Leftist commentary from a mouthy bitch
Yet once again I am inspired to post because of a stupid Facebook argument. I swear that service exists just to raise my blood pressure, and make sure I waste epic amounts of time playing Marvel Avengers: Alliance. Anyway, back to the fight.
My friend Jenna posted a link to Gabifresh’s call for fat girls in bikinis for a project to fight body-shaming. And several people piped up that they found the use of the term “Fattie” unacceptable, and many also assumed Gabi was a guy. It is worth noting that most, if not all, of the people who objected were thin and/or male. When those of us who are fat and involved in body acceptance piped up that the use of “fattie” was perfectly fine, in fact it’s totally acceptable in the vernacular of the size acceptance movement, the concern trolling about “how can you let people call you that?” started. Mostly from thin people.
One of the guys, and one of the women, started in with the whole, “How can you let such a hateful word define you? You’re more than that, I just know you’re beautiful on the inside!”
Ok. Stop right there.
I have played this game before.
“Beautiful on the inside” is what people who think they’re prettier than you say when they don’t think you’re pretty.
It’s code for “fat/ugly/gross, but you have a great personality.”
Now, A. I know I’m beautiful on the inside, I’m also beautiful on the outside. And I am beautiful with my fat, not in spite of it. Fat. Fat. Fat. Fattie Fattie Fat. I’m fat. I know I’m fat because I live inside this body every day. I wash this body. I dress this body. I work out with this body. I move around in this body. And a perfectly valid descriptor of what this body looks like is fat. I have adipose tissue, what some people might consider an excess of it, but honestly, I think it’s the amount of adipose tissue my body just wants to have, and I’m not willing to make myself crazier to try to lose it.
B. I have come to the realization that my fat is the thing strangers see first, as I do not yet have a screen that floats above my head projecting images of puppies, unicorns and rainbows 24/7, so that they can go, “Awww, look, she IS beautiful on the inside!”* I have also come to the realization that the word “fat” can only hurt me if I let it. If in my head it means, well, “fat” and not “lazy, stinky, unclean, sloppy, unhealthy” like it does for a lot of people, then assholes can say it at me with ill-intent all they want, but it’s just going to roll off. That’s what reclaiming words looks like. It’s a personal decision to not let a word hurt you anymore. And I don’t care if YOU don’t like it. I do, so fuck off.
I really mean that. At least one person in the argument let us know that they didn’t approve of reclaiming words (not with Queer or the N-word, either), and that’s very nice. I hope they’re happy with that decision. Their decision is not my decision or anyone else’s. I have happily reclaimed “Queer” (I love it both for the sexual orientation aspects, and the original meaning as I am a big giant weirdo), “Slut” (typical response, “Why? Jealous?”), “Bitch” (“How kind of you to notice!”) and “Fat” (“Yes, I also have red hair, blue eyes, and wear all black, is there anything else obvious you’d like to comment on?”).
Now, I’m not going to tell you that you have to be ok with these words applied to you. Trust me, reclaiming Fat is not for the faint of heart. It’s hard. Because society is constantly bombarding you with the word in a negative way. It’s kind of hard to adjust your thinking about it into a neutral descriptor of physical shape. And it’s not ever done. There are days when that word weighs just as heavily (pun totally intended) on me, as it does anyone. And others where I’ll happily use it with abandon. It’s a work in progress.
One person announced that it didn’t matter if we were ok with the word because people would still use it against us negatively, so it was poisoned by their intent. To which I responded, that my attitude and reclamation of the word were the antidote. If I use the antidote, the poison can’t hurt me. See how that works?
As many people in the social justice movement have said when the well-meaning fuck up and say, “Well, I didn’t mean to be racist/sexist/size-ist!” intent is not a magic bullet. This works both ways sometimes. You can totally intend to hurt me with your use of “fat,” and I can totally refuse to let you. This doesn’t make me any better than anyone else, except maybe the asshole trying to hurt me with their words. But it does make me immune to your bullshit.
If you are offended by people reclaiming words, especially when they don’t actually apply to you, then I encourage you to reflect on what those words really mean to YOU. Are you objecting to me calling myself “fat” because you still view it as a synonym with “stinky, lazy, gross?” Probably. Look, especially if you aren’t actually fat, I understand that the word is used to hurt you too. The solution is not to ban the word. The solution is to take away the word’s power.
Being ok with the shape of our bodies and the words that describe that shape has helped thousands of women cope with the misogynist bullshit that permeates our society. If I can reclaim a word enough to laugh in the face of someone trying to hurt me, isn’t that helping? If another fat girl sees me laugh at the douchebag who felt the need to walk up to me at the bus stop to tell me he found my fat unfuckable, doesn’t that let her know that she doesn’t have to take that shit either? Sometimes people need to see behavior modeled before them before they can even imagine doing it themselves, because we don’t have a lot of healthy fat role models in this society. The fat girl is always the lonely, food-obsessed spinster who’s going to die surrounded with cats in media. Oh, and if we’re lucky, we get to be the funny best friend! Go us!
Anecdote time! When I was an undergrad, I lived in sweats. Then I got my BA, worked for awhile where I had to dress like a grown up, and then went back to grad school. When I got back to grad school, I could have gone back to living in sweats, but I didn’t. I kept dressing up. I wore, on my fat body, stylish skirts with tights, really nice blouses and awesome shoes (I was actually known across campus as “The Shoe Girl.” My husband worked in the college radio station, and when I went to a function with him several people said, “Oh my God! You’re married to the Shoe Girl!” This is how I know this.). After about three quarters, I was standing in the student union building waiting for my turn to get espresso, when another fat girl walked up to me in line. She was wearing a really cute outfit, and walked right up to me and said, “I just wanted to let you know, that watching you walk around dressed like this made me feel like I could dress nice, too. Thank you!” And then she walked away.
So, yeah, sometimes all it takes is to see another person saying or doing something to let you know, it’s ok for you, too.
*Ok, no screen broadcasting my brain is going to be puppies, unicorns and rainbows 24/7. In the words of my husband who no longer reads my fiction, “Doesn’t anything NICE ever come out of your head?” Seriously, it’s terrifying in here and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.