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Saturday, March 2, 2013

Imperfect tools

Many years ago, I can't even remember when anymore, I made a conscious decision to stop looking at people in public.
I'm nice and friendly to those I happen to interact with, and when I make eye contact with someone, I can usually manage a genuine smile, if it's a good day. And I did this because I could not think of any other way to deal with the constant and hateful looks I receive from strangers. I used to ask friends "why the fuck is everyone staring at me today"? and tell myself it's because I looked hot. I would sniff my armpits, and check to see if my ass was showing. But one day I realized: they're staring at me, shooting eye-daggers into me, judging the fuck out of me, scowling at me, because I am fat. Too fat. Offensively fat. Strangers telling me I need to lose weight fat. Strangers actually feeling entitled to grab me fat. Fat phobia knows absolutely no bounds, in my experience. It crosses all genders, races, cultures, ages, and income levels, and yes, it's my closest friends and family that I still catch shooting me judgmental glances, laughing at fat jokes, or body-shaming. Even *I* do it. And while all other kinds of oppression are becoming less and less socially acceptable, the opposite seems to be true for fat hatred. Over the past decade, it's gotten so much worse.

Why did I do this? I wasn't raised to believe that I am worthy as I am. Not while I was little, anyhow. I was raised to believe that I need to change, that the onus for other people's abusive behavior is ON ME (this popular notion persists today). I wasn't raised with the tools that other folks who live under constant oppression were maybe raised with, or with adults who told me that fat-phobia (and all oppression) is bullshit. I was raised to believe that I deserve almost every shitty thing that happens to me because I am fat. So, I did the best I could at the time with the limited tools I had available to me. But even now, at 34, much wiser and armed with the belief that I am a sweet, loving, gentle human deserving of love, decency, and respect, I still have a hard time looking people in the eye. Though I look at myself, in the mirror and in retrospect, and think "wow! I am so freaking beautiful", I still struggle with not letting my worth be defined by my sexiness or how many people like me. And while I'm older, smarter, more confident, and way more enlightened than I was back then, I still, on most days, just can not handle the stares. The endless, up-and-down, ugh, gasp-y, pitying stares. And so I continue to avoid your eyes. I miss friends on the street. I miss the smiles I may be getting from cute boys. I miss all of those warm, accepting faces that I started to believe don't exist. I know they're out there, but I just don't have it in me to try again.

I keep trying to "fit in" somewhere, anywhere... but mostly find is rejection, abuse, mockery and/or solitude. Even "progressive" anti-oppressive folks are fat-phobic. EVERYONE is fat-phobic. And so I give up, time and again. And it's truly tragic, when someone like me, with a drive to help everyone, with a soft heart, gets so hard and bitter that they don't recognize themselves anymore, even though I know how illogical it is. I used to smile at everyone. I used to have faith in people and love. I used to think that life was essentially beautiful, and that one day I would find my place in this world, and find love, and find work, and be me. But it hasn't happened that way, and people have evolved from quiet stares to open scowls, and they won't let me just be. And I know, because I'm super smart like that, that being positive, and happy, and doing things I love will attract the same, blah blah blah. I know that can work. And I do things I love. I work on me. I've read and practiced The Secret. But sometimes that shit just doesn't work, and fat phobia really hinders me, mostly with fear, and extreme sadness. And it's fear based on a lifetime of experience, and of being bullied, judged, and excluded by peers AND elders, to this day! I'm not paranoid or exaggerating when I say I face moderate to extreme judgment literally every hour of every day (or more) if I'm out in public or online.

And so I need to develop some new tools. Last week, a lady I was conversing with at the gym said "well, you need to lose weight. But you already know that. That's probably why you're here, right?". When I managed, shakily, to tell her that I was happy with my body, actually, and gee, I've never heard that message before, her response was a predictable "oh, but you want to be healthy, right?" After I told her that I am healthy, except for mentally, because of people just like her, she managed a weak "oh, I'm sorry" and was rewarded with a strong "fuck you". Not being content, she decided to get in my face as I dried my hair, saying I misunderstood her. When I told her she needed to get away from me, NOW, she shrieked that I lacked compassion, and she ASSUMED that all people come to the gym to lose weight. A few women poked their heads around to see what was going on. And so I said, loudly enough for everyone to hear "I don't care what you think about my body. You want to go around telling people to lose weight? You're an asshole." And then I continued drying my hair and bawled, which I had already been doing that day, cause, hey, the constant hatred gets to me sometimes, as does not having a love life. I was prepared to leave it at that, but when I went back to my locker, I heard her and another gym-goer fat-shaming, lightheartedly. Right. I am the crazy, unreasonable fat girl. So I slammed my locker shut, marched out to the service desk, all crazy-like and tattled, as calmly as possible, and miraculously, without crying. I told my story to some Ashton Kutcher look-a-like, who, shockingly, sympathized and agreed with me. A lady manager then followed me into the locker room and I pointed the thin, tall, white lady out to her. She received a talking-to about inappropriate language in an inclusive space.

And yet, I feel guilty. Guilty for telling her to fuck-off. For prejudging her (apparently, accurately) as a fat-phobe. For not engaging in a potential learning moment. For getting so angry. For letting the bullshit of this world get me down when I know I am wonderful. For losing my cool at the gym and everywhere else. For not being able to deal. With. This. Shit.

But this really unpleasant episode has given me a tiny bit of hope, and it's shown me that even when I am quaking inside, I can speak. One of my worst fears has always been someone criticizing me while I am naked in public. And it happened, and I fucking HANDLED that shit. Not perfectly, or elegantly, but nonetheless with ferocity and truth. Because even though I only go to the gym at non-peak hours (to avoid the excessive hate), there is always some fat-hating shitiot ready to knock me down.

And while I may not be ready to look you all in the eyes, and while I may still believe that I will be alone forever, I have another tool in my arsenal now: my voice. And another: the belief that I do not owe some fat-phobic asshole compassion, time, sympathy or forgiveness. And yet another: the ability to say THIS... THIS is why I am fucking angry. I am shit on daily by countless people. While I don't want to live here, while I don't want to be a heartless bitch, I am ANGRY for a REASON. And it's a reason that only the fat girls will understand.

And hey, I'm not every fat girl. Some fat girls have it way worse than me, and some have it way better. I have huge amounts of privilege, great friends and family, and I'm physically healthy. I just want to enjoy this cozy life I've built without the constant, crushing weight of fat stigma (pun heavily intended).

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