I was a speaker at the most recent BlogHer conference for bloggers (experiencing all of the accompanying photosharing that type of conference entails), and when I got home I read a heartbreaking email. A writer who had planned to attend had changed her mind at the last minute, and apologized to me for not meeting me there as we had planned. She wrote:
I’m just so much bigger than people think I am and I couldn’t cope. I just was ashamed to go and be seen, and even if I was accepted I didn’t want to end up in photos. I know it’s silly and it would be fine, but I couldn’t do it. I wish I had some of your confidence.
We have no idea how many people hide, understandably afraid to be judged, bullied or harassed, because of the way fat shame has been permitted in its many guises. Alert the CDC: there’s a Shame Epidemic out there, let me tell you, and it’s a killer.
I don’t know if I have more or less relative confidence in myself as a fat woman, but I know for sure I defiantly refuse to hide, as much as I can possibly bear. I have my limits, most certainly. I know for sure it is not easy to allow oneself to be seen when anyone can become a self-appointed public health tzar with an expertise in obesity as a way to deliver shame, judgment and derision.
Your body is mine to be judged, and you are too fat to be seen.
I’ve heard that plenty, in various ways. I’ve seen that message played out online more times than I care to remember. That’s how I know for sure that it’s what the critic was saying when he railed with feigned concern again television anchor Jennifer Livingston’s size. Like countless others, I’m thrilled that this attempt to shame her was shared, and that she powerfully addressed it for the silencing tactic that it was.
Here’s some of what the trolling viewer wrote to her:
Surely you don’t consider yourself a suitable example for this community’s young people, girls in particular. Obesity is one of the worst choices a person can make and one of the most dangerous habits to maintain. I leave you this note hoping that you’ll reconsider your responsibility as a local public personality to present and promote a healthy lifestyle.
Reconsider? Reconsider what, exactly? “GIRLS IN PARTICULAR?”
If you decode that twisted wording of that attempted concern trolling, what the man was really saying was:
- Hide yourself now
- You don’t belong on television/in photos/in public
- Women shouldn’t look like you
- I am in control of the standards and how your body measures up to them
- I am trying to restrict you
- I am the judge of your sexual attractiveness to me and of my perception of your health and self-control
- I am better than you
He may not have used crude schoolyard epithets, but in some ways his message was even worse. He attempted to silence her and make her hide. He attempted to attack her agency.
Jennifer Livingston’s response? “Do not let yourself be defined by bullies,” she said. She showed that she will not be shamed into silence or hiding. She retained control of her body and of her self esteem.
Talk about upholding her responsibility to the public and setting a powerful example for all, especially young girls. What a message of strength against an appearance-based attack.
You know I’ve already forwarded it to the blogger who was struggling with related issues last month, though I wager she’s already seen it. The viral wildfire of this video and the positive reaction it’s provoking are heartening, and it is exciting to imagine the esteem it might inspire and the educational opportunities it is offering.
We miss out on so much wonderfulness when we hide. So much. And as a society, we miss out on amazing gifts if we silence anyone because they are different in any way. That’s what I hope we can all reconsider.
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