Damn Right I’m Still Doing Body Positive Activism

fundamentalI received an e-mail from reader Lynnette saying:

With everything that is going on in American right now, and your obvious gifts at politics (your Facebook posts are keeping me going right now) does it still make sense for you to focus on Body Positive activism?

First of all, thank you for the kind words about my Facebook posts. And I definitely understand the question – with everything that’s going on right now it can be hard to focus on anything but trying to keep up with what’s happening, calling elected officials, and keeping our heads above water.

For the reasons below, I’ll continue to focus on Body Positive Activism (and when I say “Body Positive” I mean radically intersectional activism, I mean including and especially fat people, People of Color, Queer, Trans, Nonbinary people, disabled people/people with disabilities, and all of those who live outside the current stereotypes of beauty and/or have not been, and are still not being, appropriately included and represented in body positivity/size diversity activism/fat activism.) Of course I can only speak for myself, I’m not suggesting that anyone else should/has to see it this way, this is just how I see it:

I believe that I have to pay attention to what’s happening, and that we have to organize and advocate for ourselves and use our privilege to advocate for others.  I’m also clear that, while there are differences in the ways and intensities that each of us can be activists, there’s no such thing as “not being political” if you are someone who needs, for example, clean air, drinkable water, healthcare, bodily autonomy, and a planet to live on. Finally I’m clear that those of us who are afforded more privilege in a culture rife with systemic oppressions need to understand and wield that privilege.

That said, I’m absolutely going to keep doing the work I’ve been doing, because our relationships with our bodies are FUNDAMENTAL to our desire and ability to pay attention to what’s happening, organize, and advocate for ourselves and others. We don’t take care of things that we hate, and that includes our bodies.

The more we believe that we (and our bodies) are worthy and deserving – of clean air; drinkable water; space to exist; bodily autonomy; a life without shame, stigma, bullying, and oppression, the more we will be willing to fight for those things and to resist anyone who tries to steal them from us.

If any group or government wanted to take away my right/ability to do this work, they would have to do it over my beaten, bloodied, dead body. So if I stop doing this work voluntarily, I’m just doing their job for them. I’m allowing them to try to convince us that we aren’t worthy, that our bodies aren’t worth defending or protecting. And I KNOW that’s not true.

And I have the platform and skills to get the word out that fatphobia, negative body image, poor self-esteem, and eating disorders (and their intersections with oppressions like racism, ableism, healthism, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, classism and more) will continue to ruin lives and kill people – and if some have their way, the victims will believe that we got what we deserved. The work that I and so many amazing people do provides an alternative to that – an alternative that could literally be life or death.

It’s always been important work. It’s always been work worth doing. And it still is, maybe now more than ever.

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10 thoughts on “Damn Right I’m Still Doing Body Positive Activism

  1. I’ve been in discussions with friends about our need to – individually – focus.

    If we all race after the Crisis of the Day – *every* day – we’ll wear out, and we won’t get far on any issue at all.

    Instead, we each need to select one issue – or constellation of related issues – that we will concentrate on. Perhaps is is our passion, perhaps it is a subject we already have studied and researched (or experienced,) perhaps we already have a platform particularly well suited to educating others about that issue.

    For some of us, the issue is obvious. My friend whose academic career has concentrated on issues of refugees knows what she will work with, as does the immigration lawyer. Others of us could go in several directions, and would do best to either choose one, or find the spot where they intersect and point to the way they come together.

    You already have an issue you have been working on. You have a platform. It is intersectional – many of the attacks I saw meant to discredit the Women’s March were based on the idea that the marchers were unattractive, only complaining because they couldn’t get men, or wanted to be men, or other such nonsense… That if that specific man did not find a woman sexually appealing she did not deserve a voice. Since that is still the way they try to silence us, *that* voice must be heard.

    And the worst thing we can do is tell each other “Your issue isn’t as important as mine – you should come work here!” This needs to be a large, intersecting net, without gaps or holes.

    None of this means we can’t ever mention another issue, or spare five minutes for a phone call. It does mean that we must learn not to be distracted from our own concentration, learn to keep our own eyes on our own goal.

  2. YES! Someone pointed out to me (correctly) that if we all choose one or two issues we feel passionate about and focus on that, we will still cover everything.

    Plus, we can really understand what is involved with the issue, and be better prepared to explain it to others, or have better ideas how to potentially fix it.

    I’ve been feeling pulled in so many different directions since the elections, it’s been overwhelming and stressful and results in very little getting done.

    I’m currently deciding what I want most to focus on so I can hopefully be effective.

    I hope everyone here is practicing self care. I think we all need it.

  3. What is the saying, “If they came for them they’ll eventually come for us”? I can’t imagine anyone thinking, that the same people who believe they have a right to put a wall between us and Mexico, don’t also think they have a right to not sit next to a fat person on a plane. All of the aggressive behaviors we’ve seen toward fat people aren’t going to go away because the inherently self-serving people are too busy upping their aggression toward black people, or immigrants, or Muslims, etc.. The more they feel justified in ignorance or bigotry toward one group, they more they’ll feel free to spread it around – and considering how many otherwise liberal people seem to also support fat-shaming, they won’t have much resistance.

    The next four years are not going to get any easier for people being victimized in the “War on Obesity.” Especially when you considering that some of those people are also immigrants, gay, not-white, poor, disabled – the list goes on.

    I can’t recall having seen the phrase “radically intersectional activism” before, but I like it. And regardless of where you’re focusing your attention at any given moment, I think it’s the only kind of activism that means anything in this world anymore. Because when you think you have the right to pick and choose what people in an oppressed group you support, your support doesn’t mean much to anyone.

  4. I’m trying to formulate my thoughts, but not getting very far: my question has to do with how to be an effective ally. With so many battles to be fought, has something changed in the way we can best support our friends who are fighting a different front?

    1. I think your best bet on being a good ally is to fight your OWN battles, and listen to what others are saying, as they fight theirs. Don’t try to step in and speak for them. Don’t talk over them. Don’t interject yourself into the conversation. But listen. And point other people to the conversation, when you can. “Sarah has some very interesting things to say about (Sarah’s passion). Here’s her platform, if you want to check it out.”

      There is a caveat. If you see someone in that other group, whatever that may be, being treated badly, it’s ALWAYS OK to say, “Hey, stop that! You’re being a jerk!” to the person treating them badly. It’s also always OK for an ally to say, “I agree with them,” after the person from that other group has said something with which you agree.

      Allies should not be silent. However, their biggest job is to be the “wind beneath the wings” of the people actually involved first-hand in the issue, listening, and supporting, lending strength and shining light on the people who are actually first-hand involved in the issue.

      One way to be an effective ally, especially for intersectionality, and a wide variety of issues, would be to use your platform not for speaking out about any specific issues, yourself, but to create a convenient index for people to search for good information about all the varieties of issues. If you know and support five different activists, for five different issues, why not set up a website linking to all five of them, with the odd comment of “I agree with this,” or “This essay is very powerful,” or “Wow! I never even thought of that!” Expand from there, as you discover new issues and/or new activists.

      Coordinate the pot-luck, as it were.

  5. For me, focus is going to be necessary or I’ll spin off into complete ineffectiveness. I’m picking two main issues–for me they’re 1) immigration/refugees and 2) health care. I care deeply about many other issues, and there are many overlaps and intersections (for instance, whoever fills the SC seat will have a great deal of impact on both those issues). But my main activism — letters to the paper, visiting my representative’s office this morning, marching, more direct acts of resistance as deportations start — will focus on those two.

    Do these intersect with Fat Activism? Hell yes. And I will speak up for fat rights and body positivity in my activism on health care every chance I get. I think we will all find that the “radically intersectional” nature of our activism becomes ever more clear as the next few months and years unfold.

  6. I think it is still a form of shamming and minimizing and all tied up with the big bugaboo of sexism world wide. When someone asks if you are “still doing something” they are letting you know they themselves have evolved and moved on to “more important things.”, dismissing your goals and views in one go.
    This “fat thing” has had to deal with the same crap the civil rights activists and women right activists and gay rights activists have had to endure for ages… The best way for people to “put something behind them” and not have to deal with it is to literally put it behind them… As in “Oh God haven’t we done this already?” “Aren’t we “past this…”
    I am willing to bet if you are still asking if we are past it yet, you yourself have enough issues with what ever it is to fill a stadium.
    Bill M. once again used fat people as a minimizer in a comment about the current state of political affairs as in: this is way more serious, this political thing, while you liberals are going off about who is being fat shamed “really terrible” things are happening elsewhere.
    Like this “fat thing” is of no consequence. Are you kidding. When more people would rather be dead than fat, (actual studies) it is a Real Thing. When it effects your job opportunities, you relationships, you health and well being, it is a real thing. When you can be discriminated against, fired abused, labeled, dismissed so easily by any number of people and organizations even the highest most respected and supposedly unbiased in the land The Court System, it is a REAL THING!
    Think it isn’t mention it in bold letters and see how soon someone tells you you are over playing it, being over sensitive, distracting form serious issues.
    Deep down I think it is a miss mash of sexism and racism. It is so many things so many people just get uncomfortable about and wish would just go away. Even the most open minded and forward thinking among us still play the fat is not a real thing card, left right and center.
    I talk on line with people about “serious” issues all the time and no matter the issue fat, being fat, having fat, touching fat, being associated with fat, is still used as the most common insult, the most leveling, conversation ender. Hands down. You talk about Neo Nazis, wife beaters, child molesters, malignant Scientologists, amoral politicians, evil historical figures. pervert priests and murders and what is the thing they say that is an “insult” to said person… that they are fat. Yes you can be a child rapist and murderer and what they find to lower you, insult you, make you less than, is not the crimes you have committed but that you were fat and ugly when you did it. ?!
    I don’t know, isn’t this a Real Thing”? Do I have a right to be a little concerned about this hold over from: “Now that we are all equal and good no one is bad… ” BS? Can I still be just a little worried over such a childish entrenched determined and cherished bias against me and my body, or should I be “over that now” and moving on to important issues…

  7. The problem with saying that an issue is “not as important as this other one” is that eventually we would have to rank every issue in order of how “bad” or how “important” it was in order to tackle them in the “correct” order, whereas if everyone’s talking about and fighting for a different issue and all helping each other out where they intersect (as Ragen does so brilliantly when she points out how racism, sexism, ablism etc. intersect with fatphobia) then we can tackle everything between us.

  8. True story:

    Once upon a time, my sister wan invited to take part in a fruit-salad pot-luck activity. Everyone was supposed to bring an ingredient for the fruit salad, and they would put it together and eat it at the activity.

    Sounds great, right? Well, not so great if everyone there brings maraschino cherries. Even when one person showed up slightly late, with whipped cream, it did not save the occasion. Sure, it made for a good story, but my sister came home very unsatisfied, and with a stomach-ache.

    Similarly, a team where everyone has the very same skill set and focus is not going to accomplish much. The reason there is safety in numbers is not because of the numbers, but because of the variety those numbers entail. The more numbers you get, the more areas you can cover, as each member brings with them their own strengths. They also bring their own weaknesses, that rely on the strengths of others to support them.

    Yes, there are simply oodles of vital issues today. Our best bet to take care of these issues is not to force everyone to focus on the Issue du jour, but to allow everyone to choose the issue (or constellation of issues, as Anne said above), for which they are best suited.

    This includes those who are able to focus on intersectionality, itself. Ask anyone who’s ever run a pot-luck, and they’ll tell you that having someone coordinate putting it all together, and making sure that there is something for everyone, that dishes and drinks are included in the offerings, as well as desserts and entrees, is absolutely vital to the success of the pot-luck.

    So, pick your passion, and stick with it, and while you’re sticking with it, listen to the people who are pointing out the intersectionality, and see where you can team up your passion with another passion. Given enough time, we’ll manage to get it all done, and done well.

  9. Another thing we all need to remember is that not everyone is up for activism at any particular time, or even all the time. Some of us just don’t have the strength for more than the odd short burst.

    I’m afraid I don’t even have it in me, right at this point in time, to set up my own website.

    However, I can lend my support in small ways, by commenting here, by pointing people to good sites, speeches, books, etc., and by talking to people, individually. No, I won’t reach a wide audience, or be a mover and shaker, but I can, in my small, quiet way, plant a few seeds and water a few seedlings, and help the garden grow.

    I can mix metaphors, too! Aren’t I talented?

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