I have something to say to the dad of the 3 young girls I encountered at the dog park last week.
You and your girls were walking the opposite direction of me and my dog and as we passed each other, you asked if you could take my picture with your daughters. While my senses prickled – many years as a fat person has taught me that our culture loves to play voyeur to bodies like mine – I decided to indulge you for a moment and ask why you’d want to have a photo of me and your kids. You said that they were curious about my mobility scooter. Fair enough. I made a point to turn and address them as they munched on their snacks and explained that I have a scooter because I can’t walk very far and having it makes it so that I can go a lot more places than without it. As I was talking you squatted down and repeated what I was saying to the youngest child.
All was well until you stood up and tipped your hand, “I also don’t want them to eat too many chips, you know?”
Do I know?
I’ll tell you what I know.
That you just tried to take a picture of me with your children so that you would have an example of how you don’t want their bodies to be when they get older.
Not only that, you tried to make me complicit in your policing of your daughters’ weight. You thought that – perhaps in a last ditch effort – by making your real intentions clear that I’d hop on board (well, not really – you’d probably be afraid I’d break the vessel) and willingly be your own personal poster person of self-hate to give a solid target for your bigotry.
While I managed to say in response, “People come in all shapes and sizes and that’s okay.” and roll away, there are a few more things I want to make clear:
I am not your cautionary tale. Nor is any other fat person, no matter how put together we look in a photo, if we are headless, in a bathing suit or completely naked. We deserve better than being treated like a carnival sideshow to point at and be mocked and judged.
You’ve caused me pain. You’ve mistaken your own bigotry for my sadness and shame. It’s forced me to be re-traumatized over and over because, in order to ground myself after being treated so poorly, I’ve had to explain our interaction to other people so that I could dispel the gut-wrenching swell in my stomach and the feeling that I’m in an observation chamber that is slowly getting smaller.
While you are not the first person to treat me with this kind of degradation – in fact, this attitude swirls in the ether of my life so much that it’s practically hate-fog – I’m not willing to let our story end without letting you in on the irony.
You see, if you knew anything about me that wasn’t your assumptions based on my size, you’d know that I’m an excellent role model for your girls.
Awesome things I’ve done include, but are not limited to:
- I have survived living in the bay, one of the most expensive places to live in the world, with multiple disabilities and other oppressed identities that make it harder to earn a living.
- I have a wonderfully diverse group of friends and broader community with whom I love spending time, creating joy and making memories.
- I have managed to find and hang onto a couple fiercely wonderful heart friends that get to see and connect with the most vulnerable and true versions of myself. I am incredibly lucky and grateful that this is true. So many people that are forced into the repetitive trauma of oppression never find these people.
- I’ve managed to identify and pursue, in big and small ways, things I’m deeply passionate about and fill my heart to engage with.
And to the point of what I think you were, as a parent who cares about their children, trying to get at in a very gross and dehumanizing way:
- I love and value my body and take great care in being mentally and physically well.
I realize that you don’t have depths of understanding of the history of the subjugation of fat people. Or how decades upon decades of research on how bodies interact with nutrition and the environment has shown that long-term intentional body size manipulation is a pipe dream. This evidence has been ignored in the name of extorting money from people by convincing them that they would be able to be happy/better/more successful/fill-in-the-blank people if only they were thinner. I don’t have the capacity, nor is it my responsibility, to educate you on those things.
I will, however, leave you with this:
I am happy. Really. Truly. Happy. Even on the bad days. I know that I’ve put in tonnes and tonnes of effort in moving towards the person who I most want to be. None of that includes policing mine, or anyone else’s, weight.
If you do nothing else but come away from this knowing that truth about me, despite the volumes of assumptions about me that informed our interaction, perhaps you can start to comprehend the level of disgrace and dehumanization you thrust upon me that day.
I think you’ll find yourself a better person for it.
Ps, Here is a picture of me being awesome, as you were so keen to have one.
[Image description: upward angle of a short-haired, fat, white person with a green ruffle-y top ]