Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Power to the (Fat) People

Six years ago I started my own body revolution. I devoured books, like this one and this one, and started following fat feminists like Marilyn Wann, Ragen Chastaine, Lindy West, Tess Munster and Jes Baker. They helped me find my way and find my voice.

Three years ago I spoke to a sold out crowd at the Egyptian Theater downtown Boise about how to be fat and fabulous. I stood on that stage and was more scared than I had ever been. I told Boise that I weighed 250 pounds and my life's purpose wasn't determined on whether or not you wanted to fuck me and that I was happy with myself, just the way I am and that I eat cake and celery. Ignite Boise filmed all the presenters' five minute pitches, and posted them on YouTube. My little talk has been viewed now by around 900 people, and commented on by various trolls (the term for being a prick on the internet because you can). They wrote things like "this woman wants to keep people down" and "people like you make me so angry" and "you lost your way for a number of reasons."



Two years ago I got the burning desire to once again bring my ideas of Health at Every Size and fat acceptance to a wider audience. At an event similar to Ignite Boise, I proposed a public, family-friendly, dessert picnic for International No Diet Day at the very first Feast. The whole thing was a dinner event at the Visual Arts Center in Garden City and the house was packed and I was nervous but talked about body love and size discrimination and healthy relationships with eating and food. The audience votes on the best community/art project proposal and the winner got $1000 to make it happen (it wasn't me). But, once again, I felt good about getting the message out there, even when one female audience member came up after and was like, "I'm all for loving your body and stuff, but wouldn't your event be so much better if you, like, served fresh veggies and fruit instead of desserts?"

The next day I began a week-long, painful miscarriage of a baby we had already grown to love, somewhere around eight weeks along. The day after that I found out that a local male business owner who goes by the Twitter name "Cranky Clown" was at the Feast event and had been live tweeting negative things not only about my message, but about my body, my words, my mind, my family, my friends, and about fat people in general. And when I found out about it, I tweeted him back, and his responses got more hateful. Some of his other local Twitter friends joined in and started attacking me, too. (And, yes, I know his real life name and his real life business - that he has since lost - but I won't tell you here.) Years later, he still tweets on occasion about how much he hates fatties. He never thought, I'm fairly certain, about the real life woman at home, curled up in a ball, bleeding and in tears, wrapped up in grief around a hot pad while she missed her daughter's kindergarten registration.

About a month later, the fat hatred and misogyny found its way to my Facebook wall, where I had begun posting body confident links and messages. This time, the meanest came from two different men, who I knew barely in real life, and a handful of women, who I also knew personally. After mean-spirited back and forth banter I had to unfriend them, on the internet and in real life. I took the entire summer off from the internets because these bigoted trolls had so damaged my heart, mind, thoughts, and activism, that I desperately needed a break to heal. (Years later, these people, too, still post on Facebook bigoted and sizist commentary.)

But I came back, stronger and louder. The trolls are still here, on the internet and in my little Idaho city. In fact, I'm currently fighting some misogyny due to my strong, loud voice. This week Lindy West, a nationally known writer and feminist and fat activist, told a story about a particularly hurtful troll who created a false Twitter account, posing as her recently deceased father, on NPR's This American Life. She tweeted about it, he read it, and apologized to her. They have a live telephone conversation on this particular podcast and the story will both break your heart and make it grow. This woman encounters trolling and hateful comments about her weight and feminist stances on a daily basis, so her skin is thick.

Mine? Not so much. Also, I'm no Lindy West. I can count the troll commentary I've received on one - okay, two - hands. Does that make it hurt less? No. Have any of my trolls ever apologized? Never. In fact, Lindy's troll is the first person I've ever heard of admitting to his hatred and trying to make up for it.



Do I write this because I want you to feel sorry for me? Not at all. What do I want, then? When you hear or read someone using bullying, dangerous and hurtful words, I want you stand up next to me, and speak loud and strong, too.

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