Still Feminist, Size Positive, and “Actually” Fat

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This is a comment I received on Facebook regarding my most recent blog post here at MsBehaved.com.  I wasn’t surprised to receive a comment like this, just disheartened, because I thought I’d made it clear in my article that my ideals were intact even though I did something that is, from the outside looking in, against them.

It wasn’t an easy decision to decide to lose weight.  I felt that it went against everything I believed about size politics and feminism.  For most of my adult life I’d always associated exercise and conscious weight loss of any kind as behavior taught to us by the media.  Any and all attempts to change one’s physical state neutralized any effect one could have as a feminist and a fat activist.  Any expression of displeasure with one’s own body was obviously influenced by the beauty standard, and being a “victim” of that mentality immediately made a person useless in those realms.

Now I will talk about my own experiences in dealing with policing in my chosen communities.  Personally, I have experienced a lot of peer pressure from the fat community as well as the feminist community to constantly pretend that there’s nothing bothering me.  We look at each other and seek out perfection, and we’re quick to vilify one another for not exuding flawless self-confidence.  I knew I was taking a risk by admitting to having never been happy with my weight gain in college, as it was triggered by a very traumatic event in my life.  Looking at myself always reminded me of those days, the fear and the pain and doubt and the hate that made me “let myself go” (and please keep in mind that I’m talking about myself here, not you).  I’ve already had to deal with hateration from other feminists for calling myself sex positive while personally not having an impressive amount of sex, and having to hear shit about finally being brave enough to pursue something not really popular with my community was a bummer, but not shocking in the least.

I tried to explain some of this to the commenter.

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…but she didn’t concur.  And I wasn’t surprised…until I saw her reason why.

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Apparently her real issue is with the fact that I used a scale and told people how many pounds I lost.  She (and others, I’m sure) immediately interpreted my sharing of this information as boasting, and I think that points more to a reader’s own thought process than mine, the writer’s.  I chose to use the scale because I am 100% honest when I say that I have never attempted to diet before in my life and literally had no idea how to track my progress.  It was months before I decided to use a scale, actually, because I knew that I was standing on a slippery slope.  Scales are dangerous, crazy-making things.  Weighing oneself can turn into an obsession that permeates all things, makes you turn down your grandma’s best cobbler or angrily refuse a home-cooked meal due to the presence of carbs.  The number on the scale is what gets most people started on eating disorders, so I wholeheartedly understand the commenter taking issue with me calling my article fat positive while mentioning that I did something that most would view as not.  I do not, however, agree with her that I’m no longer fat positive just because I weighed myself.

It’s clear that 23-year-old me and the commenter probably would have been best friends because I’d obviously negated myself as a feminist and fat activist by sharing that information.  I could have just weighed myself in secret and not told anyone, then written an article about getting happy and running for fun and eating whatever whenever and oh guess what? Looks like I lost a few dress sizes!  Who cares amirite?!

I cared.  I really fucking cared, and I am not above admitting that I was not happy with myself however-many pounds ago.  I have never tried to exude an air of perfection, either as a writer or activist or person.  I suppose that since I’m in the public eye to some degree that I have some sort of an image to uphold, but it’s never been the image of the perfect feminist fat grrl blogger.  Because I’m not.  None of us are.  We go home and we get in our rooms and we tear ourselves apart just like a lot of other women on the planet, then shove it way down somewhere invisible and act like it doesn’t exist.  I denied myself all the femme wonders of the world until about 2007 because I was so disgusted with the beauty standard and assumed that all women showing flesh only did so for the appeasement of men.  I shit-talked any girlfriend of mine for dieting and silently questioned her commitment to the cause.  I forgot about the original feminist concept of autonomy and decided that my brand of feminism should be everyone’s brand.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: feminism in its simplest form is doing what you want when you want and with whomever you want.  Specifically, it involves making a decision for yourself free of the expectations and social pressures of your particular group or culture.  Some say that I’m not a feminist because I stepped on a scale and then told people about it, but to those people I would ask: how feminist is it really to claim that I’m not a feminist or fat positive because I did that?  What about feminists who wear makeup every day?  What about feminists who shave their body hair?  What about feminist sex workers?  What about black feminists who process their hair or wear weaves?  Are they suddenly traitors to their cause because they participate in activities that we, as a political movement, once railed against?

And seriously – I’m still fat and happy, y’all.  The commenter really got under my skin when she attempted to quantify what is and isn’t fat (“as an actual fat person…”).  As you can see, she had no excuse for such a blatantly adversarial comment.  Didn’t even address it.  My belly is sitting on my thighs right now.  My “chicken cutlets” (those gorgeous fat pockets under one’s arms) are spilling out of my sports bra as I type this.  I’m a fat person.  As soon as I reached puberty, I gained weight.  I’m not meant to be thin and I don’t intend to fight my body into that sort of a look.  It’s fucking stupid that I have to describe my body to our readership in order to combat what I feel was a body-shaming comment from a member of my own community, a comment that I believe was meant to deflate my sense of pride towards this accomplishment.  Why the hell do we do this to each other?

A few years ago I became aware of my own tendencies to compete with and police other feminists for flimsy reasons, and I work hard to make sure that this behavior doesn’t become the norm for me.  It’s also important for me to keep away from people who have this tendency, but that’s difficult to do on the internet, and as a blogger I suppose I’m kind of asking for people to crawl out of the woodwork and take issue with my perspective.  My other fat friends support my decision and they understand that my own weight loss process is not a reflection on them and does not communicate any unspoken personal disgust towards fatness.  They can read that article and not see it as a size-negative piece because they didn’t start reading it for the specific purpose of calling out what they would perceive to be negative or traitorous language. Calling out bad behavior is great because it keeps us on our toes and in contact with our ideals, but blatant policing and judgment can come from a completely different place, a place that makes us feel better when we pinpoint the shortcomings of others.  Competition has the potential to ruin us, people, and I’m not in this to win Mx. Feminist of the Year.

I write because I want to talk to the world, entertain and inspire people to some degree.  I shared my story for the same reasons, and it was tagged fat positive and feminist because it is those things.  Getting on a scale and memorizing the number doesn’t make me less fat positive or less feminist, and neither does admitting that I did so.  And that’s because my reasons don’t match the reasons that we all know to be misogynist and size-negative in origin.  If it’s okay for me to wear lipstick for no reason then it should be okay for me to lose weight for good reasons, reasons specific to me and me only.

Read more from Rashaun Ellis here. 

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Comments

  1. Thank you, Rashaun for breaking this open and sharing your truth. It’s sad that every time a new marginalized group reclaims their power, it’s almost a given that there will disputes within the group. That we judge each other much like those who oppress us, which divides us further. We make up rules and use them to hurt each other, rather than be curious, because your experience might threaten my version of reality. Hugs to you, brave woman!

    • Rashaun Ellis says:

      Thank you Ilah! It’s all just a big bummer and I didn’t want to address it at all at first, but in the end I felt that silly infighting in marginalized groups and subcultures really needs to be addressed. Why kick each other when there are so many people out there happy to do it for us?

  2. I couldn’t agree more! I’m so glad that I’ve stumbled across your blog because I’ve dealt with some of the same criticism too. After having my first daughter I decided to lose weight. For me it came down to both health reasons and also because I did not have a healthy relationship with food. I was using it to suppress my emotions and not deal with issues that I was having. However, I have also heard criticism that you can’t choose to lose weight but still remain body positive. If you’re interested in hearing more I discuss it in this post: http://www.bralessinbrasil.com/2012/07/me-talking-about-talking-about-weight.html

    It all boils down to the idea that you’re trying to fit females into a certain box. Sure, there’s the “traditional” box of wife, SAHM who has to look pretty all the time and keep the perfect house but isn’t just as bad if we say that a feminist has to act a certain way? That we are no longer individuals to pursue our own interests, dress the way we want to, love who we want to, weigh what we want to? The idea that in order to be a “true feminist” you have to act, look and think a certain way bothers me deeply. Instead, it seems to be a distraction from the bigger issues like why are women still getting paid significantly less than men? Why are the stats so horrible when it comes to women in high up positions in politics, business, etc? Why are maternity leaves so short and the resources for women so few and far between?

    The funny thing is that I grew up in a very conservative, patriarchal environment. You know who loves to paint these stereotypes of feminists that fit into a certain box? People who are against feminism. Those who benefit from a patriarchal society. It’s a lot easier to convince women that they are not feminists if all the feminists are supposed to look/talk/act/think a certain way and a woman doesn’t fit into those exact standards.

  3. Oh. My. God. Reading this blog post is like reading everything in my head. I haven’t even read the original post yet – can’t wait to – but I’ve been dealing with the same thing. Obviously not on a public level like you though. I started running in February because I wanted to run. That’s all. The more I did it, the more I loved it. And even though I didn’t really change much more than that, my body has changed unbelievably in this time period. I’ve lost weight and inches and I feel better, mentally and physically. But I can’t say that to anyone but my best friend because I’m *terrified* of the backlash like this. I’m incredibly conflicted about being happy with myself and what I believe and advocate. I’m excited to see the ways my body will continue surprising me with what its capable of achieving and how it responds to the challenges I give it.

    Thank you so much for this post. Really. It helped! 🙂

  4. Thanks for writing about this so openly. It’s a pretty thorny topic. Like you, I don’t diet, but when I started getting active it resulted in a modest weight loss and coming at it from a Fat Acceptance/HAES perspective, I found it really disconcerting, for lots of reasons.

    Lots of folks in FA will say, flat out, that long-term weight loss is impossible or infeasible, and that pursuing it is futile. Some of us have spent our lives yoyo dieting. So it’s refreshing and empowering to step away from the social expectation that we lose weight, and I think it’s important to allow people the choice to do that. But it’s wrong to give someone a hard time for telling their story, even if it fits within a socially accepted narrative and challenges the way we’ve thought about our own story.

  5. It’s an amazing article for all the internet users; they will obtain advantage from it I am sure.

Trackbacks

  1. […] Still Feminist, Size Positive, and “Actually” Fat (msbehaved.com) […]

  2. […] as harmful. It’s similar to my beliefs on weight loss while remaining body positive (and Ms. Behaved had a great post on this recently).  In the end, it’s a distraction.  Just like the whole stay at home mom vs. working mom or […]

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