Monday, December 14, 2015

On Labels

This was a Facebook re-post of a conversation that happened on Paranoiascientist's tumblr: 

Whenever someone insists that people should not use labels, I remember a psychology lecture on language acquisition where the lecturer described the process by which we learn all nouns: First, kids learn a word ("dog.") They then apply that word to everything that vaguely resembles a dog (cats, pictures of other animals). As they're corrected, they learn to create and subdivide new categories that may share traits (e.g. distinguishing between "dog" and "horse," but also between my dog Ralph, and my neighbor's dog Betsie).

What I took away from the lecture is that from the very instinctive beginnings of language, we need labels. Our entire thinking process is based on categorization of traits, or putting things in mental boxes. The entire function of nouns is to use labels as shorthand for entire complex concepts and entities. Not only is "no labels" silencing, we cannot really function as human beings without them.

There is a difference between labels as a tool for communication and labels as a stereotypic reduction that impedes communication. It does help to be able to say "I'm Genderqueer," as shorthand for non-binary gender activist. It becomes a problem is when I assume that all people who use the same shorthand mean the same thing (or share traits not encompassed by the shorthand). But that's true when using ANY language. Human brains are structured to think in categories; it isn't always a bad thing.What they really mean is "don't reduce people to stereotypic and rigid preconceived notions you have about X." But trying to get rid of labels as a communication tool simply because it is sometimes misused is like insisting that no one ever use their hands because sometimes we hit each other.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

But what if I just want to lose a "little" weight?

There is a stage in FA where people accept that other peoples' bodies are just fine the way they are, but for *reasons* they themselves need to lose some weight.  Not get thin, mind you, but maybe get down to where clothes are easier to buy and they remember being happier.  

But then the inevitable conflict where people in FA spaces don't want to hear about their diet talk, delete their comments extolling the virtues of calorie-free Kool-Whip, and walk away from their conversations that inevitable steer around to food restrictions and processed diet platitudes.  

In other words, they feel shunned.  And hurt.  Why can't they drop a couple of sizes and still be FA?
Before anyone can even start answering that question, we have to unpack some of the false premises it is based upon. To start with, the question assumes that the person will be successful at weight loss and then live as a thinner fat person. This is so statistically unlikely that it would be an outlier. In fact, they are likely to follow the same cycle every other fat person does when attempting weight loss: a brief honeymoon period where they lose some weight, followed by regain and additional gain. In other words, they are much more likely to end up LARGER than they started. This process (which we all know as "yo-yo dieting") is extremely damaging to both physical and mental health. It is not outrageous to call intentional weight-loss dieting (and ESPECIALLY bariatric surgery) self-harm. People are absolutely justified in not pursuing a relationship with someone who engages in self harm, or support that self-harm, regardless of how socially acceptable it is.

Once that is unpacked, the question of triggers needs to be addressed. After being in an abusive relationship between our culture and our bodies for our entire lives, watching someone we know harm themselves in order to appease and connect with our abusers can range from stressful to devastating (depending on how close you were to that person or whether you viewed them as a role-model). Again, that choice to engage in that abuse, and the INEVITABLE talk portraying it as positive, creates a toxic relationship that many in FA refuse to engage in.

That is why most FA groups are "safe spaces" where weight loss is not glorified or promoted, and why many FA activists will break ties with someone who goes on a diet or gets bariatric surgery. We know from long experience that they cannot help glorifying it, congratulating themselves, and trying to talk their friends and family into participating. Their writing will become peppered with their experience, and cognitive dissonance resolution will cause them to wax enthusiastic even if they have doubts and setbacks. It's toxic for those of us who have worked so hard to recover from the harm diet culture has done.

So no, we're not going to make an exception for someone who wants to be a "little thinner" any more than someone who wants to be thin.  It is unrealistic, but more so it is damaging both to the person engaging with diet culture and those around them who are attempting to disengage.  We can support you as a fat person, but we do not want your diet talk in our spaces.  It doesn't matter if you're trying to lose 20 pounds or 200; you are still engaging in self-harm, and we don't want to ride along.