One of things that changed for me (and that others often tell me changed for them) when I became a Size Acceptance Activist was that I started to see all of the size-based stigma, bullying and oppression (that I used to think I deserved because I had a fat body) for what it was. And then came the anger. Recently a reader asked me a question about this:
Hi Ragen, I am a fat woman who has been following your blog for years now and I had a question. How do we keep the anger from hurting us? I’m talking about my anger at the world for treating me so badly for being fat. I have a major chip on my shoulder about this, but it’s not like I’m holding a grudge against someone who did something to me in the past. I’m angry at a world who treats me horribly every day. This anger can help with activism, but I am suspicious of others, less friendly and open, and just generally angry all the time. I know this anger and resentment is hurting me. Channeling it into activism seems to make it even worse – the more I focus on the injustice, the angrier and more resentful I get. How do you deal with this? How have others you’ve known dealt with it? Any help you could provide would be much appreciated!
Before I get into this let me be clear that these are the ways that I deal with anger, and your mileage may vary. It’s also cool if you do something else – each person gets to choose how to deal with the oppression that comes at them.
The first thing that I do about anger is remember that it is valid. It’s not in my head – the way I am treated as a fat person in this society is severely fucked up and it absolutely shouldn’t be happening. There are lots of ways to deal with anger but for me first and foremost it’s about not internalizing it and not letting it eat at me.
So the second thing that I do is put the problem where it belongs, which is with the entity doing the stigmatizing, shaming, and oppression, and not with my body. I constantly remind myself that the crap that comes at me on a daily basis is not my fault and that, though it can become my problem because I have to deal with it, I’m not actually the one with the issue here.
Once I have those two things sorted I have a lot of options and what I do varies depending on the situation, the person, my goal in that moment, the day I’m having, and any number of other factors.
Often I choose some form of activism – blog about it, write an email or letter to the offending party, sometimes I discuss the issue with someone in person. I might put it on Facebook and suggest that other people get involved etc. The tone with which I do this also varies depending on the situation.
Often (especially in person) I go for the teachable moment – taking their intention into account, finding compassion, looking for opportunities to build bridges etc. But sometimes my goal isn’t to help them overcome their bigotry and/or I just don’t have it for the teachable moment and in those situations I sometimes react with anger and I don’t apologize for that – anger is a completely reasonable reaction to shaming, stigmatizing, and bullying. It’s important to remember that when we quell our anger at being mistreated and go for the teachable moment we’re not fulfilling some obligation, we’re doing a courtesy to someone who is behaving badly
In a similar vein, I think it’s important to understand the techniques that people will use to derail conversations about oppression, or in defensiveness when they are called out on bad behavior. Everything from can’t you take a joke to I’m just concerned about your health to all the other ways that someone (or a company) who has just had their fatphobic behavior pointed out doubles down on that behavior. I may or may not decide to continue the conversation but I again go through the process: recognize it for what it is, correctly assign the problem to the person doing it and then make a decision about how I want to handle it.
The final thing that I do is remember that I have all the options available to me. One techique that people who engage in fatphobia often use is trying to tell you what you have to do – that you have to do this or that, that you have to prove this or that, that you have to react a certain way or use a certain tone or say certain things. I always remember that the truth is that telling people who you are actively oppressing what hoops they have to jump through to woo you into not oppressing them anymore is the veritable definition of being a complete jackass. The people who are telling me to hate myself (and have no business doing that) are also not the people who should get to dictate how I deal with that oppression. So whether I politely ask someone if they wouldn’t mind not oppressing me so much, or I go home and hit a pillow with a tennis racket, or something in between, those are all valid reactions.
For me one of things that I think is important if I’m going to use activism to deal with my anger is to make activism the goal in and of itself, and consider any change that comes from it to be a bonus. I can’t control other people’s behavior so I engage in activism for what it does for me – because standing up against the oppression that I deal with helps me to feel good about myself and not buy into the negative messages that get pushed on my for other people’s fun and profit. That said, if you find that participating activism is harming you then one completely valid option is to take a break, surround yourself with supportive people and go to your happy place.
Also, instead of focusing on injustices, you can focus your activism on supporting other fat people. There are a bunch of fat people out there who are angry at their bodies instead of the people that stigmatize, shame, and oppress them because of their bodies, and while I have no interest in telling them how they have to live, I want to make sure that they know there is another option.
So that’s me, as always other ideas are welcome in the comments!
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