7.24.2010

The enemies of the good

I didn't want to seem like I was bagging on withoutscene over at BFB in my last post. The frustration is very much not with the content of the post, but rather those who keep insisting that Fat Acceptance stop to grovel at the feet of those who disagree with us over their imagined slights. Everything withoutscene said in the post was right, and not surprisingly she also made a very good observation in the comment section there which I'd like to quote...

I do think that people encounter people like me and somehow get the impression that I'll look down on them if they have body shame. Like, they find it hard to understand that despite the fact that I celebrate my body and I'm a fat activist, I still struggle. As if I become hard to relate to when I'm not wallowing in body shame or something.

This is actually something I think about a lot. I imagine people look at me and think I am an extremely fat accepting individual. And I am. I had a unique journey to FA in that I was exposed to FA and very strongly believed in before I was fat myself. I very unintentionally found myself in position to be a testing ground for my own adopted ideals. I'm extremely grateful for all this as I think it saved me from a lot of the body shame most people experience in our society. Which is all to say that I, myself, consider myself to be unusually fat accepting sometimes.

I still struggle with body shame every day of my life.

In the past I have seen people justify abandoning fat acceptance because they have those feelings of shame. The truth is all of us do. That is why having a community is so important because we really do need to share our strength. Every last one of us. I don't think I'd be speaking of turn to suggest that ever fat activist you see blogging or organizing is someone who very much needs the community of FA on a personal level. The most gung-ho of us still struggle. What we are talking about is not perfection. We cannot afford to make perfect the enemy of the good. No one in FA will scorn someone for having doubts or for dealing with self-loathing because all of us deal with the same things. What we can do is share our strength in responding to internalized body shame.

The way I've always looked at it is, "Accept that you will feel the shame, but do not accept the shame." We can't fault ourselves for not being perfect, but that's not an excuse to not keep striving for it. We recognize our limitations without letting the limits define us. We choose to be defined instead by what is possible in our lives. The body shame will be there, but it will not defeat us. We may never do away with that nagging doubt, that lingering shame, but what we can do is control what we do about those feelings. We can control what we become because of them. Do we resign ourselves and let the shame win? No. That is what we can do. We meet this challenge and we push on and I believe that this is something we can all do.

So, can you be in fat acceptance and still feel body shame? Absolutely. I'm not sure there is anyone who doesn't at some moment in their lives. What defines you is how you choose to act on that shame. FA is about how we act in the face of the shame. Its not defined by some perfect ideal of living free of shame, but our choice to not let that shame win. In time, things can get better. We can all be on different places on the journey, but so long as we share a destination we are striving for, we have the bonds of community. We are are all moving in that direction, and THAT is what defines us. No one is keeping score on where we are on that journey and in a lot of ways it doesn't matter because the pitfalls and risks we face as individuals are the same as we all face. There is just no meaningful hierarchy for that. Whoever you think is super-fat-accepting is far more like you than you think, but let that say something about YOUR potential rather than their limitations.

10 comments:

Sleepydumpling said...

Thanks for this post. Most of the time, I do ok with the whole body shame thing. But occasionally it crops up again and it's hard work to not let it spiral off into the "old ways". It's through reading how other people cope, and that I'm not alone in sliding back down that ladder a rung or two that really propels me forward.

Brian said...

After I posted this, I was Googling to refresh my memory on something I thought I once said. Serendipitously, I instead stumbled upon someone bashing me for advocating the perfect over the good. They reminded me of where a lot of those complaints come from. Not from people on the journey towards fat acceptance but feeling inadequate from not being far enough, but from people who've stopped in the journey and turned around.

That's what I was getting about with the destination analogy. What matters is the direction we're headed on the road. Lots of people in lots of different places have had amazing things to offer a discussion about fat acceptance because no matter where they were personally, we were all headed in the same direction.

Those who accuse US of advocating for perfect over good aren't there generally speaking. Most of the complaints I've seen are from people who want to make fat acceptance about facing the opposite direction. That is where fat acceptance cannot yield to the strain to be all things to all people. It cannot coherently advocate for body acceptance and endorse body shame at the time. We accept that we will have body shame, but we cannot endorse it. We cannot accept it, even as we accept that we will struggle with it.

Fat acceptance is for everyone, but its not everything to everyone. It has to mean something for it to matter in our lives and in the lives of others.

Obviously, not everyone is going to be ready for the journey right now. And that's fine. We'll be hear when you are. The only way we can, though, is you accept that you aren't on the journey, that you aren't on the struggle we are on. That you don't demand we be inclusive the shame. That is why we need fat acceptance to mean something. You may not be ready for it, but be honest about that and don't redefine FA into something you can be ready for. FA is what it is and I want it to be there for you when you can join us. That sometimes means not being there right now. This is why FA needs to be willing to say, "No, that's not fat acceptance" sometimes. We need to mean something. If that's not acceptable to someone else, that is THEIR problem and the error if they feel they get to tell fat acceptance what it really is just so they can define it into something they are ready for. That's just not how it works, and those who start talking about some other fat acceptance that endorses fat stigmatization and internalized shame... well, they are just telling us they don't care what we think or what we say. They are just going to insist on over-writing us. THAT is too far. THAT is what we must stand up against. This clash isn't over the person who is struggling today. Its over the person who rejects us today. No matter how much some try to blur that line, its actually pretty clear and we should reassure ourselves of that.

Brian said...

It can be very hard work, Sleepy. You hit on what's important in that you are working for it. You are working to keep going forward. We all slip a rung or two sometimes, but what unites us, what gives us strength is that we keep looking up the ladder. We don't slip and then just let go and let the fall take us. Where we are as individuals is meaningless next to that bond. Its why it is so important to preserve.

colorwheel said...

I had a unique journey to FA in that I was exposed to FA and very strongly believed in before I was fat myself.

wow, that is exactly what happened to me, and i've not met anyone else (until you) who's had that sequence. when i was in high school (and not fat) someone handed me a copy of shadow on a tightrope and i was converted to FA for life. it went right into my heart and brain and soul. i became a loudmouthed FA advocate, and i got some odd looks for it. many years later, when i became fat myself, i was all the more grateful that FA was already in my life.

(also, hi, i'm the person who uses your straw fatties image as a blog icon. :))

Tiana said...

I just wanted to raise my hand as another person who discovered and believed in FA while still (naturally) thin and only became fat later.

Eve said...

Last week I had a terrible few days of body shame, compounded with feelings of guilt for being a bad FA activist. Intellectually I knew that feeling bad about my body wouldn't make me a bad fat accepter, but it was harsh. At the same time, I felt grateful that I was able to keep from going into a complete shame spiral like I would have before the days of FA. Thank you, FA, years of therapy, and supportive life partner. But yeah, I think I'm pretty strong most of the time and I get it too.

Notblueatall said...

"We cannot afford to make perfect the enemy of the good." I love this!
I had this rad comment and all and then my internet died. Sadly I doubt that I can remember exactly what I wrote, but here goes:
Our shame, like our bodies, is our own. We are individuals with multifaceted personalities and lifestyles. We decide to take on whatever attitude we want for ourselves each day. We choose to react to hate or compliments or any situation differently. Some of us simply choose not to react to such things at all and that is fine, too.
Thank you for this well written post and giving a safe space for fatties to read/speak. You Rock My Socks!

Brian said...

I always loved that Voltaire quote and its apt here. If we think the end result of FA is perfect self-acceptance, we set ourselves up for a failure. A goal can always be out of reach, but still be a goal. That's hard to internalize in a culture of fat stigmatization and its obsessive focus on goals to measure one's worth by, but it really stresses how FA is a different path.

Amy said...

Brian, dude! Comments, photos, a new banner -- AWESOME!

I didn't post a comment over at BFB because I don't have a profile there, but I wanted to tell you I appreciate your dedication to hitting this note. I cried when Kell left; I had found her blog only short time before that whole sitch and was bowled over by her clarity. It was also clear to me that she wasn't the person others were painting her as; one of my favorite posts of hers was the one right before she left where she talked about telling someone, calmly and kindly, that "I don't talk about diet and weight stuff with people." Her anger was so obviously coming from the fact that we are CONSTANTLY bombarded with weight loss stuff and to find that on a supposedly FA blog? I totally understood where she was (and where you are) coming from, and because of that, I knew that my radical FA voice would not be welcome in most "FA" spaces.

Anyway, I think we corresponded about it at the time, and I am glad that you have persevered, I always enjoy reading your writing. I have given up most internet participation in the last year after endless dustups in what I considered my home community, and have done a lot of painful thinking about inclusion/exclusion, purity, principles, etc. because of that. I think that the perceived conflict between your POV and Vesta's is one that exists in every movement or ideological community, and one that we still have to figure out how to reconcile. Of course some (many?) people aren't going to be COMFORTABLE in a movement that is about challenging society's deeply held beliefs -- how could they be? And yet, how do we support people in their discomfort at being challenged, so that they can stick around long enough to change and join up, if they decide they want to? I must say your points keep on making sense to me -- saying, no, we don't hate you, but this is what we stand for, and we're not going to change that so that you can join us. YOU have to change if you want to be with us, and we'll be here when you do.

So glad you are out there fighting the good fight. And you look smashing in that suit.

Brian said...

I disagreed with Kell during that dust-up, but I absolutely understood her frustration which is why I became the go-to target when Kell was pushed out. I'm frankly upset that it is still brought up as an example of why we need to be more inclusive of dieters, because that episode DID exclude people. It did exclude perspectives and viewpoints, but it wasn't dieters getting pushed aside. There are people who could have learned from who do not participate and someone should be asking why we aren't more inclusive of THEM.

The whole issue with dieters in FA is built on fantasies that I frankly think even someone as radicalized as Kell didn't actually endorse. There is this notion that we must expel people for having unapproved thoughts, but that's absurd. Even with Kell, the issue was imposing a discussion of weight loss on a Fat Acceptance space. It wasn't thinking those things. The issue is when some dieters cross the line into imposing diet discussion on us and demanding we affirm the righteousness of weight loss. THAT is what we've always talked about. Not these groundless straw men attacks about thought policing.

We need to not be afraid to have convictions and to stand by them and to let them make some people uncomfortable. I want people to stick around and learn from us, but that requires THEM to have an open mind. They have to be willing to learn. They cannot dictate terms to us. That's just not how it works. This is our show and we would do those people a disservice if we disrespected them by offering them only as much as they can presently accept. We have a duty to challenge people and that will make some people "uncomfortable" but there is a difference between that kind of "discomfort" and personally shaming or belittling individuals. We cannot afford to err on the side of not doing enough to present our alternative to fat stigmatization. The power dynamics in place already gravely disadvantage us, we cannot place ourselves further behind.

I think the unreported truth here is that there are a lot of dieters who lurk to listen or who find common cause without asking FA to limit itself. There are dieters who treat FA with respect and we don't hear about it because they aren't out there complaining about FA is oppressing dieters. The people who have drawn complaints from myself and others are the ones who want to impose weight loss discussion on us. Those who self-righteous proclaim the rightness of their weight loss efforts. Who complain about diet blogs not being allowed on the Fatosphere feed. Those who want to talk about "their" fat acceptance because they think they have a right to redefine a decades old civil rights struggle because it doesn't fit snugly in the preferred belief structure. That's what we cannot put up with any longer. This has never been about the dieters who take part in a manner which respects us. Its just about those who disrespect us and that goes way beyond why or how they disrespect us.

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