Thursday, April 10, 2014

Since when is condescension and cruelty masquerading as admiration and respect okay?

Okay, I meant to write about this particular topic a few weeks ago, but then I got sidetracked by carbohydrates, or my lack thereof. Anyway, so I recently read this letter someone wrote to "the fatty running on the track this afternoon" that has been all over the internet. Supposedly, it's all heartwarming because the fatty hater that writes the letter eventually admits that they admire the overweight person for working out. You know, after insulting them. I'm sorry, but I have to call bullshit on this one. I have so many problems with this letter that I am going to have to spell them out one by one (in bullet format, so you know I'm serious). In case you have not read this letter, here it is:

Seriously, this whole letter makes my blood boil on behalf of my former self and every other overweight person trying to get healthy. Because I just want to say, "How dare you?" How dare you judge me for trying to improve my life? How dare you disguise your prejudice in the form of some kind of fake admiration? The writer of this letter is every overweight person's worst nightmare, proof that people are actually thinking the kind of cruel thoughts that you already imagined that they were. So here's a few of my specific problems with this letter:
    • What kind of idiot starts off with a whole paragraph insulting someone and then seems to think that all that is erased by saying that the overweight person "rocks?" That doesn't make it okay. Let me tell you, when you are big and trying to work out, you are already hypersensitive about anyone looking at you, about anyone judging you. Like I said, it's your worst nightmare that someone is observing all the ways that you just don't cut it. So writer of this letter, if you really want to compliment someone, don't preface the compliment with all the ways they suck.
    • Don't assume you know who I am and what I do. For example, while I have lost a lot of weight, I am still not thin. People seeing me run may assume that I am "trying to pay off the debt of another midnight snack," as the writer of this letter put it. I am not trying to make up for a midnight binge. In fact, I would bet that I work out more than the writer of this letter. I would also bet that I eat healthier than he or she does. Don't judge people by their looks. Don't assume that because I'm not a twig that I have a major Twinkie addiction. You don't know me and you don't know my story, so don't assume you do just because of how much I weigh. 
    • When I run, it's true that sometimes I do have a mantra in my head. However, my mantras do not include ones such as, "Fuck off, fat," as the writer in this letter so eloquently put it. I'm not saying I never have negative thoughts about my body. Of course I do. But my running time is not time for negative self image. It's not a time to think how my running is burning fat. When I run, I am thinking about how I feel powerful. I am thinking about how strong I am. Sometimes I am thinking about how I can't breathe (like this morning), but that's usually just my asthma interrupting all the positivity. 
    •  You say that I should "look up from my feet?" Well, I, for one, am not looking at my feet when I run, mainly because I don't want to get hit by a bus. But I totally get why some overweight people would keep their heads down. They don't want to see the judgement in people's eyes. They don't want to know for sure that someone else has noticed how "sweat drenches your body after you leave, completing only a single, 20 minute mile." It's easier to pretend no one else noticed.
    • Your "gaze has no condescension in it?" Well, I don't know about your gaze because I never met you, but your letter is about as full of condescension as it gets. It's basically saying, "You're not like us, and I can be mean about it, but it's okay because I said I admired you."
    • You "have nothing but respect" for me? Bullshit. You do not show your respect for someone by systematically observing all the ways they don't measure up before throwing them a bone by saying you admire them for trying. You want to know how you show someone respect in this situation? Treat overweight people like anyone else you see out on your run. I've read a whole lot about overweight people being intimidated by working out with fit people, and basically all they want is to just blend in and be treated like everyone else. I know that's all I wanted. We don't need a parade when we run a a mile. We don't need a blue ribbon when we do 100 situps. We just want the simple consideration of being treated like everyone else. 
    There are some people who may wonder why this letter has me so fired up when in all honesty, it doesn't really apply to me anymore. I don't take 20 minutes to run a mile. I run many miles at a time now. This letter matters to me because of who I used to be. I will always carry that girl with me, so I still identify with the people this letter is written to. So I am outraged and insulted on behalf of the old me and all of them. But because of the empathy I have, I try to show these people true respect. I notice them at the gym. But I make a conscious effort to treat them like everyone else; I make a conscious effort not  to notice them.

    I don't know the person who wrote this letter. I have great hope that it was mostly ignorance that fueled the contents of this letter instead of conscious cruelty. It does not excuse what it said, but it does make it a little easier to swallow. Because the truth is that many people are ignorant about what it feels like to be overweight. I've had people in my own life express surprise over things I have shared about being overweight. It's just impossible to really understand unless you've been there yourself. This letter still makes me sick to my stomach though, because intentional or not, the fact remains that this letter is still cruel. To the writer who says he or she "has nothing but respect" for me; well, I have nothing but disdain for you.

    No comments:

    Post a Comment