Shadow on a Tightrope : Writings by Women on Fat Oppression a 30th Anniversary Celebration

186b0e0a-6db1-43ef-8f9b-148456613195When asked to read and blog my reflection of Shadow on a Tightrope: Writings by Women on Fat Oppression for its 30th anniversary celebration sponsored by Aunt Lute Press, I jumped at the chance to do so. Many of my friends and cohorts in the Fat Activism/Liberation movement speak of this book as their first experience or exposure to Fat Liberation.  I’ve spent years hearing it mentioned during discussions and casual conversations with long-timers and budding new activists…I often felt as if this book was as important to Fat Activism as the Bible is to christian religions.  And I knew I needed to read it, and yet years in to my work in Fat Activism and I’d yet to pick it up. Now that I have, I can’t imagine why I didn’t do it sooner.  I’ve read the bible, more than a few times, and it never left me weeping as Shadow did. I read the essays and other writings in Shadow over two sittings and both times within minutes of scanning the pages, tears were rolling down my cheeks.  I thought about why this is, what about the poems, essays, stories shared in this anthology made it so poignant to me? And beyond the obvious, “I can relate” response came swarms of thoughts and emotions that required sorting through.

I’ve often felt I was born to a wrong generation, jealous in a way of the women who’s hard work, struggle and tears have paved the way for all the liberties I enjoy today.  I don’t quite feel I belong in the “second-wave” feminist category and yet I’m much too young to be  “first-wave” and much too old to be “third-wave.” And really, these classifications are arbitrary and relevant maybe only to historians. But it doesn’t stop me from feeling like I belonged to a different time when activism was more…well, active. Because I sit in rooms with women who have long been a part of the fat liberation movement and listen to their stories from the past and musings on the present, I’m often hit with phrases like “today’s fat girls have it much easier with the internet, Facebook, and blogs.” And its true, in many ways, the internet generation does have a connection and a resource for activism that didn’t exist previously.  And yes, we often sit safely in our comfortable homes behind a screen with a blog written under an alias that protects us from the kind of political struggles that sent the original members of the feminist fat liberation movement literally fleeing from Los Angeles in 1976. But this tool that helps us to move activism forward more quickly and with perhaps fewer repercussions, also isolates us. I long to be in that room in 1972 where the Fat Underground was birthed.  Where the radical, untested concept that if a person would just “stop trying to lose weight, their ‘eating problems’ go away and weight eventually stabilizes” originated (Mayer xiii). This is the very tenement of my fat liberation faith and it happened just down the 101 in what I imagine was a small room with a handful of women speaking their truths and needing to see change in our world, bravely spoke those truths out loud to those who would listen and help move change forward. As I write now, tears are welling in the corners of my eyes…these women are the mothers, the sisters, the partners of my fatness; my ability and freedom to live so much more comfortably in my fatness than they were able to 30 years ago.

But the fight isn’t over, and I can not rest comfortably.  In the 1970’s the “sexist industry that has made the lives of fat women a living hell” aka the diet industry was an 11-billion dollar a year enterprise (Mayer 3). Today, its 65-billion dollars a year. Is that progress? This industry feeds off what they tell us are our failures as women, as human beings, as members of a society that promulgates the “thin ideal.” 30 years ago, this was a hard-to-publish, radical anthology. Women speaking out about their experiences on being fat? Who would want to read that? And wouldn’t that just encourage women to continue to be fat?  But the memories that are contained on these pages are just the beginning of the struggle for fat liberation and as Lynn Levy reminded me “the outrages are not all memories–they continue, even after I refuse to play the game.” Our liberation “does not prevent a man from harassing me on the bus, it does not prevent airline seats from being too narrow, it does not prevent my being unable to find clothes that will fit in the styles and materials I like.” And this is how she felt in 1980. 1980! This is MY story TOO! Today, in 2013. “Passing cars, passing strangers, I harden myself to words I have trained my ears not to hear, hurled at me on the streets.  It all continues, and I look forward to the day when I can no longer control my rage” (Levy 81).

As a woman, feminist, fat liberationist of the 21st century, the digital age, I’m frequently told that I’m much too open and honest about my life, my struggles, the things I want, need, expect. I have chosen to expose my life through blogging, Facebook, Instagram. I grew up a fat child in a family of other fat people and the only time we talked about it was when someone lost weight or someone was being shamed in to not eating something because they “needed” to lose weight.  As an adult, I will not live that way.  I will not be shamed in to stealing green apples from a neighbors tree and sneaking home after school to quickly make a tiny apple tart, eating it so immediately from the oven that it burned my mouth, and cleaning up before my mother got home from work just because I wanted it but knew it would not be ok to ask for. I will not live a life of denial for acceptance. And I will tell my stories as they happen, today and everyday. But only because these women, the women of the Fat Underground with their Fat Liberation Manifesto paved the way from me to do so. And I will continue to weep…but they will be tears of determination, born from the strength and hard work of those who came before me and the hope for those who will come after me.  I look forward to a future where the only writing being done about fat oppression is in our history books.

The poem below is by Sharon Lia Robinson and was published in Shadow on a Tightrope. It speaks to the deepest parts of me.

whoever i am i’m a fat woman

the space of a silhouette
entering the space of a silence

curvatures of silk
caverns flooding
welcome to a canyon:

she’s a horsewomon
a tennis match
a champion runner

she’s an artist womon
a desert womon
a dancer

she’s a fat womon

a fashion hall for dreams

she’s a seeker your lover your sister
a dreamer a bohemian a thinker
your doctor she’s a healer
a psychic her stories will set you free

herb lady
clothes designer
museum curator

a farmer



a laughter’s echo
she’s a fat womon
a fat womon
a womon
bound to cut
this earth of the shadows inside her

ballroom dancer

scene stealer wheeler dealer

a leaper a runner a roller

she’s a fat womon and she’s breathing

the unknown womon
the womon who flavours her own song

she’s a genius
she’s extraordinary
she’s an ordinary girl
she’s a fat womon

cab driver copper welder tea drinker
street walker prude

she’s a blues singer
a floutist a drummer

a pin up girl
an ice skater
an icecream lover
a hindu



a hiker a kite flyer
your shadow on the tightrope
she’s a fat womon

your shadow
a brake mechanic
a concert cellist
a jazz saxaphonist
leaping on laughter’s echo the rhythms of her life.

poet playrite witch nun jew

bathing beauty
high heeled sexy tramp

scorpio rising
rubenesque pearl

priestess potter shoemaker
hairstylist jeweler
thankyou. a furniture design.

the womon procurred by money
the womon who is heard above laughter

the womon who walks beyond
the streets of desire
the womon who has always walked these streets
with passion
the womon who has taken over the space of her body
and the womon who has refused to conquer that space.

worker bohemian boss scholar aristocrat
roadrunner sailor weaver

a fat girl
she’s a wallflower
socializer leader recluse wanderer



an advertisement for love:
in lillian russell days
you’d follow her
her bare ankles
down the rivers muddy edge by foot
making love to her on your knees

she’s a stallion a fleet of rivers.

feel the womon
whose river bathes in mammoth luxury
tracing the moons
that are inside her

she’s an aesthetic womon
she’s a plastic womon
she’s a junkie
a hobo
a housekeeper

stuck up bitch
fast smiler
on welfare
or could be
she’s a fat womon

the silent womon
with a mask around herself

the womon who is challenged to a duel

the womon who is tortured

tied to the bed and raped

the womon who always sleeps in black
the womon who never says “excuse me”
or smiles when she’s supposed to



the womon whose existence is in question

rough outrageous dull graceful ingenious

exciting to be alive as being a fat womon

she’s a deep sea diver
a windmill climber
a motorcycle mama
and a bicycle rider
she’s a fat womon

she’s a snow shoveler
a short stopper
a wind lover
a heart breaker

certain truths
will make your heart beat fast
when you hear them from a fat womon

you’ll grow pale
get chills
but she’s marching toward you
she’s here and she’s taking back her life.

a tough springer
a dead ringer
watch the stones
they throw
her will turn
to looks of beauty

the stones
they throw to works of art
will turn to looks of beauty.

It’s On (like Donkey Kong?)


It felt kinda like this!!

It’s not like I wasn’t expecting the call, but once it came in, everything began to feel like it was happening too fast and it took a moment to get my bearings.  I’ve been tolerating the pain in my body and the frustration with medical professionals for so long, it hardly seems real that I now have an actual date for surgery to remove the hostile uterus in my body.  I answered the phone while driving to work because when I saw that the caller ID said “Kaiser,” I knew it wasn’t a call I wanted to miss.  The nurse said they had an open date of June 21st and I was like “ok, I’ll take it.”  Hanging up the phone, I felt like a heavy boulder had settled in the pit of my stomach, I was nauseous and my mind was spinning with all that this date meant and with everything that now had to be done before this date.

Its taken a couple days, but I’m relieved and settled.  I’m ready to get on with life.  I’ve had some encouraging phone calls from dear friends.  More offers of support and lots of time to think, process, and accept that this is REALLY happening.  I’ve also spent the last couple of days at Kaiser doing some pre-op lab work.  It seems that the needle pokes might never end.  I’m nervous and excited.  Putting together a list of things to get done before June 21st, both personally and professionally.  I’ve made my arrangements for sick leave from work and have informed the most important/necessary people in my life about the timing and details.  The list of things to do is growing…at some point I’ll just have to say “enough is enough.” Its not like I don’t have time after the surgery.  But isn’t it funny how suddenly everything becomes so important to accomplish, when some of this has been on the “to do” list for months.  I think it’s probably linked to the whole mortality complex…not that I have concerns about that, but there’s some instinct I think, much like how “nesting” works with pregnant women, that creates this need to get it done now.


Davinci Surgical Robot – my new best friend.  Wish those were my doctors.  It looks so futuristic and reminds me of some of my favorite scifi shows.

The thing I feel the best about in my preparations for going under the robotic knife, is my plan for a quick recovery.  Part of this is about the preparation, right (mind and body).  I’m a pretty active person, but I’ve been increasing my activity lately as well.  I participated in the Color Run last weekend (oh so much fun) and am continuing to increase my walking time each day.  I plan to be up on my feet, moving as soon as the Dr says its ok.  I’ve set a goal to be able to participate in the AIDS Walk SF, 10K on July 21st!  I’m joining the FFE Community Team to help raise $2013.  I’ve set a personal goal of $300.

sf_logo_2013-pms-finalIf you’d like to donate as a way of encouraging my quick recovery and supporting a great cause, please visit my personal fund raising page or for amounts less than $25, you can donate through Paypal.

So, I think I got this.  I’m focusing on the after and not the during.  I feel like I’ve moved past shaking my fist at the sky in anger and frustration. shaking-fist-at-God

I’m not excited about the surgery itself.  I’m excited about the possibilities after. I’m not fooling myself in to believing it will all be busy, but focusing on it all just being better.  There’s still a long way to go between today and that 10K walk.  I’m riding the wave of hopefulness.  Of course, you can check back here for updates on how the process, procedure and recovery unfolds.  I really appreciate all the positive feedback and kind words I’ve received from friends and blog readers about sharing this journey.  I’m hoping you continue to find something of value in my sharing as it all moves forward.  I wait now with a deadline on this anticipation…with a great deal of hope.

Medical Mayhem and the Hostile Uterus (not a bedtime story)

I read this quote recently that reinforced what I’ve long believed about our bodies not being our enemies. sonya quote for blog

As often happens, it came across my path at a time when I desperately needed it.  Just last week I sent this text to a very dear friend “My body has betrayed me!” And it will be no secret to my FB friends and family that I have spent nearly as much time at Kaiser Permanente over the last few months than I have anywhere else. I’ve put off writing about what’s been going on in part because I’m still fighting for some internal peace and also because I’m not sure how much or little to share. And I’m the first to admit I have a tendency to over share. I also am hesitant to sound like I’m whining or looking for sympathy. Then a friend asked if I thought writing about it could help someone else (besides providing a way for me to further process). And I acknowledged that perhaps it had the potential and so here I am, writing.

To make a very long story short, I have a hostile uterus.

From the pages of my art journal.

From the pages of my art journal.

After several years of heightened issues, I’m well versed in all sorts of medical terminology, but to boil it down, my uterus creates chronic swollen villi (clusters of grape sized “tumors”, not fibroids) which hang out and wreak all kinds of havoc internally.  Over the past 3+ years, doctors have treated this non-cancerous condition with a combination of surgical (d&c) and chemical removal of uterine lining. As well as a combination of high dose hormone injections/pills and pain meds.  The biggest issue for me is that it causes persistent painful cramping and unpredictable, prolonged heavy bleeding. The past year has been perhaps the worst, as symptoms have increased and the nonsurgical treatments simply aren’t working any more.  In November, I allowed a new Dr. (whom I really like and trust) to convince me that an IUD would help alleviate many of the symptoms.  I was willing to try almost anything at that point.  By early February I was insisting on a permanent resolution.  Though not quite at the point where I was willing to part with an internal organ, I sought from my doctor a more viable option.

As we all know, I’m fat.  To the majority in the medical profession that equals high risk and/or causation.  I’ve spent several years piecing together a medical team that does not treat me based on my weight.  My primary care physician is an “obesity” specialist who has never once mentioned to me weight loss surgery, diets, or any other topic related to weight in regards to my health.  In fact, this issue being the exception, I am a healthy fat person (most of us actually are).  My gynecologist matter o’ factly addressed my weight only as a potential risk factor for surgical options, primarily anesthesia.  This I knew and was not bothered by.  She suggested a uterine ablation, an outpatient procedure where they burn back the lining to the base of the uterus; sounds painful, apparently not so much.  This raised the question of ongoing birth control as an IUD would no longer be an option with a thinned uterus and I’ve pretty much ran the bases of hormones and their usefulness.  She suggested a nonsurgical sterilization process (since my hostile uterus makes full-term pregnancy a nonviable option anyway).  I said ok and was referred to one of the two doctors who perform this procedure at the clinic.  The FIRST thing this doctor said to me was, “have you considered weight loss surgery?”  The SECOND thing, “ALL your problems would go away if you would just lose all that weight.”  Note the use of “that” as if it weren’t even in the room with us, but some abstract evil thing hovering outside the door.  I was so unprepared for THIS conversation, I was dumbfounded, paralyzed. I can’t even imagine what story the expression on my face was telling. I was prepared to discuss sterilization procedures. I had questions to ask. I had things to confirm. But none of that mattered because A) she was going to refuse to do the procedure because of my weight and 2) I would not have let that woman touch my beautiful fat body with a ten foot surgical instrument.

I left that doctor appointment in shock and complete hopelessness.  What I knew is that I couldn’t sanely tolerate what was going on inside my body much longer and every plan that had been put in motion to resolve the issue had just been bulldozed by this weight bigot in a doctor frock. I got to my car and cried.  Not just for me, but for all the stories I’d read and been told about of other wonderfully rad fatties who had received similar treatment from medical professionals. I never had; I thought I had been able to imagine how it might feel. I couldn’t. It was much much worse, dehumanizing, degrading, shaming…. When I spoke with my gynecologist two days later, she was livid.  Even the medical notes had read like a bad fat shaming story.  She was ready to go to the mats for me, to find a doctor who would perform the procedure. But I was done. That had been my breaking point.


A card given to me by my boss at the university.

I told her it was time to just take it out.  I wanted her to find the least invasive means to have my hostile uterus removed. I was asserting ownership of my body and was ready to evict!  She took a deep breath and said ok.  Next thing I know, I was scheduled to meet with the Chief of the women’s health department.  He conducts robotic assisted laparoscopic surgical procedures on high risk patients.  And she assured me that if anyone could make this happen it would be him.  I went to that appointment prepared to defend my weight and its non-connection to what was going on in my body.  But I didn’t have to.  He discussed the procedure with me, answered my questions, and asked a few of his own then told me that it was time for a definitive response to the issue.  He inferred that it was likely only a matter of time before the cells in the uterus would become cancerous so it was best to act now.  He said it was not without risk and that although the intention would be to do the procedure laparoscopically, there is a very real chance that they may still have to do an open cavity procedure once they have me on the table.  I am resolved.  And so in late June or early July, I will be having a Robotically Assisted Laparoscopic Hysterectomy with Bilateral Salpingectomy, Possible Bilateral Oophorectomy, Possible Laparotomy, Cystoscopy.  In layman terms, a laparoscopic hysterectomy, leaving my ovaries intact, with the possibility that they may need to cut me open.  The doctor mentioned above, should take note: THIS, THIS is going to make ALL my problems go away!! (ok, not all of them.)

Here are the things I wish I would have done differently during this journey of medical mayhem (and perhaps where others might learn):

  • I would have had more compassion for my body and accepted early on that this was my body’s way of trying to work its way back to wellness. Instead of feeling betrayed by the very body I claim to love and respect every day.
  • I would have liked to come to an earlier realization that this one organ, which is a part of me, does not truly define me as female.  It would have made it much easier to insist earlier on that they remove it.  I would have spent far less time in pain, discomfort, and worry.
  • I would have taken someone else with me to doctor appointments.  Either to just help “hold on” to all the relevant information, to act as a sounding board for the many thoughts and emotions swirling around in my head and/or to act as an advocate when I was struck dumb with disbelief.  And yes, I have a whole host of friends who would have willingly agreed to sit by my side during the many hours of appointments.
  • I would not have agreed to the IUD.  In the midst of all this other stuff, the IUD has “gone missing” (insert Scott’s joke about the UN looking for WMDs here). In women who have not had children, the IUD has a tendency to migrate (good to know).  Mine has…and the hunt is on, with ultrasounds, x-rays, CT scans, etc.
  • I wish I would have said to the weight biased doctor something along the lines of “oh really, ALL my problems? Will my student loan payments go away? Will my dog’s chronic diarrhea suddenly disappear? And, so on…” It wouldn’t have helped, but it might have made me feel more emotionally satisfied.
  • I wish I would have been more open to asking for the support of my friends, being more honest about the amount of pain I have been in and confided more openly about it all.  I fancy myself to be so independent that sometimes I don’t let others in in ways that would be helpful.  And I have the most awesome friends and support network, so why would I shut them out on any level?

This journey is not over. The procedure is not on the doctor’s schedule yet. There were some reasonable hoops he asked me to jump through and I’ve done so. Now just patiently awaiting his return to the office (he’s been out for a week) and word that it will be scheduled. I’m eager, but scared. I think that’s healthy. There will be recovery time I’m not looking forward to. A need to rely on the kindness and good hearts of my friends to assist during this time, which is hard for my independent spirit to accept.  And the need to allow time and space for emotional healing as well.  Sounds like a fun summer though, right?

It’s not my idea of a good time, but I’m so looking forward to having the medical mayhem and hostile uterus out of my life.

Size Activism: In My Beginning

do somethingI’ve approached this four-day holiday weekend with a deep desire to get some serious writing done and move forward on the novel-in-progress.  In preparation, I’ve been digging through a box of notebooks, journals, napkins and random slips of paper containing thoughts, ideas and partially completed pieces.  Amongst them, I found this free writing/poem from the early days of my exploration in Fat/Size Activism.  As I was reading it, emotions rose to the surface.  I could have written it yesterday.  This thing we call self-acceptance (wrapped up in size activism) is not a straight road from here to there and then we’ve won.  The road twists and turns back on itself and some days leaves you questioning yourself as much as others.  Just as I grow stronger and more confident in myself, a moment of weakness creeps in.  These words are proof.  They are unfinished…with a hope to complete them at some point.  Reading them, reminded me of how hard living this struggle (like anything worth fighting for) can be at times; how easy it is to just give up and return to the status quo.  But it also reminded me of how worth it the struggle is, because I never want myself, let alone those I love and care about, to feel this way ever again.

It’s what they don’t tell you

They tell you to love yourself
Live in the body you have now
Be bold and confident
Wear stripes and sequins
And tiaras to the grocery store
Don’t listen to the ne sayers
The weight loss goalies
Surgeons with their scalpels
Stand up against the Hatred
Take chances
Do something new
Reach out to others
Share your new knowledge and power with others
Because what they don’t tell you
Is that no matter what you do…
You’ll always be lonely
You’ll always wonder if it’s the size of your stomach that turned them off or the size of their ego
You’ll never know if they truly want you or are you a fetish
You’ll eat dinner at home in front of the tv because they’re too ashamed to take you out
They’ll chose someone smaller, even if they love you
What they don’t tell you
Is that the clerk at Macy’s will still treat you as if you don’t belong there even when you’ve only come
in for expensive moisturizer
The children in your building will still point and stare
Your family and friends won’t understand why you aren’t interested in talking about their latest diet or exercise routine at the next holiday gathering
Your neighbor will still say you look like you’ve lost weight even when you haven’t
Why don’t they tell you???
Because what they also don’t tell you is that all of that won’t matter in the long run what they don’t tell you is that when you love your self, others will follow
just not today
and probably not tomorrow

where have all the big body hotties gone?

strong weakok, here’s my first confession…i’m completely human.  no super powers, no invisible plane, no impenetrable fortress.

surprised?  probably not.

we’re all human.

here’s my second confession…i’m a fat activist/body liberationist with body issues!  no, really!  much to my own chagrin, i’m frequently unable to leap over societal standards without a single care.  there are days i wake up and wish there were things about my body that were different.  i’ve learned to live, really live, in this body, not just survive.  i do appreciate it and can see the beauty in its curves and dips.  but damn…if my boobs were just that much smaller or my arms or my…you know.

i’ve been helping a friend with a project for the last couple months that’s involved the search for pictures of women my size and larger that show the beauty of the human body but aren’t gratuitously pornographic.  and sadly, they are few and far between.  there are lots and lots of pictures of women in what seems to be the “acceptable” range of plus size or “thick” with alluring poses and perfect lighting.  they are “pinned” all over pinterest(c) with barely a nod at their defiance of “normalcy.”  don’t get me wrong, this makes me happy.  it means that the efforts of so many women and men to live in and love their bodies, not bending to societal standards and being vocal about how those standards are unacceptable is beginning to work. and its taken a really long time to see even just this much progress.  but i want more. i need more. and i kinda need it now.

i need to see women my size without their tits hanging out and their legs spread.  i need to see them with subtle lighting, in outdoor and indoor spaces, enjoying life. not spread eagle on a couch with a cupcake in their mouth. i need to know that the beauty of my body and other bodies like mine are not just being fetishized.

you might ask, why?

why do I need to see this and know this if i have learned to appreciate and also love (for the most part) the body i live in?  because it helps others i love and care about see their bodies as beautiful too. because i’ve recently seen first hand how it empowers others to see their own body type in pictures that feel sexy and sensual, without being pornographic. because it helps keep me centered and focused on my activism. because it helps me believe that the person in my life/bed isn’t there just because of my body.  because it sustains my soul and fuels my passion for a better, more accepting life for all of us.

just because, you know.  and why the fuck not? we are all beautiful. every single one of us, in our similarities and in our differences.  and we all deserve to see positive images of others who look like us, because it makes us feel like we belong. it comforts us. strengthens us. and emboldens us to live a more complete fulfilling life.

so, i’m calling you to action. i and so many others need you to do this. get out there…take pictures of yourself. share them. be bold. be beautiful. be strong.


The Politics of Facebook: The Art of Unfriending

Often I see posts on Facebook from friends talking about how so and so has “unfriended” someone because of a comment on their post or the things that friend was posting on their own Facebook page.  The concept of unfriending is interesting to me, the impact it has on the one doing the unfriending and the one being unfriended is unique to the social networking universe and so illuminating on the choices we make virtually that we might not make in the “real world.” Unfriend wasn’t even a legitimate word until 2009 when it was officially added to the lexicon by the final authority on all words, The Oxford English Dictionary.  In fact, it was the OED Word of the Year in 2009.  I could get all word geeky on you and tell you that it’s a unique word because it uses an adjective prefix and assumes a verb sense of “friend” which until Facebook came along, wasn’t used as a verb either.  But that’s not what this post is about.

I’ve spent the last 50 plus days reevaluating the connections I have with people in my life, both those who are physically and virtually present (you can read more about this here and in a future follow-up post).  This process has included a deep look at the people I interact with on Facebook and it invoked changes that initially I wasn’t sure I would follow through on.  People use Facebook for a myriad of reasons: keeping in touch, posting their political and social opinions, sharing concepts and ideas, etc.  And there have been many an article and even some research done on how “real” people are on Facebook, what people share, how they interact and its impact on people’s emotional health.  (Check out a couple of articles here and here).

In all things, I strive every day to live out my most authentic self and that includes on Facebook.  I post real (without manipulation) images of myself; share details of my daily life; rant about social, political, economic issues; clearly and plainly share my views; invite others to events that I think will be fun and interesting; share links to articles that I think people should read; get up on my “soap box” every once in awhile; and practice radical self-love.  To those who know me well, it should come to no surprise that I live my life “out-loud.”  It’s not something new.  At a relatively young age, I earned the nickname “Broadcaster” amongst  family because I was always  letting others know what was going on with everyone and everything.  That has not changed in my adult years.  Essentially, I live by the philosophy “if you are shocked by what I say, then you obviously haven’t paid attention to who I am.”  I share all this with you as background for how I approach the friending and unfriending politics of Facebook.

As I said before, I am VERY open and VOCAL about my beliefs; some will label them as “liberal” with a capital “L.”  And with this in mind, I’ve become much more selective in who I friend when I get a request or see a Facebook “friend suggestion” in the sidebar.  This wasn’t exactly my practice when I initially started using Facebook and began getting requests and suggestions from people I grew up with and from friends of friends.  I grew up in what I would consider the VERY “conservative” state of Nebraska.  If there was a double capital “C” for conservative, Nebraska would own it (in my opinion).  And some of the people on my current Facebook friends list weren’t even actual friends when we were growing up, living in the same town, going to the same small schools.  In fact in today’s culture, some of them would actually have been considered bullies.

Seriously cute prehistoric baby dino.

I grew up as a fat child, in an often harsh environment, and there are people on my current friend list that made my life as a child nearly unbearable.   I was frequently called “Godzooky,” which leaves the inevitable reference to my mother as well.  If anyone thinks this was something easy to overcome, take a moment to reconsider.  And in the present day, I’m still fat.  Fabulously Fat and Happily Healthy! As an adult who is comfortable and confident in my own body, I can give these people the benefit of the doubt, consider the environment they were raised in and hope for the best.  In many cases, I’ve been pleasantly surprised.  By others, I have seen exactly what I thought I might – jokes and images poking fun and shaming fat people, amongst other things.  Along with this issue, come many people’s narrow minded beliefs about sexuality, gender, religion/spirituality, politics, etc.   Oh, there is so much more to be said about this, but I’ll get to my point and perhaps share more about it some other day.

Over the last couple of months, I’ve developed very specific personal guidelines for the practice of “friending” and “unfriending.”  And for now, they seem to be working.

  1. Always practice the benefit of doubt.  People change and unless you can tell by viewing their page that they haven’t, it’s just good practice to offer an olive branch and hope for the best.
  2. Friend people who ask. You never know what kind of impact you might have on their life or vice versa.
  3. Engage people in debate, challenge their beliefs, and provide them with solid evidence of your view.  Whenever someone posts something that I find derogatory, prejudicial, untruthful, ignorant, etc. I always challenge them first with facts not just my opinions.  If they engage in the debate, cool.  Sometimes they choose to unfriend me. I’m totally OK with that.
  4. Be open to change for yourself.  I’ve frequently been challenged and enlightened by someone else’s views and evidence.
  5. Practice restraint.  Unless something is flagrantly negative, demeaning, shaming, hateful, etc. again, I engage in debate.  When it appears to have no impact (over time) I let go.  Unfriending can be pleasantly freeing, for both parties.
  6. Know yourself and the friends you really care about.  I mentioned before that I practice radical self-love; I embrace all that is me; believe and practice the Health at Every Size (HAES) philosophy.  A good deal of my friends and family do not.  My page is frequently filled with posts from people I care about who are desperately trying to change their body type.  Either through extreme exercise, dieting, or stomach amputation.  I see reports of people doing popular work outs or contributing their hard earned money to the multi-billion $, failure inevitable diet industry.  While I care for these people and wish desperately that they could find a place of peace within themselves, I do not wish to be inundating with their updates of perceived success and ultimate failure—over and over again.  These are the people whose status updates I chose to “hide.”  Hiding allows me to check in on them from time to time.  And as long as they’ve not hidden me and my radical self-love self, then they get the added benefit of all my self-love messages which hopefully will have some positive impact in their life. (Sidebar: I recently noticed a friend who posted about “suffering from being overweight.”  If you are suffering from the size of your body and you don’t have an actual medical condition causing that suffering (and I don’t mean one of those that the diet industry pays the research community to claim is caused by being fat), then please consider reading the book Health at Every Size, free yourself from societal and self-shame, and get busy living!  I recommend a good belly dance or hip hop dance class to get you started on the right foot.
  7. Don’t tolerate hatred.  Hatefulness is nothing but ignorance unrefined.  People who hate make a choice to remain uninformed, close-minded, shallow, unaware, etc.  I refuse to tolerate out and out hatred regarding race, gender, sexuality, size, ability, and more.  When I see it, I unfriend it immediately.

At the end of the day, what truly matters to me is the authentic interaction I’ve had with people, virtually or otherwise.  I don’t care about the number of people in my friends list.  Unless I’ve been thoughtless in my words and actions, I don’t care if I’ve offended people. And it’s because I notice some of my real life friends struggling with this virtual reality of friendship that I offer the above advice. Life is all about expressing yourself. You do you, umma do me.