Dear Virgie: I’m Tired of Being Strong
“You are allowed to be angry or sad or hurt, and it is, in fact, very important that you not ignore or shut down those feelings.”
I feel this incredible pressure not to let people’s fatphobia bother me and to pretend that it doesn’t affect me when other people say or do hurtful things. Do you have any advice for me?
I feel this sentiment so hard.
The truth is that you absolutely are allowed to let people’s fatphobia bother you, and you definitely do not have to pretend that it doesn’t affect you when people say or do bigoted things. Bigotry is hurtful.
You are allowed to be angry or sad or hurt, and it is, in fact, very important that you not ignore or shut down those feelings.
Emotions are sacred and they teach us about ourselves and our world.
I was just thinking about this the other day. I had participated in this really amazing photo series called This Is What A Feminist Looks Like. My supremely talented friend Sophie runs a pinup and boudoir photo business called Shameless in San Francisco, and I was so excited to be photographed in a neon mini-skirt, crop top and cheetah-print suspenders. The photographers were kind enough to send me one of the outtake photos that didn’t become part of the final series, and I totally loved it. I thought I looked vibrant and radiant and hot. And, shit, I did look vibrant and radiant and hot.
I posted it to Instagram and a bunch of horrible garbage-mouthed bigots jumped onto the photo and said really mean and awful stuff about how I looked and how I was confirming every stereotype about feminists with my body. It immediately made my stomach drop. Their words hurt my feelings, and I found myself jumping into my age-old defense mechanism — pretended it didn’t bother me. I learned that back in elementary school from my teachers and other adult women around me.
Unfortunately, their advice to “be strong” and “ignore” ended up confirming that it was my responsibility to absorb the abusive and dehumanizing behavior of others and to further dehumanize myself through bypassing important feelings.
Related: Self-Care Sunday: Processing Grief
Lately, I have been trying to listen to my emotions more and so, rather than pretend they didn’t hurt me, I took the time to feel the sadness that their words created in me.
I was sad that there are people who can be so cruel to me.
I was sad that I could see something so beautiful in myself and others could only see ugliness.
I was sad that I live in a culture that does this kind of shit to me, and to other people who look like me, every day.
I often feel forced to witness some of the worst parts of human behavior because of where I have been culturally positioned as a fat brown woman. And sometimes that position feels like a gift (how many can say that they are seers, witness to a hidden violence, a secret story, the deepest truth?) and sometimes that position feels like a burden.
So, I want to advocate for feeling the feelings. You don’t have to be strong all the time. You don’t have to ignore what’s coming up for you. It is very important as we heal that we give ourselves time to mourn things that have happened in the past and in the present. As a fat person you are already taking on a lot from the culture, and you deserve the gift of giving yourself the space to experience the spectrum of human emotion.
I hope this helps!
Virgie Tovar is an author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp, a 4-week online course designed to help those who are ready to break up with diet culture, and started the hashtag campaign #LoseHateNotWeight.
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