When I was very young, around 19, in a moment of confidence, my younger co-worker told me that she would kill herself if she looked like me. She was serious, but what stuck with me was that she was explaining that she felt sorry for me. She would rather be dead than look like me; she just could not relate.
I think it reinforced that I was lucky people could bear to be in my company, let alone romantically, but it would be hard to pin it on that specifically; there were so many things like that then. It was years before I could come up with a suitable response, long after I saw this woman again. What would your take be on that if someone was told that to their face now?
You really shook me out of my fat positive feminist bubble thinking! It’s honestly hard for me to imagine a woman saying something so truly fatuous and ill-willed to another woman today, but I know it happens. I know it happens a lot.
If I’ve learned anything in the work I do with Babecamp and beyond, it’s that the workplace is often the biggest source of emotional battering women have to deal with on a daily basis. What makes it worse is that they don’t feel they can actually speak up, in fear of losing their jobs or having to quit because of being ostracized.
I have fielded so many questions about fatphobic co-workers, incessant weight loss talk, microaggressions, food shaming and all these other weird rituals: one woman told me that at her office they always ordered a cake on someone’s birthday and everyone was too afraid to eat the first slice so they would throw the whole cake away untouched every time. Another woman told me she has a coworker who puts out a bowl on her desk every day and fills it with candy and then pressures people to eat while she abstains (like, that’s some intense psychological shit).
So rather than starting with the response I’d offer this woman (who is/was clearly suffering and in a dark place), I’d like to start with you. I’d like to tell you that she was wrong for saying what she said to you. I’d like to tell you that you are allowed to feel hurt. I’d like to tell you that your life is precious. I’d like to tell you that you deserve better. You deserve to feel supported, loved and seen. You deserve to live the rest of your days without someone ever saying something remotely bigoted. Finally, it’s not your fault that she said that to you. Her bigotry is her problem.
My “take” on the response to someone saying that to my face would depend on how I was feeling. And that’s important: it’s important not to stifle our feelings; it’s important to react in a way that honors what you’re feeling in that moment. Sometimes we feel angry, sometimes we feel super sad, sometimes we have the wherewithal to recognize that the violence that people project outward is actually always exclusively about how they feel about themselves.
At this point in my life, I refuse to emotionally output for bigots and assholes. I refuse to spend emotional energy on schooling them or putting them in their place or trying to hurt them. My body is too precious to waste a bunch of adrenaline and stress on someone I’m not invested in.
But I’m a big fan of acting authentically. If you were to have asked me this question a few years ago I may have told you that you should consider filling a spray bottle with your first morning piss and sprayed it all over the interior of her car. Who knows?
The truth is that it was totally inappropriate and violent for her to say that to you, and her feelings about her own body have nothing to do with you and your body. She wasn’t speaking Truth (with a capital T); she was exercising her privilege and entitlement over you and enacting fatphobia and sexism.
Fat women are taught to blame ourselves for fatphobia, and this leads to us self-isolating, among other things. It’s important to remember that your job is to live a life that centers your needs and desires. You were not put on this earth to be “pretty enough” or “thin enough” or “good enough” or “smart enough” for someone else. Your life is YOUR gift.
Revel in that, take the time to convince yourself that you don’t owe your body to anyone else, and remember that you are a force to be reckoned with.
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.