Buying and Selling Women is SOOOO Hilarious!

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Except it’s not.

Yesterday, Naya Rivera posted this picture of her Halloween costume to her Facebook:

Get it? She’s a Mail Order Bride! Hardy har! This right here is a very special combination of offensive and COMPLETE lack of imagination.  I can think of a few lazier costumes, but at least they’re clever (like wearing a sign that says, “Error 404: Costume Not Found”).  This is just, “Oh yeah, I have a wedding dress! If I tape a piece of mail to the front, suddenly it’s a costume!”

Listen, Naya, I know you play a lesbian on TV and apparently you think that gives you immunity to act like an ass, but it really doesn’t.  You don’t get some kind of social justice credit for playing a gay character that you can then cash in later to act like an ignorant douchecanoe and wear a costume like this, which is not only lazy and uncreative, but completely trivializes the very real experiences of many young women around the globe.

Maybe you’re thinking, “What’s the big deal? Don’t mail-order brides consent?” Sure, the same way a starving person “consents” to work for 3 cents a day to feed their family.  Mail-order brides are often forced into the “choice” by their family situation, poverty, or both, and once they’re in their new country, they are completely at the mercy of the man who purchased them.  Even if a woman’s dream was to become a mail order bride, the practice still commodifies women, and if we want equality for all genders, we HAVE TO STOP COMMODIFYING WOMEN.

The mail-order bride industry remains one of the most sexist and degrading businesses operating legally today. It is an industry designed solely to market and sell human beings, favoring the interests of its paying clients while degrading and exploiting women. Whether or not a woman gives her alleged
consent does not excuse the fact that she is being bought and sold as a commodity. Once married and in their new country of residence, mail-order brides face isolation and powerlessness and often experience domestic violence and sexual abuse. Some, like Anastasia King, have been murdered. A Russian in search of the American dream, Anastasia used an online mail-order bride service to meet and marry Indle King, an American businessman. She was unaware that King’s former wife, also a mail-order bride, had divorced him citing domestic abuse a few years earlier. Soon into his second marriage, King began physically abusing Anastasia. When she tried to end the marriage King hired a convicted sex offender to murder his mail-order bride from Russia. At the time of the murder, King was putting in his “order” for “bride number three.”

Read more about the plight of mail-order brides here.

Halloween is not an excuse to act out your Privilege

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Ah, Halloween.  Once thought of as the time when the boundary between the living and the dead was most permeable, in 2014 it’s closer to a chocolate-coated, scantily-clad day of consumer worship.  Really, the only things that distinguishes it from Black Friday are the sugar overload and the painfully executed costumes.

I enjoyed Halloween as much as any other white, American kid back in the day.  The other neighborhood children and I would dress up and trick-or-treat at each other’s houses, being rewarded with candy for the hard work our parents put into our costumes.  Those were the days– getting high on sugar while being blissfully unaware of how offensive my “gypsy” costume might be, completely ignorant of concepts like racial appropriation or sexualization.

As an adult whose only chocolate fix is coming from the remains of the candy bowl once the trick-or-treaters have come and gone (or, more often, failed to have come in the first place), I am not so blissfully ignorant.  Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy dressing up (I do some killer zombie make-up, complete with oozing wounds), but I wouldn’t be caught dead in a “gypsy” costume these days.  After all, now I do know what cultural appropriation is and I’m crystal clear that costumes like these:

ay ay ay…

"Reservation Royalty" aka ROYALLY RACIST

Blue China Doll costume…right…
are simply NOT okay.

Now, I know what you’re thinking– “Political correctness is ruining everything!” Complaining about having to be “politically correct” seems to be in vogue right now.  After all, why should you have to be thoughtful about your language? It’s other people’s fault for being offended!

Well… yes and no.  Yes, we are all responsible for our own emotions and this includes being offended, but abdicating responsibility for your own words and actions only works if we assume that our words and actions exist in a vacuum.  News Flash: They don’t.

What those of us with privilege so easily forget is that the language we consider “normal,” is biased.  To quote Jarune Uwujaren, “The English language normalizes and validates heterosexuality, whiteness, maleness, and ability so ubiquitously that people forget that it reifies these things.”  In other words, when you live in a culture that constantly reaffirms YOUR personal experience (of being white, straight, able-bodied, Christian, male, etc.) that we don’t see how it simultaneously devalues anything other than this standard.

This is occurring every day of the year, but Halloween provides a special opportunity for those who are privileged to exercise their privilege by insensitively turning other cultures into a joke and/or costume.  And when you complain about political correctness because someone informed you that wearing blackface hasn’t been OK since… uh… EVER, what you’re really saying is, “It makes me uncomfortable to examine my own privilege and admit my actions may be offensive, so I’m going to shame you for feeling offended instead.”

CLASSY.  I mean, sincerely, everytime I get called “oversensitive,” I know I’m dealing with someone who is “undersensitive,” perhaps even de-sensitized by a combination of culture and privilege.  Because, let’s be clear, to be able to walk down the street without getting cat-called or profiled by police, is a privilege in modern day America.

That said, tasteless Halloween costumes are nothing new, but this year is offering some particularly abhorrent costumes choices.  First, the “sexy ebola nurse:”

View image on Twitter

Yes, this is a thing.  Nevermind that nearly 5,000 people have died from ebola this year (the vast majority of whom are West Africans) or the fact that globally we’re still dealing with the outbreak, let’s have a laugh and sexualize a haz-mat suit while we’re at it! I just… really?  I mean, I get how ridiculous the hysteria in the United States has been, and I understand the inclination to mock said hysteria… but let’s not forget that thousands of people have died this year from this horrific disease (I mean, do you know what ebola does? You literally start bleeding out of your eyes and ears) and probably more will die before the year is out.  If you just HAVE to have an infectious-disease themed costume, how about pick one that isn’t an imminent danger to much of the world’s population? Also, that we’ve managed to sexualize an infectious disease kind of makes my soul bleed.

As bad as the “sexy ebola nurse” costume is, it doesn’t hold a candle to what it’s clearly the worse idea for a costume since the dawn of time: Ray Rice and his battered wife.

Ray Rice Blackface Halloween Costumes Are The Worst Idea

This is just one of many horrible iterations of this costume, but I think it’s the most hard hitting.  For starters, these idiots are wearing blackface.  I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014, but BLACKFACE IS NEVER OK. DO NOT WEAR BLACKFACE. Sinceriously.  Just DO NOT DO IT.  Blackface was racist in 1830 and it’s still racist in 2014.

Secondly, the fact that this is even a costume completely trivializes domestic violence.  You want to know why murder jokes are sometimes funny, but rape jokes rarely are? Because we take murder seriously, but we mock, shame and degrade rape victims.  Domestic violence is in the same boat– it’s an extremely pervasive problem and one that is not taken seriously at all.  Domestic violence affects people of all genders, but it disproportionately affects women and even more so women of color.

Don’t believe me? How about the fact that a battered black woman is A HALLOWEEN COSTUME this year? If that doesn’t send up a red flag, I don’t know what will.

Listen, I could sit here all day quoting statistics about domestic violence, violence against women, violence against women of color, prevalence of violence committed by professional athletes, etc., but I’m not going to.  You know why?  Because anyone with a sense of decency should be able to see why these costumes are unacceptable without any convincing.

And if you’re one of those folks who’s thinking to themselves that I’m just trying to ruin your fun and I can’t “take a joke,” let me ask you this: Why do others have to be mocked, belittled and degraded for you to have fun? 

Believe Me

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As a person who is sex-positive and believes the commodity model of sex has got to go, I couldn’t be happier to hear about California’s adoption of the “Yes Means Yes” legislation. For the first time, we’re seeing a performance model of sex held up as the standard.

If you haven’t read the fabulous 2008 compilation, “Yes Means Yes” or you’re not an economics major, you might be wonder what I’m talking about with these commodity and performance models. These are terms borrowed from economics that are often used to discuss society’s relationship with sexuality. (The commodity model of sexuality is a problem I’ve seen deeply affect the United States in particular, since we have the Puritan value system to thank for our historically fucked-up relationship with sexuality and we’re a painfully capitalist country, but I’m certain this is a global problem.)

You can read in depth about these models here, but the short version is that a commodity model views sex as a commodity (a product to be “bought and sold,” both literally and metaphorically) while the performance model views sex as a performance with consenting, enthusiastic participants. In a commodity model, women are the keepers of the commodity and it is up to men to “get” it from them, often by any means necessary. We can see this model displayed in our rhetoric surrounding sex:

  • He got some
  • He scored
  • She gave it up

Even virginity is seen as a commodity which can only be kept safe (until marriage, generally) or simply “lost.” I don’t know about you, but I remember exactly where I put my virginity. (Not all men and women are so lucky, but that’s another post…)  I should also note that I personally consider “loss of virginity” to the be first time you willingly gave your body to someone. Society seriously disagrees with me here– it insists that virginity has to do with hymens (which don’t actually break most of the time) and nothing to do with consent (really?), which can only be the case if sex is a commodity, rather than a performance.

If you’re a survivor of sexual violence like me, then you may know all too well that even seemingly mundane questions like, “When did you lose your virginity?” become panicky situations while you try and discern what’s actually being asked. If you want to know the first time I was penetrated, it’s when I was 5 years old. If you want to know the first time I gave my body to someone in shared intimacy, I was 17. (Not to mention that this idea that penetration = sex is highly problematic and erases the experiences of queer people, among others.  Personally, my definition of sex is thus: If you can catch a venereal disease from it, it’s sex.)

Understanding the commodity model also gives us some insight into the nature of rape culture, which is a global epidemic. When we see women as the “keepers” of sex and men as the “takers,” it’s easy to see how we end up with this fucked-up perception that it’s OK to coerce a woman into sex, or it’s OK to ignore her when she says “no” or “stop” or otherwise makes it clear she is not interested in having sex with you. Men are taught that sex needs to be taken, that women will not “give it up” willingly, and that because women have a responsibility to pretend to be innocent, sex-hating prudes, it doesn’t really count when she tells you she doesn’t want it.

All in all, this is a sad state of affairs. If only we viewed sex as a performance model… That is, if only we could accept that women do like sex and can absolutely be active, enthusiastic participants in sex. This model emphasizes sex as an activity rather than a commodity and requires active consent. And boy, is consent ever important! Only a fool will tell you that consent “ruins the romance,” but that is a sadly common reaction to the concept.

Enter the “Yes Means Yes” legislation. Though rape and sexual assault on college campus is nothing new, lately it’s been garnering a lot of media attention. As a sex-positive and anti-rape activist, this is heartening news. I attribute it to the brave survivors across the country who are sick and tired of being silenced, belittled and disbelieved and are making their voices heard. Emma Sulkowicz’s “Carry That Weight” project is but one great example of the kind of activism that is popping up on campuses nationwide. The state of California has responded with their own activism: A new law that requires affirmative consent of all involved parties before engaging in sex. The law supports the performance model of sex and places the responsibility of obtaining consent on all participating parties. Where “she didn’t say ‘No'” or “I didn’t realize he wasn’t into it” used to be enough to get someone off the hook for raping another person, under the new law these pleas of ignorance will no longer get you a free pass on assaulting someone.

I think that’s a damn good thing, but every legislation has it’s critics. I’m going to address the two most common criticisms I hear regarding this legislation:

  • This is policing the sexual lives of young people (i.e. the government has gone too far)!
  • It’ll take all the fun/romance out of sex!

First off, this is not about sex. This is about rape. And conflating the two is yet another problematic symptom of rape culture. Conflating the two allows utterly insane assertions like, “She just regretted sleeping around and now she’s out for revenge.” This idea is only the slightest bit logical if sex and rape are the same. But they aren’t. One is an activity involving two (or more) willing participants, the other is a disgusting act of violence often likened to torture of one’s body and soul.

Still not sure? Here’s my favorite quote about rape versus sex:
“Rape is about violence, not sex. If a person hits you with a spade you wouldn’t call it gardening.”

I wish I knew who to attribute the original quote to, because it is spot on. Sex is merely the vehicle for violence when a rape is taking place. It would be like pointing to a person who is running for their life from an assailant and calling it “exercising.”  You might be incidentally burning calories from the experience, but that doesn’t make it fun, consensual or exercise.

So, since we’ve established rape is not sex, only people who confuse the two are in danger of having their willful violence against another person policed. I’m OK with that. If you still think it’s overreach, then surely you believe any law that prohibits violently assaulting another person is governmental overreach? Right? I mean, you wouldn’t want to be a hypocrite.

The second point is this idea that obtaining clear or verbal consent is somehow unromantic or “ruins the moment.” I mean, seriously? That’s like saying mutual respect takes the romance out of sex. Only a rapist would think something so disturbing.

Let me tell you a secret, friends: Consent is sexy.  

It is unfortunately a safe assumption to assume that if you’re with a woman, she’s probably been sexually harassed or assaulted in her lifetime. She’s probably had very few sexual encounters that were centered around or even simply concerned with her pleasure. Keep that in mind, and maybe the idea that consent is sexy isn’t so shocking anymore.

Listen, I’m not always a “smooth operator” and there have been times where I asked for consent and it was a little bit awkward. But let’s be clear: It was awkward because I felt awkward and didn’t really know how to ask. Asking doesn’t have to be awkward. Have you ever had sex with someone and asked them during if they liked what you were doing? Was it awkward? It was probably sexy in the moment. Well asking for consent can be exactly as simple. Often times you won’t have to ask because the consent IS explicit in other ways, if you’re paying attention.

And that’s really the key– paying attention to your partner. The simple act of listening to your partner’s words and body language will make the entire sexual experience infinitely better for both (all) parties. Depending on the study you read, we’re said to use non-verbal language to communicate anywhere from 65% to 93% of the time in the world at large. Even on the low end, that’s a hefty majority of the time. So when we’re engaged in sexual activity, that goes up to approximately 99.99%. Bodies will tell you almost anything you need to know during sex, IF YOU PAY ATTENTION. I cannot stress this enough, you really do have to choose to pay attention to your partner. And I promise it’s not even hard once you’ve made that choice. Is she moaning loudly, yelling your name, arching her back and rocking her hips into you? KEEP GOING! Is she laying their quietly, motionless and appear to be staring into blank space? STOP IMMEDIATELY, there is a problem.  (This catatonic-like state may indicate a flashback in a person who has experienced sexual trauma; at best, it means whatever you’re doing isn’t working for him/her).  The language is similar for men– if he’s not particularly responsive, that’s definitely cause for concern and a good time to bring verbal communication back into the picture.

Do NOT rely a person’s sexual organs alone for this non-verbal communication. Women will get wet when aroused just like men get hard– but these particularly body functions happen automatically. Sexual organs, wonderful though they are, are pretty dumb. They respond to external stimuli without concern for context. So while this signal of arousal is a good thing in consensual situation, remember to take context into account. That is, if she’s struggling to get away from you or he’s telling you no, don’t ignore that because the person appears to be aroused. Brains are a critical element of good sex. So make sure your partner is with you mentally, not just physically.

Still don’t believe me? Here’s an example: Once I was dating this gal who I really had the hots for. We’d gone on a couple of dates, and I even spent the night at her house once  where there was no funny business involved–true story, we really just slept… or at least pretended to sleep. (PRO TIP: Spending the night with a girl without fucking her, particularly if you haven’t rung that bell yet, is a great way to show you you respect her body and boundaries enough to wait. Not that you have to wait, if you’re both into it, but it also adds to the excitement when you finally do decide to take it to that level.)

Anyhow, after another fabulous date, she invited me to spend the night again and this time things did get all hot and heavy. It started out slowly, innocently, even, with us laying in the dark, tracing each other’s hands with our fingertips. The desire was thick and palpable in the air around us. It pretty quickly turned into passionate kissing and the discarding of clothes. And then, as she wrapped herself around me, between labored breaths, she simply asked me, “Is this OK?”

Even though the answer was pretty obvious from my body language and my response to her touch, her decision to take that second and a half to confirm with me that we were on the same page was literally the sexiest thing she could’ve done. My response? I don’t remember if it was “Oh God, Yes!” or “FUCK YES!” but you get the idea.

And, in case you’ve never had the pleasure, being able to say “YES” to your partner is both empowering and incredibly sexy. It’s arguably my favorite word to use during sex. As a survivor of sexual assault, it’s taken me a long time to find my way to a healthy relationship with sex, but every time I say “Yes” where once my “No” was so thoroughly dismissed, I feel sexier and more in control of my body. Every time I say “Yes,” I take a little piece of myself back. Every time I say, “Yes,” I am reminded that I am with a partner who respects me and cares about my pleasure, and this helps keep me in the moment (something crucial for any assault survivor).

Don’t you want to give your partner that opportunity? Don’t you want your partner to talk about how sexy it was that you asked? Don’t you want your partner to be reminded that you care about their pleasure? Don’t you want your partner to feel empowered and as an equal participant in this performance? So tell me, again, how is it “unromantic” or “unsexy” to ask? Because I just don’t see it. It sounds like a crappy excuse for focusing on your pleasure and yours alone– and that quality will always make you a terrible lover.

All that said, what really gets to me is this particular response to the “Yes Means Yes” legislation, and I’ve seen it in far too many comment sections: “How do we know [survivors] are telling the truth? This will just be used by vindictive women to put innocent men in jail!”

OK, first off, if the accused is innocent, s/he has nothing to fear from this law. If the person in question enjoys getting off on someone’s lack of consent, then they do have to worry.

But this idea that women who’ve been raped are merely “crying rape” in an effort to “ruin [a man’s] life” is pretty insane. Does rape sometimes get falsely reported? Yes, but no more often than any other crime. If you’re afraid of being falsely accused of rape and you’ve not committed rape, then you might as well worry about being falsely accused of armed robbery and identity theft too, because that’s the kind of frequency we’re talking about.

Also, let’s keep in mind that many “false reports” include REAL reports that were dropped due to police bullying or the victim not being “credible” enough because they’re  a sex worker, for example, and everyone knows you can’t rape a sex worker! (Please note the tidal wave of sarcasm.) Here’s but one heart-breaking story of a woman who was brutally raped, but is considered a “false rape allegation.”

Secondly, more often than not, reporting rape ruins your life. I wish I were kidding. I am not in the least be surprised that most survivors don’t report their rapes. After all, in the current climate, the deck is stacked against you. Policemen won’t believe you, your friends and family will blame you, and if you’re one of the rare cases that ever sees a day in court, your very character will be put on trial while that of your assailant will be deemed “irrelevant” and s/he will probably go free. Why would someone go through all that for “revenge”? The answer is that they wouldn’t.

But, this attitude of distrusting women, of assuming they are not credible witnesses to their own experiences, is one of the biggest driving factors underlying rape culture. For centuries women have been painted as “irrational” and “hysterical” as a means of diminishing their power in an already male-dominated society. Not believing women when they say they have been raped is but one more method in the long-standing tradition of calling women liars.

When you bring up false rape allegations or question the validity of accounts told by survivors, you are furthering sexism and rape culture. You are putting your stamp of approval on society’s sick habit of raping women (and men and children) and then calling them liars, or worse yet, “sluts” who were “asking for it.” No one welcomes violence against their person, yet every time you stand against a survivor and say, “Yeah, but were you really raped?” you are condoning rape. You are condoning the system that forces women to live in fear every day of their lives. You are condoning the practice of making rape victims responsible for curbing their own freedom to accommodate potential rapists. You are doing a disservice to us all.

So, yeah, I’m excited about the new legislation. After all, this law makes it clear: Your consent matters. Your voice matters. Your experiences matter.

Maybe that’s the message that makes some people so uncomfortable– if you tell rape survivors (the majority of whom happen to be women) that their voices and their bodily autonomy matters, they might start believing it, and you might not be able to get away with rape in the future.

So, dear reader, want to do something to support sexual assault survivors of all genders, ages and nationalities? Because there is one, very simple thing you can do, starting right now, that will make all the difference in the world: Believe them.

When someone tells you their story, believe them. Better yet, be vocal, and tell them you believe them. Because I know first hand that the greatest fear any sexual assault survivor has (besides being assaulted again) is the fear of not being believed. It’s an extremely effective silencing technique, but you can counteract it. Believe survivors, and be vocal about your trust in them. Even if it means nothing to anyone else, it will mean everything to that survivor.

I’m a “Small Fat” and Why that Matters

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I’m fat.  I’ve been fat all my life.  I say this not as a degrading remark, but as a descriptive statement.  Being fat is a trait no different than having brown eyes or being tall.  Or, more accurately, it shouldn’t be any different.

If you’re moving through the world in a body right now and you’re a woman and/or you’re not naturally lithe, you are all too aware of how having fat on your body earmarks you for bullying.  You’ve probably been given “friendly” dieting advice from complete strangers, been criticized for eating in public or for wearing unflattering clothing, been told no one will ever love you…

It’s a cruel, cruel, thin-centric world out there.  Make no mistake, thin people get shamed and criticized and feel insecure about their bodies too, but if you’re thin you’re still considered a person.  If you’re fat, you’re sub-human, animalistic, unworthy, unlovable.  (You’re also average, but I guess that’s besides the point.)

Fighting fat stigma is one of the many causes close to my heart.  I personally practice Health and Every Size (HAES), which is the radical idea that you can start practicing healthy behaviors no matter what size and shape your body is (as opposed to the idea that if you’re fat you need to exercise, for penance usually, but you’re also not supposed to be seen exercising in public unless you enjoy being oinked at or having eggs thrown at you).
Having been in the “fat-o-sphere” for a while (a corner of the internet where fat people can discuss fat problems without being trolled), I’ve come to realize that I am in fact a “small fat,” and yes, it does matter.So, where is the line between fat and thin anyway?  Hard to say, it really depends on what store you’re shopping in and who you’re asking.  The fashion industry insists “fat” starts at size 6.  Your average department store usually carries “straight sizes” up to a size 12 or 14, and considers anything larger than that to be plus size.  Likewise, plus size clothing stores usually start at size 14 and go up to at least size 28.  So, for the purposes of this post, we’re going to consider American dress size 14 and up to be “plus” sized.

Depending on the brand of clothing, I wear anywhere from a dress size 16 up to a 22.  Yes, brands vary THAT much.  And, for what it’s worth, it’s rarely my jiggily stomach that prevents me from fitting into clothes, it’s my very broad back and shoulders, which I’ve learned while trying to buy women’s clothes is apparently very “unladylike.”  How dare my body not be shaped like the designer’s image of what a body ought to be shaped like! It’s a little maddening, actually, and one of an array of reasons why I often shop in the Men’s departments (you need to only know your measurements instead of dealing with inconsistent vanity sizes and bizarrely tailored garments).  All that said, I’m still considered to be on the “small” side of “plus” size.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  How could that possibly matter?? Well, to be honest, I don’t know why body size is even remotely related to self-worth in society’s eyes, but since it does, it does matter.  And it matters not because I consider myself separate from folks larger than me, but because while I’m still stigmatized for my body size, I am treated with the slightest bit more dignity than my larger-than-me friends.

It means that, once in a while, I can get away with shopping at a “straight size” store instead of only being able to shop at plus-sized shops.  It means that sometimes I’m assumed to a be “good fattie”– someone who sincerely repents for the size of their body and is doing everything they can to lose weight.  It means that well-meaning friends say very offensive things like, “Well at least you’re not THAT fat” while passing judgement on folks fatter than I.

It must seem strange that there’s a delineation between “BBW” (a term adopted by many fatties meaning “big, beautiful woman”) and “SSBBW” (a “super-sized” BBW) and you would be correct.  It is strange.  But it’s no stranger than determining a person’s worth, intelligence, work ethic, beauty, health and self-discipline based on an arbitrary sizing system.  And yes, I included “health” in that list because you CANNOT tell a damn thing about a person’s health by looking at them.

One thing fat people are common accused of, particularly if we are not openly remorseful about our body size, is “promoting obesity.”  How dare you not hate yourself 24 hours a day! (Personally, I try to limit my self-hatred to 12 hours a day.) Let’s be clear (and I’m going to take a page from Ragen’s book here): Health and size are NOT the same thing and neither one is a barometer of a person’s worth.  The choice to prioritize health is just that– a choice.  And if you’re thin, we accept this is a choice.  You want to eat McDonald’s all day everyday?  That’s fine as long as you’re thing.  But I promise you, there’s nothing healthy about that, no matter how skinny you are.

These messages, that health and size are the same, does a disservice to people of all sizes.  For the fat, it leads to deplorable healthcare where we’re prescribed weight loss for literally every ailment, even and especially ones that would have other treatment options if only we were thin.  (Yes, doctors can be sizeist bigots, despite the Hippocratic oath.  For example, in 2003, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania surveyed more than 600 primary care doctors and found that more than half viewed obese patients as awkward, unattractive and noncompliant.  No, not even your healthcare is safe from bias.) For the thin, they are given the false impression that as long as they stay thin, they are healthy, no matter what their behaviors are.

But studies show that when it comes to health, behaviors are far better predictors than body size.  (This study shows how, when healthy behaviors are practiced, there’s very little difference in metabolic health between people of ALL sizes.)  A mere 30 minutes of exercise a day has been shown to be the best thing you can do for you health, again, regardless of your body size.

Still don’t believe that fat people are stigmatized?  Read “This is Thin Privilege” for about 5 minutes and you’ll be convinced.

I could go on, and on, and ON with stories of fat discrimination, debunking “everybody knows” myths like that BMI is an accurate measure of health or that obesity all by itself is disease, but I’d like to turn my attention to some positive truths.

TRUE: Body size is not a measure of worth, loveability, intelligence, health, beauty, or self-discipline.

TRUE: Body sizes and shapes naturally vary in humans just as much as our skin tones, eye color, height, or any other genetic factor.

TRUE: Body size is not something entirely within our control.  This is something body size has in common with health– both are complex and multi-faceted and, at best, only partially within our control.  Chain smokers have lived to be 101, and 25-year-old triathletes have dropped dead sudden of heart attacks.  There’s so much we can’t control, and the truth is we as a species do NOT know how to make fat people thin.  There is literally not a single study that follows dieters for at least 5 years where said dieters have been able to keep off the weight.  Ironically, if you’re trying to gain weight, dieting is your best bet.  Dieting has been proven to lead to long term weight gain, usually more than you lost in the initial phases of the diet(s). Even people who’ve had their stomaches stapled ultimately gain the weight back.  We don’t know how to make fat people into thin people, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

TRUE: You don’t owe anyone anything.  Concern trolls will insist you owe it to them, to yourself, to your friends and family, to do everything you can to lose weight and be healthier.  Besides falsely conflating health and weight, this is just bullocks.  You don’t owe anyone anything.  Health is personal choice, and body size isn’t a choice at all.  We can manipulate a few pounds here and there within the confines of a balanced diet, but our bodies pretty much know what weight they prefer.

TRUE: There’s no shame in embracing your body exactly how it is right now.  Society will try and shame you, every damn day, but this too, is bullocks.  Our bodies do so many amazing things for us, often without even needing to ask it to do them.  It keeps our hearts beating, our lungs breathing, our eyes blinking, and all that without any deliberate thought on our part.  I’m fortunate that my body can also do things like climb stairs, jump across puddles, lift boxes, and dance to that sick beat.

TRUE: YOU can help end fat stigma.  It might not seem like much, but when your friends make a joke at a fat person’s expense, speak up.  When someone posts something ignorant on their Facebook page, speak up.  When you hear people putting themselves down, calling themselves fat, going on and on about how they need to diet– speak up!  It’s not always easy, but this simple act of speaking up and out against fat stigma is how we, one by one, put an end to this ridiculous prejudice.

TRUE: You have a community.  Whether you’re fat yourself or simple a fat ally, you have a community.  Blogs like Ragen’s Dances With Fat or Jeanette’s The Fat Chick constantly have great ideas for activism and ways to connect with this larger community of body-positive people.

There are many things we still don’t understand about these amazing bodies we walk the Earth in, but we do know for certain that shame is detrimental to both physical and mental health, and frankly, I’ve never heard of someone successfully shaming themselves healthy.  The best thing you can do for your body is give it some well-deserved love.  Your body works for you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week– consider telling it “Thank You” once in a while.  It might feel weird at first, but you’ll be amazed how quickly that awkwardness turns into pride and motivation to embrace the body you have.

So thanks, bodies, for all that you do.

Casual Cruelty

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Today I managed to get flipped off not once, but twice, by a 70-something-year-old man on my way home from work.

I am by no means a perfect driver, but I do opt for safety rather than speed most of the time.  In fact, the only criticisms I have gotten on my driving is for driving too slowly (*cough* going the speed limit *cough*) or “like a grandma” (including one time BY my grandma… she had a lead foot, oh boy).So, I’m about halfway home from work, driving comfortably in the right lane.  I’m about halfway past the car on my left, when suddenly he realizes he needs to make a right turn and puts on his signal.  My choices are to slam on my breaks to let him in, potentially causing an accident, or to speed up and get by him quickly so he can switch lanes behind me.  I choose the later.

And as he switches lanes behind me, I glance up in my rear-view mirror and see this man flipping me off.  I tense up as I feel the New Yorker in me rising to the surface.  I resist the urge to flip him off in return.  After all, what good will that do?

As I approach the stoplight, I notice the man who flipped me off is now on my right in the turn lane, stopped waiting for the light as well.  I look over at him and he flips me off again.  Now I can tell he’s older, probably late 70s, and looks incredibly grumpy.  I’m still not sure why I’m the target of his ire, it’s not like I cut him off to did something to prevent him from coming into my lane.  Trying to apply logic to the situation is probably foolish.

At this point, still repressing my urge to get angry in return, I roll down my window.  I actually have a question for him.  He sees me roll down my window, shakes his head, and refuses to look in my direction until the light changes and he speeds away.

In retrospect, I’m not really surprised he refused to engage me by conversing, instead of with hand gestures.  After all, if he talked to me he might be forced to admit that I’m actually a whole person who probably didn’t mean to piss him off and probably didn’t deserve to get the bird flipped at her twice after an excruciatingly long day at the office.  As long as he doesn’t talk to me, I’m just “some asshole” and he can feel justified in however the hell he’s feeling.

We all do that a lot, especially when driving.  People are reduced down to their driving ability and it’s painfully easy to label people as “assholes” and “maniacs” for not driving the way we want them to or in a way that inconveniences us.  Person cuts you off? Asshole.  Someone is driving twice as fast as you are? Maniac!  Person doesn’t run the yellow light and you wanted to? Douchebag.  I could go on.  And I’m just as guilty.

In college, my best friend made a point of trying to teach me the difference between “being” and “acting.”  It’s a simple concept which we forget often, namely that you can behave like a thing without being that thing.  So in this case, you might driving like an asshole, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily ARE an asshole.  It certainly goes both ways, too, so giving money to charity doesn’t magically make you a wonderful person.

Some of you may be wondering what I was going to ask the man, if he’d rolled down his window as well.  He probably would’ve taken it as provocative rather than sincere, but I’m genuinely curious… “Did it make [him] feel better?”

Because I’ve gotten in some bitch contests with other drivers on occasion, and I’ve always left the situation feeling not only angrier, but far, far stupider than before the interaction.  Having learned to drive in New York, it took all my will power not to flip the guy off, but in the end I’m proud of myself for resisting.  I’m just still curious if flipping me off left him feeling better.  If so, great!  If not… then why?

Why do we exchange these acts of casual cruelty with complete strangers?  Flipping people off, cussing them out, getting into pissing matches online and off… why?  What purpose does it serve?  As far as I can tell, it doesn’t make anyone feel better, no matter who started it.  Even small, seemingly insignificant acts of cruelty can have very large impacts on people.  We don’t know what anyone else is going through on a particular day at a particular time.  Maybe that “asshole” cut you off because they were preoccupied with their cousin, who’s in the hospital dying, and legitimately didn’t see you.  Maybe that “maniac” just went into labor and that’s why she’s speeding.  Maybe that “douchebag” is a student driver, driving with their instructor for the first time, who’s now afraid to get back in the driver’s seat because you cussed them out.  Or maybe they’re just an asshole.

My point is simply that we have no way of knowing what’s going on with complete strangers and why they act the way they do, but more often than not they have a reason.  What’s completely senseless is the cruelty we fling around for the most tiny, often accidental, acts of provocation.  I know someone who got attacked once because the person he was speaking to didn’t know what an “oxymoron” was and thought he was being insulted.  I mean… REALLY?

Here’s some food for thought: How often have you been cruel to someone over what was probably just a misunderstanding?  More than you know, I’m certain.

I’m admittedly having one of those days where my faith in humanity is sliding quickly downhill, even before grumpy dude (who is not nearly as amusing as grumpy cat, let me say) decided to flip me off for absolutely no reason.  But his anger was a reminder to me how easy it is for us to be unkind to others, and then forget all about it.  But trust me, the person you were unkind to hasn’t forgotten.

So, if it’s easy to be cruel… why not be kind instead?  It’s easy to be kind, usually.  And usually just as easy as it is to be cruel.  But small acts make a big difference to people everyday.  So if you’re going to do something small, make it something small and kind.  Your kindness will not only be remembered, but multiplied.

Let’s put an end to casual cruelty, one small act at a time.