Beyond the Filters of Human Decency

Back during JALC’s first lifespan, I took some small enjoyment from watching my WordPress dashboard to see what sorts of google searches brought readers to my posts. (I even used that as an excuse for a quick one-liner-type post way back when.) Google has since redone its programming, so there’s much less of that possible on JALC’s current life cycle.

Nowadays, most everything is hidden behind an “unknown search terms” privacy curtain. I haven’t the slightest level of understanding as to why certain terms making it out from behind the curtain to appear on my dashboard, but since I know the dashboard list is a mysteriously reduced and redacted version of the “real” list, I just haven’t really paid that dashboard feature much attention this time around.

Until I got back form my trip Sunday night and saw a new phrase in that screen field:

we hate ragen chastain

In case you don’t know, Ragen Chastain is a fat activist, someone I would say is out helping lead the movement. She has a book, an active speaking calendar and is currently co-organizing an online Fat Activism Conference that will take place from August 22-24. And she has a blog, a blog that is one of my go-to sources to continue expanding my awareness and evolving my thinking around fat acceptance and health at every size.

I would wager that Chastain and I wouldn’t see eye to eye on everything. For example, my guess is that she would consider my recent HCG journey simply to be a capitulation to diet culture, even though I contextualized it for myself as a detox experience. And, you know what? If she did have some questions about my motivations, and how mixed they might have been, I can respect that. ‘Cos Gaia knows, I had to do a lot of my own inner discernment to keep unwinding my old weight loss programming so that I could keep the goals of my HCG journey distinct from losing weight. And the uncomfortable reality is that no matter how hard I worked to keep my own focus in the detox lens, my decision to do HCG meant that I financially supported a company that makes its living off of diet culture, women’s insecurity, and size policing. (Ugh.)

So yeah, I can respect how Chastain and I might have differing opinions on some things. But the level of puzzlement and shock I felt about that search term being used to find this blog is largely driven by the great level of respect I feel for Chastain, her work, her voice. (My best guess, looking back at my old posts, is that the phrase must have made contact with one of my own FA/HAES rants where I quoted one of Chastain’s posts and then talked about “hating” some fat-shaming shenanigan-or-other.)

SPmobThe other piece of my upset about having been, even ever-so-peripherally, connected to that phrase is the general sense of despair and discouragement I feel about the ugly way that people treat each other, out here on the Interweb.

Often, I see the most virulent, soul-staining ugliness in misogynist response to feminist writing of some sort or other. For further commentary on this subject, see Chastain’s blog, Shakesville, Jezebel, Pacific Standard, Forbes, and the Washington Post.* To quote Shakesville:

Every time, the people with whom I share this experience express shock. It is always, always, a surprise that a woman who does public advocacy is subjected to this sort of abuse.

And it shouldn’t be. Because every single woman I know who does public advocacy is subjected to it. . . .

And then we are told not to talk about it. We are told that we empower the people who do this to us. No. NO. Victims do not empower abusers. People who refuse to acknowledge that abuse do. People who tell victims to be silent do.

I am not going to be silent. I am tired of people being surprised. I am tired of hearing “I’m sorry this happens to you.” I don’t want shock and I don’t want pity.

I want your fucking awareness and I want your fucking anger.

I want us to talk about the real costs of being a woman who does public advocacy. I want us to acknowledge how the costs of providing a safe space is that we stand on the line and absorb massive amounts of abuse. I want us to make noise about the people who create an atmosphere in which women are discouraged from participation.

And I want people to stop telling me to be quiet about it.

In addition to the politicized, misogynist harassment, there’s the general garden-variety flavors of awfulness.

Actress Zelda Williams, daughter of comedy great Robin Williams who died Monday from an apparent suicide, has quit social media after receiving taunts from Internet trolls.

Williams abandoned her Twitter and Instagram accounts Tuesday after saying at least two people were sending her Photoshopped images of her father’s dead body and other disturbing messages.

“I’m sorry. I should’ve risen above,” she wrote in her final tweet. “Deleting this from my devices for a good long time, maybe forever. Time will tell. Goodbye.”

The episode proves that, with the anonymity of the Internet, some people will be horrible no matter the situation. (CNN)

buffy_hush1Though I don’t know enough of the facts to say this for sure, I can’t help wondering whether Williams’s daughter was receiving more online harassment than his two sons, and whether she was targeted for that higher level of harassment because — well, because we live in a fucking kyriarchy, that’s because. And if my vague suspicions are true, well then there’s a very fine line indeed between “garden-variety” Internet awfulness and the misogynist endeavor to silence women’s voices.

I don’t often use the word “hate” to describe my feelings for people. Cultural trends, political positions, social patterns, even individual actions — those I’ll use the term for often enough, but not so much for referencing an individual person, in their entirety. So suffice it to say that I’m really kinda hating the way that JALC was connected (however temporarily, however peripherally) to someone on just that sort of hate-filled trip.

* PS– Am I the only one who found it odd that the WaPo’s main angle was to talk about how online harassment was viewed by or affecting the female writer’s male partner? I’m not saying, I’m just saying…

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Image credits: 

South Park: http://designaterobertson.blogspot.com/2012/05/your-south-park-tigers.html

Buffy: http://mentalunlockdown.com/2014/04/19/hush-ed-or-hearthstones-positive-result-from-the-gentlemens-visit/

Baby Jiu Jitsu

A Dance of Appreciation and Avoidance

Baby Jiu JitsuOne of my other weekend activities was to get a somewhat-overdue haircut (and a color touch-up, though that was more on-time).

I had a haircut scheduled two weeks ago, but my hairdresser got sick, and I just decided to grit my teeth and wait till the Saturday coloring appointment I already had on the books.

The upshot of all this scheduling information is that my last haircut prior to this one was the weekend before I flew down to begin the HCG protocol. So, my hairdresser hadn’t seen me since this whole journey began. And I guess I look different enough now for it to be noticeable.

“You look great! Have you lost weight?”

Welcome to the compliment minefield.

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[HAES/FA Basics Break]

Just for clarity, let’s recap some of the reasons why this particular “compliment” is deeply problematic and not very complimentary.

As a start, here’s Regan Chastain at Dances with Fat:

People who undertake weight loss attempts are often encouraged to motivate themselves by hating their current bodies.  When they are successful at short term weight loss, they are encouraged to look back at their “old body” with shame, scorn, and hatred.  And that’s a big problem.

Not just because at some point the person will probably start to think “if everyone is talking about how great I look now, how did they think I looked before?” but also because the vast majority of people gain back their weight in two to five years.  Then they are living in a body that they taught themselves to hate and be ashamed of, remembering all of those compliments. Yikes.

Tracy I at Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty unpacks some of the deeper implications of this compliment, and its collusion within a structure of the Foucauldian panopticon:*

It reinforces the idea that it’s okay to let people know that we are monitoring and judging their bodies. One thing that shocked my friend in the story I opened with was that she really didn’t even know the person who commented on her weight.  And yet the person felt completely entitled to say something. What kind of a twisted world do we live in where the state of our bodies is fair game for comments from whoever feels like making them?

Finally, here’s a meditation from Michelle Parrinello-Cason at Balancing Jane on the question of what exactly we’re praising when we compliment weight loss.

What if I say “Have you lost weight? You’re looking great!” to someone who has been starving himself for weeks. Now I’ve reinforced that behavior.

What if I tell someone she looks great when she’s actually suffering weight loss as a side effect from a deadly disease (as happened to this woman’s friend who was suffering from Lupus).

We don’t know what we’re praising if we’re only praising a result. If our goal is to encourage people to take care of themselves and to be healthy, then shouldn’t we make sure that we’re actually encouraging people to, you know, take care of themselves and be healthy?

If someone gets up an hour early and went for a run, we should praise that. That’s hard work.

If someone cooked healthy meals all week long for themselves and their family, we should praise that. That’s hard work. [. . .]

If we rethink the way that we give praise, we can begin to restructure our norms. If we praise hard work instead of outcomes and acknowledge beauty wherever we see it and the people who are doing that hard work don’t get any thinner, we’re still reinforcing positive, healthy changes. Isn’t that what we really want to value as a culture?

[/Break]

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For all that I agree with these multiple analyses about the problems behind my hairdresser’s statement, I also agree with Golda Poretsky at Body Love Wellness about the root cause of these “compliments”:

I think people are, in some ways, nearly literally blinded by weight loss culture. So when they read something or someone as beautiful they make an automatic connection between beauty and weight loss. I really don’t blame people for that. I think that most of us who have woken up from weight loss culture have been truly hurt by it (or have great empathy for someone close to us who has been hurt by it), so people who haven’t had that experience often just see our current weight loss culture as normal.

So the question becomes, what do you do in the moment? Depending on the context and your relationship to that person, you can handle the compliment of “You look great. Did you lose weight?” in many ways.

Among the options Poretsky lists are saying a simple thanks, setting a boundary against public discussion of your weight, or using humor to redirect the conversation. In the moment on Saturday morning, I didn’t select any of those precise options, though I feel as if I kind of rolled them all together, a bit.

I thanked her and said I’d been doing this detox diet for a number of weeks, limiting my food to lean proteins and fresh produce. I was sure some weight loss had occurred as a side effect of the detoxing, but that’s not my focus.

“Do you have an ultimate weight loss goal?”**

“Nope,” I repeated, “that’s not my focus.

And that’s where we left the topic. Me wanting to acknowledge and appreciate her desire to say something nice and kind, while also jiu-jitsuing my way out of the specific value proposition (thin=beautiful=virtuous; fat=ugly=lazy cow) she was unconsciously peddling.

* I stumbled across this blog tonight looking for good links to use here and I am already head over heels in love with Tracy’s intelligence and insights.

** You see, this bit shows as much as anything how deeply unconscious and blinded we are by the weight loss culture. When an otherwise lovely young woman hears a statement about how weight loss isn’t my focus and then without blinking an eye disregards that assertion to ask me my weight loss goal, there’s nothing else to call that but a symptom of cultural insanity.

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Image credit: http://www.groundnevermisses.com/2012/02/striking-grappling-traditional-mma.html

 

A Culture of Shame

What are all these military people going to do when they lose their jobs? And then I thought, well, hang on: we’ve got all these service industries now, things like psychotherapy, and the military approach to psychotherapy would really be kind of perfect. Really efficient and fast! You know, “Listen, you are nothing. You are a worm. And if you don’t get that mother complex solved by 0400 hours, you are dead meat!”

~~ Laurie Anderson, The Mysterious “J”

Gunnery seargent hartmannWhen I was writing about Fat Acceptance/HAES a couple nights ago and had to stop midstream, as it were, I was very aware that I hadn’t really said everything about fat shaming that I would want to. I mentioned the ways that fat shaming carries negative health effects for the target of such stigma, but I didn’t really unpack the general insanity of fat shaming. Or, to be more precise, the bananas nature of how fat shaming is usually justified as a means of informing/inspiring some poor fattie into losing weight and getting healthier.

Of course, those two concepts don’t even really go together, because weight /= health, but I’m using that phrasing to indicate the double level of bananas that’s going on here. First is the delusion that weight and health are equated, but even if that particular myth were true, I still trip over the insanity of the expectation that shaming and stigmatizing someone will inspire them to make positive change in their life.

Now, just in case you’re silly enough to think that engaging in fat-shaming will inspire some one to get on the healthy-eating-and-exercise train, let me give you a quick hit to a study from back in 2007:

We have seen over the years that it does not work to make people feel worse about their bodies. The data are striking — talking about weight, worrying too much about diet, focusing on it increases risk not only of eating disorders, but also of being overweight.

So, no: shaming not effective. (As Kate Harding once said: Special Delivery from the Duh Truck.)

One more thing: considering how steeped our culture is in anti-fat rhetoric, does a fat-shamer really think that his or her observation of my fatness is something that’s going to be news to me — or to any fat person?

So I’ll admit: considering that these two notions — 1)  fat people already know they’re fat; 2)  shaming doesn’t do anything to build positive choices, but instead just beats someone down — are so very common sense indeed, I’ve pretty much assumed that anyone who does indulge in fat shaming (no matter how prettily it’s couched in concern trolling language), is just kinda being an asshole.

Fat Heffalump pretty fully eviscerated that particular behavior pattern a few months ago when she pointed out that You’re not the First to Tell a Fat Person…  Taking direct aim at concern trolling and claims that “I’m just worried for your health!” she has this to say:

No you’re not.  If you were, you would be standing beside me fighting fat stigma and advocating for equitable health treatment for all.  You don’t give a damn about the health and wellbeing of fat people.  You don’t care that fat people can’t get treatment for everything from the common cold through to cancer because they are all blamed on their fatness and they’re just given a diet, not actual treatment.  You don’t care that the public vilification of fat people causes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  You don’t care that fat people are dying because they are so shamed by the medical profession that they can’t bring themselves to go back to the doctor when they are ill.  Claiming you care about our wellbeing is a lie.

And the inimitable Regan at Dances with Fat more recently pointed out that Being a Jerk is Not Actually Brave:

We are aware that you think “Fat bad, thin good, shame the fatties grunt grunt grunt”. We can hear this message  386,170 times every year.  I’ve been fat for 17 years, which means I’ve heard it around 6,564,890 times.  How can you possibly think that hearing it 6,564,891 times is going to improve my life?   Being 6,564,891 does not make you special or brave, it makes you one more doody in a big ole pile of poo.  It is an act of hubris that is almost beyond understanding to not only be a bully, but to ask for credit by claiming that your bullying is an act of bravery. […]

Or you could swim against the stream and treat fat people like the intelligent human beings we are- not like confused misguided sheep who need your strong guidance – and encourage others to do the same.  Let there be a fat person who only hears 386,169 messages about their body because you refused to pile on the shame and body hate.  That’s brave.

But, if I can come down off my own high horse for a moment, it’s worth mentioning that — however common sense it may feel to me that shaming has no positive effect on a person or situation — the fact remains that we do a lot of shaming in this culture.

And not just about fatness. Almost any aspect of life that comes up for judgement and it deemed to “need changing” comes up for that Nike drill sergeant (“Just do it!”) so beautifully satirized by Laurie Anderson, above. And maybe I’m right, sitting in my own little superiority-tower: maybe we’re all just assholes.

Or maybe there’s some deeper delusion we’re all trapped in, to honestly halfway think that the way to change a life’s path is to try and block off the “undesirable” option with a pile of shit and shame.

Something worth further examination.

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Image credit: http://rcoll-rorscharch.blogspot.com/2013/11/the-worst-kinds-of-fathers.html