I realize that the world is very complicated.
I, however, am not.
I intend to make this as simple as it gets.
Over the weekend, I shared a video on my FB page of a gentleman who was performing an incredible ballet routine. Spinning, twirling, doing incredible and incredibly dizzying moves that inspired me to feel like maybe I could give it a shot, too.
He was also obviously overweight.
And, where the overwhelming majority of the women on the page all got the gist of why I shared the video with them, one decided to snark on him, poking fun at how “his weight” made him lose his balance in the video instead of seeing how inspiring it was to watch him get back up and keep going anyway.
“So, I’m really the only one who noticed that his weight almost made him fall?”
I replied, “Maybe the rest of us shrugged it off because we know that dancers fall during their practices all the time,” and kept it moving.
Except, no. This wasn’t enough.
This… this person decided to launch into a tirade about how dancers are not fat, they are in excellent shape, how any dancer whose been pregnant would tell you that “all that extra weight permanently shifts your center of gravity,” and that ignoring or denying his fatness while watching him slay his dance routine was tantamount to “making excuses for a lethal pathology that kills those afflicted sooner rather than later.”
I replied, very simply, “bye.” I subsequently banned this person from my Facebook page. Because NAWL.
Before I begin, let’s make something clear. Stop comparing obesity to pregnancy. Pregnancy shifts your center of gravity because you are constantly leaning backwards to prevent your growing heavy belly from tipping you forwards. It is 9 months of drastic and dramatic change to how your body functions, it is a very different situation from someone who has had years to get used to a larger body. Gaining weight is something that, barring a handful of circumstances, happens pretty proportionally depending upon your sex (or the hormones you’re taking.) Either way, NO.
Secondly, this exchange proves exactly why I am 100% anti-fat-shaming.
If a person decides they want to set a weight loss goal, and they ask me for advice on how to achieve it, the first thing I tell them is to find an activity they love and stick with it. Become a competitor in it. Commit to being better in it. Transform yourself into a notable and viable contender for excellence in your craft. Cross-train to become stronger and more capable in your craft. Make it a part of who you are and what you do. And approach it that way starting from day one, regardless of how much you weigh.
What happens to that person when, upon giving it their best shot their first day, they’re reminded by some asshole that “people who do this sport are thin and you’re not?” What happens to that person’s morale and desire to stay active when their response to such an inane comment is for the hater to look around, yelling “WHY ARE ALL YOU PEOPLE PLACATING THIS LETHAL PATHOLOGY AND OTHER MULTI-SYLLABIC WORDS TO MAKE MY BULLSHIT SOUND SO MUCH SMARTER THAN IT ACTUALLY IS?”
What happens to that person, who only wanted to find a way to be active that makes them happy? They go hide. Because that’s what shame does.
It’s the same kind of shame that you retreat into with your pint of ice cream when you realize your spouse cheated on you with someone more stereotypically beautiful.
It’s the same kind of shame you feel when your mother disses you… again… for not having lost that weight yet.
It makes you hide. It’s like touching the fire on the stove the first time. You realize it’s hot. You decide to never touch it again.
Experiencing shame in a space you thought was an understanding and encouraging space makes you decide to never return.
And, don’t get me wrong—there are people who believe that shame is a motivational tool. I’m not one of those people.
I had a trainer “moo” at me once during an activity because he thought it’d make me feel more encouraged to go harder. I literally burst into tears. I’ve lost almost 200 pounds, and not a single one of them was due to someone thinking I needed to beg and grovel for my fat ass humanity at the feet of a moronic stranger. I’ve never done anything even remotely similar to anyone, either.
People, irrespective of size, are human. They have feelings. Being mindful of how we discuss issues is not about avoiding hurting a person’s feelings—it’s about understanding that support is a better motivator than shame. If I, as a trainer, have a plus-size client or student in my class? Guess what I do? I introduce myself before we begin, let them know if they need any modifications to let me know, and then I trust them to know—or be willing to learn—their own bodies. Because that’s how we treat humans. That’s how we teach humans. And that’s how we become better trainers and better students. It’s how we both hone our respective crafts.
I’ve spent a lot of time listening to women talk about their bodies, their lives, their stories, and I’ve heard a lot of women say a lot of awful things about themselves. The world we live in tells people this is the way they should think about and treat themselves when they aren’t the ideal. They should have to punish themselves, in ways akin to what’s found on a Biggest Loser ranch and bonus points if they do it publicly, in cruel and inhumane ways until they fit the ideal. The overwhelming majority of people already punish themselves emotionally and, in many cases, nutritionally, starving themselves until they can go out in public without an asshole saying something nasty about their bodies. They punish themselves—what makes you think they need an outside person to heap it on for them?
I cannot control the way people talk about their bodies, or the way that body criticism reads to people who are differently triggered. I cannot all-out close comments on the blog, because I need to be pushed back on sometimes, and I’m not so arrogant as to believe I answer every question that one could possibly ask about a given topic so there’s no need for anyone to ask me anything. For those reasons, I can’t say that this space is “body positive.”
However, I can do what I can to ensure that this is not a space where fat hatred rests comfortably.
I can make sure that those who make the personal decision to change their bodies have information that supports them on a journey to a healthy mental and physical relationship with their bodies, instead of one that pits their brain against their bodies and leaves them confused as to why they cannot win. I can make sure that I contribute resources to help people come to their own conclusions about their goals of their own free will. I will not always do it properly, but I can make sure that I listen to people who push back on something I’ve said, and take that into consideration to make me and this space better. I can do what I can to model an anti-negative body image, and show people that self-compassion and strong support systems result in far more progress than shame and self-hatred. And I can pat them on the back and shout a “YAAAAAAAAAAAAAS BISH!” from Brooklyn when it’s necessary.
The world is full of nasty, rude, condescending jackasses. I don’t need to be one, and I don’t need to give anyone an additional space to be one.
The person I banned? They followed up our little convo with an e-mail telling me all the reasons why “Fat Earthers”—as in “flat earthers, the people who still believe the earth is flat, the people who believe something inaccurate in the face of overwhelming evidence of the contrary,” get it? clever!—are ruining the discourse over obesity talk in this country because 1) cuts to physical education, 2) preoccupation with food corporations and their profits, 3) income stagnation resulting in people working harder for far less money and 4) the reality that obesity can and does have an impact on a person’s quality of life are all more important than the “fee-fees” (also known as “feelings” for the uninitiated) of “fatties.”
Those are four important and necessary conversations that we should have. But guess what? I’ve been having those conversations on this blog for seven whole years, and it will be eight years this July. And not once have I had to demean, devalue, debase, disrespect, degrade, or disregard a single person or their feelings or their dignity or their humanity. If you can’t say the same, then sit back and let the adults do the talking.
Because, trust me: I could take a sheet of paper, and scribble down a list of all the things I give a fuck about. Your thoughts and feelings about fat people would not be on this list. And if you can’t respect that, then you can’t respect me, and you are not welcome here.
It’s that simple.