Dear Virgie: Where’s the Rage in the Fat Movement?
Is there room for rage and anger in fat politics? I feel like even your work used to be more critical than it is now. I’m just tired of body “positive” politics and the way it feels so watered down.
I really, really appreciate and love this question.
In response to the first part of your question, my answer is a resounding yes.
Yes, there is absolutely room for rage and anger in fat politics.
Anger is a natural and integral part of the human experience, and therefore obviously part of a politic that is so tied to human and civil rights.
Furthermore, rage and anger are particularly organic responses when it comes to the current state of fat stigma. In this cultural moment, fatphobia is a vitriolic and incessant reality of daily life. Fatphobia is a government sanctioned stigma that is given incredible traction by interpersonal fat discrimination and dehumanizing media representation.
I cannot underscore how important it is to allow ourselves to feel anger about the shitty experiences we’ve had as fat people. Anyone who tells you that your rage is unwarranted is just wrong. Anyone who tells you that anger has no place in the fat movement is wrong.
It is often people experiencing multiple marginalizations who have to deal with stigma more often, and sometimes also have to deal with more acute experiences of stigma. Meaning: people dealing with multiple marginalizations often have more to be angry about than folks who are primarily dealing with just fatphobia. Also, the more frequently a person interfaces with discrimination, the more likely they are to develop a variety of emotional tools that protect them.
It’s important to recognize the coded language used to silence or sideline anger. What I mean when I say “coded language” is that sometimes when people disparage anger or rage as a political tool they are often – perhaps inadvertently – disparaging the tools often used by the most marginalized people in the movement.
Sometimes people are very quick to dismiss anger, but anger is a manifestation of suffering. Furthermore, anger can sometimes be a manifestation of resiliency.
We have been trained by the culture to view only certain behaviors as signs of distress.
For example, when we see someone crying we are trained to see this as a sign of sadness or suffering. We see someone in a vulnerable state and think “that person deserves compassion and support.” However, we see someone who is angry and, even though it’s possible they have experienced even more stress than the person who’s crying, we often do not treat them with compassion or support. But not everyone has the luxury of vulnerability. Not everyone has the privilege of expressing distress in that way.
Now, onto the second part of your question: the shift in my work. I think you’re right in some sense, and wrong in another sense. Anger is not always synonymous with powerful. Sometimes my power is best expressed through anger, and sometimes it’s not. I think my work used to highlight my anger a lot more clearly than it does now.
I can explain some of that shift, but some of it I can’t.
A little background: my first exposure to politics was via anti-racism. I was 18, at UC Davis, surrounded by people I’d never been around in childhood – mostly white people who were upper/middle class. It was the first time in my life that I sensed I didn’t belong because of my race and class. I had just come out of a decade and a half of daily fat bashings only to find that there was a new slice of stupid on my bullshit sandwich. I. was. PISSED. And militant separatism immediately held resonance for me. That was the only thing that made to sense to me at the time. That was the only way I felt I could survive. That was the only way I could walk through the world while maintaining dignity and sanity.
When anger was my primary mode of political expression, I was taking on A LOT of emotional labor, invisible labor. As a fat, brown lady I was so used to doing hella uncompensated labor that I didn’t realize how much of a toll it was taking on me.. until I did. Right now anger is not my primary mode of political expression, but that’s not a permanent thing necessarily. I have to express in a way that nourishes and serves me – and is authentic to the moment I am in at any given time – because otherwise I will annihilate myself spiritually.
We’re each drawn to different modes of political expression, and YES those modes have a lot to do with our gender, race, class background, sexuality, and how we were raised in this world to deal with pain and injustice. Sometimes the Susie Sunshine approach gets more accolades, but that doesn’t mean that other forms of political expression are less valuable (even if they feel less valued).
Finally, yeah, I totally get the feeling that things are being watered down. In a largely woman-led movement comprised primarily of women/feminine people, I think sometimes internalized sexism gets the best of us. We use friendliness and positivity as a way to seem less threatening to a deeply patriarchal culture. This is, duh, something lady people have been doing for years and years.
But I have great hope for the future of a multiplicity of expression in the fat movement, not just privately but also publicly.
Dear Virgie is a weekly advice column by Virgie Tovar, MA, author, activist and one of the nation’s leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp and 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.