We must disconnect the false equivalency of weight/shape with personal character and human rights. People come in all shapes and sizes, and nobody can tell by looking at another person whether that person is a good, trustworthy, compassionate being. A shape is simply a shape. A weight tells you how much pressure your shoes put on the sidewalk. These metrics don’t tell us about cancer or mental health or the ability to feel happiness. They are simply ways of describing form – not substance.
Last year, on National Coming Out Day, I officially came out as bisexual. It was a celebration. No angst. No fear. No second thoughts. Just a celebration.It was a such a contrast with coming out as disabled at the end of 2008, with all of the fear and dread that attended that decision. There have been many times since then that I’ve thought that coming out as disabled was the worst decision I’d ever made in my life.
My life has been plagued by people telling me what I can and cannot wear. They tell me not only what is supposed to look good on my body type (short, pear shaped), but also, more distressingly, what I have to wear to be “acceptable.” I have been living a life of “Good girls don’t wear that” as a youth to “Successful women don’t wear that” in college to “Female ministers don’t wear that” today.
When my anxiety, panic, and depression caught up with me, my need to restrict became overwhelming. Habitually and thoughtlessly, like clockwork, I’d stop eating again, and watch my body shrink before my eyes. It was never just about being thin. It was about managing the only thing in my life I had absolute control over.
Ah, welcome to the land of disability. Our current means-tested social assistance programs are designed to keep people with a disability impoverished and on the edge of disaster.
For many years, I’ve written about language and its power. I do not believe that words are only words. They have the potential to create and to destroy, to help and to harm, to build up and to tear down. I have tried to appeal to people to stop using slurs of all kinds and, more specifically, to stop using disability as a pejorative metaphor. But I find myself changing course about the ways in which I respond to words that hurt.
Like many people, I’m mid-journey. Not only am I working my way past hazards and potholes in my holiday season, but I’m also in the process of making my way fully to unconditional, unapologetic love for myself. Like a lot of people, I find that the holidays compound the dangers and detours that I feel I need to be watchful of.
Many times, we white people feel a sense of guilt and shame about racism. But in my experience, when people of color talk about racism, it’s not a call to guilt or shame. It’s a call to empathy and action. When all is said and done, it was my mother’s empathy for the other person that got me to see that I was living in a world of suffering, and that all of my good intentions would not be enough to heal it.
Kids don’t get a choice in what faith or culture they are raised, and they don’t get a choice in how we frame dress and religion to them. It is our job, as responsible and loving adults, to frame it correctly for them.
When, as women, we say that women should not lift weights because we get bulky and ugly, that we can’t do pull ups because we need pretty hands, and that we can’t sweat because sweat is “gross,” then we make the gym an unsafe space. Not all women look the same, sweat the same, or have the same body shape. All bodies should be okay.