After my recital on Sunday I managed to get the pictures my husband took up online rather quickly. Many of my fellow dancers snapped the pictures up (as agreed!) and started uploading them on Flickr, tagging themselves and the rest of us dancers. I love when they do that because it saves me having to upload images in multiple spots since I can just tag myself on their uploads!
One picture had a set of 5 of us doing tribal moves. It was a great image, with myself front and center and the person who uploaded it just to the side; all of us with happy faces and intense looks of dance-concentration. And then…there was a moment that could have turned nasty; which I think I actually managed to salvage as a learning moment instead.
A commenter who, I later learned, is an 11 year old girl living in the Czech Republic, first wrote on the image “WHAT THIS? :DDDD” Then, after the dancer explained that it was tribal dancing, hence all the awesome accoutrement, etc, the commenter elaborated “I mean that who is that fat woman? It can dance?”
Now, since I had “liked” the image, I was privy to all of this as Facebook so “kindly” sends me incessant notes regarding all the activity on anything I happen to “like”. And I will admit that the turn of the phrasing, the blunt cruelty in these simple words, stung. For all the work I’ve done (for years now) in improving my own body image perceptions for myself and towards others; there are still moments when those school-yard taunts make me close my eyes, take a deep and regretful breath and force myself to be calm. I had to do that in this case.
Because you know what? Reading that statement just made me feel… inhuman. A bit like no matter how many times I dance, swim, smile, love and LIVE my life as proof against the awful pressures against being Fat that exist around me, I can still be verbally/textually lashed as people try to cram my existence into the small, pre-defined boxes that others would have of me. A Fat Woman. Never anything more than a Fat Body. And “it”, can’t do anything of worth; let alone DANCE!
Here’s the thing folks: I may be fat, but I am and will always remain: human. I identify as a (rather lovely and increasingly more confident) woman. I happen to have a fat body. While, often, that fat is part of my identity, it is not entirely My Identity. I am not just “April D: Fat Woman!” I am so much more than a Fat Woman or even a Fat, White, Hetero, Cis-gendered Woman. I am also human and humane. I am a lover and loved. I am a giver and a taker, a thinker and an action-taker. Yet, for some, I think, quite often, the humanity of the people in images and videos and behind the text of words given online, gets forgotten. As I’ve just been reminded, as recently again as yesterday, the Internet tubes make it very easy for people to lash out with the shield of anonymity to protect them from any back-lash to spewed negativity or insensitive comments. It makes neglecting humanity as simple as a comment on a social network. However, that very same simplicity of thoughtless action; can also be turned on its head to work FOR me.
My aim is to turn that anonymity on its head by being a very VISIBLE Fat Woman. All too often people are hounded by images of the headless fatty. A bulging belly or rounded set of thighs meant to represent the horrors of fat; a stand-in, cropped point, made at the expense of a person’s humanity stating “This is what Bad looks like! This is sloth! Glutton! Unbridled lust for excess! Consumption! What Ye Shall Not Be!!!” An effort of dehumanization made all the easier for folks when those pushing such messages simply crop away a person’s head and make their body a symbol.
Well my body is more than a symbol. It is the amazing shell in which this thoughtful mind tickers away. And any chance I get, I will be reminding you of that fact. I am not merely a combined set of fat breasts, belly and thighs. I am more than a thunderous cellulite footstep set to the music of elephantine booms. I am more than a stretch of pale-skinned belly jiggling in slow motion to the daunting music of the latest Obesity Scare. I am human. And I intended to keep reminding you of that for as long as it takes for people to realize that looking at a cropped image of parts of someone’s body, or even a WHOLE head-having body, does NOT give an entire picture of that person’s life. We are more than the sum of our various and varied parts and pieces. So now I just need to figure out how I was going to get that point across in the best and simplest manner possible.
So, I mulled over this comment. I let its sting roll around in my mouth, trying to tickle out all of the many ways in which it was able to hurt me. And I tried to turn it around. How could I take this comment, not even made with the sort of trollish hatred thrown here to me as the sole moderator of this blog but instead with the careless simplicity of knowing that very few would object to such phrasing, be used as a moment that could teach? How could I make that “fat woman” real to this commenter in a way that didn’t necessarily bring defensive hackles immediately to bear against me (because, quite frankly, I’m getting tired of the knock-down, drag-out word battles against those who refuse to hear anything else but their own words). I wanted to make myself a real, living, breathing woman to this commenter, in a way that could, just possibly, make them take a moment’s pause to reconsider their own words.
I decided I could best do so by adding my own comment: “Hi. That would be me. And yes “it” aka *I* can dance. And shimmy and shake pretty damn well ;)”
A response as simple and to-the-point as the original commenter’s. A simple reminder to consider that there ARE people on the other end of those images and words out there. And those people have feelings and lives of their own.
Very quickly the commenter “liked” my reply. In addition, the dancer who originally posted the image added her own response: “Belly dancing celebrates bellies of all sizes, and that’s why we do it. Please be considerate in your comments!” This coming from a lovely woman who DOES fit the very narrow definitions of feminine beauty in this world.
To me, those small things: having a commenter who may have actually taken a moment to reconsider their anonymity and having the support of another, culturally acceptable sized-ally, really made my day. It really made me think that I was making a tiny little in-road of activism; one small comment at a time. There was no apology issues from the original commenter for her words but, honestly, I don’t feel they are necessary for me here. What meant the most to me is that it felt like my own words managed to take away from the power of that original comment, diffusing it through a lens of reality; a frame of “Hey, remember that there are other humans on the other side of that computer monitor.”
Who knows, maybe the commenter was really “liking” my words sarcastically. Maybe she thought they were said in jest or something. But I don’t think so. I think this was a triumph of small activism. Even if that young woman goes on in the future and makes other such comments; I hope that my own words continue to give her pause; perhaps even, one glorious day, making her reconsider saying/writing similar things at all. One day, even further down the line, it may be her who calls out another on their words and phrases, passing along my own bit of activism in a wonderful path of shared activism.
I think that calling out those words and phrases and actions which seek to make others feel low and worthless is a huge part of being an activist. Showing that this here “fat woman” is still “human” under it all; is vital. And, I think, in this case at least, it may have had a lasting impact. I certainly hope it has!
And to end with a hopeful smile; here’s video from my most recent recital; my solo. Watch it and remember that, small moment by small moment, reminding people: this Fat Woman is STILL Human; is a victory. Each small victory leads us ever closer to a day when thinking of a person as “less than” for their differences, is but a distant memory of the hateful and useless way things used to be.