Dealing with concern trolling can be complicated, especially since people have a tendency to insist that we accept this kind of behavior graciously (that’s one of the things that makes the tactic popular. People can be inappropriate and then shrug and say “What? I was just expressing concern, why are you being so mean to me?” Charming, no?) The truth is that each person who gets concern trolled gets to choose how to deal with it. I’ve recently had a run-in with a concern troll that made me think a lot about this, and gave me a surprising reminder about compassion along the way.
I’m currently training for an IROMAN triathlon. (I have a separate blog for that so that I can yammer on about my training with being boring, annoying, or triggering to people who come to this blog for Size Acceptance stuff). On a recent post, I got a comment from a concern troll:
I find your ethic and ambitions inspiring but concerned puppy needs to consider something else – can you make the 17 hour cutoff? Based on your marathon experience I would say that you cannot. (followed by an exhaustive list of the IM time limits, of which of course I’m already very well aware)
That’s so weird, I don’t remember asking for her, or anyone’s, opinion about this, and in fact I covered all of this in my FAQ section.
Ironman is an expensive proposition so if it isn’t likely you can finish, what’s the point?
I can’t believe they don’t make an inspirational poster with this quote in front of a sailboat or something.
Do you really want to spend a couple thousand dollars to show the world that you are brave enough to step up? Something to consider.
Aaand we have another psychic – she knows why I’m doing this. And apparently she knows better than I do since I covered my reasons pretty extensively in the FAQ and this wasn’t it. She could have at least left me some lottery numbers…
I was just dying to know, how does someone become this kind of person, so I sent an e-mail “I’m genuinely curious as to how you stumbled onto my blog, and what made you take the time out of your day to comment with your concerns.” I received a reply:
I just did Ironman Canada in July and it took me 16:48 – I had a very hard day. Ironman is hard.
Having eaten my bowl of No Shit Sherlock flakes that morning, I already had a grasp on the fact that swimming, biking, and running 140.6 miles in 17 hours is hard. While I congratulate her on finishing, I’m not sure why she’s telling me about her time or experience, since neither has anything to do with me. I could be wrong, but the way that this is phrased makes it seem like she thinks I’ll say “Well, if it was hard for a stranger I know nothing about, I’ll never be able to do it, I quit!” which makes me think that a very exaggerated sense of self-importance may be at work here. But again, I could be wrong.
I hate to see you put out this smack down that’s going to cost you $675 for the race and several hundred dollars for accommodations and some more money to ship the bike and something for travel (I didn’t notice where you live). I just thought you should consider the cost given how unlikely it is you can finish in under 17 hours.
So I’m to believe that this onslaught of discouragement is actually a benevolent attempt at helping me save money? (Also, IM Arizona is $725, not $625. If the money is so important, I would think she would know the correct figure.)
You are setting yourself up for failure and what’s the point in that?
Is creating text for motivational posters a real job, because if it is this woman should consider it as a career! It seems like I’ve seen and heard a lot of motivational quotes, songs, and stories about taking risks, setting big goals, and not being so afraid of failure that you don’t try. But maybe I just misheard all of them, and what they were saying was “If you might fail, don’t bother to try.” Hey, there’s another poster right there!
Do an Olympic. Do a Half. See what happens. If it works out, move up to IM and show me how wrong I am. I’m okay with that.
Well, isn’t she just the sweetest thing, bless her heart. She’s “ok” with me reaching my personal goals. (And can a fatty get some reading comprehension? I mention several times, including an entire post about it, that I’ll do a schedule of races before the IM.) This is a particularly interesting technique of the concern troll wherein they set themselves up to get credit if the subject of their abuse succeeds. When I cross the finish line I won’t be surprised to get an e-mail that says “See, by [acting like a complete ass] I inspired you, you should thank me…”
Which makes me wonder, what would she do if I quit based on her comment? “Dear Diary, Today I got a woman to give up her IRONMAN goal! I’m such a good person. Sometimes people don’t notice that about me, but I really am.” So. Fucked. Up.
I’m a pragmatist and I’m cheap so that’s why you heard from me.
Yes, I’m sure that’s exactly what this is about. And we’ll all swear to that, even if they question us separately.
As a person being concern trolled, why someone does it doesn’t change my response. I get to decide how people treat me and so regardless of whether this person really is an altruistic cheapskate traveling the internet helping people choose the fear of losing money over trying to achieve their dreams, or she’s a fatphobic jerk who gets off on discouraging fat athletes, or somewhere in between, the fact remains that her behavior is grossly out of line and completely unacceptable to me.
While I was waiting for her response, I did some digging and found her public website. There I found this: “I have profound body image issues in spite of being in phenomenal shape. When I was overweight I was quite certain that everyone hated me simply because I was fat. I’m better now but still have issues and worry way too much about the size of my butt and thighs.”
And that’s when the compassion hit me. This world is designed to fuck people, especially women, up when it comes to our body image, and self-esteem. And maybe some people get fucked up in a way that makes them take to the internet to try to discourage people from training for an IRONMAN. Unlike her, I’m not psychic so I’m not pretending to know where this woman is coming from, but her behavior towards me is fucked up and I don’t think it can hurt me to have compassion for how it might have happened.
That said, and I cannot be clear enough about this, that does not make it ok. I am not obligated to excuse bad behavior directed at me for any reason. But I can set boundaries and hold compassion at the same time and I think that’s worth doing. So obviously I’ll not be approving her comment, or taking her perspective into consideration. But I also sincerely hope that, if she wants to rid herself of body image issues, she finds a way to do that, and I also hope that if this type of inappropriate behavior is typical of her, nobody else is harmed by her.
This whole thing has also really helped me to be grateful for my own journey to body love and everything that it’s done for me. If I hadn’t found Fat Acceptance I might be using my time to mete out discouragement to those who have what I once didn’t think I ever could. The truth is that, when it comes to concern trolling, it’s entirely possible that there but for the grace of Size Acceptance go I.
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