Q. If someone offered you the chance to wake up tomorrow at a weight which was “appropriate” for your height, would you take that chance? And, do you believe a fat person’s answer to this question reflects their true degree of fat acceptance?
A. I don’t believe in true-believer tests. As I always say — repeatedly and emphatically — body acceptance is a process, often one without a clear conclusion, and certainly one without a finish line. We are raised from birth in a culture that teaches us to criticize and dissociate from our bodies. Some of us, in undoing this education, try to celebrate and reclaim our bodies, which can be positive. But none of us are given the option to just live according to our own unique abilities and limitations, without judgment (positive or negative) from without or within.
Thus, acceptance is a lifelong endeavor, a hill we keep climbing not because we expect to reach the top, but because we don’t want to roll all the way down to the bottom again.
Speaking for myself, if someone offered me the chance to wake up “appropriate”, I would politely decline. This does not make me a superior person. There are lots of factors besides my level of self-acceptance that inform this decision. For one: I tend to resist authority, and accepting such an offer would be, in my mind, accepting an authoritative cultural construct that devalues bodies that look different from normalized expectations. For another: my size does not negatively impact my movement, my happiness, or my life, so I do not have the conflict between believing in acceptance and yet knowing that a change in size might help some bodily ailment. For another, my body has been this size for many, many years, so I do not have to struggle with accepting a body that’s suddenly changed on me, while quietly wishing I could have the old body — the familiar one — back again. I’m in a deeply privileged position to answer this question, and my answer says less about the seriousness of my commitment to fat activism than it does about my individual circumstances.
So far as I’m concerned, the main long-term goal of fat acceptance as I preach it is not to elevate fatness in particular, but is to reshape our culture such that bodies of all sorts are respected and valued, and such that our existing, narrow beauty standards are abolished. Though the self-acceptance struggle of fat folks is a unique and specific challenge, the struggle to not hate our bodies is practically universal, an ideology we learn and re-learn from cradle to grave.
I have a problem with that, and that is also why I would decline a miracle of “appropriateness” — because there will always be people struggling with body loathing, and I can do more as a real-world example of living without shame if I’m doing it in the body I have.
Q. Describe the worst date you ever went on?
A. I’ve not had many bad dates; I’ve had awkward dates, and boring dates, but very few that were truly, indubitably BAD. That said, I do have one worst-ever date story that is pretty epic.
When I was seventeen I was active on what we used to call message boards (this was before we had things like chat, let alone IMs, dear children). On one of these message boards — a fansite for a cult TV show — I met a gentleman who lived in a heartland state and who liked me a great deal. We shared an innocent flirtation for several months, one that eventually turned into daily email correspondence. None of it was ever anything more than friendly bantering and teasing, of the sort I engaged in with many of my friends.
Well, said gentleman decided to come to Florida. The possibility was proposed — or at least I read it this way — as a purely coincidental thing. He planned on vacationing in Florida, and oh! I happen to live there too, so he could visit me! How fortuitous!
We made plans to meet up for lunch the day he arrived. He called from his hotel, letting me know he was there and I could pick him up anytime. He tried to tell me his room number, but even at seventeen I was a savvy young woman, and so I demurred, instead suggesting we meet in the hotel lobby, telling him I would call from there.
Red flag #1.
I drove to his hotel. I had a vague sense of what he looked like, based on one or two badly-scanned photographs of his head. But I was wholly unprepared for the dude who met me. In case the following sounds superficial, I beg your understanding based on the fact that I was seventeen and though many (actually, ALL, which is stunning) of these items would be considered the height of ironic hipster fashion today, they were absolutely horrifying at the time.
The smiling man who approached me in the hotel lobby was nothing like I expected. He was in his mid-thirties (red flag #2). He had a mullet. Not a fashion mullet: a real mullet (red flag #3). He wore tiny jogging shorts, an ancient faded t-shirt advertising some local business, striped tube socks PULLED ALL THE WAY UP, and high-top Chucks (red flags #5 through #7; the Chucks get a pass).
(In retrospect, maybe he was a prototype Dov Charney?)
I was a little… surprised. I’d spent time amongst geeks and nerds of many stripes in my time, and yet I’d never seen someone so completely oblivious to conventional standards of appearance. Even in South Florida, this guy was underdressed for anything more than yard work.
But! We went to lunch. I told myself, “Self, you’re being a shallow jerk. He is a nice guy! At least keep the lunch plans, and having followed through on that you can drop him back at the hotel and that can be the end of it.”
We went to Bennigan’s. I had a bowl of baked-potato soup, though I was completely without an appetite. This dude was not merely awkward, but was also an oaf and a boor. Most of his humor was offensive. He seemed to expect me to laugh simply because he wanted me to. Once lunch was over, I invented an excuse to drop him back at his hotel.
“Oh. Well, what else are we going to do while I’m here?”
It was with a terrible sinking feeling that I realized this man expected me to entertain him for the full week. I stammered out a valid excuse about work and preparing for a trip the weekend following (both true) and fairly smoothly made clear that I would not be able to ferry him around all week long.
He was sulky at this. “Well, can you at least take me by a car-rental place, so I have my own transportation?”
Sure, whatever. We went back to the hotel, where he ran inside to get directions to the nearest car rental agency. Believe me, it took a lot of self restraint not to just drive away right then. Armed with the location, we drove off to the car rental place. I parked and went inside with him.
Hey guys, guess what? If you have a suspended license for DUI, most car-rental places won’t give you a car! Did you know that? I could have guessed it, even being too young at the time to rent a car myself, but it came as a shock to our visiting gentleman, who took his anger out on the hapless car-rental employee.
Red flag #… whatever, too many red flags.
After he harrassed the poor clerk for several minutes, a manager arrived to point us at a less reputable car rental agency that may be willing to rent a car to an unlicensed driver for a premium. We drove over there.
He got out of the car.
As soon as his door was closed, I drove away.
Never saw that dude again, nor did I respond to the numerous emails he subsequently sent, by turns manipulative, passive-aggressive, and rage-filled. I have since felt grateful that he was simply an idiot and not a real predator.
After that, all of my future bad dates were mild experiences.
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