Anorexia Jokes and Derailing

TRIGGER WARNING: Eating Disorders

I really don’t want this place to be about thinness. I don’t want to have to keep being distracted from the issue of fat liberation to talk about defending thin women, because that isn’t the point of this blog and it’s derailing and distracting. The whole world is about thin people, and this place shouldn’t have to be.

But eating disorders are part of my history and part of what has led me here, both my own and the experience of seeing far, far too many of my dear friends struggle with anorexia and other eating disorders. So when I see yet another stupid, ignorant comment about force-feeding someone a hamburger because she looks too skinny, I blow my top. Not because thin women have it harder than fat women, but because eating disorders are not a fucking punchline.

Have you ever sat at the dinner table with a loved one and begged her to eat just one more bite? Have you ever followed someone to the bathroom after lunch to make sure she didn’t throw up? Have you ever felt with crushing certainty that someone you love is really, actually going to starve herself to death? Sadly, I suspect plenty of you have.  I have, more times than I care to count. I’ve done these things while struggling with my own demons regarding food and weight, and felt the grotesque and horrifying combination of fearing for a friend’s life while simultaneously envying her for getting further along the path to killing herself than I had.

It’s not a joke, and it’s certainly not something that people who have never experienced an eating disorder – personally or from close by – should feel smug about.

The only time “force-feeding” someone who is anorexic is ever helpful is when they are actually about to die of starvation, and even then it’s not going to do a thing to “cure” the illness, it’s purely about keeping them alive long enough to find something that works.

Joking about force-feeding a person so her body won’t offend you, even if she is starving herself, is disgusting.

A person’s body is their home and who they are in one. Our bodies are how we constitute our experience of the world and our identities, whether our identity is in sync with the way the people around us code and interpret our bodies or not. And as the saying – now famous in body positive circles – goes, there is no wrong way to have a body.

Pause and let that sink in for a moment.

THERE IS NO WRONG WAY TO HAVE A BODY.

Of course, it’s certainly possible to feel like your body is wrong, and that feeling is perfectly real and perfectly awful. As a fat woman I have definitely experienced the feeling that my body was wrong – inside every fat woman is a thin woman wanting to be free, amirite ladies? – but the fact I felt that way certainly doesn’t make it true. That sense of wrongness is externally imposed rather than self-evident.

You cannot cannot CANNOT forward the cause of fat liberation by making cruel jokes about other people’s bodies.  One of the first things we all need to do in order to achieve body liberty for everyone is let go of our judgements about other people’s bodies.  Even thin women. Even women who are thin because they are starving themselves.

And – here’s the important bit – until we can stop bandying about bullshit like “give that girl a hamburger” we will never be able to decentralise the thin, young white woman from our discussion of body image, body shaming and beauty idealism. We will never actually get to the task of dismantling the systems that keep most women preoccupied with their bodies and marginalise fat people, disabled people, trans* people, intersex people and people of colour on the basis of their bodies and their looks. Because as long as we keep making ignorant jokes about force-feeding people and walking skeletons and models who look like boys and “real women” and other such nonsense, we’re focusing the whole conversation on thin women. We just keep having the same fucking arguments about whether or not it’s okay to pick on thin women, and some of us will keep having to defend thin women instead of working to liberate anyone else.  You know what that is?  It’s derailing.  And I won’t have it.

Hopefully now I won’t ever have to write about this again and can get back to talking about fat some more.  I think my next post should be about cake.  Or dresses.

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One thought on “Anorexia Jokes and Derailing

  1. insomnius says:

    Thank you for writing this. I hope the person who made the comment that I suspect precipitated the writing (which was pretty awful!) reads it and thinks about this sort of thing a little more in future.

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