A few months ago, I saw this video about Google's autofill feature. The mini-documentary explores how typing in "women need" or "feminists are" or "rape victims are" brings up suggested search phrases that reflect a culture of misogyny and victim-blaming. "Women need to know their place." "Feminists are annoying." "Rape victims are asking for it." These are the first suggested autofills for each of those categories.
I watched this video, a feminist woman who has survived rape, and I thought: "This is what the world thinks of me."
One thing I know for sure, every day, is that I move through a world in that hates me. And wants me very certainly to hate myself.
* * *
Yesterday, one of the things I tweeted as part of the #fatmicroaggressions hashtag was this: "You don't act like most fat people. You have more self-confidence."
In response, @PixieQueer tweeted: "I don't understand this one, how is it a microaggression? (I have hardcore thin privilege)"
I replied: "The implication is that fat people shouldn't have any self-confidence, that we *should* feel bad about ourselves." And, in a further clarification: "The frame has always been, in my experience, shock that I 'manage' to have self-esteem despite my hideous appearance."
Earlier this year, actress Mindy Kaling spoke to this dynamic in an interview with Parade magazine:
I always get asked, "Where do you get your confidence?" I think people are well meaning, but it's pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, "You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You're not skinny, you're not white, you're a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you're worth anything?"This back-handed compliment is something I've gotten from thin people my whole life. I've been told I don't "act" like a fat person, that I don't "walk" like a fat person, that it's "a miracle" I have as much self-esteem as I do.
Similarly, I've been told by men that I don't "act" like a woman, that I don't "talk" or "write" like a women, that it's "cool" how tough or smart or whatever I am—which women, apparently, aren't supposed to be.
It is, as Kaling says, pretty insulting. This surprise, which I am meant to take as a compliment, that I evidently believe I am worth something, despite all the reasons I shouldn't.
* * *
I also tweeted this:
To which I received in reply a single unsupportive retort: "Maybe you constantly overestimate yourself!...do you maybe see a pattern there, huh?....probably not. Haw haw!"
It's precious, in the sort of way that watching a baby squirrel struggle with an oversized nut is precious, that he imagines, after I spent the afternoon publicly writing about the hatred I navigate on a daily basis just as part of my basic existence, I might be hurt by a random stranger's suggestion that the problem in my life is that I overestimate myself. If only I would lower my expectations of who I am, if only I would align my sense of self with the perceptions of those who hate me, life would be so much simpler.
* * *
The thing about living in a marginalized body is that it means there are lots and lots of people with the juxtaposed privilege who are deeply invested in defining my value. And many of them react very badly to any evidence that I reject the value which has been imposed on me.
Sometimes that consternation arrives in the form of rank hatred and shaming. Sometimes it's the sort of policing exemplified by shaming women who take selfies. Who are you, this policing demands to know, to value yourself in a way that I don't? Sometimes it's a back-handed compliment, embedded in which is the reminder that I'm not meant to care about myself. Sometimes it's a daft baby squirrel, throwing a nut at me because he doesn't know what else to do. All he knows is that he's angry I don't hate myself the way he hates me.
It is because I insistently value myself in a way that transgresses my culture's valuation of me that most of my hate mail could be boiled down to this single sentence: Who the fuck do you think you are?
The thing about living in a marginalized body is that it makes caring about yourself a radical act.
And a difficult one. But I am not afraid of difficult things. One would be wise not to underestimate me.
Note: This post is about my experience as a fat feminist female survivor. You may find some of yourself here, or maybe not. I am not purporting to be speaking for anyone but myself. If you see some things here that resonate, but don't speak to your specific and individual lived experience, I invite you to use that resonance to explore how we may connect as allies, rather than to find fault that, in talking about myself, I am not talking about you. In this space, "this is my experience" is an invitation to connection, not an invalidation of your experience.