Not Quite Superwoman

Published January 30, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

So I was watching Glee yesterday.  Yeah yeah, I know, lots of you hate Glee.  I’ve heard it, I’ve watched the show, and made my own choices.  If you hate Glee, and can’t bear someone else talking about something that was spurred by an episode, you can skip this post.

But I want to use a moment I saw in the show to illustrate something.

So, I was watching Glee yesterday.  It was the episode where the boys are using mental images of Coach Beiste (played by the wonderful Dot Jones) to, ahem… cool their mood, when things are getting heated while making out.  Mr Schuester finds out about it, and tells the guys off for being jerks, because it’s a really hateful thing to do.  He actually says something to the boys about “How do you think Coach Beiste would feel if she found out.”  Shortly after she actually confronts Mr Schue and asks what is going on, and rather stupidly I thought, he tells her.  He tries to be sensitive about it, but he tells her this horrible thing the boys have been doing.

When she is visibly upset, he tells her to “Not take it personally, they’re just being kids.” to which she responds quietly and tearfully “I do take it personally Will.  I take it very, very personally.” and leaves.  It soon transpires that she is quitting her job at the school because of this.

Will confronts her as she is packing and she tells him “I know I can be a little intimidating at times, but deep down inside, where no-one can see, I’m just a girl.  Am I nuts that I just want to be reminded of that sometimes?”

I can tell you, I was in floods of tears at that moment.  Absolute floods.  Because I can totally identify with it.

As a proud fat activist, it’s often assumed that being ballsy enough to call out fat hatred, to speak up when others aren’t able to, and to live one’s life large despite the fat hatred that is just rampant in our culture, means that we’re strong and confident and impervious to the bullshit that gets flung our way.  As an extroverted woman, who has made a conscious decision not to buy into the cultural ideal that women should confirm to a certain look, that we should be meek and dainty and not do anything to make ourselves look different to the “norm”, it’s assumed that I am able to just ignore the hatred that comes my way for being different (and I know I’m not the only woman who feels this way).

Those of us who step out of the stream, who rock the boat, who accept ourselves for who we are in the face of vitriol, bullying and shaming, are assumed to be these confident warrior women, who can just shrug off all the negativity that is hurled our way.  And boy do we get it hurled our way.  Usually because people just assume we can “handle it”

Friends, family, online followers and all kinds of people in our lives say “But you’re so confident!  You’re so ballsy!  You take no shit!”  This may be absolutely true, but that doesn’t mean that we are made of steel.  It doesn’t mean that nothing hurts us, that we are unfeeling to pain, hurt, shame, sorrow or any other negative emotion.

I can tell you that pretty much every time I have ever tried to express hurt, or shame, or sorrow and so on, the person I’ve been trying to express it to says something like “But you’re so confident!  You don’t listen to that shit!” or “You’re a strong woman Kath, why would you let that get to you?”

The answer is, for the same reasons that anyone else does.  Because sometimes, the things people say and do are hurtful.  Because we are human beings.  And because like every other human being, we just want love, and kindness, and care, and respect.

To have that negated by the “But you’re so confident!” response can actually make the hurt cut twice as deep.  It’s almost like we’re not allowed to express pain, that we have to keep “being strong”.

The truth is, like anyone else, even the most confident, extroverted, outgoing person has feelings.

I’ve really experienced it this past week.  Yeah, I shaved all my hair off and got a big fat positive tattoo.  Pretty out there things to do.  But that has needed some processing on my part.  I look in the mirror and I look different.  People react to me differently.  Yes, I chose to do this because, well firstly to raise some money, but secondly to challenge people’s attitudes about a woman’s appearance.  But that doesn’t mean I don’t need to carefully process the changes myself, and that I don’t feel when people are hurtful about it.  However, when I did need a little bit of processing time, and then fell over a bit emotionally, triggered by another event, it was  a great shock to people in my life, and several of them were quite incredulous that I should need my self esteem boosted a bit to give me a push, or that I should need a bit of tenderness when I am hurt.

No matter who the person is;  be it your extroverted, confident friend, a rad fatty that you admire on the interwebs, or anyone else who you think is strong, confident, extroverted, awesome… remember that they are still a person.  That sometimes that extroversion and confidence is the face they give to the world to protect the soft stuff underneath.  That they sometimes need some tenderness shown to them, a moment of acknowledgement of their feelings, or some time to process what they’ve just done when it comes to an act of defiance.  Unlike Superwoman, they’re not made of steel.

Just like Coach Beiste said in Glee…

“I know I can be a little intimidating at times, but deep down inside, where no-one can see, I’m just a girl.  Am I nuts that I just want to be reminded of that sometimes?”



25 comments on “Not Quite Superwoman

  • Damn, that hit a cord. I loved that episode, too.

    I think sometimes, I need that support even more — because I’m out there so very much. I need people I can go to, that I can ask to tell me I’m ok, who will. I’ve found a few of those, especially my partner. He is good at reminding me of my good parts when I get overwhelmed by the negativity.

    • Those of you who have partners are very, very lucky to have that support in your life. A couple relationship affords an intimacy and depth that mere friends and family don’t provide when it comes to knowing someone and understanding their emotional needs.

      • You are right, sleepydumpling. I did this for a long time without him, and it was much harder. When I was single, I had to have a bunch of friends as back up. However, if a partner doesn’t support you, it can be even harder: fighting on all fronts.

  • That episode definitely hit a sensitive spot for me as well. I think it’s important to address also that in the Glee world a shrug and a song make it better, but in real life sometimes when you’ve done something hurtful you cannot erase it with an apology. It still stands that you were insensitive and awful enough to do it in the first place.

    I think that all the things you do in the name of FA, and shaving your head, are amazing. Your posts are amazing, YOU are amazing. The fact that you ARE human and not made of steel and you still manage to do all this stuff is what makes you extraordinary.

  • wow… yes… I did not watch Glee but your pst really resonates with me. I think being fat my whole life my father nor any men in my life really treated me as a feminine thing. I was kicked out as soon as I turned 18 and had a rough go of it. From that I look on the outside that I am strong, confident, unbreakable… but sometimes god DAMN it I am so fragile inside like a little animal and feel so overwhelmed and scared and unsure I just hide it because I always had to. Those moments when you are allowed to let your inside out… they are precious and rare. I have had to learn as an adult to be able to ask for and receieve help, I had to learn to let men “do” things for me in a way that makes them feel good to be helping me. I had to learn that it is ok to be weak sometimes and vulnerable. People forget that and people forget that especially if you are fat because they pigeon hole you into this place of funny, strong, a sexual, whatever… but rarely vulnterable, in need of empathy and care… so we learn to do without it…

    Im not sure where I am going with my comment here, lol, just random ramblings about what your post brings up in me.

  • Hey-
    thanks for talking about this. I know a lot of strong women, and especially fat and feisty strong women deal with this.

    It took a LOT of alone time, quiet personal work, and risk for me to be able to learn to ask for this kind of caring when I need it.
    It’s nice to have people respect us as confident funny people who get things done, but it’s not enough.

    One of the things I love most about my hubby is his ability to provide this for me; sometimes he is able to acknowledge my feeling ‘small’ and that’s all I need. I know if I had met him before I was ready to let him listen and support me, I would have just blown him off. Yet I had always wanted this in relationships before. Ridiculous how hard it is to accept this kind of nurturing when you’re not used to it.

    I’m so glad you’re asking for what you need ! It’s still hard for me sometimes, but it does get easier with practice.

    • It’s not just the asking though Chutti. I ask all the time. I try to express the things I need to express all the time. But as I say in the post, so often it’s negated with “But you’re so strong!” as if that’s the answer to the need. When the answer should be “I’m sorry it hurts.” or “I hear that you’re hurting.” rather than “But you take shit from no-one!”

  • Thanks for writing this. I really relate to it. I feel the same way about how activists are expected to always speak up. I just can’t sometimes, because I’m too hurt or scared, you know? I’m glad you have this space to talk about how you really feel, even though it’d be better if people didn’t make so many assumptions in the first place.

    • God yes. And the other one that I think we need to acknowledge is that being an actual fat, fat activist means that we don’t ever get to switch it off. We can’t go home at the end of the day and think about something else, just walk away for awhile. We are fat 24×7 and that affects our lives 24×7.

  • Thanks for posting this Kath – I really identified with your comments. Sometimes all I feel like is a quivering mess because of all the fat-hate out there, even though I would rather die than show it outwardly. It doesn’t change that we have feelings just like everyone else. Nobody (well, most people) would never dream of overtly dissing a person with a disability but it’s OK to hate on fat people. Go figure. I love that you put it all out there with brutal honesty.

    • It is ok to be vulnerable. It is ok to show vulnerability – there should never be shame in showing emotion, in expressing feelings.

      However, lot of people overtly (and subconsciously) show prejudice and ignorance towards all people who are different. Be they those with a disability, gay people, people of colour, trans people and any other marginalised people. Fat is in no way the last socially acceptable group to hate on. However, it is true that some people who would be horrified at prejudice against another marginalised group do think it’s ok to hate on fat people.

  • YES. I’ve felt this way since high school. I vividly remember a boy in Year 9 telling me he couldn’t imagine me crying. Friends of mine were genuinely surprised when they found out about my anxiety disorder. It’s odd how people make assumptions like that.

  • I hope I didn’t imply you weren’t asking for what you need. I just was speaking from my own experience of being really surprised when I actually get it.

    And yes, it truly sucks not to have the support and sympathy you deserve.

    I’m sorry this happened to you. And It does hurt.
    And thanks again for putting it out there.

  • Well, I’ve been holding this back ever since you shaved your head. I think it every time I click on one of your photos but I don’t say it because I think you’re too tough to care.

    You are so beautiful. When you smile it is like beams of light shooting in all directions. You look damn cute with that shaved head and your tattoo is badass.

    You are so attractive that I’m reminded of your tweets a while back about a “friend” telling you that your crush was out of your league. What a load of crap.

  • That is the one episode of Glee that I watched and I have to say that it did really affect me. It made me feel outraged when Will basically told the coach to suck it up and deal with kids being little inconsiderate prunes. But you know what, even the strongest of us DO have feelings. And the character of Will, who I was cheering when he told off the Glee folks for not realizing that their anti-arousal thoughts about this Coach were hurtful, really dropped the ball by just cavalierly assuming that the Coach should not care about what he ALREADY ADMITTED was shitty behavior.

    I think that the show really spoke to the difficult reality of dealing with wanting to be “PC” to everyone and then sometimes falling back into the ruts of accepting bad behavior if there is not ill result (thinking also of the gay character who gets upset that no one cares when gay jokes are being tossed around).

    Anyway just a really spot on post. Also? You are amazing and I look forward to your posts so much!! 🙂

    • Yeah, the character Will isn’t a great teacher. I remember him basically telling Kurt to ignore persistent, targeted bullying. (Which, unfortunately, is what a lot of actual teachers do…)

  • I also think that because you/we are more “out there” being publicly fat and all that we get a lot more of it. People can go out of their way, as a challenge or something, to share or fling such messages upon us. It’s bullshit, but it happens. And yes, damn, sometimes I do just wanna feel like a girl! ❤

    • Definitely – we have a big target painted on ourselves.

      However, I could REALLY deal with that easier if those closest to me allowed me to be vulnerable sometimes, you know?

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