You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

HatersThought Catalog reprinted my response (sadly without the links) to the ridiculous “6 Questions I Have About Fat Activism” piece by Carolyn Hall. You can read my post about it here, but the short version is that the article didn’t so much ask questions as it ranted against fat acceptance using common fallacies (stereotyping, equating body size with behavior and eating disorders and heroin addiction, and generally misconstruing Fat Acceptance and Health at Every Size.)   Immediately the haters descended, as I knew that they would because I chose not to mitigate my tone to suit them.

This time they weren’t just upset that I stood up for Fat Acceptance, this time I was also accused of the heinous crime of being angry at being mistreated.  People chose to ignore the long piece I had written to complain about the way that I wrote it (aka Tone Policing) and “for my own good” tell me that I wouldn’t convince anyone to agree with me if I wrote that angrily, saying that I “squandered the opportunity” to respond without anger..  Meanwhile other commenters called me names and said that my committing suicide would be a favor to the world. Why on Earth would I be angry?

A couple of things.  First of all, let’s be clear that what these people are saying is that they want to both oppress fat people, and control our behavior around how we deal with that oppression. How entitled must one be to think that the people who they are oppressing owe them a smile and a kind word? We are not obligated to deal with bullying, stigma, and oppression in a way that makes our bullies, stigmatizers and oppressors comfortable.

Activism can have many different goals.  Sometimes activism is about politely asking people if they wouldn’t mind not oppressing us so much, and sometimes it’s about demanding better treatment.  Sometimes it’s just about standing up for ourselves and giving other fat people an opportunity to see that, thus demonstrating an option they may not have been aware of.

I’ve discussed this before and I’m going to re-post a bit of that here:

I am definitely very, very angry – I am, in fact, pissed.  There is no excuse for the way that fat people are treated by everyone from the government, to strangers that we meet – I’m angry that treatment happens. That doesn’t mean that I’m not happy – I’m happy about a great many things, and I’m perfectly capable of holding happiness for some things and anger for others at the same time.

Then there is the argument that if I was really at peace with myself, if I really loved my body I wouldn’t be so angry. I’m at peace with myself – I’m at war with a large part of the world, and not of my choosing.  Perhaps you’ve heard of the “war on obesity?”  That war is against me, and my body. That war tries to convince people (including me) that I, and everyone who looks like me, should be eradicated based on the shaky assumption that it will save society money (as if it’s ok to suggest that a group should be eradicated in order to save society some money.)

Not only am I at peace with myself, I’m at peace with myself despite the fact that I’m being given the message that the way I look is proof that I’m a bad person who deserves shame, stigma and oppression.  It is that peace that makes me want to fight for my body and my rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness which includes the right to exist in a fat body without having the government wage war on me for how I look. It’s my love for my own body that drives the anger.

Let’s try this – Imagine that you have a best friend, and every single day that best friend is bullied, shamed, stigmatized.  If you become angry about the way your friend is treated, it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a good relationship with your friend, it means that you are justifiably angry at their mistreatment.

I spend a lot of time smiling politely and asking people if they wouldn’t mind not oppressing me.  I don’t begrudge that and I don’t apologize for it – it’s effective, it gives people the benefit of the doubt (that perhaps they weren’t aware of the consequences of their actions,) and it’s reasonably pleasant.  That doesn’t mean that I’m not angry at a society that condones the behavior and the social constructs that support the behavior.  That anger is because I love my body, because I’m at peace with myself and I’d like some peace with the outside world. Nor does it mean that I give up my right to speak out about my oppression in any tone that suits me for any reason I want.

To try to characterized the anger of people who are oppressed as a sign of deficiency in their relationships with themselves is dangerously dis-empowering – it suggests that to prove that we are happy with ourselves we must not speak out against our mistreatment (not to mention the serious issues with having some obligation to prove anything to anyone about how we feel about ourselves in the first place.) That’s flat out wrong – it’s way out of line, and, perhaps not surprisingly, it makes me very, very angry.

I do want to take a second to thank the Rolls Not Troll Facebook community and everyone who took to the comments to defend, educate, and model Size Acceptance – y’all rock!

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23 thoughts on “You Wouldn’t Like Me When I’m Angry

  1. “I’m perfectly capable of holding happiness for some things and anger for others at the same time.”

    THIS!!! ^ THANK YOU!!

  2. War on fat makes you wonder if there is a way to withhold taxes in a special fund until the “war” with us is over, don’t some Quaker war resisters do something like that?? Or would they just put us in camps like they did the Japanese? Yeah, mandatory fat camps may be just around the corner… (was joking when they wrote that, but sadly it seems all too possible…)

  3. I’ve been offline for a few days and missed all this and just read back and caught up. I never cease to be amazed that there are people – LOTS of people, who are apparently competent and intelligent enough to negotiate the complexities of modern life (I’m not talking about career internet trolls here except to say that their existence is preferable to living in a world where the access to a keyboard is policed) – who are still prepared to say in public, “Fat people should be bullied for their own good and the good of society.”

    I’ve got the soft slot on the debate. Knowing about health and giving advice about health is my job, and it’s very easy for me to smile and say, “Actually, you know, there IS no obesity crisis, it’s a myth,” or, “The dietitian is likely to tell you to limit your child’s access to food that they like and listen to them – your own child – complaining that they’re hungry, and make calorie-counting the focus of family meals, and you need to have a serious think about whether that’s really what you both want before I make a referral, given that your child is unlikely to lose weight and there’s no reason to believe that weight loss by dieting will make them any healthier or happier.”

    I’m glad you’re here to shout and get angry in a focused and articulate way, Ragen. Being reasonable and conciliatory is all very well, but history has shown that it takes more than that to achieve the magnitude of change that is needed. If women hadn’t been prepared to stand up and make a noise and act out and face disapproval, censure and worse, we’d probably still be living in a society in which only men are allowed to vote. What would South Africa look like now if people hadn’t been bold enough to risk their freedom and their lives and rise up against racial oppression?

    Incidentally, I’m currently staying in a place which is full of people who do sport. People of all shapes and sizes and nationalities and ages. And if anyone tried to guess how fast someone could move on land or water, or what their food choices from the hotel buffet would be, based on their appearance, I’d be prepared to stake a hefty bet upon their assessment being no more accurate than would be expected by chance :o)

  4. Reminds me of the expectation that feminists should be “ladylike” – that being defined (for the discussion) as quiet, accepting of male authority, docile, and certainly not in any way assertive. (I come from a long line of ladylike Great Ladies – none of whom were *ever* docile…) Merely saying that there was a problem was proof that you were one of those ranting, over agressive “libbers.”

    It’s a classic way to perpetuate oppression – insist the oppressed be “polite” about it. Works best in cases like feminism – and FA – in which oppressor and oppressed work together, live together – and may, indeed, love each other dearly… the oppressor having been convinced by society and “Everyone Knows…” tropes that s/he knows what is best for the beloved oppressed. (Don’t overeducate your daughter – she won’t get a husband. Don’t let your wife manage money – it’s too much strain for her sweet little mind. Make your child/spouse lose weight – or s/he’ll die young, after a poor quality life…)

    And, sometimes, the worst oppressors are themselves the victims… “I did this, becaues I was told it was best for me. I cannot now permit myself to believe that it may have been wrong, it may have harmed me – and I’m going to insist that it’s the best for you… Surely what I did was the best – wasn’t it??” I’m not talking here about most of the trolls – though, from things I’ve seen, some of them may be affected… I’m talking about the more personal battles. Many of them – that I’ve been in, at least – involve people who have *unsuccessfully* fought weight all their lives insisting that I should do the same. (If they hadn’t, surely they would weight much more – right?? They must have accomplished something, right? They cannot accept that they would probably weigh less… think how much that concept must hurt many people.)

    1. Per your last paragraph: There are times when it really is heroic to never turn back from a goal, even when you know that you may never reach it. In those cases, it’s because the actions when attempting to reach the goal are their own reward. The goal is a potential bonus, but not, in the end, the true purpose of what you’re doing.

      This is why I’m doomed to disagree forever with those who continue to diet when they obviously loathe dieting, or who do forms of exercise that they clearly don’t enjoy. It’s as if they know at some level they can’t reach the goal, so the actions become a form of self-punishment. Hard to hear about, hard to watch. I prefer to avoid such people when I can. :/

  5. Thank you. Thank you for writing the rebuttal, thank you for sending it to the same zine that posted the original, thank you for braving that mess.

    Also, while I certainly think anger is a valid response to the levels of mistreatment fat people suffer and anyone who isn’t angry isn’t paying attention… you can be nice and still be accused of “anger.” Just one reader’s opinion, but I thought your article was quite calm, considering the rant it was responding to. I also thought it was the tone of someone who knew they had the right and the information to correct a harmful, uninformed editorial, and *that’s* what made so many readers feel so threatened- they felt threatened by your confidence and assurance. Fat people are never supposed to sound like they consider themselves a thin person’s equal. They are always supposed to apologize for being fat, say something like, “I KNOW I’m not really a human being and you have the right to treat me however you want, but since this particular thing you do really hurts, would you stop please? If you want to, I mean? Because I totally know I deserve it, I know I need to lose weight, I know you are only trying to help me, I’m just asking for a reprieve because I am too weak for your Tough Love.”

    You didn’t say that, hence, your tone was “angry.”

    But the bright side (if there is any bright side) is that thinking people who haven’t questioned fatphobia will read what these clowns are writing and take a good, hard look at whose side they’re on. No matter how many cloaks of concern it shows up wearing, hate just can’t resist unmasking itself as hate in the end. The more decent people who see fatphobia’s true face, courtesy of fatphobes themselves, the better.

  6. Angry. One of those words used by those with privilege to get others to shut up and take whatever shit the privileged dish out. Also see, militant, uppity.

  7. “to convince people (including me) that I, and everyone who looks like me, should be eradicated based on the shaky assumption that it will save society money (as if it’s ok to suggest that a group should be eradicated in order to save society some money.)” Guess what money would be saved, if they had the same war on politicians …

    1. Wasn’t that one of the reasons for the Holocaust? The “Joooz” were taking away all the Germans’ hard earned money, and if only we could get rid of them, the money would return to us.

      1. Oh, someone has political amibitions and feels hurt?
        Well, by comparing things that are far from being alike your comment has not made a big impression …

    2. O-H Y-E-A-H, that’s good fixing the politicians would save money for sure,
      (and maybe ensure our food supply is safe from toxins and GMOs etc.)

      That and better checks in hospitals (which is quite doable–see April/May ’13 AARP) could save more lives of all size people.
      They aren’t, after all, really all that interested in saving us anyway,
      but in saving themselves FROM us!

  8. Thank you for all your hard work. I’ve been hyper aware recently of how negatively fat people are portrayed. In the fictional stuff I am reading, all the ‘bad’ women are fat and portrayed as looking as badly as possible. Of course, the ‘good’ women are all super beautiful (read thin).

    I may write to these authors at some point, but right now, all my sanity spoons are devoted to job-hunting and not getting too depressed from being unemployed.

  9. I have my own personal standards about when I get angry at someone. At first, I give them the benefit of the doubt, and if I’m in a position/patient enough to educate them, I do. THEN I get mad when a second offense pops up. The thing is, that’s MY system, and it’s there to protect MY sanity. Neither I nor anyone else has a right to tell anyone else that they’re doing anger wrong. The fact that others continue to berate activists for being angry tells me that they really aren’t interested in listening to any opposing arguments, nor are they interested in actually fixing problems.

  10. I found the link to Ragen’s rebuttal here! Nice job, Ragen. Also, how did you persuade them to run a picture of a fat woman that was only missing part of her head, rather than all of it– as we usually see? I hope they didn’t make you pay cash for the privilege.

    Also, I know it’s wrong, but I seriously couldn’t stop snickering at the bozo in the comments who said that body fat stretches the skin out so much that disease gets in like that [snaps fingers] and we all diiiiiiiiiie!! I know she was serious, but I prefer to imagine it as parody. I have a vision of making millions selling Micro-Fatty Skin Caulk™ to suffering sister fats all over the globe. I just hope I can afford to market it in the appropriate range of skin hues. 😉

      1. You can get in on the ground floor of my pyra– I mean, my can’t-fail new business now! Just slip the cash under the door. I’ll call you when the profits start rolling in…

  11. Because anger can be a destructive, harmful emotion (depending on how we handle it) and because the benefits of positive thinking are so exaggerated in today’s society, many people feel anger is always, inevitably a bad thing, instead of a natural human emotion that actually serves a purpose if kept under control.
    I have a mental illness and about a year ago I had the opportunity to be part of a group facilitated by mental health workers meant to help people in the recovery process from a mental illness get back on their feet. One of the things we talked about in the group was anger, and the myth that it’s a shameful emotion, that it’s wrong to be angry. Shame toward, and repression of anger can only make it worse.
    We all have the right to be angry and to express that anger in an assertive fashion. We do not need to apologize for it. As long as we don’t become verbally or physically aggressive or intimidating, we have nothing to apologize for.
    Imagine all the shit that wouldn’t get done if we just never got angry. Imagine how many more people would get away with treating others like crap and walking all over them. Where is the drive, the motivation going to come from to defend ourselves and/or others in all number of situations if we just don’t get upset?
    When it comes to haters and oppressors though, whether they realize it or not, what they really mean when they criticize another group for getting angry is, “I am allowed to get angry and so are all the people out there who agree with my views. All you idiots out there who have the audacity to stand up for yourselves have no right to get angry. In fact, you should just be grateful that I and all my hate-mongering compatriots even allow you any space to say anything at all.”

  12. Even Hitler did not try to eradicate fat people on the argument that it would save society money. He tried to get rid of Jews, Romani (aka Gypsies), homosexuals, and political dissidents. But he did not try to even argue that fat people should be eradicated.

    Makes you think, huh?

    1. I’m sure some Hitler-lover will say that he died before he could go onto the next group.

      I once had an interview/seminar for an insurance company, and I kept thinking, “what happens when everyone on Earth gets the insurance, then there’s no more money to be made”. Haters/oppressors always find some other group to hate, until there are no more.

  13. Reblogged this on The Cheese Whines and commented:
    What perhaps appalls me the most of all is how people can spend time mustering so much venom for those they have chosen to see as unattractive or undeserving of even the most cursory common decency. My policy has always been if I don’t care for someone, leave them alone.
    There have been people in my life who have made me angry enough that I have come to hate them. Hate is a horrible feeling. It literally starts making a person sick, both physically and mentally.
    All the hate that these individuals are spewing is far more unhealthy than even the worst diet and most sedentary lifestyle could ever be.

  14. Didn’t you know? Women aren’t allowed to be angry. I guess you didn’t get the memo…. Just keep doing what you are doing. We need you to get a little pissed off for us. Thank you.

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