Monday, November 17, 2014

A long-winded post about fat-shaming and sexuality

A while back a colleague's post from his timeline came up - a share of a picture from a website called 'The LAD Bible'. One of these cheap, aimed-at-young-men sites that shares the best and worst of the web at any given time. They call out some stuff like men's shit texts from dating sites and share videos of cute dogs from around the net - nothing new or remarkable, really.

But in this case, my colleage, whose post came up on my work-facebook timeline, was sharing his disgust at a picture of a young woman from the LAD Bible facebook page. She was in her late teens, most likely, maybe early twenties, and she was plump-ish. I wouldn't go much further than that. She had long, thick, brown hair, a nice face, if wearing a slightly aggressive expression, and she was wearing a Wonder Woman leotard that was a bit too tight for her. She had one foot on a coffee table, and was leaning forward slightly, I think, in a vaguely aggressive pose. The leotard was wedgie-ing her, and one of her ass cheeks was hanging out. It wasn't massively flattering, but then it wasn't the worst thing in the world either.

My colleague was full of disgust for this woman. He and his friends were revolted. Appalled. Angry that this photo was there for them to look at. How dare she. They were full of ire and outrage and revulsion, oh yes. It was great fun for them.

I felt shit. On various levels. Because it was sexist. Because it was mean. Because it was so 'the Internet'. Because it was so body-negative. So unevolved. Such misdirected rage. And because I'm so fat, too. I'd love to look like that girl. Ok, I might not be tempted to put myself about in a too-tight leotard even if I did... but who knows what I might play around with in the privacy of my own home? It made me feel horrible.

The next time I saw said colleague, I brought it up, in the staffroom. At first he thought I was joining in, and warmed to the discussion of how disgusting it was. Said colleague is a shortish, plumpish guy. Young still, kind of cute in a boyish way. Not bursting with self confidence - wears jumpers in all weather, for example.

Then he realised I was saying it was awful how nasty he and his friends had been. He protested that she'd submitted it - forced it on him for his comment, I guess. I thought that was possible but not necessarily true, it being where it was. I wondered when he was going to post his leotard pic. As I popped out of the room to get something next door I said something I shouldn't have - I said 'You're not as nice as I thought you were.' I only meant it a little bit jokily, but the more I think about it, the more I think it's true. When I came back in, he said to me quite defensively that the topic 'wasn't relevant to anything' and I realised I shouldn't have brought it up in the staffroom with others around. I'm a little surprised by that, to be honest, but I get this social stuff wrong so often - so I apologised for that. Later I went to fb and sent him a message apologising again and explaining that his post had made me feel really bad and I was going to unfollow so as to avoid seeing others like it, and also so I wouldn't intrude on it in that way. I also said I'd rather save my disgust for worthier subjects like war, or racism, or sexism, etc.

He's blanked me since, today he was in to cover the class I share and barely talked to me when I said something about it. This guy is training to be a primary school teacher.

Here's the thing. I'm sensitive about this because I spend my life in fear that I'll disgust someone. I listen to my fit, handsome, sweet colleague talking about how fat girls in leggings are disgusting, how they shouldn't wear them. How hard it is to look at women who look like that. And I sit there terrified of the space I'm taking up, whether my ass is adequately camouflaged, mortified that people are looking at my fat fingers as I hand them something. I'm terrified of revolting people. I'm ashamed I haven't fixed myself. At the same time my shame is challenged by the idea of body positivity, and of not being defined by what you look like. The Internet, despite trolling and Photoshop and all, has been helpful. Showing larger, older bodies that are beautiful, because of, not despite. People who love themselves and are loved despite looking 'normal' instead of modelesque. Other people cheering that on. People calling others out, supporting each other. This!

But this normal little Irish guy, who's going to be teaching chubby pre-pubescent girls, maybe, is out there with his attitude. It scares me. It shames him, I think, in my eyes at least, but it still manages to shame me too.

Someone posted a search term to their blog they'd read today about removing socks seductively - a niche fetish, I thought. Socks... just not so sexy. I was going to say something in return about whether the original searcher would find the pressure rings around my ankles sexy. But then I looked at them and was confronted with such an unappealing sight, red grooves cut into my water-retaining legs that look more in need of  support tights than socks at all... and I felt full of shame and revulsion and realised that it wouldn't even be funny, just gross, to make that comment. Fat isn't sexy. Sometimes it really isn't, despite all the body-positivity the Internet has to offer. It's ageing, it's defeminising, oh, how could anyone love a cankle? Not me, in truth.

And seeing yer man and his attitude today makes me feel shit all over again. For his judgement. For my own self-hatred. For all of it. Oh, it's not right yet.


Maria Merian said...

Thanks so much for sharing this. It was beautiful and raw and definitely struck a chord.

I remember watching a cooking competition show once where the judges were condemning a guy for not talking more about his 100 lb weight loss in his presentation and being more personally vulnerable so as to relate to the audience. Another judge, Alton Brown, said something to the effect of "In this world, as a bigger person, we often feel we have to make up for our size by always being pleasant and non offensive and happy. That big people feel they are offending just by being. And maybe this contestant was so used to just putting on a happy face, that allowing himself to be vulnerable, even though he was thin now, was really difficult" The contestant in question was crying (as was i). But that bit about trying not to offend because we feel like we are offensive enough definitely stuck and your beautiful post made me think of it.

I also think size is a tricky, personal thing. One woman feels like a lumbering giant at size 10, while another would love to be that size.

Apologies for the slight tangent. Just know it was a lovely post and you most definitely did the right thing by talking to your colleague. Hopefuly your words will sink in and he will be a better teacher for it.

Anonymous said...

Hey Vida,

This post made me sad.

First of all, the ridicule of that lady who was probably having a lark around with her mates and possibly feeling quite excited and even empowered that she took the photo and posted it. Then out comes the hatred and fun poking. I guess the man is in a little way right - if you put it out there then you to invite comment - but in the same way an artist/ musician or writer puts their creativity out there, getting a slagging, albeit in the form of a review still hurts. And downright nastiness is bewildering. I don't think a bunch of ladies would be any kinder if it were a chubby bloke in a mankini shaking his booty either.

And self hatred is such a destructive thing - directed so thoroughly at yourself - but here's the bizarre bit - I worry that people think because I'm so hard on myself then I must be judgemental to others - which is so utterly not true... I can see nothing but beauty in all the people I come in contact with (unless they're nasty about other people) - which makes it even more crippling that I (one/you) can't find that for myself (oneself/yourself).

Ahhh Vida - take care of your sweet beautiful self - x x x x

(I've got a picture of a bloke in a mankini that might cheer you up a little... )

Jeremy Edwards said...

I know one thing: If everyone put the kind of thought and sensitivity into things that you do, it would be a better, smarter, gentler world.

Jeremy Edwards said...

Also! Kudos to you for having the courage to speak up. You are Wonder Woman. And the best part is, you may have made an impression on him. Even if he never acknowledges it, even if he's defensive and distant, even if he'll never admit even to himself that you made him think... you may have had an impact.

Vida Bailey said...

Lovely comments, peoples.

And Jeremy - that was so sweet. Thank you. xx