My Identity, My Choice

If I could have two wishes, the first one would be that everyone who thinks about telling me that I should stop identifying as fat would decide not to do that and to, instead, do some work on themselves about why the way I identify bothers them so much. The second wish would obviously be unlimited wishes but that’s a given, so.

I’ve had this conversation a lot lately, so if you feel like this post is targeted at you in particular, know that it is not. It is the result of our conversation + the conversations I’ve had with at least six other people in the past few months.

Every few weeks I get a comment or a DM that says something along the lines of, “I wish you wouldn’t call yourself fat. You’re so much more than that.”

And to that I just want to say, “Well, Linda, you’re so much more than your multi-level-marketing business but you’re still out here talking about how Tupperware has changed your life every single day and no one’s patting you on the shoulder talking about how they wish you’d focus more on your wholeness as a person and not just this singular facet.” Or, maybe they are. I don’t know. I just assume they’re not because it would never cross my mind to tell someone that they’re not allowed to present themselves in a way that makes them feel comfortable. But here we are!

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Photo by Blue Muse Photography, Hutchinson KS [Image description: Libby shown from the waist up, laughing and showing off her double chins and arm rolls in her turtleneck sweater. The photo is black and white and Libby’s white sweater fades into the background a bit.]
So, since it’s been coming up so often, I thought I’d address it. Because obviously I assume that people that feel this way are a lot like cockroaches in that if you see one, there’s probably a thousand more hanging back to see if it’s okay to come out and ask you a question. Sorry to compare you to a cockroach! Now taking applications for a different metaphor…

When it comes down to it, what you’re saying is that “fat” is a negative word and you don’t want me to view myself negatively. Now, look, I know you want to think that’s not true. I know you think that you’re very progressive and “body positive” and you’re just saying that I’m a beautiful little multilayered birthday cake of complex greatness and I’m limiting myself by focusing on just this one aspect of my humanity. That’s what you think you’re saying. But do you want to know how I know you’re not doing that? Because you’ve never approached me about any other identifier that I use. No one has ever said to me, “Libby I wish you wouldn’t call yourself a woman, you’re so much more than that.” Or, “why do you insist on introducing yourself as a writer? Don’t you know there’s so much more depth and beauty to your special little sacred soul?” It has never happened, not even once.

The conversation is always a bit different but the sentiment is generally the same. Essentially, it’s a lot of compliments and about seventeen sentences about their own body positive journey that always wraps up with never outright saying but definitely saying, “I feel uncomfortable when you say ‘fat’ and for some reason, my comfort is more important than actually doing the work to figure this ish out.”

There can be a lot of different reasons for why a person may feel squidgy about me using the F word–and it’s going to be different for everyone. For most people it’s because “fat” is a bad word. I get that. I grew up in America in the 90’s, too. But I’ve done a lot of work to de-weaponize that particular word.
For me, “fat” is a descriptor like any other physical descriptor. Last month, I met someone for the first time and they said, “Wow! You’re tall!” And neither of us thought anything about it because “tall” is not a bad word. Ergo, theretofore, whathaveyou, “fat” also is not a bad word, to me anyway. I mean, it has been weapon used against me for my entire life but I’m trying to neutralize it.

I know the rest of the world isn’t ready to accept “fat” as a neutral descriptor but unless and until people start treating it as such, nothing is going to change. And we’re world changers around here, don’t forget that. So we say “fat” when we mean it. That also means we don’t say “fat” when what we mean to say is “gross,” “lazy,” “temporarily bloated,” “a jerk”. Let’s just all around try to be more accurate with our language–it’s vast and capable of so much!

The thing is, I identify in a way that feels right to me. I’ve thought long and hard about the identities that I claim–it’s not lost on me that I identify with privileged groups as well as marginalized groups. I’m a fat, queer, cis, white woman. That’s where I’m at right now. That is going to shift and change shape and grow overtime but that’s where I am today. The point is, I don’t claim “fat” offhand anymore than any of my other identities. I make myself say it. I stand in it. I stand in your discomfort and mine because that’s where change brews.

If there’s something in you that feels uncomfortable about the way that another person identifies, I want to challenge you to do some introspection before you start handing out life advice.
Ask yourself why something that has nothing to do with you at all challenges you in such a way and really spend some time in that discomfort–it’s fertile land.

Then, do some research. I loved this piece that Margot Meanie wrote about reclaiming “fat”. Corissa from Fat Girl Flow wrote about her experience with the word. J from ComfyFat wrote this amazing piece about how fatphobia kept them from being able to deal with the question of gender for a really long time. The entire She’s All Fat Podcast back catalogue: listen to it, learn it, embody it, become a patreon. Plus there’s so much more. The Fat Acceptance Movement is booming. What a time to be alive!

And lastly, please just be mindful of the free labor that you’re asking others to do for you. People come to me to have this conversation all the time and it can really be exhausting. It’s already so tiring to operate in a world in a marginalized body in the first place and you come home and just want to chill out on social media in your sweatpants that you like to pretend aren’t covered in holes. Then, to be faced with someone who needs you to, yet again, defend your humanity and the right to your own identifiers for free–it’s too much sometimes! There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be Googled.

I know, I know I sound mad. I’m not mad, really. I’m just… tired. And there’s a lot of pent up frustration that’s been dying to get out on this particular topic. In fact, 98% of the reason that I’m writing this post right now is so that I’ll just be able to air drop it to the next 600 people that come up to me acting like they invented the repulsive, reductive colloquialism, “Don’t call yourself fat. Your body has fat. Your body has fingernails and you don’t call yourself fingernails.” You didn’t invent that and you’re the third person to say it to me this week–quit pretending like it just popped into your head. Sorry, tangent.

Anyway, all this to say, believe it or not, I’m excited to be talking more about this topic on my blog! I really am. I resisted against talking about fattness for so long but now that I’ve started to discuss it, it feels like it’s really resonating with people and I’m so stoked about that! I know this particular post feels like I’m not having fun or you’re not allowed to ask me about this stuff. That’s not the case at all. It’s just that, you know, if we’re strangers on the internet, I don’t want to be the place where you aim a bunch of unresolved body issues.

If we have a relationship IRL and you want to ask me questions, please know that nothing warms my heart like you wanting to know how to understand my existence better. Truly. I love you all. Thank you.

XOXO, Lib

 

Will This Be Together or Separate?

A few weeks ago I hosted a super informal and unscientific experiment on my Facebook page. I asked my friends, “when you and your partner are out to dinner (without kids) and it comes time for the check, how often does the server ask if this will be on separate checks or all together?”
My answer: every single time.
Continue reading “Will This Be Together or Separate?”

On Fatness and Acceptability

Boy, you never know what’s going to lay you so low.

So it’s been a productive morning and I reward myself by vegging out and watching IG stories for a a few minutes. And that’s when I see the image of a really fat person and the words, “I’m in love with the shape of you” emblazoned over the photo. And I think to myself, “What? Who is this? What fatphobic stranger on the internet have I been following without realizing it this whole time?!” But I saw this wasn’t a stranger. This was posted by a long-time family friend. So I want to give him the benefit of the doubt. I’m wondering to myself, “wait–maybe this isn’t a fatphobic post but just something else that I’m not understanding yet?”

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So I look all over the photo for some other clue to the punchline but there isn’t one. I took a screenshot, obviously, to show to a friend to ask if there’s something I’m missing here. But there isn’t. I’m not going to post that photo here, today, though, because the subject of that photo doesn’t deserve to have her life on display for the gawking of the internet–regardless of what this person who posted it to begin with believes. But I can describe it to you. It’s a photo taken in what appears to be some kind of a waiting room. This person is just minding her own business, sitting in a chair, looking at her phone. Not the most flattering position that anyone is ever in if I do say so myself.  Waiting for whatever it is she showed up for that day. Living her life in a normal way like everyone does. Minding her own business.

I’m not going to pretend like I am proud of the way that I responded or the messages that I sent. Lots of F words, mostly. I mean, I wish/ hope this person has someone in their life to explain just the level of horrendousness that he committed, today. And I hope that he’s able to hear it, too. But I’m not going to count on it. Some days I’m the person to reach out and teach a lesson. But not today. I’m not the one–even if he would have been able to hear it from me (which I’m sure that he would not).

The subject’s very fat body is not that different from my own very fat body. For the most part, in my life I have not had to encounter that much direct bullying about what I look like. I’ve worked very, very hard to make that the case, actually. All through school, I made a habit of befriending my bullies. They would call me names–the usuals: land whale, Libby Porker (a riff on my maiden name) was a popular one, Free Willy came out around that time so people loved to shout that at me.
Every time someone said something horrible to me, I’d feign the sweetest look on my face, pretend that I truly didn’t hear him and ask him to repeat what he’d said since I’m sure that it was so thoughtful and important. They never repeated it because I’d brought them face to face with thinking twice before they said something hurtful. It was a pretty clever move if I do say so.

Obliterate the sour with sweetness–this was my strategy. And it worked–but it only worked in that eventually they stopped. It didn’t work to teach them about themselves. It didn’t really work for me because I still, always and forever knew that I was an Other among them. They stopped bullying me but they never actually cared about me. I was never really welcome. And it put all the work on my shoulders. They didn’t have to actually learn how to treat people–it was my job to teach them how to behave around me. It was the price I was willing to pay for admission to a seemingly unbothered life. It was either that or getting beat up and mocked openly like so many others–so I think even now I probably would have chosen to pay my debt in emotional labor.

I did all I could to be acceptable and loved. In the 8th grade I read a book about a girl with an eating disorder and went home and tried for weeks to make myself throw up after dinner but I just couldn’t do it. When I was 17, my best friend sat me down on a lawn to tell me that she was bulimic and wanted help. I only felt jealousy–something for which I still feel ashamed.

So, because I’ve worked so hard to have a personality that hopefully makes up for the sin of being a fat person, I do forget sometimes that I’m not inherently welcome in this life. I’m never unaware of my size. It’s never not at the forefront of my mind but sometimes I am able to convince myself that maybe I’ve done the impossible and tricked other people into forgetting about it.

In the 9th grade, the older boy that I had a crush on asked me to dance with him at Homecoming and I felt like the most acceptable, normal girl in the room. Even though he molested me after driving me home–telling me that I was so lucky that anyone would want anything from me, I still can’t help but remember the dreamy way that dance made me feel. Because even at 33 years old and a lifetime of self-awareness and love under my belt, there’s still a tiny sliver of me that felt flattered that he picked me at all.

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Fat jokes on TV or the internet don’t bother me. I’ve been blocking them out my whole life. They’re not funny–don’t get me wrong. They’re offensive to me but, like, on a comedic plane–because they’re not clever. If you’ve been hearing fat jokes since you were in kindergarten, someone comparing Chris Christie to a “beached whale” is not funny. You’ve heard this joke forty billion times. It’s not funny because it’s tired. There are so many horrible things about Chris Christie but his waistline is not one of them.

But when people I know, people I love, people that I’ve allowed into the same room as my soft, forgiving, unguarded body laugh at these jokes–that’s when I’m reminded.

When my friend comments that the waitress is cute enough but she only needs one chin–not two, that’s when I’m reminded.

When people that I have lived life with at some point or another laugh at or point out their disgust at the shape of someone else’s body–for a joke on Instagram, that’s when I’m reminded.

That I don’t belong here. That my body is not my own–it exists for someone else to either laugh at or fetishize. That I have done enough to keep them from saying anything directly to me, about me, but that they still don’t believe that my life matters in the grand scheme of this world. That me and people like me are disposable. That we are walking jokes. That we don’t have real lives. That, we cease to exist when you can’t see us anymore and we’re not real. I’m tired of fighting to be seen as a person.

You’d never admit that this is true because you don’t want to face the facts about the kind of person you are but when you laugh at our bodies, you are hating our humanity. This is who you are and I won’t let you get away with not facing that.

“Except for you, Libby. You’re an exception. We love you.” Well, look, I’ve done a lot of fucking work on your behalf to make people like you not hate people like me. But I haven’t even done a good enough job because the only fat person you don’t hate is me. And that’s not good enough. I can’t do it because it’s not my job. It was never my job–it was a coping mechanism leftover from grade school that, at thirty three years old, I’m still relying on. And I’m done.

I’m done being palatable. I’m done being sweet and kind and understanding and the right kind of fat person for you to feel comfortable around. I don’t have to carry this anymore. From now on, understanding that humans are humans is your own responsibility and there’s a lot of work that goes into that.
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Thank you.
XOXO, Lib

All the art in this piece is by Kristy Miliken, from this article.

 

Love the One You’re With

A few years ago I introduced a friend of mine to a larger group of friends. She could have just said, “Nice to meet you all” and left it at that but the first thing she said to the group was, “Libby helped me to love my body and I’m forever thankful for that.” I was brought to tears immediately. Not just because that was such a touching and disarming thing to hear–something I’d love to be remembered for. But because sometimes (and at that moment in particular), I am just not loving this body of mine. But I want to–so I work hard at it.

If there’s anything in this life that’s worth having, it’s worth working for. You’re never just going to wake up one day having dismantled all that your upbringing, culture, and expectations have constructed around you. I don’t care who you are–what your gender is, what your age is, what your body looks like, you have been told that some aspect of you is not good enough. It’s as inevitable as death and taxes. Some of you have had it whispered to you in a sliver of doubt in your mind–some of you have faced humiliation, discrimination and even violence because of it. But no one escapes it. Would you believe it if I told you that social media has been one of the key ingredients in building my confidence?

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Body-love starts with body-acceptance and body-acceptance starts at normalizing normal bodies. Now, body positivity is very trendy right now and on one very, very large hand that’s awesome. But on another hand, when important things become very popular, they can become diluted. Lots of brands are out there advertising diversity and body love while still showing images of all the same types of people. And the reason that this doesn’t help is because it just creates a new normal–a new ideal. Just a different thing to strive for. But I don’t want a new normal. I want what exists right now to be normal.

Look, I’m not going to change the media and the way that they keep giving us new ideals to strive for. But I can change the media that I consume. So rather than waiting for Glamour to serve me up images of the types of people that I know and love, I’m going to seek them out for my own self and flood my own media channels with what I’m looking for. It’s 2017. You’re in control of a lot more than you ever were before.

I want to be more loving and accepting of my own body and I want to be more loving and accepting of other peoples’ bodies. So I flood my social media channels with images of people who look like me and people who do not at all look like (or maybe even live like, or think like) me and this has made such a huge difference in how I see myself and how I love others well, too. The following is a list of people that I follow to one degree or another. These are Instagram accounts but don’t forget to find these people on YouTube, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Tumblr, etc to make sure that you don’t leave a gap. I hope you have so much fun finding new accounts to follow, finding new voices and perspectives to hear from, and finding new ways to see yourself as honorable.


Women who look like me (at least in one way or another):
@fatgirlflow (I especially like watching Corissa on YouTube because she often films videos with messy hair and a makeup free face and that makes me feel so much more acceptable in my greasy hair and pimply face), @meghantonjes, @hellabellafabulous, @allisonkimmey, @margotmeanie, @tessholiday

WOC Instagrammers:
@lizzobeeating, @douxsarah (plus-size, hijab fashion? I’m so here for this.), @ihartericka

Trans Instagrammers:
@shadeyshay, @ryancassata, @janetmock

Disabled Instagrammers:
@sitting_pretty, @rvbyallegra, @curvesbecomeher

Male Instagrammers:
@fatboyflow (yeah, so Nate is married to @fatgirlflow and they’re both broadening my horizons and cracking me up), @mattjosephdiaz, @titusssawthis

Etc. Body Positive Instagram Accounts:
@bodyposipanda, @bebody_positive, @cheyennegil, @themilitantbaker, @slaygirlsociety, @nolatrees, @donthatetheshake and a gazillion more who are ready and waiting to serve you up some sweet, sweet body normalization.

Are there any accounts that you’d like to add to this list? What about categories? Is there anything you’d like to see but are having trouble finding? I’ll look for it!

I think you’re great.
XOXO, Lib.

Page 90: Things Your Fat Friend Wants You to Know

I know it’s against the rules but I tend to lurk in comment sections on the internet. It’s bad practice. I never recommend it to anyone else. But, like a smoker who tells kids to never get hooked, here I am. On Facebook, on Instagram, articles… I haven’t got the patience to lurk too deep on Twitter–thank goodness. I’ve seen troublesome statements in comments sections but I’ve also heard them in real life and I’m going to tell you, now, what’s not okay about some things that aren’t okay.
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Continue reading “Page 90: Things Your Fat Friend Wants You to Know”