Two observations sent to me recently by thin friends:
I am sitting at my desk waiting for layouts and reading my Nepali phrasebook. To differentiate between the ser and estar equivalents, it tells me how to say I am a Nepali. (“Ma Nepali hun.”)
Next, it tells me how to say, “I am fat.” “Ma moto chhu.”
There it was, page 11. The book is written by a Nepali. Would you EVER see that phrase on page 11 of an American textbook?
If only they followed with my favorite adjective in Nepali– applied to absolutely everything:
“Ma raamro hun.” I am beautiful. I am good.
I like to see what people put on their vanity plates. Yesterday I saw one that made me think of you: ACTL SZ 2. Apparently this woman needs to flaunt the fact that she is an “actual size 2,” not a fake size two like all those fat size fours out there. She should be soooo proud of her accomplishment.
I think I’ve said it before, but one of my biggest fears when I decided to start fat blogging was what my friends — most of whom are thin — would think. I knew there was an audience out there for this stuff (though I had no idea there would be so many of you so fast — THANK YOU!), but it was an audience of strangers. And as Heidi noted the other day, it can be a hell of a lot easier to reveal even your most intimate secrets to a bunch of faceless strangers than to your closest friends.
And the fact is, before this blog, most of my close friends didn’t know that I believed in fat acceptance (some didn’t know there was such a thing), or that I’d finally sworn off dieting forever. If the subject of my weight came up, most of them would just say I wasn’t fat — meaning, of course, that I don’t fit the negative stereotypes of fat people, and I shouldn’t feel bad about my body, two things that are true but still don’t make me not fat. But until last winter, I couldn’t bring myself to ever say, “Hey, you might want to think about why you associate the word ‘fat’ so strongly with negative characteristics you don’t associate with me, you can’t even process the thought of me as a fat person, despite the ample (HA!) evidence that I am one.”
I mean, obviously, I’m relatively small for a fat person. But that’s exactly what I am — small for a fat person, not big for a thin person. Not in some non-existent category most frequently described as, “Well, you’re not exactly thin, but… you’re not fat.” And definitely not just a floating head with a big brain and some nice hair, completely detached from any body, which is how we often see people we love, I think. I am plus-sized. I am clinically “obese.” I am fat. And it’s okay.
I didn’t say any of that to my friends for a long time. Hell, I never really said it to them — I just started writing about this shit, knowing they’d read it. And I was nervous about that. What if they thought I was deluded? What if they thought I was just making excuses so I wouldn’t have to diet? What if they thought I hated thin people? And most dauntingly, what if they thought I was being stupid — not looking at or understanding the evidence, not thinking critically and drawing reasonable conclusions? I can handle my friends thinking I’m clumsy, loud, ranty, spoiled, weird, overthinky, depressive, half-crazy, terrible about returning phone calls, only moderately reliable, chronically late, and chronically untidy — mostly because I am all those things. I couldn’t handle them thinking I’m not smart. (I mean, shit, that’s practically all I’ve got going for me, in light of the above.)
As it turned out, I had nothing to be nervous about. There was a little head-scratching among my friends at first, but what I’ve heard most often from thin friends in the last few months is, “You know, I just never thought about this stuff before. It’s really interesting.” I’ve also heard that my blog is helping with their body images, helping them examine their beliefs about fat, helping them see that this is a social justice issue, and helping them see how fucking omnipresent exhortations to lose weight are in this culture — and what an effect that can have on anyone’s self-esteem.
And now, I’m hearing that they’re starting to notice the little things, too. A vanity plate. A line in a Nepali textbook that would never appear in an American one, because we’re so goddamned fatphobic. How awesome is that?
Not one friend has said, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” or “Aren’t you worried that you’ll just encourage people to be unhealthy?” or “It’s okay for you, since you’re not really fat, but what about people who are?” or “Seriously, the Harvard School of Public Health says you’re wrong, dude.” None of the stuff I was afraid of. Plenty of strangers have said those things, but none of my friends. (Not to my face, anyway.)
Since I first read it, I have never forgotten Joy Harjo’s line, “The world begins at a kitchen table.” One of the big stumbling blocks to the fat acceptance movement is the real possibility of not being taken seriously, of being dismissed as a bunch of excuse-making nuts. (Though I think that’s changing rapidly at the moment. As I said to Spillah the other day, in the “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” progression, I think we’ve officially tipped from being laughed at to fought. Which means all that’s left is the winning.) But I know I was afraid for a long time to start talking about this stuff to the people who were already predisposed to take me seriously, to respect my intelligence, to consider what I was saying on its merits. Now that I’ve done that, friends with no dog in the fat fight are on board, to varying degrees, because they trust me. Because I’ve earned a credibility with them that has nothing to do with degrees or professional experience. The world begins at a kitchen table.
Some days, it feels like there’s nothing we can fucking do about all the anti-fat messages out there, that the problem is just too big to be approached, that we will never get the attention of anyone who matters. But you know what? Nobody matters more than the people we love. So why are they so often the last people we tell about stuff that’s really important to us?