I recently played a somewhat rough and rusty (guitar-wise, anyway) set at an open mic, and despite the guitar mistakes I made (in every damn song), people were kind and offered genuine applause and many compliments about my singing as I made my way back to my chair. I played early, so once I sat back down and put away my axe, I was able to relax for the rest of the evening. As I sat there, mildly mortified and licking my musical wounds, several people came up to offer their compliments, which I accepted graciously, if with a little embarrassment.
One lady walked up and said she loved the “Little Bird” song (by the Weepies), and that she had something for me, and hoped I wouldn’t be offended. And then she handed me a little booklet:
I was astonished at her nerve, but didn’t have time to say anything as she commented further on my “beautiful voice” and finished with saying I was “golden” (a line from the song) as she made her hasty exit. I didn’t know if it was another engagement that had her hurrying out, or cowardice.
I am fortunate among fat folks, in that I haven’t suffered being cat-called or otherwise accosted for my fatness much since the 6th grade; at least, not that I’ve been aware of. I know it happens to others, and I’ve been lucky. I don’t know why. Maybe because I’m tall enough, and therefore intimidating enough, to make them think I could put a hurt on them if they pissed me off. Who knows?
In any case, there was a time when someone calling me fat, or even implying, as this person did, that I was fat, would’ve put me into a tailspin of self-loathing and crippled self-esteem of indefinite duration, because I didn’t want to be fat, and didn’t want anyone to think that I was, even if that was, in fact, the case. The good news is, this isn’t that time, and I’ve come a long way, to a place where I can just laugh incredulously at what happened. I’m “out” as a fat person, and I use the word as an adjective, not an accusation that includes all the stereotypes society attributes to fatness. Not everyone uses it that way, and I know that; it’s freeing to me, but Scott cringes a little every time I refer to myself as “fat.” However, it really is just a descriptor like any other. I’m not afraid of it anymore.
Nonetheless, that lady was out of line, and though she escaped before I could form any kind of rebuttal at the time, she had made a point to include her e-mail address on her note, ostensibly, I assume, so I could contact her to join Weight Watchers. I wrote her the e-mail below (after the cut) to give her the super-short Cliff Notes version of body acceptance, and why being a freelance body critic just isn’t okay. I’m posting it here, because it’s a message that isn’t heard enough in the world, much to the detriment of people everywhere who live in bodies.
On Wed, Jun 23, 2010 at 11:44 AM, Kristie wrote:
This is Kristie Cunningham. We met at the Borders open mic last Saturday, when you stopped by to compliment my music and pass on your note on a Weight Watchers pamphlet. I am very glad you enjoyed my music. However, I don’t think the WW pamphlet can pass without comment, and perhaps a little education.
You prefaced your remarks with “I have something for you…I hope you won’t be offended.” I was offended, but not for the reason you might think. I am not offended that you think I’m fat. I am. It’s an empirical fact, and one I am both aware of and not ashamed of. What I found offensive is your presumptuousness in suggesting to a perfect stranger that you had judged her and found her unacceptable, and that she should change herself to meet whatever standards you judged her as falling short of. It shows an appalling lack of manners, and a lack of boundaries. The fact is that other people’s bodies are none of your business. If you would hesitate to tell me you don’t like my haircut, or that you don’t care for my fashion choices, it seems self-evident that you would not dare go so far as to comment negatively on something as personal and private as my body size/shape, however subtly. And yet you did; I’m really baffled as to why you thought that was acceptable.
I can only assume that you are somehow connected to WW, as your job or as a participant, and if we had the kind of relationship where I knew of that connection and had asked you to tell me more about it, that would be an acceptable time to recruit. However, to pick out random fat people and suggest that WW is something they should consider is well beyond the pale of acceptable social interaction. It presumes that your agenda is so righteous that you are not only free to promote it to anyone at any time, but morally obligated to do so. And it presumes that people’s bodies are public property. They are not. It just is not okay to critique other people’s bodies. You can think whatever you want, but it should stop there. People come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s okay. I know we live in a society that really doesn’t think so, one that is in a moral panic about fatness, but that really is the case. I’m okay, and you’re okay, just as we are. Right now.
I believe in body acceptance for all of us, because the alternative we are all subjected to every single day (and women even more so) is a soul-crushing, self-esteem killing, and health-risking agenda. The truth is, long-term significant weight loss is something no one has managed to master, not even Weight Watchers. Diets fail due to the natural tendencies of bodies to adapt marvelously to physical demands and to conserve energy and fat in the face of starvation, and that will always be true. We cannot make fat people permanently thin, any more than we can make thin people permanently fat, and the biology of body weight is complex and individual. If we actually knew how people could achieve permanent and HEALTHY weight loss, we wouldn’t be panicking now about fatties, because there’d be so few of them. The billions of dollars spent every year by desperate people trying to lose weight indicates that people want a solution. Yet there isn’t one. But we act like that’s not the case, and people are starving themselves, and literally butchering themselves via risky surgeries, to achieve what is, ultimately, an aesthetic goal. As I said, other people’s bodies are none of my business, and they can do as they wish. But I refuse to participate, or to support others in their own body contempt. It’s the least I can do.
I hope you will think about what I’ve written here the next time you’re tempted to “help out” someone in the same unsolicited manner you thought you might help me. You were right–I AM golden; and that’s because I accept and love myself as I am, as a human being worthy of life, love and all good things–and I’ve got them. I wish the same for you, and for every person.