Telling Truth to Power

It’s “Say Something Sunday,” a day dedicated, at least on this blog, to personal Size Diversity activism. I did the math and if everyone who views the blog each week did one piece of Size Diversity Activism a week, it would add up to over 1.5 million body positive messages put out into the world this year.  Multiply that times the number of people who might see each of those messages and things start to increase exponentially. To be very clear, nobody is obligated to do activism so if this doesn’t appeal to you that’s totally cool, I’ll be back tomorrow with your regularly scheduled blog post!

Today’s theme is Telling Truth to Power.  Yesterday I blogged about yet another incident of George Takei fat shaming on his Facebook page.  It was hard for me to do because I’m a fan of George Takei and he is a civil rights hero to me, but he has shown a consistent pattern of posting fat shaming things and, when called on it doubling down (which yesterday actually included the “I have fat friends” defense.)

When making the choice about whether or not to speak truth to power (and make no mistake, you are under no obligation to do so and there’s nothing wrong with weighing the pros and cons) it’s important to keep in mind that there can consequences.  People came out of everywhere yesterday to defend George Takei – not making an argument that what he did was ok, but rather that I shouldn’t have called him out on it.  I received the following comments:

Takei didn’t write the article he was just sharing it and, while I would have preferred that he include a disclaimer about using the word “fattest” and its implications, that is not his job. Cut him some slack.

No, it totally is his job because he is sharing a fat shaming meme in his space.  He is responsible for that, it’s not my job to cut him some slack.  People not engaging in fat-shaming is not a “preference” for me, it’s a demand.

This man is only human and has done so much to help others, I honestly don’t think that he meant anything by it.

Maybe he didn’t mean anything by it.  I’ve certainly made the mistake of not realizing that my actions were hurtful. But when people tell you “Hey, this thing that you are doing is hurtful to me please stop” the thing to do is to stop, and apologize, and do better in the future, not double down and tell them that they should toughen up because you want to make fun of them with impunity.

Doing “so much to help others” does not get you off the hook for doing fucked up things. His description on Facebook says “I hope all know me as a believer in, and a fighter for, the equality & dignity of all human beings.”  Unless he wants to add “Except fat people, fuck those guys” to the end of that then he needs to do way, way better.

He has people who run these pages for him, it’s not like he’s posting it.

He has his name on it, he has his picture on it, he promotes his projects on it. He is responsible for it.

You shouldn’t have said this, by talking badly about him you could hurt his reputation.

Noooooo, no no no.  He hurt his reputation when he posted something fat shaming.  My pointing it out is not the issue, if he wants a reputation fighting for all human beings, then he needs to include the fat people.

Then I got this beautiful comment from Dana:

Just as I was overwhelmed with disappointment at George Takei’s post and its comments, Facebook’s ever-disturbing manipulation of my feed suggested this blog post for me to read. I was then overwhelmed by gratitude, and rather than despairing at the magnitude of microaggressions perpetuated by a leader in civil rights activism, I’m grateful to find (just as visible, to me, at least) that someone else has already so eloquently made a public statement.

And I remembered why it’s important to speak truth to power.  I have around 5,000 Facebook friends, George Takei has almost 9 million, I may well have lost friends, fans, and followers because I spoke up, but right is right, and fat shaming is fat shaming and I want to be someone who stands up when it’s time to stand up because it’s the right thing to do.

So for Say something Sunday this week I suggest taking an opportunity to speak truth to power! If you have examples of times when you’ve done so I definitely welcome you to post them in the comments!

If you want to do more of this kind of thing, consider joining the Rolls Not Trolls group on Facebook, it’s a group created for the specific purpose of putting body positive things in body negative spaces on the internet and supporting each other while we do that.  It’s a secret group so if you want to join just message me on facebook (I’m Ragen Chastain)

Have a great Say Something Sunday!

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17 thoughts on “Telling Truth to Power

  1. I may well have lost friends, fans, and followers because I spoke up…

    You may have lost followers, sure, but I feel that it’s kind of a basic requirement of a “friend” or even a “fan” to, at the very least, be supportive of issues that are important to you, full stop. Not “I support your basic human rights… as long as you don’t criticize someone I admire,” and most certainly not “I support your basic human rights… as long as it has zero personal cost to me.”

    I mean, I’m just a casual lurker so I can’t count myself among your friends or fans (Facebook or otherwise), but I can’t help but feel that anyone who dumped you simply because you did what you always do–the same thing, in fact, you presumably did to get them to like you in the first place–doesn’t really fit into a “friend” or “fan” category.

    I mean, obviously, that’s just my opinion and I’m sure many people think differently on the subject. But, in any case, you deserve friends, fans, and followers who believe that you have a right to be treated with respect and decency 100% of the time, not just when it’s convenient for them.

    1. “you deserve friends, fans, and followers who believe that you have a right to be treated with respect and decency 100% of the time, not just when it’s convenient for them”

      Absolutely! This is very well said and hits the nail on the head. I’m sorry that Ragen lost any followers or friends but, damn, if you lose people just because they disagree on WHO you’re calling out for their bullshit, then they aren’t the type of people who you want following you anyway. Perpetuating stereotypes about fat people is bullshit, and it should be called out. It doesn’t matter if it’s the most hated person in the world or the most loved person in the world.

  2. I’m so disappointed in George Takei. You were right to call him on this and I’m so sad he chose to defend his behavior instead of rethink it. It’s changed how I see him and it just reinforces that so few people are willing to rethink their prejudices in this area. It makes me wonder if we’ll ever make any progress and if people will ever listen. 😦

  3. I hate WordPress. It ate my comment while I was trying (unsuccessfully) to log in. So let me try again, lol!

    I really needed this today, so first, Thank you! I, a lowly part-time adjunct instructor, am about to take on a textbook author for anti-fat bias. I feel like David taking on Goliath, except without the slingshot.

    I’ve gotten lots of support in this already from the Rolls Not Trolls page, but that was mainly for writing a letter. Now I may have an opportunity to review the next edition, and that’s a lot scarier! This helps.

  4. Yesterday, a friend posted an article essentially about how diets are bullshit and there is no one-size-fits-all diet for everyone. Most of the comments to her post were from women, and began, “I know I’m overweight/obese, but…”

    Those comments really made me sad. So I commented that nothing makes me sadder than those comments. That I am 54 and fat, and it’s OK. That a few years ago, I had dieted myself down to a weight where I was getting a lot of compliments – but I was also miserable and crabby all the time, and having seizures. So I stopped all that shit, gained weight, and ta-da! No more seizures. I said that nobody owes anyone an apology for his or her body, so please stop apologizing for your body! I ended by encouraging everyone to love their bodies, and to appreciate everything their bodies do for them every day.

    Yes, there are still days when I get nearly hysterical about being fat (thanks, mom- who never let me forget that I am fat and nothing I ever achieve will mean anything so long as I am fat!), but I do what I can, when I can.

    Thank you so much for your blog!

    1. Slavicdiva, I’m afraid it’s more than that. Most western women are taught to apologize for speaking up about anything, at all. We are trained, from a young age, to preface every statement with, “I’m sorry.” You can hear this in elementary school. Boys raise their hands, and when called on, ask their question, or make whatever statement they wanted to make. Girls, however, start with, “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry. I need to go to the girls’ room.” “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear the question.” “I’m sorry. Joey is pulling my ponytail.” “I’m sorry. I think the answer is sixteen.”

      It’s not just about fat acceptance. We need to accept ourselves, in our entirety, and know that we have just as much right to existence, and a public presence, as anyone else. We have the right to be seen in public, in our swimsuits, and not have to apologize for it, just as we have the right to speak up in class, or ask questions at a press conference, or anywhere else people speak up.

  5. “right is right, and fat shaming is fat shaming and I want to be someone who stands up when it’s time to stand up because it’s the right thing to do”

    Right on! Doing the right thing is often not easy. The right thing is often the hard thing.

  6. On the “he has done so much to help others” defense:

    My Grampa did a lot of good stuff in his life. He also did a lot of bad stuff. BAD stuff. Flat-out “Who the heck DOES that?” stuff. Yet, my father, without denying the bad stuff, and while telling us that the bad stuff was bad, and protecting us from that bad stuff, still acknowledged and honored the good stuff Grampa did. Because they were separate things, and my father loved him, Dad taught us to put down the bad behavior, while lifting up the person.

    Calling out a person on one bad thing does not negate all the good things he’s done, any more than doing one good thing will negate all the bad things he’s done.

    Ragen called out a specific behavior, that can be changed. She didn’t throw the whole man under the bus. But people are responding as if she vilified him. It’s not right.

    Human beings are a mixed bag. Nobody is perfect. But good people should be able to accept criticism of something bad they’ve done, apologize, and try their best to make it right.

    1. This often comes up in “Ask the Rabbi” mailing lists. The Nazis did some scientific research, such as determining the lowest body temp. before death. The moral dilemma is: can we use that information, knowing that it led to someone’s death, and all the other horrible things they did, or do we have to start from scratch? Some rabbis are totally against using anything the Nazis did, but the less Jewish-Jews accept some of the findings. I think the fascination with twins also derives from Mengela’s work, as he studied twins to death (in actuality!), and twin studies are considered gold standards today in medical research. Likewise, should we study twins knowing that the fascination comes out of eugenics, or divorce the incentive?

      1. Wow! I had no idea about any of that. I prefer my medical studies to be ethical, yet realize that there is some knowledge that we cannot (currently) get without smashing ethics. I don’t want to smash ethics to get that knowledge. However, if someone else already has, and the knowledge is out there…

        Wow, that’s a dilemma. Taking that knowledge seems like a reward to the unethical brutes, but then again, not taking that knowledge seems like making it so those people died in vain.

        Frankly, I think I preferred my blissful ignorance.

        1. Yeh, I totally get that, but I err on the side of if the data is valid use it. I’m on the side of “people died for that data,” if it saves ONE person, hopefully those dead can rest more peacefully knowing that the horrors they went through saved a life.

          There’s a very Jewish concept “to save a life,” you can break every last Jewish rule and law, eat pork, break the Sabbath, whatever, if someone is in danger of being very sick or possibly dying. All the rules and regs go out the window, and that is a Jewish law. Life is the most important thing (although in most cases it’s considered something not to do to trade one life for another, so you don’t injure yourself beyond help to help someone else.)

          But the monsters who were the Nazis were going to kill these people. The Japanese who did experiments were going to kill those people. The Americans who did it, were not SUPPOSED to be killing these people (and there were experiments, Tuskeegee anyone?) We have laws and rules now about experimentation in most modern countries. At this point the only way I can see to acknowledge the sacrifice of the victims is to use the bloody (literally) data. And make it as clear as possible that doing it again is anathema. But that data can never be remade. There is no oversight group no matter how clear the informed consent is that would let most of those experiments happen (even on people who are dying and volunteer.)

          1. That’s true. If we can’t ever do it again, not using the existing data means they died in vain.

            It’s still squicky. Life is messy, though, and sometimes, we just have to deal with the squick.

            1. Yeh the squick level hurts bad. I hate the fact that the subject came up ever at all. But there are zero good choices here, so we take what we can get which is this terrible awful heinous data can save lives.

  7. I decided to Speak Up this Sunday by writing a letter to Ulla Popken telling them that I didn’t like the tips they’ve started adding to their clothing description pages.

    I used a tip that said something like “if you have slender forearms, consider rolling up the sleeves” as an example. I will consider rolling up the sleeves if it’s hot or I like my bracelets or whatever other reason I feel like it, but I don’t need Ulla Popken people basically telling me which parts of my body are acceptable for viewing.

  8. I spoke up today by writing a letter to the editor of my local newspaper after they published a horrible article about fat shaming children to “eliminate” childhood obesity. I don’t think they’ll actually publish it, but I feel better that I made my point.

  9. There was an “opinion” piece in the New York Times this week written by Gary Taubes. The subject was — well, who cares what the subject was? He was hawking his diet advice yet again (carbs make you fat! and that’s bad because “obesity epidemic”! blah blah blah). Taubes is an expert on one thing: making money promoting himself and selling his diet books. Anyway, I wasn’t able to post a comment and now the comments section is closed. Is it worth writing a letter? The NYT isn’t going to stop publishing this stuff — it gets them eyeballs. And I’m not an expert either, just a skeptical reader with a strong hunch that I am right and he is wrong.

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