People on the Internet Are Calling Me Fat and it’s Not That Big A Deal

When I first started thinking about getting an article about my eating disorder recovery published on a major blog, I was terrified at the idea of posting pictures with the article because my biggest fear was that someone would call me fat and ugly in the comments. I was terrified of the trolls. I know that when women talk about feminism online they get awfully abused. I know that when women with larger bodies express that they are comfortable with their bodies they get abused. So I had a strong feeling that if my writing were to be published on a larger scale, I’d be dealing with my fair share of trolls. I’d have to suck it up and deal.

When XOJane published my first article last week I seemed to have lucked out with the trolls. The majority of the comments that I say were positive and the ones that weren’t were criticizing me   for trivializing eating disorders. That hurt, but I didn’t take it too seriously. I’ve spent plenty of time in therapy and with those I love working through feelings that my eating disorder wasn’t real or wasn’t “bad enough”. I was prepared for those comments because I know my eating disorder is legitimate and not a trivial matter. I take it very seriously.

Yesterday, my second article went live on XOJane. This one is about being overweight in recovery, a topic that is not very widely discussed. This article blew up much faster than my first. Within 24 hours it was over 500 shares and 125 comments. I promised myself I wouldn’t get too invested in the comments this time. It wasn’t worth it. But I made the mistake of “just browsing” and there they were: comments about me being fat. One person asked if recovery were really worth it if I was going to be that fat. Couldn’t I just try to diet smarter? Another person called me morbidly obese and insisted I had just swapped one eating disorder for another and now had binge eating disorder. She went back to the old standby: that I was promoting unhealthy lifestyles by being fat. There are probably more comments like this now. My sister just informed me that people have chosen to duke it out in the comments on my article. I’ve stopped reading.

I want to be clear though: I haven’t stopped reading because I can’t take the abuse. I’ve just stopped reading because I don’t care to keep up with the madness. Did it hurt to be called fat by total strangers? Of course it did. But right after I processed the hurt I laughed, and then I was sad.

I laughed because it was so absurd that people were having such a strong, negative reaction to an article about my own experience. I also laughed because I knew what they were saying wasn’t true. I had to pause and think about that for a while. These people were calling me fat and I didn’t believe them. I didn’t believe I was fat and ugly. Major progress.

Then I was sad because I started thinking about the people who were saying such mean things. They must be in a lot of pain about their bodies to lash out so harshly at me. Their perceptions of what women should look like and be must be very warped if they see my body as morbidly obese and unhealthy. They must be very sad people. I’m the praying type, so I’m praying for them, hoping they can find what they need for their lives. Not out of pity, out of love, because I know what it’s like to be in that much pain.

I also feel like I’ve gone through some sort of body positivity blogger rite of passage. Every body positive role model I have talks about being called fat on the Internet. It happens to all of us. Now I just kind of feel part of the crew. It’s really indicative of the sad state of our society that women are harshly abused for even trying to love themselves and for speaking out. No matter how much it hurts to be harassed online, I refuse to let it take away my voice.

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Is Your Body Summer Ready?

Today it’s 75 and sunny in Vermont. Gorgeous. The kind of day when I love to cruise with the windows down and the music up. Days like this mean summer is almost here, which makes me happy, but also fills me with dread. Why? Because this is the time of year the world starts to barrage women with questions about the readiness of their bodies. Headlines inquire, “Are you ready for summer?” “Do you have a bikini body?” “What kind of swimsuit is best for your body type?” The media polices and dictates women’s bodies year round, but it’s never more obvious than when summer is approaching.

The message to women is clear: it’s time to change or hide. Those are your only options. Time to diet and pump up the exercise regimen so you can shed those winter pounds. Or if you’re audacious enough to not change your body you need to cover it up. Which swimsuit will hide that unsightly tummy? Which shorts will control those embarrassing thighs? What cut of t-shirt will conceal those less than toned arms. Cover it all up. Hide it under fabric. Your body doesn’t deserve to be shown.

Larger women are always told to hide themselves away and not just physically. They are taught to be quiet, not disruptive. Their bodies are already disruptive. They are told to be hide in the shadows. Their bodies already take up too much space. They are told to calm down. Their personalities are too large already. They are told to become smaller versions of themselves. Their current size isn’t pleasing to the rest of the world. They should hide their size or change it in order to move through this world more easily.

Having a large body that you refuse to make smaller is a powerful statement. It says to the world that you refuse to be marginalized. It tells the world that your body does not exist for them, so it doesn’t have to conform to their standards. It tells the world that your body is yours to do with what you will.

Not hiding a larger body under layers of fabric is an even more powerful statement. It says that a large body is not shameful. It says that you don’t believe your body parts are flawed. It says that you have nothing about yourself to hide. It says that your body deserves to be shown, deserves to be seen.

For me, body positivity was easier, not easy, but easier, this winter and spring when I was able to hide under bulky sweaters and skinny jeans. It was easier to accept my arms when I didn’t have to see them. It was easier to accept my thighs when they weren’t showing. It was easier to accept my tummy when I didn’t have to think about it showing in a bathing suit. With the warm weather upon me I can’t pretend that I’m not nervous about showing my body.

The difference this summer is that I refuse to make myself physically uncomfortable by hiding my body. When I was larger years ago I refused to wear shorts, even in the hottest summers. I always wore t-shirts and never wore tank tops. I bought all the fatkini swimsuits believing that they were the only ones I could wear. I was often hot, sweaty, and awfully uncomfortable. Today I’m wearing capri yoga pants and layered tank tops. The yoga pants are skintight and my arms are in full view, but I am comfortable. Temperature-wise at least. I’ll work on being emotionally comfortable throughout the summer. But I absolutely refuse to hide all summer just because I’m being told I should.

Is your body summer ready? If you have a body and it’s summer where you live then you’re ready. Go put on some shorts and a tank top and enjoy the sun.

No Justice for Women

Today in news, the criminal justice system proves yet again that they are unwilling to provide justice for women. I’ll start with an update from the Kesha saga. Earlier this week Kesha happily announced that she would be performing for the first time in forever at the Billboard Music Awards. Billboard had announced that Kesha was able to come to an agreement with her producer Dr. Luke which allowed her to perform.

In case you’ve been in a hole for the past year, Kesha has a pending lawsuit against Dr. Luke to try and get out of her contract with him, which is contingent on another lawsuit she’s filed claiming that Dr. Luke raped her. Earlier this year a New York court ruled against Kesha’s contract lawsuit stating that Kesha could work with other producers under the Sony label, therefore Dr. Luke did not have a stranglehold on her career as she claimed.

Back to current events. Two days ago Dr. Luke revoked his permission for Kesha to perform at the Billboard Music Awards. Because she’s bound by her contract to him, the one she tried to get out of by petitioning the legal system which is supposed to provide justice, Kesha legally can’t perform unless Dr. Luke lets her. So her rapist is allowed to dictate whether she’s allowed to pursue her career. Even worse, the New York courts have refused to hear any appeals on her contract lawsuit until the rape lawsuit is resolved in California. That lawsuit has not gone anywhere since it was filed because that court claims the contract lawsuit should be resolved first. So, both courts are stalling and Kesha’s life is being controlled by her rapist. No justice for women.

Meanwhile in Oklahoma, the House of Representatives has passed a law that would effectively outlaw abortion in a really devious way. Basically the law states that abortions can only be performed by physicians licensed in the state of Ohio. On the surface this looks like any of the countless other abortion restriction laws throughout this country, but it gets worse. The law also says that the state medical board can revoke the medical license of any physician who performs an abortion in a situation where the woman’s life wasn’t in danger. So basically, doctors who want to keep their licenses will start to refuse to perform abortions, effectively making abortion illegal in the state of Oklahoma. I know there’s a lot of debate about what constitutes an “undue burden” as outline in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, but I’m pretty sure the Oklahoma law constitutes an undue burden, which makes it unconstitutional. Unless the governor vetoes the bill next week, Oklahoma will succeed in passing an unconstitutional anti-abortion law, putting us right back to pre Roe v. Wade when women literally died in alarming numbers from illegal abortion procedures. No justice for women.

Meanwhile in my own home state of Vermont a law was passed stating that sexual assaults can’t be pled down to prohibited acts. This seems like a real win, but after this law was passed instead of having sexual assault pled down to a prohibited act, a recent sexual assault case was pled down to simple assault and disorderly conduct. The perpetrator drugged and raped an acquaintance of his and he was only convicted of simple assault and disorderly conduct; misdemeanors. His punishment was counseling. I’m glad he’s getting mental health services, but he should also be in jail. Rape is not disorderly conduct, it’s a violent violation, and it should be punished as such. No justice for women.

Over and over the criminal justice system proves that they are more willing to support the patriarchy than provide justice for women. This is unacceptable. The court system should be providing real justice for every victim, regardless of gender, race, color, creed, gender identity, or sexual orientation, but this is clearly not the case. We should all talk about this more often and as loudly as we can so the criminal justice system can see how unacceptable we find their actions.

Toxic Masculinity

A lot of feminist discussion focuses on the fact that women need to be treated more equally, not just by men, but by everyone. A lot more feminist discussion focuses specifically on how men need to treat women differently. I agree with both these statements. The resolution to a lot of feminist grievances would be for men and women to treat women differently. However, this resolution leaves out a key underlying problem: when we raise boys to be “men” we raise them to treat women poorly. This statement may not make sense, especially to good parents who have done a lot to ensure that they raise their boys to “treat women right”. I’m not trying to insult anyone’s parenting. I’m just saying that when we raise boy to be “men” as the patriarchy defines “men” we are raising them without the qualities that allow them to treat women well.

Let’s examine the picture of the “man” given to us by the patriarchy. These “men” are supposed to be stoic, unemotional, aggressive, and domineering. Of course the patriarchy would say that a “good man” shouldn’t be any of these things to the extreme. A “good man” should be stoic and unemotional, but not unfeeling. He should be aggressive, but not violent. He should be domineering, but not controlling. Being a “good man” is probably infinitely confusing. Where are the lines between these qualities? Which actions make you a “good man” and which actions cross the line? This standard is called toxic masculinity and as long as we’re raising our boys in an environment of toxic masculinity they will never be able to treat women compassionately as equals.

The qualities associated with the patriarchy’s version of a “man” make men unable to connect with women as equal partners. Let’s break this down by quality. Men are supposed to be stoic and unemotional. This means when they are in relationships with others, romantic or otherwise, they are unable to express their feelings or empathize with the feelings of others. This leads men to view displays of emotion as weak and they view those who display emotions, often women, as weak. When the woman is identified as weak for her emotions this triggers the domineering quality men are taught to have. The man seeks to dominate the weak woman in order to protect her. This is seen as noble rather than predatory, so the man believes he is “doing the right thing”. Men are also taught to be aggressive, which puts them at odds with other men by creating conflict, which reinforces their masculinity. Aggressiveness with women can also turn to violence, which is complicated for men to process because they are never given the tools to deal with the aggressiveness they are taught. In all cases, the qualities associated with “masculinity” leave men incapable of relating with women in a way that allows them to be seen as equal partners.

In order to change the way men treat women it is essential to change the qualities that we expect from men. It’s not totally fair to blame men for acting the way they were taught to act in order to be masculine. It’s also not totally fair to villainize men for not being able to see the lines between the acceptable and unacceptable expressions of these qualities. How can we ask men to constantly negotiate the difference between not displaying emotion and being totally detached from emotion? Or the difference between being aggressive with their words and aggressive with their actions? It’s easy to say “never hit a woman”, but is the right response to break objects instead or display aggression through emotional abuse? The obvious answer is no, but we are asking men to navigate these decisions all on their own on a constant basis, while still asking them to live up to the definition of masculinity.

We need to reject toxic masculinity and teach boys to be different kinds of men in order for men to treat women differently. For the most part, the problem is not men, it’s the system under which we raise men.

#MoreThanMean

Last week I listened to NPR’s “On Point” episode about the #MoreThanMean video that went viral on YouTube. If you haven’t watched the video, I suggest you take a few and do so, but be warned that the language is vile and offensive. To summarize, the video consists of men reading actual tweets that two female sportscasters have received. If you’re at all familiar with the world of online harassment, especially of women, you can imagine some of the awful things these tweets contain. There are lots of mentions of violence, particularly rape, and even some threats. As the listener discovers in the podcast interview, some of the tweeted threats were so specific and disturbing that the authorities were contacted.

Unfortunately, this isn’t news to anyone familiar with the Internet. It’s frighteningly common for women online to receive messages, tweets, emails, etc saying they should be beaten, raped, or killed. All this for saying something men disagree with, or sometimes for just existing. In the case of the women in the video, they are being harassed simply for working in a male dominated field. It’s deeply disturbing to me that the first reaction to women existing in a typically male space or women voicing an unlikeable opinion is violence. It’s even more disturbing to me that the reaction to this violence is so lacking.

In the podcast interview the women starring in the video discussed the reactions they typically get when they speak out about this violent harassment. Most often they are told that they should “suck it up” or “have a thicker skin” or “ignore the trolls” or that they “shouldn’t be so sensitive”. Other common responses run along the lines of “it’s protected under free speech”. When they went to the authorities to report threats that seemed credibly dangerous, the authorities told them there wasn’t much they could do until something “actually happened”.

I want to draw the line right here, right now. The answer absolutely is not for women to change how they are reacting to this harassment. The answer is to make the harassment completely unacceptable. The reason harassment like this continues online is because no one takes women seriously enough to stand up to this harassment. The harassment is treated as if it isn’t real because it’s unembodied words, written by a stranger, transmitted across wires and cables. Since the harassment “isn’t real” it’s up to women to ignore it, not men to stop saying it. Since we, as a society, haven’t asked men to stop saying it, they continue to spout this filth without fear of repercussions. It’s up to all of us, individually and as a culture, to let men know that it is not acceptable to speak to women this way.

Now for the free speech issue. I am a huge supporter of First Amendment. I actually even support the First Amendment when it protects hate speech. Unfortunately, that means that I also believe that the First Amendment covers this disgusting online harassment. So how can I say that this harassment should be stopped when I believe it counts as free speech and is protected by the First Amendment? Good question. I don’t believe it’s up to the government to protect the people from hate speech, which is essentially what online harassment is. I believe it’s up to society to let people know that this is completely unacceptable behavior. We should all be at our keyboards comment shaming the hell out of people who write this stuff. We should be speaking out against this harassment at every opportunity. We should be making men who type this garbage to women feel like the garbage people they are. I think we, as other users of the Internet, have the power to tell these men to shut their, metaphorical, mouths.

All that being said, there’s a point at which harassment becomes dangerous and the authorities need to take that seriously. If a woman feels that an online threat is scary enough to go the authorities then the authorities need to do everything they can to mitigate that threat. The fact that the authorities brush off these threats as not credible because they are online is sickening. These threats can be just as real as face to face threats.

The bottom line is we need to stop accepting this harassment. Women do not need to be tougher, they don’t need to just ignore the harassment, men need to stop harassing, and we need to make them stop.

What Can We do About Unpaid Labor

If you’ve read anything about the wage gap or even browsed a feminist blog, you’re probably familiar with the fact that women perform a lot more unpaid work than men. Usually this unpaid labor is related to housework and child rearing. When we have discussions about inequality and the wage gap, it is important to acknowledge that this unpaid labor is work too. Unfortunately, this work is often ignored because it is consciously or unconsciously seen as part of a woman’s daily life. Most would not even consider this work. I know I didn’t until I read some articles that contextualized housework and child rearing as part of the inequality between men and women.

What I did know was that in all my relationships I had always felt something unfair was going on when it came to housework. The way I saw it, housework was the responsibility of everyone living in the house. When I talked to my partners about this they would also agree that housework should be handled by everyone in the house. But when it came down to actually getting the housework done, it seemed like I was doing a disproportionate amount of the work. When I talked to my partners about this they would always say something about being tired and having worked hard and that they intended to do it at some nebulous “later” time. I always countered with the fact that I was also tired and that I had also worked hard. Though they consciously knew this to be true, their actions seemed to indicate that my hard work and fatigue was less than theirs.

Here’s the weird thing: I wasn’t dating misogynistic guys. Based on their actions you would assume I was, but I wasn’t. If you asked any of them whether they expected a household to be run by traditional gender roles they all would have said no. If you asked them if they believed that women should do all the housework and take care of the kids on top of their jobs, they would all say no. In theory they all believed that housework should be split 50/50 without attention to gender. However, as I already stated, this was not being put in to practice.

So where does this disparity come in? Why do so many men reject traditional gender roles with their words and then accept them with their actions? I believe the answer comes down to unconscious programming. Men are conditioned to believe that their time is very valuable. They may not realize that they believe their time is more valuable than a woman’s time, but this is what they are taught. So, men intend to help with the unpaid labor, but it never seems important enough to take up their time. There is also a lingering bias that housework and child rearing is a woman’s domain and therefore they like to perform these tasks. Let me be clear: I hate cleaning the bathroom just as much as any man. I don’t have kids yet, but I know that as much as new moms love their babies, getting up in the middle of the night gets just as exhausting and annoying for moms as it does for dads. Though there are certain exceptions, my guess is that most women do not like household tasks as their male partners believe they do.

The problem of unpaid labor is being talked about a lot more and men are stepping up in a lot of cases, especially child rearing. Luckily the Internet seems to be perpetuating the idea that it’s cool to be a dad these days and men are accepting that role more generously. However, there’s still a lot to be done to truly even up the unpaid labor that goes on at home. Men need to change diapers just a frequently as their partners. Men need to take the kids out for the day while their partner goes to the spa. Men need to pitch in with the housework, and I’m not talking about cleaning the bathroom once. You don’t deserve a medal for cleaning the bathroom one or two times in the span of your marriage. When you’ve cleaned the bathroom twice a month for six months maybe we’ll talk.

My husband and I got to the point where dividing the housework was a real thorn in our relationship. I’m not proud to admit it, but we’ve had many shouting matches over who has to clean the bathroom before company comes. It got so bad that we sat down and brainstormed ways to make the division of labor more fair, especially since we both hate housework. It sounds juvenile, but we actually made a chores list.

We alternate weeks for the responsibility of doing the dishes. This week is my week, so all dishes in the house are my responsibility through Saturday. On Sunday he gets dishes for the week. Theoretically, twice a month we alternate who cleans the upstairs and who cleans the downstairs. We’re each responsible for one floor of the house and we alternate so the same person doesn’t have to clean the big bathroom each time. I say theoretically because we haven’t made a single month where we’ve cleaned twice yet, but the division of labor is set for when we do. We are both responsible for picking up our own dishes and bringing them to the sink as well as picking up any clutter we’ve created. Like I said, it sounds super basic and juvenile, but it has actually helped our relationship a lot. I don’t feel like I’m stuck doing everything anymore. I feel like we’re finally one of those progressive couples who truly shares the work. And we have the skills to have another conversation about division of labor when we have a kiddo.

In order to solve the problem of unpaid labor everyone needs to step up, not just men. Men have to be willing to do more to make the division of labor fair, but women have to be willing to advocate for themselves. I bet your partner isn’t even aware that the division of labor bothers you or that he isn’t doing as much as you. Without conversations, in each household and nationally, the problem will never be solved. Take responsibility and have a conversation ASAP.

I Didn’t Agree to This

Sometimes when I think about the ideas that shape the way I think about myself and how I relate to the world the only response I can come up with is “I didn’t agree to this”. Like the concept that my worth in this world is dictated by my appearance and the size of my body. At no point in my life did anyone ever ask me if that standard was acceptable and whether or not I agreed. If asked, I might have said that this was bullshit and rejected the standard, but I was never asked. I was indoctrinated. In order to move through this world in a way that was more amicable and less painful I agreed to accept dogma that made no sense.

In reality, society has a list of bullshit rules that we’re all supposed to play by regardless of whether or not we accept them. Women are supposed to look a certain way, behave a certain way, engage in certain activities, and avoid other activities. All this to adhere to some sort of structure in which we didn’t agree to participate because we were never given a choice. On top of that, women who break the rules are shamed for their non-conformity. So, if we acknowledge that we didn’t agree to the rules and follow our own rules we are punished. The system even has a failsafe built in because women are conditioned to be overly concerned with what others think of them, so they abide by the rules in order to be accepted. We’re trapped in a system set up for failure in which we didn’t ask to participate.

Part of me wants to shout that I didn’t agree to this, please let me out. The other part of me fears the retribution that would come from such a balking of the system. Part of me wants to reject the rules entirely, and the other part of me wants to do anything it can to be fully accepted by the system.

This cognitive dissonance is a really painful place. The voice deep in my gut tells me that freedom lies in rejecting the system. The good little girl inside me says that it’s too dangerous. Right now, I can’t offer any insight or answers. I can finally see the system for what it is, but all I can do is stare. I’m at the top of the fence, stuck on the barbed wire, trying to decide which way to jump.