Friday, August 1, 2014

We shouldn't need to be strong

[Content note: fat shaming]

I love Gabourey Sidibe. She's a great actress. She's one of the very few visible feisty fat ladies in Hollywood. And she always seems so hilarious and cool.

But there's a quote from a recent speech she made to the Ms. Foundation that's been going around and bugging me. Not because of what Sidibe said about herself or her experience, but because of its reflection of our society.

[Image text: Sidibe pictured with her quote, "If they hadn't told me I was ugly, I never would have searched for my beauty. And if they hadn't tried to break me down, I wouldn't know I'm unbreakable."]

On its surface, I can easily see the strength and grace in this quote and the perspective that Sidibe has taken.

But wouldn't it be great if people who don't fit conventional beauty standards could find confidence and beauty in themselves, not despite society...but because of it? I'm fully aware that at this point that's like wishing I could ride a unicorn to work every day, but I can't help but yearn for a world in which fat folks (women in particular) wouldn't need to be strong in order to not feel like shit every day.

I recently came across an article that touches on this topic (and even samples the same quote from Sidibe.) The article by Liz Dwyer at discusses a study which sought to quantify the fatshaming experiences that 50 women encountered over a week. Dwyer writes:
The researchers asked 50 overweight or obese women to keep a diary for a week, writing down every single incident in which they were insulted, humiliated, or bullied by others because of their size. During those seven days, the women reported a shocking 1,077 weight-stigmatizing events.
Eighty-four percent of the study’s participants reported incidents involving some kind of physical barrier, such as a narrow turnstile or a too-small bus seat. Another 74 percent reported being on the receiving end of nasty comments from strangers, friends, and family members. Seventy-two percent of the women documented being stared at in an unfriendly way and others making negative assumptions about them.
One lady had teenagers mooing at her in a store, and one had a dentist express concern that she might break his chair. Yet another participant reported that her boyfriend’s mom refused to give her food and “also stated that I was so fat because I was lazy.”
While Dwyer calls the results "shocking," I'd wager people like myself found this data totally expected, sadly. Just as one small example from my past week, a thin friend and I were out and about and decided to grab a quick drink. Despite the fact that I distinctly ordered a coke and her a diet coke from our server, when the server returned she gave me the diet and my friend the regular. (And even now as I am writing this I feel the need to justify when I was even drinking a coke in the first place and add in details about how I don't typically drink them often, etc. etc.)

And while this is a small example, all of these small examples (and the more hateful ones like the mooing) do add up to a constant narrative that you are wrong, your body is wrong, etc. It can be too much to bear, sometimes.

But we strengthen ourselves. We create spaces and ways where we can escape the narrative and feel beautiful and actually worth something. We tell ourselves that what doesn't kill us makes us stronger.

I just wish we didn't need to even be so strong in the first place. But for now that is pretty much a pipe folks like Sidibe will continue to steel themselves against the onslaught of hatred that comes from simply living a life in a body like hers.

What else CAN you do?

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