The awesome power of no.

By | May 23, 2011


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A photo of me, a fat white lady, standing outside next to a tree. I'm wearing a short black dress with small flowers on it, a black cardigan, black leggings, pink ballet-tie flats, and a dark green messenger bag. Also glasses. Also, I am smiling.

This is me. I say no a lot, usually with a cheery smile.

Whenever I write things elsewhere that are critical of bodily norms, and especially about weight, there are always certain Bingo-friendly responses. The most common one is a sort of exasperated, heaving insistence that I—or anyone else—”just” lose weight. Don’t talk about things, for heaven’s sake! Don’t criticize the popular cultural messages about bodies and health! Don’t question the widespread assumptions and expect rational proofs beyond “but everyone just knows it’s bad to be fat!” Just do it! Just lose weight, and be done with it!

These people may as well be mumbling “Conform… conform…” in a zombie-esque drone for all the good it does. This is the pressure to assimilate, that I should keep quiet and swallow like everyone else. Why do you have to question everything? Why does it always have to be a battle with you? Why are you so hostile? These are the social obstacles that every social justice activist must learn to navigate, no matter their particular area of investment. Arguably, the folks who throw up these blocks do not get why a person wouldn’t just go along with expectations and norms; they can’t understand why someone would rather be a wrench in the works and not another useful cog.

The hell of it is, even if I were to cease being fat, I would not stop criticizing the cultural assumptions about bodies and weight. I would simply do so as a smaller person. And I’d do it as a smaller person for the same exact reasons I do it as a fatter person.

I criticize our body culture because these assumptions and expectations are bad for everyone. It’s not simply a matter of fat people having a rough time of it, even though they do, and even though it is wrong that fat people are often harassed, humiliated, and ostracized, and that this ill treatment is socially encouraged. Our cultural expectations of normative bodies, and our stringent beauty standards, and our compulsory and universalizing ideas about health—these forces hurt everyone, no matter their size, no matter if they are slender, or average, or very very fat.

These forces–which affect everyone but target lady-identified folks in particular—do not make us healthier, or better-looking, or more happy. Instead they breed self-loathing, dissatisfaction, and a constant feeling of inferiority. I can illustrate the damage they do with one obvious example: how many people do you know who are 100% happy with their bodies and their overall appearance? Some of y’all are fortunate to travel in circles in which you can say with confidence that most of the folks you know feel this way, but for the wider population, the overwhelming majority do not.

Do you reckon this is just a huge coincidence?

The pressure to always be thin, beautiful, and healthy makes us miserable. It doesn’t make us happy, or comfortable, or confident, or safe. It keeps us hungry (literally and figuratively) and sad, certain only that we are never virtuous enough to measure up to those cultural expectations, and that we never will be.

The only people I know—myself included—who are happy with their bodies are the ones who have dropped out of the assimilation races. I’m not suggesting that doing so means you’re no longer affected by these pressures; as noted above, everyone is affected by them. But setting our own boundaries and expectations enables us to define ourselves, and to resist being defined by external cultural forces for the convenience of those who would use us and our bodies as cautionary tales, or as whipping posts, or as scapegoats.

And it all starts when we say no. We can say no. When someone instructs us to lose weight, to shave, to straighten our hair, to get “in shape”, to wear makeup, to wear less makeup, to dress appropriately, to dress more stylishly, no not that stylishly, to stop standing out, to stop making noise, to stop being so damn large, to stop making excuses, to stop fighting, to just get along, to just do what we tell you, to just buy into this commercial weight-loss plan, to just take these pills, to just have this cosmetic surgery, to just follow instructions, to just know that we’re doing this for your own good, to never walk alone, to never walk alone in that outfit, to never draw attention, because no one wants to see that, because no one wants to see your body, because no one wants to see you.

You can tell them no, and refuse to say more on the subject. No is always an option. It’s a small word, a difficult word, a word that speaks volumes in a single syllable, and one that gets easier to say the more you do it. It’s part of your arsenal, whether you realize it or not, and it’s a powerful weapon.

You can say no.

You don’t have to explain it.

You don’t have to apologize for it.

You can just

say

no.


70 Comments

Michelle jadaa on May 23, 2011 at 11:12 am.

I have a friend whos 11 year old daughter has started dieting due to comments from her peers,even though she’s underweight.
I hate it ,this society that honours diets and schemes to stay young more than compassion or empathy,more than wisdom and experience.I think we have things totally backwards!

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Marinn on May 23, 2011 at 11:31 am.

I really needed to hear this. I joined Curves a while back because I wanted to be more active, have more stamina and more strength, and I’ve been going three times a week for a couple of months and I’ve gained about 5 lbs. Well, at my Friday weigh-in, I was fat shamed for the first time in a loooong time, and it really threw me. I felt terrible all weekend. I think it might be time for me to say “no” to the weigh-ins and tell them to put a permanent “no” in my file regarding any weight loss “opportunities”.

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Kate on May 23, 2011 at 12:13 pm.

I didn’t know Curves did weigh ins, yuck. Man, how unmotivational is that?

My therapist likes to remind me that “no” is a complete sentence.

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Ellie on May 23, 2011 at 2:03 pm.

“‘No’ is a complete sentence.” I love this!

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JupiterPluvius on May 23, 2011 at 4:20 pm.

I love your therapist!

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itchbay on May 24, 2011 at 4:55 pm.

That is so awesome. I will be using that one!

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outrageandsprinkles on May 23, 2011 at 2:02 pm.

I loved going to Curves, but I never ever ever participated in weigh-ins. I knew I would just feel like shit if I did. By not knowing my weight, I was able to just focus on how I felt, and I felt great! I felt physically better when I was regularly going to Curves than I ever have, but I knew how I felt mentally would suffer if I turned my focus to weight-loss. Everyone else seemed so eager to track every inch and pound! It just seemed de-motivational to me. I’m sorry you had a bad experience, I hope you will be able to keep working out there and not be bothered for your weight.

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Kathleen Lynch on May 24, 2011 at 3:47 pm.

I go to Curves and I do participate in the weigh-ins, but when I’m asked what my goal is, I say it’s to be more active and get better mobility with my Arthritic joints. I never say “I want to lose X” kilos”. I refuse to set a goal I don’t believe in.

I guess that’s the passive-agressive form of “No”?

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JupiterPluvius on May 25, 2011 at 10:30 pm.

I think redefining the conversation around your actual personal goals is not passive-aggressive at all, but beautifully assertive. Go, you!

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JupiterPluvius on May 23, 2011 at 4:21 pm.

Saying “I am here to work on my fitness goals, not to lose weight” may be a real challenge to their superstitions!

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thirtiesgirl on May 23, 2011 at 8:12 pm.

I like that statement. I’m going to have to adopt it.

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Amy on May 23, 2011 at 8:26 pm.

I don’t know how your Curves works, but I was a member for 5 years and I think I did one weigh in. I would just “forget” when the reminder came up on my account, and if they asked I just gave a cheery “no thanks!” and got on the machines. What crap that someone felt they had the right to get all superior and shame-y on you. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

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Novel deVice on May 24, 2011 at 2:23 am.

Apparently it’s escaping them that people who get stronger do in fact gain weight. I’m sorry this happened to you. I’m sort of opposed to Curves on general principle, but I think this is a very specific reason to think they treat people crappily. :(

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Molly on May 25, 2011 at 2:37 am.

Something that I think all potential customers should know about Curves is that they are an inherently anti-woman company, supporting at least one very conservative cause:

http://www.snopes.com/politics/business/curves.asp

Sorry that happened to you. That sucks.

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Dragonflywer on May 27, 2011 at 2:16 pm.

Oooo, I didn’t know that. I used to go to Curves, and enjoyed it, but haven’t been in years due to scheduling issues. I won’t ever go back now that I’ve read that. Thanks for the enlightenment!

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Staci on May 23, 2011 at 11:38 am.

Brilliant. I’m going to carry this around in my head today. You can just say no. You can just say no. You can just say no.

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Erina on May 23, 2011 at 12:38 pm.

News Flash! Fat people can be healthy too! Ok, perhaps not news to Lesley’s readers but this was actually stated in print in the New York Times. It’s a short blog about a new study that *shockingly* discovered some fat people are healthy and some thin people are not. Not front page news as I would like to see but baby steps… Here’s a link to the article:
http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/13/for-health-body-size-can-be-misleading/

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siouxZQ on May 23, 2011 at 12:45 pm.

I just have to say … I love you :) You give me hope that the next generations with all forget about size-ism.

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Rachel on May 23, 2011 at 1:09 pm.

Well said. Man, I wish that my parents’ generation had had articulate people like you around to help them feel better about themselves and see how oppressive societal norms about bodies are–to help them own and feel good about the way their bodies naturally are/were. Basically, I wish FA had been around longer (or been stronger and more visible longer), but I’m so glad it exists now in force and that the movement has intelligent activists and thinkers. People like you are making it better for all of us by getting the issues out there and helping everyone who comes across blogs like yours think critically about the society they live in, and their own complicity in body policing, etc. (even if they previously thought it came from a “good” place, like the medicalization of “health.”)

Rock on, Leslie. And maybe get yourself a time machine if they’re ever invented, and make the U.S. a better place in decades past, as well. =D

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Rachel on May 23, 2011 at 1:10 pm.

Arg–I’m so sorry I spelled your name wrong, Lesley!

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J on May 23, 2011 at 2:31 pm.

I love this post, and that picture of you, Lesley.

I started saying “no” to my doctors when they asked to weigh me and what a difference it has made. Doctors talk about my weight WAY less when they don’t have a number or BMI to cite (since, you know, it’d be rude to just say I “looked” fat).

I feel more empowered, more in control, and less depressed when I visit the doctor now. Give it a try!

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Chris Saunders on May 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm.

In my opinion, the only reason to change your body is if it limits you from what you want to be able to do. I’m not talking things like fit social norms, of course. I’m talking things such as climbing (definitely a case where too thin can be as much as, if not more so, a detriment…), Yoga (one of the most flexible people I know is around 300 pounds, and one of the thinnest people I know has severe flexibility issues despite a decade plus of ballet training. Once again, weight isn’t the primary factor…), etc. This sort of thing comes down to finding the balances in your body to do the things you want, rather than fighting your natural balances to fit societal “norms”… The things that I find attractive, more than anything, are the personality, will, and self-comfort a person has. My perceptions of beauty wander all over the spectrum of “body types”, and I’m far more likely to find someone beautiful if they can see the beauty in who they are.

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Shar on May 24, 2011 at 5:37 pm.

Well said…

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KC on May 23, 2011 at 2:51 pm.

Hey- thanks for posting this article, Lesley. On Wednesday, I’ll publish some of my favorite quotes with a response to you- thanks for blogging about the importance of size acceptance on an individual level. Check out my responses here:
The Curvy Angle

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gidget commando on May 23, 2011 at 3:15 pm.

Autonomy and agency–they’re not just for breakfast anymore!

(I’ve always loved “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” It’s practically a little black dress of comebacks.)

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Carly McCall on May 23, 2011 at 3:18 pm.

Like a lot of women I’ve spent most of my life to date struggling to say no, to anything at all.

My self- and size-acceptance revolution was born out of a weary, defeated ‘no more, please’ *sigh* because the barrage of diet talk and criticism (from inside and out) and encouragement to never believe I was good enough was just so damned tiring and I didn’t know who I was anymore. I was trying much too hard to be what society and the people around me expected me to be.

Now I’m learning to just say no. The power is mine again. And life has never been better. Thanks for this post.

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Heidi @ Finishing the Hat on May 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm.

I always respect and admire your ability to say no, Lesley, and I appreciate what you’re doing. I’m also thrilled that you’re healthy.

We used to run in the same online circles (I was LSPoorEeyorick back then) and I was very glad to have you as an influence. I still am.

Please know, however, that not everyone who loses weight does so with conformity in mind. My choice to make some lifestyle changes has everything to do with my health, which was failing significantly. And after watching my mother’s long struggle and weight-related death, I made those changes.

It believe it is possible to be self-loving and weight-losing simultaneously. Actually, I think my experience within the Fat Acceptance community (which I still support) is what has made it possible for me to – hate to use this metaphor but – have my cake and eat it too. To love who I am now, and to take care of who I am at the same time. I started seeing doctors, which I used to avoid. Exercising and being active, inspired by HAES. And that evolved into learning to plan and make delicious, filling meals with include nutritious ingredients. Quitting fast food cold-turkey. Being more mindful of my meals and throughout my days. Seeking therapy and then realizing my disordered binge behavior. HAES led me to more of the “H” than I had ever experienced before. And, yes, it led to my weight loss.

I owe everything to FA. It taught me to accept who I am, take up the space that I take up, and demand respect. And I am fully aware that there are PLENTY of people who are active and healthy regardless of size. And regardless of health (or desire to be healthy) I firmly believe in equal rights and equal respect. Size is not a valid indicator of health; I know some very unhealthy thin people. But I was a very unhealthy fat person. And now I’m a healthier, less-fat person. I’m still fat. And I still own that word. But I still have a long way to go (in terms of health issues, not pounds) until I can actually call myself “healthy.” So I’m not going to agree that I’m specifically seeking conformity, just because my weight loss will probably continue as I continue taking care of my health. I’ll still be a big ol’ ball of weird, no matter what size I am.

I’m behind you. Say no to anyone who wants to make you somewhere you don’t want to be. I’m saying no, too. No to those who exacerbate their disordered eating with unhealthy means of weight loss, and who encourage others to do so. And no to those who think that my weight loss must be a negative, self-hating process.

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Heidi @ Finishing the Hat on May 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm.

Er, someTHING you don’t want to be.

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JupiterPluvius on May 23, 2011 at 4:24 pm.

It’s so great that you stopped a cycle of disordered eating that was making you feel ill both mentally and physically. Congratulations! I wish you all the best in maintaining your recovery.

The thing is that stopping a cycle of disordered eating is not synonymous with losing weight for everyone. Sometimes it’s synonymous with gaining weight. Sometimes it’s weight-neutral. Part of body acceptance, as I understand that, is focusing on the behaviors that work and don’t work for you, rather than on the number on the scale.

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Alyssa on May 23, 2011 at 4:14 pm.

What frustrates me to no end is that people (mainly women) are so programed to grin and bare anything. Whether someone is making them uncomfortable, angry, or vulnerable, they just shut up and take it. If someone is being flat out rude to you, why not say something? Why not point it out to them that their being an asshole? Even if they don’t listen at least youve shown your not just going to be a doormat for them. Stand up for yourself, don’t you deserve it? Its not being rude or selfish! Its having respect for yourself. I know some people try to not stoop to that person’s level, but that doesn’t mean having to put up with someone who isn’t respecting you.

If someone was causing problems for your kid, or spouse, or best friend, wouldn’t you stand up for them? Whats wrong with doing it for yourself too?

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Lurker du Jour on May 23, 2011 at 9:46 pm.

All I hear in my head when people start down that road is “But I don’t want to look meeeeeeeean,” which is the usual flimsy rationale. In other words, spend your life pleasing other people! Make them happy! Always! That’s what women are for, you know! Bleagh.

It gives me the creeps when people think it’s not okay to defend yourself or define your own boundaries. Absolutely, yes, if you would do it for someone else, flippin’ do it for yourself. Such a double standard.

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Alyssa on May 24, 2011 at 12:22 am.

Yes! exactly, good girls aren’t supposed to express any negative emotions. We’re supposed to be sweet and happy, push our real feelings down so they don’t bother others. Its bull and is why women are more likely to develop mental and social disorders. Ive read so many posts on various sites were the female poster writes about a situation that made her uncomfortable or upset and then asks everyone wheither shes just being “too sensitive”, or crazy for being bothered by it. Each time I just want to shake the person and say “you don’t need premission to be pissed off its okay!”

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itchbay on May 24, 2011 at 5:04 pm.

I have given up being nice. I now focus on being kind.

Being kind means being honest, in a gentle, yet firm, manner. To myself as well as to others. It is not kind to me, or to them, to allow someone to believe I feel one way when I truly feel another. It is also not a kindness to avoid confronting someone who clearly needs it. If nothing else, it does not help another future victim.

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Alyssa on May 25, 2011 at 2:12 pm.

Thats right, I mean most people are paranoid about looking like jerks. So for the most part all you really have to say is “oh could you please not doe this/say that to me, it really bothers me.” And they’ll usually apologize, say they didn’t know and that they won’t do it again. Sometimes people don’t see how their coming across. While other people, yeah don’t care if their rude but they usually are that way to everyone not just you and if you say something to them maybe they’ll think twice or avoid you. Whichever, its better then having to put up with them. lol

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Kat on May 25, 2011 at 8:25 pm.

I’ve been thinking about this comment all day. I’m not one for maxims, but “don’t be nice, be kind” sound like words to live by. Nice is superficial and concerned with smoothing the emotions of other people in the moment. Kind is concerned with creating relationships based on genuine emotion and compassion.

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Alyssa on May 27, 2011 at 5:40 pm.

Yeah thats right, if you really care about having a good relationship with a certain person and the only thing thats stoping you from doing that is something they have said to you or how they are treating you. The only way for that problem to be healed over is by you saying something. Once its addressed and both parties are satisfied you can move on.

Sure you could be nice and not say anything but you would always probably feel resentful or uncomfortable towards that person.

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JillyX on May 23, 2011 at 5:22 pm.

I saw an instance where you gave a simple “no” to a nasty commenter recently and thought it was brilliant. Why justify yourself to someone like that?

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Amber on May 23, 2011 at 6:57 pm.

Thank you for doing what you do. You’ve made a difference in my life, at least. I owe a lot to you for getting me down the path to giving up body hatred and dieting. Thanks for letting us know that “no” is okay.

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Fordham D. Loolse on May 23, 2011 at 7:28 pm.

And yet this powerful little word “no” conveniently disappears when the third piece of pie is offered.

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Lesley on May 24, 2011 at 8:59 am.

Only three? Pssht. Amateur.

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Regina on May 27, 2011 at 10:38 am.

*snort*!!!!

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Kate on May 23, 2011 at 10:14 pm.

I am getting better at saying no. I am NOT getting better at not explaining myself. I am trying to remember that I don’t owe anyone an explanation. That when I justify, I dilute the strength of my ‘no’. That when I think I have to get involved in a long argument about it, I am less likely to say no when I need to, because it’s just easier to go along with things than have the debate and be told I am being silly.

Thanks for the reminder.

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Veronica on May 24, 2011 at 3:45 am.

The only people I know—myself included—who are happy with their bodies are the ones who have dropped out of the assimilation races.
What an interesting thought! Thanks for, once again, letting me see something from a different perspective!

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fatvegancommie on May 24, 2011 at 6:45 am.

Another brilliant essay. I feel so empowered after reading it. I am definitely not much of a person who goes along with the crowd, but the weight pressure is constant and overbearing, because it’s public whenever I leave the house (no one can see my veganism or atheism, for example, but my fatness is visible from a long way away).

A great companion piece to your “Wages of Visibility” essay in Notes from the Fatosphere. I return to read that every time I experience an uncomfortable moment of anti-fat scorn in public.

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Kath on May 24, 2011 at 7:51 am.

Just… thank you. Your timing is perfect.

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Intransigentia on May 24, 2011 at 11:24 am.

Everybody else has already said what I would like to say in praise of this post – Hell yeah! and so forth… I would like to know about those shoes. If the heels are 1.5″ or less, then they are my Holy Grail of Summer Shoes and I desperately need to know where you found them.

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Lesley on May 25, 2011 at 10:01 am.

Alas, they are very old Bloch flats I got on sale at Urban Outfitters, at least four years ago. I love them to little pieces.

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Intransigentia on May 25, 2011 at 12:31 pm.

Well I’m glad you found them and are rocking them hard! I hope they last and last and last. My own quest will continue.

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Quercki on May 24, 2011 at 11:47 am.

I **LOVE** J’s idea that we NOT let the doctors have a number to judge us with. I’ve noticed that most doctors treat my chart, not me. I’ve been treated for typos!

“No.” to assimilation. I’ve been doing some of that, but not all of it has been conscious. Thanks for spelling it out.

I don’t use make-up. The other day, someone commented on that and I reminded hir that “I’m naturally beautiful” so I don’t need makeup.

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IrishUp on May 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm.

Absolutely terrific post.

PSA Alert!: To the person who posted above regarding the dieting 11yo.
Calorie restricting diets are, of course, bad for us all. However, they are PARTICULARLY dangerous for children, as dieting is the “gateway drug” for eating disorders, the majority of which start in the teenage years; >85% of people with EDs first manifest the disease after calorie restriction. A child who is calorie restricting (particularly a child who appears thin or underweight) is at increased risk for ED. Great parent resources:
http://www.kartiniclinic.com/Diagnostic-Video
http://www.feast-ed.org/

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JessDR on May 24, 2011 at 3:57 pm.

(Wild applause)

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JessDR on May 24, 2011 at 4:05 pm.

And you know, now that I think about it, saying no was the only useful lesson I took away from the book that triggered my eating disorder. So I guess I got something out of that after all.

(Not that the book was the sole cause; the dominoes had already been set up, and aimed at a particularly extreme pre-packaged diet. But it did tip them over by making it quite clear to me that it was ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE to go to France in a size 14.)

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Alyssa on May 25, 2011 at 2:18 pm.

The France thing is a load of bull, I went to Paris when I was a size 16. The first day I got kissed, oggled and one guy begged me and my friend to stay with him. I never heard a single comment on my size at all. Especially going in the summer when tourist season is in full swing, they see so many different bodies from all over I can’t imagine their not used to it.

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sossajes on May 25, 2011 at 1:24 pm.

aww yeah, this is why i love this blog. it’s so reaffirming of positive, healthy attitudes i’m trying to adopt. i think one of mypersonal challenges is not just saying no, but saying no to constructs or ideas inside myself; cruel concepts or standards of beauty/perfection/strength that i’ve absorbed over the years often are as loud as any external jackass around me.

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Anglia on May 25, 2011 at 3:33 pm.

But what if you can’t say no? If I say no, if I don’t live up to their expectations, only bad things will happen. I am afraid to eat infront of anybody, am afraid to just say I’m hungry when I am, am afraid to be as open and accepting of my own weight like you. Cause if I do, then my mother will take away everything that’s precious to me, she will cry and scream and make me feel even worse, at school, my gym teacher would flunk me, making sure that I wont pass, only because of -gym- and my classmates would look at me weirdly and ask me why I don’t just lose the weight and be done with it. The worst is, I actually am trying. I’m trying to lose weight, but it doesn’t work. I don’t overeat at all (I already went to a dietist who told me that my normal eating habits are even one-third of a ‘normal’ diet.), but when I try to excersise, I can’t breathe (I have astma) and even when I push through that, I still don’t lose weight. And then I lose the will to excersise, because it hurts, it makes it hard to breathe and I don’t get any results at all. Yet no one, not even my very own mother, seems to understand this. So please tell me, how could I ever say no, when all that awaits me is pain? (I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to sound mean or questioning, I just don’t know what to do anymore.)

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Lesley on May 26, 2011 at 9:23 am.

Hi! Part of saying no is facing confrontation, unfortunately, but once you start saying it, it does get easier.

Fact is, you deserve to be happy and loved and respected no matter what you weigh. No one should pressure you into exercising beyond what is safe for you, or into dieting in a certain way. If you’re not losing weight despite your best efforts? It’s not your fault.

I have asthma too, so I know how that goes. If you enjoy exercising but your asthma is preventing it, maybe a visit to your doctor is in order to see if there are other treatment options for you?

I’m so sorry you’re struggling, dear.

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Kaesa on May 27, 2011 at 10:55 am.

I haven’t been in your exact situation (I don’t have asthma, and my mother was abusive in more subtle ways about my weight) but I know how it is to feel trapped in school with awful people, unsympathetic teachers and parents who utterly fail to support you. I don’t know how old you are or what your financial/educational situation is, but eventually you will probably get to move away from your parents, and then it becomes a lot easier to say no, whether it’s to weight loss or some other thing they’d like to subject you to supposedly for your own good.

What you’re going through is absolutely not right, and your PE teachers should at the VERY least realize that your asthma is something that’s holding you back, and that it’s not your fault — even if they still erroniously believe the fat is your fault. Are there any adults in your life who might take you seriously if you told them what was going on? Teachers, parents of friends, librarians?

I wish I had a magical solution to deal with abusive gym teachers, parents, and peers, but I do not; all I can really offer is hope.

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kbryna on May 30, 2011 at 4:44 pm.

Anglia –

My heart goes out to you for sure – I never had the same kind of pressure to lose weight placed on me by others, but I sure placed it on MYSELF.

When you start saying “NO” to things that you know hurt you in some way, as Lesley says, there’s usually a mess of confrontation waiting you. You already know this. But you also wrote that the “only thing” that awaits you is pain – and this is where, I think, there’s room to maneuver. Because yes – there’s pain that comes from those immediate conflicts: parents who aren’t being supportive. Evil gym teachers (and man, did I ever have those). But there’s also, often, a rush of empowerment, a feeling of YES! I am doing something FOR MYSELF, in the way that I WANT TO.
And the pain that those other people are inflicting – that is about THEM. It is *all about Them* and their own fears and anxieties and issues. You should never, ever have to make yourself feel terrible (and it sounds like you feel kinda terrible) as a way for others to manage their issues.

I’d also echo Kaesa’s remarks about finding a sympathetic adult – school nurse, maybe your dietician who said you were eating okay, school guidance counselor or social worker, a teacher, whomever – to help support you, even if it’s just with your gym-class issues. Librarians can also be secret agents of awesome – a good librarian might be able to help you find some resources – both books and local groups, etc – that will be helpful to you.
And I don’t know if this is acceptable to post or not, but you’re more than welcome to email me anytime you like (kbryna @ gmail dot com). I teach english at a university, and I’m pretty used to having students talk with me about their problems (and I tell you what: EVERYone has got them, even the most together-seeming people).

And as Lesley said in response – You, like everyone, deserve to be happy and loved and respected no matter what you weigh, or how often you exercise.

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Eirwyn on June 1, 2011 at 4:51 pm.

Hello, Anglia. First of all, I’m really sorry that you’re in a really unsafe and harmful situation. It sounds like you’re trying as hard as you can to survive the abuse you’re dealing with. Since you seem to be a minor, that complicates your situation, because there are complex and shaky legal processes to go through if you want to be emancipated, AND Child Protective Servics is not very reliable about stopping abuse. I remember when I was ten my dad called Child Protective Services on my mom. It didn’t really stop the abuse at all, it just forced it to take more “acceptable” forms.
My best advice for you, if you can’t do anything to stop the abuse, if even saying “no” is too dangerous for you, is to find ways of saying “no” inside yourself, inside your soul, places where your abusers can’t reach you. Make a part of your heart unreachable to their toxicity. Coming here shows that you know how to find ways out of internalized abusive messages. Joining online communities that are supportive, that KNOW what you’re going through and KNOW that it’s wrong, helps you gradually be able to tell YOURSELF that you are not bad for being fat and that you DO. NOT. DESERVE. the abuse. The more you can say “no” on the inside, the easier it becomes to say “no” on the outside, as long as saying “no” on the outside doesn’t get you killed or put in a mental institution or deprived food.

It can also be extremely hard to find help in the offline world because you don’t know who you can trust, because you can’t AFFORD to put your trust in someone who’s going to break it, and the abuse has gone on so long you don’t even know how to trust your own feelings anymore about who is safe and who isn’t. So if you can’t find anyone in your local world you can trust, you can still probably read blogs like this, find books about this sort of thing, and join support groups for victims of abuse. Fugitivus is a really good blog written by an abuse survivor. It doesn’t focus heavily on Fat Acceptance but it does focus on what it’s like to be in an abusive situation that is almost entirely impossible to escape from, and how to recover from abusive self-talk. If you find a way to stop the abusive self-talk, you find a place in yourself where the abusers can’t reach you. I wish you luck, and here’s an internet hug you can take or leave: *hug*

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Rosa on June 6, 2011 at 10:18 am.

Being able to say no is a signal of being in a power position.

Sometimes, especially when you are financially and legally dependent on others, you really are not in a position to do that.

The thing to keep in mind is that when people ask you to do the impossible, and they have the power to force you to agree, IT IS NOT YOU WHO ARE THE FAILURE if it doesn’ t work. It’s bad teaching, bad parenting, and bad management to set people up to fail by giving them impossible tasks or goals they dont’ have direct imput into. Setting weight outcome goals fails goal-setting parameters: you can’t break them down into small achievable pieces and you can’t directly control your weight. Setting behavior goals (eating, exercise, attendance, time commitment, effort) is setting achievable, measurable goals that can be broken down into a number of individual milestones.

If you can hold on to your own self-worth inside your head, or with a trusted friend, until you are in a better position, you win. And since it sounds like your issue is being underage, you know eventually you’ll be of legal age and have a chance to be in a position of more power so you can choose for yourself.

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kcjones on May 25, 2011 at 10:25 pm.

When someone instructs us to lose weight, to shave, to straighten our hair, to get “in shape”

Thank you for this! I don’t shave my legs. My skin is super sensitive and the only way I can get rid of my leg-hair is to have it waxed. Expensive and not fun, so I only do it when I wear a bathing suit-about once every other year-I only like swimming at the beach. It’s funny, but unless the person is a kid, strangers are polite enough not to ask. My parents and some of my friends feel the need to ask when I’ll get them waxed, as if I will. They just can’t understand that unless I’m about to put on a bathing suit, I don’t care! Having leg hair has not affected my dating life or sex life or work life one bit, so who cares?

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Auntymana on May 26, 2011 at 7:37 am.

I love you! You have no idea how much confidence you instill in me.

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E on May 27, 2011 at 4:56 pm.

Hi,

I don’t mind bodily norms and I don’t feel badly affected about them. I love my body and I think it’s perfect, so you can stop assuming that you’re speaking for ‘everyone’ when saying how they affect people. I also don’t feel a pressure to be ultra-healthy in any way (however I have never enjoyed stuffing myself with food I know is no good for me – for example food with lots of ‘E-numbers’). Point is that while something might affect you negatively, you still can’t assume that the same goes for anyone (or everyone) else.

Bye

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Lesley on May 28, 2011 at 1:39 am.

Huh. I am more speaking to broad cultural influences, which affect unique individuals to varying degrees—some people are deeply affected, some not at all, but the cumulative result is that such norms do have a measurable impact. It’s kind of like public health statistics: you can say a certain population is more likely to develop a certain disease, but that doesn’t mean every single person in that group will get sick.

Point being, I am not arguing that each individual is influenced to a uniform degree and in the exact same way. I am arguing that the culture that dictates these norms is harmful in general. Also, the sad truth is that even if these norms don’t bug you personally, odds are they DO negatively affect how others perceive you and interact with you, and that’s just wrong and unfair.

I hope that clarifies things.

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Rosa on June 6, 2011 at 10:22 am.

Thank you so much, Lesley.

I have had it up to here on the answer to every problem I bring up being “conform and be rewarded!”

* extra taxes we pay as an unmarried couple – instead of repealing DOMA we should “stop being stubborn” and get married.

* can’t find clothes I like? Lose weight.

* can’t find clothes my partner likes? He should start going to the mall instead of the thrift store.

* can’t find a good after-school program for our kid? He should behave better & cope better (he’s 5) instead of expecting programs to include space for introverted or hyper kids.

* can’t get through a familiy gathering without enduring criticism of my weight, family, housekeeping, politics, neighborhood, food choices – obviously my problem, right? It’s not that these people can’t be polite for 20 minutes at a time..

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Shaymaa on June 9, 2011 at 2:19 am.

Lesley, I love you and don’t even know you. You have it down. That applies to so many things, to feminism, to womanism, to everything that has to do with seeing how things really are and to not just accepting the “norm” or, my favorite, “ration.”

Just say no. It made me tear up, and was what I needed when I didn’t even know I needed it. <3

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Natasja on June 21, 2011 at 3:09 pm.

I suspect this will be labeled as a bingo-friendly response, but i wonder why there are not many smaller persons criticizing the cultural assumptions about bodies and weight? Is it more of a personal thing than for example racism?

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Rebecca on June 30, 2011 at 11:56 am.

Natasja, there are actually a number of smaller-bodied folks that are doing this. If you spend some time in the Shapely Prose archives, you will see a lot of them speaking there.

In my own life, I have at least two close friends that take part in these type of conversations. One is and underweight to normal weight woman who has no body issues or food issues, but just cares about justice. The other is a muscular, normal weight straight man who doesn’t like getting picked on for thinking 300-500 pounds is the sweet spot for maximum sexiness in ladies.

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fathead on August 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm.

Arent social norms necessary for a society to function?
Simple people need direction. If not religion then current pop-culture.
How else would the world go round?

P.S. I seem to be the only dude on here haha

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