Some people know, but others may not, but I am very active in a community-based peer counseling group. We concern ourselves with the efforts of re-evaluating our actual and emotional lives to begin to recognize the true and inherent goodness of ourselves. We use this powerful truth to remove ourselves and our loved ones from systems of oppression that threaten humanity. It is our over-arching goal to see the elimination of oppressive social patterns.
Our method for doing this is to come together and take turns listening to each other. We practice developing extreme presence and attention in order to provide safety and space for emotional discharge. We sometimes cry, laugh, yell, shake, yawn, wrestle…whatever we need to do to get the feelings out of the way. When we share time, we call this having a session. We meet for sessions, we meet in support groups, and we meet for workshops where we focus on a topic for a weekend.
Last week I attended a workshop for large women and allies. We worked in 2 separate groups and considered the impact of fat oppression. This is my workshop report that I want to share. It may be a little jargony in parts and I changed names for privacy. I am happy to answer any questions about this writing.
I am also happy to field questions about Co-Counseling.
On arrival, the biggest contradiction to me was an incredible safety, comfort, and ease I felt being in an expansive, thoughtful space with my large women sisters. Our leader set the tone immediately by encouraging us to sleep in and not meet at meal tables.
The brilliant simplicity of that direction was very profound to me. As a large woman, I am constantly battling this feeling that I owe society my greatest effort. I feel as though I am supposed to be trying hard to comply with the standard of thin-ness set for women. I am half-way deciding not to do that while the rest of me is left in a state of panic and non-permissive disobedience trying to look busy. It never occurred to me that I don’t have to earn the right to rest any more than thin women do.
A woman lead a topic group about what comes between us and our allies (or…why don’t we trust our allies… something like that). She had incredible things to say, which I am certain she will write about. In that group, I began to realize how completely betrayed I felt by the women in my life who have tolerated fat oppression, complied with diet culture and benefited from the inherent sexism of fat oppression. I have been sold out by every female relative I have and most of my friends and many counselors.
My intelligence is constantly insulted and my goodness is held in question while my sisters sit in silence. The construct of the physical world around me intentionally does not meet my needs and in some cases, seeks to exclude me. I can’t go to a doctor and expect her to see anything but the problem of obesity and thus, I don’t go. I have never once heard my sisters whisper in my ear that this is a cruel injustice that I am blameless for. I have instead had counselors offer me sessions on food and exercise. I have had neighbors offer to walk with me. I have been brought to weight watchers meetings. I think many people believe that I am complicit in fatness, and thus my own oppression.
I would like to offer something to the group to consider. I believe that within our own co-counseling community, we are not sold on the notion that fat-oppression is systematic and harmful. Observation has made me believe that a great number of us still believe that fatness is a personal failing and is solvable by the person being targeted by the oppression.
Take a moment to imagine counseling a beloved co-counselor on the hurts and patterns accumulated by a systematic oppression that we recognize such as sexism, racism, anti-Semitism, men’s oppression, gay oppression, or young people’s oppression to name a few. Now imagine, offering that person a direction that lovingly encouraged them to change themselves in any way to make the oppression less hard on them. Yeah, yuck. You probably wouldn’t do that.
I need my allies to share with me their unwavering commitment to the FACT that fat-oppression is real, systematic, and damaging. That is what it would take to earn my trust as an ally.