. Reality is not a fixed state. Any perusal of history would easily demonstrate this. You are so right on!

    And thank you for being that voice (and often that target) so the rest of us can be treated fairly and justly in this crazy, sometimes mixed up world. Your efforts are truly appreciated.

  12. Ragen, the refusal to accept the status quo is one of my favorite recurrent themes in your blog. I’ve been reading Dances With Fat for five months now (and catching up on the archives every chance I get) and through the lens of size acceptance, you have helped me re-discover my passion for social justice work. THANK YOU SO MUCH for that! Every time someone says “Well, that’s just the way things are,” they are tacitly contributing to oppression and injustice. Why not dream of bigger and better things than the status quo?

    Hugs to all the awesome folks brave enough to dream of a better world.

  13. Count me in…. ’cause my mouth won’t let me lay out. It is good to know one’s small acts of activism are not happening in a vacuum. Thx.

  14. Right on! Change is really the only constant, and norms won’t change if people don’t make an effort. Thanks for the effort, the excellent information, the research time, and the reality check.

  15. This also reminds me of a bit from GKChesterton– he complained (probably early 20th century) about people saying “You can’t set the clock back” when they meant a social change is inevitable– but a clock is exactly what you *can* set back.

    “On the wrong side of history” is a similar mistake. We don’t know what history is going to do.

  16. Sometimes resisting the status quo is something we need to do in order to save our own sanity. Other times it is in order to save the sanity of others. I’ve always found it more motivating to do the latter.

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