Fatsronauts 101: Confidence

[Content Note: Fat hatred.]

I have such a fraught relationship with confidence.

For much of my life as a fat woman, I have been caught between the punishments justified on the basis that I do not have enough confidence, and the punishments justified on the basis that I have too much confidence.

The amount of confidence I actually have is never right. The amount of confidence I should have is entirely dependent on always maintaining distance from the goldilocks amount that would magically inoculate me from hostility.

My confidence is a thing that is constantly being measured by people with their thumbs on the scale.

By people who want to "helpfully" alert me that I would get more and better in life if only I were more confident, who want to attribute my mistreatment encased in fat hatred to my own failing to demonstrate sufficient confidence. Their theory usually goes something like this: You have to earn being treated well by showing people you think you deserve to be treated well.

By people who want to belittle me, who want to make clear to me they don't believe I have earned being treated well, and do it by telling me what confidence I have isn't deserved. Their theory usually goes something like this: You are fat and thus have no justification for any confidence at all. Just who the fuck do you think you are, anyway, fatty fat fatso?

By people who ostensibly mean to compliment me, by expressing surprise and delight that I manage to have any confidence at all. You know, given how fat I am. And we all know fatties aren't meant to have any confidence. But here I am, with confidence in spite of my fat self! Good for me! How do you do it? You go, girl. This does not feel like the compliment it is intended to be.

Observations about my confidence always have a motive; they are never neutral observations—always intended as a compliment or an insult. Or both.

I hardly even know what confidence means, as its definition is a constantly moving target. Sometimes it means "thriving in spite of immense cultural abuse of fat women." Sometimes it means "thick skin." Sometimes it means "reflection of class status and evidence of having money to dress yourself reasonably well and the time and resources to locate clothing in your size that isn't total garbage." Sometimes it means "being able to get laid" or "being loved." Sometimes it means "demonstrating an ability to set boundaries." Sometimes it means, simply, not openly and shamefully hating myself for the comfort of thin people at all times.

It never seems just to mean holding the belief that I have value as a human being.

And, on the rarest of occasions when it does, it is still a political statement. I believe I have value, even though my fat marks me as someone who does not.

Confidence is thus ever radical.

And because my confidence is transgressive, by virtue of norms and prejudices created outside of myself, it is received as a challenge by those who detest the thought of its existence. Of my existence.

Who cannot see what confidence I have, or don't have, as the culmination of a life—as a person with both privileged and marginalized aspects, as a person with a complex history and a cluttered interior humanity, carrying the scars and stardust collected by any human walking through this world—but as a thing tied uniquely to my weight.

Because my fat is the most visible marker of where a void of confidence should be.

"Look at you—it's so terrific you have confidence even though you are fat!"

"Look at yourself—don't you know you're not supposed to have confidence because you are fat?"

In either case, the message is the same: Don't you know how we treat fat people? Don't you know what that's supposed to do you?

I am not supposed to have confidence. Except when I am.

"You know, no one's ever going to hire you or give you a raise or offer you a promotion or like you or fuck you or love you if you don't believe in yourself."

And if someone has hired me or given me a raise or offered me a promotion or liked me or fucked me or loved me, well, that's not because I am smart or talented or hardworking or tenacious or dependable or likeable and definitely not because I am attractive. It's only because I have confidence.

Which is a way of reminding me I shouldn't have and don't really deserve anything, because I am fat. But there's got to be some explanation for a fat woman's personal and/or professional success. It must be her confidence.

Which is also a neat way of victim-blaming fat women who are mistreated and denied personal and/or professional success on the basis of their fatness. It must be her lack of confidence.

And then I—any fat woman—who finds some modicum of personal and/or professional success, contentment, achievement, satisfaction, we are used against fat women who don't. I am held up as an Exceptional Fat Woman, to shame other fat women. See? It's not institutional, systemic, pervasive, soul-destroying fat hatred. It's you. You should try having some confidence.

Yes. We should all try that. And then we should see how long it takes until evidence of our confidence is used to demean us as delusional uppity bitches who don't even know how fat and ugly and grotesque we are. Don't we even own a mirror?

Can't fucking win. Can't ever fucking win.

The worst of it is this: Because my confidence exists in defiance of expectations that it should not exist at all, it is regarded—positively and negatively—as an act of resistance, an act of bravery, an act of bravado. A provocation.

And it is all those things, because it has to be. But it also simply an act of survival—a hard-won and carefully cultivated love of self, that helps keep me whole in a world that wants to tear me apart.

It's just something of use to me. (And not to every fat woman.) It is not something I project, but something I carry, alongside my other tools.

I am not obliged to be confident for anyone else's comfort, no more than I am obliged to be self-deprecating.

But I am never allowed to own it, no matter how hard I worked to get it, no matter how much it might mean to me, because it must be treated as public property, in order that privileged folks discomfited by that very confidence might use it to try to manipulate and harm me.

While they tell me with a smile to be confident. Without a trace of irony.

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