Shapeling cggirl shared a story in the comments to the self-esteem thread that I imagine will sound familiar to many of us.
when i was like 20, i was talking to my mother (who is a wonderful person and who i don’t blame for the culture into which she was born, which caused her to have these attitudes and inflict them on me). i was trying to get her off my case, because she was horrified that i had decided to accept my own body as it was and was no longer willing to tolerate her saying anything about what i eat, or my weight, or anything.
i said to her, “look, you’ve spent your whole life worrying about your body and trying to diet and still you never reached a point of feeling good with your body.”
so she said to me, deadpan: “but at least i was TRYING”.
At least she was TRYING to hate herself into being smaller! At least she was desperately wishing she could shrink her body to a more socially acceptable size! We’ve all heard it before: if you’re going to be fat, the least you can do is try to be less fat, even if you know it won’t work — because if you don’t try, then you’ve failed everyone else.
There’s an insidious logic here that usually remains unarticulated (as there so often is in fatphobic arguments), which is that if you accept yourself as you are, then you’re undermining the effort of those poor suckers who are trying to fit in. Saying you’re “trying” to not be fat is agreeing to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, whereas if you decide NOT to perpetuate the cultural illusions of fatphobia, then you make the people who DO obey those maxims look, well, kinda stupid. There you are, dressing fabulously, enjoying food, and feeling good in your body, while all those other people are trying to hide, avoiding gutbusters like carrots, and desperately trying not to be in their own skins. No wonder you make them mad. If you’re not trying, then what the hell have they been doing all this time?
I’ve noticed that evangelical dieters and anti-feminist women often whip out this type of response to suggestions that people’s (especially women’s) bodies and desires should be accepted, recognized, and even celebrated. This is why dieting kerfuffles happen periodically within FA; this is why debates over makeup and high heels will never be resolved in feminist circles. We all make certain concessions to our dominant culture to get ahead or stay afloat, so when we see others who don’t feel forced to make those particular concessions, we get jealous, and we get angry, and then, too often, we get desperately mean. This is why you often hear people say things like, “But men don’t notice how women dress! Women only do it for other women” — complete bullshit, of course, but the truth is, groups do tend to police themselves. It’s what we’ve all been trained to do, every single one of us, and it’s one of the most important habits to break on your way to self-acceptance.
Remember, self-esteem is not a zero-sum game. Your self-acceptance does not magically negate someone else’s conformity; instead, it threatens to show that conformity for what it is (a punishing survival strategy in an oppressive culture) instead of what it’s idealized as (moral superiority, work ethic, individualism). It is much, much easier intellectually to blame yourself for not fitting in than to realize that the whole system has been rigged all along. No matter what your culturally “undesirable” characteristics are — your body shape, your race, your gender presentation, your sexuality, your level of ability — you can’t actually rack up “social acceptability” Brownie points by hating yourself. At the end of the day, you’re still you, with those same characteristics, and people still perceive you as a person with those characteristics whether you’re hating yourself hard enough or not. There’s no permanent record that says you were on Weight Watchers for three years so you don’t really count as fat anymore; there’s no aura around you that says “I’m really a thin person waiting to get out.”
Pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Don’t apologize for who you are. Don’t feel bad about making those poor suckers look foolish — they only want to blame you because it’s so painful to blame the whole damn culture. “Discipline” and “hard work” are not moral absolutes; they’re only worthwhile if the goal you’re pursuing is worthwhile. Hating yourself is not.