Dear Virgie: How Do I Engage with “Un-Woke” Fats?
Do you have suggestions for engaging with “un-woke” fats? I have tried to bring up FA (fat acceptance) with folks who are still very entrenched in self-loathing, fat phobia and diet culture, and I find myself floundering for ways to reach folks like this. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Dear Fat Friend:
I think it’s really rad that you are being so generous in your willingness to engage and even educate, but it’s important to be really grounded about how much you’re giving and what is reasonable to expect from people.
As much as it pains me to say this, some people aren’t ready to be woke. Also, “getting woke” is a process that is lengthier for some, depending on things like how much privilege they have to begin with and how much they are relying on not being woke so they can deal with their life choices.
I remember how un-woke I was for years.
Even as a person of color and a woman, I went a very long time fundamentally not understanding what racism actually is or how sexism manifests. Fat liberation came even later than that because I truly *could not imagine* life without a weight-loss plan. Like, it wasn’t even a choice in my head. I think my thought process was something like “I am alive and therefore I diet” because I had been taught that being fat was bad and that I was solely responsible for “fixing” this “problem” called my body. I had a shit load of internalized self-loathing, and because I had taken on fatphobia so thoroughly, I absolutely would not have been ready to hear about fat acceptance for much of my adult life.
Further, I was not encouraged to think critically about myself or the people around me growing up. Because there were few boundaries in my home, I was not taught sensitivity or empathy. I had to learn those things from my amazing friends in adulthood. Even though I had the benefits of going to a pretty progressive university and being surrounded by feminists and queers and anti-racist babes, it still took almost a decade for me to be ready for The Woke Life. Also, to be fair, I really learned how to be woke in grad school through spending two years and countless hours reading a lot of theory and being surrounded by people who were very invested in political thought.
The good news: each rad, political person in my life gave what felt right for them to give, and collectively they helped to change my life.
So, I would advocate that if you feel compelled to educate and try and change people’s minds and hearts, that you figure out a way to do it in a way that feels right and nourishing for you.
Have a plan.
Prepare a script.
In order for the work to be sustainable, you have to set limits. A great way to set limits is to come up with what you want to offer people when the moment of FA introduction presents itself. Do you want to give a one-minute speech or a 10-minute speech? Are you open to answering questions? Are you OK with dealing with push back? A lot of times, the “intro to FA” is very similar. So maybe you want to prepare your script and then find a book to recommend or maybe you want to print out some FAQs to hand out. I know it sounds kinda weird carrying around pamphlets or memorizing a script, but it really helps to have a clearly delineated plan if you want to be able to do this work often.
I want to end by saying that many times, just living your life in a way that honors your beliefs and your body is deeply transformative for people to witness. Your efforts matter. You may not be the person who witnesses the moment when the seeds sprout (and, hey, honestly they may never sprout) but what matters is that you are doing this incredibly powerful political work that matters to you.
I hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on body image and fat discrimination. She is the founder of Babecamp. She started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight. Tovar has been featured by the New York Times, Tech Insider, Al Jazeera and NPR. She lives in San Francisco. Find her at www.virgietovar.com.