I am fat. My doctor has attested to this, though he used the words “morbidly obese”, to which I gasped and said, “but I’m beautiful!”
“Be that as it may,” he replied. “You’re still grossly overweight.”
Who knew? Wait, I did know, because society has rarely missed an opportunity to shove what beautiful should look like down my throat.
Earlier this week Tara Margrét Vilhjálmsdóttir of Iceland’s Association for Body Respect went on Stöð 2 news to discuss body positivity with broadcaster Sindri Sindrason and instead of having a frank discussion about body acceptance, it unraveled into a minority pissing contest.
“I’m wondering, and I’m sure many others are wondering the same, isn’t most prejudice something that arises from within ourselves?” Sindri asked Tara. “Is prejudice really so external, isn’t prejudice sort of just something we feel about ourselves?”
“Well,” Tara answered. “This is coming from the mouth of someone who has privilege. You kind of have to experience what it’s like to be marginalised, to experience prejudice to maybe truly understand it.”
“Do you mean to imply I have… (privilege)?” Sindri asked, to which Tara said, yeah.
“Do you know how many minority groups I’m a part of?” Sindri blurted before explaining that he was a gay man, raising a POC child with his foreign husband.
And you can guess what happened after this, of course. No one is really talking about body acceptance or about the experiences of LGBTQ minorities in Iceland.
Instead people are descending on Sindri. Iceland’s LGBTQ organisation Samtökin 78′, Tabú, Trans Ísland and the Association for Body Respect even wrote a public letter expressing their disappointment in him:
How many minority groups Sindri belongs to isn’t really relevant because if his opinion is that prejudice just exists “sort of within ourselves” then it’s perfectly logical to assume that he has never experienced external prejudice. Which is the definition of privilege. It’s unlikely that Sindri has experienced prejudice for being fat, or for having a disability, for being trans, intersex, poor, or having dark skin, even though he may be a minority in other ways. It’s our duty as people to be conscious of our conduct when we occupy different spaces, like news studios, and to listen when others attempt to share their experiences and attempt to understand them.
I completely agree that we have to listen to people’s experiences, believe them outright, and attempt to understand. But Tara hadn’t begun to share any of her actual experiences yet. She’d opened by suggesting that Sindri wasn’t in a position to speak on her experiences. They were both on the defense.
To break it down, when Sindri walks down the street, he’s a good looking middle class white guy. Most people can’t tell at a glance if Sindri is gay man, so perhaps it follows that he’d begin by wondering about internalised self-hate as opposed to external prejudice?
As a fat person I can attest that the time I was standing in line at the bank and a stranger approached me to hand me a business card selling weight loss pills, that it was an external experience and not, in fact, the manifestation of self loathing. Because, as far as I’m concerned, I’m a fucking babe.
That said, Sindri was asking a question other people are bound to ask, because they don’t know better yet. He reacted defensively because he felt entitled to, as a member of a minority group.
Yeah, Sindri should have just listened to Tara speak on her experiences – which I daresay was the whole fucking point of the interview.
But we can’t have a dialogue either if we assume the people we speak to aren’t capable of understanding where we are coming from because of their privilege.
Sindri will never know what being a fat woman is like any more than Tara will know what being a gay man is like. But by listening to one another they should be able to understand, right?
We – and by we I mean liberal scum, naturally – are tougher than this.
We can take bullshit questions like “isn’t prejudice internalised” – which sounds like an oxymoron to me but whatever – and pick it apart, give our arguments context, educate and inform, can’t we? Without descending on our allies, alienating them and others in the process?
We are all on the same side here! We’re all trying to smash the fucking patriarchy aren’t we?