I’ve been trying to be nice.
I’ve been trying so hard to be nice that I waited, like, 4 months to write this blog hoping that I was just having a little case of the Mondays. But something happened today that made this blog pop out of me like an overdue processing baby.
Today on my Facebook feed there was a comment from someone I had a crush on when I was 21. He was a libertarian, a chubby-ish blonde, a frat boy who taught me how to love songs by Journey, a dude who referred to his father as “my old man,” an alcoholic in denial with an incredible vocabulary and a nose that had been broken. We used to have long, amazing conversations. I was still dieting back then, had gotten to a size medium in the juniors section (but had “plenty to go” in my mind). I was smart, opinionated. I felt that he reciprocated my attraction, but only a little. One time he left the room to use the bathroom, and came back with his hair straightened, he came in running his fingers through it. Since we were alone I knew this was for my benefit.
I had one tall, red-headed, slender queer feminist friend who inspired men on the streets to construct impromptu poetry. She was dating a fat activist and was trying to convert me to fat activism before I even had the framework to imagine that I wouldn’t inevitably be thin in the future. She was so disgusted by my desire for this libertarian frat boy: “Really, him?” was what she would say with a wrinkled nose. She was a voice auguring my future. I would come to execute a million wrinkled noses and judgily italicized “hims.”
“Yeah, he’s smart and I love his vocabulary.” I was hopeful, so I flirted with him, expressed my concern for his constantly chasing vodka with water when he was alone, found chances to be around him. Despite the minor reciprocation of desire, I could sense that there was something about me that made me unappealing to him. At the time things were simple. People didn’t like me because I was fat. And that was my fault. Oddly, this mindset – though shitty – made everything simpler. If everything negative was my fault, then I just had to work harder to be better. The end. This exonerated everyone around me at my expense, sure. But it made other people seem a little less assholey than they actually were, which – in retrospect – was kind of nice. I realize now that I was right. He definitely didn’t like that I was fat, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to admit all the other things that I sensed were at the core of his rejection.
A few years ago we connected via Facebook, and after looking through his feed and pictures I was able to piece together what had happened back when we were 21. He had been single for over a decade until he found the sweet-faced, athletic, middle class, blue eyed, blond haired girl of his dreams. I had sensed her presence in his desire a decade earlier - an imaginary woman who was still somehow better than me. Rather than recognize what a dick he is, I went back to that place of blaming myself and feeling ashamed.
When I saw his comment today, I went back to his feed to see what he was doing (because, yeah, I’m a total painslut). Pictures of him running in a field of flowers with this blonde dream lady. Yoga. Oh, marathons. Original. Those gross feelings began to return, but this time I was able to hold space for myself and recognize that I was in pain and that the pain wasn’t my fault. He is an asshole. My friend had been right all along. He’s not the kind of asshole who starts fights about men’s rights or the kind of asshole who goes on tirades about how the prison system is actually awesome, but he’s the kind of asshole who’s kind of a low-grade stealth bigot all the time.
Blocking him was not the nice thing to do. I could have been generous and imagined how his education in sexist white supremacy must be so hard for him. But I just couldn’t get it up for generosity today, girl. Today it was either him or me. And I chose ME.
Trying to be nice is hard for me because when I’m nice – and I mean, genuinely, like vulnerable-no-suspicion-wow-this-could-be-a-beautiful-thing-we’re-building nice, all I can think of is the disaster/betrayal/cataclysmic heartbreak that feels inevitable. And this is a product of my brain reacting to stuff, shitty stuff.
This is my brain reacting to an awareness that fatphobia and sexism are not in my rearview mirror. I’m living with them right now, every day.
This is a product of my brain – an incredible data compiling and analyzing machine - reacting to emotional trauma and calculating the risk of being nice or vulnerable or sweet. My brain almost always crunches number and spits out the same result: not worth the risk.
This is something I saw in my dad, who (like me) had a tendency toward what therapists call “catastrophizing.” This is when the worst case scenario is all you can think about. It cycles in your brain until your entire world is made up of worst case scenarios. This is a byproduct of trauma – growing up with an abusive father, growing up in poverty, coming to the United States and experiencing anti-Mexican xenophobia and colorism.
Ok, wait, sorry. I really need to go to a rose garden right now, girl. This went way longer than I’d expected.
To Be Continued…
Virgie Tovar, MA is one of the nation's leading experts and lecturers on fat discrimination and body image. She is the founder of Babecamp (a 4 week online course focused on helping people break up with diet culture) and the editor of Hot & Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion (Seal Press, 2012). She writes about the intersections of size, identity, sexuality and politics. See more updates on Facebook.