On squeaky wheels

I’ve been having some problems with belly dance costumes. It can be hard to find plus-size costuming, but that’s not really been the issue — the issue is that costuming is handled by the director of the studio and the wardrobe mistress, with no input from students or teachers (we don’t even know what they’ll look like until a few weeks before the performance). This alone wouldn’t be a huge deal, though as a friend pointed out, it’s a little bit children’s tap performance. But on top of that, costume elements are frequently “one size fits all” (which, as usual, is a crock) or come in limited sizes or (according to another Shapeling who used to dance there) come with a “fat tax” because plus sizes require special ordering. It’s hard to find plus size costume stuff, but not THAT fucking hard — with a modicum of self-determination we could all, for instance, find pants that come in six sizes and three lengths. But we don’t get that.

Last semester, for various reasons, I got my top only a few days before the performance, and it didn’t fit. As a person who’s passed FA 101, I buy great clothes in my size instead of trying to squeeze into tiny pants. If a piece of clothing doesn’t fit me, I return it or get rid of it, because the piece of clothing — not my body — is wrong. I’ve never been a bridesmaid for someone who doesn’t recognize that people come in sizes, and my current social group is such that I never will, so I also haven’t been subjected to having my hard-won body truce endangered by cheap satin and ill-fitting strapless bodices. So this was genuinely the first time in memory that I’d put on something that didn’t fit and felt something more serious than “bummer, that’d be cute on someone else.” It was not only upsetting but sort of disorienting from an identity standpoint — this is not something I let myself do to my body or brain.

But I was already signed up for this semester’s performance, so I thought I’d see if it would happen again. It almost did. Unexpectedly (because we’d originally been told we could wear pants we already owned), the decision came from on high that we would wear one-size harem pants for the show. Now, this is a class with at least three people over 200 pounds (including me, of course) and three over 5’10” (no overlap). We are clearly not one-size-fits-all dancers, so how are we going to wear one-size-fits-all pants without some serious tsuris?

One of the tall girls had also felt really burned by costume inanity before, so we both expressed consternation. And we must not have been the only ones, or we reached some kind of boundary condition, because somehow this time it made a difference. The studio director stopped by class last night to talk about it, and since I wasn’t there (snow) she called me tonight at home. They’re changing to pants that come in several sizes and she wanted to apologize.

After being sort of polite but reserved for a while, I finally took a deep breath and told her everything I’ve said here. I also told her that I was part of the size acceptance movement (“stock answer for anyone who might not be prepared to hear the words ‘fat’ and ‘acceptance’ right next to each other”), that a lot of readers here are belly dancers because it’s usually a great gateway to self-love, and furthermore that I’d usually experienced a lot of body positivity in my classes — making it extra disorienting when I came up against a wall of one-size-ism at the end of each semester. She’d never heard of size acceptance but said that body positivity was a conscious goal of the studio, that she was happy to hear I’d encountered it in classes and sorry that the costume-ordering process tended to feel like the opposite. I told her I appreciated that and was glad to hear that body positivity was one of the studio’s explicit objectives. It was, in short, pretty damn productive.

We may disagree on what activism means — both what it should mean for the community, and what it means for us personally. Some people are awesome in-your-face street activists who never pass up a teachable moment. Some people write — for blogs and newspapers, for experienced activists and brand-new 101ers. Some people organize; others are activist through art [potentially NSFW] or radical visibility. Some people will drink a bowl of gravy for fat acceptance. Not everyone wants to speak up every time — and even when we’re speaking up, we may disagree on tone and approach, honey versus vinegar. Personally, I have a tough-to-shake tendency to go pretty limp in face-to-face situations — my FA tendencies, so pronounced in print, go head to head with my dislike of making myself disliked. But it’s worth remembering that some people who appear to be acting thoughtless just genuinely aren’t thinking, and a gentle or even not-so-gentle reminder of your existence as a person who doesn’t want to be marginalized can have real effects. You don’t have to be all super-activist all the time — I’m not. But if someone is mistreating you and you don’t think they mean to (because they mean well, because they probably want your money, or whatever), try letting them know, with whatever level of gravity or breeziness you think it requires.

Kate recently defined privilege as “the luxury of not thinking about it much,” which I think is perfect. One of the consequences of privilege, then, is that if you want people to be inclusive of you, you often have to remind them that you exist. It sucks to have to do this all the time, which is part of why so many people — particularly those struggling to understand their own privilege — confuse privilege with prejudice or ignorance. Even if you’re not actively oppressing those who lack the privileges you have, you are oppressing them by failing to consider them part of the status quo, by requiring them to make explicit requests for basic representation or consideration. We need to be aware of that when it comes to the privileges we have — do you, by default, consider everybody or only the people whose experiences you find familiar? But when it comes to privileges we lack, it’s worth remembering that as much as it may suck to have to ask explicitly for consideration, you get to ask for it. Even if you’re not a born activist, you can still be an advocate — for others, and just as importantly for yourself.

70 thoughts on “On squeaky wheels

  1. Personally, I have a tough-to-shake tendency to go pretty limp in face-to-face situations — my FA tendencies, so pronounced in print, go head to head with my dislike of making myself disliked.

    If I were one speck as eloquent as you, I could have written that. That’s me.

  2. and what I mean… is thank you. For being visible and vocal in the ways you are, and for everybody in this community being visible and vocal in the ways they can be… it’s so good to have back-up. And to have people who “get it”.

  3. Brava! (You can’t see me, but I’m actually standing in front of my computer and applauding.)

  4. Just today, I had a taking a deep breath moment. After the deep breath, I jumped into an email exchange to give my opinion about the “all diets fail the same” study, about which one of those in the conversation said “calories in = calories out.”
    I’m so glad I did because the one who didn’t say “calories in = calories out” agreed with my critique.

    Thank you for describing this process.

  5. Yay FJ! You have such a strong voice.

    And I love how you often frame things in such an emphatically intersectional framework. I think a lot of advocates (in general, I mean, not FA people specifically) don’t do that as clearly or as consistently.

    I love when Shapelings talk about strategies for turning FA philosophy (and other advocacy stuff) into strategies in real life situations. Too often I find myself playing along with the milder end of the body disparagement stuff, for instance, because it’s a social language that I can speak to keep the conversation going.

  6. Oh gosh, just to clarify because that sounded wronger than I meant it to, I do not disparage anyone else’s body at ALL ever. I’ll just joke occasionally about my own pearishness and monkey arms, and I appreciate it when Shapelings offer strategies to steer conversations away from that kind of thing.

  7. Congratulations on speaking up…. :)

    I had a “Do I want to speak up about this” last week when my office chair broke, and having to remind myself that it’s THE CHAIR that failed, not me. Especially since it’s a specially-ordered for ergonomics reasons chair that is even rated-for-my-weight.

    And I will note that the reaction was “What? I’m calling the supplier. No way should that have broken!” — not “You broke the chair? What did you do?!”

  8. But it’s worth remembering that some people who appear to be acting thoughtless just genuinely aren’t thinking, and a gentle or even not-so-gentle reminder of your existence as a person who doesn’t want to be marginalized can have real effects.

    Just…awesome. Lately I keep reminding myself of this all the time. The person whose unthinking comment might be the last straw for me wasn’t responsible for the 20 comments that came before and doesn’t necessarily deserve the full force of my wrath and disdain, and in fact, that can be counterproductive when approaching someone who may well be educable and deserves the effort–lord knows I put my foot in it plenty in other arenas despite my best efforts.

    Recently a colleague at work was getting her lunch and remarked, in front of others, on some ingredients of mine as “bad.” I wanted to take her apart. Instead, I took a breath, and just said, “I don’t believe in assigning moral values to foods,” and smiled and walked away. She actually came by later to apologize and said I gave her something to think about! I personally don’t consider the workplace a forum to actively proslyetize for FA or HAES or any other personal belief system, but that doesn’t mean I have to let comments like that go by unchallenged at all, either. And hey, maybe, just maybe, by checking the in-your-face knee-jerk response (for once), a tiny difference was made.

    That said, I stil reserve the right to smack down confirmed douchehounds. Heh.

    And emilymorgan, I too find it takes a lot of conscious effort not to participate in those “I hate this about my body” conversations–you can’t overcome a lifetime of socialization patterns like that overnight, especially when we’re still continually bombarded with them. But disparaging your own body continues to give others permission and support to do the same to themselves, and to you. (And that was a reminder to me as much as assvice for you. Grin.)

  9. “But disparaging your own body continues to give others permission and support to do the same to themselves, and to you”

    You’re totally right. The “to themselves” part of this was what I needed to hear, to be honest.

  10. Kate recently defined privilege as “the luxury of not thinking about it much,” which I think is perfect. One of the consequences of privilege, then, is that if you want people to be inclusive of you, you often have to remind them that you exist.

    I just had a fight with my dad concerning a related issue. I month ago I moved back in with my parents. Yesterday evening we were watching TV and stumbled accross the first critical mainstream TV report on the German government’s actions when it comes to the obesity epipanic (yeay!). Well, we got into the usual discussion and my dad said among other things that I cannot deny that fat people have higher blood pressure which is unhealthy. I told him that a) personally I have lower blood pressure at the moment than when I weighed 80 pounds less three years ago and b) it has recently been proposed that part of health issues fat people have more often than thin people might be due the increased stress they experience – and that blood pressure is one of those issues.
    Anyways, first he tried to stop the discussion without letting me argue my point, then he started shouting that he was sick of hearing about this topic.

    He thinks I am obsessed with it, and you know, in a way I am. It took me years to allow myself to acknowledge that, yes, I am disadvantaged compared to thin people, not because it is inherently bad to be fat, but because society either does not consider that my body type exists or actively discriminates against it. I hope to become a bit more laid back about this in the future – at the moment this topic does indeed play a part in my life that is too big for my taste. But I did not choose that. It is other people that bring up my fatness and the supposed unhealthy fattening of society again and again. I am just refusing to go with it. Actually, my dad himself very often comments on women’s bodies in inappropriate ways, usually stating that they are too fat or too thin, talks about how this or that person has lost or gained weight, questions why some people do manage to keep their weight down after a diet if diets in general do not work and tells reminds me of the times when I was “so fit”.

    (Also, he said that I cannot change society. I replied that I was fully aware that I as an individual am unable to change society, but that there were other people out there who advocated for change just as I am, and that I fully believe that society CAN change in the long run – and I want to be part of that change.)

  11. Just a note to all bellydancing Shapelings: Have you seen Shira’s excellent website http://www.bellydanceplus.com? It’s got a lot of cool things there, including links to vendors who sell plus size costumes and instructions on how to make your own.

  12. Fillyjonk, I’m so glad that you posted this today. I really needed to hear this.

    Thinking of privilege — I wonder if the studio didn’t think that “one size fits all” meant that everybody would be accommodated (instead of the opposite.)

    I like to wear trousers. I’m pear-shaped and I’m putting on weight, probably due to change of life issues plus the stress of being responsible for my father, who has dementia. The brand and style of trousers that I wear (the only commercially available trousers that are affordable and sorta fit me) have just appeared with “new cut!” “New cut!” means slimmer thighs — so much slimmer that I can’t wear them. Earlier, they cheapened their fabric so that the the trousers wore out in about 8 months. So, when my last two pairs wear out, it’s looking like I might not have a ready-made alternative. (And it’s not like I have a lot of time to sew, either, with my work responsibilities and caring for my dad/managing his affairs.)

    A ramble. Clothing just brings a person up short, doesn’t it.

  13. Great article, and I also appreciate seeing these glimpses of how FA can play out in life, since I’m a neophyte myself.

    I apologize for the off-topicness, but can anyone recommend a belly dancing DVD for a beginner? Not a beginner to exercise, but a beginner to belly dancing? I tried to find one on Amazon but the conflicting reviews made it impossible. Thanks!

  14. I could really do with a phrasebook of friendly, positive responses to diet talk and body hate. So often, somebody says disparaging things about her body as an attempt to be friendly, and I don’t know how to reply without joining in, being rude, or sounding snotty and superior.

  15. Yes, MissPrism. A phrasebook would be very helpful.
    I end up being someone because of my job and also my demeanor that people tend to “share” with.
    Depending on how well I know the person, my response tends to be different, but I will say it’s not an easy thing. The diet talk I sometimes respond to with something that reflects back how proud the person is of themselves without reinforcing the diet itself. Disparaging things about body I tend to tolerate much less well and try to shift the focus away from the individual body to remind them of the external context. Actually, I don’t hear much body disparagement as I tend to project an aggressively body positive vibe to those who don’t know me particularly well.
    I’ll try to keep better track of these conversations — usually in my floor’s lunchroom — and see what I say and what I could say better.

  16. Miss Prism, I usually say “I think you look good”. One person at work says “I don’t deserve to eat” and I tell her “Everybody deserves to eat and this means you”.

    But, I don’t bond over diet talk and body hatred and some of my co-workers do. But I sometimes wonder if they keep saying the same things to me about how they are ugly, need to lose weight, are hungry but don’t deserve to eat, etc. because they know I will tell them something nicer and not full of body hatred. Body acceptance is so very unusual. “My legs are fat” they say. “Your legs are strong” I answer.

    But maybe I can get away with this because I am old enough to be their mother.

  17. But, I don’t bond over diet talk and body hatred and some of my co-workers do. But I sometimes wonder if they keep saying the same things to me about how they are ugly, need to lose weight, are hungry but don’t deserve to eat, etc. because they know I will tell them something nicer and not full of body hatred,

    I am convinced that the reason I don’t have any friends among my co-workers is because I am the only one not on a diet.

    A bunch of people are doing this “diet challenge” thing together and I definitely feel like I miss out because I’m not participating.

    One co-worker tried to get me on the bandwagon by bringing in SlimFasts and stuff like that for everyone to try, and acting hurt when I politely refused.

    The thing is, two of my co-workers are my size, and I’m thin (I think? my body perceptions are so warped that I don’t even really know where I fit). I don’t know if she sees me for my size, or because she and I are the same size I am “lazy” for not trying to diet along with her. I know I miss out on a lot simply because I bring FOOD to lunch – I get looks from co-workers when I bring things that have more than 300 calories.

  18. @Molly “I don’t believe in assigning moral values to foods,”.

    You seriously rock.

    This is going to be one of my new stock answers.

    Thanks!!!

    and FJ – you rock too. Thanks for this today.

  19. Just a note to all bellydancing Shapelings: Have you seen Shira’s excellent website http://www.bellydanceplus.com?

    Thanks Lenore. F everyone’s I, there’s a lot of stuff on this site that I don’t find fat-positive (links to articles about belly dance for weight loss, ideas about how to “flatter” i.e. thin your figure — including the unchallenged idea that anyone with a protruding belly should just hide it!). But there are some good articles, including firsthand accounts of discovering body positivity through dance, and some photos of bigger dancers which alone can help people get up the confidence to try a class. And some good places to buy gear, which of course is my favorite part!

  20. Oh, and GingerCat, I’ve never done a DVD (though I’m thinking I might get a few for at-home practice), but there was some discussion about them at the Ning site.

  21. I “officially” crossed the boundary into The Obese this week, which on the one hand is kind of weird, but on the other hand has given me a new exciting fun way to blow people’s minds.

    I’ve already told two people who were casually throwing the word “obese” around that when you talk about The Obese, you’re talking about me. In response I got completely blank looks followed by “But You’re Not Fat!”, and they got a very fun rant about how obesity is defined as a “medical condition” by the fucking BMI, so they can’t be sitting around all “wah wah obesity epidemic we must medicalise and police the bodies of others” one minute and rejecting me as “obese” the next. Because in this case the BMI is arbitrary and wrong, but for all those other Obese People it’s RIGHT RIGHT RIGHT and we must tax! Teh! Junk! Foodz!!>!>!? Nah, get fucked.

    So, yes. While I completely reject the concept of a certain body weight as a medical condition, I’m currently very much enjoying the opportunities it’s giving me to remind people that The Obesity is a completely fucking arbitrary distinction and people over a certain magical bodyweight are people too, because look, HERE I AM STANDING IN FRONT OF YOU.

    (Also to tell people to get fucked. But I do that anyway.)

  22. Which is relevant because it’s my current form of “reminding people I exist” activism?

    I should put these things in my comments instead of just in my head.

  23. Yeah, Caitlin, I love doing that stuff! I’m fatter than you but still on the low end of “obese,” where people really get thrown when I tell them they’re talking about me. Of course people think “obese” means “too fat to move comfortably,” which leaves out a lot of people who are technically “morbidly obese” too… and yet somehow they really think that 30 percent of the population falls in this category. Where do they think those people are?

    Hm, an “Obese” t-shirt might be hilarious. Break out the freezer paper!

  24. I love every word of this so much.

    I just spent like seriously an hour writing a long-ass comment, but I think I’m going to copy and save it for a rainy day. But I mention it because this post and the comments got me thinking very fruitfully, so thank you. :)

  25. Caitlin – I get this “you’re not obese” thing with my roommate a lot. I try to tell her that I AM IN FACT obese according to doctor’s standards, that in fact I am morbidly obese according to the BMI. She dismisses it and says I am not obese, no matter what those things say, because God forbid I should attach that kind of label to myself. She is the same person who is utterly obsessed with TLC’s programming about obesity.

    And in terms of the sizing issues – I have been wondering with utter frustration why, while so many leaps and bounds have been made with plus sized clothing, there are so few options for pregnant plus sized women? I desperately want a cute skirt or sundress for spring so I can be comfortable in the later months of my pregnancy, but Motherhood has the tiniest plus sized section, and Target doesn’t have much, either. Their largest “regular” size (XXL) fits me okay, but they don’t seem to have much in the way of skirts. As I was shopping the mall this past weekend, I found myself wondering if people just don’t think that fat women want to wear cute, hippie-type skirts? CAUSE I DO.

  26. Some people are awesome in-your-face street activists who never pass up a teachable moment. … Not everyone wants to speak up every time … You don’t have to be all super-activist all the time — I’m not.

    Thank you so much for writing that – I really needed to hear it! I’m surrounded at work by people who are oblivious to the idea of privilege, whether it be male, straight, white, thin, christian – you name it, they’ve never heard of it. Some days I’m just too tired to push back – thank you for reminding me that it’s okay; it’s not my job to always be prepared to educate everyone.

  27. Hey RedSonja: Absolutely! Hope my initial comment didn’t imply otherwise (I’d have gone there, but I thought it was getting a little long and ranty already). It’s nobody’s job to educate-, and that’s especially true of those who belong to whatever group is on the receiving end of discrimination, and god knows there are days I don’t have it in me.

    Thanks, Faith. Every once in a long while the right words come out at the right time. I may well have paraphrased it from something I read tho–wish I could give props.

    RE: “but you’re not fat”–I get it often too, but it never fails to amaze. As if! The cognitive dissonance, it makes me dizzy.

  28. I’m a pilates instructor, and I get that body hate thing a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I’m the biggest by far of the instructors at my studio, which I think makes the clients think I’m the one to disparage themselves to.

    Pilates is all about balance, so my stock response is always, “Everything you’re bad at means you’re good at something else. Everything you’re good at means you’re bad at something else. Because that’s the way bodies work.”

    I know that might not be a useful answer in a non-movement context, but maybe it’ll come in handy sometime.

  29. Simply Mac: try JC Penny’s for plus size maternity wear, I have found a number of super-cute things there…but chances are you will have to go online or order from a catalog (unless you happen to be bigger than 3X cuz then… um… sux2BU), because most stores don’t carry much in larger size maternity.

    But yeah, I know your frustration! As a woman who has been pregnant four times I HATE the quiet message that is sent, that somehow fat women aren’t having sex, or at least they aren’t getting pregs.

  30. Wow, I just wanted to share this email from one of my classmates, responding to the studio director’s nice note announcing the costume changes and saying that she was sorry if costuming choices caused anyone to feel like their bodies were a problem:

    “I really appreciate you reworking the costumes at the last moment for a few individuals I can only speak for myself but I don’t think that everyone was upset with the first choice. I know that you have a lot of other things on your mind and most of us try to be mindful of that fact.”

    In other words, “some of us who aren’t marginalized don’t complain about other people being marginalized and would like recognition for how nicely we accept others’ marginalization.” This is such an excellent example of what happens when you go up against privilege — some people who have it are genuinely angry when those who lack it have the temerity to inflict themselves upon the general consciousness. “How dare people complain about something that presents no problems for me and others like me?”

    Speaking up does make you vulnerable, not only to direct attack but also to this kind of oblique criticism for not being well-behaved, for inconveniencing people by existing.

  31. MissPrism: We started talking about ways to counter diet talk over in the forums. It’s under the “Fat Acceptance” section, called “Countering Diet Talk”. Not exhaustive, but at least some suggestions.

  32. how disgusting, fillyjonk, that second email! what a bunch of ass-kissers! “we’re not making trouble…” fwah fwah fwah. oh, you made things more confusing, you messed up their careful plans for costumes… jeez. I mean, props to your costumer for acting promptly, but those other people can stick it, carefully and precisely so as not to mess up the drape of the pants.

  33. Thanks Karen! I had a peek on the forum earlier but didn’t find it.
    Also, my previous comment with the messed-up italic tags was aimed at fillyjonk’s classmate.

  34. Ugh, FJ, that really reads as “SOME of us aren’t complainers like those other people!” Which…. “some of us” didn’t have an unfulfilled need here, either. Congrats on not speaking up about things you didn’t have issues with. Takes real courage to say nothing and be complacent.

  35. Congrats on not speaking up about things you didn’t have issues with. Takes real courage to say nothing and be complacent.

    Hahah! That is exactly what I would write her if I had an addiction to drama, which fortunately I don’t.

  36. fillyjonk:

    “Well, it’s easy to be cool with the one-size-fits-all costumes when you’re one of the few people who look good in them, isn’t it?”

    Yeah, I’m a bitch.

  37. Wow, FJ, that email sounds like a lot of things I’ve heard people say about those of us with allergies. (For example, “Now we can’t have peanuts on airplanes; those people with allergies have ruined it for the rest of us!”)

    And this: “for inconveniencing people by existing” is a feeling I’ve often gotten when attempting to inquire whether meals for work functions would meet my needs. (I mean, if the employer is paying for everyone else’s meal and there’s a chance a slight modification would allow me to join in rather than pay for my own, I don’t think that’s too much to ask. It’s not like I try to eat at Thai restaurant; I know better than that.)

    Thanks for describing it so succinctly!

    For some reason, I always mentally labeled people saying those things as inconsiderate dunderheads. Now I’ll think of them as privileged inconsiderate dunderheads.

  38. I bellydanced with a studio that handled costumes similarly and it always seemed we had to pay a lot of money for something that wasn’t attractive or could be recycled into other costuming. Very annoying. When I started dancing with a troupe we ordered pieces from L. Rose Designs (google it) available in sizes that fit everyone in the troupe. You can get a few mix’n’match basic pieces that are practical for costume and everyday practice. A dancer ought to be able to wear a costume more than once – that means it ought to come in your size and fit right. Otherwise it’s a waste of your money. I would seek another teacher if your instructor can’t understand that.

  39. Yeah, I’m a bitch.

    Well that’s basically what that email was saying! “As a person who can wear one-size costumes just fine, I have no problem whatsoever with one-size costumes, aren’t I considerate?”

  40. some people who have it are genuinely angry when those who lack it have the temerity to inflict themselves upon the general consciousness.

    Ugh, totally. It will be interesting to see how this e-mail writer will react if her* email gets yawned at or (gasp) criticized for being obnoxious. Maybe s/he’ll hear the criticism and think more critically about her privilege in the future. But so often it happens that privileged folks feel a-ok about dismissing others’ experiences of oppression, but GOD FORBID anyone criticize them for doing so because then PEOPLE ARE BEING SO MEAN AND UNFAIR AND HOW CAN YOU JUST DISMISS MY EXPERIENCE LIKE THIS OMG OMG WHAT AN INJUSTICE.

    I heard a story recently from someone who was at an anti-oppression training that unfolded thus: Trainer of color tells a story of how he experienced internalized oppression growing up. White participant invalidates his experience by saying that everyone feels insecure in high school. Trainer of color and white trainer use this as an example of white privilege. White participant thinks this is Most Unfair. Other white participants rally to his aid and agree that trainers are being MEEEEN. Trainers say that it’s time to move on to the next segment, but aggrieved white participants think the trainers are being MEEEEEEN for not changing the schedule to let them talk about whatever they want to talk about for as long as they want to talk about it.

    Shorter white participants: we should get to do whatever we want and wield power as irresponsibly as we want, but never get called on it. If you call us on it you’re crazy and mean, because we know we’re not racist.

    *-“Her,” right? It sounded like this was an all women’s class, or at least that the costumes in question were women’s costumes.

  41. “I really appreciate you reworking the costumes at the last moment for a few individuals

    Reminds me of how the men in one software group complained about the women wanting a wider range of t-shirt sizes than XL. ‘Cause women are vain and particular and bitchy, dontchaknow.

    The fact that the men in the group were all between 5’8″ and 6′ tall and varied between L and XL in size, while the women were a 5’2″ size 2 and a 5’9″ size 28, had absolutely NOTHING to do with it. Course not. No, we were just bitchy.

  42. “for inconveniencing people by existing” is a feeling I’ve often gotten when attempting to inquire whether meals for work functions would meet my needs.

    This is why I make a point of learning food needs for my employees so that I can be the Bitchy Manager who makes sure there’s food for my team too. :)

  43. I’ve recently found the courage to talk about being fat in a neutral way – not as a way of poking fun at myself, or the odious, “Oh, at least I’m not as fat as _______”. It’s weird to talk about being fat without talking about being ‘bad’ about diet or exercise, and not waiting for the inevitable, “But YOU’RE not FAT!” even though I clearly AM. In the past, I never really talked about being fat because the topic itself was the elephant in the room – if nobody mentioned it, it was like I could be an honorary non-fat person for the day.
    And then there’s coaching the kids – my two girls. Responding to commercials exhorting us to get in shape – yelling back “Round IS a shape!” Preparing them for the inevitable schoolyard taunt of “Your mom is FAT!” with the reply, “Yeah, you should mention that to her.” (althought I would like to believe in a world without schoolyard taunts) Showing them that being fat shouldn’t condemn you to a lifetime of denial – that it just means that more approval has to come from inside, and more strength and more self-love – and that learning these lessons doesn’t mean they will necessarily end up fat like me (the genetic lottery is still out on both of them) . It’s hard, sometimes, because I have to let go of the dream that my daughters won’t be fat (trying to be honest here – my early life was HARD because I was treated badly for being fat, and I want my girls to have a better trip through childhood) and let go of the illusion of being an honorary non-fat person for their sake – show them by example that fat doesn’t mean all the negative things that are conflated with the word – that fat can be active and fun and attractive and healthy.

  44. Good for you, Fillyjonk! Often when one person speaks up, other people in the group are relieved because they were thinking the same thing but not daring to say it. So you are the brave flag bearer! I can’t believe that other woman send such an obnoxious follow-up e-mail.

    If anyone is compiling comebacks for different situations, I’d love for someone to help me out with this one. It was in swim class, where we don’t know each other that well. We were trying to learn the butterfly stroke (hopeless!!) and one of the women said self-deprecatingly, “My butt sticks out of the water. Nobody needs to see that!” I was stumped on a positive comeback that was appropriate and not creepy (“Of course everyone wants to see your butt!”). I settled on smiling vaguely and nothing else. I couldn’t think of a good short answer.

  45. We were trying to learn the butterfly stroke (hopeless!!) and one of the women said self-deprecatingly, “My butt sticks out of the water. Nobody needs to see that!”

    I think in that case something like “if anyone’s got time to look, I suspect them of being a ringer — butterfly is hard!” might be the way to go. It can be a total brain attack for some people when they realize that everyone actually isn’t looking at them.

  46. I’m just wondering if the e-mail you got from the instructor was clear about the fact that the costume changes were happening because the chosen costume would likely not have fit everybody well? Because if it seemed like the costumes were changed at the last minute because a few people complained about not liking the style (no fit issues), and somebody had already paid for their costume, I could see why they might be frustrated.

    Of course, if it’s not the last minute, and they hadn’t already paid/ordered, I see no reason to be frustrated even in that case. But the e-mail seems like the writer may have skimmed the e-mail about the costume change and didn’t realize that a number of people in the class could not comfortably wear the costume, rather than just not liking it. Or, she could just be really obnoxious.

    I’m just thinking that, if I were, say, invited to be in a wedding, and the dress was all picked out, and either after I ordered it or right before I was about to, it was changed because one of the other people in the wedding decided they just didn’t like it, I might feel a bit frustrated. I wouldn’t send a nasty e-mail, but I could see feeling a bit put out, or at least like that person was out of line. If it were changed because somebody realized they could not comfortably wear the dress, though, I’d feel completely differently.

  47. Ooh, that’s good. Redirect attention away from the body being looked at, and towards the hypothetical person doing the looking. I’m deconstructing the underlying idea because I find it very helpful for redirecting other conversations!

  48. Yeah, I see your point Lori, but I think it was pretty clear — the studio director actually wrote a lovely email, including the following lines: “It’s [studio name redacted though obviously if you live near me you can ask directly]‘s mission to help women enjoy their bodies and for each of us to feel better in our bodies after each class. I realize costuming has a direct impact on your experience of your bodies, and I only want it to be a positive experience. It is always a learning experience for me and I am personally involved in selecting each class costume.” I think it was pretty clear… and both the one tall girl and I had expressed our concerns (politely) on the class email list. But that doesn’t rule out the idea that someone wasn’t reading carefully!

  49. RE The whole idea of having a phrasebook (and feel free to tell me to shut up if I’m getting too off topic here, Fillyjonk), has anyone ever compiled a list of good ways to steer a conversation away from the body hating stuff? To sort of redirect a group when you can see the conversation heading in that direction?

    Also a more specific issue that I’m totally floundering with. I’m really new to the FA movement and the HAES concept, and I have a close friend who IMO is attempting to fight her natural body type. I’ve always been aware of that, and always tried to steer her away from negative self-talk and into accepting that the fact that she’s pear shaped is just the way she’s shaped and not something that needs to be “fixed”. However, lately she’s been saying some stuff that I find downright alarming, like “any time I eat enough not to feel hungry I gain weight”. Ie, normally she eats so little that she’s hungry all the time, and she’s frequently ill as a result (weak, dizzy, stomach pains, low blood sugar). I really have no idea what to say to her other than “you’re making yourself ill, you need to eat more”. Recently she’s been shifting towards “well OK maybe if I work out a lot I can eat a bit more”, which is an improvement I guess in the sense that at least she’s less likely to develop malnutrition, but still…I just feel like, well, if you gain weight any time you eat enough not to be hungry maybe you’re just naturally meant to weigh more? This woman is the only person in her family who’s not fat, and it seems like she’s determined to make herself thin but given that there’s not a single thin person anywhere in her family tree I’m just not seeing how that’s going to happen. And I worry about her.

    So, any suggestions about how people have handled situations like this with friends/family? I’m totally at a loss as to how to get across the point that you can’t force your body to be a shape it’s just not designed to be.

    (Again, feel free to delete or ignore if you feel like I’m derailing)

  50. Also more on topic, given how varied in terms of background the American population is how could anyone think the idea “one size fits all” would apply here? Even if you were to take two people with exactly the same BMI, if one’s 5 ft tall and the other is 6 ft tall it’s unlikely that they same pair of stretchy pants will fit them. And then you get into all the ways that women’s bodies vary in terms of shape and it’s just clearly not going to work.

  51. “If anyone is compiling comebacks for different situations, I’d love for someone to help me out with this one. It was in swim class, where we don’t know each other that well. We were trying to learn the butterfly stroke (hopeless!!) and one of the women said self-deprecatingly, “My butt sticks out of the water. Nobody needs to see that!” I was stumped on a positive comeback that was appropriate and not creepy (”Of course everyone wants to see your butt!”). I settled on smiling vaguely and nothing else. I couldn’t think of a good short answer.”

    Former competative swimmer here. My response would be “Did you happen to see the Olympics? Their butts stick out of the water when they’re doing butterfly too, it’s how the stroke is done.”

  52. I struggle with the well-meaning body-disparaging comments. I happened to meet a friend last week and about the first thing she said to me after ‘Hello’ was ‘Wow, have you lost weight?’ I went ‘Whuh?’ because I’m so unused to hearing that, and anyway if anything I’m getting bigger, not smaller, and she carried on with ‘Either you’ve lost weight or those jeans are *really* flattering…’

    I’m not sure what I said, I think I mumbled something non-committal, because I was so *surprised* – I haven’t heard that sort of thing for ages, and anyway I was kind of busy meeting her housemate’s new dog :)

    But in retrospect it bothered me, and I wish I’d been able to say ‘No, I haven’t lost weight, and I like being the size I am’ or something similar. I know my friend has her own issues about weight and her size, but she doesn’t have to pile them on me. I think anyway she’d be mortified if she realised her compliment came across as a criticism. Next time I’ll be better prepared. :/ I just find it so disheartening that someone can mean to be kind and complimentary and actually wind up saying ‘Your body would look better smaller! Being smaller would be good!’ Gaaaaah. What would you Shapelings say to ‘Wow, you’ve lost weight!’, true or not?

  53. Ok, this is off topic, but I think y’all will forgive me for the awesomeness of this:

    Just went to amazon to order Kate’s book. The “people who buy this book also bought” list was as follows:

    1) Linda Bacon’s HAES book
    2) Yes means Yes
    3) Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long blog.

    Have I mentioned how much I love you guys?

  54. GingerCat – As for instructional DVDs, I’d definitely recommend Instructional Bellydance with Jillina (Level 1, 2, 3). Before I became disabled, I used those and loved them a lot. She teaches you the moves and how to put them together into a choreographed dance. She gives you the technique (hip drops, shimmy, etc) first, then shows you how to put two or three of them together in combinations, and finally shows you how to put together the combinations you just learned into a choreography. Each DVD also includes her performance of the dance in front of a live audience. She’s really clear and easy to follow and the way the mirror is set up, it’s easy to see the back and front of her at the same time, so you can see just how it’s done.

  55. @It — I just had to go check that out too. I am so proud now of the circles I run in, lol. Say, no pressure for an update, but I’ve been hoping you got good health news and were able to enjoy your trip.

  56. 1) Linda Bacon’s HAES book
    2) Yes means Yes
    3) Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long blog.

    I think I love everyone.

  57. “Did you happen to see the Olympics? Their butts stick out of the water when they’re doing butterfly too, it’s how the stroke is done.”

    That’s good! You see I don’t know enough about butterfly to come up with something like that. I do want to leave space for people to acknowledge their fears — getting into a swimsuit and taking classes with a group can be intimidating when we’re bigger. Some people will think negative things. But they are idiots!

    In any case, that’s another great redirect: “that means you’re doing it right!” I like to save these, they come in very handy, thank you :)

    As for your friend fighting her natural body type — that’s tough. One way to help people eat is to bring up the dreaded “starvation mode” — “If you don’t eat enough, your metabolism shuts down and needs less food,” or “If you don’t eat enough, you’ll lose muscle and your metabolism will go down.” Those aren’t full out acceptance, but a good stepping stone for dieters. Other than that I just try to create a positive environment for self/fat acceptance, making comments such as “food doesn’t have a moral value,” or “what’s wrong with being fat?” I tend to keep it all very casual so they don’t feel cornered or defensive, but might think about it later on.

    As for the “you’ve lost weight” comment, my stock response is a puzzled look and a “Hm, nah, I don’t think so.” Or if it’s true, “yes, perhaps a little.” I treat it as a completly unloaded question, like “was it cold last night when you left?” Best response I got to this was an awkward pause, followed by “You look good!” To which I smiled and said thank you.

    One feisty answer I’ve never tried is: “Oh dear, I hope not!” The reaction to that one would probably be quite funny!

  58. Hi A Sarah –

    Thanks for asking! The trip was good. I had the apt. with the specialist. He’s pretty convinced it’s a cyst at most but scheduled a sonogram to be sure. (He said that because I’m only 34 a mammo is likely to be unhelpful.)

    I don’t know if I mentioned this before but apparently I have fibrocystic breasts, which means the texture is uneven all over, so it can be hard to examine. I feel like he was a little dismissive – he was sort of saying, well you have this, that’s why you think you found something. I said I know I have this, but how then should I deal with self-exams? I don’t think I got a good answer.

    Anyone have experience with this? I have something of a rack of doom, which also seems to contribute to this difficulty.

  59. Crap, can someone put a closing italic at the end of my first paragraph? Thanks :-)

    Since you asked, sure!

  60. Yup! But we don’t, unless someone asks and it’s something really simple like closing a tag (or something really important, like in one case editing identifying info for someone who had a good reason to remain anonymous).

  61. I loved this piece because it’s one of those small things that actually kept me away from dance for a long time (sad memories of being singled out as the chubby one in *kindergarten ballet* resonated a suprizingly long time).

    Costumes are always a frustrating choke point for my enjoyment of dance (huzzah for American Tribal Bellydance). Choreographers/show directors often treat fat dancers like people who ‘ruined’ the clean lines of the show. Rather than adapt the costumes to the body (which, after all, is the *whole point* of a dance costume, to highlight and flatter the body) they insist on pouring bodies into costumes and then bemoan the results.

    When I got my piece to choreograph, it was a little more difficult but by no means impossible to find beautiful costumes that could be worn by tall/short, skinny/inbetween/fat, people who like to bare the belly and people who do not. You just have to put forth a little effort!

    On top of that, there are the strange pressures in bellydance costuming to sexualize, make exotic, and appropriate in disrespectul ways.

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