will you hold my hand will you hold my hand

I've been going to the gym on a semi-regular basis. It's hard to articulate how weird and complicated this is for me. I look forward to it every day that I go; while I'm there I don't think anything at all about the way my body looks or the way anybody else's body looks. I just go, enjoy the feeling of my limbs moving and stretching, and stop when I'm not having fun anymore. I don't compete with the guy on the treadmill next to me, I don't try to go further and faster than last time, and I don't pride myself on being able to go until my body gives out. I don't pride myself on remaining unsympathetic to my own biological needs and limitations.

In a way, I'm still faking it till I make it, because I still feel every one of those old impulses skimming beneath the surface of all of this progress. It is so hard. And I like to act like it's easy, but I've been thinking that I'm doing myself and every other woman a disservice by hiding the work, just like I did myself and every other woman a disservice by hiding the fact that I had an eating disorder when people used to ask me how I stayed so thin. All of that hiding and pretending is so damaging. It perpetuates the notion that these impossible feats can be accomplished through ordinary means; if I can do it, anyone can! We are all on an even playing field, bootstraps, etc.

So, here's this: I had an eating disorder for ten years. I've been solidly recovered for about five years, give or take. And it's still very, very hard.

It's hard to recover a sense of being connected to your body, of living inside your body and thinking of it as part of yourself, when you've been trained all your life to sever that connection. (Caveat- I've been diagnosed with bulimia and anorexia, but I've never dealt with binge eating, so I can't speak to that experience. It's impossible to ever speak for all of us. That's actually something I want to talk more about at a later time.) To take a lot of pride in subsisting on very little and working so very hard and tolerating so much discomfort and pain and pushing through that. You have to learn to ignore the things your body tells you. You have to be able to look at yourself and convince yourself that what you see isn't real. That everyone else's judgment is right and yours is so wrong it will never matter.

I think many girls aren't taught to DO THINGS with their bodies when they are growing up. We don't have a utilitarian appreciation of what our bodies are capable of. We don't learn to be proud of what they can do; we learn to be proud of how they can look. Which, of course, is a game no one can ever win. The bar will always be raised or shifted; the closer a person is to attaining that ideal look, the more we are encouraged to scrutinize them and rip them apart (celebrities without makeup! beach cellulite!! 'oh she's so perfect, I HATE HER,' etc.); and even if someone does somehow manage to be today's perfect beauty queen, tomorrow she'll be too old to be fuckable, and will therefore be worthless.

We really can't win this game. We're not meant to. But I want to discourage people from blaming women who try really hard to win it anyway. Think about that course of action critically, perhaps, but do so with this in mind: it is EXTREMELY hard to opt out. I have tons of advantages- I'm small and hourglassy (which is how we define a "feminine" figure, apparently), white, have Anglo features, etc., AND have supportive feminist friends and a supportive feminist therapist, and it is STILL really, really hard for me to try to opt out. I can only imagine how difficult it is for women who don't have all of those advantages. And when you're powerless, sometimes you're willing to settle for the scraps of imagined power that you're offered because at the end of the day you are still just trying to survive. So please, don't place all of the blame on the scabs, so to speak (especially if you are a man, in which case you really can't understand what this experience is like). Blame the system that pits us all against each other and never even allows for a real victor among us.

I'm trying my best to not play the game. Part of rejecting that cultural script, for me, has been forging a real connection with my body. Figuring out that language, which I purposefully erased from memory so long ago. Learning to enjoy being in it and using it to whatever extent I am able. I'm the one who lives inside of it, so I'm the one whose approval of it is most important- no more holding myself to a set of impossible standards to which I don't hold anyone else on earth.

It's a process. Some circumstances make it easier than others. At times, passing feels like a matter of survival. But instead of turning on one another for not living up to whatever standard we idealize, I think one of the best things we can do is talk to each other and stop hiding how fucking hard it is from each other.

*I think this probably goes without saying, but I'm not trying to imply that this is all about preening for the male gaze; but I do think that many of these pressures are sold to us using the idea that if we don't accept these standards for ourselves, we won't appeal to men/find partners


laser beams and gamma projectors

Wow, this blog title certainly became a self-fulfilling prophecy, huh? I'm trying to write more frequently. I'm overcoming a crippling case of perfectionism, which is...something I want to talk more about later. But something's come up and I'm just going to lay it out here without worrying about getting it perfect; staying silent until you have things JUST RIGHT is utterly ineffective, so I'm trying to knock it off. Anyway!

I recently gave a speech to persuade for a communications class I'm taking. I chose to argue against the conflation of thinness and fitness and debunk some myths about the "obesity crisis." I was really nervous, especially because nearly all of the students who spoke before me included some fairly intense yet utterly casual fat hatred. In the end, though, my speech was very well-received. This is in part because I am a practiced and effective public speaker; but it is also due in no small amount to the privilege I have as a thin person. And I want to talk about that.

Think of it this way: when you're privileged, you're granted a certain amount of authority and credibility that you haven't had to earn. You also have the benefit of emotional distance from a particular social stigma. Why NOT use those advantages to advance social justice? As a thin person, I have an advantage when talking to other thin people, or to people who are bigoted against fat people, because it appears I have no ulterior motives; no one is going to try to shut down my arguments or stop listening to me because they sense that I'm coming from a place of self-serving bias. Since I'm thin, they infer I have nothing to gain from speaking out against fat hatred.

It's important to note that I am emphatically NOT saying that what I have to say about how fat people are treated in this country is more valuable or insightful or meaningful or important than what an actual fat person has to say. In fact, of course, it's quite the opposite; I will likely never have first-hand information about what it's like to be fat. I certainly don't have that information now. I'm coming from a less-informed position than any fat person is and what I have to say reflects the gaps in my knowledge and experience. I think this is the part of social stigma that is most difficult for me to stomach sometimes; people who are oppressed and marginalized have very fucking important and valuable information about the experience of oppression and marginalization, but by virtue of being members of an oppressed class, their voices are considered less valuable, less informed, and less capable by those who could most benefit from actually listening to what they have to say.

In short: bigots are most effectively addressed by members of their in-groups. So if you are in the advantageous position of being part of that in-group, and care about social justice, I think it is your responsibility to do three things.

Seriously, please, shut up and listen. Don't be so eager to be an ally that you forget to actually be an ally. This isn't about you, so don't try to make it about you. Men- if you care about women and want to be a feminist ally, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen to women. White people- if you care about people of color and want to be an antiracist ally, the best thing you can do is shut up and listen to POC. Thin people, wealthy people, able-bodied people, straight people, cisgender people, etc: don't use activism as a convenient way for YOU to get up and be the center of attention and decide how these conversations should proceed, what constitutes progress, etc. That is taking advantage of your privilege in a way that harms the people you aim to work with. Don't speak FOR people; relay information on behalf of other people. There's a difference.

If you don't think knowledge gained from lived experience is as valuable as knowledge that comes from a book, a lecture, a class, or a person with a degree, then you need to check yourself. Period. There are many barriers to acquiring an academic understanding of social issues, especially for members of oppressed classes. Someone who hasn't been able to purchase a place at a university can tell you a hell of a lot of things about the impact of oppression on the lives of the oppressed, and that's information that you CAN'T buy your way into. So please don't presume that a person who lacks formal education has nothing insightful to say, or that such a person needs you to launch into a paternalistic explanation of how to articulate anything about their life. Please, stop it. It is so elitist and frankly embarrassing.

It's SO hard to do. It really is. It fucking sucks to feel like you have to risk alienating the well-intentioned, or even the not-so-well-intentioned, who say or do fucked up things. Confrontation is very uncomfortable. Etc. But the thing is, if someone says or does something hateful or ignorant in your presence, things are already pretty fucking uncomfortable. Right?
I'm the first to admit I'm not the best about this. There are plenty of times when I don't speak up. I ALWAYS regret it. Always. Especially so because I KNOW how frustrating it is when people who want to be my ally do so only behind closed doors. Frankly, I don't need any secret allies, and neither does anyone else.