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Antifragility and Activist Burn Out

September 15, 2014

Weight LossFat PoliticsFat HealthEating DisordersMy Boring-Ass LifeFat NewsDickweedDiet Talk

Trigger warning: Brief mention of eating disorder and weight loss.

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder

I want to be antifragile. The opposite of fragile. I want to get stronger when I meet with resistance.

But damn. It’s so hard. For instance, a few minutes ago I got a notification on my phone that someone left a message on a post I made here in 2012. Here’s what they had to say to me:


Except without the cute little piggy. Or the heart over the ‘i.’ Because people angry enough to leave random messages like this aren’t really the cute-pig-and-heart-dots type, right?

Here’s a secret about me: I never even meant to be an activist. I wanted to share what I was learning about how taking care of myself made me feel, outside of weight loss. I wanted to help people who seemed to me to truly not understand what Health at Every Size® (HAES) is (they really, really don’t understand, still). I wanted to keep myself accountable for how I was treating my body. I wanted to document my recovery from disordered eating.

I burned out. I took a few days off of daily posting about my 100 day experiment on Tumblr when I was gone to a conference and I haven’t been able to make myself go back.

I did post there that I came home sick. That prompted a whole reddit thread about how I was sick and doesn’t HAES mean that all fat people are always healthy at every moment, always and forever amen? (NO.) Never mind that I have never claimed health and in fact started that whole experiment because I felt very unwell.

I hate feeling fragile.

I hate that I care, at all, what random, faceless assholes think about me. I hate that denying that I care only highlights that I do, in fact, care. I hate that I let reddit critics derail me, even a little bit.

I’ve been thinking about antifragility lately — beyond dealing with feeling fragile myself. My Facebook feed has been flooded with people voicing their opinions about Wil Wheaton calling himself a fat piece of crap when he was talking about his efforts to lose weight.

After really thinking about it, it turns out that I’m not mad at Wil Wheaton. I bet that made him sigh with relief, right? (This isn’t even about Wil Wheaton. It’s just my take on what’s being talked about in the Body Acceptance community.)

I think that most people in America equate being fat with being a piece of crap. I think tearing yourself down is a national pastime for women especially, but also for men. I think I want off that fucking roller coaster. And I truly believe that getting angry at people for holding a belief that they are culturally groomed to believe is a waste of time. I mean sure — dear Wil, you are not a piece of crap just because you’re fat (although you may be for other reasons. How am I to know?). But I think it’s safe to say that Wil Wheaton was not extrapolating his feeling about himself to how he feels about all of fat humanity.

I do not believe that Wil Wheaton believes that all fat people are pieces of crap. In fact, I don’t believe that he believes that he’s a piece of crap.

I do believe that Wil Wheaton voiced a cultural norm. When a celebrity does that, it’s like holding a mirror up to all of us. Maybe instead of worrying about whether he thinks we’re all, in fact, pieces of crap, we should think about how we can start changing the fact that people do, in fact, believe that being fat makes them pieces of crap.

Being antifragile is about learning to not make everything about you (me). Wil Wheaton’s self-esteem issues, whatever they are, have nothing to do with me. He’s part of a world that venerates thinness to the point that a grown man who, according to Google, is 5’11” tall and, according to himself, weighed 185 pounds before he lost weight, would even consider calling himself a fat piece of crap. Instead of being offended or angry or certain that Wil Wheaton hates me and every other fat person there ever was, I choose to be antifragile.

I choose to take a step back and decide that my energy and effort are better spent being an example of how being fat doesn’t make a person a piece of crap.

I think we all know that people of all sizes can be pieces of crap. I chose not to be one. Being antifragile helps with that.

I choose to use whatever little platform I have to say to Wil Wheaton (if you’re listening)–I hope you feel less like a piece of crap now, because feeling that way about yourself sucks.

Being antifragile, in this case, looks like recognizing that not very long ago I would have equated being fat with being a piece of crap, too. But I don’t anymore. I want that for everyone else.

It isn’t all that fun to be called a disgusting pig out of the clear, blue sky on a random Friday afternoon. Being antifragile means that I can look at those words and know they aren’t really about me. Not only that, it means I can have compassion for the person who typed them. I feel for someone who has to live with that kind of anger in them all the time. I imagine it hurts.

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Rebecca permalink
    September 15, 2014 9:50 am

    Yes, it is not about me! Having finally, FINALLY gotten this learning anchored, with only brief moments of forgetting it, is truly liberating.

  2. Duff permalink
    September 15, 2014 10:23 am

    You care because you are human. All of us would love to glide through life like molten Teflon- nothing anyone says or does sticking or making an impact- but that isn’t possible.
    You are incredible, and gorgeous and funny and kind- now stick THAT on your banner of unsolicited opinions for today and run with it;)
    It won’t repel reddit stank but it will help you remember that it’s a cesspool of primordial ooze where mouth breathers take their first steps into dry land and interact with polite society 🙂

  3. September 15, 2014 10:28 am

    I love you guys, you know that?

  4. Dizzyd permalink
    September 15, 2014 1:23 pm

    Ha ha – that lil’ piggy is so cute! You could almost imagine reading this message in a little ‘aww!’ voice. (Kinda negates the trollishness, doesn’t it?) Anyways, I agree that it’s sad when even a talented, attractive actor like Wil Wheaton can go around psychologically slapping himself for not being perfect. It shows how really insidious this stuff is, along with the previous article that mentioned a model who complained about how Photoshop made her look unreal, not at all like herself. If even those who are considered conventionally attractive have problems with accepting themselves, it really shouldn’t be surprising that the rest of us have problems. (As if we couldn’t already have told them that!)

  5. September 15, 2014 11:28 pm

    Mr Wheaton seems to have forgotten his golden rule: Don’t Be A Dick.

  6. Duckie permalink
    September 16, 2014 2:15 am

    I really liked this post and I loved the super-cute piggy with the heart-y oink! ❤ Stay awesome!

  7. September 16, 2014 2:33 am

    This is it exactly: “I choose to take a step back and decide that my energy and effort are better spent being an example of how being fat doesn’t make a person a piece of crap.” It’s one of the best things we can do! Thanks for the post!

  8. vesta44 permalink
    September 16, 2014 2:09 pm

    Great post, and good suggestions to keep one’s sanity in a world that says perfection is all that matters. It took me a lot of years to figure this out, and at almost 61, I go about doing whatever it is that I want to do and ignoring those who think I should be exercising like a hamster on speed in the privacy of my home (of course, because heaven forbid they should have to look at a fat, sweaty body), and starving myself. Life is too damned short as it is for me to live what I have left of it alone and in misery. Sorry, if I die tomorrow, I’ll die fat, well-fed, married, and happy that I set an example for other fat people – live your life fat at the world and fuck what the haters think.

    • Dizzyd permalink
      September 16, 2014 5:25 pm

      I love you, Vesta! 🙂 You rock! That’s the way I plan on living my life. You’re only going to live once – you might as well enjoy it. Starving yourself, punishing yourself through unenjoyable and compulsory physical movement, and denying yourself won’t make you live any longer – it just makes it feel that way!

  9. September 22, 2014 11:07 am

    I’m the same way. Negative comments about me, even by obvious shitheads, can put me in a tailspin. This is why I tend to blog in the dark. Bots don’s spider my blogs, so they don’t show up in search engines. I’m nearly 50 years old, I don’t see why I should care what some douchey troll has to say. But, there it is.

  10. Happy Spider permalink
    September 22, 2014 2:54 pm

    I have never heard of anti-fragility, but I am excited to hear that Taleb has a new book out.

    I have been thinking about stress all the time lately. I have had a broken ankle all year and so have had lots of physical therapy. It feels to me like a lot of the physical therapy is not to treat the injury but to treat the way my foot has atrophied from not being used. When I started PT my foot felt like a bag of rocks but after a few sessions it started feeling like a foot again. So a foot is something that doesn’t work unless stress is applied to it. It responds to stress by becoming functional. But, stress is what made it break in the first place. So, too much stress and it fails, but not enough stress and it fails. The maddening thing is that my first ankle surgery failed so I keep on thinking that I want to be extra careful so that that doesn’t happen again, and the obvious way to be careful is not to put stress on my foot, but I can’t do that because my foot needs the stress to build up the muscles so the muscles are strong enough to buffer the rest of the foot against stress. An atrophied foot is hazardous and will break easily, and you can’t get from no walking to walking without remediating the atrophy.
    The whole body is like that: lots of parts need stress, interaction, in order to develop and maintain. The mind is like that. A mind that didn’t get stressed is the mind of a feral person, a tragedy. A mind that isn’t stressed is the mind of someone in solitary confinement, psychologically warped. It’s like Philip Gosse’s great book Omphalos. His argument there is that everything ( or just living things? His book is about plants and animals) carries its history with it so that if you really look at a plant or animal then you see the past. So if I contemplate a tree, I can’t contemplate “treeness” in isolation because the shape of a tree depends on the weather it has experienced. So, if I see a functional foot then that foot has been walked on. It has been stressed. The perfect foot is not the foot that has been free and unafflicted.
    It makes a difference what direction stress comes from. A foot can take a lot of downward stress but much less sideways stress. So things in an ecosystem are built not for just generic stress but for stress in particular ways. The wrong type of stress is destructive. That’s true for minds too. In terms of disagreeing with people I tend to think plain arguing is good but mockery is destructive. It’s fun, and it expresses your feelings, but it’s not a way to win an argument. It hits the mind in the wrong way. So a person who wants to engage in a battle of ideas might be able to handle a lot more normal disagreement than mockery. So being weak against mockery isn’t the same as being unable to support your ideas in argument.

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