Happy Birthday, Bethany!

This summer I visited a friend I hadn’t seen in a while, and the first thing she said to me was, “How do you know ArchedEyebrow?,” which thrilled me because I love Bethany Rutter, and I think everyone should know her.

And since the internet told me that today is her birthday, I decided to answer that question for the world wide web.

bethany rutter

Bethany in front of the Brooklyn Museum, spring 2015

I met Bethany at a wedding, waiting in line for appetizers––they had these little food stations featuring different cuisines in addition to a seated dinner and multiple desserts. It was food heaven (or as I like to call it, heaven. Because if it’s true we get to create our own version of heaven, mine will consist of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, kitchens, and restaurants).

Back to the wedding buffet…

When I met Bethany, I was spending a lot of time with super cool women who unfortunately had terrible relationships with food (like a lot, if not most, women living in our patriarchal, body-hating society), so social eating situations made me apprehensive. (It’s hard for me to hear people make negative weight-related comments about food, especially when I’m about to eat, and all I want to do is enjoy it!) I didn’t realize how much I had come to expect fatphobic food talk before every meal until I heard Bethany exclaim, “This is delightful!”

We bonded over how excited we were to try everything, and honestly, that interaction was enough for me to love her. But that wasn’t all! She was also wearing a dress I still daydream about. And she was the wedding DJ. And she played ***Flawless by Beyoncé for me, so by the end of the wedding, I had a major friend crush.

She lives in London, so I wasn’t sure if I would get to see her again, but somehow we ended up going to see the Kara Walker exhibit in the Domino sugar factory before she flew home. All of the art was made of refined sugar and represented Black bodies, and at the exhibit, there were lots of non-Black people doing awful things to the sculptures (like taking photos in front of the art while making lewd or violent poses). Bethany took in the scene and said, “Someone should take pictures or make a video to expose all the racist things people are doing.”

I decided on the spot that we were destined to be friends, even if she did live across the Atlantic. (Later we learned Kara Walker had been filming us all along because she’s brilliant.)

It’s been two years since that dreamy wedding, and I’ve only found more reasons to love Bethany, including her fabulous fashion blog, her hilarious twitter, her sense of fun, and the way she doesn’t just stand with her arms crossed when she sees something unjust (see, for example, her “You Look Great!” campaign in response to one of the worst examples of fat-shaming harassment I’ve ever heard of).

edama me

arched sushi

Happy birthday, Bethany! I’m so glad you exist.

 

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Happy Birthday, Bethany!

click, click, click: fighting fatphobia edition

In fourth grade I wrote my first petition, asking the principal for benches near the playground so kids could have a more comfortable place to read during recess. (I don’t know how I convinced other kids to sign it because there wasn’t exactly a recess book club, but the petition was successful, and I read on a blue bench for the rest of the year.)

As you can tell, I wasn’t what you would consider an athletic child. When I did exercise, it was in structured environments like gym class or cheerleading practice, and that’s the kind of exercise environment I still prefer. Put me in a class with a person telling me what to do and I’m happy. I don’t really care what the class is as long as I don’t have to figure out what to do by myself. It’s like, I like to move; I just don’t really know how.

Even though I enjoy them, I’m ambivalent about recommending exercise classes because there’s one part I hate and would never want other people to endure. It happens about halfway through class, and I think most instructors consider it a pep talk. I call it the Lalalala-I-can’t-hear-you portion because it is usually just fatphobia disguised as encouragement. Often it includes references to bikinis and summer and “working hard to look good!”

Once, during the most intense part of a class, the teacher broke with body-shaming tradition and asked, “Do you feel strong?”

Did I? No one had ever asked me before.

It made me think about all the ways I’ve been taught that as a woman, my most important job is to be pretty and how beauty is conflated with thinness in our society. What if I’d been taught to focus on how I felt rather than how I looked? What if I’d been praised for being strong instead of “cute”? How different would my life be?

The sad thing is, I can’t even imagine.

I’ve written before about deciding to love my body, resist negative messages, and challenge the underlying assumptions of fatphobia. It’s an ongoing process because I encounter countless messages designed to make me feel bad about my body or fear gaining weight, and I can’t just go through life yelling “Lalala, I can’t hear you!” Thankfully, there are lots of positive messages for people who want to question our fat=bad, diet=good culture. You just have to know where to look. Here are a few links to pieces I’ve found especially interesting.

nayyirah waheed quote  Graphic found via Pinterest


READ

Most of what I’ve read about fat positivity is written from the perspective of someone who has overcome insecurities, but Jo’s post about being fat and struggling to love your body is in the present tense, and her willingness to focus on process rather than triumph makes it not just inspiring but useful.

“it would be so great if naming this thing would make it go away, but it doesn’t. i’ve had it pinned down, i’ve had it named, for years now yet i still crumble under the weight of the gaze that is disgusted by me. as women, the gaze is rarely pleased with us for a million different reasons…but if you are woman who is fat, a woman like me, the gaze is actively DISGUSTED by you. you can’t imagine how much it fucks you up to know the gaze does not approve in such a fundamental way, unless you can imagine it. unless you are living it.”

 

LISTEN

This American Life did an episode about “rethink[ing] the way we see being fat.” The whole episode is excellent, but if you only have time for one act, I suggest Elna Baker’s story about her drastic weight loss, which demonstrates how harmful fatphobia can be––even when you “succeed” at becoming thin.

Here’s something I never tell people. I still take phentermine. I take it for a few months at a time a year, or sometimes it feels like half of the year. I can’t get it prescribed anymore, so I buy it in Mexico or online, though the online stuff is fake and doesn’t work as well.

I have a shirt that says, ‘I’m allergic to mornings.’ Everyone who knows me knows I have problems sleeping at night. I am usually up until 4:00 AM. I say I have insomnia. Really, I am awake because I am on speed. And I am on speed, because I need to stay thin. I need to stay thin so I can get what I want.

I know how this sounds. I know exactly how messed up it is. But I also feel like…we won’t really get anywhere unless I admit it.”

 

GIVE (TO YOUR DOCTOR)

Annika Burnett’s “Doctors Don’t Like Fat People” has a depressing title that makes me want to burn everything down, but it’s an open letter from a med school student challenging anti-fat bias in her own training and in medicine in general. Take comfort in knowing that someday she’ll be an M.D. with patients of her own and that she’s not waiting until then to change things.

All too frequently in medicine, the terms ‘fat’ and ‘unhealthy’ are mistakenly collapsed. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the relationship between body weight and overall health status is not so clear (to read more from folks beginning to challenge this paradigm, check out here and here). Yes, obesity is a risk factor for many diseases. So are age, race, gender and family history. It is unclear whether and to what extent we can choose our body size any more than we can choose those characteristics.

Still, even if being fat were entirely a matter of willpower and even if fat definitively meant unhealthy, would that give us an excuse to treat fat patients poorly? When has hostility ever been conducive to taking care of a patient? Creating a clinical environment so antagonistic that fat patients are afraid to access care is not helping anybody.”

 

AND MAYBE GET SOME NEW CLOTHES?

That’s what Arianna Rebolini did after she realized that she had a closet that was antithetical to the way she wanted to feel about–and in–her body.

“I was beginning every single day with a terrible task — facing a closet that told me my body wasn’t right, and choosing which way I’d like to be made physically uncomfortable that day. My clothes were undoing years of work toward accepting my body as-is, coaxing me into old beliefs. Like: Discomfort was what I deserved for having gained weight. Like: Anger and unhappiness would motivate me to lose weight. Like: Happiness and nice things and self-esteem were for people who haven’t gained weight. I’d decided years ago those beliefs were empty; it was time to ditch the last thing pulling me toward them.”

click, click, click: fighting fatphobia edition

Hating your body’s just something to do*

I decided in September, in a lovely Park Slope bathroom, looking in the mirror at a face dotted with acne scars incurred over twelve years (and counting), looking down at the rest of my body—a body that gained twenty pounds throughout college and, in 2011, outgrew clothes for the first time in eight years.

I decided to stop striving to be any different. I decided to stop treating my body as a fixer-upper project. It felt daring. Like, ‘Really, can I just opt out? I mean, I try to opt out; but can I just opt out completely?’ I tried it out. I said, ‘I like my body just the way it is, and I promise to like it no matter how it looks’. It felt really, really good. Since then, I’ve been committed to sustaining that feeling of self-acceptance and body positivity.

That’s not to say it’s easy. Especially as the weather warms. I love warm weather, but man, does it bring on the body policing. Magazine covers are emblazoned with brazenly fat-phobic headlines:

  • Drop the weight faster [emphasis in original] (Redbook, May 2012) || Message: The underlying assumption is that the reader already wants to lose weight.
  • 5 DAY BODY MAKEOVER + THE CELLULITE TREATMENT THAT WORKS (Harper’s Bazaar, May 2012) || Message: Another underlying assumption that the reader wants to alter her body (wild guess: the makeover is not probably not about gaining weight) + CELLULITE IS GROSS. GET RID OF IT.
  • Feel Great Naked! 9 Foods That Burn Fat While You Eat (Cosmopolitan, May 2012) || Message: The only way to feel great naked is not to be fat.
  • PERFECT SKIN? YES, IT’S POSSIBLE! +THE ONE-HOUR PAIN-FREE FAT ZAPPER (Elle, May 2012) || Message: There is no excuse for not being thin and having flawless skin. Spend lots of money on unnecessary procedures. + Fat is so awful it should be zapped. (ZAPPED?!?)

These are just some of the body-shaming phrases I’ll read on my daily walk to the subway for the next month. And, in a few weeks, covers like this will start popping up.

Plus, the warmer it gets, the more I overhear things like, ‘Ugh, I should not be eating this right now’, ‘Gross, I feel SO fat’, and ‘I am not ready to go to the beach. I don’t even want to go’.

It can be overwhelming for me. I hope it’s not overwhelming for you. Just in case, here’s a list of the things I tell myself to keep sane in a fat-phobic, image-obsessed society.

My body-positive self-talk

  1. Don’t hate fat. Hate anything that teaches fat = bad.
  2. Pay no attention to numbers like weight or clothing size. If you feel bad or weird for buying size [whatever] pants, think of all the people you know who are bigger or smaller than you. Remember how much you love them and how you would feel if anyone told them their bodies were unacceptable. You would be enraged! Your friends and family are perfect just they way they are. So are you.
  3. Never criticize other people’s appearance. Opt out of body policing.
  4.  Never criticize your body, especially in group settings. It prompts others to feel bad about themselves.
  5. Only do your hair, shave your legs, put on make-up, tweeze your eyebrows, wear uncomfortable anything if YOU feel like it. Remember, these are silly, meaningless endeavors that you do for fun. If they’re not fun, why do them?
  6. Consume feminist media and actively critique non-feminist media.
  7. Don’t call little girls ‘beautiful’ or ‘cute’ or ‘pretty’. Remember, girls begin learning that their appearance is the most important thing about them from an early age.

Don’t feel guilty for eating potato chips. NEVER feel guilty for eating something you enjoy. Feel lucky to be able to afford such a luxury. Feel guilty for buying products with body-shaming messages. Try not to buy products labeled ‘diet’ or ‘light’. Tell the companies that use this sort of advertising that preying on insecurities is not cool. (AHEM, TRADER JOE.)

Do you have any body-positive self-talk?

*The title of this blog post is a line from ‘What’s Wrong with You?’ by Bratmobile. It’s one of my favorite riot grrrl songs.

Hating your body’s just something to do*