Burn the Underpants: What happens when those you love don’t understand fat acceptance?

A lot of us have come into conflict with others close to us who just don’t understand the fat acceptance and body positivity movements. Some of our loved ones openly disagree with the concepts involved. These conflicts can be damaging not only to our relationships with these people, but damaging to our psyche.

Ragen Chastain has spoke frequently about the “Underpants Rule”:

The Underpants Rule is simple: everyone is the boss of their own underpants so you get to choose for you and other people get to choose from them and it’s not your job to tell other people what to do. To illustrate, if you’re considering saying something that starts with

  • People should
  • Everyone ought to
  • What people need to do
  • We should all
  • Nobody should
  • You shouldn’t
  • blah blah things that have to do with underpants that aren’t yours blah blah

then there is a 99.9% chance that you are about to break The Underpants Rule.

This makes a lot of logical sense. We don’t want others to tell us how to live our lives, that we are doing the wrong thing, making wrong choices about our bodies. But then, by the same logic, it is not our place to tell others that they are living their lives wrong. This puts us into an uncomfortable position, one resigned to not actively engaging with those who disagree.

I don’t subscribe to the Underpants Rule, because I see the fat acceptance movement fundamentally as a civil rights issue, and as such I see the sort of passive resistance the Underpants Rule requires only promoting the visibility of the issue to a small degree. It does not actively challenge the damaging viewpoints and actions of others.

Chances are, there are many people, people close to you, who don’t agree with the fat acceptance movement. The Underpants Rule tells us to leave them and their beliefs alone. Let them change their own underpants over time. Unfortunately, some people have some awful, stinky underpants — underpants that are nearly impossible to be around. What if you love someone with horrible, shit-stained underpants who also hate your underpants?

There are two choices: stick around the stinky underpants and not acknowledge them, forever exposed to their aroma, or go find others with less offensive skivvies. Essentially, what is most important to us? Our objective (commitment to the movement), our self-respect (maintaining one’s feelings of self worth), or our relationship with the other person?

Because of the intimate nature of this issue, many people keep a lot of their emotions and struggles to themselves. It’s pain we all carry so as to not push our views and decisions on others. The Fat Word would like to offer an opportunity to share your stories of frustration, rejection, conflict, and pain, without fear of reprisal or hurting the feelings of others. Please take the time to fill out the form below. Write as much or as little as you’d like. We’ll be collecting submissions for a week or so, and then compiling the responses to feature them in a future article.

The Slippery Slope of Quantifying Privilege

Normally, I don’t pay much attention to a pop-entertainment, pseudo-news site like Buzzfeed. This gem, however, has been popping up on my Facebook feed left and right over the last few days, with a title too irritating to resist:

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 10.20.58 PM

I’m already slightly annoyed by the fact that Buzzfeed quizzes exist almost solely for data mining purposes. However, at first glance this quiz seemed like it might actually be a good thing; showing people that they have privilege goes a long way to promote overall social justice. The quiz itself is essentially a checklist that sounds like the most depressing game of “I’ve Never” that’s ever been played:

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.01.58 PM

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.02.58 PM Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.02.30 PM

So what happened when I checked my privilege?

Screen Shot 2014-04-12 at 11.12.12 PM

“Points of privilege”? Sorry, Buzzfeed, but that is not how privilege works. Privilege isn’t a score card where you tally up all of the social injustices that have been done onto you so you can compare with others. Privilege is context-based, and having privilege in one domain does not nullify discrimination you’ve experienced elsewhere. For example, I have white privilege, cisgender privilege, first-world privilege, but I do not have male privilege, thin privilege, or Christian privilege. My privilege (or lack thereof) in one domain exists separately from any privilege I have in another domain. All of the benefits I’ve experienced from being a white person haven’t been neutralized by the shitty things that I’ve gone through for being a woman, or being fat.

What’s more troubling is how this quiz promotes the comparison of different people’s “advantages”. Quantifying privilege cheapens it, makes it seem like a much less serious issue than it is. It does not promote thoughtful discussion, and in fact it actually serves to put people at odds. Rather than looking at each kind of privilege on its own, at a level that can actually impact social change, it puts people into two categories: privileged or not privileged. The latter get to play “Ain’t it Awful” with their equally unprivileged comrades, while the former can either shrug the information off, or worse, become indignant and perhaps even resentful. How much harder, then, will it be to reach those people, and show them what privilege actually means?