You Are My Sisters

Tasha Fierce wrote an incredibly personal essay As Fat As I Wanna Be, which was picked up by Jezebel and has touched off a bit of a dust up in the comment section. If you value your Sanity Watcher points I strongly suggest you avoid reading the comments.

Tasha Fierce says:

When someone is fat shamed, the person doing the shaming often justifies it as them being concerned for the fat person’s health. Of course we know that’s bullshit. Fatphobia has nothing to do with health, if someone was really concerned they wouldn’t harp on it to the detriment of fat people’s self esteem. And a ton of fat people can attest that they eat healthily and exercise. I however, cannot. So is the health argument justified in my case? Well, no, because fat also has nothing to do with health. It’s the food I eat that’s the issue. It’s the fact that I eat when I’m definitely not physically hungry. It’s my lack of exercise.

Tasha’s passage here echoes much of the conversation regarding false good fatty/bad fatty dichotomy. While the most vitriolic of commenters on the Jezebel repost scanned as nothing more than garden variety concern trolls, it would be reductive to suggest there wasn’t a bit of the sentiment coming from within the Fat Acceptance movement as well.

Leslie of Fatshionista shuts it down like this:

This divide is unworthy of any size acceptance movement because in the real world, we all straddle these lines, and trying to create a homogenized group of “acceptable” fat people only further marginalizes the fat people who, for reasons both within and outside their control, can’t fit into that category. Not everyone can afford a gym membership or fresh produce; not everyone has time to cook healthful balanced meals from whole foods, or to spend an hour running to nowhere on a treadmill; and not everyone can stave off health problems, no matter how virtuous their habits may be.

Marginalized groups must work to resist the tendency to devalue or bristle over any member whose actions might be viewed as “making the rest of us look bad”. The work to end all forms of oppression does not involve policing group members to ensure they are “on message”. Ending oppression – be it fat or racial or gender or whathaveyou – requires an active commitment to resist any cultural messaging seeking to frame one member of a marginalized group as representative of all members – regardless of whether the framing presents the members in a negative or positive light.

This can sometimes be difficult to deal with as a person who often feels uncomfortable when I see other women of color behaving in ways I feel are counterproductive to the struggle to end racist, sexist oppression. That said, if I really value being seen as an individual first, rather than my gender, size, race, then I must accept that other women are also free to make choices about the way they lead their lives as well. More importantly, I must actively work to ensure their ability to make choices I might not personally make is free of sexist, transphobic, classist, ableist, homophobic, racist and sizeist oppression. After all, they are my sisters – regardless of whether or not my own lived experiences mirror theirs or I agree with their life choices.

In my opinion, if we can’t all get to the mountain top it just ain’t worth going.

170 thoughts on “You Are My Sisters

  1. This is a great piece, as is Tasha Fierce’s original essay.

    In real life, I think I tend to fall back on the HAES argument since it counteracts people’s “But it’s about their health!” arguments. I’m realizing though, that that means that I’m still arguing within the framework of accepting that someone’s health is anyone else’s business (which I definitely don’t believe). The next time I find myself in an argument about this stuff, I’ll still mention that weight is not the same as health, but I’ll still try to get in there that health also has nothing to do with worth as a human being.

  2. I think from now on I’ll go around screaming “MY HEALTH (and everyone elses health) IS NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS FUCKASS!”

    I’ll admit I fall back on “good fatties” when confronted with someone who’s all fat-hatey then switches to concern troll when I smack down the fat hate. I need to stop doing it, especially since though I’m an inbetweenie I’m also definitely a bad fattie. Tasha’s post described my diet and life style really well.

    I heart this post and Tasha’s.

  3. Ever since my doctor stared at me and said point blank, exercise has less of an impact on weight regulation than what folks are lead to believe, I have really adjusted my physical activity to reflect my actual interest in the activity and the benefits it has on my mental well being, rather than trying to run myself to the land of false dreams and broken promises.

    What tends to annoy me is how much disconnect there when thinner folks with the EXACT same lifestyles – who also do not deserve to have their life style choices mocked or shamed – receive almost no scorn for their choices.

    So really it is about the weight, and given we all know I’m pragmatic, I really wish people would stop trying trying sandwich the shame with some disingenuous claims of concern for my health.

    Any health issues I may have aren’t going to be fixed by going on a diet or exercising myself dizzy.

  4. Yes. This.

    I’ve seen this kind of thing time and time again in many of the groups that I’ve been in: queer, pagan, fat, etc. The way I see it, we’re playing into the bigot’s hands when we’re going at each other; we’re doing their work for them.

    It would be nice if we didn’t eat our own. But we are also human…

  5. Any health issues I may have aren’t going to be fixed by going on a diet or exercising myself dizzy.

    It’s like the concern trolls who insist that we won’t be happy to be fat later when we age and all those health problems catch up with us. They do know that thin people age too, right? Right?

  6. I’ve gained and lost 70 pounds three times in the last eight years (got a baby out of it each time), and there is nothing like being large and then slowly losing all the weight back to thin to learn about thin privilege.

    I run 5 miles everyday before breakfast. I don’t do it because I’m terrified of being fat. I don’t do it because I think I owe my husband a toned ass (fuck you, Meme Roth), I don’t even do it because I think it’s good or healthy for me. I do it because it makes me feel goddamn terrific. That’s me.

    I never get concern trolled over what I’m doing to my knees, how much I’m going to cost the healthcare system when I need my achilles tendon repaired, what a waste of resources I will be responsible for when I eventually blow my arches. No one complains about the miles and miles of chipped trails that have to be maintained so I can go out and basically drug myself with natural endorphins (the same ones many people activate by eating something fatty, sugary and delicious).

    So I’m allowed to indulge my emotion at the expense of society, but someone who is sensible enough to sit on the couch and enjoy a plate of nachos is evil?

    It’s such a total crock of shit. My ass is my business. Your ass is yours. Some people have cancer. Some people have diabetes. We’re all worthy of respect or none of us are.

  7. I never get concern trolled over what I’m doing to my knees, how much I’m going to cost the healthcare system when I need my achilles tendon repaired, what a waste of resources I will be responsible for when I eventually blow my arches. No one complains about the miles and miles of chipped trails that have to be maintained so I can go out and basically drug myself with natural endorphins (the same ones many people activate by eating something fatty, sugary and delicious).

    This. As a Canadian with access public healthcare, the issue of fat here is generally viewed through the lens of “The moeny to pay for your triple bypass is coming out of my thin taxpaying pocket.”

    But the truth is, the system is there for all people of all sizes who make all kinds of lifestyle choices. Isn’t that the whole idea of public healthcare?

  8. I finally GOT this last year, when I read a post of Bitch, PhD’s on abortion rights [and shit, I have no html skills, when it would actually be useful to put in a nice pretty hyperlink to the post]. Anywho, in it she commented that supporting abortion meant defending people’s rights to make shitty decisions that you don’t personally agree with, WITHOUT the caveat that you don’t agree with their decisions. You can’t conditionally support something like abortion or fat acceptance rights; you have to go all in or you are one of the people who is on a nasty continuum.

    For abortion rights, the end of that continuum is “only in the case of rape, incest, or health of the mother, and _I_ get to decide what is rape, and what the health of the mother is.” You do not want to be on that spectrum; you do not want to hang out with Catholic bishops who excommunicate 10 year olds for aborting their fetuses that resulted from years of forcible sexual abuse and incest. This is a similar type of game: that you can tell a good fattie from a bad one, that you can be the arbiter of someone’s health and whether they have done “enough”.

    Now when I talk about abortion, the furthest I will go is to say that there needs to be abortion available for any woman who wants one, for any reason in the world. It is definitely worth debunking the myths surrounding these reasons; that women are not getting third trimester abortions to fit into prom dresses; that fatties do not maintain an average calorie intake of 1,000/hour, but it is really tricky to debunk without falling into the good vs bad debate. In saying that cosmetic abortion is not really a problem, you may also be read as making a statement that some abortions are wrong. In repealing the “eats bacon grease like peanut butter” idea, it’s a tricky two-step not to hit the follow-up “and that would be gross and wrong”

    So, cheers for taking on an issue that always needs more attention–great post(s)!

  9. I posted a comment something like this over at Red Vinyl Shoes.

    I feel like HAES gets used by some in a way that is very similar to how some arguments about non-cis/het sexuality go; that it’s ok to be $_X (queer, fat, wev) as long as it’s BIOLOGICAL. But if it’s a CHOICE, then I’m less than. As soon as I declare “I see you all over there, but I PREFER to be over HERE”, well, then I’m the skunk at the garden party & everyone is pointing panicky fingers my way while they seek to put as much distance between themselves and me.

    When did this become a nation of Mrs. Kravitzes – anxiously peering through our windows with the fear we might miss something that someone else is doing wrong?

  10. LOL @ Mrs. Kravitz! I got less concern trolling over my smoking, which is known to harmful to me and seriously harm anyone breathing the same air, than I did for my fat, which last I check doesn’t harm anyone – including ME.

  11. “…rather than trying to run myself to the land of false dreams and broken promises.”

    This is exactly how I feel whenever I’ve been conned into getting on an elliptical machine.

  12. Which is, of course, not to say that exercising with an elliptical is an invalid method of fitness or recreation. My own personal experience has lead me to realize that it is not the method for me, though.

    “I never get concern trolled over what I’m doing to my knees, how much I’m going to cost the healthcare system when I need my achilles tendon repaired, what a waste of resources I will be responsible for when I eventually blow my arches. No one complains about the miles and miles of chipped trails that have to be maintained so I can go out and basically drug myself with natural endorphins (the same ones many people activate by eating something fatty, sugary and delicious).

    So I’m allowed to indulge my emotion at the expense of society, but someone who is sensible enough to sit on the couch and enjoy a plate of nachos is evil?”

    Dray, your point is such a good one.

  13. I proselytize for exercise: when my friends say to me that they’re thinking of starting, and do I have any ideas?, I respond with excitement, links, and offers to take them to my gym. But I would rarely if ever suggest weight loss as a good goal for exercise, because exercise will not deliver long-term, significant weight loss for most people.

    On the other hand, there are much stronger causal effects between fitness/weight training and certain health effects. Strength training increases bone density and lowers risk of osteoporosis, risk of injury, and recovery time from injury. Exercise means I can climb flights of stairs and run to catch my bus and lift heavy boxes to help my friends move. None of things things are visible, and none of them are only available to thin people. And, of course, none of these things are my business at all when it comes to other people, unless those people are asking for my input on their lives, or I’m responsible for taking care of them.

    As a fan of exercise, though, I cringe when it is presented as primarily a tool for weight loss (or, conversely, when the New York Times runs its “exercise won’t get you weight loss!” features, with limited information on what it will get you.)

  14. Emily, very true. I engage in physical activities because it feels good to me and because the ones I do now are ones I actually enjoy. So much of the framing of exercise = only route to good health is incredibly ableist, which is why I’m not particularly one for proselytizing its benefits.

    Again, this post is not to celebrate exercise or healthy eating, but to create more awareness around the simple – yet hard to grasp – concept that what folks do or don’t do with their bodies is their own business entirely.

  15. “if we can’t all get to the mountain top it just ain’t worth going.”

    AMEN AMEN AMEN. Please excuse me while I go tattoo this on myself.

    This may be an OT skyward cry, but why is it so hard to keep rights and obligations in their respective corners?

  16. Any health issues I may have aren’t going to be fixed by going on a diet or exercising myself dizzy.

    I like this. I would also note that “Any health issues I may have that could be fixed by exercising myself dizzy are nobody else’s business.”

    I have found that I do have issues that exercise helps me manage (arthritis and depression). Guess what? Just because exercise helps me doesn’t mean I owe it to anyone else. Just because exercise helps me doesn’t mean it would necessarily help anyone else, either.

  17. @ Snarky’s Machine – I loved this article by Tasha, she is brilliant, and totally hit the bullseye about “health issues.”

    About concern trolling, weight, and smoking: My old man was a skinny guy. Seriously skinny. Most bones visible when undressed skinny. He was also the kindest man in the entire world, and no matter what weight I happened to have, his love was unwavering and he never criticized me, EVER. He smoked a lot, and had started smoking before he knew how to read. Don’t ask how those things happen, sometimes they just do. He was a grownup, I wasn’t going to tell him what to do – he never told ME what to do! He had a hard life, an unhappy life in many ways, but he was impossibly generous, non-judgmental, and loving.

    He had a quintuple bypass in September. The surgeon said, “Well, you’ve got a good prognosis because you’re thin. Take your meds, don’t push yourself, and you’ll be fine. Oh, yeah, and you’ve quit smoking, right?”

    He died in November at 55. He was my best friend in the whole world, and for much of my life, my only friend. That surgeon, what a lying bastard. As if being skinny was going to keep a 2.5 pack a day smoker who’d already gone through BRAIN CANCER surgery, chemotherapy and radiation from having a stroke two months after a quintuple bypass and a karotyd artery operation. And I chanted to myself for days, “Well, the surgeon said good prognosis, good prognosis, he’s thin and has good prognosis and that’s what matters,” I chanted this, even though I knew it was a lie, because doctors are supposed to know things, because I loved my old man so bloody fucking much.

    It really is about weight. It’s not about health. If you don’t have health, your weight means absolutely nothing. And in that vein, health also means absolutely nothing as well, because whether you live a long life or a short one, if you’re sick or if you’re not sick, what really matters is that you try every damn day to be a good person, a generous person, a thoughtful person. Our pasts are not really measurable. I can’t say, “If my Babuji had lived longer…” and have it mean anything. What I can say is that, regardless of his health, regardless of his appearance, I will love him for the person he was until I too am burning up on that pyre.

  18. May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bomb anyone who’s ever said, “You have such a pretty face” to a larger person.
    May the same party visit the same payback onto anyone who’s ever said, “OMG, I weigh 1×0! I’m so fat!’ to anyone who’s lowest weight is their highest.

  19. I’m sorry to hear that about your father, Krishji.

    It’s sort of depressing how, when the conversation turns to food/exercise/health care costs incurred by gov’t and the private sector, the good/bad/not-like-those-other-individuals-dragging-us-down sentiments arise like clockwork.

    I do it as well. As a person with an, um, “colourful” medical history, I sometimes feel the need to explain and/or list all the healthful things I’m doing to counteract my current condition, and all the things I do/have done in my life to justify everything the gov’t and my loved ones have invested in my health and wellbeing. But that is not the way I treat or see other people. It’s just a special little hell I’ve cooked up for myself.

  20. @Emily — The flossing analogy suddenly made this click to me, because I am right now trying to break the habit of lying to my dentist (like saying “No really I floss eight times a day honest!” is going to make me seem like a better person, or for that matter magically change how healthy or unhealthy my teeth are — get real, self), and yet I still find myself fudging my vegetable-to-cheeseburger ratio, or exaggerating how much exercise I get. If I’m going to stop apologizing for being a person who can’t be bothered to floss, I should try to stop apologizing for being a person who loves cheeseburgers and hates running, too.

  21. YES. Tasha Fierce’s post was so, so good… and then the followup, and then Lesley’s, and now yours. Brava to all.

    Dray, fantastic point.

    Krishji, I’m so sorry about your father.

  22. I <3 Tasha Fierce and Snarky's Machine so hard…

    I also <3 IrishUp. My coworkers and I were talking about gay marriage today and one of them said, "Yeah, if they could choose not to be gay, of course they would! So why shouldn’t we let them get married?” Whenever I hear this sort of argument my first thought is still, “At least zie is not trying to deny human rights to people on the basis of who they love/how much they weigh/if they’re cis/etc!” Which is so sad, really. It’s tolerance v acceptance.

  23. Judgment is all around us. I do not buy into it. I am in charge of every aspect of me. I judge my health / happiness based on my own feelings. How I feel is how I feel. My happiness, my contentment is what I look for.

  24. In my closest circle of friends — you know the ones, the ones who are the family you choose instead of the one you are assigned — when someone is having a difficult time, we will remind each other that there are as many paths as there are people, and that while none of us can walk another’s path for them, we can all raise our lanterns a little higher, and let some light spill over to make the going less difficult and scary and lonely. Judging another’s choices uninvited when they do not impinge on another’s freedom to choose is not a source of light. It’s chucking rocks because you don’t like someone’s hat.

    Krishji, I am sorry for your loss. Peace on your father’s journey, and also on yours.

  25. Thank you Snarky’s Machine, thank you Tasha Fierce, Thank you everyone of you here and elsewhere who takes a stand and says, we’re all going up the mountain together, and if someone says, hey — wait up — we take a break and wait up.
    In the late 1980s, as a student at U.C. Santa Cruz, I saw how this was playing out — very fat and not very fat, queer and straight, women of color and white women, grappling with what fat acceptance meant then, and it’s rewarding to see it all coming together now, intersecting, aligning, imperfectly.
    This makes me feel old, and yet, there’s room even for the 41 year olds on the trip up the mountain, right?

  26. I started a new exercise thing just at the beginning of this year – hiking the Holland Creek Trail: 5.8 kilometres altogether, with half of that being red-marked steep and winding and the other half being smooth and gentle downhill slope. The first month, my butt and legs were killing me, and then I got used to it, my muscles toned up, and I was able to start taking the hills a little faster and do some running on the downhill slope side.

    And I don’t really talk about it to many people, because it’s… embarrassing? Maybe because I do get into that headspace where it does become, a little, about maybe-losing weight, because I stubbornly don’t want to be the HAES poster-girl of Ladysmith, because I have thin friends who run the whole damn trail and STILL talk about not getting enough exercise, because I have a 78-year old father who uses the HCT as his EASY workout, when he’s not hiking the longer, steeper trails, because I’m afraid that one day I’ll just not want to do it anymore and then people will be asking me how the trail thing is going and I’ll have to tell them that I’m not doing it anymore…

    But mostly I don’t tell a lot of people about it because I’m desperate to keep this as something I do for ME – not something I do for approval, not something I do for sympathy, not something I do so I can impress anyone with my shortest time around the trail, not something I do as PR for HAES. And If I do the trail for any of those reasons, then it becomes a means to an end, instead of the end itself.

  27. @Teaspoon: “In my closest circle of friends — you know the ones, the ones who are the family you choose instead of the one you are assigned — when someone is having a difficult time, we will remind each other that there are as many paths as there are people, and that while none of us can walk another’s path for them, we can all raise our lanterns a little higher, and let some light spill over to make the going less difficult and scary and lonely. ”

    This is beautiful. It should be on t-shirts or coffee mugs. May I quote this?

    @Krishji: I’m so sorry for your loss. May you quickly come to the point where you wear your grief as a badge of honor. I, too, walk with grief.

  28. I work for a non-profit that creates communities for people with developmental disabilities. Not group homes or institutions, but homes that function like families with people all living together, some with disabilities, some without.

    I’m in the fund development side of things, but we share office space with our day program, so I see some of our developmentally disabled community members every day. Some of them are smokers, and the first time one of them excused himself to go out for a smoke, I was pretty shocked. It must have shown on my face, because my coworker (patiently) explained that just because someone has a developmental disability, it doesn’t mean they don’t get to choose what to do with their body.

    It was a real eye opener, and it really helped me see that it’s none of your business what someone else does with their body, and that every person has a fundamental right to make their own choices.

  29. This post and Tasha’s were wonderful. I commented at redvinylshoes and I’ll comment here: thanks Snarky. Especially:

    Marginalized groups must work to resist the tendency to devalue or bristle over any member whose actions might be viewed as “making the rest of us look bad”. The work to end all forms of oppression does not involve policing group members to ensure they are “on message”.

    @Krishji
    I’m so sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing your story. And what an unexpected read for me as it hurt badly. My father died a year and a half ago and it still hurts. He was an avid long distance runner – placed in most road races at the top of his age group. He got colon cancer (want to talk expensive bills? 9 years of cancer survival, treatment, surgery, loads of chemotherapy and radiation, chemicals and meds and shunts and stints. At least he died with me at home so we did that whole bit hella cheap).

    Anyway… my dad was thin. He was always thin, before running when he did no exercise and after he took up running dozens of miles a week or more. He was still taken from me earlier than I wanted and after protracted illness. No one was an asshole to him about this illness (except one dude who told us if my dad would start eating loads of extra virgin coconut oil he could cure himself of cancer… thanks, dude) and my dad was looked upon by many as being a paragon of virtue for his running concomitant to his thinness. Anyway, I never once thought how much worse the whole business would have been if people had been overtly or implicitly blaming him for his illness. I don’t know why this didn’t occur before but, it’s occurring now. I’m a FA advocate but I don’t always put two and two together. Thank you for personalizing this even a bit more than the many wonderful writings this community has already produced.

  30. How’s this for irony: I want to join a gym and start exercising, but I’ve been putting it off, because I can’t stand the thought of having to justify my existence to someone three times a week.

    I want to join a gym not because I want to “get healthy” or lose weight or whatever, but because I want to be able to do two specific physical activities, for which I’m not currently in shape. But I’ve been through the diet thing, I’ve been through the gym thing, and I’m put off by my fears of having to explain, three times a week, “No, I don’t want to be measured. No, I don’t want to be weighed. Please don’t tell me that I’m looking thinner, that’s not why I’m here and I don’t wish to discuss my weight. I’m not interested in discussing my diet, I only want to increase my physical ability.”

    The condescending “cheerleading” that comes from certain (not all, I know, not all! but you know, THOSE people) thin/HAES people makes me come over all frothy with rage, and I can hear, every time they remark on what I’m doing, the “Aw, good for you, fatty, trying to do the right thing and be thin!”

    tl;dr: concern trolling about whether or not I’m a “virtuous” fatty keeps me from exercising, and thus keeps me firmly planted in “bad fatty” territory. Way to go, trolls.

  31. concern trolling about whether or not I’m a “virtuous” fatty keeps me from exercising, and thus keeps me firmly planted in “bad fatty” territory. Way to go, trolls.

    Yeah, I’ve seen this kind of thing with a friend of mine. & I’m sorry for your assy “cheerleader” experience. Ugh.

  32. Liza – This is part of why I didn’t renew the gym membership. There weren’t many at the gym who’d do that, but there was enough, and it was usually staff.

  33. Thank you for this, Snarky`s and Tasha (am looking forward to reading Tasha`s full post tomorrow when I have more time). This was the sort of thing I needed to read today. I`ve been looking for resources to send my mom on weight, health, and concern-trolling, and I think this is the one. Like many NWL concern trolls, she means well, but she says some horribly fucked up things around me sometimes (not about me, thankfully, as I`m thinnish and I have finally managed to establish that my slightly poochy tummy is NOT A TOPIC FOR DISCUSSION THANKS), and I want to send her some reading material to push her good intentions in a better direction, or at the very least to communicate the sort of talk That Is Not Acceptable Around Me.

    This post is also useful to apply the good-bad feminist shoutfest that`s been going on in my head lately. I`ve been having a mental battle with myself regarding my bestie`s upcoming wedding and good feminist-bad feminist dynamics that keep sneaking up on me (she`s having a very unexpectedly Big Traditional Wedding and I`m her maid of honour). This is a good reminder for the thoughts I`ve been having trouble with: Just because this wedding is giving me complicated feelings for other reasons doesn`t mean I get to play What Would Simone de Beauvoir Do with her feminisms.

    Krishji: You always write so beautifully about your father, and I`m a bit choked up. Peace to you and to his memory.

    Dray and Au Contraire (waves to fellow Canadian!): Thanks for your comments. Fabulous points that I will be writing down for future use.

  34. Krishji: You always write so beautifully about your father, and I`m a bit choked up. Peace to you and to his memory.

    This. A million times this. My deepest sympathies go out to you. I can’t imagine how much grief you’re dealing with and I’m so sorry for your loss. Much peace to you, love.

  35. How’s this for irony: I want to join a gym and start exercising, but I’ve been putting it off, because I can’t stand the thought of having to justify my existence to someone three times a week.

    I belong to a “judgment-free zone” gym, and while I’d hardly consider it that, I do find myself working out during less populated times of the day – like I just got back about ten minutes ago – in order to avoid any interactions (positive or negative) around my “brave” and “bad ass” decision to “get healthy”.

    I also hate the music they play. Not every song is better served by a techno remix.

  36. I also will not join a gym for the reason that I don’t want the comments on how good I am being for trying. I prefer to exercise in the comfort of my home where I don’t have anyone to answer to about whether I am doing enough. If I don’t have the stamina to go longer than 10 minutes this morning, there’s no shaming me for it. Also, I know that if I were to go to a gym and get a proper workout a few times a week with good machines and weights, I would lose weight – not enough to be thin but less fat – and I don’t want it because I don’t want the comments from people telling me how great I am looking since I shed those pounds. Ugh.

    “In my opinion, if we can’t all get to the mountain top it just ain’t worth going. ” AMEN

  37. I belong to a “judgment-free zone” gym, and while I’d hardly consider it that, I do find myself working out during less populated times of the day – like I just got back about ten minutes ago – in order to avoid any interactions (positive or negative) around my “brave” and “bad ass” decision to “get healthy”.

    This. Even though it has been over 2 years now that I’ve been at my current gym where I swim laps and have never gotten a negative comment or even a snarky look (though truth be told I’m rather blurry-eyed without my glasses so maybe I’m just not seeing them); I STILL feel this trepidation every time I suit up and head of to flip-flop my way to an open swim lane. The only comment I’ve ever heard was a lovely larger mother complimenting me on my swimsuit and yet STILL the years of feeling public glares and paranoid thinking of the comments going on in other people’s heads (who are likely probably thinking of what OTHERS are thinking of THEM than giving ME any looks) makes me twitchy and nervous. For some reason there is just this mental block I have which keeps me thinking I have to “perform healthiness” to somehow *prove* that I’m Doing Good Things…yet that still falls into the same detrimental framework within which Fat Is Bad and even recognizing these thoughts for the bullshit they are I find it a hard cycle to break out of!! I think this post is a timely reminder, especially this:

    Marginalized groups must work to resist the tendency to devalue or bristle over any member whose actions might be viewed as “making the rest of us look bad”.

    Because we need to remember, as Tasha pointed out, that our OWN actions aren’t making OTHERS look bad either. Basically I need to have this mantra tattooed into my mind: “My body, my weight, my choices, my health, MY BUSINESS.”

    @Krishji: I can’t imagine that pain and send peace to you and yours.

  38. It was great to read this today, given that I got concern-trolled on Sunday WHILE RUNNING A 10K RACE. It’s my first 10K, and I was coming up to the finish (I had even sped up a bit as the end was in sight) when this one asshole guy shouted out “Keep running! You need it!” (and it was very clear that the “You need it!” referred to my weight). I was past him before I had time to think more than “Bwah? What?!”. I’m pretty much usually a Bad Fatty, but all he knew of me was that I was an inbetweenie/fat woman about to finish a 10K race, and it became immediately, transparently clear to me that there is literally no point 0f Good-Fatty-ness at which some jerk won’t fat-shame you. All the other spectators were cheering and clapping and very supportive, which was lovely, but guess which comment I thought about all the way home? If there’s no way to win, then what’s the point in playing? And even if we could “win” by being Good Fatties, why would we want to? Tasha is right that true acceptance doesn’t mean “I’ve tried really hard to be what you want me to be and I just can’t, so please don’t hate me”, it means stopping judging people based on their weight. Full stop. It’s not acceptance if I have to keep proving over and over again that I’m trying not to be me.

    Liza-the-second – I told my gym (which doesn’t advertise itself as a no-judgement gym or anything) I was there to improve my fitness and wasn’t interested in weight-loss, and they totally have never mentioned it to me again. I don’t think they even asked me to be weighed. So it might be worth trying, but I do know exactly what you mean about the “cheerleaders” putting you off, with all that patronising, “good for you, you poor little fat person, at least you’re trying” attitude.

  39. This is a bit off topic, but I just want to smack a lot of gym employees.

    I’m an athlete myself and really into sports and exercise, but some of their attitudes are just ridiculous.These people just do not get that other people are not alternate versions of themselves, but actual other people. With other thoughts and goals and bodies. And maybe you should ask about some of that before you start offering advice. Which I guess is on topic, actually.

  40. Having gone recently from being inbetweenie to thin-is, I can’t really comment on the good fatty/bad fatty thing.

    Can say that athletes get a little crazy about body image, things like body fat percentage the more into it you get, especially with something like running. 150 lbs is considered “plus size” for female runners now, in some circles, apparently. I mean, yes, I am faster now that I am smaller. But I am also *weaker.* So…bit of a tradeoff there, duh *headdesk*

  41. ““I never get concern trolled over what I’m doing to my knees, how much I’m going to cost the healthcare system when I need my achilles tendon repaired, what a waste of resources I will be responsible for when I eventually blow my arches. No one complains about the miles and miles of chipped trails that have to be maintained so I can go out and basically drug myself with natural endorphins (the same ones many people activate by eating something fatty, sugary and delicious).”

    Actually, I do get concern trolled over that fairly regularly, most often the knees and “don’t you know you will eventually be a cripple who won’t be able to exercize and will get fat” issue. I also get the concern trolling over my backpacking solo, and my scuba diving (don’t you know you will get raped, murdered/die a horrible watery death).

    If you take your exercise like a good girl, like “medicine,” with your 20 or 30 minutes a day or every other day, no one bothers you.

    If you try doing something amazing or really fucking difficult with your body, people start with the concern trolling. It seems to be because a) it is no longer about “health” b) you are no longer quietly trying to take up as little space as possible like a proper lady with your proper, thin body.

  42. @Krishji and Kelly: I am so sorry for your losses.

    To add on to Chava’s comment, two people went into cardiac arrest during a recent marathon in my city, and yep, there were totally people willing to blame the victims.

    I think all of this ties into the fact the many people believe, sometimes outright but often subconciously, that if they do everything “right,” they can’t get sick or injured. Someone they know is sick? Well they were just a fatty/a smoker/ a vegetarian/ a carnivore/ didn’t take supplements/ didn’t exercise/ exercised too much/ blah blah blah blah. There is always some reason why those people get sick. In reality, everyone will die, and everyone will get sick or hurt. And there are people who are perfectly healthy by every measure who suddenly get sick and die for no reason because there is no reason to it.

    I think FA really shocks those who hold these beliefs.

  43. @567Kate:

    Yeah, there is a strong element of magical thinking in the idea that one’s (others’) health is in one’s (others’) hands… anybody who challenges the orthodoxy on this is at once challenging the status of those who subscribe to it and making the sacrifices they’ve made seem unnecessary. I think that’s where a lot of the vitriol comes from.

    I like to say that I’d rather live to fifty eating food that tastes good to me than live to a hundred worrying about everything that goes into my mouth, but the fact is that I don’t get to choose how long I live, only what goes into my mouth.

  44. Tasha rock. Snarky rocks.

    And in my experience, this is very very true:

    … thinner folks with the EXACT same lifestyles – who also do not deserve to have their life style choices mocked or shamed – receive almost no scorn for their choices.

    Since I started reading SP over a year ago, I’ve become much more conscious of the privilege of being thin: my eating and exercise habits are rarely questioned, by anyone, in any context, even though they aren’t always that great. No, often they downright suck.

  45. I go running because I enjoy it too. I don’t even aim to be fast, though, let alone be one of the bouncy-ponytail-short-shorts girls (no snark on them! They just look so effortless, and I’m sweaty as hell :).

    I say, do whatever the hell you want. If that involves a box of cookies, then fine. It isn’t my business, whatever your shape or size. I’m contextually fat, which is not really fat but sure feels like it to me sometimes, and I go walking and biking and running. I also eat a lot of cookies and chocolate and ice cream. I’m not good or bad; I’m just me, doing what I enjoy. The end.

  46. A lot of commenters have mentioned the school of thought that says people won’t get sick if they eat right, excercise take supplements etc. I am reminded of a quote from Dr House: “People don’t get what they deserve. People get what they get.”

  47. I never get concern trolled over what I’m doing to my knees, how much I’m going to cost the healthcare system when I need my achilles tendon repaired, what a waste of resources I will be responsible for when I eventually blow my arches. No one complains about the miles and miles of chipped trails that have to be maintained so I can go out and basically drug myself with natural endorphins (the same ones many people activate by eating something fatty, sugary and delicious).

    Absolutely this. Thank you for saying this.

  48. This post. Yes. OMG.

    And the health thing, you know, I don’t think “because it’s healthy” is sufficient reason, for most people, to keep doing something. People don’t keep at things because they are healthy, they keep at them because they are maybe healthy and the people enjoy doing the things. Like: I work out every other day, with free weights. I do it partially because it is good for me. But mostly I do it because I like it, it makes me feel powerful, and because I want to get stronger and tougher so I can learn to fight with stick and shield in SCA heavy combat and maybe become Queen someday.

    There has to be another reason on top of the health. Most of the time “it’s healthy” isn’t even enough reason for someone to start doing something. We know this as human beings, we see it happening in the world. And yet people still yell at each other, you are not healthy enough, you have to do this and that to be more healthy. And as we all know a lot of the time “healthy” is code for “physically attractive to the speaker personally”.

    One of the things I love about my weekly motivational group (oh, I am almost done with it, two more weeks and then I have to kiss it goodbye–sad) is the repeated insistence that nobody gets to tell you “should” unless you ask for their advice. And it bears repeating. I am not in charge of your “should”, you are.

  49. I am not in charge of your “should”, you are.

    I love this. A “should” from another person carries no weight; it’s just a preference. Usually a preference for something that’s none of their business.

  50. @slythwolf

    Totally. I started working out for health reasons. But I certainly would not have kept with it very long if I hadn’t turned out to enjoy the hell out of both the activities and feeling strong. The common thread among people I know who regularly exercise isn’t that they’re extra-concerned about their health, it’s that they get some pleasure from the activity and/or have some other set of non-health related goals that the exercise gets them. Because “health” is a pretty abstract reason to keep doing something you hate.

  51. The gym I used for a long time was a college gym. The cool thing about college gyms is that people don’t talk to you unless they already know you, and the “staff” is mostly interested in getting their homework done before their shift ends and they have to go to class. Once in a while they might remind you not to take the dumbbells off the mats or to wipe down a machine when you’re done. Although there was this one time when the gym was close to closing and a student employee gave me a bunch of shit about how long it was taking to wash my hair in the shower, but when I came out and she saw that my hair was three feet long, she shut up.

    But now my gym is my living room. I have some dumbbells and some Buffy DVDs, I’m all set. Admittedly the living-room thing is easier to swing for someone who is into free weights as opposed to the various exercise machines.

  52. I normally only read comments and don’t post, but if you have problems with gym staffers you might try out a 24-hr gym. I work out a one nearby my house and it is only regularly staffed during business hours. The rest of the time you let yourself in with a little key card and no one talks to me, ever (There are only a few people working even during business hours). Which is exactly how I like it! It is an “Anytime Fitness” :)

  53. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. And again. AND AGAIN:

    My body is my personal property. If I want to put a junk food trailer on it, it’s none of anyone else’s fucking business. If you want to shame me for being fat, knock your ignorant ass out — it’s going to have absolutely no effect on how I live my life. Pass all the damned laws you want. Exclude me from your culture, refuse to pay me what I’m worth, marginalize me until it hurts. YOU CAN’T CONTROL THE SIZE OF MY BODY. This is my revolution. Until they strap me down on a gurney (and, hey, good luck with that), I have free will and am going to exercise it.

    I think THAT’s what the haters hate — the lack of control. It’s the same thing all god-wannabes hate; the idea that there are things in life that simply don’t yield to their id. In a way, I’m HELPING THEM by continuing to be fat despite all their efforts to make me something else. They should totally thank me.

  54. . Because “health” is a pretty abstract reason to keep doing something you hate.

    So true. I still hate having to be active, but I don’t hate actually being active. I’m slowing refocusing myself to accept that I like some forms of activity and I don’t have to like other ones and it’s fine.

  55. I’m slowing refocusing myself to accept that I like some forms of activity and I don’t have to like other ones and it’s fine.

    It’s so sad that we have to learn this, because we are indoctrinated that we have to do Exercise (where Exercise = specific gym-type behaviors and Certainly Not Anything Fun Like Dancing) whether we like it or not or we are bad people.

  56. I’m home from work with a sick baby today and since I have finally gotten to a point in my schedule the last two weeks where I have had time to exercise, I have lost maybe three pounds or so. So of course I feel “obligated” to continue “being good” and not eat a lot today.

    Then I thought, What would the kate harding readers do? And I looked up the page and here was this article.

    And I said, fuck it, I want shrimp lo mein.

    And you know what? I have the local Chinese restaurant programmed into my phone, and it’s not a reflection of my worth as a person!

  57. My own reality is that I don’t eat much and I exercise a lot (when I am well enough to do so) and I am a fat fat fatty mcfatterson, because that’s how my body works.

    And I do think it’s helpful in the larger sense to share my reality and my experience with the not-understanding-body-diversity-and-body-acceptance world, because so many people assume that all fat people are binge eaters (for example)*, or even that all fat people are hearty eaters**, or that no fat people do rigorous exercise. No, I can’t lose weight by cutting out snacks (which people love to suggest to me) because I already don’t eat snacks–not because I’m trying to lose weight, but because I don’t eat a lot. No, if I start training for a marathon I won’t lose weight, because I used to run half-marathons at this exact weight with some frequency. Trust me, this is the weight my body wants to be.

    That said, that’s my body. All I can bear witness to is my own body, and everyone else’s body is their business. But when I share my experience, the last thing I am trying to do is shame people who have different experiences.

    *Frances Kuffel is a frequent offender here; she has a blog on Psychology Today where she constantly conflates “person with an ‘obese’ BMI” and “binge eater” as though they were identical. I understand that binge eating is a long-standing issue FOR HER but there are lots of thin and average binge eaters and lots of obese people who have never binged in their lives…

    **Everyone who writes about Ina Garten. Whom I love to pieces.

  58. My choice of exercise has always been martial arts. The calisthenics to warm up are boring, but the techniques are fun, and the SPARRING is great! Do I lose weight? No, but I’ve got flexibility and muscle tone, and the adrenaline makes me grin like crazy.

  59. Thank you for this. It’s helped me consider things in a new light, and empowered me to stand up for fat acceptance in a way that encompasses more than HAES. I’ve found that I’ve gained some ground with my closest family/friends by pointing out that weight doesn’t dictate health (despite all the “news” items to the contrary), but I was recently challenged by a (very) close friend. He suggested that I take better care of my own health, regarding diet and exercise specifically, because if I really want to get other people to accept that fat people can be healthy at any size, I should really be more healthy and active myself, as a good example.

    I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the time (though it bothered me), and I’ve struggled with feeling conflicted over this. This post, and Tasha’s, helped me realize that I don’t need to be a spokesperson for anyone, and that what I really believe in is respect and acceptance of everyone, regardless of size OR health, and completely without judgment.

  60. I remember mentioning to a friend that I want to do more exercise (where exercise = long walks in the woods), and his immediate reaction was “Why would you want to do exercise? You’re not fat.”

    So the only possible reason one might want to get physically active is to burn off pounds, right? Getting a better night’s sleep, or just enjoying the activity itself are apparently minor concerns. (I have been sleeping better since I started walking more. It’s a surprisingly big help.)

    TRiG.

  61. Excellent post and commentary. Sometimes I catch myself sliding into “good fattie/bad fattie” thinking, or “good feminist/bad feminist” thinking, and it’s good to be reminded to get my head out of my ass.
    I don’t get concern trolled when I work out anymore (one of the advantages of being older, I think). And yes, no one ever concern trolled me about my knees or ankles or what have you, just my deathfatz.
    It should come as no surprise to any of you that I have not had to make any doctors visits due to the deathfatz, but have made quite a lot due to my various exercise-related injuries, none of which could be attributed to the deathfatz.
    On that note, it’s time to go take advantage of my last few weeks of unemployment and go for a hike ;-)

  62. I was watching Trekkies II this weekend and there was a discussion about how far is too far to go if you are a Trek fan. I was left wondering why anyone really Fing cared. Part of this may be coming out of total burnout, but I work in healthcare, and the continual emphasis on getting particular outcomes from patients (i.e. individuals with a right to self-determination in all things, so long as it isn’t harming others) really reduces what it means to care for people (the reason I went into this job in the first place). And it isn’t just Western medicine….I had to fire a holistic practitioner because she was invested in my losing weight to get “well.”

    Anyway, I’m in the I-don’t-fing-care place right now, which seems to be working out pretty well for me because I eat things that make me happy and I’m moving to make myself happy – not for anyone else.

  63. I’m a little late to the party, but I had a concern trolling experience at the gym this week and I really, really needed to see this post. I love spinning class because it feels so good-not because I “have a specific goal in mind for motivation to lose the weight”
    I just have to say FUCK YES-and thanks Snarky, Tasha Fierce, and to everyone else who posted.

  64. Chiming in from the perspective of a gym employee: not to toot my own horn, but I am SO RIGOROUS about the language I use with students, and I wish the practice were more widespread. If I start to say something and realize it has an overtone of “should”, I will excuse myself and start that sentence over. And this is not just because I am trying to be A Fat Ally TM. I don’t “should” other people’s bodies because it’s none of my fucking business. A body belongs wholly to its driver/inhabitant. If you decide to see me, you can explain to me what you’re interested in doing, and we’ll develop your lessons from there. But I try to always invite, never require.

    And a rousing “hell yes” to everybody talking about the wide variety of reasons to exercise, if you want to: for pleasure, for better sleep, and especially for strength to go about other tasks you want to do. I forget where I picked up this epigram (likely from somebody here!): Functional Fitness Is Feminist Fitness.

  65. Kimberley O., I get what you mean about feeling embarrassed, both feeling in a vague sort of way that exercise is embarrassing, and because I feel like I don’t compare well to the serious exercisers. I’ve finally worked my way up to 10 minutes uninterrupted (very slow) jogging (as part of a ~2 mile usually-daily walk), and I feel sometimes proud of that but sometimes kind of pathetic that it’s taken me this long just to do that, and that I’m not jogging 3 miles every day or something. And I think part of that is related to trying to prove I’m a “good fatty” (good inbetweenie?) and not just “I fail gym class forever”.

    S. Machine, great post. This is the kind of thing that I nod to vigorously in my head, because it’s a lot of stuff that seems like it should be obvious, and yet is so easy to forget/lose sight of.

    Krisj and Kelly, I’m sorry for your losses.

  66. It’s always strange when people from the out group try to prove that they really have more in common with the in group than with their fellow outers. Rather than trying to eliminate the hierarchy, they want to carve out a new mid-level caste for themselves. Uncle Tom is a very maligned and misunderstood character, but the modern misuse of the title seems to apply. It always makes me think of Dennis Prager, the rightwing Jewish columnist who so wants to be loved by rightwing Christians that he thinks all elected officials should have to swear in on the Christian Bible. I hope this isn’t off topic, I’m trying to visualize this in terms I understand better; being a slightly pudgy male doesn’t lend itself to full comprehension of FA.

  67. Snarky’s Machine
    . Because “health” is a pretty abstract reason to keep doing something you hate.

    So true. I still hate having to be active, but I don’t hate actually being active. I’m slowing refocusing myself to accept that I like some forms of activity and I don’t have to like other ones and it’s fine.

    I think that’s the only way it’ll work for most people: finding ways to work exercise into enjoyable routines. I love biking and walking my dog. I hate running and swimming and using gym equipment. So I bike everywhere I go, and walk Zoey as often as she’ll let me (she’s getting old). I’m no where near as athletically fit as I was when I ran, but there’s also just no way I was going to run, much less swim, for decades on end and if I thought those were the only ways to get exercise then I wouldn’t get any. If you view it as a chore, something you must do, then it’s a struggle every day and even if you have the “discipline” to do it anyway who wants to live like that?

  68. There is so much awesome in this comment thread.

    I read Tasha’s original post on Jezebel, and it was such a moment for me. I’ve gained a lot of weight over the past few years and have gotten the possibly well-meaning but still pushy and patronizing health issues brought up, especially by my definitely well-meaning but definitely struggling with body image issue mother. My sister, who’s always been bigger, has really found her zen place of truly knowing that such comments are trolling, no matter who they come from or how well-intended, and those people need to go fuck off until they learn better.

    And “In my opinion, if we can’t all get to the mountain top it just ain’t worth going. “ that needs to be part of a new desktop. Brilliant.

  69. Oh, and also? I’ve found my local YMCA to be a great place to work out without having to deal with scensters. People are just there to work out.

  70. I’d like to add one more item to Leslie’s list. Some of us are simply not willing to make that particular time trade for exercise right now. We are working and volunteering and pursuing other goals and writing novels and trying to freaking enjoy life! And having chocolate while we do it. =D

  71. “It was great to read this today, given that I got concern-trolled on Sunday WHILE RUNNING A 10K RACE.”

    Huh? I mean really…every single person in my office is thin, and there’s only one of them who I’m confident would be capable of running a 10K. I’d be crying by the 1K mark.

    I really think a lot of concern trolling springs from magical thinking/ People honestly believe that if they eat “right”, exercise, avoid artificial sweeteners, whatever, they will never get sick. Which is like…hey, I’m fairly thin and have a relatively “healthy” diet, etc., but I also have 2 first degree relatives who’ve had breast cancer. Guess what I worry about a lot more than I worry about diabetes, heart disease etc? And no amount of organic arugla will save me if I do have the problematic gene.

    Whenever I see people doing that concern trolling/magical thinking thing it always makes me think of medieval people making signs to ward off the evil eye. It’s about as logical and effective, honestly.

  72. I have spent a good part of today plowing through the comments on Tasha’s post over at Jezebel, and all I keep thinking is I am so.fucking.glad that I am getting to a place in my life where what other people think about me isn’t dictating how I feel and think about myself. Other people’s approval of me is completely cancel-able at any moment, for any reason, and trying to seek that approval is a dangerous, bad place for my head to go. I need to concentrate on me, and what makes my life happy and joyful, and quit trying to manage how other people perceive me–because that last part does not work, and even if it did work…honestly, how freaking tiring is that shit?

  73. awsome post . i’ll admit i used to hate people who’d liked to talk about how and when they exercise it always used to make me feel intimidated . cause in my mind i thought if i work out and go to the gym , some people wod shut up about exercise. to me it wasn’t a grate or fun topic to talk about to (me) . and i hate goodfatty vs badfatty very much . because am a bad fatty all the way . i enjoy being lazy and not doing anything and eating whatever i want without any gilt .i also hated when fattys try and prove that ther exercising and healthy (which they actully do) and HEASthing to ignorant public, when regardless if you appear fat in general thell think your unhealthy anyway . especially on how much weight they loss when then they work out. but often say they don’t care about loss, SHOULD I CARE!. sure i like to swim and generaly walk but i rearlly do talk about it or care if a loss anything. and then again any movement should be consider exercise . i don’t mean to be harsh or offend anybody but iam most likey talking about my experiences. and things i get tiered of reading and hearing

  74. @aleks:

    > being a slightly pudgy male doesn’t lend itself to full comprehension of FA. <

    Speaking as one, I disagree.

  75. I had a strange experience recently – I was out with Mr Paintmonkey and some friends having a meal, and one of the other women at the table is currently going though a manic exercise fit where she has exercised herself to virtually nothing, and is talking about it all the time and wearing really tight things to illustrate how really miniscule she is – which she is. She is very forceful about talking about how important being tiny is and how much better she feels, and so on. Anyway, I used to go crazy on the exercising myself, which she knows, and we were calmly discussing this. I said “I’ve finally come to realise that for me I over-exercise when I’m having a self-esteem dip, but when I feel good about the world and calm in myself I’m happy to do things as I please and let myself be.” She immediately without any warning started crying at the table, so obviously what I had said had hit a bullseye instantly without my intending to. It just reminded me yet again that so often the people we assume are feeling strong inside are quite the opposite. Which reminds me (yet again), that it’s worth treading carefully while talking to anyone about their body and appearance, because you just never know the story they have and what is driving them to do what they do, or feel how they feel.

  76. Tasha’s piece reminds me of a Woody Allen quote: “You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.”

  77. @LaughingMouse — I’ve had several moments lately where I realized I didn’t have time to workout because I was Living My Life. Sometimes, this is something physical, like playing with kids at a 7-year-old’s Birthday Party, and sometimes, it’s another one of my fundamental needs that is being met instead. This weekend, I felt like I was running from fun thing to fun thing, and it was tiring, but also rewarding, and that’s how I prefer to get my fitness fix these days.

  78. @thegirlfrommarz — I’ve been thinking about working toward some sort of K race thing, but it does drive me crazy that there would be some assumptions that, unlike anyone else racing, it was part of a “weight loss journey.” I want to say I admire you completing your first 10K because it sounds like it was meaningful to you — not because everyone “should” do that sort of thing.
    Maybe if I did a race I could wear a shirt that said “this is my ideal weight” or something along those lines. I love to answer questions like “are you at a healthy weight?” (I see and take a lot of health surveys because of my line of work) this way: “yes” and then love to see the software sputter to tell me that I need to move toward a healthy weight based on its calculation of BMI.
    I am having a little fantasy about what happened after that comment was yelled at you by that guy, that you didn’t witness because you were crossing the finish line. The people standing around him heard what he said, and pulled him aside. “Hey, where are you taking me?” he was heard shouting, but that was quickly muffled as he was pushed into a car. Frightened, he became quite quiet in the back seat, sandwiched between two rather large men and seated behind two large women. They drove for a good long time, to a remote location, and he was ordered to remove all of his clothes but his briefs. “These clothes and your other belongings, like your cell phone, will be waiting for you in the spot where you made the unfortunate comment. We will make sure they are safe upon your return,” said one of the women. They return to the car, leaving the man standing in his socks, shoes and briefs. “But how will I get home? I must be 10 miles from where we were when you put me in the car! Come back!” The group ignores him, and gets into the car. “Why are you doing this to me?” cries the man.
    “Because you need it,” the driver says before rolling up the window and driving off.

  79. @ Aleks:
    As a slightly pudgy woman, I think I have a pretty good grasp on FA.

    I have a particularly good grasp on the fact that a fat person with the same lifestyle and health status as me would be concern-trolled by so many people it’s not funny.*

    @ JupiterPluvius:
    “That said, that’s my body. All I can bear witness to is my own body, and everyone else’s body is their business. But when I share my experience, the last thing I am trying to do is shame people who have different experiences.”

    Thank you for this. If only everybody shared this viewpoint. Some people, it seems, are just aching to not only get brownie points, but dispense them. Even if you don’t bloody want them!

    *With added incomprehension, as everyone knows vegans can’t eat food!

  80. [quote]Some people, it seems, are just aching to not only get brownie points, but dispense them. Even if you don’t bloody want them![/quote]

    I would be more interested in earning (and giving) brownie points if they were the baked good kind of brownies, instead of the helpful elf kind. Most of the time, the most helpful thing someone can do for me is shut up.

  81. “With added incomprehension, as everyone knows vegans can’t eat food!”

    Haha, I’m eating food *right now*! And doing it while being (very) fat! Take that, world!

  82. Paintmonkey: I had a strange experience recently – I was out with Mr Paintmonkey and some friends having a meal, and one of the other women at the table is currently going though a manic exercise fit where she has exercised herself to virtually nothing, and is talking about it all the time and wearing really tight things to illustrate how really miniscule she is – which she is. She is very forceful about talking about how important being tiny is and how much better she feels, and so on. Anyway, I used to go crazy on the exercising myself, which she knows, and we were calmly discussing this. I said “I’ve finally come to realise that for me I over-exercise when I’m having a self-esteem dip, but when I feel good about the world and calm in myself I’m happy to do things as I please and let myself be.” She immediately without any warning started crying at the table, so obviously what I had said had hit a bullseye instantly without my intending to. It just reminded me yet again that so often the people we assume are feeling strong inside are quite the opposite. Which reminds me (yet again), that it’s worth treading carefully while talking to anyone about their body and appearance, because you just never know the story they have and what is driving them to do what they do, or feel how they feel.

    Yanno, this reminds me of something else I feel very strongly about: the idea that it is acceptable to comment in an evaluating fashion on anyone’s body. It just isn’t. In fact, I feel so strongly about this that anyone saying anything to me about my appearance is usually treated to something along the lines of, “Seriously? With that (pick physical characteristic of the other person), you want to go there?” With concern trolls it usually goes more like, “Oh, I’m so glad you brought this up, because I’ve really been wanting to talk to you about your ignorance.”

  83. Ending oppression – be it fat or racial or gender or whathaveyou – requires an active commitment to resist any cultural messaging seeking to frame one member of a marginalized group as representative of all members – regardless of whether the framing presents the members in a negative or positive light.

    So true. I remember hearing someone comment about some guy who’s Jewish. He apparently was stingy in some way or another and so he “made all Jews look bad.” What?! No! So if you’re part of a marginzalized group, then suddenly you have to adhere to this double standard by behaving like a perfect person and if you don’t, it’s perfectly okay for others to be prejudiced against you?” I don’t think so. Comments like that make me think the person was looking to justify an already existing prejudice.

  84. @minervaK – Yep, I’m totally in agreement with this one. The friend I mentioned above does repeatedly make comments about other people’s appearances (nearly always negative), and I’d basically mentioned the self-esteem issue to quietly try and transmit to her that I’m ok with myself and would rather just talk about things more interesting and fun…I hadnt thought for a second that what I said about myself would open a floodgate for her. I didnt like triggering her tears, but obviously her own self-esteem is far more fragile than I would have guessed. Maybe she might pause for a second before commenting on others again, but I think I’m aiming at the stars with that one!
    I try to tread really cautiously when commenting unless I think something is undeniably fabulous (usually an accessory – shoes, jewellery or something neutral,because I just feel that its not my right to air my views on another person’s body.

  85. I think a lot of the concern trolls also need to be reminded that for the most part they’re talking about and to ADULTS.

    If I’m of an age where the guvmint tells me I can vote, smoke, drink, drive, and own a gun then you need to step the fuck off.

    This post and comments were a little triggery for me. That 6 mile walk doesn’t look as appealing if it doesn’t lead me to weight loss. It also seems really bleak if the people at the gym never see me thin because then I’m just a hopeless.

    BTW the word fatty still hurts even if I hear it in the context of reclamation.

  86. “I do find myself working out during less populated times of the day – like I just got back about ten minutes ago – in order to avoid any interactions (positive or negative) around my “brave” and “bad ass” decision to “get healthy”.”

    Yep. Morning kickboxing/step/spinning is my friend. Hell I’ve even created my own map of how to get from the front desk to the group fitness room with as few men looking at me as possible. For some reason walking in front of the folks on the treadmill doesn’t bother me as much as the mostly dudes lifting weights.

    “I also hate the music they play. Not every song is better served by a techno remix.”

    LMAO. I don’t agree with you on this point but you def. got a laugh out of me.

  87. @Slythwolf

    “I want to get stronger and tougher so I can learn to fight with stick and shield in SCA heavy combat and maybe become Queen someday.”

    You know, I had a conversation with some people at my historical European martial arts club the other day. It turned out that every one of us had gone through a period of months or years where we had wanted to sign up for the club, but thought we weren’t fit or awesome enough to do it yet. Once we joined, we realized that we had been more than up to the task all along. I don’t know you, but I’m willing to bet that you’re already awesome enough to kick ass with the rest of us posers.

  88. Not every song is better served by a techno remix.

    This made me lol too, and I’d have to agree. Some songs, but not all.

  89. @Henchminion, I need to build up muscle strength because of a condition I have, so I don’t dislocate something. Thanks for the vote of confidence though! <3

  90. you are no longer quietly trying to take up as little space as possible like a proper lady with your proper, thin body

    I think that’s a really shitty thing to say. Having a thin body doesn’t make you quiet, proper and ladylike anymore than having a big body makes you smelly, lazy and stupid. I’ve had both kinds of bodies, and I’m just me.

  91. @ Dray:

    I was going off the (I think fairly well established) idea in feminist thought that women are pressured to take up as little space as possible with their bodies, which is where are lot of the meanings that are coded into “thin” as an idea and fantasy come from.

    It was certainly not meant to be a serious reflection of how thin bodies are in reality, any more than fat bodies. But I do think that society would have us BELIEVE that we are to be quiet, ladylike, proper, and take up as little space as possible, and part of this ideal feminine boondogle is pressure to achieve thinness. Whence, the sarcasm in my original comment.

  92. @chava:

    Definitely, and tied to this is the idea that muscle on women is ‘unfeminine’ (like a fat woman, a muscular woman might, gasp, take up space, be imposing!). In magazine photoshopping women are not only made to look thinner, but also less muscular (if they are muscular to begin with). There’s that quote by I-forget-who (can anyone remind me? Google is being unhelpful) along the lines of “The greatest goal a woman is supposed to desire for her body is to disappear” [paraphrased].

    Personally I get this a lot from medical ‘professionals’. The idea that women can be muscular, and happy about it, is so alien to so many people (unsurprisingly usually also fat-hating people) that although I am small, I get a lot of shit from doctors (until I started refusing to be weighed) because of my weight. I have a lot of extremely dense muscle, so doctors – even after I have explained that I am very muscular and that even if I wasn’t they can step off with their weight loss talk – tend to look rather blankly at me and then reiterate their “Must lose weight!” standpoint. I’ve even been told that I need to lose the muscle because it’s weight and I shouldn’t weigh that much! I’ve also been told that it MUST be weight from sneaky, hidden fat, because a woman CANNOT have enough muscle to make up that weight (nice! You just told me that I’m not a woman!).

    So, my body may be small, but I should further conform to the rigid standards of ideal femininity by also not weighing too much, by having a small, delicated body. By, in a sense, disappearing who I physically am.

    So it is shitty that society expects women to not only be thin, but to be thin, delicate, and proper. But having a thin body DOES make you more likely to be considered ‘proper’, lady-like, ideal (of course, one may be thin but disabled for example and thus not socially considered ‘ideal’, but being thin IS something that society values). This is not a ‘what about the thin people?’ situation. No one wins when this ideal of femininity remains so – women who are thin and delicate naturally are considered better than, weak, lady-like, the ‘proper’ standard to attain, socially pitted against other women, etc, and women who are naturally fat and/or muscular are considered masculine, un-feminine, not beautiful, etc. Disabled women are not considered ‘whole’, feminine, beautiful (and then there’s the intersection of these various states of womanhood). It is a huge misogyny and it’s fucking awful.

  93. Disabled women are not considered ‘whole’, feminine, beautiful (and then there’s the intersection of these various states of womanhood). It is a huge misogyny and it’s fucking awful.

    Such a great point that definitely needed to be made. Thanks for that.

  94. Paintmonkey: I meant to use your experience with your friend to illustrate why commenting on peoples’ bodies falls into the ‘not OK’ category for me — I hope it didn’t come across as me getting up in your grill about what you said to her. That wasn’t my intent. It’s just as you and others here have said — the landscape of my physical being is NOT fodder for the approval or disapproval of other people, and as a civilized being, I recognize their corresponding right not to be judged by me. That this simple courtesy has fallen by the wayside is more apocalyptic, to me, than any other single thing I can think of in modern culture.

  95. <3 Thanks. I so need this today. I'm a terrible fatty and this afternoon I have to go arm-wrestle with a stubborn doctor. This post came just in time for me.

  96. Jerome PERMALINK
    @aleks:> being a slightly pudgy male doesn’t lend itself to full comprehension of FA. <

    Speaking as one, I disagree.

    Ugh. I can’t imagine why I felt compelled to say that at all.

  97. I have so much love for this website and all of the people on it. I needed this today, so badly.

  98. @minervaK – No problems – that’s exactly what I thought you meant, I was just adding an extra bit on! Incidentally, that photo by your name looks bafflingly like me when I was a kid…The only way I know it isnt me is because the kid in the photo isnt capering around to the camera, otherwise it would be weirdly like me!

  99. “Marginalized groups must work to resist the tendency to devalue or bristle over any member whose actions might be viewed as “making the rest of us look bad”.”

    This. I am the first to admit that this is very hard for me. I have a high-stigma mental illness. I am a compliant and usually high-functioning patient, and I know that I have a history of judging people who “make us look bad” by failing to comply with treatment that is readily available to them. (I am keenly aware of the fact that many people lack access to good mental health care–this only fueled my indignation with otherwise privileged folks who had access to good care but were noncompliant with their doctors’ instructions.)

    I know now that the good/bad dichotomy is really destructive and that it is absolutely not my business what decisions other people make about their bodies. I am not the mental health police. And stigma is not going to be eradicated by trying to conform with what makes privileged people comfortable.

  100. BTW the word fatty still hurts even if I hear it in the context of reclamation.

    valerie – I completely get this. I can write that I’m a bad fatty, but I really doubt that I can say it out loud to another person as yet.

  101. @ Octavia

    I hear you on the muscularity. I once had a student interrupt my talk to ask how I got such muscular legs. There’s so much bullshit that female faculty deal with anyway but this kinda took the cake for me.

    And my number one hated comment about exercising and weight training: I just want to tone. I don’t want to ‘bulk up’. grrr. Nobody is going to come along and take your woman card away because you can bench press whatever amount. And frankly, the lack of strength in my upper body really unnerves me because I know that makes me vulnerable.

    Then there was that whole nonsense about Madonna’s arms a few months ago. I think she’s evil personified but not because she’s got some guns.

  102. A million times YES on the “bulking up” nonsense. I have heard that sooooo many times as a critique or snark on my own workout routines.

    I have an acquanitence with premature osteoperesis whose doctor advised her to start lifting to help stave it off. Oh no, she couldn’t possibly…she might “bulk up.” !!!!!!!*headdesk*

    So, I am not a woman who bulks up easily, it take a lot of effort, but I need it for some of my activities–anyway, I recently lost a lot of weight (unintentionally) after working for nearly a year to put on a lot of muscle….I just FUMED at the number of “Oh! congratulations on being a size X” comments I received. Seriously? I CAN’T EAT, I mean I physically CANNOT EAT and you are congratulating me? What the fucking fuck?

  103. I am a devotee of Stumptuous.com, so the “I don’t want to get too big” thing gets on my last nerve. The vast majority of female human beings would have to purchase the hormones required to get “too” big. We simply do not build muscle mass the way that male human beings can. Something, however, that I keep having to explain to dudes I know is that just because my muscles are (and will always be) smaller than theirs does not mean I can’t get just as strong.

  104. So much to respond to here. Maybe it is because I’m in my 50s, but my main – only – goal in life now is to be happy. I really don’t give a big ‘F’ about what people think about me. People who disagree don’t stay a part of my life for long, and I do call them on it. Strangers, I ignore – responding wastes too much energy. My health is OK for someone my age who weighs in the mid 200s, with my medical history, etc. I quit smoking recently and gained about 30lbs and my blood pressure went up. Nevertheless, my doctor is thrilled. I have the standard fat girl 3 size range wardrobe, so I’m cool. My weight fluctuates no matter what I do or don’t do. It will probably go back down, but it it doesn’t – that’s cool, too. I eat what makes me “feel” good – mostly it’s “good” food, but sometimes it’s not. I walk my dogs (3 – and that’s entertaining to see, my neighbors will testify to that) a couple of miles a day, but it is mostly the “sniff-n-piss tour” so not real exercise. I have found a yoga for fatties (seriously that was how they advertised it!) class which has opened a whole new world for me. I was always attracted to, but afraid of yoga – thinking I needed to be one of those slinky yoga babes to walk into the studio – and having been unable to manage/keep up with the DVDs/TV shows. This very fat (she’d be proud to be identified as such) but talented teacher says – Grab your belly and move it out of the way, adjust the pose this way to work for you, etc. Wonderful! I will admit I’ve stayed with her classes, too afraid to move into other teachers’ classes at that studio or others, but… this has been a huge and enjoyable move for me. I did find a similar series of videos online “Just my size yoga – Megan Garcia”, but I haven’t bought a DVD so can’t guarantee the quality, application to “shapely” followers. Anyway, the long and the short of it is aspire to a “I don’t give a ‘F’ attitude what you or the world in general thinks about me and how I look, act, feel,etc. I honor myself. I love myself.” It took me a long time to get here, but it feels good. I’ll be honest – age has made it easier. For those of you who fear age, menopause, divorce, being single, etc. It is wonderfully freeing!

  105. Cards on the table: this is a really hard one for me. I do believe in not perpetuating the good-fat/bad-fat dichotomy, because dichotomies such and are artificially constructed. I hope I wouldn’t concern-troll anyone, and I’ve stood up in public venues to say that, yes, health is not determined by looking and it it is not a valid criterion of social worth and it is not anybody’s business but the person involved, yeah. And yet–

    –let’s take this out of the realm of FA, where it only troubles me occasionally, and into the realm of religious bias, where it rears its ugly head in the privacy of my skull quite often. I’m just coming to a point in my life where I feel I can be “out of the broom closet” in public…and while I’m a little worried about the occasional persecution, many years of “passing” as maybe-kind-of-Christan (and maybe-kind-of-thin) have given me a lot of unearned privilege and security. But, honestly, I do worry about being, not persecuted, but embarrassed. There are plenty of witches whom it’s a delight to admire wholeheartedly. But, too, I look at some of my least appealing siblings in faith, some who are out there in the public eye doing what I haven’t had the guts to do before now, and I still cringe. I want them to compost, and make environmentally responsible choices, and not shop at Wal-Mart if they really can afford someplace less awful in terms of social and environmental responsibility (not everyone can, but plenty of people who can don’t, pagan and otherwise.) I want them not to say things that (I think) are foolish or self-contradictory in public venues. I want them not to make my religion a laughingstock, but to present it as serious, committed, socially aware, and relatively consistent in practice, at least within the bounds of any given individual life. And–if you’re drawing breath to busts my chops for this, here’s where I deserve it most–I’d like it if more of my people dressed and presented themselves more seriously. Honestly, it makes me wince when someone representing my religion, and therefore me–even though she’s the one representing it largely because I haven’t had the balls to do it!–chooses to be known to her gods and to the world as MoonShadow, or GrayEagle LoneWolf, and to do so while wearing tie-dyed robes made in China by enslaved children and driving an SUV. I can’t take that seriously, and I can’t blame even bigots for finding it ludicrious. I hate that in myself, but it’s true.

    In the realm of FA, like I said, this troubles me a lot less, because I don’t find fat inherently ludicrous or an obstacle to taking people seriously. But this is a difference of register, not a qualitatively different feeling. Sometimes I DO wish that the public faces of FA were willing to play the mainstream game better, to make it look more “respectable. ” I do wish we could seriously say that very few among us abuse food for emotional reasons. I hate this in myself too…but it’d be a big lie to say it’s not there. So what I’m trying to follow in the original post is this: “Ending oppression – be it fat or racial or gender or whathaveyou – requires an active commitment to resist any cultural messaging seeking to frame one member of a marginalized group as representative of all members – regardless of whether the framing presents the members in a negative or positive light.” I think I’d have less trouble with this if we, and the whole world, weren’t so prone to MAKE person X the public face of Marginalized Group X. Or if I’d had the gumption a lot sooner to be willing to wear that face myself. Still working on that.

  106. Cat,

    Some people (me) think that all religion is inherently ridiculous and self-contradictory. I wouldn’t worry too much about that, if I were you.

    TRiG.

  107. @Cat, bigots and the media (sometimes these categories overlap as we all know) go out of their way to find the embarrassing Pagans to represent y’all. Just like any other marginalized group, really.

  108. @SouthernJane — I have found aging to be way better than advertised. I bristled a bit when a friend who is in her 50s called me “middle aged” — but I AM! Dammit! And proud!
    RE: is the “sniff-n-piss tour” really exercise? Exercise research shows that people (of all sizes) who do nothing at all have the highest risk (population-based risk measured by how soon people die), but going from nothing at all to something at all is what reduces risk in the first place, and then there’s a point above which more isn’t necessarily better at all. Between yoga and walking you may well be hitting that mark. Nothing to do at all with size or judgment, just a little info. And, “intervals” between slower and faster, as in the dogs suddenly take off after a scent and get you a bit winded, and then slow down or even stop, that looks to provide greater health benefits from the steady walking pace you might have if it’s on your own. I know when I would walk my dog (my dearly departed still very missed dog) I would feel frustrated because it wasn’t the pace I wanted to go at, but it wasn’t nothing.
    I have a long and sordid history when it comes to exercise, but I think the real story is that I was a late bloomer. I’m so much more coordinated and confident now than I was as a child and teen (hurray aging!). I’ve found there is foundation that I’ve built upon, a chain that started with aerobics and Jazzersize as a teen to lap swimming, yoga, strength training, walking, jogging, dancing and we’ll see what comes next. It’s been like discovering cuisines new to me — new sensations, some of which I like and don’t like at all, and adding the ones I really like into my “diet.”

    If it feels right to apply that “bad” label, I’m not aiming to take it away. I just think that the research on what constitutes real risk on a population basis with regard to diet and exercise is different (and far less definitive) from what many of us think.

  109. @Cat, I think people who are generally inclined to be religiously tolerant can grasp that no one individual’s quirks or weirdnesses or incongruent behavior can represent a religion as a whole. And people who are inclined to mock religion in general or religions that aren’t theirs will seek out the “bad examples” for justification.

    I definitely have sympathy with the “Shut up! You’re making me look bad,” feeling when someone from your religion says something stupid. It is embarrassing as all get-out, and I don’t want to minimize that at all.

    But I do think that if you live out your faith consistent with your own principles and be yourself, people will see that for what it is. (Wow, that sounded sappy and self-helpy…sorry bout that.) People who know you will see what you believe and who you are, and will give that more weight than they give “the voice of X” quoted on TV saying silly things.

    Also, I think it’s totally okay to want people to do things. I think it’s reasonable for you to want people who shop at Walmart and can afford not to to knock it the hell off, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You’re totally entitled to your preferences and wishes, especially about things that you feel really strongly would make the world a better place. We (general/collective we) don’t get to impose our preferences on other people, but I don’t think wishing they shared them is any kind of judgment or imposition, unless someone is pushy or judgmental about it.

    I think I’d have less trouble with this if we, and the whole world, weren’t so prone to MAKE person X the public face of Marginalized Group X.

    I think this is an awesome point. No one person should be the face of Group X, because that’s a stereotype in itself–thinking that any group of people is so similar and uniform that they can be represented by a single person. I don’t know how to make it any less that way, though.

  110. I’m a big gal; six foot four and 300 pounds. I take up space where ever I go. I’ve had all sort of reactions over time, but one of the biggest is that people do not know what to make of me. It’s amusing and sad at the same time; I’m just a human as the next person, despite what mainstream media may say. But it’s interesting how many people assume that I’m either really a man or a lesbian because Gods forbid that I don’t fit the status quo of what’s “acceptable” for a ” normal woman” . Whatever the hell that is.

    Any road, I’ve also been lifting weights for years now and I can tell you from experience that I will never look like man. Not unless I plan on hitting the needles, my female body doesn’t make enough testosterone on its own. It helps me appreciate my own strength all the more, give me a boost of confidence and helps remind me that some goals that aren’t impossible.

    Weight lifting is great for women, especially as we age, it really helps with posture and bone density.

    I do like to work out, but I’m extremely picky about where and what. The personal trainer I have now is wonderful. When I first interviewed him over the phone, one of the first things I said was,” Look, you need to know that I’m a big, fat chick and I need to know that you’re not ever going to have a problem with that. ” He totally cracked up, applauded “my balls” and said to come on down.

    Exercise, like life, is what I’ve made of it. And thank the Gods we don’t have to all do it the same thing!

    And all of you here have been so inspiring to me with your frank talk and open, trusting stories.

    Thank you so much!

  111. I don’t think that the religion example is directly equivalent, because there, we really ARE talking about free choice, whereas with physical appearance, it is not about choice, despite the Gwyneth Paltrows of the world who insist that we can look any way we like (oh, how I love the irony of a genetically skinny blonde white woman saying something like that). My body is fat and remains fat despite many past attempts to make it different. I can’t simply keep quiet about my fatness because it is out there for all to see and cast me as representative of. I can’t choose to ‘pass’ as a not-fat person and thus avoid all the assumptions made by culture about fat people, based on their experiences with other fat people. So, Cat, I don’t think you’ve argued yourself into needing to feel guilty (heh) about wanting other Pagans to ‘act better.’ I can see that as almost defensible. I can’t see it on the fat front, because fat is not a choice. It would be something along the lines of wanting all white people to not be morons like Gwyneth, which she (apparently) has no control over.

  112. @Cat Speaking as a Pagan from a Pagan family, who is lucky enough to have tolerant work people and mostly tolerant school people: I hear you. I’ve felt that exact feeling (mostly at public festivals…yeesh). If they engage in harmful activities without thinking over the harm they are causing to other people, the world, and themselves, then they need to come to that realization as part of the faith. It isn’t our business, however, to tell them that unless they ask for an opinion. Remember, we’re all responsible for our own paths.

  113. I keep forgetting to thank girlfrommarz for her comment earlier about not being able to wrap my mind around ‘fatty’. It feels better to hear someone else feels that way.

  114. I don’t think that the religion example is directly equivalent, because there, we really ARE talking about free choice, whereas with physical appearance, it is not about choice

    The choice/lack thereof isn’t why it’s wrong to make judgments about other people — it’s wrong because other people’s choices aren’t your business. That’s exactly the point Tasha is attempting to make about fat-shaming, that it is still not okay even when you are fat at least partially due to your own actions.

  115. The choice/lack thereof isn’t why it’s wrong to make judgments about other people — it’s wrong because other people’s choices aren’t your business. That’s exactly the point Tasha is attempting to make about fat-shaming, that it is still not okay even when you are fat at least partially due to your own actions.

    Yes, this! It’s okay to dislike or disagree with someone else’s choices, but not okay to judge or shame them for them. Their body, their life, and all that.

  116. Religious affiliation is a free choice, perhaps, but religious belief isn’t. I could no more choose to believe in a god than I could choose to believe the sky is green. I’m just saying this because people who say that religion is a free choice get on my nerves.

    TRiG.

  117. How is having faith in something not a free choice? Isn’t that entirely the point of the concept?

  118. I agree with others that whether it’s choice is morally irrelevant, even though I also think for the most part it’s not a choice, in fat as well as religious beliefs, sexual orientation.

    The “choice” argument and the “good fatty” counterexamples remind me a bit of the “torture doesn’t work” argument. True, it doesn’t work, and perhaps that’s the most convincing arguments for our opponents/critics, but in the end it’s not a strong a position as saying that torture is immoral and we shouldn’t do it even if it did work.

    Still,
    @TRiG: I agree about religious belief not really being a free choice. And also that while I think many people’s religious beliefs are silly, those people should not care about my opinion in that instance, any more than they should care if I thought their clothes looked tacky. I do not want them to care! Seriously. I only want them to care if I think their religous beliefs are actually doing harm! And while I don’t fully understand how they manage it, plenty of people seem to be capable of ignoring the more harmful/hateful parts of their religious texts.

  119. I’m just curious how you guys are framing religion as not being a choice. I mean how is it not a choice, because there are several ways that not believing religion is a choice is really fucked up. So I’m curious, what’s the argument supporting this. There’s a great chance the reasons you have are not fucked up, but since Trig took a stand and Closetpuritan is supporting it, I’d like to hear the reasoning.

  120. closetpuritan PERMALINK

    The “choice” argument and the “good fatty” counterexamples remind me a bit of the “torture doesn’t work” argument. True, it doesn’t work, and perhaps that’s the most convincing arguments for our opponents/critics, but in the end it’s not a strong a position as saying that torture is immoral and we shouldn’t do it even if it did work.

    I realize I’m arguing with a tangent, but I disagree. If people think torturing accused terrorists, who Arab or Pakistani Muslims, will reduce the danger to themselves most won’t give a flying frak over whether it’s immoral.

  121. Also, I wanted to point out that I meant the reasons could be fucked up in a needs unpacking kind of way, not a I think you’re stupid kind of way.

  122. I’m sorry for contributing to a tangent. Also, to me, Alibelle’s questions are reminding me of, “Hey ___ minority, explain yourselves to me!”

    Anyway, do you choose to believe or not believe in fat acceptance, or is it something that flows naturally from your thought processes, experiences, the way your mind works? If you wanted to, could you just decide that you do in fact think that all fat people are not human beings and should never leave their houses because they might gross people out?

    This is how my religious and political beliefs work. I can choose to cover up my beliefs, to stay in the closet, but I can’t really choose what my beliefs are.

    OK, seriously done with this tangent now.

  123. “I’m sorry for contributing to a tangent. Also, to me, Alibelle’s questions are reminding me of, “Hey ___ minority, explain yourselves to me!””

    Excuse me? Minority? Is this the minority of people who believe that religion is not a choice? Because I see no other minority (I wouldn’t even know if you’d be in the minority there) here that I’m asking to explain themselves. Maybe, possibly, I could see you coming from a place where you think I’m religious and I’m looking down on someone who isn’t religious. But I ain’t, I was saying “Hey, person who stated an opinion, could you explain the opinion you freely stated because it made me feel kind of uncomfortable.”

    So accusing me of discriminating or being insensitive to minorities seems a little ridiculous.

  124. Although, I don’t think it’s our opponents, I think it’s damn near everyone who would be willing to have accused terrorists boiled alive to protect themselves. Some would gloat about it, some wouldn’t want to know it was happening, but the overwhelming majority would, I think, be on board with it. And have been.

  125. Regarding religious belief, it seems kind of complicated. I just don’t see how it could be summed up so easily. What about the person who is raised to believe in God, in some form or another, goes through some tough times, and then doubts the existence of God? And then *decides* that God does not exist? Or what about the person who parties hard, gets out of control, and then decides to “find God” on a particular path? Those are considered choices, I would say.

    I think we’re choosing to believe stuff all the time. I know I do.

    @ closetpuritan: I do choose to believe in FA because I hear the arguments for and against it. And the arguments for it sound more reasonable to me. I think people against it are coming from a place of fear, but I still think there’s a choice somewhere in there. I may have fears holding me back in certain ways, but I still choose to have faith in something and move forward with it.

  126. Generally, your choices are only my business if they are directly hurting others. It’s a bit of a complex calculus, because I DO believe in communal responsibility for each other’s actions to a degree–it IS my responsibility to get in their business if my friend says/does something bigoted in front of me, because being silent is sanctioning the behavior, for example.

    That said, the reasons the bad fatty iz killin my health care system arguments don’t work is because the science and logic behind them is stupid/flawed, in ways I think we’ve done to death on this blog many time.

    Re: religion. Faith isn’t like a suit you can put on or off at will. You have faith, or you don’t have faith. You have to work at it, if you have it, but its far from a “free choice.” And to imply that people can just “choose” a different religion (or ANY religion) if it should inconvenience them….more than a little skeevy.

    Re: people of your own religion embarassing you. Yeah, it happens. I feel pressure to represent as a “good Jew” especially during holidays, if I make any sort of special request, never to be seen as cheap. I mean, k’lal yisrael carries with it a certain responsibility … but as a rule, it is better to look to your own behavior before judging others. OTOH, sometimes people *aren’t* making the group look good, and yeah, I get pissed off at rabbis selling kidneys on the black market. Bad choice, guys.

  127. Faith isn’t like a suit you can put on or off at will. You have faith, or you don’t have faith. You have to work at it, if you have it, but its far from a “free choice.” And to imply that people can just “choose” a different religion (or ANY religion) if it should inconvenience them….more than a little skeevy.

    I’m not sure how I feel about this, I honestly haven’t given it a whole lot of thought, but I do agree that beliefs have to be fed to thrive. So I think there’s a choice in that. But people do choose to be part of different religions (converting, or just deciding to be part of a particular path), I see it all the time. Maybe it’s not simple, but it’s there. And from my own experience, I do choose to have faith in certain things and that’s me. I can’t speak for everyone, but I know there’s some choice involved in my own faith. I choose to do certain actions that feed a faith that could otherwise possibly dry up. I’m sure for some people there is less of a choice. Hence my saying it seems kind of complicated.

  128. @ chava: Sorry, I think you were implying something and I missed it. My bad. Anyway yeah, I think I know what you’re saying.

  129. Ok. I’m going to ask something very off-topic AND on the light and breezy side, hope nobody minds.

    Does anybody else have an annual Summer Wardrobe Crisis Meltdown when they have to finally make the transition into warm weather clothes? I do it every year and have to be dragged kicking and screaming towards light summery things. Just wondered if anyone else has this yearly freakout.

  130. I believe that religious belief isn’t necessarily a choice. This is based on my personal experience. I was raised in a strongly religious home and part of a lovely religious community, but I began experiencing cognitive dissonance between their beliefs and holy texts, and the rest of my experience in the world. After waffling for a bit, I decided that I couldn’t half-believe: I either had to fully believe or not believe, not just say I believed and try to act as though I did while sincerely doubting the foundations of the way in which I lived my life. I committed myself fully to believing. I meditated, prayed, worshiped, attended retreats, attended church, attended meetings, and threw myself into study and building the religious community — and it didn’t work. If anything, my study pushed me further away from belief. I couldn’t honestly say I believed. I loved the culture and community, but I didn’t believe in the existence of God.

    To sum up: I tried as hard as I knew how to believe in God, and still couldn’t.

    As a result, I believe that religious beliefs are not (certainly not entirely) a choice. The ways in which one chooses to express those beliefs is a choice. The way in which one chooses (or chooses not to) explore, deepen, and articulate those beliefs is a choice. The faith community in which one might choose to participate in support of those beliefs is a choice. But believing in the unseen? The raw level of believing in a spiritual aspect to existence? Either you do or you don’t. Some people don’t. Some people really, truly CAN’T.

  131. “but I began experiencing cognitive dissonance between their beliefs and holy texts”

    This was kind of the problem I was seeing with this whole thing, especially with Trig. It’s like there’s this idea that you are being more rational, looking through the texts and finding issues with them, not being blinded by stained glass windows or what have you. Like there is something inherently more rational about you, and irrational about them.

    Also, if you believe that people don’t have a choice in their religion isn’t there something deeply fucked up with Trig’s statement about how ridiculous religion is? Isn’t it incredibly offensive that he believes people have no choice in religion and the religions are stupid, so that means there is something wrong with the people believing them when they don’t have a choice?

    Plus, if we don’t have a choice in our religion, then no one else does either and no one has a choice in any of their beliefs which would mean that had little choice in their actions. So we can’t really get angry with that person who yelled “FATTY!” at us from across the street can we? They didn’t have a choice in being hateful, just like in theory I don’t have a choice in fat acceptance (though I know it isn’t true, I struggle with accepting my body and the bodies of others everyday. I make a concious effort everytime to be accepting. I force myself to notice nice things rather than being hateful.).

    There are also some disconnects in the actual arguments:

    “And while I don’t fully understand how they manage it, plenty of people seem to be capable of ignoring the more harmful/hateful parts of their religious texts.”

    How can people possibly not believe in the harmful stuff if religion is not a choice. I dunno, it just leads me to that argument Rush Limbaugh made about how if being gay isn’t a choice and it’s ok, then if being a racist isn’t a choice then it must be ok too. I don’t like anything that comes close to supporting that.

    You could easily say many things aren’t a choice, racism and sizism and sexism are so deeply entrenched in our society that you could easily say they aren’t a choice, but many (most I would think) of us here have overcome that largely haven’t we? Maybe you could say having the strength of character to overcome it isn’t a choice, but I don’t think my personal character is all that strong.

    Bleh, sorry about the novel, but this is a…strange topic. Difficult I guess.

  132. It’s like there’s this idea that you are being more rational, looking through the texts and finding issues with them, not being blinded by stained glass windows or what have you. Like there is something inherently more rational about you, and irrational about them.

    I try really hard not to say this kind of thing to anyone. Really, really hard. But yes, inside to some extent I feel that way, because when I was a little girl going to church felt the same as playing pretend. We all pretend we’re talking to somebody, we all pretend he’s listening. I never felt like it was real and it came as quite a shock to me, as I got older, to find that other people did.

  133. Does anybody else have an annual Summer Wardrobe Crisis Meltdown when they have to finally make the transition into warm weather clothes?

    Yeah, to some extent. It seems like the stuff I think is cute that fits me reasonably well always comes in wintery colors. I want summer clothes, but I am never happy with them. I spend my whole summer in the same jeans and T-shirts I wear under my sweaters in the winter.

  134. Alibelle, you figured out yourself why I reacted defensively to your comment. The intent that you claim didn’t even occur to me until later.

    The short answer to your outraged questions is, the ability to believe (or conversely, the inability to not believe) is not an action. It is based on how your mind works and your experiences in life. This does not, by itself, imply that either believing or not believing is the correct choice. Even saying one is more “rational” doesn’t necessarily imply it’s the correct choice, nor does it imply anything about how “rational” one is the rest of the time. In any case, you don’t have a right for other people to always think that all your decisions are good ones, in religion or in anything else; you cannot demand that they do so because you feel offended that they don’t.

    Yelling “FATTY” is an action. Discrimination is an action. For some people, it will always be more effective to target their actions than to try to to convince them we’re right.

    If libbyblue’s lived experiences make you feel uncomfortable, perhaps the best response isn’t to say how insulted you are by their lived experiences.

  135. …I didn’t find libbyblue’s comments to be implying that she was more “rational” at all. I found them to be respectful and reflective of her own experience.

    Alibelle, we have a choice in the tenants of our religion, if that is what you are getting at. As in, I can be Jewish, and object to certain things within Judaism that I find troubling, and work to change those things. But I’m still Jewish….

    And while yes, I CAN “choose” not to be, the DEGREE to which you seem to be assuming this is an “all things being equal” free choice is more than a little troubling. I cannot choose a religion the way I want to choose what I will have for lunch today. If I don’t like my religion, I can’t just pick a different one. If I am an atheist, I can’t just choose to get religion.

    Some of these comments are hitting close to home for me because I converted to Judaism. So, yes, I suppose I “chose” to be Jewish. (And asshats will occasionally point out that I must have made this “choice” for my husband, or that I’ll change my mind and go back on my choice when I’m older and the kids are grown, or that my choice wasn’t good enough, because I’m not Orthodox. Or that, as a convert, it is a choice I have to keep making every day, or I’m not a good enough Jew/fake/wannabe/etc.)

    Anyway. There was certainly a moment of choice when I decided to go through with the actual conversion process. However, the actual confluence of spiritual and emotional/intellectual/theological factors that led up to that decision–I didn’t really have a lot of control over. I had never had any sort of desire to belong to a faith before. None. Zip. Nada. I mean, I thought I was like libbyblue, I just COULDN’T.* And you can’t, until you can. And then you do. So no…not a “choice,” so much.

    *Ain’t nothing wrong with having no faith. I had no faith for a long time and it is a perfectly good way to be in the world. You have to go with what works for you.

  136. “The short answer to your outraged questions is”

    You need to stop projecting anger on to me right now. Stop it, just fucking quit it. I asked a question about someone’s opinion, calmly and respectfully. Do not claim I was outraged. Stop. And now, if you’re getting I’m angry, you’re not projecting, because I get real pissed when people claim I have emotions that I’m not feeling and that I haven’t stated or hinted at. It’s a really simple way that you seem to be trying to derail my statements and questions. I do not appreciate it.

    “If libbyblue’s lived experiences make you feel uncomfortable, perhaps the best response isn’t to say how insulted you are by their lived experiences.”

    Once again, stop projecting emotions onto me. I was giving her comment as part of what made me feel uncomfortable about the potential implications of the statements about religion as choice. Personally, I used hers because they were more respectful and understandable than Trig’s. I wasn’t insulted by it, I was pointing out how someone might feel insulted, you’re once again assuming a lot about me, since I’m not religious and the last time I want to mass was to look at the artwork in the church and it was the first time in at least 5 years that I had been. I didn’t even take communion.

    I’m simply pointing out potential problematic issues, and you’re taking them, for some reason, as an attack on you. Despite how calmly they’re stated.

    As for everyone else who has commented on the topic, I definitely see where you’re coming from. I guess I understand to an extent, I’m catholic but I’m definitely lapsed. Despite that I still identify as catholic and that’s in a way not quite a choice. I don’t agree with the overall idea, but no one has really expressed it in a way that’s insulting or denigrating. I think I understand where the idea is coming from now, and it will be something to think about.

  137. I’m sorry I read emotions that weren’t there; saying that things are “deeply fucked up” or “Like there is something inherently more rational about you, and irrational about them,” reads as angry to me, but I’ll take your word for it that you weren’t angry.

  138. Alibelle,

    I’m coming back late to this conversation because I spent the entire day walking in the Burren. It was beautiful, and glorious, and deeply awe-inspiring. And that meant I had a short religious debate with my mother in the car on the way home. Ah well.

    You said that libbyblue’s statements were more understandable than mine. I don’t see anything vague or unclear about the statement I could no more choose to believe in a god than I could choose to believe the sky is green. Can you suggest a way I could make this clearer? This is an honest, straightforward question.

    Beliefs are complicated, of course. They’re a combination of who we are and of the choices we’ve made. On both of these, we can be judged.

    Faith, by the way, is a word I tend to avoid because it means completely different things to different people. It’s very easy to talk at cross purposes about faith.

    TRiG.

  139. Like there is something inherently more rational about you, and irrational about them.

    The atheist bloggosphere occasionally covers this topic. Greta Christina is particularly good. I linked to some of her articles above, but that post is still in the mod queue. (I reposted half of the original post, without links, as the post which kicked off this entire discussion.)

    TRiG.

  140. “I could no more choose to believe in a god than I could choose to believe the sky is green.”

    I guess I meant relatable, rather than elitist. Suggesting that believing in god is as irrational as believing that the sky is green, well it seems pretty rude and alienating doesn’t it? Whereas libbyblue saying that she saw contradictions in her faith seems respectful and gentle, I suppose.

    I don’t find it understandable that you would feel the need to insult religious folks, but I found it understandable that she might have noticed issues with her religion and tried to search for explanations that made sense to her.

  141. “I don’t find it understandable that you would feel the need to insult religious folks.”

    I don’t, generally. Sometimes, in certain contexts, perhaps. And I thought the post in which I talked about insulting religious people was still in the mod queue, so where did you read it?

    TRiG.

  142. Tim:

    She’s probably getting it from where you said this:

    “Some people (me) think that all religion is inherently ridiculous and self-contradictory. I wouldn’t worry too much about that, if I were you.”

  143. The “how is belief not a choice?” thing is rubbing me the wrong way too.

    I’m an atheist. Have been since I was a little kid. It’s not a choice. I can’t choose to believe in something that I don’t believe exists. I’m not snarking on anyone who is a believer, which is why I’m refraining from making any analogies, because that could cause offense, but trust me, I personally am not capable of choosing to believe in any sort of deity. If I claimed to believe I would be lying, to myself as well as others. Whatever it is that makes a person a believer, it is completely absent in me and always has been.

    I think as much as atheists need to be sensitive to how they talk about this so as not to cause offense, so do believers. I suspect the reason a lot of atheists (here and elsewhere) react defensively to being asked to explain their non-belief is that it’s a demand that’s made often, and frequently not very politely. Some atheists can also be rather snarky about this, from the other side of the divide. A little tolerance on both sides goes a long way.

    Also backing up what Chava said – I’m not a believer, but in my experience of those who are, they honestly don’t seem to be able to just swap one set of beliefs for another like a suit of clothes. Being a deist, or not, seems to be inherant to a large degree, ie. most people seem to have either believed in the existance of a deity or not from very early in their lives. But the specific form belief takes seems to be very strongly shaped by culture and early experiences.

    Basically I don’t think it’s ever a great idea to ask people to explain what they do or don’t believe about religion, and why, especially not on the Internet where it’s so hard to read tone and intent. It’s just too deeply personal an issue for most people.

  144. “I suspect the reason a lot of atheists (here and elsewhere) react defensively to being asked to explain their non-belief”

    Ok, I’m not getting how you guys are reading me as asking specifically non believers to explain their beliefs. I never ever said that, I never singled out non believers and said “HEY! WHY DON’T YOU BELIEVE IN GOD?!” I don’t give a fuck if you do or not, most days I’m not sure I do (so I’m becoming more understanding of the non-choice thing). I was asking them to explain the idea that no one can pick their religion or lack thereof. I don’t care why someone doesn’t believe in god or does. I want to know why people think that they and others have no choice in the matter. I really did not ask anyone to explain their non-belief at all. Where can you see that in my comments? Atheists maybe got more screen time in my comments because of the main issue I found was the irrational/rational thing I saw the potential for.

    Seriously, don’t care about your religion, at all.

    “Basically I don’t think it’s ever a great idea to ask people to explain what they do or don’t believe about religion”

    Seriously, where do you see this? I did not ask about personal religions, I asked about an opinion two people freely stated about the choice and free will involved in religion, not their religion or their own personal belief or non belief in god. And religion could easily stand in for every other belief a person has, because if we don’t have choice in it, I’m not seeing how we could have any choice in other beliefs. If it makes you feel better we could use democrat/republican set up instead as the belief.

    However, I’m comfortable with the place the conversation has stopped.

  145. I’m not snarking on anyone who is a believer, which is why I’m refraining from making any analogies, because that could cause offense, but trust me, I personally am not capable of choosing to believe in any sort of deity.

    But here’s the thing: atheism is voluntary in the sense that you evaluate the postulates you hold, and decide that belief in a deity is incompatible with them. Yes, it’s the only thing you personally find logically consistent, but that does not mean that you are somehow physically incapable of functioning with different principles. You’re not missing some hypothetical “god” part of your brain. It’s not the metaphysical equivalent of a neurological disability like prosopagnosia. You just can’t reconcile it with your other core principles, and that brings it squarely into the realm of a volitional belief.

  146. “But here’s the thing: atheism is voluntary in the sense that you evaluate the postulates you hold, and decide that belief in a deity is incompatible with them.”

    It’s totally cool to believe religion is a choice, I do, it is not ok to say that just atheism is a choice.

    This is kind of the other side of the coin of problematic issues I was worried about. This seems a bit like there’s something bad about atheists and good about believers. I know you aren’t saying that exactly, but what you’ve written, because it only involves atheism, comes across as everyone inherently believes in god, but might choose atheism.

  147. @Emma B – Um, no, once again, atheism is not a choice. For many atheists, the idea that a deity exists is not something that we ever felt any need to postulate. It feels self-evident that no such thing exists, or could. This is why I was being so careful and polite in my phrasing, by the way, though I’m not surprised not to recieve the same courtesy in return – it happens all the time.

    The problem is what Alibelle is saying above – you’re assuming that belief is the default, and non belief is a considered choice (which you will generously tolerate, but which is framed as being a bit wierd). You’re not even considering that for some people that choice never existed in their minds.

  148. Or to put it another way – if I can refrain from implying that my stance is the default, I see no reason why believers cannot return the favor. But very few of them do.

  149. @Alibelle, sorry, you’re entirely right: that applies to religion as well as the lack thereof, and to individual denominations within a religion. The first choice is to believe or not, and then there’s a whole series of subsequent choices to find your preferred subset — atheist vs agnostic, “open-minded” agnostic vs I-don’t-think-so-but-I-can’t-be-SURE agnostic, and so forth, or on the religious side, Christianity and denomination, or Wicca and preferred tradition, or whatever.

    I’m a lackadaisical Episcopalian myself, and I might casually say that I COULDN’T ever be a Southern Baptist, or a Pentecostal, or a FLDS. It’s true that I absolutely refuse to accept some of the things I would have to profess in order to belong to one of those faiths — but it’s still voluntary, and subject to my rational faculties. If I’d been brought up differently, or had different life experiences, I might very well feel differently on the subject.

    (OT to you, Alibelle: I have been thinking a great deal over the last week about our conversation from the Out of Office thread. Life intruded on my end, and the thread is now closed, so I won’t say any more than that, but I didn’t want you to think that I flounced off and put it out of my head — far from it.)

  150. Alibelle: I applaud you for taking on the conversation that I just wasn’t willing to have. Last night I was strongly tempted to call out some of the issues in this thread (I was going to use the words arrogant and condescending), but said to myself, “Self, do you have the spoons to get into a back-and-forth in what is ordinarily a safe space?” I replied “no” to myself and erased my post without posting it. So, thank you Alibelle.

  151. It feels self-evident that no such thing exists, or could.

    Cassandra: I apologize for being discourteous — I certainly didn’t mean to give the impression that I believe faith to be the “default” setting. (Actually, I think it’s quite the opposite.)

    What I’m attempting to get at is that NO kind of belief or idea, whether we’re talking about religion or math, can truly be said to be involuntary. I believe in the Pythagorean theorem too, because I believe in a whole bunch of other axioms of Euclidean geometry. If I accept those axioms as true, the Pythagorean theorem is the inevitable result — but I’m still making a conscious determination at some point. (Alternately, I could choose not to accept one of them, and find myself dealing with a non-Euclidean geometry where Pythagoras does not hold). Ditto with formal logic, which relies on the three classic Aristotelian laws of thought. You cannot actually PROVE the law of non-contradiction (that a thing can be true and false at the same time), because any such proof inevitably comes back to actually using the systems of formal logic. You just have to accept that they’re true, and everything else in logic, math, and computer science derives from there. However, it’s all still voluntary, since there isn’t any actual way of establishing the absolute truth or falsity of those basic axioms.

    This is actually sort of implied by your statement that no such thing as a god “could” exist. Why can’t it? Either “it just can’t”, which is an axiomatic statement and therefore voluntarily accepted, or “it can’t because of X”, where X itself is an axiom (or can be reduced to one), and is therefore voluntary via transference. At some level, the problem still comes down to non-falsifiable statements (and if you look at it, it gets fractal, because I’m using the laws of logic to frame the problem!).

    Yes, this is all so much metaphysical logic-choppery, and I’m perfectly willing and happy to believe that, given the circumstances of your specific personality and life experiences, faith has never been a viable alternative for you personally. What I’m objecting to is the general statement that affirmative atheism is not voluntary, because as the expression of a non-falsifiable problem, it must be considered as such.

  152. @ Emma B:

    I don’t think anyone is saying religious belief or lack therof is utterly *involuntary.* But you seem to be trying to apply logic and metaphysics to something which, frankly, doesn’t take to it very well.

    ( I mean, have you ever tried to plow through Augustine? Ugh. Anyway. )

    Faith and belief (and I actually count atheism as a kind of belief of its own, fwiw) don’t generally spring from the kind of process you describe here:

    “you evaluate the postulates you hold, and decide that belief in a deity is incompatible with them. ”

    Whether or not they believe (not getting into the particulars of HOW or WHAT) is really nowhere near that calm and deliberative for most people I know, more of a gut knowledge on an emotional and spiritual level. Which, I suppose you would call an “axiomatic belief” under your schema, which one accepts because everything else rests upon it.

    But to hear you call it “voluntary” because it fits into a nice little logic hat, when I personally know people (and did myself for most of my life) wished DESPERATELY to be able to be able accept that “voluntary” belief in God? Kind of irritating.

  153. So, example:

    Galileo deciding to stand up to the religious authorities and reaffirm his theories?

    That would be an active choice on his part. Absolutely, and he had free will to make the opposite choice, which would have been *easier* in many ways for him.

    But I don’t think any of us here would say that that “choice” can be seen as anything but coercive and horrible in many, many ways–which is why the “religion as a free choice” meme can trigger a lot of “Whooooaaah there buddy” statements. Because once you start framing faith/lack thereof as something you can just up and change—well then, why can’t you just ask people to change it?

  154. Well, see, this is where I get to a point where I feel uncomfortable stating what I actually believe because I try not to offend believers, and I know that it probably will. I’m basing this on a lifetime spent discussing these things with family members who are religious. So, if you’re going to read on, fair warning – I don’t know of any way to explain this that some believers might not find unpleasant to read, though I’m trying to be as polite and respectful as possible.

    From my point of view, the existance of God isn’t something that needs to be disproven, and that’s sort of what I meant about deism vs atheism being inherant. The way I always felt was that the existance of God doesn’t need to be disproven in order for one to believe no such thing exists and more than the existance of fairies does – in the absence of any evidence that I can actually verify that these things exist, I’m going to assume they don’t. Which is actually in accordance with scientific method – if you want to prove that a thing exists, and you can’t actually point to it and go “see, that’s it right over there”, then you need some sort of proof. You can’t just say “I assume X exists because I feel strongly that it does – if you don’t agree you have to prove me wrong”. Like Chava said, if you want to get deep into religious philosophy all this has been hashed out over and over again, and none of the arguments made by believers have ever been convincing to most atheists.

    But I don’t think there’s any way for atheists to prove that God doesn’t exist either (I would say this is because you can’t prove a negative, but I recognise that many believers find that idea offensive, so I wouldn’t say it at all in most contexts). And I don’t think we should try, which is where I part company with the more, um, aggressive, recruiting kind of atheists who seem to enjoy talking down to religious people. The way I feel is, OK, so I don’t think this exists, or even that it could exist. However, if someone else does believe it exists, and that thought brings them happiness, what business is it of mine? As long as they’re not forcing me into anything, they are entitled to believe whatever they want. We don’t have to agree.

    But I do think that that basic sense of belief, or its lack, is to a large extent something we’re born with, and I think the way Emma B initially framed things was a good example. What you (Emma B) are describing as the process by which you think people become atheists sounds to me like what people who’ve had belief and then lost it experience. Atheism as I know it is something different – there was never any sense of that something that might possibly exist to consider and dismiss in the first place.

    (Though I strongly suspect that most of the assholish crusading atheists are former believers who lost their faith, on the general principle that those would be the people most likely to feel angry and defensive about it. To me the fact that people have belief doesn’t anger or upset me, it just baffles me.)

  155. What Cassandra said. (I feel that this could be a bad pun, somehow)

    See, probably because I came from being agnostic/atheist to what I feel I can loosely call “a believer” (Spinozan panentheistic, let’s not get into it), I never felt the need to make religion make *sense.*

    Religion DOESN’T make sense. It isn’t SUPPOSED to make sense. If I want something to make sense, I have science and logic. Which I actually like to keep out of my religion, fwiw.

    (“making sense” here, of couse, being defined in a fairly strict empirical sort of way. My religion makes emotional sense to me, or I wouldn’t do it. And no, it isn’t problem or contradiction free in that way, but I never, ever ever, try to put my science or logic hat on at the same time as my faith hat. My head would go splody. And then I’d have to go live at the Creationist park.)

  156. Because once you start framing faith/lack thereof as something you can just up and change—well then, why can’t you just ask people to change it?

    That’s where we get back to other people’s choices not being any of our business.

    I think it’s just as problematic, if not more so, to frame religious belief (including atheism) as anything other voluntary. If you don’t have any choice about believing in $DEITY, the implication is that you’re not responsible for whatever horrible things $DEITY demands that you to do. Likewise, if you don’t believe that one can choose whether or not to be an atheist, how can you reconcile that some people do believe in $DEITY without also concluding that those people are Wrong? And if the $DEITY believers are Wrong, well, why can’t you force them to be Right, by whatever means necessary?

    I would argue that most if not all of the Big Bad Things of religious history stem from exactly that basic logic, rather than the idea that all religions, or the absence thereof, are of equal weight and that one should freely choose among them. I was actually a guest at a church last week where I heard an approving(!!!) sermon on 2 Kings 22-23, the text of which is about an Israelite king who’s so faithful that he destroys other faiths’ places of worship, kills off their priests, desecrates their dead, and institutes forced conversions of the people. That’s not the kind of conclusion you arrive at by thinking your own religion is a choice, and no better than anyone else’s choice — it’s what you get at by thinking yours is the only possible correct way. Similarly, I would say that Galileo is actually a counterexample, precisely because he was NOT operating in a theological vacuum; the whole reason he got into trouble is because he was contradicting the “absolute truth”, as dictated by the Roman Catholic Church.

    Faith and belief (and I actually count atheism as a kind of belief of its own, fwiw) don’t generally spring from the kind of process you describe here:

    No, most people don’t start with the formless void and work from there. However, as we mature from young children to adults, we DO examine the things we’ve been taught and the things we hear from others, and compare our own position to them — and often enough, we change our minds. No matter what tradition you’re brought up in, at some point you become aware that there are other people who believe differently than you do, and you engage in some brief period of asking yourself, “Are they right?” Even if you immediately answer “No”, even if it’s as simple as a child wondering why other people go to different choices, even if you’re just trying to figure out what to answer when someone asks you whether you’re a believer, you’re still addressing the question. You don’t have to go through all the steps of the proof to be following the same general process. Again, it’s not so much which alternative you pick as the recognition that there ARE alternatives.

    But to hear you call it “voluntary” because it fits into a nice little logic hat, when I personally know people (and did myself for most of my life) wished DESPERATELY to be able to be able accept that “voluntary” belief in God? Kind of irritating.

    I’ve read some Augustine, and some Aquinas, and some Bertrand Russell too for good measure. I do take you seriously when you say that the absence of faith can be incredibly painful, and I know you’ve got some specific issues with your particular faith and conversion. I don’t mean to trivialize that, or imply that it’s neat and easy just because it’s voluntary. And yes, I know that it is difficult to successfully apply logic to this particular area — that’s specifically what I mean when I say that it’s non-falsifiable. I also acknowledge that any one person’s circumstances may be so very constrained that it is PRACTICALLY impossible to make a free and valid choice (for example, you’re being tortured to force you to convert). However, I stand by the general assertion that religious decisions are fundamentally voluntary in nature, regardless of the specific conclusion being arrived at.

  157. “Religion DOESN’T make sense. It isn’t SUPPOSED to make sense.”

    I feel this is very true. And of course it’s why words such as “Hope”, Faith” and “Belief” are so closely related to religions. Anything so essentially abstract that cannot be pinned down remains elusive, but also remains limitless, beautiful and filled with endless possibilities. The very mysterious nature of faith is also it’s strength and attraction. If we try to define it and capture it in a little bubble, we kill it utterly. I feel we are all meant to find our own space within or outside of it – whatever brings us our own sense of peace – and no amount of debate will ever catch this particular butterfly, because it flies differently for everyone.

  158. OMFG.

    I hadn’t checked into this thread because I assumed Snarky was handling it. I finally look, and the ENTIRE FUCKING THING has turned into a debate about religion with no actual relation to the post.

    I really don’t know how many times we need to point out that this is a blog, not a message board. I’m in a thread-closin’ mood today.

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