Why Can’t You Just Be Positive?

fight backI got to be on the radio today with the fabulous Substantia Jones (when it’s up, the archive will be here!) One of the callers expressed a sentiment that I hear expressed to civil rights activists a lot “If you’re happy just live your life and don’t worry about what other people think!” Other iterations of this are “If you were really happy with yourself, you wouldn’t have to talk about it all the time” and “Don’t meet hate with anger just be nice and stay positive!”

As always, people are allowed to deal with their oppression and marginalization any way that they want and I’m not suggesting that any of these are inappropriate reactions, I think it’s important to realize that they aren’t obligatory and it’s not ok to tell someone who is dealing with oppression that the “best” response is to just ignore it.

I understand where they are coming from, it can be a bummer to hear about the oppression that happens.  I also think that there is absolutely, positively (see what I did there) a place for the positivity – including celebrating victories and creating our own spaces full of body positivity.

That said, I think it’s important to call out things that are oppressive, especially since it’s so easy for those who aren’t part of a marginalized group to ignore them – not because they are trying to or because their intentions are bad, but because they don’t have to deal with them every day.

I also think that it’s important to look at the balance of power.  The suggestion that if I’m happy I should just live my life and not care about what others say is a nice one, but I don’t think it takes into account the stereotyping, stigma, bullying, marginalization and oppression that fat people face, and the impact that has on our lives.  The government is encouraging people to wage war on me because of my size, people my size get hired less often and paid less than our thin counterparts, things like plane seats, restaurant booths, and waiting room chairs are not built for me and it’s acceptable for people to blame me for this and insist that I should pay more for the same service, bring my own chair, etc.

Doctors are allowed to refuse service to me based on my size, and it’s ok for them not to have equipment that will work for me – beds that won’t hold me, chairs the won’t fit me, instruments that are too small for me.  Until Obamacare it was ok for insurance companies to refuse to provide me health insurance (I now have insurance for the first time in 14 years.)  Medical practices, and other business, almost everywhere in the country are allowed  – and do –  refuse to hire fat people because our bodies “don’t fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job” regardless of our actual skills.

People who are dealing with oppression are allowed to ignore it, meet it with constant positivity, and carve out a life around it – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with those choices, sometimes that’s how I react as well, but in general it’s not my style. Engaging in activism – including calling out oppression – helps me to know that I am doing something about the bullshit I have to deal with, and that helps me deal with it.   I think that ignoring bullies allows them to bully in silence without any push back, I want to end bullying and dismantle oppression and I think that starts with pointing it out.

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40 thoughts on “Why Can’t You Just Be Positive?

  1. It also makes no sense.

    “Just live your life the way you want and don’t worry about what other people think!”

    But… those “other people” are pretty powerful. And are using their power to actively stop me from living my life the way I want.

    1. What other people “think?” Do they not realize fat oppression has been beyond “thinking” and into “doing” for years now? Do they not realize some companies monitor their fat employees at home, fiscally penalizing them if they don’t get the readings they want, while there’s no burden of proof on thin employees to prove they stay active or eat right? Do they not realize some companies openly boast they won’t hire fat people at all? Do they not realize fat people get basically no medical care, as ANY illness they seek treatment for is met with, “lose weight and it’ll go away,” or “I won’t treat this unless you agree to bariatric surgery,” and that fat people are dying because of this? Believe me, I would love *nothing more* than to live in a world where I *could* “live the way I want without worrying what other people think” because thoughts were the worst I could expect. But that ain’t this world.

    1. I’ve noticed how much projection goes into fat hate.

      “You can’t be happy with your body the way it is” = “I can’t be happy with my body unless I am allowed to believe it is inherently superior to yours.”

      “You’re only saying fat people can be healthy because you’re in denial and don’t want to admit you have a problem so you’re blaming society” = “I am in denial that I am a bigot and the reflexive disgust I feel for large bodies is a sign *I* have a problem, so I am blaming the bodies that make me feel that way.”

      “You’re just making excuses for your fat” = “I’m just making excuses to hate fat, because there really aren’t any good reasons to.”

  2. Ah yes, the good old Tone Police. What would we do without them?
    Sometimes (most of the time) being Pollyanna just doesn’t work. Comes the time that we realize nobody is listening to Pollyanna. At that point, we get mad and stand up for ourselves.

  3. The reason people don’t want to hear us being angry at injustice is it forces them to recognize there’s injustice, ands they may have participated in it – consciously or un – and makes them feel less good about themselves.

    And if the only reaction any of us have to injustice is to smile and pretend not to care, justice never happens.

    We do all get to choose our battles, our weapons, and our public reactions… but if nobody ever chooses anger, outcry, or defiance, nothing ever changes.

    Change is not comfortable, and that makes people fear it. But if we’re ever going to find justice, we will all need to let ourselves be uncomfortable somewhere along the line.

  4. I always hear “Why can’t you just be positive?” as “I’m clearly having trouble controlling your body and behavior; think I’ll see if I have better luck controlling your thoughts.”

  5. I read this in another forum this morning:

    “Fat shaming does not lead to suicide, did you get hurt jumping to that conclusion? Suicide has a lot of different aspects. And if fat shaming did lead to suicide, we would not have a population where 37% of the people are over weight. Go for a walk and eat a salad. It’s that easy.”

    Now, somebody please tell me how in the actual hell I’m supposed to respond “positively” to that steaming pile. Aaarrrgghh.

    1. “If going for a walk and eating a salad *actually* resulted in long-term weight loss, there wouldn’t be so many over weight people. Why don’t you go educate yourself by reading some of the research first before you open your mouth. It’s that easy.”

      1. Perfect comeback, Melissa. You nailed that one.

        It takes serious cheek (and not the good kind) to deny fatphobia kills when even the mainstream media, which has no love for fat people, has reported several high-profile suicides and attempted suicides where “I get bullied because I’m fat and see no other way to stop it” was the reason given. The most recent happened a few *months* ago (little girl, IIRC, mom caught her with a kitchen knife). Ignoring or mentally deleting stories like that because you’re invested in believing your violence and cruelty “helps” the people on whom you inflict it is going beyond willful ignorance and into magical thinking.

    2. Oh dear.. So because we aren’t ALL killing ourselves from the shame, it’s not working? YIKES!

  6. I am positive. I am positive fat oppression exists, I am positive it is a bad thing, and I am positive working towards eliminating it is the right thing to do. All kinds of positivity there.

  7. GAH. I’m positive this is pushing buttons. Hi, Mom and Dad.

    “Be positive” = “Don’t make a scene.” “Don’t be hysterical.” “Just yes them to death and then do what you want.” “Don’t show emotion, it’s a sign of weakness.” “No one likes an angry person.”

    A former boss used to have a saying when it came to dealing with her boss. Some things, she said, were “not a hill worth dying on.” Meaning, she was in charge of where she invested her emotional energy and wasn’t going to let her boss make a claim on it for everything. Ragen is in charge of what hills are worth dying on for her. Ditto for all of us. No one has the right to dictate that we just “be positive” about anything.

    1. As a woman, I get exhausted from the “don’t be hysterical… no one likes and angry person” stuff. What if I don’t want to be liked? What if I don’t want to make someone else’s problems easier on *them*? What if I just want to be left alone?

      You’re exactly right. It’s for each and every one of us to choose which hill to die on and whether we want to do so in a so-called “positive” or “negative” manner.

  8. Ah yes, just be positive and don’t think about the negative.

    That kind of talk sends me into a rage. My mom tells it to me about bad family stuff. Instead of acknowledging it and perhaps dealing with it. I’m just to supposed to pretend everything is fine.

    To quote Dr. Horrible, “The status is NOT quo.”

  9. ” I think that ignoring bullies allows them to bully in silence without any push back. I want to end bullying and dismantle oppression and I think that starts with pointing it out.” This!!

    Oh, and people somehow get scared of angry women. Angry fat women may scare them even more, now that we are meeting our oppression with determination to end it.

    1. Yes. We’re supposed to be either “jolly” or self-loathing. For us to be *angry* over the oppression, discrimination, prejudice, ridicule, mockery, loathing and hatred we face every day scares the hell out of some people. And to that I say GOOD. If angry fat women scare you, then “Be afraid … be very afraid.”

      1. To the point they won’t even use the word “angry.” They euphemize it as “bitter.” “You sound so *bitter* when you talk about fat rights.” No, no “bitterness” here – that’s the sound of “royally pissed off” you’re detecting.

  10. I’m positive that people who say “Why can’t you just be positive?” have the social IQ of a deck chair. I also see it as a form of concern trolling.

    As for the wanksock that was on about suicide and its varied causes…how would it be if someone who was thinking suicide was told, “Just take some prozac and go for a walk…it’s that easy” or “eat some broccoli to cure that nasty old breast cancer…it’s that easy” or any number of ridiculous, negating, insulting, or pat answers?

    1. Actually, there really are wankers out there who think anyone could overcome clinical depression or “happy-think” their way out of cancer if they’d only just try harder. [rolleyes]

      1. Indeed there are, and they’ve been around for some time. When my mother was dying of malignant, inoperable brain cancer in 1986, a so-called friend informed me, “helpfully,” that my mother was “doing this to herself” and that if she’d just use “positive visualizations” she could cure herself. I still don’t quite know how I restrained myself from physical violence. This left me with a really strong aversion to such phrases as “lost her battle with cancer” (which seems to imply that whether or not you survive is indeed a matter of “how hard you try”–i.e., if you’d JUST fight harder, you’d live!)

      2. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told that I either don’t feel how I feel or if I’d just stop the stinkin’ thinkin’, I’d be perfectly happy. Wow, if only I’d known it was so easy to cure bipolar disorder!

  11. TW: Sexual Abuse

    The worst con artist I was ever unfortunate enough to have in my life was ALWAYS lecturing others about the value of positive thinking. He was a user, a thief, and also sexually abused a neighbor of mine.

    Beware of anyone who insists that the most important thing in your interactions is being unthinkingly “positive.” They don’t want you to be skeptical, or critical, because once you are, their ability to do you dirt for their own personal profit becomes much, much more difficult.

  12. I don’t know if any of you guys read Lemony Snicket’s books, “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, but I read those books growing up and there’s one that takes place in a hospital. There’s a troop of volunteers who regularly visit the hospital who call themselves Volunteers Fighting Disease. They go around the hospital and hand out heart-shaped balloons to the patients and sing at them and claim that “thinking something makes it so”. They don’t actually do anything helpful whatever, if a patient asks them for water or assistance or anything, they say they don’t have time because they have to visit everyone in the hospital and sing to them and give them balloons. I tend to think of the positive thinking gurus as being like that.

  13. I wonder why it matters to people what I weigh. I’ve been told my extreme period pain is because of my size. My mother, who weighs barely 100lbs, has suffered the same pain her whole life. No one ever told her it was because she was fat. Shock, horror, maybe it’s genetic? No one bothered to ask me, or compare genetic factors.
    Instead of vilifying me, why not spend some research and money to figure out why our bodies are doing this?
    Much of the research showing fatter bodies better surviving terminal illness seems to be overlooked. Genetically, perhaps (conjecture as I’ve not done the research) our bodies are better at surviving illness that wastes our bodies? I’m pretty sure I’d survive a famine better than someone who’s body didn’t store fat the way mine does. In our society that’s considered bad. A few hundred years ago…
    Thanks much for your blog. I love it. Makes me better understand every day how to cope in our society.

    1. Excellent article. The positive thinking morons apparently never talked to people who say things like “all black people are lazy” or “women are the weaker sex” or whatever sweeping statement supports their bigotry.

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