Feeding the Trolls: Free Advertising for the Patriarchy! You can do it! (Part 1 of 2)

smashSo, I finally watched the crazy fat hate lady on YouTube because well, it’s my area of research. Sadly, I can’t use it for my dissertation because the comments are disabled. Dammit! But Whitney Thore, an activist, does a great response video where she knocks home most of the main points that this video brings into focus.

  1. You can’t know someone’s life by looking at them (what they eat, how much they exercise, their health, etc.).
  2. Judging someone (and making up derogatory stories about them) based entirely on how they look is, in fact, bigotry (see point 1).
  3. Everyone is worthy of love and self-acceptance, period.

There are a lot of responses that are insightful and awesome. Lindy West’s is particularly good--she points out that as an activist she is, in fact, fighting for the fat shamers (like crazy fat hate lady) as well as the fat, because everyone gets measured and judged as unworthy in our culture. That’s what patriarchy is, people.

I have a few additional thoughts. I posted this on my FB page when the commentraversy broke out:

 When women shame other women for their bodies, their reproductive choices, their mothering, their appearance, their (fill in the blank) it is important to remember that they are working for free for the power systems and corporations that benefit from keeping women focused on fighting each other instead of inequality and patriarchy. Patriarchy is simply a social and power system that benefits the privileged few over everyone else.

So even though Schadenfreude can feel good (it offloads internalized aggression and pain), it’s essentially free labor.

Want to do free advertising for a highly profitable company? Attack another woman for how she looks. Want to help encode inequality and bigotry that benefits a few rich people at the expense of everyone else? Make a video about why fat people suck!

Congratulations! You are essentially an unpaid intern for an organization that wants you to be just as powerless as the people you deride.

When you participate in mass shaming and mobbing (even of people who suck) you are a mindless tool of the system that wants you to be as ignorant, powerless, and blind as possible to how that system exploits everyone, not just the people you deride.

Yeah. That. I’ve had to deal with some pretty pointed fat shaming over the past few months, and it doesn’t get to me much anymore for this very reason. It doesn’t make me cry, or question my self-worth any more.

The fat-shamer in my life also hates themselves (yes, I’m skipping gender pronouns for this, deal with my grammar) for a bunch of other purely patriarchal reasons – not being married, not being hugely financially and publicly successful; not being at the very top of the heap. But it’s okay because they hate themselves for it. Those are the rules. It’s acceptable to not be at the top as long as you don’t accept yourself the way you are. Fun, right?

I don’t hate myself for being female, fat, middle-aged, not famous, and only moderately successful, and that makes me confusing and dangerous to them. This makes me angry as fuck, but not particularly hurt. Why? Because, except for moments of extreme vulnerability, I don’t buy into this competitive, hierarchical, zero sum gain patriarchal shit any more.

You can be skinny and beautiful, and I can be fat and beautiful. You can be skinny and loved, and I can be fat and loved. We can be poor, rich, disabled, famous, of any ethnicity, gender identity, nationality, or sexual orientation, and we all are deserving of self-respect, respect from others, and love. We all experience pain, fear, loss, and heartbreak, regardless of where we sit on the imaginary ladder of patriarchy.

All of us. No exceptions.

Being an asshole to other people is a really, really effective way of offloading any self-loathing we may have internalized from growing up in this jacked up system (which may have been enforced and reinforced by our family systems, local cultures, religions, etc), but it only works temporarily. This is why the Donald Trumps of the world never shut up. He can never run far enough away from himself, so he has to keep finding new people to fling his shit at. But it’s his shit, so it never really goes away. Hence continued and more frantic shit flinging.

Okay. So that’s it for my feminist rant on this topic. Stay tuned for the psychodynamic look at what’s going on here. For science!


I feel like, starting today, the next year of my life is a big question mark. I took my daughter to her first day of kindergarten today. I signed up for a co-working space on the east side of Austin, since we live west, and Lillian’s school is east, and I can’t write my dissertation if I only have a few hours a day at home. So, new schedule, new work space. I’ve finished my masters degree in Human Development and am just about done with my coursework. The essay I wrote based on the last rant is pretty good (after a major slash and burn from my helpful prof). It’s soon going to be submitted to the comprehensive essay review board/team/person/God/judge (and a journal). And I have an almost complete committee, minus an outside reader, for whom I am still actively shopping.

I love my daughter’s school, so that will hopefully work out well. My co-working space seems very nice; quiet, terrier-free, laundry-free, and dishes-free. I spent some time dreading today, but it’s actually been really chill. Woo!

So why am I freaking? Well, I’m not freaking too hard, but like most humans, I dislike ambiguity. I know that for the next 6-10 months I will be writing my proposal and dissertation (which it turns out are actually the same thing). So hard, but not ambiguous. But once I’m ABD, I can start applying for jobs. And that is where all the ?????????? comes in. Where will I apply? Who is hiring? How can I get a research position without having to move to another city? Should we move? Under which circumstances would that be a good idea? Because my husband is the main breadwinner, we can’t consider moving unless I’m going to be pulling in the equivalent of his pay for the region. So I can’t really consider doing what most baby academics do, which is take an associate professor position in the middle of nowhere and work my way towards tenure and a bigger, more interestingly located school. I’m not uprooting my family to move to Iowa or whatever. I would really, really like a public policy research job where I can contribute to legislation on cyber crime and cyber violence. (Hear that, Universe?) And, of course, I would like to be able to work from Austin. And adjunct on the side. Because I’m sure everything will work out exactly as I’m imagining it. I would like to make enough money to pay off my student loan debt in 10 years and get us a new roof ASAP.  Sigh.

So big question marks for where I will be and what I will be doing this time next year. Hopefully, I will have graduated and will be starting some kind of job, academic or research related. But I really have no idea how all of this is going to play out, and that’s hard for me.

I spoke about my research to a local group last week. It was my first time as the “expert in my field”. That was very cool. In school, I feel like I’m constantly struggling to be smart/well-read/knowledgeable enough to say anything at all. I forget that I actually know more about my field than most people in the world. I will never reach a point where I have read everything that I “should” read to be a scholar who is above all criticism. I’m okay with that. I’ve relaxed significantly about trying to know everything. But boy howdy, am I going to be glad to be done with school. Boy. Howdy. I imagine that being criticized by other people in my field will suck mightily, but I can’t imagine it sucking as mightily as it does to be criticized by teachers who don’t understand my field, don’t care for it, or aren’t that awesome themselves.

As I move closer to re-entering the workplace in some fashion, especially ones as arcane as policy or academia, I find myself doing things like getting more tattoos and dying my hair purple. I think this is a throwback to the decade I spent trying to assimilate in the classical music culture, which meant ignoring my individuality, dressing according to 1960s aesthetics, and generally blending in. I hated that shit. So I may find myself wearing a lot of sweaters to interviews (to cover up my tats), but so be it. Digging deeply into the area of fat studies and social justice has made me very aware of the ways people police each others appearances on behalf of the patriarchy. Which can so bite me. The older I get, the less fucks I give about what other people think about how I look. How did it ever come to pass that being visually inoffensive is a good thing? I just can’t.

So here I am, in another liminal space (I just love that word). I’ll get back to the rants soon.

Why Cyberbullying isn’t.

So here I am again, trying to get my thoughts organized before I have to make them sound important and scholarly and factual-ish.

I’ve read oh-so-many academic articles on “cyberbullying” over the last two years, and especially over the last two months. I’ve read countless more journalistic stories about it. The words “bully” and “troll” can mean anything from someone who posts  violent threats, revenge porn and engages in swatting to someone who says something snarky about a band you like. This is problematic for a whole bunch of reasons.

There’s a psychodynamic model for bullying that goes like this:

Person A has a proclivity to avoid negative feelings about him or herself. This is a pattern usually formed in childhood. Maybe A’s mom or dad couldn’t handle rage, pain, or fear, so either penalized or ignored A when A showed those emotions.

Person B has a proclivity for allowing others to define him or her and is receptive to negative judgements. This pattern is usually formed in childhood. Maybe B’s mom or dad was an adult A, and instead of dealing with his or her own negative emotions, mom or dad projected them on B and then penalized B in some way.

B learned to contain; A learned to expel.

A can’t face his or her own negative feelings, so A splits those feelings off from “positive” ones and projects them on the people around him or her. So if A is fearful, A decides instead that someone A knows is a terribly weak, fearful person, and treats them poorly for it. A has a streak of sadism; projecting negative stuff on others allows A to experience A’s split feelings in a voyeuristic way by forcing someone else to act them out.

B is used to taking on other people’s projections and gets a sense of being needed or fulfilled from taking care of others. B tends to exaggerate his or her own flaws rather than think poorly of others (probably because B’s parent(s) would get nasty if B pointed out their negative feelings or behavior). B has a masochistic streak; the energy and attention from being the object of projection is familiar and seductive. B may repress his or her own aggression and experience it through others.

A and B must exist within a System that supports this dynamic. At school, teachers who encourage aggressive behavior, ignore negative feelings, or abdicate responsibility can be part of the system. A workplace may have a culture where managers and leaders act more like A than B, and bystanders are either too scared of becoming victims to intervene, or are cathartically enjoying B’s abuse. The System must have some kind of hierarchy or structural component that favors certain people over others. At school it can be wealth, privilege, appearance, or popularity. At work it can be all those things, plus structural authority.

A eventually figures out that B is a likely container for A’s negative feelings and repressed desires. B feels needed and falls into holding these projections for A. Bullying commences. Bullying can take the form of physical, mental, or emotional abuse. All of this is unconscious, meaning that A does not know that he or she is abusive (A tends to see him or herself as persecuted) and B thinks that he or she is somehow inviting or deserving of A’s abuse and feels helpless to escape.

There is lots of debate about physical vs. emotional aggression, some of which makes the point that some emotional aggression doesn’t fit the bullying model because it is transitory and has adaptive as well as maladaptive outcomes.

I choose to define bullying as a process between two people (though others may be involved) that follows this psychological model:

Person A is unable to recognize his or her own negative traits, emotions, and desires. These are split off and projected on others.

Person B is unable to draw healthy boundaries and tends to internalize negative projections.

System reinforces this dynamic and allows it to perpetuate.

A couple notes on kids and teens vs. adults and bullying. There’s some evidence that relational aggression (often known as emotional bullying) is a necessary developmental stage. Kids have to learn how to deal with their feelings in relationship to others; whacking you in the face is normal for an enraged two year old, it’s not okay for a fourteen year old. But the fourteen year old doesn’t have as much self knowledge, experience, or emotional control as an adult, so being verbally cruel, exclusionary, or otherwise dickish to other kids, while icky, is not unusual and is debatably developmentally appropriate. How else are kids going to learn that dickish behavior has negative outcomes? How else can kids learn not to be friends with dickish people? While bullying at schools is a huge problem, I think we are making it worse by shoving kids into these archetypes of Bully and Victim and ignoring the reasons why these kids choose to behave as they do and how we can help them deal with their feelings more productively.

There is no Bully without pain, just is there is no Victim without aggression.

Adults, on the other hand, should have developed the ability to verbalize their feelings directly rather than engage in dickish behavior. Alas, this is not often the case.

I have found exactly zero literature comparing bullying at different developmental levels. The literature on bullying amongst adults bemoans the lack thereof (mostly, it’s a whole lot easier to study kids and undergrads for various reasons), but I have yet to find anyone other than Freudians like George Vaillant who look at defense mechanisms over the lifespan. which is the closest I can get to bullying over the lifespan. If you have ever read an academic article or book that looks at bullying and human development, please email me yesterday.

The reason why cyberbullying isn’t:

The internet is populated by As and Bs, just like the physical world (it’s the same people). But the System is totally different. On the internet, if someone leaves me a negative comment I can respond in a variety of ways without fear of any kind of systemic reprisal. Does this sound abstract? Okay, let’s look briefly at an example from the kind of stuff I study.

Here’s an article by Lindy West, a prominent Fat Activist, on getting married while fat.

Her stance is what might be called by sociologists, “non-normative.” She’s saying that when you get married, if you’re fat, you are expected to lose a ton of weight before you walk down the aisle. She didn’t, and she’s cool with that.  I can’t use this example for the really virulent comments, because The Guardian removes them, but in general, aggressive acts in a relationship or in your career because you’re fat is pretty acceptable socially. Discrimination, disparaging remarks, and rejection are still normative, though the body positive movement may be changing this (one hopes). But if my boss or my husband said something dickish to me about my weight, I would be enmeshed in this whole system that would make it hard for me to fight back. Can I risk losing my job? Should I risk the stability of my marriage and by extension my daughter’s well-being? So those situation have the potential for bullying if I already feel bad about myself or vulnerable around being fat.

But online, those systems don’t exist. So some jackass says this:

“Unbelievable! I wonder if the guardian online would publish a piece promoting anorexia?”

If it were my boss saying this, I might laugh nervously and maybe say something mollifying or self-depricating in order to avoid risking his ire. But what happens online? People respond in a variety of ways, non of which demonstrate any systemic prohibition against being counter-aggressive or arguing – things that are very risky in an actual bullying situation.

“Anorexia is an illness that can kill. Being chubs and getting married and telling ladies we don’t have to look like we have to eat dust for 6 months before our wedding because it is all good, isn’t.”

“Actually, the “risks” of obesity have been vastly overstated by the commercial weight loss industry. An obese woman might live 5 to 10 years less than an overweight one. In fact, a so-called “overweight” person stands a good chance of outliving an “ideal” weight person.”

“I don’t think the lovely lady in question is about to keel over due to being a bit chubs.”

“She’s not ‘chubs’ though, she’s obese. I’m glad she’s happy, glad she had a wonderful day, but I hope her weight doesn’t spoil the rest of her life”

Who are the As? Who are the Bs? Who is being more aggressive? Does it even matter?

So there are people defending West/themselves, and people attacking West/each other. Both parties have equal agency. While the “it’s okay to be fat” comments show some defense mechanisms like identification (the Jackass didn’t actually say anything about you, he was attacking the magazine for “promoting obesity”), the “fat people are doomed to die young” people are also displaying some spectacular projection. Neither has more power than the other. So while some participants seem angry, defensive, judgy, and other unpleasant things, it’s not bullying. Bullying requires a system that supports the projections of the aggressor and the victimization of the target. A newspaper that publishes an article on why it’s okay to be fat by a known fat activist is unlikely to be that system. Even if it were (if the magazine systematically deleted all the comments on one side of the argument), it is likely that the marginalized participants would take it to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or some other online forum. Everybody gets instant gratification on the internet, so everyone has about the same ability to say what they want to say.

True Bullies and Victims get some major psychic juice from their interactions. They replay childhood roles. They avoid scary or repressed feelings and desires, and they do it in a container or system that keeps the cycle going for some time.  Online, most people contradict, attack, defend, agree, disagree, and generally act out their stuff. There are no clear bullies or victims; in my research many participants move between emotions and roles during a single conversation. I actually think that the old “don’t feed the Trolls” norm was more likely to perpetuate a bullying-like scenario, as it put the target in the position of having to “rise above” (not respond to) verbal abuse. I suspect that for the aggressor, silencing their target is more gratifying than having the target counter-attack, contradict, or attempt to engage in conversation.

So point 1 is: Online aggression does not equal bullying.

However, there are many kinds of extreme aggression online, which carry more of the psychological distortions associated with bullying. Revenge porn, where a rejected  person posts naked pics or videos of an ex is pretty evil. It resembles bullying in that there are few legal ways for the target to respond (yet), though I suppose he or she might respond in kind. Still, it’s more a case of naked aggression; there is no dance between the aggressor and target; no symbiotic relationship for projection and identification.

Swatting, cyberstalking, doxxing, and other extreme forms of online aggression are similar. In the absence of clear legislation and law enforcement prohibiting this kind of violence, targets lack power to respond, but again, they are being terrorized, not bullied.

Point 2 is: Online violence is criminal behavior, not bullying.

Calling the less extreme kinds of online aggression bullying overstates the power of the aggressor and vastly understates the power of the target. On the other side of the coin, reducing these violent, terrifying acts to bullying ignores the impact on the targets and allows law enforcement, legal professionals, and legislators to abdicate responsibility for protecting citizens from violent and destructive acts.

Point 3 is: Naming minor aggression or major aggression “cyberbullying” distorts its causes and effects.

The biggest problem I have with both the media and academic approach to cyberbullying, cyber-aggression, or whatever it’s being called at this moment, is that it almost always ignores the why. I’ve read countless articles on bullying, cyber and otherwise, and they are almost all concerned with these things:

  1. Is it bullying?
  2. Who is the bully?
  3. Who is the victim?
  4. How can it be prevented?

What is rarely discussed is “Why is this happening?” Why is the aggressor acting out? Why is the target unable to adequately defend or maintain boundaries? Why is the system in which it is taking place allowing for this behavior? This is what I’m interested in. The why is what truly separates a traditional bullying situation from the various kinds of online aggression. Too much of the literature totally ignores the why, for aggressors and targets (and bystanders and everyone who moves between roles). Aggression is not always destructive; targets of aggressive behavior are not always victims. Conflating this vast range of online behaviors with one model which was developed to explain very specific, IRL dynamic causes blindness to what is really happening.

If we can begin to take notice of all the way we are not bullies and not victims, we can start to try out healthier ways of expressing and responding to aggression.

Feeding the Trolls: Further Adventures in YouTube Land (with Drag Queens!)

Hi! I got my first round of fat trolling on YouTube this week! As a person, it’s a little creepy and depressing. But as an online aggression researcher, it’s kind of awesome! I wasn’t trolling for trolls, I was just drooling over my latest favorite drag queen’s music video. Ginger Minj very nearly became America’s first fat Drag Superstar. She didn’t win the crown, but she’s super popular and released a video wearing a tee with her self-hashtag, #glamourtoad. So awesome. Anyway, I watched the video and posted in the comments that I really wanted one of those shirts. Enter troll. He/She spread the love far and wide, but here was my  little bit of the action:

glamourtoad0The troll was posting under the name “discount demi” at the time he/she posted, but later changed his/her name to “horse renoir”. Weird; just keep in mind it’s the same person.

Other gems:

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 8.27.41 PM Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 8.43.42 PMThere were lots of other comments that were disparaging of Ms. Minj and her fans.

This is pretty normal fare in my area of research. I’m not looking at the hardcore, violent stuff, just run of the mill nastiness and passive aggression. This particular troll did a hit and run, leaving several nasty comments, and didn’t follow up on any of the responses.

What was interesting for me was trying to walk my own talk. I wanted to hit back, hard. I could say something really intellectual and superior or something nasty and witty…but here’s the thing. The troll had some need which he or she fulfilled by attacking fans of Ms. Minj, particularly due to his/her distaste for Ms. Minj’s body type. Reading the troll’s comments made me seriously annoyed; the troll made him/herself a prime target for my aggression and frustration with fat discrimination and those who rationalize and defend it.  But, projection (which is what I’d be doing if I hit back with an equally nasty comment–I would be projecting my accumulated frustration on one lonely troll) just keeps on bouncing back and forth like a ping-pong ball. So, knowing what I do about defense mechanisms and online discourse, I decided to take a deep breath, and think about how to respond. What could I say that would help me not feel victimized (the popular stance, “Don’t feed the trolls” doesn’t cut it for me) but not fall into an aggressive or passive-aggressive trap? So I did this:

glamourtoadI felt better. I didn’t hit back, but I also didn’t roll over. It felt like the right response. It was hard! I have a heavy streak of passive-aggressive, which, coupled with some expert rationalization, can make it mighty hard to think of some way not to be bitchy when I’m attacked. My requirement for myself in responding was to stay at the adaptive level of defense mechanism.

It was really interesting was seeing how others responded. I’m on the “top comments” list, (number of likes is now up to 25), and one person counter attacked the troll, possibly on my behalf, while the other seemed to be coaching me on how to deal with the trolling. So what is going on in this community? As an avid of RuPaul’s Drag Race, I often get my post-season fix by watching videos posted by the performers, many of whom are quite prolific. This is a pretty typical comment thread on YouTube, particularly if the poster is fat. While I’m not actively seeking interaction with trolls, I’ve decided to be less inhibited in posting on YouTube pages a form of appreciation.

As in the previous post where I interacted with a troll, my response seemed to have a constructive effect on the other viewers, at least to the point that several were motivated to “like” my comment, interact with me, or defend me. To get all psychodynamic about it (again), I was operating at the adaptive defensive level by using sublimation  – consciously redirecting my ire and hurt into inquiry. The troll was operating at the immature level by acting out through making unsolicited disparaging and critical comments. The commenter who told me to ignore the troll was perhaps operating at the neurotic level by using reaction formation–partially expressing anger towards the troll by indirect name calling (“pathetic hater”) while coming to my defense.

I’m taking a phenomenology class right now, which is a bit hard to explain, but it’s about doing research from inside the thing you’re studying, instead of observing it from the outside. So I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks trying to describe my experience of aggression from multiple angles. One of the things that has been most interesting is how incredibly physical it is. Even just hearing someone speak cruel words, or reading them online has a physical effect. Have you ever felt like someone knocked the breath out of you, verbally? Or punched you in the stomach–verbally? Or dumped ice water down your back–verbally? None of those feelings are exactly like the descriptions, but they’re something like them. Reading the troll’s comment felt a bit like that. It made me really angry, and I wanted to punch him/her in the face–verbally.

I’m good with words. I’m also good with denial. A year ago, I might have written a really scholarly, academic sounding response that was the verbal equivalent of skewering the troll on a BBQ fork while convincing myself I was being perfectly civil. But after this year of studying online conversations and testing my assumptions about them, I know how that would likely go. Others would join in on the flaming, or the troll might fire back in some extra creepy ways, or I might just not say anything (thinking I was taking the high road) but doing that would leave me with some free-floating hurt and anxiety that would end up directed somewhere less appropriate. I might react disproportionately to my daughter’s behavior, or snap at my husband. Not that those things don’t happen–I just don’t want them happening because I wimped out on confronting a troll on YouTube. Right? The funny thing was that after I responded, my body relaxed. I didn’t feel creeped out anymore, and I didn’t feel any dread about how the troll (or others) might respond. I felt calm and curious. The quality of my aggression went from jagged and painful, to quiet and watchful. I was still mad, but not unsettled. My curiosity about how my comment would be taken was much stronger than my anger.

I suspect that I’m not the only person who can have a physical-emotional response to something I read on a screen. A number of my friends have disconnected from social media because they find it so unsettling. The norms of online society don’t seem to leave much room for talking about hurt feelings or uncomfortable sensations. I consciously chose to omit that my feelings were hurt, because I didn’t think the environment would be safe or welcoming. YouTube commentators do not equal group therapy. Nonetheless, there is some really interesting stuff going on, and not all of it is immediately accessible through reading comments. I wonder how, as a researcher, I can get at this stuff? Pondering.

Education Reflections: The Profane Version

As I prepare to begin the dissertation phase of my journey at Fielding, I revisited my original Learning Plan (a thing I had to do at the beginning to plan classes and stuff). I have to write a new one for this thing called Portfolio Review that will get me a Master’s degree in Human Development and make me officially…something. Working on my dissertation, anyway. So this is the profane version, or something.

Observe the spiderweb. Sometimes I am the spider: I spin ideas, theories, observations, and passions into a complex web that is both solid and porous. Sometimes, I’m a fly. Stuck on the web, waiting to be eaten or to slowly desiccate, unable to move. And sometimes I’m a caterpillar, moseying slowly along a branch, hoping that someday I will reach the end of my journey and start the next.

At the end of my first class, I was excited (and scared, but mostly excited) about where my journey at Fielding would take me. I was well prepared for the first few classes: I am a good writer, am used to working in APA, and had written and published academic papers in the past. I loved grad school the last time around, and the time before that. I felt I had a running start on this whole PhD thing.

Since then, I feel as if I’ve run into a succession of brick walls, face first. Getting a PhD is very different from getting a masters degree. Getting a PhD at Fielding is also very different from my previous graduate education experiences. I was unprepared for the ambiguity, isolation, and anxiety that comes with self-directed, really expensive learning. I have had to learn to balance my need to take adequate time to ground myself in theory and integrate new knowledge with the need to finish as quickly as possible for financial reasons. The constant tension between the two is exhausting and stressful.

I also didn’t recognize that being a PhD student, Adjunct Professor, and mother of a young child would be totally different from my previous education experiences. My perfectionism used to be a mighty sword I could use to hack the shit out of my assignments and goals. Now it just gets in the way. If I try to be perfect at anything, I suck at something else. I have to let myself be good enough, which is a hard lesson. It’s hard to be a good enough (or somewhat sucky) mom. I love my kid so much, and I want to be great for her.  It’s hard to write an adequate paper. I’m good at writing, and I want my writing to be awesome, not adequate. It’s hard to realize there are vast amounts of theory and literature I haven’t and won’t read. The more I learn, the more ignorant I feel. It’s humbling in almost every way possible.

I was at a kid’s birthday party on Saturday. Several of my original mama group friends were there. Do you remember when you first had kids, and all you could talk about was baby stuff? And your childless friends would get this glazed over look on their faces as you discussed the minutiae of baby life? And how you barely noticed because you were so hormonal and sleep deprived? I have the PhD student version of THAT.

I bore the shit out of my friends, I’m constantly irritated, I don’t get enough exercise, and I spend way too much time on social media. I have insomnia and anxiety. Pretty much like having a newborn except I don’t have to clean up poop and I have constant headaches instead of hormone attacks. At the party, my friends were talking about the 10k they had run in; I was complaining about school. My friends were talking about their kids, I was complaining about school.

One of my friends is worried that my topic of study, online aggression, is messing with my head. People: reading and analyzing online aggression is sweet relief compared to the constant pressure of trying to write all my papers, read ALL THE BOOKS, and figure out how to jump through the myriad hoops I have to clear before I can even start my frakking dissertation. And don’t even get me started on the post-graduation future! Gigantic student loan payments, and a desperate bid to get some kind of full time teaching job so I can pay said loans and provide some much-needed supplemental support to my saint like, endlessly suffering family.

The hardest part, for me, is the feedback. Every prof has a different definition of “academic” and “scholarly”. To one, it means well-constructed, persuasive, and original. To the next, it means a compendium of the work of others with no perceptible trace of my personality. As you may have noticed, I’ve taken to writing the “profane” versions of papers and essays here, so I can get my ideas clear enough that I can translate them into my best guess of each prof’s “sacred”. But you just never know. And this makes me CRAY-ZAY. I’m right back at the Conservatory, age 20, with one teacher saying I’m God’s gift to opera, while another says I’m totally mediocre. But this time, I have my critical thinking cap on, and I know the game is rigged. Every person in academia has a different version of what is good and what is bad, of what is sacred and what is profane. And the problem is I really give zero fucks. I know I’m a good writer, and a good thinker, and I know I have to jump through a certain number of hoops and learn some specific ways of writing to get graduated and get published. But the range of possibilities within what is considered “academic writing” is much, much broader than most of my profs think.

The other thing I’ve realized is that, like opera, academia is peopled with people who are very, very good at one thing, and by definition, really sucky at other things. You can’t spend a big chunk of your life getting to be the expert on one thing without sacrificing something else. This is another reason why I need to embrace mediocrity; because I want to be a good teacher, a good mom, and a good researcher/writer. But I can’t do that if I want to be totally fucking amazing at one of them.

Basically, I’m tired of being trashed (I’d rather do research on people trashing each other in a vaguely egalitarian manner — go figure) and I know I’m in for a whole lot more of it before this is over. Some of it I will deserve. Most of it I won’t. This is great for my innately high levels of paranoia.

So, I’ve gained a lot of cynicism, anxiety, and dread. I’ve also gained a great deal of knowledge, I’ve written some kick-ass papers (some of which are hopefully on their way to publication, stay tuned), I’ve met a few truly inspiring people, made some friends, and figured out a research topic that is pretty darn hot. I’ve changed my major to Human Development, which is great because it means I get to study way more psychology. Win! I’ve become a better, more compassionate and humble teacher. I am much less quick to judge others. I know I’ve been developing in this crucible that is grad school, and I know some of it has been good. I’m just not relishing the uphill marathon that is the next 12-18 months, nor the scramble for work that will start before this part is over.

One day at a time, one step, one breath. I have to keep reminding myself of this. I have to remember to enjoy snuggling with my rapidly growing little girl. To have quiet moments with my husband. To continue to give as much as I can muster to my students, because they’re the reason I’m doing this in the first place. To make time to hang out with my friends. To leave myself room to feel all the big scary feels that go with feeling in over my head, all the time. In a few weeks I’ll have my third masters degree. In a year and some change, I’ll have a PhD. I will look back on this time as transformational. I will forget how freaking stressed out I am right now (probably not). It will be worth it.

Snowpiercer: Man thinks he can control nature; nature squashes him like a tiny, tiny bug (many spoilers)

I’m trying to write my last paper for the semester. It’s a systems theory analysis of the movie Snowpiercer. But when I try to write in academic words, my brain dries up and blows away. So I’m going to tell you what I think, with much profanity, uninformed opinions, and lack of citations. Then maybe I can write this frakking paper. Here goes!

I watched Snowpiercer about a month ago on Netflix. It is supremely disturbing, and pretty much a masterpiece. In the vein of Cabin in the Woods, nothing is what it seems. This is not your typical man-destroys-the-earth man-survives-much-hardship man-learns-his-lesson man-and-nature-live-in-harmony-amen kind of story. This is not WALL E. Snowpiercer makes WALL E look like a Disney movie. Oh, wait…

I had the idea of looking at the movie through a systems lens, because when I was reading some of the basic systems literature, it became obvious that people have very different ideas of what systems theory does and what it should be used for. Note I say should not can. I’ve always conceived of systems theory as a lens that reminds you that your lens is never big enough. Everything you touch may have repercussions you will never be able to predict. Any drastic change you make to your social world, your economic system, your ecological system, or your psychological system will have many, many unintended consequences, so fuck with the system at your peril. That’s how I conceive of systems theory. Some people conceive of it the same way. “Soft” systems theory is more about understanding and less about exerting control and prediction. But positivist systems theory is obsessed with the other thing. With controlling everything, engineering everything. It’s predicated on the assumption that we can see all the important parts of the system and bend them to our will. Hence, Snowpiercer.

The premise: Man is fucked. It’s 2014, and the nations of the earth have decided to release a chemical into the atmosphere that is supposed to control global warming. Instead, it brings on an instant ice age. The on-screen text at the beginning of the movie tells us that everything on earth has died.

Meanwhile, a totally freaky dude named Wilford has designed a perpetually running luxury train that contains its own sustainable ecosystem and an engine that never wears out or breaks. (Riiiiight…) The remains of humanity, about 2000 souls, are sequestered on the train, according to social class. Poor people in the back; rich people in the front.

So, according to the opening lore of the move, we fucked with Nature, who started to kill us, so we fucked with her some more, and we killed everything. Except the train. 17 years later, the train is the Universe. When Curtis, the hero, asks a little boy what he wants, he asks, “In the whole wide train?” because in the minds of the children of the train, that is the world.

Curtis, urged by Wise Man, Gilliam, (he of few limbs) leads a rebellion of the tail dwellers with the help of Namgoon, an engineer who knows how to get through the mechanical doors that separate the train cars. Much wackiness ensues. If by wackiness, you mean dismemberment, murder, cannibalism, burning man raver zombies, child slavery, and polar bears.

At this point, I’m going to assume you’ve seen the movie (or at least read a review or summary somewhere). Here’s what I thought was interesting.

In Snowpiercer, humanity has lost. We’re already extinct, but we don’t know it yet. And that’s the crazy bit. Usually, in similar pieces (Wall E,  Battlestar Galactica, ) the indomitability of the human spirit eventually forces us to adapt, change, make peace, win, or otherwise survive. In Snowpiercer, this same spirit serves to make us think we are still alive, and more importantly, still relevant. Wilford (the creator and God of the Train), a freaky caricature of Fredrick Taylor, has been obsessed with trains since childhood, and is attributed with foreseeing a post apocalyptic world where humanity’s last survivors would live on his comfy train of death. The train is a closed ecosystem in which every birth and death is orchestrated by Wilford, who is finally living out his childhood dream of never getting off the train.

Wilford’s Minister, Mason, played to bizarre perfection by Tilda Swinton, spouts all sorts of nonsense about the “Sacred Engine” and the “Divine Wilford,” attempting to reinforce a tightly controlled social system where the tail dwellers accept their impoverished, bug-eating (for reals) station in life, and don’t resent or try and mass murder the privileged elite at the front of the train. Clearly, this isn’t working so well, except, it is! By the time Curtis reaches the front, only he, Namgoon, and his daughter remain. Wilford reveals that he worked in concert with Gilliam to enforce population control by orchestrating wars between the back and the army of the front. Psych! So that’s all right then.

Except Wilford is batshit crazy, and his train is breaking down. He’s been taking little kids from the back of the train to act as replacement parts for his not-so-eternal engine. Curtis, in a revelatory talk with Namgoon before shit gets really real, reveals that he used to snack on babies before the cockroach bars were made available. Kids do not have a good time on this train. So Curtis is pretty crazy too. The back of the train was able to re-establish some kind of social order when Gilliam traded Curtis one of his limbs for a baby, thus ending baby sacrifice. (There are a lot of old people missing arms and legs.)

Curtis hates himself, and he can’t see beyond gaining control of the train, and getting relief for his people at the back of the train (most all of whom Wilford has executed). But Namgoon, the Shaman of the lot, has been watching out the windows for 17 years, had an Eskimo baby-mama who taught him about how to survive in the snow, and has been seeing signs of environmental warming and life beyond the train. Curtis has been paying him for his help in drugs, but it turns out the drugs are also explosives. So Namgoon, his daughter, and Curtis blow the train door after rescuing one of the replacement-part children. An avalanche takes out most of the train, but the two youngsters survive and walk out into the snow, and see a polar bear. Psych again! The world is not extinct, it just took a little constitutional in order to rid itself of a particularly malignant cancer (that would be us). So instead of humanity winning through it’s stick-with-it-ness, humanity gets pwnd.

The moral of this story is, Nature wins. Nature is an open, chaotic system, that will kick any Man-made system’s ass. Wilford and his train are a mockery of the idea that humans can create, engineer, and control natural systems. While he does manage to control and brainwash a good chunk of the population for 17 years, he can’t stop the earth from warming, throwing ice down on him, and killing him and his train. Wilford, the ultimate metaphor for the human control freak, finally has a system small enough that he thinks he can control it. But he forgot that the system it resides within is way more powerful, and he really can’t control anything.

Does humanity survive? That’s not really the point. Humanity couldn’t predict warming the earth, we couldn’t predict freezing it, and we couldn’t predict its fairly rapid re-warming. Our puny brains can only encompass so much, and nature is much, much vaster. Namgoon is the only character who actually sees outside the train, and outside the collectively created reality of the train.

So I see this movie as a big fuck you to the people who think they can somehow tame an ecosystem that far more complex than we can comprehend, let alone control. The earth has been around way longer than we have, and it may be getting very tired of our shit.

From a whisper to a roar

As you know from my Feeding the Trolls posts, I’m doing research on how people express aggression in the body acceptance social media  community. A nice, relatively quiet corner of the online universe. Happy fat people collect trolls, so there’s lots to observe, but until a few weeks ago, the term “fat-shaming” wasn’t in the mainstream vocabulary because it was a totally acceptable activity.

Then Tess Munster got signed to a major modeling contract (and this blog post talking about why people troll her went viral), This American Life featured an interview with a blogger and her reformed troll, and now this. The original piece (about being happier fat than thin) is really well written and thought out. I think it represents a growing number of women and men who have decided that life is too short to buy into constructed ideals and constructed stereotypes and are centering their health in their own experience, rather than looking outward for confirmation. Yay!

But what was this little community of activists and their detractors has become a national conversation, rife with body policing, bullying, prejudice and stereotypes, and good old fashioned bile. My favorite refrain is, “Think of the children!” In this context I think the commenters mean that allowing fat people to be publicly content and happy and self-esteem-full will influence children to eat themselves to death. Hey Class, can you remember other times the “Think of the children!” argument was the death knell of some kind of structural inequality? Racial integration, racial intermarriage, gay marriage, women voting, women working….

So, I think this is a good thing.

Why do I think this is a good thing? Because every time we are forced, as individuals and as a society, to confront how complicit we are in maintaining stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination, we usually begin the arduous process of change.

Larry Wilmore on The Nightly Show did a little piece titled “Obesity in America“. It was full of the contradictions we’re facing. He totally defends his right to make fun of fat people (at least ironically), but is then appalled by systemic discrimination against fat people. He decries the levels of obesity in America. So, Larry, obesity is a big health problem that you are concerned about, but it’s not a civil rights issue, but discrimination is still bad. Uh huh. No, your argument is neither confusing nor contradictory.

Wilmore’s weird mixed message shows that we are grappling with hanging on to our harmful stereotypes while coming to terms with the systemic inequality which is (more clearly, I guess) not cool.

Here’s what I know. You can’t look at me and, based on my appearance, know anything about:

  • My health
  • My intelligence
  • My attractiveness
  • My self-esteem
  • My value to society
  • My relationships
  • My productivity
  • My life span

The stereotype of a middle aged fat woman would have me be single, diabetic, lazy, ugly, self-loathing, miserable, and short-lived. While I can’t predict my own lifespan, I know I am healthy, smart, attractive, confident, loved, productive, accomplished, and I live a meaningful life.

In the comment forums under all the things I’ve linked to in this piece (I dare you to read them), people conflate research with stereotypes and use them to “prove” that they can make prejudicial assumptions about others. That is not rationality, that’s just straight up prejudice. There has always been “science” to support social inequality. Science told us, up until recently, that women were dumber than men, black people were dumber than white, and homosexuals were dangerous deviants.This is because:

Scientific research is conducted in the context of the era it is produced.

Let’s say that again.

Scientific research is conducted in the context of the era it is produced.

In a society that assumed that black people, gay people, or women were inferior, the research was skewed to produce those results. It was skewed by the socio-economic context of the disadvantage populations, and by the socially informed assumptions of the researchers.

Scientific research that justifies structural inequality, stereotypes, and prejudice, needs to be reexamined very carefully. The word Science and the word Truth are not synonyms. Also, even good science that stands the test of time is about generalizable conclusions, not specific incidents. That means that even if it could be scientifically proven that on average, fat people were in fact lazy, diabetic, single, etc. etc, IT STILL WOULD HAVE NO RELEVANCE TO THE INDIVIDUAL. If I go to the doctor, he or she may test me for diabetes because I’m fat, but he or she does not automatically assume I have it and start treatment. The current batch of research tells the doctor about the probability of my having diabetes; it doesn’t make the diagnosis for the doctor. The research is also subject to change; that’s the good thing about science. It’s designed to evolve with society. Sometimes society pushes science, sometimes it’s the other way around.

The moral of my story? If you have ugly thoughts about someone based on how they look, or talk, or walk, or write, or what car they drive, don’t rationalize it and strike out at that person. Recognize your ugly thoughts (I have them too) and find a little compassion for yourself for being human and toward the target of your ire. You don’t know them or their story.

Feeding the Trolls: Different Perspectives

Over the past few weeks I’ve reflected on the experience about which I wrote in my first blog for my Advanced Human Development course. My professor (Hi Judy!) pointed out that the male aggressor on the YouTube thread used a pseudo-rational/scientific argument to deliver a largely aggressive message. I’ve been turning this over in my head. This aggressive pseudo-rationality is one of the main forms of aggression (and perhaps micro-aggression) I’ve observed on online discussions and forums. What is this phenomenon? Why do we use it? What purpose does it serve? Several different ideas have surfaced for me.

On a whim, I looked up pseudo-rationalism and found out it was a thing. A German philosopher named Otto Neurath presented a paper in 1913 that presaged the wider adoption of the limits of scientific rationality and immutability presented by Kuhn in the 1960s. I bring up this little tidbit because I think the ideological wars being played out on the national and digital stage are often argued with the help of “scientific fact”, no matter how grossly outnumbered or untested the facts actually are (man-made global warming, for example). The wider populace now has access to an almost infinite amount of information from which they can cherry pick the data that supports their emotional, irrational, and largely ego-defensive views. I don’t exclude myself from this assessment; I too have often used science and surface rationalism to rationalize my feelings. Since I became aware of this, I’ve started clicking through to the referenced study every time I read an article based on the phrase “studies show”. As I learned in Research Methodologies course (722B represent!), published, peer-reviewed studies often do not show any compelling argument for the claims they make due to shoddy research, small or unrepresentative samples, or conflicts of interest. “Studies show” is not code for fact.

I recently wrote a very emotional blog about an article I read in Huffpost on fat discrimination. The article, mainly a combination of whining and self-loathing about body issues, pissed me off, so I wrote a rebuttal on my website. While you may find my rant entertaining, what actually stands out the most about the subject article was the discussion in the comments section at the bottom. A few excerpts:

“I am like you in many ways. I am sorry that people cannot understand that health issues and not overeating are sometimes what contributes to our weight. You seem like a wonderful woman and I pray that soon people will stop judging others on how they look.”

“I know how it feels to be invisible.”

“You are beautiful; inside and out. Very brave of you to share your story! Thank you!”

Most of the comments are either sympathetic, empathetic, or encouraging. There is little to no policing of her science or rationality, as she does not claim to be happy with her weight, just unhappy with her perception that people don’t like her because of it. If I had to break the comments into categories, they would be: 1) I hate myself, too, 2) You’re beautiful anyway, and 3) Dude, get over it.

Compare this to comments made on a photo posted by a successful independent plus sized model, Tess Munster. Here’s a representative argument between two people who follow Tess’ posts:

Person 1: It really worries me that people actually find this attractive… Says a lot about one of the biggest and fastest growing world problems: overweight/obesity. Stop eating crap and please stop acting like this is normal.

Person 2: Thin people are unhealthy also… doesn’t matter what weight you are! If you’re not a fan of Tess, unlike the page.

Person 1: … i didn’t even liked the page thin people can be unhealthy too, but it doesn’t mean they actually are. However, overweight is always unhealthy and it’s definitely not normal. (Although some people start to think it is, so indirectly they say that it’s normal to have a highly increased chance to get cancer, diabetes, heart diseases or anything else.) Your weight definitely matters! I can’t believe people ignore that… But please enjoy your meal at McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King or any other fucked up fast food place.

The first article doesn’t really challenge any of the existing norms about body image, as the author is apologetic and self-abasing for her body. Hence, she doesn’t attract aggression as the norm-defying plus model does.

But back to pseudo-rationality. See what happened there? The two people are trading “facts” while avoiding whatever emotions prompted them to post in the first place (just like the conversation I had in my last post on this topic).

After scanning about 100 comments, they seem to break down into three categories: 1)You’re Awesome, 2)You’re Gross, and 3) Get Lost, Haters (in response to #2 comments). What’s interesting is how much of the discourse around 2 and 3 are based on semi-rational arguments that are betrayed by highly emotional language. If I apply Vaillant’s defense mechanism spectrum to these exchanges, they look very much like the one I documented before:

  1. Person A projects directs negative emotions on public figure using pseudo-rationality (reaction formation) as the justification for the aggressive act (ex. “Stop eating crap and please stop acting like this is normal“;
  2. Person B takes it personally and rebuts Person A with more factoids (ex. “Thin people are unhealthy also… doesn’t matter what weight you are!“) ,
  3. Person A responds with a mix of pseudo-rationality and ridicule (acting out) (ex. “ However, overweight is always unhealthy and it’s definitely not normal...But please enjoy your meal at McDonald’s, KFC, Burger King or any other fucked up fast food place“,
  4. Person B either tells person A to fuck off, or doesn’t respond, OR the conversation turns into a pseudo-rational clusterfuck on both sides with multiple citations of newspaper, magazine, and blog articles. It eventually peters out or devolves into name calling and cursing.

On the surface, these exchanges are pretty depressing. They seem to be a draw at best; the highest level of adaptation observable is at what Vaillant (2000) would call the Compromise Formation Level – repression (ignoring feelings), isolation (withdrawal) and reaction-formation. Reaction formation seems to be closest to the pseudo-rationality visible in these online forums. Those who exhibit reaction formation repress a taboo or shadow emotion such as rage, jealousy, or misogyny, and replace it with the appearance of its opposite; in this case rational, critical discourse. However, in most of these forums the veneer that masks the infantile emotion is quite transparent, as the aggressive commenters often use words that betray the repressed emotion. What I find particularly interesting is that the participants who respond often let the initial aggressors set the rules of the game; they respond in kind with either rational arguments or aggressive attacks.

In relationship counseling, there is an assumption that both parties, regardless of outward behavior, are usually at the same level of differentiation. Meaning if my husband never picks up his socks and I am righteously angry about it, I’m probably not any more mature than him; I just express my immaturity/aggression in a different, perhaps less obvious way. This seems to be the case on online forums, as well.

Tess Munster may be just a self-employed model who has more supporters than detractors, but she is a lightening rod for the same kind of conversation we see happening on a national scale about abortion, gay rights, global warming, and immigration. Whichever side we find ourselves on in these issues, we believe that science and rationality are on our side, while the judgement of those on the opposite is clouded or flawed. And in the digital era, these arguments take place not just between news anchors, presidents, or pundits, but between all of us, every day, in multiple forums and on multiple issues.

Giselle Labouvie-Vief (1994) talks about tension between the forces of mythos and logos in the human psyche. Traditionally logos, rationality and strength was assigned to the masculine principle while mythos, emotion, nurture, and creativity, were assigned to the feminine principle. Labouvie-Vief deconstructs these arbitrary classifications as reflections of the relative social status of men and women, and looks instead at the myth of Psyche and Eros as the dialectic between the rational and imaginative mind necessary for integration and adult development on a personal and social scale.

Online personalities like Mary Lambert and Tess Munster who provoke  such vociferous critique, defense, and discourse are perhaps examples of mythos in action; choosing to be visible, vital, and alive in a world that marginalizes certain types of people is not a rational act; it’s an emotional and spiritual one. In order to be creative–to embody Mythos–they must defy social norms. They knowingly expose themselves to anonymous aggression, conquering  fear of rejection and judgement. While the people caught in this seemingly endless and stuck cycle of aggression and argument do not seem to be progressing, perhaps there is a larger force at work.

Neo-Jungian James Hillman (1997) discusses pathologizing as a vital force for eventual integration and individuation:

…I am introducing the term pathologizing to mean the psyche’s autonomous ability to create illness, morbidity, disorder, abnormality, and suffering in any aspect of its behavior and to experience and imagine life through this deformed and afflicted perspective. (p.143)

Wow! Look at that language! If I had a dime for the number of times I’ve read the words “morbidly obese, disorder, disease, and abnormal” on the forums I observe, I could pay off some student loans!

Hillman believes that the projection of abnormality on others is really an unconsciously shared experience of our  our unavoidable physical and mental flaws (which will lead to our eventual death), displaced and experienced on the Other. From a Jungian perspective, this is profound! The aggressive online troll who verbally bashes a happy fat person and is confronted with the mirror reflection of his own aggression (even when masked in pseudo-rationality), is actually reaching towards the integration of his or her own fear of mortality, disease, and death. Forcing the image outward makes it semi-conscious, allowing for the possibility that the irrational, emotional, and imperfect can be eventually integrated. Perhaps the seemingly endless skirmishes and standoffs are really a cultural movement towards awareness, which is scary as hell, and integration which is necessary for our spiritual and collective survival. Remember, deviating from the socio-economic-racial-sexual norm was unthinkable and often punishable a scant century ago in our country (and still is in many parts of the world). But in the wild, wild west of the internet, these ripples of disruption, of people who refuse to hide, are forcing our aggression out of hiding and into the observable world.

Hillman, J. (1997). A Blue Fire. (T. Moore, Ed.). New York, NY: HarperPerennial.

Labouvie-Vief, G. (1994). Psyche and Eros: Mind and Gender in the Life Course. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press.

Vaillant, G. E. (2000). Adaptive mental mechanisms: Their role in a positive psychology. American Psychologist, 55(1), 89–98. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.1.89

Big Sigh: The difference between self-shaming and self-acceptance

I read an article on Huffpost a couple nights ago and became full of ragey, judgy feelings. The title alone is totally cringe-worthy: Yes I’m Fat. But Why Is That All Anyone Sees?. Ugh. Just, ugh.

The author talks about how becoming fat has made her invisible, or judged, or reviled by others, obscuring her accomplished past as a journalist, athlete, expat, and parent. She feels vulnerable to the perceived (but rarely given) criticisms and judgements of others. She assumes that her fat body makes it impossible for others to think that she has had any kind of life beyond slamming oreos and bacon.

I’m trying to feel for her; I really am. But she demonstrates a trope in the body-acceptance/weight discrimination movement that I’m mightily tired of. “I can’t be okay until everyone in the whole world stops having judgmental thoughts about me! Fat discrimination is ruining my life, because it makes it impossible for me to love myself!” <–these are made up quotes that summarize the underlying message I’ve gotten from many activists and bloggers.

But then she goes on:

Now, don’t get me wrong; I don’t want to be fat. I want to feel the way I used to feel. I am on a constant diet and trying every new one that comes along. I watch the weight loss shows and fantasize. I exercise with a personal trainer; I obsess over food and how many calories there are. I get creative with vegetables and eat a ton of them. I get discouraged and pick myself up again. But since my transplant and the steroids I take to keep my body from rejecting my new kidney, I can’t seem to lose the weight that I put on since that life-saving surgery. But losing weight is not what this is about.

Oh God, please make it stop.

Gurl, the diet industry is not your friend. America’s Biggest Loser is not your friend. There is a whole socio-economic system built around making you feel shitty about yourself so you will buy things, continue to feel shitty about yourself, and then buy more things. Diets. Supplements. Idiotic television shows. Spanx.

And here’s the little secret that one one tells you: This system makes all women (and many men) feel shitty about themselves, not just the fat ones. Even if you’re thin, you fear being fat or you monitor yourself obsessively, compare yourself to other women, and feel like slitting your wrists when you read a fashion magazine. The system is rigged, and it doesn’t matter if you’re fat or thin. So GET OVER THE SYSTEM. Get therapy (lots of it), find positive, healthy, fat role models, sit with your shame and fear and realize that they are just feelings, and your “new body” is the same body you’ve had your whole life, and will continue to have when you’re old and realize that all the time you spent hating yourself was wasted and could have been better spent LIVING.

You do not need to be thin (or white, or straight, or tall, or able-bodied) to have sexiness, mojo, success, or visibility. Cases in point:

Mary Lambert, Queen Latifah, Tess Munster, Jill Scott, Adele, freaking Oprah! And so many more…

The great thing about the internet era is you can curate your media and entertainment experience, which means instead of consuming the bilge that the advertising industry has been feeding us via network television for the last 60 years, you can choose instead to expose yourself to people who don’t fit norms attainable only by winning the genetic lottery and lots of surgery. Discover YouTube (just don’t read the comments if you’re having a bad day). Look up some of the gorgeous, independent plus models and bloggers who are telling social norms to fuck off and celebrating their bodies. Read The Beauty Myth. Today. Opt out of the social hysteria surrounding fat and just LIVE, girl. Your body survived a transplant! It made a child! The same body that did all those awesome things you lament the loss of is THE SAME BODY YOU HAVE NOW!

And here’s a little secret, from one fat girl to another: When dating, being fat screens out a great many asshats.

I don’t know how old the author is, but she reminds me very much of myself in my teens and 20s. I dieted, dabbled in eating disorders, struggled, hated on myself, compared myself to other women, and generally bought into the big lie that only one kind of female body was beautiful and it was never going to be mine. I was miserable. With a lot of therapy, determination, and a conscious re-focusing on my whole self health instead of my weight, I became the self-loving badass I am today. I still have shitty moments, but they’re just moments. I am happy, loved, and fulfilled while fat. I’m much more worried about writing my dissertation or getting my kid to eat vegetables than I am about the size of my jeans. I like my jeans. Amazing! Is this legal?

The author closes with this:

My dream, of course, is to lose some weight. But, if I continue to be unsuccessful, will I ever been seen and acknowledged again the way I used to be? Will anyone step back and see me, want to know me, or will they just continue to see that I am fat?

My dream is not to lose weight. My dream is to raise a confident, strong daughter filled with self-love and respect who sees all bodies as beautiful and sacred. My dream is to help more people reject social norms that have nothing to do with health or happiness. My dream is to make a difference in this hard world, not to whinge that what I do doesn’t matter unless my body somehow reflects my awesomeness so hard that everyone else can see it all the time.

Get a new dream, girl.