Sometime on the weekend I started seeing tweets like this (summary from Brian:
@mymilkspilt: Your body sends a bad message to your children. #thingsfatpeoplearetold @red3blog
Apr 9, 2011 10:20 PM GMT
@TheRotund: @mymilkspilt Your chronic illness would disappear if you lost weight. #thingsfatpeoplearetold
Apr 9, 2011 10:31 PM GMT
@MargitteLeah: "no one will ever love you." actual #thingsfatpeoplearetold
Apr 9, 2011 10:34 PM GMT
@BookMD: Fat people are stupid. If they were smart, they wouldn't be fat. #thingsfatpeoplearetold
Apr 9, 2011 11:58 PM GMT
@Fatheffalump: Telling anyone that it's ok to be fat makes you personally responsible for their death #thingsfatpeoplearetold
Apr 10, 2011 12:45 AM GMT
@elizabethgallo: You have such a pretty face... #thingsfatpeoplearetold
Apr 10, 2011 12:56 AM GMT
You can see what's been posted recently over on twitter. There have been thousands of tweets in the last few days.
They just flick up 1 new tweet, 5 new tweets, 46 new tweets and so on depending how long I've been away from the computer. Telling the truth about oppression is a radical act. And one of the most important truths about oppression is that it happens and it matters.
I'm sure different people have got different things out of reading that hashtag. Some statements made me uncomfortable with their resonance, because there are many things people have said around me that I'd rather forget for the sake of my relationships with those people.
But my overwhelming feeling one was one of deep recognition. Not just of things people have said to me, but what I'm afraid of hearing. To see this endless row of statements scrolling down that contain everything that anyone's projected on to my body since I was ten, everything that I've run away from hearing. And it's made clear to me not just the various elaborate things I have done to avoid hearing #thingsfatpeoplearetold - but my ways of avoiding hearing these things are valid and important survival strategies, not things wrong with me. It's incredibly legitimising to read all this and think "actually yeah that's really hard to deal with."
What #thingsfatpeoplearetold has done, for me, is to take the toxic fumes of fat stigma and made them concrete and in this form they lose their power.* In this form thhey are not about us as individuals, but about the culture that we live in, and in this form we can fight them.
It's a reminder that we are stronger together than we are alone. Individually they're just 140 characters, but together it's so much more.
Every so often, over the last few days, someone will tweet in astonishment about how awful people can be. Fat Heffalump has a great http://fatheffalump.wordpress.com/2011/04/11/on-expressions-of-dismay-and-disbelief/ response to these tweets:
So I want to say this to all of the people who are horrified at the things they read in these tweets. Don’t just shake your head, gasp in horror, and cluck your tongue at how terrible people are to the poor fatties. Stand the fuck up. Say something when you hear fat hate. Speak up when you see someone being treated badly because of the size of their body. Challenge those articles you see in magazines, newspapers and on television that perpetuate myths about fat people. Ask questions of the “facts” you see spouted that shame fat people, think about who might just benefit from fat phobia. After all, fat activists have been doing just this for decades.
But I want to go further. Yes a lot of the people who say #thingsfatpeoplearetold are actual assholes and some of them are much worse.
But assholes are not the problem here. The problem is systemic. Fat hatred is promoted by fashion, 'beauty products' and weight loss industries, built into the medical system, and officially endorsed by the government.
People need to stop saying these things, and start challenging people who do. But that's not going to be enough. A fair number of tweets, particularly from women, were said by their mothers (people often mention it - and anyway things that come from people's Mum's have a certain feel to them). My Mum is a feminist, and very loving and caring, and I'm not even going to write down the things she said to me while I was growing up, because they were too awful. The job of mothers is to bring up their daughters to survive in society, and that involves a lot of acclimatising to sexism. In a world where the government, the health system, and various industries are working to pathologise, then trying to stop your girl entering this hated category is a rational survival strategy (albiet a futile one). I'm not excusing what mothers do to their daughters, at all (It makes me so angry that my mother, her friends, and my friend's mothers, all feminist women, were prepared to police their daughters in this way). What I'm saying is that it won't change, people won't stop telling fat people this shit, if we think of fat stigma as an individual problem. I know a lot of people know that, but the repsponses to #thingsfatpeoplearetold means I feel I need to repeat it.
People may be assholes, but systemic change does not come from individuals being better. It comes from attacking the structures which give them the power to be assholes.
So thank you everyone who added to #thingsfatpeoplearetold, and the people who are still adding to it. You can see the power of what they've done by reading #thingsfatpeoplearetold and reading Brian's summary, then pass it on, add your own. Understand that fat hatred is real and important, but in doing so realise that it can be fought.
* Yes I am thinking of the Labyrinth "YOU HAVE NO POWER OVER ME" I say. And it's not quite true - but it's more true than it was last week.