Sticks and Stones

Debbie and Laurie say:

Hating/self-hating talk goes on all the time, in all sorts of venues. Recently the everyday quality of it has been getting to both of us.

Debbie is invited to a book club for women–the format is terrific, the women are bright, the books are interesting. It’s someone’s birthday, and what is she most concerned about? “Whatever you do, don’t ask me my age!” No one disagrees. The birthday (carrot) cake is declared to be “sinful” and “evil.”

Laurie goes to the doctor today, and wonders if the reason she’s due for a pneumonia vaccine is that she just turned 65. When she mentions it to the nurse, the nurse says, “Oh, are you retired?” (It took until tonight to formulate the Miss Manners answer: “No. Why do you ask?”)

We’ve had it easy. Here’s what some other people are seeing:

An acquaintance in Toronto got a much longer version of this in her work email. As she said, “It made me want to throw my sandals at my colleague’s head.”

As a member of the Cute Girl Sisterhood, I pledge to follow the Rules when wearing sandals and other open-toe shoes:

I promise to always wear sandals that fit. My toes will not hang over and touch the ground, nor will my heels spill over the backs. And the sides and tops of my feet will not pudge out between the straps.

I will go polish-free or vow to keep the polish fresh, intact and chip-free. I will not cheat and just touch up my big toe.

I will sand down any mounds of skin before they turn hard and yellow.

I will shave the hairs off my big toe.

I will take my toe ring off toward the end of the day if my toes swell and begin to look like Vienna sausages.

I will be brutally honest with my girlfriend/sister/coworker when she asks me if her feet are too ugly to wear sandals. Someone has to tell her that her toes are as long as my fingers and no sandal makes creepy feet look good.


Queer writer and activist Gina deVries gets fat-bashed on a San Francisco bus:

I got “fat-bashed” on a bus yesterday.

I got on the 22-Fillmore at 16th and Valencia, and sat down across from a woman in her fifties and her two daughters in their twenties. The woman said to me, very loudly, as I sat down, “Have a seat, FATTY.”

I was pretty shocked, and at first, I just tried to ignore her. She proceeded to continue yelling “FATTY” and “FAT” in my general direction. Her daughters were laughing with her. Several people shot me sympathetic looks, but it was still pretty scary for it to be three against one.

I finally looked her in the eye, and said, loudly: “Why are you trying to humiliate me? What are you getting out of this?” I don’t know if that was a smart or stupidly vulnerable thing to say. It was the first thing that popped into my head.

She responded: “Oh, I wasn’t talking to you, I said, ‘Have a seat, sweetie!’… FATTY. Oh, I’m just talking to my daughter, look at her, she’s fat.” (At which point the daughter stopped laughing at me with her, and started telling her to shut up.)

Then the “FATTY” comments started coming again. I rolled my eyes, looked away, and tried to ignore her. She kept yelling, throwing in a few choice but essentially non-threatening lines about how she was going to kick my fat ass. I got off the bus a stop early — the friend I was with (who was several seats away) motioned to me, and we split.

Gina’s right on target with her answer, “Why are you trying to humiliate me?” because “humiliate” is the exact right word.

We hear lots of people saying, “There’s too much of it out there; you can’t fight it all; you have to pick your battles,” et cetera. And to some extent that’s true. You can’t speak up every time, any more than you can feed every homeless person.

At the same time, every one of these experiences, and the tens of thousands of others like them, is personally destructive to the person who hears or reads it. If you don’t resist internally every time, whether or not you say something, then you take it in. Remember. sticks and stones can break your bones, but names can really hurt you. Resistance, internal and/or external, is the only defense against being overwhelmed by the hateful flood.

Resistance is not futile.

feminism, insults, fat, fashion, sexism, ageism, harassment, Body Impolitic

8 thoughts on “Sticks and Stones

  1. I work at a large federal government department, one with a relatively high percentage of female senior executives, some of them are even “plus-sized”. We have a “women’s forum”, for networking and socialising and book clubs and all that. It seems fairly positive in general but I’ve been disinclined to join because they publish a newsletter with profiles of various women in the department – and one on the list of questions they ask is “What is your least favourite body part?”. :( And they have educational seminars, mostly good but a few are frankly rubbish ones involving “healthy weight loss” and so on. Sigh.

  2. If someone pulled that “Fatty” trip on me — or someone around me — I would get violent.

    What gets me is the indirect stuff. Like yesterday, we had an office birthday party, and as usual it quickly turned into a discussion of calories and dieting, and all the women outcompeting each other to see who could take the smallest slice of cake. One of my coworkers said something like, “If I did that I’d be 300 pounds.” As usual, I said nothing. What can you say to things like this?

  3. This conversation reminds me of the issues around the use of the word “retard.” Many, even well-meaning people say “retarded,” when they probably mean, “doesn’t work well,” or “ridiculous.” “Retard” is my “Fatty.” Maybe because my son would probably test in that IQ range. It doesn’t matter. I fight it in small ways wherever I can, even though it is hard to. I say, “You seem like a nice person. You probably don’t realize that that is kind of hurtful to some.”

    We all could even try smiling and saying, “You say that like it’s a BAD thing!” If I truly don’t believe being retarded (or fat) is bad, my comfort may make others more comfortable when trying to educate them. Maybe it is working, because I feel that fewer and fewer people stare at my son now; or maybe I just don’t notice it anymore! So something has healed/improved.

  4. “You say that like it’s a BAD thing!”

    OMG, I love that! I think I could pull that one off beautifully with the right sardonic tone of voice ….

    Thank you.

  5. Patia, I think Susan answered you as well as anyone could. Since I weigh about 260 right now, I often say something like, “You know, I’m really healthy and happy at this weight.”

    Susan, I think it’s sad that people are so disrespectful of your son; I appreciate your attitude about it.

  6. “You say it like it’s a BAD thing!” is now on my response list.

    And I want an organization that asks you to name your favorite body part.

  7. I think a contest to name your favorite body part and say why is a great idea. I saw this in quiz form in a parenting magazine once, regarding your baby: Q: What is your favorite body part of your baby? And it gave 4 possible responses: cheek, tush, belly, foot.

    The only other time you see this question asked of women is in mainstream fashion mags where they interview “typical” women (i.e., women who kind of resemble the models within) and ask them what is their favorite body part. The responses are interesting; they often will justify heavier thighs, etc., by saying that they are strong.

    I’m in a belly dance class and there is one very heavy woman in there and she danced for us. Amazing to me how accepting the culture is in there. We all felt mesmerized by her graceful movements, and one classmate commented that her shimmy was just beautiful because of how much she shakes.

  8. Susan,

    I teach belly dancing. Everyone can look beautiful doing it but fat women are made for it. I once taught a fat women’s class – they were fabulous!

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