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This is a post I made to alt.polyamory in response to someone's asking "is there some way for me to help these women believe that they are beautiful just the way they are?"

("these women" = "overweight" friends who believe they are fat and ugly. The writer says "'fluffy' women are beautiful! Women are supposed to be soft." Note, I'm repeating these exact words of the writer because I address these specific words in my post. I am not repeating them to invite scoffing at them.)

My reply:

Your best bet on helping them is to ask _them_ how you might help them.

But here's how I personally like to be helped about that issue. Note that I am a size-acceptance activist, so what I like is probably different from what some people who aren't size-acceptance activists like.

Don't call me or other fat/fluffy people overweight - that assumes there is an ideal weight. It's incorrect that there is an ideal weight - healthy people weigh all sorts of different numbers, and most people can be healthy within a range of weights.

On the other hand, if I say that I am too fat / overweight / what have you, don't immediately disagree with me. That's ignoring my feelings and implying that your opinion is more important than mine. I'm not saying that you have to actively agree with me either - just don't immediately say "You are not." You might say "I'm sorry you are feeling that way" or "How come you are feeling that way right now?" Or you might just squeeze my hand in sympathy - this is what my primary often does.

(Remember, your friends might not like this approach - I'm just telling you what works for me.)

Exception to this: If I say I'm ugly, then although I'm not usually fishing for a compliment, it's OK for you to say "I'm sorry you're feeling ugly. For what it's worth, _I_ don't think you're ugly, I think you're [whatever you think - beautiful, attractive, just right]."

The reason this is an exception for me is that I believe a person's aesthetic opinion is zir own and people's aesthetic opinions can differ. In other words, if I think I'm ugly, and you think I'm attractive, that doesn't discount my opinion. (I prefer my opinion is acknowledged though, not just disagreed with.)

Personally, I enjoy hearing people say that they find "fluffy" women beautiful. But I definitely don't like hearing it said in a way that puts down other women or implies that all women "should" have a certain kind of body.

(Aside on "fluffy" - a number of people don't like the term. I don't mind it personally, but I think it's kind of silly and nondescriptive. If you touch me your hand doesn't sink in like it sinks into whipped cream, and I'm not full of polyester fiber. I'm just fat).

So I would bristle at being told "Women are supposed to be soft." That sort of statement makes me feel like the speaker believes women exist mainly for zir aesthetic pleasure and that women who don't meet zir personal standards are offensive somehow. (The speaker may well not believe that at all, I know, but that's still what goes through my mind.)

I also don't want someone to try hard to make me feel or believe things that are contrary to what I actually feel or believe. If they disagree with me about a matter of aesthetic preference, I want them to state their disagreement as a personal matter, not as a universal truth. That feels more respectful to me. In other words, if I said "I feel too fat" and you wanted to disagree, I'd like you to convey something along the lines of "I hear you saying that you feel too fat, and I'm sorry that you feel that way because I think it must be painful. I'm only one person but my personal opinion is that I think you're attractive as you are." (That sounds very stilted, so I wouldn't necessarily want it said exactly like that, but I like those sorts of things to be conveyed.)

Something else I like from people who care about my appearance issues: I like them to learn about unreasonable appearance standards in my culture. I like them to understand that these standards create personal body hatred in almost all women, fat, thin, and in between. I like them to understand that for almost all women, struggling with this personal body hatred takes up a lot of time and energy whether we want it to or not, and that such struggles aren't the result of a silly personal neurosis, they are due to overwhelming societal pressure.

Personally, because part of my struggle against personal body hatred is to focus on aspects of myself other than appearance, I also like to know that people who care about me appreciate me for qualities that aren't related to what my body looks or feels like. It's wonderful to be told I'm beautiful, but it's also important to me that people who care about me let me know they think I'm smart, thoughtful, interesting, creative, or whatever other positive traits they notice in me.

Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
kshandra
Jun. 17th, 2005 07:34 pm (UTC)
Your brain is teh sexx0r.
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:47 pm (UTC)
[*blush*]
therealjae
Jun. 17th, 2005 07:43 pm (UTC)
You make so much sense about stuff like this (where "stuff like this" means "figuring out not only what works, but why"). I admire that about you so much.

-J
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:47 pm (UTC)
Thank you!
vito_excalibur
Jun. 20th, 2005 05:06 am (UTC)
Agreed. firecat, I don't know if you know, but you are seriously one of my role models about this: you've helped me figure out how I feel about fat, my own body, how to be serious about this issue, and how to try to be healthy about it in my mind even more than in my body. Short form: you rock.
firecat
Jun. 20th, 2005 05:43 am (UTC)
I didn't know, and I'm really glad. Thanks!
leback
Jun. 17th, 2005 07:44 pm (UTC)
I am pretty sure that I am swooning over this post for reasons that are entirely unrelated to what your body looks or feels like. :-) Seriously--I am (as usual) blown away by your wisdom and your ability to articulate it clearly and considerately. Thank you!
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:47 pm (UTC)
[*grin*] Thank you!
wild_irises
Jun. 17th, 2005 07:51 pm (UTC)
I want to say "What She Said!" to you and to the three women who commented above me. All wonderful!
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:48 pm (UTC)
We are the chorus and we agree, we agree, we agree
ailbhe
Jun. 17th, 2005 08:05 pm (UTC)
I love that you understand that it can be hard to be too thin, too. You're my size-acceptance guru :)
starcat_jewel
Jun. 17th, 2005 08:38 pm (UTC)
To this I will add the following:

It's fine to pay me a compliment, but do not, not, NOT phrase it in a way that slams other women. My friend who is a natural size 6 doesn't like being called "ugly" any more than I do, even by implication -- and I'm not terribly fond of it on her behalf, either. In particular, NEVER use phrases like "real-size women". At best, this is going to get you the standard consciousness-raising script about how ALL women are "real-size" simply by virtue of being real, and that it's fine to have preferences but not to express them disrespectfully. At worst (if I'm already in a bad mood, or especially if this is not the first time you've said something like that), it will evoke the Bitch Bomb. And forghodsake, if you've gotten either of those reactions, don't go off whining about how UNGRATEFUL I am when you try to pay me a compliment! "I like women who REALLY look like women" isn't a compliment to me, it's a backhanded bitchslap at any woman who doesn't measure up -- and I (1) am smart enough to tell the difference, and (2) don't like being used as a billiard cushion.

Not to mention that it invariably carries the same ring as the old pseudo-liberal claim "Some of my best friends are black" -- it sounds FAKE, as if you're trying to convince yourself (or other men who might be standing around) more than me.

So how do you pay a compliment, you ask? Use I-messages, use positive phrasing, and don't use words that carry implicit value judgements. "Personally, I prefer women who have some padding," is fine; we all have preferences. "I don't like women who look like sticks," isn't, because it's negative -- this is the inverse of "I don't like hippos", and just as wrong. "I like women who look feminine," is one of those aforementioned bitchslaps, because "feminine" is a value judgement. Study the differences. Internalize them. Use them properly.

Why, yes, this is a hot spot for me, why do you ask? :)
redbird
Jun. 17th, 2005 08:53 pm (UTC)
Yes. If someone wants to point out that real women have pores in our skin--unlike some magazine illustrations, fine. If zie can demonstrate that thus-and-such magazine image was photoshopped in significant ways because that's not a shape they could find a real woman who has, please do.

But they won't get any points by telling me that my thin friends--or my fat friends who they don't find attractive, for that matter--aren't real.
firecat
Jun. 17th, 2005 09:44 pm (UTC)
Yes, yes, yes. I mentioned this - But I definitely don't like hearing it said in a way that puts down other women or implies that all women "should" have a certain kind of body - and your expansion is excellent.
redbird
Jun. 17th, 2005 08:39 pm (UTC)
"Fluffy" I am not. Fat, yes, Curvy, yes. Not fluffy, even though I haven't been to the gym since before Wiscon.

More seriously, yes, there is no one right way to do this.
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:49 pm (UTC)
Exactly.
roadnotes
Jun. 17th, 2005 09:50 pm (UTC)
Thank you, thank you thank you. You have written something incredibly clear about a touchy subject.
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:49 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you like it!
micheinnz
Jun. 18th, 2005 12:09 am (UTC)
Yes, this. Exactly this. Thank you.
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:49 pm (UTC)
I'm glad you like it.
pir_anha
Jun. 18th, 2005 01:16 am (UTC)
Re: "Is there some way for me to help these women believe that they are beautiful?"
you're definitely smart and thoughtful to this reader, and this post is one of the many reasons why that is so. :)

"fluffy"? that's a new one for me. i am most definitely not fluffy!
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:50 pm (UTC)
Re: "Is there some way for me to help these women believe that they are beautiful?"
Thanks!

I've heard fluffy here and there for years. Definitely one of the sillier euphemisms I think.
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:51 pm (UTC)
Thank you. And the learning and valuing is mutual.
wordweaverlynn
Jun. 18th, 2005 02:54 am (UTC)
You go, girl!
firecat
Jun. 18th, 2005 11:52 pm (UTC)
[grin]
(Deleted comment)
firecat
Jun. 20th, 2005 11:44 pm (UTC)
Heh.

Thank you!
epi_lj
Jun. 22nd, 2005 12:12 am (UTC)
This was a really good piece, and very good for reminding me of lots of things that I don't necessarily handle well and a few that I could improve upon. I don't always acknowledge people's feelings when their self-perception strongly mismatches mine. It's somewhat difficult to do when you're very emotionally invested, I find, but that may just be me. But it's good to do, and not doing so has created some bad situations that I didn't intend in the past. :(
firecat
Jun. 22nd, 2005 12:21 am (UTC)
Thanks for reading it. Part of the reason that I wanted you to read it is that you've been good about saying, when you are feeling insecure about your appearance, that you're not necessarily looking for strokes along the lines of "but you ARE attractive" or whatever. That was part of my inspiration while writing it.

And yes I also find it difficult to let go of emotional investment in such cases.
( 28 comments — Leave a comment )

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