[Content Note: Fat hatred; diet talk; sexual violence.]
"Just ignore it."
This is advice I have been given on countless occasions, regarding the abundant fat hatred that permeates every aspect, every crevice, of our culture. It is offered by people who love me, and don't want me to be hurt by the messages that tell me I am less than, that I am weak and lazy and grotesque and worthless, and it is offered by people who hate me, who want to be able to disgorge their hostility toward people who look like me without evidence of consequence, who seek to oblige me to stop taking all the fun out of their bigotry.
It is offered by people who believe that my having a reaction, any sort of reaction at all, to being demeaned, is evidence of over-sensitivity. Never is it evidence that someone who engages in fat hatred is not sensitive enough.
It is offered by people who tell me that I shouldn't be offended, or don't have a right to be—people who mistake for offense what is actually contempt.
It is offered by people who believe that urging me to ignore fat hatred is a way of protecting me, even though what "ignore" effectively means is "do not publicly react to." Don't acknowledge it. Don't process your feelings about it. Don't say out loud, certainly not out loud, that it's wrong. That would just make everyone uncomfortable.
Better that I alone should be uncomfortable instead.
Reacting only empowers the bullies, say well-meaning people, who I know to be intelligent enough to understand that this is not true. Failing to react, silence, empowers bullies. Letting bullying go unchallenged empowers bullies. A lack of accountability empowers bullies. But my reacting makes everyone squirm, so that is why I am told that reacting would be A Bad Thing.
Reacting is not A Bad Thing. Self-defense is not A Bad Thing. Dignity, humanity, self-esteem are not Bad Things.
Just ignore it.
Just ignore it and trade my dignity, my humanity, my self-esteem for your temporary comfort.
Just ignore it, because we wouldn't want things to get awkward.
For the people who have made me a target.
Embedded in this advice, this recommendation to just ignore it, is the implication—an accusation—that there's something wrong with me if I fail to ignore it. That this is something I should be able to do.
It is a thing said, an accusation made, by people who do not understand what they are suggesting.
Ignore the body shaming and food policing and fat hatred, self-directed or aimed at others, which are routine parts of conversations with family members and friends.
Ignore the adverts—on social media, on news sites, on billboards, on radio, on television, in newspapers, in magazine, on the sides of buses, anywhere and everywhere that an advertisement can be placed—for weight loss drugs and diet plans and workout regimens and body-shaping clothing and bariatric surgeries and liposuction and all the new and shiny ways in which I can (and should!) mutilate my body in order to look more aesthetically pleasing.
Ignore the fat jokes and weight-based bullying that goes on around me all the time. Ignore it when it gets shouted at me from passing cars. Ignore it when it shows up in every single show I watch on television, even the ones that are supposed to be anti-bullying, pro-diversity, centered around some belief in kindness. Ignore it when it's in my Twitter feed. Ignore it when it's in this hilarious new meme that Progressive Celebrity just posted on Facebook. Ignore it in nearly every film I watch. Ignore it in the comments of my own blog. Ignore it in the comments of most blogs. Ignore it on the comments of my YouTube videos, where people can't wait to let me know I'm fat, as if I may not have noticed. Ignore it in my inbox. Ignore the fat jokes and weight-based bullying everywhere I look and listen.
Ignore the dearth of positive images of fat people. Ignore that the most visible images of fat people I see are the "headless fatties" accompanying news reports about the "war on obesity." Ignore that I live in a culture where there is a "war on obesity."
Ignore dehumanizing and eliminationist campaigns against fat people. Ignore the ones that are not overtly eliminationist, but simply ask fat people to make our bodies do things they cannot do so we can turn ourselves into people we are not. And ignore the ones that are explicitly eliminationist—the ones that suggest fat people should be rounded up and dispatched, before we ruin the country.
Ignore fat hatred at my doctor's office. Ignore it when I'm shopping for clothes. Ignore it when I'm eating in public. Ignore it when I'm grocery shopping. Ignore it when I'm getting on an airplane. Ignore it when I'm sitting on a bus. Ignore it when I'm standing in line at the post office, or buying coffee, or doing any one of the dozens of ordinary tasks that any person does which can turn into a gauntlet of glares and stares and sneers and comments just because I am fat.
Ignore the things I am not allowed to do, the places I can't fit, because I am fat. Ignore the things I'm told overtly that fat women "don't" or "can't" or "shouldn't" do, and the things I'm not so subtly discouraged from doing, and the things I can't do, like buy a Halloween costume in a local store that isn't just a giant sack, because I am fat.
Ignore the people who tell me no one would rape me because I am fat. (Whoops.) Ignore the people who tell me I should be raped because I am fat.
Ignore the constant conflations of fatness with evil and stupidity. No better way to show that a character is a villain, or a rube, than to make hir enormously fat.
Ignore the people who send me long and detailed missives about what my sex life with my husband must be like, because I am fat. Ignore the people who send me emails to tell me my husband probably doesn't fuck me at all, because I am fat. Ignore the people who email to me tell me he isn't attracted to me because I am fat. Ignore the people who email me to tell me he is only attracted to me because I am fat.
Ignore the things I know to be true—that fat people have a more difficult time getting hired, that fat people make less money, that fat people are passed over for promotions, that fat people are viewed by bosses and colleagues as lazier and less ambitious than their coworkers; that fat people have a more difficult time accessing healthcare and getting the right diagnoses; that fat people are charged more for products and services when there is no valid justification for it.
Ignore that it's still totally okay for a thin actor to wear a fat suit.
Ignore every time I hear someone wish the worst curse of which they can conceive on another person: "I hope zie gets FAT."
Ignore the cruelty I see directed at other fat people all the time. Ignore when someone exceptionalizes me. I didn't mean you. Ignore that I am constantly obliged to participate in my own marginalization and/or the marginalization of others.
Ignore that many people underestimate me because I'm fat. That they think I am not as smart as I am, or not as strong as I am, or not as hardworking as I am, or not as clean as I am, or not as loved as I am. Ignore that these prejudices influence my life, and my opportunities, in ways I don't even always know, can't even always identify.
Ignore all of these things, and all of the things I haven't put into words.
Tell me, I say to the person urging me to "just ignore it." What would it take for you to 'ignore" what you encounter virtually every moment of your every day?
I can't ignore it. And I wouldn't even if I could.
Who I am, who I want to be, depends on my not ignoring that I am despised. Who I am depends on my greeting that hatred head-on, and pushing back on it with all the strength in my strong, tough, fat body.
I will not behave like a person who isn't full of gumption. I will walk into the world each day with my head held high, and I will react when someone tries to lower my chin and slow my stride.
I will not just ignore it. Don't even ask me to try.