An Open Letter About the O Word.

I sent this out to my colleagues today after yet another meeting where I felt that familiar rush of discomfort. You know the one.

When someone drops the “O Word”


Dear Colleagues

I want to talk to you about the “O Word” – obesity.

This is a word of oppression and violence for me and many others.

It is a word that speaks to a medical/ pathological model of human experience – something that is no longer accepted when we speak about disability, sexuality and gender identity, or race.

It is a word that conjures up trauma for people who have been bullied, abused and denied access to healthcare, housing and employment because of their weight and the conflation of weight with competency.

It is enough that fat people have to live in world where we are constantly bombarded with diet talk, negative media portrayals and unsolicited opinions on what we should or shouldn’t do with our own bodies. It is enough that we are never believed when we experience sexual harassment and assault. It is enough that we have to navigate places that aren’t made to be welcoming, comfortable or accessible for us.

We don’t need to experience that exclusion at work too.

And yes, language does matter because it is a signal of what is valued and what isn’t. We can have a conversation about health that doesn’t use that word; considering that weight is only one of a number of indicators of health.

Let’s talk about health enabling factors instead like access to fresh fruit and vegetables, exercise, economic access and freedom from violence, discrimination and vilification. I’d like to talk about those things.

And finally, I don’t expect a response – just for you to reflect. But if you do want to have a conversation about body positivity, fat acceptance and how we can collaborate to send out a positive health enabling message – I would love to talk to you.

Also – if you need to talk about these issues with someone who has lived it and come to a place of body peace, I am absolutely here for you.


And that goes for all of you too.

And yes I felt sick when I pressed send as the heaviness of maintaining constant resilience made itself felt. But honestly, I am done with this bullshit.

Really, truly, done.

Go well fellow humans.

Work.

I’ve spent the better part of this week sick. One of those nasty viruses that breaks you down into a pile of groans, aches and bodily fluids. It’s gross – but it gives you an awful amount of time to think.

One gift of embracing minimalism as a mind set is that it also brings extreme clarity. Without the endless distraction of stuff, busy-ness or extraneous time suckers, the mind is freed up to think through those particular sore spots that have long been left unattended.

Let’s begin.

***

I’m one of those rare lady INTJ types.

In fact, when I took the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator at business school I was relieved to finally give a name to and an explanation of what I knew deep down. Here’s an excerpt from a reflective paper I wrote at the time:

After completing Myer-Briggs, getting the result and reading the descriptions I felt relief, almost like the real me had found a space to be. That space was also without my own judgments about how I should act and feel.

This observation is reaching out to me from four years ago asking me to challenge my recent patterns of behaviour.

I have been cast into a mold.

Slip changes its composition as a result of sitting up against the mold; the mold itself produces a solidifying effect on the slip, it is a physical reaction…  it is in an active state of becoming a new form.

A mold is an ascribed identity. It is the cumulative effect of the times you’ve yielded, absorbed, forgiven or accommodated. It is the needs of other people before your own. It is being taken for granted, guilted into doing things and letting people get away with it.

To un-become is to shatter those expectations of what we should and shouldn’t do. What is of “our character” and what is not.

To break the mold is an act of defiance.

*** 

So what of it?

In my sickened state, I had time to fully process a recent conversation that troubled me. In it, I was being asked to compromise my values for the sake of another’s comfort.

People who find conflict uncomfortable are the first ones to deny their role in creating it. People who thrive on problem-solving try to fix things so that everyone can walk away happy – or at least knowing what to do next.

This was the dynamic I found myself in, trying to fix the problem through absorbing the discomfort and the need for a “truth”.

The devil, however, is always in the detail.

***

Guys who are “nice”. Guys who give lip service to equality but don’t live it. Guys who say they’re feminist, but make gross comments about a woman’s appearance or her lack of sexual activity or fuckability in front of other women – even when you have called them out on it before. Guys who don’t realize the role they are playing in the bullshit by using phrases like “it’s a lesbian conspiracy”. Guys who intimate that showing emotion is a sign of weakness. Guys who make jokes about the women in their life being “so emotional”. Guys who get threatened by your intellect and capability.

Guys who can’t let that shit go.

***

So yeah – when that guy said “she was almost in tears” as a way to undermine her credibility, I was so livid I wanted to scream.

But I didn’t scream.

I absorbed his sad and wounded pride.  Because that’s what women do.

I took on the emotional labour, preserved the man-ego and fixed it. Because that’s what women do.

I allowed myself to be complicit in his denial. Because that’s what women do.

Because that’s what women do. Until we break that mold.

 

Image: Peter Nudo