Wednesday, 02 October 2013

What do you see?

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If you follow my Twitter account, my Tumblr, my Facebook, my Myspace, my LinkedIn, my email, if you Google me, ask anyone that knows anything about me, look at my cats and music collection, have read anything I’ve ever written, or can see my thoughts, you know that I’m a lesbian. I have been out and proud for many years now, and I’m not afraid to say it in real life or online. This article is about a different kind of coming out. It is about a subject that has easily caused me more shame and discrimination than my sexuality. Being a queer person has its challenges, but most people I encounter don’t have an automatically negative opinion about me based on it. Also, they usually don’t know about it until I tell them. This other issue undeniably causes an immediate adverse reaction to me, as soon as people see me, and it happens literally on a daily basis.

I, Rebecca Shaw am… a fat person. *crowd gasps, delicate lady faints*

I don’t have to come out as fat on a day-to-day basis, because you can tell by pointing your beautiful eyeballs in my direction. However, if you are one of the people that so far mostly know (and no doubt ADORE) me from the Internet, you may not have realised. I’ve mentioned it in various places, but it’s not something I have broadcast by taking out a full (figure)-page newspaper ad or informing the population of Australia via carrier (delicious roasted) pigeon.

You might know that the western world is designed to ensure that girls of all shapes and sizes know from an early age that they don’t live up to the perfect body ideal; that they are not good enough; that they must identify and hate every ‘flaw’ they can find. They must know that they are not valued unless people find them attractive, and that they must do whatever it takes – spend as much money as it takes, buy as many products as it takes, have their bodies cut open as often as it takes, and be as unhappy as it takes – to get as close to this contrived ideal as possible.

At 21, I had a 2am tearful Passion Pop-fuelled fight with a friend who confided in me that she hoped she would get cancer so she would lose weight. Let that sink in for a moment. A 21-year-old woman (smaller than I was), wishing that she would get CANCER because the alternative – living as a fat woman – is worse. This system that undermines and represses women creates a society that, as a whole, worships this ideal of the ‘perfect body’. Fat women are about as far from this as you can even imagine with your tiny human mind.

No matter how you might actually feel about yourself and your body, the outside world and the people in it will attempt to make you feel awful. For example, there is the expression of open revulsion from random jerk-faces; where men call out things like ‘whale!’ at you as they drive past in their hotted-up douche-mobile (definitely not compensating for anything). But all women at some point have something yelled at them from cars, and whales are actually gorgeous, so things could be worse I guess. Other car-related expressions include bumper stickers on douche-mobiles reading ‘no fat chicks’. But before we jump to conclusions, I suppose they could be talking about baby chickens, although, why wouldn’t they want baby chickens to be fat because that sounds so adorable! Also, does that mean no fat chicks in any situation? What if our plane crashes in the mountains and you are literally freezing to death? I bet this big warm body would look pretty appealing to you then, but too bad I see that ‘no fat chicks’ tattoo, RIP jerk-face.

Then there are the more direct jerk-faces. I was once getting onto a busy bus at night, and a grown adult male boarding behind me said ‘woahhh, on you get big girl!’ In this situation, this ‘man’ was probably expecting me to quietly accept his comment, and scurry to my seat embarrassedly; grateful that I was even ALLOWED on a bus. Instead, I got to a seat and turned around, waiting for him to come toward me. Julie Bishop-staring at him, I said, ‘Do you have a problem?’ He avoided eye contact and slunk past me. I ended with, ‘Yeah, keep your mouth shut next time’. I know what you are thinking and yes I am pretty bad-ass. I’m basically Batman (Fatman). I was able to stand up to him for a few of reasons. First, I grew up with loving parents who taught me that I am worth more than how much I weigh, and secondly, because I grew up with three tough brothers who taught me not to be scared of anyone, especially openly hostile jerk-faces. The third reason is because it is just SO FUCKING STUPID. That man looked at me, a person, getting on a bus, and just HAD to tear me down… to make himself feel powerful? Or maybe it was because I was daring to live happily in the world as someone he wouldn’t want to have sex with (ditto mate). Not everyone has the con-fat-ence to do that.

In any case, dealing with openly antagonistic people, for me, is actually easier than the covertly hostile. The openly hostile are usually complete idiots who I can write off as people I would never wish to know anyway, and I can get angry and defend myself. The secretly hostile might be more like you – people who only think awful things about me; or talk about me behind my back, laughing with their friends, thinking I can’t see (I can, I am fat not blind). They might be smart and progressive, and would never hurl insults from their car. They would probably like my brain, and my jokes, and the things I write with my actually pretty slender fingers (if I say so myself). Or they might be the kind of person who bizarrely treats me like I am invisible (J.K. Rowling got the idea of the Invisibility Cloak by watching me going shopping).

They might be the kind of person who looks at me and doesn’t see a person at all, but a lazy, greedy, dumb, disgusting body that they are petrified of being seated next to on a plane, or are unlikely to hire for a position with their company. Whatever someone’s negative reaction, it makes no sense to me. It boils down to the fact that in this tiny part of the universe we live in, some people are revolted by some other people literally because their bodies have more mass. Doesn’t that sound ridiculous? Good, because it kind of is.

So if I’m being honest with myself and you and Oprah, I probably have nestled in the sweet cocoon of the Internet on purpose. It is safe in here. I can only be judged by the words that I say. People are forced to get to know my brain before they get to know my brawn. That barrier obliges them to give me a chance, to make them realise I can offer something, so by the time we meet in person they already like me and are stuck with me forever (because I’m great). I do believe that the good (this is subjective) sense of humour I have can be attributed, in large (lol) part, to how I look.

I breezed through high school with nary an incident because my defence was to become funny, to make people like me – and it worked. They didn’t get a chance to see and dismiss me, or laugh at me with their friends. They were forced to get to know me, and they realised they LIKED me. This isn’t an article about fat acceptance or thin shaming or how fat men are sometimes allowed to be on television just as men, but women are almost always the ‘fat woman’, or whether we should buy two seats on planes, or that fat jokes are the last bastion of acceptable meanness, or Michelle Bridges, or the health system or any of that important stuff. This is just me, coming out to the internet, hoping that the next time you see a fat woman walking around minding her business, you might think about this article and remember me, and maybe just see her as a human.

Rebecca Shaw

Rebecca is primary caregiver and confidant to Tippi, the best cat in the world. She also likes writing bad jokes on twitter @brocklesnitch