I spent the weekend with my boo’s family. They are all dieters who talk about weight gain and calories. For the first time it didn’t bother me. It didn’t change how I ate or how I felt about my own body. Does this mean I’ve graduated to some special level of fat awesomeness or should I still be trying to have the fatphobia conversation with them?
I have many thoughts about this, and I want you to know that they are Virgie-specific and I know not every fat activist would agree with me. That said, I think it’s amazing that their diet talk didn’t bug you or affect your behavior. I would say that’s a big deal, and you deserve to give yourself some accolades and a cappuccino for that.
It is really hard to be immersed in a group of folks who aren’t “your people.” It takes physical energy to do all the family things that families often want to do over a holiday weekend (even if it’s fun, your body is still working).
It takes emotional energy to figure out your needs while also negotiating theirs.
It takes mental energy to chat them up. If your boo’s family is anything like my boo’s family, they want to do mental Olympics over dinner. I didn’t grow up getting into heated debates about Keynesian economics while chowing down on BBQ, but that’s the culture of his family and I have learned to prepare myself for it and also engage in a way that feels authentic to me — rather than trying to “keep up.” This is a skill I had to teach myself because I grew up in a hella co-dependent family that did not encourage individuation (the skill of holding it down for yourself and recognizing your inherent value no matter what).
Even when we’ve learned how to navigate our boo’s family and there are few or no bumps in the road, it is easy to hit a point of physical, emotional and mental depletion. And this is when we are more vulnerable to that self-loathing talk or thinking.
The fact that you were able to hold it down for yourself says a lot about your ability to hold space for yourself, to recognize that you don’t have to be just like everyone else. You did what worked for you and that’s a big fucking deal in a culture that enforces homogeneity of thought, style and size.
Now on to the question about whether you need to be having the come to Jesus conversation with these folks: my answer is a resounding no. Like, if that feels organic and nourishing to you, then do it. If it doesn’t, then don’t put more work into yourself.
I’ve talked a lot about not doing more emotional work than you have to, and I stand by that. You are doing enough work healing yourself. Like, that is a massive undertaking, and I think fat positive people underestimate how much effort it takes to fucking heal ourselves from this toxic as fuck culture. I think we underestimate this work because we have been taught by capitalism that only work that yields dollars (or shares) is actually work, and this in turn invisibilizes or obscures the incredible amount of emotional labor people do all the time.
I think we underestimate the value of the work we do because the culture is invested in maintaining the cycle of violence known as diet culture, and anyone doing work that counters the status quo is gonna get shamed and derided.
I also think women, queers, people of color, disabled and trans folks often underestimate the amount of labor we do all the time just to deal with white supremacist heteropatriarchy because we’ve been taught that we already always owe that labor to the state/culture/others.
So investing energy inward rather than outward is an incredibly, magically powerful act when you are a member of one of those groups.
I say keep on doing what you’re doing because you’re clearly doing something right. Do you, because that’s more powerful than you can imagine. Taking care of yourself and centering yourself can sometimes be a more powerful thing to witness than the explicit act of teaching somebody.
Hope this helps.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, November 2012) and the mastermind behind #LoseHateNotWeight. She holds a Master’s degree in Human Sexuality with a focus on the intersections of body size, race, and gender. Virgie has been featured by the New York Times, MTV, Al Jazeera, the San Francisco Chronicle, NPR, Huffington Post, Cosmopolitan Magazine Online, and Bust Magazine. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.