Laurie and I had a plan for today; we set time aside to blog together about the movie Wall-E and this fat activist article about it from Slate.
It would have been an interesting post–maybe it still will be. But I’ve been derailed, by my friend P., who sent me the link to the Slate article.
Apparently, the Slate article (which I agree with in some part and disagree with in some part) pushed my friend’s buttons, and she published a vitriolic, name-calling anti-fat-activist rant on her blog. It’s public, it’s not password-protected, I could send you to it. But I’m not going to, and at the end of this post, I’ll explain why.
Warning: if you’re a fat activist or an ally, you may find this next paragraph hard to read.
The title of the post is “Idiocy.” She calls fat activists “as a group,” “rabid and out of control.” She says we will respond to the “tiniest bit negative about being fat” by “jump[ing] down your throat and rip[ping] you a new asshole from the inside.” She says that if you suggest there’s a choice involved (in being fat), “you should fear for your life.” She says that if you write a fat character “in a less-than glowing light, you will be crucified on the activist’s altar.”
When I put in a mild response, she replied that she thought I was “one of the few sane ones.” That pushed me over the edge.
As a fat activist for the last 25 years, and an activist on other issues for the last 40, I have (of course–so have you) seen this kind of thing many times before. In milder terms, I’ve taken P.s side.
But here’s the thing that P. never acknowledges.
Everything she describes about fat activists is a hundred times, no a thousand or a hundred thousand times, more true of weight-loss true believers. For every individual who doesn’t think she should lose weight, there is a million-dollar business pushing her to lose weight. For everyone who doesn’t want to admit that there might be something the “tiniest bit negative about being fat,” there are hundreds of thousands of doctors, thousands of bariatric clinics and hospitals, who won’t admit that there might be anything the “tiniest bit negative” about being thin. Trust me (from personal observation), a 109-pound person has a harder time in chemotherapy than a 209-pound person. That’s just one. Have you ever heard anyone other than a fat activist say it?
Here’s where I agree with P.: In an ideal world, none of us would be telling anyone else how to live their lives. No activist would be criticizing women who diet, or get breast prosthetics, or African-American women who straighten their hair. In that same ideal world, no one would have been so barraged with hateful messages from early childhood that s/he would become an extremist in the other direction.
I work hard not to be the kind of activist (fat, queer, antiracist, whatever) that P. describes. This decision is made solely on the grounds of usefulness. I’m well aware of the part of me that wants to jump down the throat of every weight loss evangelist, every person who tells “socially acceptable” racist jokes and doesn’t see the harm in it, every person who says, “That’s so gay! and means “That’s so stupid!” I don’t jump down their throats, because I want them to listen to what I have to say. This makes me “one of the sane ones,” but you know what? The “insane” ones by this standard seem pretty damn sane to me. They’re angry enough to say things that have to be said. (Think anyone would have printed that review if Daniel Engber had said, “Wall-E gets some things about fat right and some wrong?” Maybe, if he has a regular column. But that’s not how you get a regular column.)
If you want individuals to listen to you (which is what I want), you have to learn how to moderate your extremism. If you want a soapbox, a place to yell from (which I desperately want my allies to have), you have to learn how to minimize your moderation and be extreme. You have to define the endpoints to move the middle–I learned that in college, studying the abolitionist movement which got rid of slavery in this country. For each Daniel Engber, a thousand people in theaters are nodding and thinking, “See, I knew the people covering the earth with garbage were fat.” And no, the movie does not say that. The movie is nuanced and interesting and worth discussion–but first there’s a cheap takeaway message for the people who aren’t noticing nuances.
I do not want to be “one of the sane ones.” I want to stand with my “rabid and completely out of control” allies. I’m sometimes wrong-headed, sometimes overly didactic, sometimes an extremist. I also know that what “extremist” really means is “angrier than me.” And right in the moment, I’m pretty damned angry. At the same time, I want friends who choose to diet or have weight loss surgery to be willing to talk to me; and I want to support them without giving up my beliefs.
So why didn’t I give you the link to P.’s post? Because I know that some of you wouldn’t be able to resist going and ranting there. And ranting at her is not going to be useful. This post is an attempt to practice what I’m preaching: be extreme on the soapbox and moderate when dealing with individuals.