Wednesday, November 24, 2010
Has Being Fat Made me a Better Person?
I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality
I recently read an incredibly insightful book about racism/white supremacy, called Trojan Horse: Death of a Dark Nation. One of the chapters in the book discusses the "Dead White Women's Club", those news stories that gain epic status due to the fact that they concern a missing/dead attractive white girl/woman. In this chapter, there is a hypothetical situation in which a Black woman calls a member of the media out on the lack of coverage for stories in which the victim does not fit into the "Dead White Woman" mold. She asks the woman "Are you white?" The reporter, feeling a bit put out by the questioning, tells her that yes, she is. She has NO ANSWER when she is asked WHY the only stories that are given any consideration are those of white women. Then the reporter is asked "Are you fat?" and is then told "Because if you are fat, you might as well be Black!"
That little fictional anecdote really made me think. I have been told really care about racism and white supremacy." His comment was based on the idea that if I had grown up accepted by my white peers, I would feel no need to fight the injustices of the white supremacist system. I could not tell him he was wrong, because I DO NOT KNOW. I AM fat, and I always HAVE BEEN fat. Would I have been a different person if I had grown up a blond, bubbly cheerleader instead of a fat "geeky" chick? Maybe so... but if that is the case, then I am grateful for being a fat girl... it has made me a better person.
A few weeks ago, I had a discussion with a man who is very active in the struggle against white supremacy. I brought up the portion of Trojan Horse that I referenced above. He said that the authors had made a very astute observation, that it did seem like a fat white woman is given the "other" status by white mainstream society. He said that when he does come across white women who are actively anti-racist, he can usually look at her and figure out why. And that most of the time, the reason is because she does not meet the white standard of beauty and has thus been rejected. He postulated that a lot of white women who have been relegated to the "other" category would STOP being anti-racist activists IF somehow they gained acceptance among their white peers.
In other words, his belief is that a lot of white women who say they want to fight racism do so simply to "get revenge" on the white collective which has rejected them. He also feels that women with this motivation could very easily be swayed to support the white supremacist system IF circumstances changed (for example if there wasmassive weight loss) which caused them to be more "acceptable" to white people.
Of course, my next question was if he believed that of me. And he told me that I have proven myself over time to be willing to fight for what I believe in, and to be genuine. That in the end, it did not matter WHERE or HOW I got my inspiration to fight injustice, because I was in fact doing it, and have shown that I am dedicated to the struggle. And truthfully, I cannot imagine myself becoming a skinny woman sometime down the road and subsequently turning my back on all of my ideals because I have "been accepted" by white people.
My personal belief is that my struggle with my weight (and the treatment I received because of it) sensitized me to issues of prejudice, discrimination and injustice. Now, I am NOT trying to claim that I know what RACISM feels like, since even as a fat woman, I STILL benefit from white privilege, but I DO know what it feels like to be treated differently because of what I look like. And maybe that has fundamentally shaped my ideals in a positive way.
I cannot say that my motives in fighting racism were 100% pure in the beginning. Maybe they WERE shaped by a desire to fight the people who had rejected ME based on my weight. But, as my friend told me "It doesn't matter HOW you got to where you are... the important thing is what you do once you get there!"
And I like to believe that I will always keep fighting!