Thursday, July 11, 2013

This Ambivalent Protest

A friend of mine recently told me he'd heard John Lennon was a wife beater.

What?  The "imagine all the people living life in peace" guy himself?  How could that be?

I've heard that Martin Luther King, Jr., the Baptist minister and great Civil Rights leader was an adulterer.

I have no idea if either accusation is true.  But the fact is, heroes such as Lennon and King are people.  People are imperfect.  Not that I expect my heroes to be perfect.  I understand that just because I admire one thing about a person it does not mean I'll like everything about them.  Instead of looking to our heroes to lead the way we can take their advice and then follow our own path.

Not that anything I've read leads me to believe that Madelyn Sheaffer is like wife beaters and adulterers, but I did come close to elevating her to my personal hero without knowing much about her.  The more I get to know, the more I see she's a regular person with mainstream, fat-phobic opinions, and not the hero to the Health at Every Size® cause I wanted her to be.  Which is fine.  She never asked to be my hero.

I got sucked into her story when I saw this video clip about it.

On July 4th, I blogged about Sheaffer getting kicked out of an Independence, Missouri community pool for refusing to cover her big bottom with shorts.  By July 5th, through the encouragement of some friends and online allies, I blogged about my decision to create a "swim-in" event at the Adventure Oasis Water Park, the facility where Sheaffer's booty got booted out, to protest the size and age discrimination I feel Sheaffer experienced, and to promote the concept of body acceptance and the Health at Every Size® philosophy.

I had good intentions.  I had no idea what I was getting into.

I got my first Internet troll.  But that turned out to be fun.

At first I was excited.  Especially when Madelyn Sheaffer herself posted these amazing words on her Facebook timeline:

July 6th: "I want it to be known that there was always something in my life that I thought I had to hide. We use clothes as barriers to hide our distorted sense of self which is what the media has given and fed to us since birth, in order to sell us products. I wore a one piece swimming suit, as well as a thigh and buttocks "cover up" for most of my life. I wanted to be "perfect". I was ashamed that I was not "perfect". The enlightened truth is that all of us are perfect, in all of our variety of shape and form. Just as the haunting Arizona desert contains a different form of beauty than the pounding Pacific Sea at Big Sur, just as the holiness that is The Grand Canyon contains a different mythical quality than the (you can not tell me it is not enchanted) Redwood Forest, every one of our bodies are equally magnifique, and created by the magnificent and perfect mind of God. You exist because you were chosen. You are perfect."

Yes!  Such a great role model for the Health at Every Size® cause, I thought.

But it turns out Sheaffer's cause is different than my cause.  As much as she professes we're all perfect, a few red flags were raised when I read that she's proud to have recently lost 100 pounds because now she feels confident enough to wear a bikini.  I wanted to say to her, why didn't you feel like your body was bikini-ready before?  I wanted to share this meme with her:

I kept thinking up ideas and making arrangements for the "swim-in" event.  But I worried that maybe I was fighting for the right cause (body acceptance) but with an imperfect hero at its helm when I saw that Sheaffer wrote this on her Facebook timeline:

July 7th: "When it comes to more than a 30 lb weight gain, most of us are protecting ourselves at some level with our wall of fat."

I've heard this theory before.  Sexual abuse survivors and other people who have encountered other types of body shame will subconsciously pack on pounds so they don't have to worry about their body being "sexually attractive" anymore.  The problem is, as I can attest, unwanted sexual advances take place no matter what your size.  And what about people who have come to terms with their inner embattlements and yet they're still fat?  Just as not everyone who is fat has heart disease, not everyone who is fat has a mental illness.

I want to say to Sheaffer, what about 31 pounds, or 30.5?  Why the arbitrary number?  Plus, 30 pounds on someone who is small boned and 4'8" is different than someone who is big boned and 6'8".  Is the short person protecting herself more at "more than a 30 lb weight gain" than a tall person is?  Why can't we just leave weight out of the equation?  Through the Health at Every Size® philosophy we know that fat people can be healthy, just as thin people can be unhealthy.  We see that it's not weight but a person's fitness level that's indicative of health.  And it's possible to be fit and fat at the same time.

I began worrying more when I read this on Sheaffer's Facebook timeline:

July 10th: "All of my social anxiety disorder is hitting strong at once, and in spite of the fact that part of me would really like to hide out in the warm, and oh so safe cave of my old 100 lb fat suit rather than gain all of this media attention, I am going to take a bath and hit the gym tonight, so that I can represent the healthy side of female well."

I'm happy Sheaffer has become more confident with her body, but what happens if, like most people, she regains the weight she lost?  Will she no longer love her body if she weighs more than she does now?  That's not self-love.  That's not body acceptance.  That's internal size discrimination.

How can we overcome society's hate when we hate ourselves?

I feel like I'm creating a "swim-in" event to promote body acceptance to tie-in with the size and age discrimination experienced by a person who is herself fat-phobic.

Then, to top it all off, the bikini I ordered just for the event came in the mail yesterday, and despite the fact that I went by their size chart and my measurements it is a good two sizes too big on the top.  And they're all out of stock in the smaller size.

How can I lead a body acceptance swim-in event if I feel awkward in my bikini?  What have I gotten myself into?  An event I'm not sure I fully support in an unsupportive bikini top.  Great.  Just great.

Now I know why John Lennon resorted to Bed-Ins.  Some days it's all just too overwhelming to get out of bed.

As my hero Maya Angelou says, "I think when we don't know what to do it's wise to do nothing.  Sit down quietly; quiet our hearts and minds and breath deeply."  Please do not tell me you heard Ms. Angelou is a child abuser or something similar to tarnish my golden opinion of her.

After much reflection, I realize I do not want to lead the "swim-in" protest.  I want to promote the idea of body acceptance and Health at Every Size®, but I'm not sure if this is the best way to do it, to latch on to someone else's cause that is not my own.

Will has a great idea.  Instead of leading a formal protest, I can just continue living an active life in my own community.  Instead of protesting someone else's discrimination, I can put myself into positions in my own community where I might encounter fat or age discrimination and then I can fight my own battles.

In other words, I can go to the local pool whenever I want with my husband and daughter and show off my healthy, well-loved, well-cared for body.  The best revenge is a life well lived.

I don't need an event.  I'm going to get my bikini top altered so it fits me just right.  Me.  My body.  Then I'm going to take my body in my tailored bikini to some pools in my community and see what kinds of reactions I encounter.  Not in any formal way.  To have fun.  To promote not just active living, as Dr. Bacon advises, but activist living.  Instead of creating an event that will start and end, my daily actions can be an on-going protest.

It will be far from perfect.  But it will be my own.