Read ‘em up

From Julia of Fatshionista (also a frequent commenter here), a wonderful post about racism and the politics of beauty.

Presenting oneself well, in the best suit, was an important aspect of being the stereotype breakers. In order to have a chance of being taken seriously, you had to look clean and put together from head to foot. Your hair had to be neat (and for women carefully straightened) because frizzy hair made you look like a “bush person.” The best way to describe the look is “controlled.” If negative stereotypes about black people were about them being savage, flighty, ruled by emotion and lacking reasoning, then the way to counter that was to look modern, tailored, and never have a hair out of place.

Julia’s post is an important rebuttal to and complication of the stereotype that black communities are more fat accepting than white communities.

Over at Feministe, guest blogger Amandaw writes a PSA for well-meaning people who just have to tell people with disabilities about the latest health trend their grandma’s hairdresser tried one time (familiar to many fat people as “Have you ever tried diet and exercise?”):

On behalf of all those persons, let me say: Stop.

Think.

That person has had that condition for months, years, or even their entire lifetime. You, on the other hand, have possibly heard of that condition — and possibly not! — and certainly have no experience living with it. Maybe you know someone else who has it, and maybe that’s a person you actually know fairly well (but that is a very small minority out of those who make these comments).

Which of these two people, do you think, knows a broader range of treatment options for said condition?

Alas, the thread gets derailed for a while by someone insisting that people are just trying to help and you little ladies shouldn’t get so hysterical about people who just want you to be healthy, but otherwise it’s an illuminating conversation.

100 thoughts on “Read ‘em up

  1. Wow there is a lot of good stuff there in the conversation of the second item. I both work with people with chronic illness and I’ve experienced my own stuff (both physical and mental), and it can be really hard to fend off. Someone on there wanted a PSA about how illnesses are not “just all in your head” and I think I might go off and work on one for my own blog.

  2. Julia’s piece is fantastic. I noticed that she said she went to an Ivy, and that presenting a professional appearance was really important to the black community there. I went to an Ivy also and my white privilege (which I’d not yet discovered, at the time) made me completely blind to that dynamic. And I cop to being guilty in the past of romanticizing and simplifying how communities of color view fatness. And the point about Queen Latifah representing an aspect of black culture that white people like… ow. But true.

    And the self-styled health experts. Oh frigg, yes. Somebody stop them. “Ahem!” they say, “I am so outraged that you would intrude upon my life, with your vulnerable and obviously non-immortal body, brazenly reminding me that I and the rest of the world are not actually characters in a quirky romantic comedy with a great soundtrack. To regain my sense of untouchability and invulnerability, I shall now lecture at you from deep inside my rectum, for I have a medical degree and a Ph.D in omniscience from the University of Asshatonia. First slide, please?”

    I have a male relative who, no matter WHAT someone says, replies with ASTOUNDING frequency, “Well, for what it’s worth…” and then goes on to share whatever his vast stores of knowledge deem pertinent. Never, “Oh, could you say more? I’m not sure I understand” Or, “That must make you feel really mad/excited/frustrated/etc.” Or, “Well, you seem to have a good grasp of the issues. I’m sure you’ll make the right decision.” Always “Well, for what it’s worth…” My husband says I should interject with, “Precious little, judging from your track record!” But I’m chicken.

  3. WOW to Julia’s post. I almost registered so I could leave a comment, but chickened out.

    Also, um, as other people have mentioned, if mentioning Latest New Trendy Thing in Medicine is just a way of saying, “I’d like to help you!”, then why can’t they say, “Is there anything I can do to help, or to make your life easier?”

    Oh, right, because that’s too hard and makes you look like you don’t “have a medical degree and a Ph.D in omniscience from the University of Asshatonia”, to quote A Sarah. :)

  4. Spinsterwitch – “Someone on there wanted a PSA about how illnesses are not “just all in your head” and I think I might go off and work on one for my own blog.”

    I would be looking forward to that post. Amandaw’s certainly got something there! Also of interest is the point that illnesses are not “your fault,” a belief that is a direct consequence of “lifestyle” type health advice.

    Julia’s is excellent, too. Thanks SM for pointing it out.

  5. Those are both really interesting posts. I’ve been very lucky with my workmates and their responses to my anxiety disorder. The second article has made me wonder if I over-evangelise about certain anxiety treatments to people with a similar problem because they worked so well for me. (People I know, and who I know have the same sort of condition, not random strangers. I’m not good at understanding people but even I have more sense than that…)

    (Used to post as buxombrunette but wanted a name less about how I look and more about what I do.)

  6. Oh, Julia’s peice is absolutely fantastic.

    Because mammy figures are such a potent image, fat black women have to put in extra effort to not fit into the stereotype.

    YES. Effin’ yes. While I’m not a fat woman of colour, the base point in that is so clear. I want to print that statement and slap it on people’s windshields.

  7. re: the disability making people uncomfortable, yeah, my mom doesn’t call me very often because I’m too negative and it makes her depressed. Way to help out there, momz. I think it’s very much a case of her seeing that I am not all-powerful and impervious the way she tried to raise me, but she could do a little better with expressing it.

    and… realizing my comments today have been very much all about me so I’m gonna bow out for a bit and get some damn work done. Excellent articles both, SM, thanks for pointing them out.

  8. Yep. My husband is living with HIV. I cannot tell you how many people over the years (16+ that I have known him) have had suggestions for what he should be doing (kombucha mushroom, macrobiotics, green tea, hyperbaric treatment, bitter melon, 02 treatment, I can go on and on). Let me tell you. I’ve worked in the field for 18+ years and he doesn’t want to hear it from me, believe me, he REALLY doesn’t want to hear it from anyone else.

  9. My Wife has very complex congenital heart defects. The other night we were in the ER of a major university teaching hospital (for a non-cardiac problem) and the doc said “So, you are waiting for a heart transplant?” and when The Wife said “no” the doc said “you don’t WANT a heart transplant?” We then had to educate the doc about no, it is impossible, yes, she’s been evaluated in several hospitals (including this one) at different ages and the consensus is that IT IS NOT POSSIBLE! Then we had to educate her about why we have ruled out a heart-lung transplant (it would involve a move across the country, the wait is looooong, and 5-year survival is shit). Every time The Wife sees a new doctor the same refrain “well, what about a heart transplant?” AAGGGGGHHH! Well for one thing you just exchange one set of problems for another. It isn’t like changing the oil in your car!

  10. buttercup, don’t feel bad about talking about *you*. It’s a very valuable thing for you to do, for yourself and also for other people. As women we are taught to be mindful of vanity and pride and so forth, and to always exude modesty and humility. Bullshit, I say. Hearing about your experiences can help someone else better understand the sheer diversity of life on this planet, in this society.

    And, of course, thank you Sweet Machine for the link and for your comments on my posts. I’ve been rather surprised at the positive response to a lot of my posts and it’s got me feeling a lot better about the community, such as it is. I hope it does some small amount of good for someone.

  11. Wow. Just — wow. Both posts are excellent. Thank you!

    The one on invisible illness also has relevance to people with visible conditions. Either way, it’s important. I’m going to spread the word about it.

    The one about being fat and black is an illuminating look at how many of the common beliefs about black women of size are essentially racist. It should be a must-read. Again, I’ll be spreading the word.

  12. Write this one up in the official book of ridiculous laymen medical advice:

    A guy at my job that recently got promoted to manage all of our locations, recently told all of our managers at a meeting that my coughing and another coworkers sneezing was inappropriately distracting and needed to be addressed. OK, so i cough. I have allergy related Asthma, which actually means I’m struggling to breath. And It wasn’t even the coworker blamed for the sneezing that was actually doing it.
    So apparently telling us not to cough and sneeze as going to cure our symptoms in Oklahoma where our allergin count is crazy high.

    This all started with him suggesting antihistamines to me everyday even though I told him I was already on them and asthma meds. The meeting got leaked and our whole facility was talking about how dumb it was for him to be so freaking nit picky and sensitive to every single noise. We work in cubes, noise is going to escape. It confuses me why he would even think I just sit around and do nothing about my own health problems, and that his engineering background is better than my doctors when treating asthma.

    All my coworkers fake sneezed at him and coughed when he walked by for several days. He now avoids all eye contact with me and keeps his door shut.

  13. Moonlight0806: I had similar issues with my mother. For some reason people seem to believe that you can just control outward symptoms of illness.

    My constant sneezing growing up was probably the sign of a cigarette smoke allergy, but I was told that I simply wasn’t blowing my nose enough. Funny, now that I’m not around smoke constantly, I rarely sneeze.

  14. I once attended a panel discussion called “God and Barbie,” and it was basically about how post-Medieval Christianity shafts all women for being female, and how current faith-centered diets are a pernicious attempt to manage the female appetite.

    The panelists were white, black and latina. The Latina professor was talking about the assumption that communities of color are more accepting of fat female bodies. She said that the beauty ideal is that of a white Swede with long limbs – very young, very hairless and heterosexual. She said women of color automatically get blocked from being ideal because they don’t have white bodies. From there, she said, it only gets more complex, and the pressure to assimilate for those women is a different sort of pressure.

    I don’t remember her saying communities of color prize fat women over thin women, though.

    The Fatshonista post made me think about how I, as a lesbian, almost never leave the house without putting on makeup or shaving my legs. Perhaps that’s been my way of being a “safe” lesbian, and the kind of lesbian white dudes don’t mind.

    In fact, I recall getting included in an e-mail chain about myself from an organization i work with. The original e-mailer said I was “a good professional face” for the organization. As this is a leftie organization, I always wondered if he was saying: “score! We’re led by a white, well-groomed lesbian!”

    Hmmmmmm.

  15. I owe some of my health to well meaning people saying “hey, have you thought of trying . . . ” so I don’t jump on people who do that. Yes, they *do* usually mean well.

    I’m sure it can get annoying when people don’t let up though, but isn’t that different than just bringing something up once? It’s just being polite to *not* bring the same thing up every time you see someone, sure. But if a friend tells me about problems and how she wishes there was a solution, I have no problem saying “hey, have you tried this?”. My *friends* have no problem telling *me* if they tried it and how it didn’t work or whatever. Maybe that’s the difference. I wouldn’t go up to someone on the subway and pretend to have advice for them.

    I don’t know. I just know how much better my health is now and it’s not because of doctors (HAH! I wish). It’s because of people saying “hey, I had that problem and this is what worked for me”.

  16. … people who just have to tell people with disabilities about the latest health trend their grandma’s hairdresser tried one time ….

    When I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, my GP warned me about this. He told me, there were more quack remedies for arthritis than any other chronic illness, and by the end of the year I’d probably have heard about every one of them. That wasn’t strictly true, but it was close enough. I’ve even had people walk across the street to give me health advice, they were so eager to shove their oar in.

    I’m usually somewhat polite about it, and while some of that’s just ingrained courtesy, some of it is out of fear. Thing is, it’s a bit like the way male passersby will order women to ‘Smile!’ and then get angry if we don’t. I’ve learned that some people become angry if my response to their unsolicited health advice is less than enthusiastic, and so when I sense that may be the case, I smile. And seethe inside.

  17. On the well-meaning advice thing:

    I feel like it’s an issue of modesty and respect for people’s privacy. Of which our culture appears to have progressively less with each passing year.

    I miss manners.

  18. It’s because of people saying “hey, I had that problem and this is what worked for me”.

    And that is explicitly *not* what amandaw is talking about in the post. She’s talking about the people who make no effort to understand your experience yet insist on giving you their advice anyway.

  19. Thing is, it’s a bit like the way male passersby will order women to ‘Smile!’ and then get angry if we don’t.

    YES YES YES. That’s what I wanted to say to that douchenozzle on the original thread, but luckily he was banned before I had to. :-)

  20. Well, I read what she wrote and I thought that’s what I was talking about. But you know, I also don’t mind if people tell me their mom or their grandma or their cousin’s roomate had a problem too. I’ve been known to tell someone that I know someone else who has that and this is what worked for them. And we discuss it. That’s the thing, I have actual conversations with my friends. It’s not me lecturing.

    I guess the difference is in respecting when someone just wants to vent vs them wanting advice and then maybe not going on and on about it all the time.I don’t think there’s inherantly something bad about passing on what you read/heard. Maybe it’s just that some people have problems with basic conversational manners and knowing when to drop a subject.

  21. Oh, and I’ve had strangers give me advice too. I have no problem whatsoever telling them what I actually think about their advice (politely!). Eh, maybe it’s me.

  22. I have been on both sides of this issue (see above post on asthma). It is sometimes a thin line between helpful and hurtful.

    I currently work in IT but my educational background is psychology (I know, life takes us in strange directions). I went on a business related trip with my coworker, his family also came along. My coworker had the foresight to let me in on some of his child issues so that I would be prepared and I would understand some of his behavior. While on the trip I noticed some behavioral patterns and caught myself right after I made a comment about how his behavior struck me as being attributable to aspergers. It was a quick comment but I stopped myself mid sentence because I felt I had overstepped my bounds. After all they had been going to specialists and therapists for years.

    A few weeks later my coworker came back to me with tons of questions about my quick comment and I pointed him in the right direction with links and contact information to local help groups. His child has since been officially diagnosed by a specialist in the area and is receiving help through various sources. My coworker has thanked me several times for the help, and told me that I was able to do what none of his other Dr’s could, they had never even heard of aspergers despite going to other Drs that should have picked up on it.

    So theres my story. I felt horrible at first, I backed off, and kept my mouth shut until they inquired further. But now I am so glad that their family is getting the help that they need.

    Had I kept my mouth shut who knows if they would have ever gotten a proper diagnosis or the help that they needed. Although It makes me frustrated that their other Dr’s had not been able to do the same years ago.

    So what do you do in this situation? Is it just a matter of judging each situation based on its context and your relation to the person, because that doesn’t always work.

  23. There are situations where those off-hand comments help. But like I tried to make clear in the thread, there are also a lot of situations where those off-hand comments cause annoyance at best, and actual harm at worst.

    And, again as I stated in the thread, it’s not like you aren’t allowed to talk to people. Maybe instead of saying “Oh I heard of XYZ” you can say, “Wow, that sounds frustrating. What have you tried so far?”

    And once you learn them a little better, and understand their history (which is the point moonlight was at with her cw) it’s not a bad thing to suggest something to them that they seem to not have considered. But don’t get your feelings hurt if they don’t respond with absolute positivity either.

    The common understanding of this issue is just so tilted toward the casual acquaintances with half a clue who “just want to help” and it’s not often you hear that challenged. And that’s what I wanted to do. Our framework for understanding this sort of questioning is all wrong. People operate under the assumption that if quick-suggestion is 0HP when it’s not needed/appreciated but +ELEVENTYBILLION HP when it is. But that’s wrong. There are times where it’s 0HP but there are times where it is also -awholebunch HP. And none of the drive-by commenters seem to care about that, which I personally find rather frustrating.

  24. People operate under the assumption that if quick-suggestion is 0HP when it’s not needed/appreciated but +ELEVENTYBILLION HP when it is. But that’s wrong. There are times where it’s 0HP but there are times where it is also -awholebunch HP. And none of the drive-by commenters seem to care about that, which I personally find rather frustrating.

    I too find it frustrating. My main personal experience with this was last summer, when my guts basically stopped working and I lost a significant amount of weight very quickly. If I had a nickel for every person who told me to try eating yogurt, I wouldn’t need health insurance, but that’s another story. What’s relevant here is that each time someone suggested that (or something similar), it made me feel like that person didn’t understand the seriousness of what was happening to me *and* they thought I was unfathomably stupid. Of course they didn’t mean either thing, probably, but that’s why amandaw’s advice to STOP AND THINK is so apt. Do you really think someone who can’t walk more than a block without running off to the bathroom hasn’t thought of changing her diet? Really? It feels horrible to have people act like you’re stupid all the time.

    It’s different to say something like “You know, when I’ve been caught on the El feeling really nauseated, chewing ginger has really helped me calm down for a few minutes. Do you want some?” than it is to blithely suggest that you know exactly what someone’s going through and what could fix it.

    This is all just a reiteration of what amandaw said, of course, but maybe personal examples can convey how infuriating this kind of comment can be. As always, the key is to listen when someone has a different experience from you rather than assume you know their life better than they do.

  25. My mother was amazingly good at teaching body positivity and quelling diets, so I have only been on one, as an adult.. This diet was brought on by my fear of developing my mother’s degenerating spine. She has had multiple surgeries on both neck and back, and one of the repeat bits of advice she gets is to lose weight. Then I met my friend Carla, who has the same problems and is very very thin. The article about chronic illness and advice givers made me think of this because I started thinking about why people are inspired to “help.” It’s sort of like knocking on wood, a way of saying “your illness scares the crap out of me, because deep down I know that some things just happen, no matter how much green tea I drink, how much weight I lose, how many crunches I do so I can have a thoroughly supported back. There must be SOME way to fix this.” I went through a period of this with my mom, with her spine and her fibro, mostly because I dread that I may have inherited both right along with her build and carpentry talent. Maybe, I thought, if there was some magical Tibetan fungus or daily yoga regime, I could save her, and be safe myself.

  26. It feels horrible to have people act like you’re stupid all the time.

    YES. Especially when I’m in pain and distress and half-zonked on meds for it, and feel my brains are dribbling out my ears as it is.

    … you can say, “Wow, that sounds frustrating. What have you tried so far?”

    Well, that’d ring alarm bells for me, in particular, ‘Oh-oh, steering the conversation towards treatment … [aougah! aougah!] Altmed ahead!’

  27. It looks to me as though the black communities are more accepting of fatness than any white community I know of, though I admit I haven’t lived in the mid-west.

    Julia’s article at Fatshonista has “I don’t feel like I have been shamed for my body, but I have felt pressure to have a more socially acceptable body size.” How many fat white women feel like they haven’t been shamed for their bodies? Granting that Queen Latifah is from one black sub-culture, and not the most respectable, no white sub-culture has a comparable star.

    Doing better on fat acceptance than most white communities is admittedly surpassing a *very* low standard, but I really think major black communities have managed it. This isn’t at all saying that there’s no prejudice about fatness there.

  28. I had a great experience recently with someone who showed a great way to respond to someone’s disability or illness:
    I mentioned my relatively-recently-diagnosed Ulcerative Colitis in explaining why I couldn’t do something and her reaction was basically “huh, how does that impact you/your life?” and then “Wow! I’m so sorry you have to deal with all that!”
    Such a thoughtful response, I thought.

  29. That second link is awesome. I stopped reading Feministe regularly awhile back, but I’ve been seeing a lot of great posts through links of late. Maybe I should put it back in my list of daily reads

  30. Nancy,

    Look outside your own (as you admitted) limited experience. Among other things, black women (at least in the US) are heavier overall than white women. Queen Latifah is not as much bigger than the average black woman as she would be compared to the average white woman. Some of what is different about fatphobia in black communities is simply that it gets shifted upward about 30 pounds. I could go on and on about the other intersectional oppressions relating to looks that affect black women (colorism, hair issues, etc.) and leave them hardly “advantaged” in this area. But then, that was already covered in the post I’m not convinced you read. Not to mention other ways that fatphobia “works” differently. The average weight differential is just one example (one which also applies in the opposite direction to “horribly fatphobic” Japan, etc.)

    I mean, the big problem here is that fatphobia is not being understood by its most active opponents to be an issue of intersectionality, but anyway…

    I think the major point is not that there is *no* fatphobia in black communities, or that there is *less* or *more* or “just as much” fatphobia, but that:

    A) fatphobia does exist in black communities, and white women need to stop imagining that it doesn’t, or idealizing some sort of pervasive radical self-acceptance that does *not* exist and

    B) fatphobia in black communities often works *differently* than it does in white communities and

    C) how so is not necessarily readily apparent to outsiders.

  31. People like that are the exact reason why I am so grateful to have spent the last year and a half locked inside my house except for the occasional doctor’s appointment.

    I know they mean well. But it was just so shattering, and so horrible to watch myself lose everything I had, everything I had loved, everything I had been able to do, everything I had dreamed while knowing nothing of what was happening or how to stop it, and to be told ‘Cheer up! Smile! Exercise! Eat better! Take herbus bullshittus!’ was just. Awful. Awful.

    Again, I know people mean well. But they don’t understand how truly, painfully, thoughtlessly cruel they are being. It was bad enough to be told by a pyschiatrist that it was ‘psychosomatic’, but to be told by everybody under the fucking sun that the truth I knew about myself was wrong, that I couldn’t possibly be in pain and dying and losing my memories and abilities, that nobody cared to listen to me, no-one wanted to HELP ME, they just believed it was all down to Exercise and Food and Smiling and everything would be alright, drove me over the edge into full-blown hallucinations, and, I think, some measure of psychosis. Ironically.

    I am so, so, so much better for hermitage, and I am so grateful that I have parents who will let me be a hermit and avoid everyone while I recover on an experimental treatment that actually, you know, HELPS ME. It takes a fucking long time (two to three years, fucking hell), but it HELPS ME. And yeah, sure, I miss snuggling people sometimes during the day when my family is at work, but I sure as fuck don’t miss people. Thanks for nothing, fuckwads. Your well-meant advice almost killed me, because I and my mother were stupid enough and desperate enough to LISTEN TO YOU.

  32. Heck yeah. Loved that post. I’ve been dealing with something — we’re calling it IBS for now, for lack of a better diagnosis — for about five years. The only person who gets to make suggestions anymore is my doctor. You know, the nice lady with “MD” after her name. Also, the only person who hasn’t suggested that I’m just imagining things.

    So I’m on my own blog, ranting about how much I hate it when people tell me that my sickness is imaginary (yeah, let’s see them deal with this degree of “imaginary” pain without keeling over. I’d like to see it, just so I could listen to them scream.) Out of the blue comes some random acquaintance of mine with “you know, it might be a food allergy.” No really, dipshit? My guts might be upset because of something I ate? Please, tell me more. *headdesk*

    So I get mad at him. And out of the woodwork come all these concerned voices, telling me to play nice, ’cause dipshit is just trying to help! Play nice? With someone who thinks I can’t connect “my stomach is upset” to “something I ate” ? That’s not “trying to help.” That’s damned insulting, and I’ll react accordingly, thanks.

    I suppose one solution would be to not talk about it, but it’s my own damn blog. If I can’t rant about my health problems there, where can I?

  33. *blushes beet red at compliments*

    @Cindy
    “The Latina professor was talking about the assumption that communities of color are more accepting of fat female bodies. She said that the beauty ideal is that of a white Swede with long limbs – very young, very hairless and heterosexual. She said women of color automatically get blocked from being ideal because they don’t have white bodies. From there, she said, it only gets more complex, and the pressure to assimilate for those women is a different sort of pressure.”

    Yes. Also, hliariously, my mom is a tall long limbed Swede who spent her teen years pissed she didn’t have a “woman’s figure” (I’m mixed race, black dad/Swedish mom). I think that while being utterly shut out from the beauty ideal sucked in many ways, there are also ways in which since it didnt’ apply to me, I developed a different way of dealing with beauty than some of my white friends.

    @Nancy
    Please read my post again, especially the last sentences: “An important part of understanding the world beyond yourself, not just asking questions but also listening closely to people who have criticisms of your beliefs… Black women do not live in a fat acceptance utopia and you’re making racist assumptions if you assume they do.”

    Also, to the second about disability. I have done some work at WisCon about accessibility. One bit people might enjoy from our materials is this


    Don’t assume people with disabilities want or need fixing. Members with disabilities are here for the same reasons non-disabled members are: SF, feminism, politics, chocolate. Talking about an interesting new book, a movie with problematic depictions of women, or a new podcasting tool you discovered, are much better conversation starters than “Don’t they have a wonderful new medicine for that?”, “my nephew cured his fibromyalgia with a yak-milk diet” or “Why take drugs when you just need a positive mental attitude and yoga?”
    —-
    (lots more stuff at http://www.wiscon.info/access.php)

  34. Wow…both articles made me think…and really look at my own assumptions and reactions in a way that made me realize how much I’ve internalized some stereotypes in ways that I’m not happy about. I had this internal backlash to the line in Julia’s post about not feeling shamed for her body that went, I’m ashamed to say, something like, “seeeeeee, that IS more accepting!” which is so fucked up I couldn’t believe it was coming from my own brain. I’m seriously creeped out by what exists in my own unconscious.

    It made me realize that I’m capable of being blind to the things I do/might do that are parallel to things other people do that really freaking piss me off–like my brother who insists that women who talk about sexism are being sexist and whiny and that there is just as much anti-male as anti-female sentiment in the culture and in general completely dismisses any attempt I make to disprove him as being an overreaction or an experience he’s had too. And then thinks nothing of making the blanket statement that all women are bad drivers and mocking me when I call him a sexist fuckwad. (Not that he’s a bad guy–he’s normally very sensitive and thoughtful, he’s just a fucking jackass about gender.)

    Anyway, I’m rambling…

    But I also had a few thoughts on the illness/disability issue, and I’m unsure of what to do with them. I’m trying to balance, even in just my own mind, the fact that I firmly, deeply agree with Amandaw’s PSA and yet sometimes find myself really wanting to say something to someone struggling with an issue I’ve struggled with. This isn’t because I don’t think that person is intelligent or resourceful or is being “lazy” about his/her health, but more because I think our medical system blows. I’ve been lucky and have had the ability to be picky about the docs I see and have, as a result, ended up with some terrific, brilliant docs. So many docs don’t listen, brand you with a diagnosis and a stereotypical treatment in 30 seconds and then brush you off, and I think that the more that happens, the more you doubt your own instincts and stop looking for more help that might be out there because the professionals have repeatedly told you that you’re wrong. (Seriously, there’s a lot of medical arrogance out there–I was diagnosed with asthma when I had spontaneously begun hacking up a lung and had been running a 103 degree fever for a week. Turns out it was pneumonia and I almost landed in the hospital. A couple years later it was a bizarre systemic infection of some kind that left me so exhausted and depleted and vulnerable to every cold/flu/etc. that went around that I missed nearly 40 days of school my senior year of HS…my doc at the time accused me of not washing my hands thoroughly enough after working with little kids. After months of her dismissive BS and refusal to run extensive blood work, I saw another doc who based on simple blood work, experience and a hunch put me on hard core antibiotics for a month and presto, I actually made it through an entire week of school without one sick day. Or my personal fave–the psychiatrist who said to me, after ONE antidepressant that had no effect, that “this might just be as good as it gets for you” and “they don’t make a pill for motivation [I was too unmotivated to get out of bed, you see]–that’s INTERNAL.”)

    Oh crap, I’ve gone on way too long…my point is, I wish I could come up with a way to say, “do you think that your doctor has really listened to you and presented all the options? Do you think he/she KNOWS all the options?” without coming off as a condescending prying bitch, because I know that those comments can feel pretty awful, and at the same time I’d hate to see lousy doctors in a lousy system shortchanging someone who could actually be helped much more effectively.

    Sorry this is so long and meandering…these posts have just got me thinking way too much!

  35. This all started with him suggesting antihistamines to me everyday even though I told him I was already on them and asthma meds.

    O.M.G. Can I just tell you how much I hate it when people ask me if I’ve tried Antihistamine Whatever? No, I haven’t. I’m allergic to antihistamines. (Strange, but true) Of course, if you’re having a bad allergy day, the first thing a lot of people do is offer you a Benadryl. Then, when you refuse, they want to know why, and I can’t even count how many times someone has told me it’s impossible to be allergic to allergy meds. Yeah? Wanna see me stop breathing? I react badly to them. Argh!

    Nope. Only thing that works for me is the old formula, illicit Sudafed that they stash behind the counter and treat you like a criminal to get. Fun times.

  36. I’m really torn on the disability thing. As someone with several invisible to semi-visible conditions, I really understand how annoying that can be. However, if there’s a possibility that it will save ONE life, even if it will also annoy a lot of other people? Totally worth it. I can’t make up my mind.

  37. She said that the beauty ideal is that of a white Swede with long limbs – very young, very hairless and heterosexual. She said women of color automatically get blocked from being ideal because they don’t have white bodies.

    Mmmm, yep. Growing up I was in a weird place, beauty-ideal-wise, being both white and Latina; as a young’un I definitely had some of the assumptions Julia talks about in her post, born in part out of my own (mostly unarticulated, at the time) bitterness. For starters, being of Mediterranean descent I am of course far hairier than most of my Anglo friends, which definitely cause some angst. And you know, despite starting to read a lot about feminism and beauty ideals, the first time I made any sort of connection to the ethnic side of it was via a post on The Unapologetic Mexican where he talked about not growing a mustache when he was younger because it would have made him look “more Mexican.”

    It is weird to me, now that I’m aware of it, how much certain beauty ideals are racially informed (for example, hipster fashions are generally not meant to be worn by the bottom-heavy).

  38. However, if there’s a possibility that it will save ONE life, even if it will also annoy a lot of other people?

    Read Lindra’s comments. There’s also a possibility you are helping to ruin at least one life.

    And you know, that sounds mean of me, but dammit that is exactly my point. I’m tired of having to play “nice” with people WHO ARE DOING REAL HARM, no matter how they mean it.

  39. New tagline! Joy! LOL YOUR AWESOME.

    Thanks for passing on these great posts, and for the thoughtful comments about navigating the lines between not being a patronizing creep and offering information to people who might not be getting any from their docs or whomever.

    My strategy of late, when people comment on my personal appearance or health matters, is to say: ‘That’s funny, I don’t remember asking for your critique/advice.’ And when someone compares their stiff lower back to my chronically dislocating pelvic bone/SI injury, I generally say: ‘You have no idea what you’re talking about.’ But then, I’m ever more a bitch by the day.

    KT, I kind of like your phrasing for the times when I have a strong sense someone’s not being heard, or is being given bad information – “do you think that your doctor has really listened to you and presented all the options? Do you think he/she KNOWS all the options?” strikes me as a fair, invested response if/when someone says something indicating they’re not getting clear or consistent help with a health problem. That’s the key, I think – to pay attention to those cues and not invade with unasked for advice otherwise. Or to say something like ‘I have some familiarity with what you’re going through – if you’d ever like to hear what I’ve tried I’d be glad to talk about my experience. Yours might or might not be the same.’

  40. I have read Lindra’s comment and in fact it made me think, “That’s so me.” Almost all of that has happened to me, too. But that doesn’t change the fact that those people meant well and could have been right if they had said the same things to someone else. I’m sure that the woman who ruined my day once by babbling away about psychotherapy has helped many other people that way. And my mother, who told me for years that I just needed to exercise and get out more, had a 90% chance of being right. It’s not her fault that it didn’t work for me.

    I guess I’m either too nice or too socially incompetent to understand this or both. Because “cues” is not part of my vocabulary, I need actual information.

    Don’t get me wrong, I really do understand what you’re all saying. I’m just … annoyed with myself. Because I will probably be scared of other people with health problems from now on. Since I could accidentally get an urge to help them. Argh.

  41. I’m sure that the woman who ruined my day once by babbling away about psychotherapy has helped many other people that way

    Or she’s continued to ruin other people’s days.

    This is not about quashing the urge to help people. It’s about considering that people with disabilities deserve the same amount of bodily autonomy as anyone else, and learning to speak to people in a way that respects that.

  42. @SweetMachine
    This is not about quashing the urge to help people. It’s about considering that people with disabilities deserve the same amount of bodily autonomy as anyone else, and learning to speak to people in a way that respects that.

    God yes. Also, there is a difference between giving unsolicited advice to a stranger (or co-worker, etc.) about a situation you know jack all about, and knowing that a friend/loved one is having some issues and talking sensitively to them about it. Assuming that you have the right to comment on the body of a person with disabilities and their medical treatment is entitled and ablesist. Cut it out.

    I also think it is incredibly important to first ask “do you want help/suggestions/feedback?” and then listen to what the answer is. From the WisCon access info


    While most kids are taught to “help the handicapped,” this truism hides unpleasant realities. Those of us with disabilities spend a lot of energy managing other people’s need to help. The question, “Can I help?” is about the helper’s need to perform. Instead, “Do you need a hand?” allows people with disabilities to determine what we might need. When we say, “Yes,” listen to the details — we’re experts at directing helpers. Please don’t be offended when we say, “No, thanks.” Our ways of doing things may be idiosyncratic, may look difficult, but they work for us. Let us decide whether you doing it “easier” or “faster” is worth ceding autonomy.
    ——

  43. Thanks for that quote, Julia. This is so important: “Those of us with disabilities spend a lot of energy managing other people’s need to help.” In a weird way, this is reminding me of catcalling and how most men have absolutely zero concept of how much most women experience it in a given day/week/month/year/whatever. If you don’t have a disability or haven’t spent a lot of time with someone with a visible disability, you probably have no clue how often people try to “help” when it’s not wanted. A good friend of mine who uses a wheelchair would have complete strangers literally grab hold of her chair and push her without even speaking to her. The difference between genuinely helping and “helping” is like the difference between complimenting your friend’s new skirt and yelling “Hot legs” from down the street.

  44. You know, I think a discussion I really want to have is this: why is it so important for white people in FA to insist that african-american culture is more fat accepting than white culture? Why are white women telling a black woman about how her ethnic group feels about things? We don’t have “the secret of joy.” Sorry.

    I mean yes there are many things to be said about ways in which black female bodies are treated both within the black community and outside of it. And how different communities will react in different ways. However, you can’t discuss that without also understanding the ways in which racism and sexism affect black women. And seriously, stop making pronouncements on what the “black community” thinks on an issue. It’s awkward and racist.

  45. Julia – I obviously can’t speak for all white women but I think the urge to make the black/white cultural comparison comes out of the need to prove to people that things aren’t “Just the way it is”

    I often find I hit a wall in conversations where the person with the privilege or the person with the ingrained belief falls back on “Well that is just the way it is” like its an inherent unchanging fact of life. And then me looking to give examples on a cultural difference or practices that shows an alternative to what they claim to be “natural”.

    I put together a picture presentation for a body image program designed for Preteen and teen girls that showed a progression of historical images, clothing patterns, and popular culture dating back hundreds of years and used them as comparisons to modern day advertising and expectations. In an attempt to show them that beauty has changed into a completely new beast and is continually changing.

    So I can see why people insist on using the black/white comparison (even though its not completely accurate) as an alternative to what main stream white culture thinks of as being inevitable.

    Although the linked article was very eye opening to me about how harmful the comparison can be.

  46. @Moonlight0806,

    I should be clearer I guess. Why is it that white poeple love to make this statement, without talking to actual black people about it. And insist on repeating it when actual black people go “you know, actually it’s really complicated and I’d appreciate it if you would cut it out.”

  47. Yeah, you know, one reason I’m kind of reluctant to tell people I don’t know very well about the Asperger’s is that I really really REALLY don’t want to be asked if I’ve tried a GF/CF diet, or chelation therapy, or creatine, or whatever the make-you-as-NT-as-possible-treatment-du-jour is. (And I do take creatine, and I’m still aspie. Nyaah.) Do you (generic you) really want to “help,” or do you just want me to conform?

    Because so little accurate information is readily available out there, especially WRT to how this condition presents in women, I find myself feeling the responsibility to do a lot of 101. Most of the time I don’t mind it that much; I’d rather people had good information than bad information, and oh boy is the world replete with BAD information about people like me (we don’t care, we lack empathy, we can’t really love, we’ll embarrass you by picking our zits at the table, yadda yadda yadda). And you know what? I really do NOT want NT people to try to speak for me, because no matter how well-intentioned they are they never get it right. Even my own shrink, who has been wonderful, has stuff on her Web site about it that makes me cringe (and yes, I told her so).

    I don’t necessarily feel comfortable calling it a “disability” because I don’t want to make it sound like I’m wanting to drain resources away from someone with a REAL disability (and hell yeah, I think fibro counts), not because I bristle at being thought of as “disabled.” Really, Asperger’s should not be disabling at all, other than the fact that some of your thought processes and mannerisms (which can persist despite years of working to hide or squelch them) make people uneasy in group environments, which often makes it extremely difficult to get or hold a job, form a band, fit in with an art scene, you name it. But it does kind of make me think long and hard about what “ability” really means. Does it mean “you’re supposed to be able to do X, Y, and Z, which we’ve arbitrarily decided everyone should be doing, with a miminum of difficulty, and if you can’t then you have a disability”?

  48. I’m really glad for amandaw’s post, especially for the advice of what to say instead. I finally got bumped off of my little pile of privilege a couple of months ago but didn’t know how to quite “capture” what it was, and this post was it. I have a very close friend who is going through a major health issue, and she asked me specifically to please help her find information and make a decision about a procedure. I did so, and came back with all of my knowledge, convinced I knew what she should do and would inform her about it all. Turned out, of course, that she already knew all of that, because she’s not an idiot and knows how to do research as well as I do, she just wanted to have someone to bounce things off of who wasn’t completely clueless. I realized I had totally fucked up thinking that I could possibly know more than someone who had been living with it for 20 years, but didn’t know exactly what to call that or what to do with it.

    What’s interesting is that I should have known better, because my son has Asperger’s (diagnosed last year) and I’ve dealt with the same drive-by stupid-ass advice myself, especially before he got diagnosed, but also after. “Oh, you should just let him cry it out, he’ll stop,” Yeah, tried that, and he cried himself hoarse after two fucking hours screaming at the top of his lungs and still wouldn’t stop. Anyway, I love that post.

  49. You know, I think a discussion I really want to have is this: why is it so important for white people in FA to insist that african-american culture is more fat accepting than white culture? Why are white women telling a black woman about how her ethnic group feels about things?

    Well, I think there are a couple potential responses to this. People who make essentializing statements and then don’t listen when they’re told why that’s bullshit are jerks, period. But I did point out just the other day that there are studies showing African-American girls have better body images and lower instances of eating disorders than white girls, because I actually think that’s an important nugget of information, as someone who’s always wondering what causes a positive body image. (And meanwhile, as Paul Campos points out in the obesity myth, the government takes that information and says, “Hey, how do we make them MORE ashamed of themselves, to solve THE OBESITY CRISIS?” Which is so beyond fucked up.)

    While I don’t want to diminish anyone’s experience or make gross generalizations about “the black community,” if studies do consistently show that on average, African-American girls and women have more positive feelings about their own bodies than white girls and women, I think that’s information that raises really important questions. Question 1 is, of course, “Is this really the case?” But if the answer to that is yes, then Question 2 — through about Question 2,000 — is “Why?” What makes that happen? How can we take that info and encourage more girls of every color to appreciate their own bodies?

    Second response… I think the comment upthread that to some extent, fatphobia among African-Americans might just start at a slightly higher weight than it does for white people is interesting, and might account for a lot of white women’s assumptions about “the black community.” For those of us who are on the lower end of fat, even a slightly different standard for what constitutes a repugnant degree of fatness can make a big difference to our experiences, which can lead to false assumptions. As someone who’s not that big and has an hourglass figure, I’ve gotten a hell of a lot of positive attention from African-American men and reassurance from African-American women that there’s nothing wrong with my body over the years, while routinely being ignored or insulted by white men and encouraged to diet by white women. And because my body image used to be such that I thought of myself as gigantic — not, in fact, someone on the small end of fat — it would have been easy to translate that to “Black people don’t have a problem with fat.”

    If that were all the thinking about it I’d ever done, that would be a huge fucking problem, of course. But I can totally see how some white women leap to that conclusion — and thus need to learn that extrapolating blanket assumptions from those small data points is racist and unhelpful. When this was being discussed over at Racialicious a few months ago, there was a whole digression on the category of “thick,” which simply doesn’t exist among white people, in my experience (at least not as anything desirable). My guess is, a lot of us who have made those assumptions would qualify as “thick” (whether that term was used or not) — which means we’ve had the experience of being dismissed as disgusting and unhealthy by white people, while being treated as if we’re attractive and basically normal by African-Americans. That’s a pretty big mindfuck. We definitely need to remember that that has nothing to do with A) being an African-American woman, B) being a fatter woman of any color, or C) how ALL African-Americans think about fatness or anything else. But there is sometimes a genuine lived experience there for not-so-fat white women that comes from interacting with different people over time — not just listening to Sir-Mix-a-Lot or reading interviews Queen Latifah or having one black friend.

    So I can’t answer why white people keep insisting they know more about black culture than black people do, or why people make ridiculous essentializing statements, but I do think those things are a big part of why this comes up so often. And I think that part I bolded above needs to be said over and over. But I also think that if it is true that there’s any noteworthy cultural difference there, we should be looking at that and figuring out how to encourage everyone to have a more positive body image.

  50. For me, it’s not a question of the impulse to help, and whether or not it’s appropriate. I firmly believe in the power of wanting to help another person. Where it gets icky are these things:

    1. Reasoning: are they telling me this because a) they want to help me, or b) because they want me to shut up about it?
    2. Tone: are they telling me this in a tone that is a) sympathetic and/or caring, or b) are they telling me in a rude, obnoxious way that it’s OBVIOUSLY this or that?
    3. Respect: are they talking to me, listening to what I say, or are they TELLING me? It’s perfectly possible to deliver the As of 1-2 and still be talking AT the person in question.
    4. Familiarity: do they know their advice in the sense of a) it being ‘common sense’ that their cousin’s girlfriend’s dog-walker’s boyfriend used once to cure the world’s ills or b) having a close relative or friend who they’ve seen use the remedy in question, INCLUDING side-effects? [I find a good way to separate out A and B is whether they mention the drawbacks, because there are always drawbacks but only a rare subset will ever be so courteous as to mention them.]

    I find scoring a consistent B isn’t that hard. All it takes is asking yourself these two questions: Do I know their state of being, including how they deal with their disability? Do I really truly seriously know my own advice? If you can answer both of those in the affirmative, you’re generally good to go.

    This probably explains why I’ve met disabled who were arseholes to the able, and disabled who were arseholes to everyone, but rarely disabled who were arseholes to other disabled.

  51. I liked Lindra’s list. It might help to add another one, which is: are they willing to stop talking about it if I ask?

    I do think it’s a different experience to talk to someone who is falling on the right side of the line to all of these. They communicate that they care and are interested in my life. Other people communicate that they want me to be someone different for their needs, not mine.

    Is that a useful distinction for the other commenters?

  52. After due consideration, here’s what I’d like people to ask of themselves before they bring up my health — ‘Why do I want to give advice?’

    And if it’s anything like that jerkwad on Feministe had it, a conversational gambit, then don’t. Use some other gambit instead, like, I dunno. Baseball. The weather. Jelly doughnuts. That scene in the old movie where Oliver Reed and Alan Bates were wrestling naked in front of the fire.*

    And yeah, RG, I think that’s a useful distinction.

    *The movie is ‘Women in Love,’ 1969, and it’s an excerable piece o’shit but oh, is this scene loverly. Yum.

  53. Kate, I should be clearer. I noted the higher average weight issue, but just as an example of one of many, many possibilities not being considered. Has it ever occurred to you that you get attention from black men less because you are fat than because you are white? You are closer to the beauty ideal (and really, ultimate status symbol) than you think. You have an intersectionality tag here, but I don’t see it being seriously considered.

    What I see is, again, the white experience assumed to be the default, and the experience of POC to be the exception. Black girls don’t have high self-esteem. They have higher self-esteem than white girls. Possible explanations:

    1) Perhaps there is something endemic to white (supremacist, patriarchal) culture that plants such horrible seeds of doubt in the minds of young white girls.

    2) Perhaps the study questions were normalized to the white experience and didn’t get at the specific roots of poorer self-esteem among black girls.

    3) Perhaps white girls start hating themselves at a younger age and black girls catch up, eventually.

    In any event, higher apparent self-esteem does not equate to less fatphobia.

    This is what I hear you saying: “Yeah, I don’t know what is wrong with white people who keep insisting black culture is more fat-accepting yadda yadda when black women say otherwise, but anyway, you can see why we’d think that, because there’s no other obvious explanation, and anyway, here’s a bunch of anecdata that proves I have a difficult time seeing past and insisting upon the objective validity of my own experiences, and yeah, what IS wrong with white people who keep insisting?”

    Um.

    To be frank, this reminds me of a recent conversation with a man I am close to. We were discussing a friend of his, and I asked him, “Why is Matt so homophobic?”

    “Oh, well, he saw a lot of things when he was a bouncer at a gay bar, and…”

    “You know very well that’s not what makes someone homophobic.”

    And he did know, and we eventually got to the meat of the issue.

    Julia asks what makes white people so insistent that this myth about black fat-acceptance is true. The answer is not that it is true. Or that it “appears to be” true. And that is exactly the answer you gave. You didn’t question these assumptions, you laid them out and asked Julia (or others) to question them for you.

    This whole method of discourse is just a rephrasing of the old erroneous idea that “stereotypes are stereotypes because they are (sometimes) true.”

    No.

    Stereotypes are held because there is some advantage to holding them– they are held because they serve a purpose in the broader society.

    Shirley Q. Liquor’s creator insists that he is performing a “tribute” to black women, and that he speaks the way he speaks (in that character) because that is the way poor Southern black women speak. Here’s the thing: many (or most) poor Southern black women speak some version of AAVE. What he speaks (to a great extent) is not AAVE. It is just randomly ungrammatical English. He thinks he is doing a simple, morally neutral imitation because he thinks black women just don’t have a grasp of good grammar. And if you were to say, “Black women don’t talk like that,” he would likely insist that they do. Because, duh, obviously they do! This reminds me of another recent incident– in a film class I was taking, a man read his incredibly misogynist script for critique. It was so bad that my notes literally read, “Message: women are whores.” When we tried to gently suggest that a woman would not act the way he had written for his female character, he became incredibly defensive, insisting the situation in question “really happens that way.”

    I’m sure he thinks it does. I’m sure something superficially similar to what he wrote does happen, on occasion. But not with the motives he implied, and not with the specific actions he described.

    I know this is a long comment, but as someone who found SP recently and read dozens upon dozens of frustrating posts before commenting, I felt like there was a lot to say, and I didn’t want to leave any of it on the table. The point here is that white people insist upon this stereotype of “unusually fat-accepting black folk” for many reasons, which may include any of the following (among others):

    -It makes black folk the exception, and does not require white people to acknowledge that their specific patriarchal, classist, ableist ideas are not universal. That it is white culture that is particularly diseased.

    -It reinforces the old saw about black people (and POC in general) as being more earthy, “realer,” more in touch with nature, etc. Not to mention “simpler,” and all that implies about folk’s intelligence and education. Think about what is illustrated by the recent news story about a white doctor’s comment to a fat white woman that “only black men will want you.”

    -It imagines a black world completely unaffected by the heavy colonization of white supremacist patriarchal ideals. And what purpose does the idea of such a world serve?

    I’m asking you to think about these things.

  54. Dreamy, the study Kate was talking about was in Paul Campos’s The Obesity Myth. From the post that Kate linked back to, here is how it was described:

    One University of Arizona study found that, while only 10% of the white teenage girls surveyed were happy with their bodies, 70% of the black teenage girls were happy with theirs (the black girls weighed more, on average, than the white girls). When asked to define “beauty,” the white girls described their feminine ideal as a woman 5′7″ tall, weighing between 100 and 110 pounds (i.e., someone thinner than the average model). By contrast, the black girls described a woman whose body included such features as visible hips and functional thighs.

    This study was not about self-esteem, it was specifically about body image. While healthy body image can influence self-esteem, they’re not the same thing. I can tell you right now that it’s a lot easier for me not to blame or shame myself for my body size than it is for me not to blame or shame myself for the other circumstances of my life.

  55. Dreamy, right now, I just want to say thank you for your comment, because I don’t have the energy to give it the response it deserves right now. I think you bring up a lot of great points, though.

    Quickly…

    Has it ever occurred to you that you get attention from black men less because you are fat than because you are white?

    Yes, absolutely. And that’s part of why I emphasized that I still don’t know what it’s like to be a black woman, only a white woman being appraised by both white people and black people.

    Julia asks what makes white people so insistent that this myth about black fat-acceptance is true. The answer is not that it is true. Or that it “appears to be” true. And that is exactly the answer you gave. You didn’t question these assumptions, you laid them out and asked Julia (or others) to question them for you.

    That’s totally fair. I did want to get at questioning the assumptions, but I apparently didn’t make it that far. And I truly don’t have the brainpower right now (late at night, after drinking with Fillyjonk and Sweet Machine), so I’ll come back to this tomorrow. But really, I don’t think we’re on such different pages. You say:

    Black girls don’t have high self-esteem. They have higher self-esteem than white girls. Possible explanations:
    1) Perhaps there is something endemic to white (supremacist, patriarchal) culture that plants such horrible seeds of doubt in the minds of young white girls.
    2) Perhaps the study questions were normalized to the white experience and didn’t get at the specific roots of poorer self-esteem among black girls.
    3) Perhaps white girls start hating themselves at a younger age and black girls catch up, eventually.
    In any event, higher apparent self-esteem does not equate to less fatphobia.

    I think all of those possible explanations are valid, and I don’t think my previous comment suggested they weren’t. I’ll deal more with the anecdata when I have two functioning brain cells, but my point was not that the stereotypes are true — just that they’re not necessarily based solely on pop culture and pure ignorance. I had a similar experience in Ireland and the UK when I was younger — I thought I was horribly fat, which was reinforced by the white Americans I hung out with, but I was taken as healthy and attractive by many people over there. I certainly have enough Irish and British readers now (and do enough reading of British journalism) to know that fatphobia is a tremendous problem there, but my personal experience was so different from my experience in the U.S., it made a huge impression. So that’s what I’m saying — if you’re consistently reviled by one group of people and not by another, it’s easy to romanticize the group that apparently looks more favorably on you. But that is not the end of the story. And romanticizing any group of people means cutting out major parts of reality. (You don’t want to get me started on American stereotypes about Canadians, for instance. Yeah, they’re mostly positive, but they’re still sterotypes, ergo, they’re bullshit.)

    So my point was, I see where it comes from for a lot of white women — but we need to think beyond the anecdata and beyond the white experience. I’m really sorry the second, and more important, point didn’t come across.

  56. Those of us with disabilities spend a lot of energy managing other people’s need to help.

    And if someone actually needed to help me, they’d come over and scrub my damn bathroom, not revel in their sound of their own voice extolling vitamins, fresh air, and CBT.

  57. I agree with Julia and Dreamy.

    I also find it incredibly disappointing (to say the least) when fat white women trot out catcalling and street harassment from men of color as “proof” that communities of color are less fatphobic. This, to me, is one prime example of a complete lack of intersectional analysis.

    I mean, at the most basic level, have we not, as feminists, already determined that catcalling and street harassment are not really sexual invitation, but assertions of power? And, is it really too hard to take it one step further and conclude that if those acts are about power, that race is a big part of that power equation?

  58. (This might seem kinda OT, but bear with me for a sec. )

    So, I’ve done a lot of work in spiritual and activist groups, and a trend I notice is that of placing teachers and leaders on a pedestal. I think this is done for two reasons…on the one hand, it’s a way of putting responsibility for actions upriver (i.e., action is dictated by the teacher/leader, because they have the power); on the other hand, putting someone on a pedestal is a handy excuse for not changing (i.e., “they’re perfect, have been doing it forever, have resources I don’t,” yada yada yada).

    I think this comes from a broken, oppressive overall system of social power that does not reward self-responsibility and self-analysis. The system rewards obedience and subservience, and I have found it really tricky in my own life to reject those dynamics and shift into something more personally empowered – especially because I still move in among all the oppressive systems that make up the culture in which I live.

    So, in the context of my experience, when I see white women putting black women (especially fat black women) on a pedestal (which is how I interpret the whole “black culture is more FA” bullshit), I think it comes a little bit from a place of looking for an excuse not to feel more empowered (’cause being empowered is not easy), and also trying to put responsibility for choices on someone else (i.e., “if I could appropriate whatever it is they’re doing, I could feel better about myself like they do”).

    I’m sure there are myriad other factors feeding this idea (media, lack of inquiry, wishful thinking, systemic racism, etc.), but I think this power dynamic is in there somewhere, too.

  59. what makes white people so insistent that this myth about black fat-acceptance is true

    Perhaps because we desperately want to believe that there’s a group or culture SOMEWHERE that accepts us, while we feel that ours does not?

    It goes along with “Well, in ancient times fat was a sign of health and status!” as a kind of self-esteem underpinning, a reassurance that the mainstream beauty ideal is not the One True Way. We cling to a few straws of approval and get touchy if someone tries to take them away!

  60. I also find it incredibly disappointing (to say the least) when fat white women trot out catcalling and street harassment from men of color as “proof” that communities of color are less fatphobic.

    Tara, I completely agree with you on this. Do you see this happening on this thread?

  61. We cling to a few straws of approval and get touchy if someone tries to take them away!

    Emmy, I think part of the problem here is that what reads as “approval” is informed by unacknowledged racism. The idea that by debunking stereotypes one “takes away” something from white women is part of that racism.

  62. I may be totally wrong, but to my eyes, the racism comes in more in the way an outsider easily accepts the original statement (“people of color believe X”) without question. They are a foreign Other, to whom behaviors can be ascribed.

    Once it’s been absorbed into the psyche, I propose that the refusal to give up this notion has more to do with the few-strands-of-hope-to-cling-to.

    If someone came in and told us that actually, Rubens preferred skinny girls and only painted those women because they paid him, I suspect people would refuse to accept that either. Because, again, it’s one of those few stock sources of approval we hang on to.

  63. Tara, I completely agree with you on this. Do you see this happening on this thread?

    Ditto. If it came across that I was talking about catcalling, I wasn’t.

  64. Emmy, I see what you’re saying with the grasping at straws idea, but I think the examples are different; with Rubens you’re talking about specific artifacts — actual paintings you can look at and assess for yourself — whereas with the “black culture is more fat accepting” meme, you’re talking about a vague, woo-woo sense of otherness. You’re right that accepting that idea in the first place is racist, but as Julia and others in this thread have pointed out, being unwilling to let go of it is *also* racist. I think that’s why Julia and dreamy asked what’s at stake in that unwillingness to let go.

  65. …overall system of social power that does not reward self-responsibility and self-analysis. The system rewards obedience and subservience…

    I also find this to be very true, and very frustrating, especially when the visible traits of “self-responsibility” tend to be viewed as “pushy” in women and “admirable” in men.

  66. There’s an interesting post/personal essay at Racialicious today about interracial dating and beauty standards. This passage seems very relevant to our discussion here:

    In discussions of beauty – particularly those on women centered blogs – white women can understand being held up to an unrealistic standard of beauty. To be impossibly thin, impossibly blonde, impossibly clear skinned, with a body that defies the law of physics is presented as something that is attainable if you try hard enough and buy the right products, though many women find these efforts to be futile. What most of these conversations do not understand is that when black women pick up these kinds of magazines, or watch advertisements on TV, or popular television shows with popular white actresses, we do not get the message “try harder.”

    The message we receive is never.

    You will never look like this. Not if you straighten your hair, or lose weight, or work out every single day, or have the perfect body and the perfect wardrobe to match. Even if you fit all those requirements, you’re still “pretty for a black girl.” And if, for some reason, you do not fit these requirements, if your hair is frizzy or curly or kinky, if your thighs and ass will always keep your size in the double digits, if your features are not keen, if your skin tone is too deep, then there are many people who will never consider you beautiful.

    They will never see who you are.

  67. Tara, I completely agree with you on this. Do you see this happening on this thread?

    I did assume that Kate might have been referring to catcalling, since “I’ve gotten a hell of a lot of positive attention from African-American men” can be interpreted several ways.

    But in general, my hackles get raised when white women use black mens’ attraction to them as “proof,” because my guess is their anecdata refers to:

    1. Being catcalled or street harassed by men of color; and/or
    2. Having been hit on by 1 or more men of color; and/or
    2. Having dated/slept with 1 or more men of color

    Either way, the “data” involves a generalization about an entire culture based on an incredibly small sample size. And, as folks have already pointed out, the conclusion fits too neatly into white supremacist thinking to not merit unpacking.

  68. Either way, the “data” involves a generalization about an entire culture based on an incredibly small sample size.

    Agreed. Which is why I followed up my description of that experience with:

    We definitely need to remember that that has nothing to do with A) being an African-American woman, B) being a fatter woman of any color, or C) how ALL African-Americans think about fatness or anything else.

    And later with:
    So my point was, I see where it comes from for a lot of white women — but we need to think beyond the anecdata and beyond the white experience. I’m really sorry the second, and more important, point didn’t come across.

    Julia asked why white people keep insisting on this, and I gave as one example a not-uncommon series of personal experiences that can lead some white women to false assumptions about black people as a group. Assumptions that need to be examined and acknowledged for the generalizations they are. I was attempting to answer why this comes up so often, not suggest that it’s a justification for stereotyping. Anecdata doesn’t prove anything, but it does influence behavior.

  69. But in general, my hackles get raised when white women use black mens’ attraction to them as “proof,”

    I can understand that — thanks for the clarification.

  70. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself from this thread. I was defending the people who got on my nerves with their advice because I kept wishing they were right.

  71. Tari, I think you are spot-on re: appropriation.

    Emmy, To be blunt, you don’t get to claim or cling to the “acceptance” or imagined admiration of people over which you hold privilege, and you certainly don’t get to be indignant when they tell you you can’t have it. That is straight entitlement.

    I don’t get the feeling at all that you are clinging to the acceptance of your fat black “sisters,” for the sake of your fat black “sisters.” I get that you (even if I concede you were referring to a theoretical you) are telling POC how to think about you. They should do it the way you tell them to, the way you imagined they did– and if they don’t, they’re big meanies. Would you (even theoretical you), act the same way towards someone who held power over you? That is, if you believed that thin white men loved fat white women, and they told you that this was not, in fact, the case, would you just be disappointed, or would you get “touchy?” Insistent? Pushy? Punitive? (All behaviors I have witnessed when white women are told by WOC that they are not as “appreciated” as they believed.) Or is that the kind of behavior one reserves for subordinates?

    Meowser, I still think you should question the assumptions drawn specifically about fatphobia from that study, and consider that the conclusions were less about fat than secondary sex characteristics (“hips”) and size/strength (often related to muscle mass– “functional thighs”). The fact that those are conflated with fatness in white “western” culture does not mean they are conflated in all communities. Which means that any conclusion drawn about fatphobia in black communities is drawn with white assumptions about the same, and therefore flawed. I mean, one could write at least a book chapter’s worth about that study and what it does and doesn’t “prove.” But just for starters.

    Kate, I think this will be my last comment here on the subject, but I actually do think we are coming from fundamentally different places. I do not think we are on the same page. Perhaps you could reread my anecdote about “Matt.”

    my point was not that the stereotypes are true — just that they’re not necessarily based solely on pop culture and pure ignorance

    You are correct. They are based in systemic, pervasive racism. That is not ignorance at all– it is a very sophisticated way of knowing. Knowing something that preserves the prevailing operating system, the way one thinks about herself and how the world works/is supposed to work.

    I feel like you are saying, once again, “I’m not ignorant. I’m not a fool. There are real reasons, however anecdotal, that I feel the way I feel.” As if this is any different than what any other white person is saying. As if your perceived “reasons” were not, in fact, justifications after the fact. As if this were not in defense of something– even if you are not consciously aware of what you are defending.

    Have you ever had a dream where you are riding down Niagara Falls in a barrel and you wake up to see you have wet the bed? Did it ever occur to you that the subconscious and the human body is so complex that, rather than your bladder having been triggered by waterfall imagery, you may have started peeing first, and THEN your brain inserted the appropriately aquatic image?

    You and I are talking about two different things. You are talking about what has made you (and other white women) feel justified in subscribing to a stereotype. Whether you now claim to know it is unjustified is beside the point. I am talking about what purpose is served by white people subscribing to a stereotype. I believe this is the real “reason” for subscribing to it. The rest is justification– more hypothesis-confirmation-seeking behavior of which we are all guilty, but which is particularly harmful when it furthers institutional oppression.

    To make an analogy:

    Let’s say that I am a man who has been bombared from birth with images that tell me women who wear miniskirts are sluts. They want sex with men and they aren’t too choosy about what kind of men, either. I have come to learn that this is not entirely true, or at least that some women say it isn’t true. Still, it’s hard not to believe there isn’t some grain of truth to it.

    A woman asks me, in conversation, why it is that men believe this myth is true. I tell her that I guess I don’t really believe it, but after all:

    -We have all been bombared with credible images that suggest same.
    -When I go out to clubs, a lot of the drunken women who give me attention are wearing short skirts.
    -I don’t get much attention from women who are wearing long skirts.
    -A study shows that women who feel more confident about their bodies have more sex and also tend to wear shorter skirts, on average.
    -Not that I know a lot of women, but you have to admit that it logically follows.

    All of which have what to do with why I believe or have believed that women who wear miniskirts are loose, on the prowl and hot for me?

    There are a number of reasons the above analogy is imperfect, and they are all intersectional and/or owing to the fact that racism does not act exactly like sexism, and vice versa. But still.

    You say above:

    if you’re consistently reviled by one group of people and not by another, it’s easy to romanticize the group that apparently looks more favorably on you

    And I know you go on to say that romanticizing is bad, but you seem to imply that it is bad because it’s only part of the story, rather than because it is flat out wrong– a misinterpretation based in privilege.

    Here is what I hear you saying– or, rather, what I think is more to the point:

    It’s easy to romanticize a group over which you hold power, because they exist to serve your needs– practical, existential, theoretical or otherwise. Because you hold this power, you are free to create and perpetuate whatever romantic fantasy you like, including the idea that they look more favorably upon you than your “own,” more threatening “kind,” seem to. Furthermore, you assure yourself that, if they do, in objective fact, look more favorably upon you, you know why this is the case– and that “why” is A) the same sort of reason for which your own group would assess you favorably and/or B) some other reason that aligns with your stereotypes about these people. Therefore, if you perceive yourself as consistently reviled by your in-group, but not by The Other, (which on a fundamental level you do not understand or ever have to understand), you will see the things that confirm these fantasies and not the things that don’t.

    You have it backward, in my opinion. The cart is before the horse. And that is the fundamental disconnect.


  72. I don’t get the feeling at all that you are clinging to the acceptance of your fat black “sisters,” for the sake of your fat black “sisters.”

    Quite true. The viewpoint I am proposing as a possible explanation is definitely a selfish belief – “They like big girls, so they might like me! I am liked!” (Similarly, “Japanese guys love girls with glasses, so they might like me! I am liked!”)

    I get that you (even if I concede you were referring to a theoretical you) are telling POC how to think about you. They should do it the way you tell them to, the way you imagined they did– and if they don’t, they’re big meanies. Would you (even theoretical you), act the same way towards someone who held power over you? That is, if you believed that thin white men loved fat white women, and they told you that this was not, in fact, the case, would you just be disappointed, or would you get “touchy?” Insistent? Pushy? Punitive? (All behaviors I have witnessed when white women are told by WOC that they are not as “appreciated” as they believed.) Or is that the kind of behavior one reserves for subordinates?

    That’s exactly what I was suggesting as a possibility – that people would be equally distraught and prone to denial at a loss of any of their other imagined sources of approval. Maybe that’s totally wrong and they wouldn’t react the same way, I don’t know.

    I’m not always good at predicting human behavior, because I’m a social phobic with a very unusual lifestyle, and my human interaction is quite limited. Sometimes, people baffle me. At the same time, I’m driven by a neurotic compulsion to try and make people stop fighting (obvious signs of a childhood featuring a bitter divorce), which can get me into trouble.

  73. Dreamy, thanks again for your comment.

    I feel like you are saying, once again, “I’m not ignorant. I’m not a fool. There are real reasons, however anecdotal, that I feel the way I feel.”

    That’s where we’re getting hung up here, I think. To me, there’s a big difference between “There are real reasons, however anecdotal, that people, including me, jump to conclusions that they need to examine and disabuse themselves of” and “There are real reasons that I feel the way I feel.”

    The fact that those are conflated with fatness in white “western” culture does not mean they are conflated in all communities.

    I think that’s exactly the point Meowser was trying to make, and that I was making in bringing up those studies. If there’s a difference in definitions of “fatness” between different communities, that’s an interesting and relevant issue to discuss. Suggesting that anyone here on this thread has said “There’s no fatphobia in the black community” is a pure strawman. Yes, people do make that argument, lamentably, which is one reason why Julia’s post was so important. But that’s certainly not what I’m arguing or Meowser’s arguing.

  74. *tiptoeing in*

    “But that’s certainly not what I’m arguing or Meowser’s arguing.”

    And it’s not what Emmy or dreamy said you were arguing.

    *tiptoes out*

  75. dreamy, I know you said you weren’t going to comment more on this thread, but I hope you’re still reading. You’re right, I think you and Kate are actually talking about very different things. I think Kate’s original comment with the anecdata was answering the question “why (as in, because of what experiences or based on what information) do white people in the FA insist that african-american culture is more fat accepting than white culture?”

    As an answer to that question, I think her response and anecdata make sense. Unfortunately, that wasn’t what Julia asked, or what you were asking. I just went upthread again and re-read Julia’s original broaching of the topic:
    “You know, I think a discussion I really want to have is this: why is it so important for white people in FA to insist that african-american culture is more fat accepting than white culture? Why are white women telling a black woman about how her ethnic group feels about things?” Which is a TOTALLY different question, and which you restated very well later as “what purpose is served by white people subscribing to a stereotype.”

    I can’t speak for Kate or anyone else here, but I think it is very easy to read “why” as “because of what experiences” instead of “what purpose is served” — we can use the same word to ask two very different questions. Julia made it clear, of course, by putting the whole phrase “why is it so important” in her question — and I missed that the first time around, and then spent much of this thread wondering why a relation of one’s experiences was not an appropriate response to a “why do you think this?” question.

    The lesson for me, of course, is that I need to pay closer attention when I read! — and that it might be worthwhile for me to think about how my white privilege affects not just what I experience but also how I read and what I remember. : (

    I guess I just want to say that when you wrote “what purpose is served” it was like a lightbulb went off in my head, because up until then I’d been looking at the discussion with a completely different meaning of “why” in my head, because I misread Julia’s question. And I don’t know if anyone else made the same mistake I did, but it might explain a lot about this thread.

  76. This thread certainly feels very fraught, so I also feel like tiptoeing and whispering… Just in relation to Heqit’s clarification, I did read Emmy’s contribution as a straightforward and honest enough answer to the (possible to read in the context) question: ” what is at stake for white people in this belief that black people are more fat accepting?” and her answer was (again, my paraphrase) – “what is at stake for us is our self-regard – such a belief may help us feel approved and because this is an irrationally held, but deeply attractive “stake” to hold, we are reluctant to give it up.” That’s what her comment says to me. For myself, I don’t know anything about how other people experience fat phobia, with the exception of my own family and friends and patients, and that is what I am here to learn. So I’ll tiptoe out and wait to see if I can learn some more.

  77. Just on the other point to this thread about drive-by advising, I realise I was guilty of doing exactly that on another thread, just a week ago. Heartfelt apologies to drive-by-ee, who I think knows who she is. Again, live and learn – and that truly is why I love this blog.

  78. You know, I think a discussion I really want to have is this: why is it so important for white people in FA to insist that african-american culture is more fat accepting than white culture? Why are white women telling a black woman about how her ethnic group feels about things?

    *hand up* as a white girl who also carried this assumption. But in my case, it wasn’t about telling a black woman about how her ethnic group feels about her, as this:

    “maybe there’s hope. maybe fat girls aren’t universally hated. maybe one group of fat woman has one part of their lives a little bit easier.”

    not that validation from men is the pinnacle of life’s goals, but just on a day to day basis to get along, every little thing helps.

  79. I don’t know how I missed the PSA on my first read of this post, but I’m spamming my family’s email boxes with it as we speak. I have also been tempted to print up cards that say the following:

    “Yes, I have tried diet and exercise.
    Yes, I have tried [insert drug here].
    Yes, I have tried acupuncture.
    Yes, I have tried massage.
    Yes, I have tried herbs.
    Yes, I have tried vitamins.
    Yes, I have tried meditation.
    Yes, I have tried therapy.
    Yes, I have tried water aerobics.
    Yes, I have tried yoga.
    Yes, I have tried tea.
    Yes, I have tried bed rest.
    Yes, I have tried the pain clinic.
    Yes, I have tried surgery.

    None of these things have cured me because I have an incurable condition. I know that hearing I have been in pain my entire life and will be in pain for the entire rest of my life is difficult, nigh impossible, for you to fathom.

    I, meanwhile, have accepted that, although I have to be in pain, I do not have to suffer. Listening to you attempt to diagnose/treat/cure my condition by offering suggestions I have already tried merely increases my suffering. Please stop.”

  80. “you will see the things that confirm these fantasies and not the things that don’t.”

    dreamy, thank you for this last sentence. This gelled everything else you and Julia had said in my head into one kind of sharp, reminding smack with a clue-by-four.

    A stereotype only requires *one* occurrence in real life to be created, and the strength of propaganda, accompanied by active ignorance of any evidence to the contrary, does the rest. Whether there are any additional, legitimate occurrences is unimportant because the new idea has replaced the reality.

  81. “maybe there’s hope. maybe fat girls aren’t universally hated. maybe one group of fat woman has one part of their lives a little bit easier.”

    Nope. Not so. From my perspective the one-two punch of being a black, fat woman has effectively done the following things:

    1. Completely desexualized me to the point where I can, and do (sometimes), feel invisible.

    2. Reinforced the notion that I will never live up to the dominant image of beauty in Westernized society.

    3. Imposed the belief that if I show any nurturing behaviors, that will automatically put me into the “mammy” category (and, contrary to what people see when they look at me, I am nobody’s mammy)

    4. Sensitized me to the fact that I have to take care not to lose my temper too badly in the everyday world (have a hissy, be seen as giving “attitude”) because then I end up being the Fat Black Bitch

    It’s a narrow tightrope that has been my daily experience because of factors which are unchangeable:

    1. I am black. I have always been and will always be.
    2. I am female. I have always been and will always be.
    3. I am fat. I have always been and most likely (thank you genetics) will always be.

    What non-POC women see as self-acceptance and defiance, ie. dressing well, keeping oneself well-groomed, etc, most likely is a self-protection response finely honed and created to glean acceptance from the “community” at large. No pun intended.

    I know there’s a little bit of “oh, wow! Maybe it *is* ok to be fat because these people say it is.”

    And how much weight (aside from the usual appropriation stuff) does my voice (as your ordinary, run of the mill, educated, black, fat, young, woman) carry in the grand scheme of the world?

    Not much. Especially when you find that people in your own peer group are insisting that yes, it’s quite ok for us to think ABC, even when you (and others) are emphatically saying, no, no, it’s XYZ.

    The black (and other POC) communities are not monolithic. Not everyone is in lock-step with the whole “only a dog wants a bone” mentality. I can’t say with all certainty that all of the white community is fatphobic, when the Fatosphere, amongst other spaces, show that this is totally not the case.

    That’s a privilege I wasn’t born with.

  82. maydarling, I don’t for a second doubt your experiences and I thank you for sharing them eloquently. I do think coyote answered the question usefully, though — the question being “what’s behind the compulsion white women have to assume that black women have it better in terms of body image.” It’s an exoticizing of black culture; I said on fats.com that white women “feel like we want to preserve this imaginary cultural space where the particular oppression we experience doesn’t exist, which of course requires ignoring not only the reality of that particular oppression but all the other oppressions operating in that group.”

    What you say here is pretty much just what Julia says, and you both say it well and I think it should be required reading (we are working on a required reading list, and it will involve a “read this stuff on race before you bother opening your mouth” section, and Julia’s post will be there). But I really do think it’s worthwhile examining where this misconception comes from and why it’s apparently so deeply rooted psychologically, and I think that’s what coyote was trying to address. We can let go of the idea easier if we know why we’re clinging to it.

  83. I read this a while ago, and then I had to come back and read it again, because it bothered me. Maydarling has a story to relate here and Julia has a different story, because, unless one is an alias, which is unlikely, they are two different people. FJ, your comment comes across as saying if we’ve got one of those stories we’ve got the full set.

    Also, I didn’t read Maydarling as invalidating or even arguing with what coyote said, but using her comment as a springboard to say “here’s how it is with me” – as we all do. And I, for one. am interested in how it is with Maydarling. Well, nuff said. Going back to bed now.

  84. Thanks, maydarling, for saying all that. Your words have mad an impact on me. And, for what it’s worth, I agree with scotlyn, fj.

  85. Hello out there. I know that I come to this conversation very, very late–I was unaware of this blog until the link from Salon today, and it was awesome. And I thus spent the rest of the day reading through the conversations and the links…and this discussion resonated with me.

    I used to be very body-positive, even as a “fat chick” (215 lb) and even rather activist–green pixie cut hair, denim miniskirt. I took classes in feminist theory, thought I understood about “white privilege” and the voice of the subaltern and the relationship of the colonized to the colonizer. And then I joined the Peace Corps. And was told, in no uncertain terms, that it was part of my job to “represent my country” (read “represent your race”) and to offend no one in my host country with my appearance, comments, or politics, and that I would need to “overcome” ingrained stereotypes that television and other media had brought, and “deal with” an overwhelmingly macho culture, etc. Oh, and I would be the only white person in town. They really would all be staring at me.

    And even then, I had it BETTER than PoC have it in this country–because while, where I was living, there were ingrained stereotypes (i.e. all American women are whores, and thus any sexual advance will be welcomed; women are only useful for making babies and absolutely are not capable of, say, engineering) my appearance/race were still valued as some sort of “ideal”–about which there is not nearly enough room to speak, certainly not by me, except to say that the evils of US cosmetics advertising are everywhere, and yes, that it is colonialism–and that the history of my country, people, and race are such that I know that I cannot make a meaningful comparison between this experience and any other, and I am not trying to compare the experiences so much as just speak about my own….anyway, even while “lucky” enough to be “pretty” by the cultural standard, I was still very much, and very obviously, the only person of my weight, height, and skin color in my community (there were 5 of us in the general 20km area–the other 4 were male). And thus I represented “white female culture.”

    And I grew out my hair so it was unoffensive and politically unsurprising, and dressed in the baggiest “women’s” clothes I could find (big skirts and sweaters) in order to not upset cultural expectations, and not be subject to harassment for being too “sexy”–and became hideously aware of perceptions. I was still harassed, continually, daily, on the street–“hey baby” and kissy noises and “love you” etc. were pretty much the aural backdrop to my entire existence–I was still stared at, people would run and hide, or come up and touch me and rub my skin and ask if “things were different colors” out of my different colored eyes–and I became, in ways that I haven’t even begun to fully deal with and examine, a very different individual than the one that lived and rocked out for feminism in the states.

    I shrank. Literally, figuratively, what have you. I was much bigger and taller than everyone in town–so I lost 60 pounds to try to “fit.” I didn’t go out unless it was completely unavoidable, as the advanced game of creating a mental barricade while still being “sociable” and inoffensive was too exhausting to bear. I (and others around me–all good educated white Peace Corps-joining liberals) began using terms and generalizations for the dominant culture that can only be characterized as racist–it wasn’t that one particular person did one particular thing that made me uncomfortable, no, instead it was “these f-ing people that think this f-ing way that makes it so hard for me”–broad strokes painting a culture instead of individuals or acts, because it wasn’t individuals I was angry with–I was angry with all of “them” and their stupid stereotypes that I had to overcome and their stupid assumptions and why the hell couldn’t I just be myself instead of playing this whole culture game, blah, blah…but I still kept quiet, and generally seething and loathing, while smiling and being inoffensive and playing the culture game…

    Because I didn’t have the privilege. See, I didn’t even realize it until I wasn’t in the US, but being all big-bad-bitch and political and activist about appearance was attached to the unknown and unnoticed presumption that I was the cultural default. I could CHOOSE how to express myself, and that choice would be a valid comment, because it wouldn’t be attached to anything preexisting–I can control the perception you have of me, at least to some extent, because I am educated and white and therefore “normal”. Whereas, if I had tried to say or do something in that little town, it would have been “proof” that Americans are weird, that we are overbearing, that American women are castrating bitches and so women really ought to be kept in place to prevent that–see how fraught it gets? To get respect at all, I had to play the game that disrespects me.

    And this is what’s so frustrating about all of this–because overcoming prejudices and assumptions are also core to the FA movement–we are not lazy and fat and sweaty and morally lax, etc–the perceptions we cannot control. But I don’t have to overcome, say, a “mammy” or earth-mother or whatever other ridiculous cultural memes are floating out there at the time. I can make a statement (verbal or otherwise) in the US without the additional assumption that I “speak for” or “represent” any particular value besides “Jen”. And that is, it seems, part of the very nature of privilege–that, as one who is privileged, gets to speak of the personal and the political as an INDIVIDUAL, instead of as a symbol or representative of a “culture” or “in order to overcome” stereotypes (“but your people are so much more accepting…”) that are implicit by my membership in a non-dominant society. It’s pretty f-ing nice. When I didn’t have my privilege, I missed it, desperately.

    And while I can’t change what color I am, I can at least make an effort to be aware that, for someone who is not white, the idea that white is the default, non-color, “flesh,” as opposed to a color and a culture with a fairly brutal history, well, I ought to probably try to keep that in mind when talking about the acceptance or non-acceptance of personal standards of appearance.

    Anyway, I’m glad that I found y’all–this is a brilliant place with some wonderful people, and very important work. No more bonding over shared self-hate–that would be inspirational indeed.

  86. Just realized–I had “fat” as one of the stereotypes for fat–this is how ingrained the idea of that word as a mortal insult is for me. Ouch.

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