Emily Anson: I’m Still Angry (But I’m Getting There)
I’m still angry. My anger, while not integral to my new identity as a promoter of size acceptance, helps to drive me. I have to admit it. I’m pissed off.
It’s been a journey for me to get here, and a non-linear one at that. When I was a young fat teenager, desperately trying to escape my own self-hatred, I stumbled upon the Fat!So? online zine. I gazed in awe at pictures of fat bodies, and read treatises on the virtues of self-acceptance. In those days of high school peer-group torture and suggestions of diets from well-meaning parents, this girl was not yet ready to really believe those things she read, covertly as if they had been taboo erotica, late at night when she knew nobody would disturb her.
Fast-forward to university, a place I had hoped would be a haven from the pain and stupidity of high school. When I arrived at university, I was at first dismayed; the same tired old cliques seemed still to be in operation. The girls on my floor in residence were fickle, catty and cruel. The university’s general attitude towards fat was the typical prejudiced B.S. that I’d been internalizing and turning into self-loathing for pretty much my whole life. One residence even had posters up in women’s bathroom stalls advising the girls not to drink too much liquor, since it contained extra calories. Seriously.
It was different in the classroom. In second semester I took my first women’s studies class, and something began to take root in my consciousness. I heard for the first time that “fat is a feminist issue”, and took it to heart. I began to realize how unfair it was that society at large upheld one (unrealistic and often artificially-maintained) image of acceptable womanhood. I also began to see how this related to patriarchy, and the systems which function in a patriarchal society to keep women at odds with each other, passive and weakened by fear and self-loathing. I realized that I had been programmed to believe in standards of beauty that were fraudulent, non-inclusive and at odds with the true range on human vibrancy and physical variation, and that as a result I had damaged myself through self-hatred and poor treatment of my body.
Later in my degree I began to read feminist blogs, and from there discovered size acceptance blogs. I read about the hype surrounding the ‘obesity crisis’, the long-standing truth of the dominance of genetics over personal habits that the media seems to ignore, and discovered the golden beacon of hope that is Health at Every Size. I framed a picture of the fat and fabulous Beth Ditto in a gold frame and hung it in my living room. I stood up to my parents about my size and my personal health.
In the midst of all these monumental changes in the way that I saw myself, I realized that a great anger had been building in me. I can trace that anger back to that girl, 12 years old, a chubby child who did not understand why clothing at ‘normal’ stores didn’t fit her. Who couldn’t talk about her body image issues except in moments of the deepest despair. Who threw on baggy boy’s clothes not because they suited her or made her feel confident, but because she was desperately trying to hide her fat body. Who was shocked when her first three boyfriends found her attractive, and felt betrayed when they told her she was beautiful. All that anger found an outlet in size acceptance, once I realized why I was angry.
I am angry for every fat person who has limited their lives because they believed they were out of a range of physical acceptability. I am angry for every fat person who has stayed in a damaging relationship because they believed that they deserved no better. I am angry for every fat person who is afraid to dance or go on a bike ride or do yoga for fear of ridicule and exclusion. I am angry for every fat person who looks in the mirror and internalizes a bit more self-hatred every day. I am just so damn angry.
I know one day I will have to face my anger, because rage can only take one so far before it either burns out or morphs into something sinister. I know that a more productive exercise would be transforming my anger into compassion for people who face similar difficulties as me, and speaking eloquently and persuasively about the importance of HAES and self-love. I’ve been doing better with these things, though I know I still have a ways to go.
I’m still angry, yes. But I’m getting there.
Emily can be contacted here.
Photo courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/angermann