This is a rather long video, but to understand some of what I am talking about, I recommend watching the whole thing. I will, of course, explain certain things I got from the video.
Up front, this video is specifically about race and my intention is not to diminish the importance of racial inequities. The reason I am using this lecture to bring up the idea of fat peoples’ experience is that, as I watched it, it seemed very applicable. I have no desire to jump into the Oppression Olympics.
During the video, the teacher is conducting an exercise to demonstrate the issues that people of color face every day merely because of the color of their skin. A white student has issues with the lesson, she seems to feel as though she is not being properly heard, and ultimately leaves the room. The teacher points out that she has the ability to leave the discussion, an action that is not afforded to people of color, the discussion never truly ends for them.
It occurred to me that fat people also do not have the opportunity to leave the discussion about our bodies in public discourse. We cannot prevent the assumptions that are made of us because of how we look. At this point, some will counter that fat people can just lose weight and, tada, they can walk out of the discussion (at least, ostensibly, the fat discussion…if they are a person of color, they still have a whole other discussion going on). The problem with that is that 95% of the fat population cannot effectively become thin enough or stay thin enough to leave the conversation for good and even those who leave the conversation temporarily are significantly affected by it.
The thing that I appreciated most about this woman and her lesson, was her acknowledgement that we are all different and we all have different experiences. These experiences make us who we are and create the vibrant tapestry that is humanity.
A quote from the video:
“We live in different realities and when you deny what this person is going through, and what this person is going through, you deny their reality. We are as different on the inside as we are on the outside and we have the right to be so. People, don’t deny differences. Accept them, appreciate them, recognize them and cherish them, they are extremely important.”
To deny the reality of entire groups of people is akin to taking a colorful, textured piece of art and making it monochrome and flat. The art ceases to be. Maybe another example is going to an art gallery with a blindfold on. What is the point?
In acknowledging the differences in people, we create space for them to exist. In really seeing a person of color, a white person can hear what they may have to say about their experience, rather than dismissing that experience because they want to be “color blind”. In seeing the roundness of a fat person, a thin person can recognize the space that might be needed to help that person move through the world more comfortably. This can help to create compassion toward others by truly seeing them and actually listening to their experience, instead of being so frightened to acknowledge any difference that one ends up forcing others into boxes where they do not fit.
So, next time you see a fat person, a person of color, a female, someone who has a different level of physical ability than you do, or anyone else who is different than you are, be willing to ask them about their reality and then listen to what they have to tell you. Don’t make assumptions about an individual based on experiences you have had with someone who might share a similar trait. Also don’t assume that that person is speaking for everyone else in the world that has that trait. They are not because they are not all of those people, they are just themselves.
Many of us have privileges as well as oppressions. Recognizing our privilege allows us to move through the world with contentiousness. Ways we are in the minority of society allow us to understand how it feels to be unwittingly or purposefully oppressed by others.
Active listening and not being “blind” to differences allows each of us to see the incredibly beautiful interweaving of the strands of humanity into an incredible, unique work of constantly shifting art. Why would we want to miss out on that?