Avoiding Activism Burnout

Tired PuppyRecently I had the opportunity to speak as part of the EDRDpro Symposium and one of the attendees asking how we can avoid fatigue when trying to educate around Size Acceptance and Health at Every Size.  In our current fatphobic, thin-obsessed culture it’s super easy to do, so here are some idea to prevent burnout:

1. Create a grounding phrase. We are bombarded with false information about weight and health, and negative beliefs about fat bodies every day. So having a quick phrase that we use to deflect it can be really helpful. My personal phrase is “hey that’s bullshit!” but other folks have told me that they use things like “nope, nope, nope” or “what a load of crap.” I use it every time I see a diet ad, or hear something negative about fat people, or see an “everybody knows” article about weight and health. Pretty soon it becomes reflexive and fairly often the message gets dismissed before I’m even conscious of it.

2. Remember that you are the authority – it’s unfortunate the so many people have fallen victim to false beliefs and stereotypes, and even more unfortunate when they decide to be superior about it, but it doesn’t make them any less wrong.

3. Get support – join in person and online/social media groups that support folks who are practicing HAES and Size Acceptance and participate in them, read Fat Activism and Health at Every Size blogs and participate in the comment section, reach out to other activists when you need some support

4. Make it about options – I get e-mails every day from people who literally didn’t know that they had an option to like their body, or options to pursue health outside of weight loss. My work is about making sure that everyone knows that they have those options. Which leads us to…

5. Don’t take too much responsibility – All we can do is be as educated as we can, and provide people with information to the best of our ability. We can’t take responsibility for what they do with that information, or for the choices they make. If you try to take responsibility for the outcomes you’ll burnout fast. Engaging in activism is it’s own success, not just because of how it can change the world, but because of how it helps us activists to be fighting back.

6. Take breaks – you don’t have to go in for every battle, every bullshit comment on Facebook, every minute of every day.  You can take each day as it comes, respect where you are with your own mental and physical health, energy level, what you need to get out of the situation (for example, if you really need your prescription you might not want to argue with your doctor’s incompetent diatribe about weight loss and that’s ok.) Take time off, and remember that doing so is part of nurturing ourselves as activists.

7. Remember that you do not owe people who are shaming, stigmatizing, bullying, harassing, or oppressing you compassion or education on their terms or in their preferred words or tone, or at all. Their feelings don’t have to be your primary concern, the outcome of this conversation doesn’t have to be your primary concern, whether you will “catch more flies with honey” does not have to be your primary concern. Protecting yourself and doing what you can/want to do today can be your primary concern. Politely and gently asking people if they wouldn’t mind not oppressing you so much is an option, but never a requirement. Telling people to STFU and GTFO is also a valid option that is available to you.

Be vigilant about noticing who is being left behind and left out and use your privilege to remedy that, celebrate the smallest victories and keep pushing, we’ll get there.

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6 thoughts on “Avoiding Activism Burnout

  1. I think the thing which throws me off balance is when I’m not just taking responsibility for the outcome, but I’m expecting myself to convince people immediately. This is not a reasonable expectation in any way.

    Aside from any other issues, I’m more likely to be convinced if I get the same information from (what I hope are) independent sources. No one of them can get the credit for convincing me.

  2. One of the things I keep telling myself is that I can’t save the world, but maybe I can make my tiny piece of it a little better.

    Also, I learned to give myself permission to not do any activism so I can look after my own needs. Just because some people are able and willing to camp out or whatever for a long-term protest, doesn’t make me a bad activist or ally if I don’t do that.

    Yeah, I struggle with guilt for not doing what I think I am ‘supposed’ to be doing. I’m a work in progress. 🙂

  3. May I add a number 8?

    8) Choose your audience. Some of us are good at working larger audiences, such as using social media, or giving speeches. Others either don’t have the skills or the spoons, and that’s fine. You can be an activist within your own little circle of family, friends, co-workers, etc. So, choose your audience, and focus your energy on them.

    I’m focusing on educating myself and my family, and sometimes commenting on an online forum or two. That is, at this time, about as much as I can handle, due to personal reasons, and that is OK. Who knows? The niece or nephews, sisters or brother, that I reach today may be the power-house activist of tomorrow.

    Also note: Abilities and energy levels change, and your audience can change, too. It’s fine to expand when you can, and scale back when you must.

  4. I’m an ED activist in Texas. The fantastic bill (spellling out EDs and treatment access) that was introduced made it through committee (with six parents testifying including myself) without opposition. Excitement! It died before being heard even though it made it to the House floor bc of bulshit TX politics. I am worn out, sad and mad. These tips are very helpful. Thank you, Ragen, as usual for your wisdom and humor.

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