Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Anger

Published September 16, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

I’m sure we’ve all heard it before.  The old “Why are you so angry?”  Or “You’re such and angry, angry person!”  Any time we speak up about an injustice, or show passion for a cause, this is the accusation that comes at us to try to derail us from our objectives.

It’s an incredibly passive-aggressive method of derailing an argument.  Particularly when coupled with those concern-troll statements like “I worry about you.” or “I really hope you find peace.”  Oh vomit!  What they’re really implying when they pull the old “you’re angry” defense, is that you’re too emotional, or you’re too aggressive, or too simply “you’re right but I want to save face”.

What it also does is attempt to shame you for having emotional reactions to something, for being angry or passionate or outspoken.  Women are supposed to be “lady-like”, demure, not make a fuss, not get too emotional, keep their opinions to themselves.  People rarely criticise a man for being passionate about a topic, or about stating his opinions.  Men are supposed to be assertive.  But women who display these behaviours are scolded for not being “lady-like”.

What year are we living in?  1911?

Here’s the thing.  Anger is a perfectly valid emotion.  I know, shocking isn’t it?   And anger at things like injustice, loathing, bullying, stigmatisation and shaming is perfectly justified.  We have every right to be angry at the way the world treats fat people.  The same as any other marginalised group of people has every right to be angry at the oppression they suffer.  The idea of shaming people for anger at oppression isn’t new – after all, the trope of the “uppity negro” has been used for centuries.  Damn straight we’re angry at fat hatred!  I defy anyone to face that kind of outright loathing and bullying that fat people face every single day, and not be angry at it.

Sure, anger can consume you, and that’s not a good thing.  If something makes you so angry that you’re unable to function because of it, then yes, it can become a problem – particularly as prolonged anger is a form of stress, and we all know stress is damaging to the mind and body.  But anger is also a valid emotion that fuels action when channeled properly.  There is nothing at all wrong with using anger to propel yourself into action.  There is nothing wrong with expressing anger (only when expressing it with violence) at injustice and oppression.  In fact, I believe it’s vital to vent that anger.  Expressing anger doesn’t mean that someone is an angry person, or is in any way angry all the time.  I can get as foot stomping, table thumping angry as anyone but really I’m as happy as Larry generally speaking.  I’m an optimist with a goofy sense of humour, yet that doesn’t mean I’m never angry.

The only thing I don’t condone when it comes to anger is when people use anger to be violent.  There is never an excuse for violence, no matter how angry someone or something makes you.

But I also want to talk about other things that are conflated with anger.  Particularly passion and outspokenness, and especially in women.  It seems that the minute a woman is passionate or outspoken about a topic, it is assumed that she is angry.  Having strong opinions and voicing them is seen as somehow aggressive and irate and overly emotional in women, where usually it is seen as assertive and confident in men.  I’ve had people say to me “You’re pretty opinionated.” in a tone that clearly expresses their disapproval with that fact, as though I’m supposed to apologise for having an opinion or being passionate about things.

Yeah, that’s not gonna happen folks.

Passion is an awesome thing.  I love passionate people.  They inspire me.  I have no time for cynicism or complacency in my life.  It’s boring and counter-productive.  When I’m surrounded by passionate people, who fire my passions, there is nothing I cannot achieve.  Passion is what had me fighting my way through high school when I was expected to leave and get a full time job at 15, writing my first novel at 16 (damn I should try to get that thing published!), starting a radio station at 21 years of age, travelling around the US on my own, working my way into a job that I love and am constantly challenged by, and taking up fat activism.  Passion is what propels me through life with gusto.  I don’t want to be the kind of person who lives half-heartedly, without ever feeling any strong emotions.  That sounds as boring as batshit to me!

If something makes you angry, and you want to express that anger, then vent that anger (non-violently of course).  If someone pisses you off, and you are in a position that you can do so… then say so!  We all have to bite our tongues from time to time, but learning to vent your anger appropriately is so powerful, especially when you refuse to be shamed for it.  Build a network of people you can trust, and who understand that your venting anger is in no way a commentary on them, and let rip!  Be there for those people when they  need a good old vent too.

If you have an opinion on something, make yourself a space somewhere (be it a blog, a letter to the editor, your Facebook or Twitter) and share that opinion.  Sometimes people will have different opinions to you.  That’s ok.  Sometimes you will find yourself shifting your opinion when you listen to other people, sometimes their opinions will shift when they listen to yours.  Other times you each will strengthen your own opinions and always differ… and guess what, the world doesn’t end.  Sometimes if it is something truly important to you, you find yourself having to move away from that person.  But other people, who feel the same way you do, will come into your life.

But most of all, please, please, please celebrate your passions.  Share your passions.  Live your passions.  And by doing so, you inspire those of us who are not afraid of passion.

13 comments on “Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Anger

  • Don’t those “why are you so angry?” idiots understand that we’re angry because THEY rile us?

    I’ve spent the better part of my life firing off letters to various editors, CEOs of companies large and small, and public officials of all stripes, because when I see something that doesn’t look right, I HAVE to let someone know. It’s deeply satisfying when these actions produce results, but even if they don’t it’s been a step taken in the right direction. I get to vent AND let the powers that be in a specific situation know that what they’re up to isn’t kosher. It’s a win-win.

    The other side of the coin: let people know when they do something RIGHT.

    • Indeed Carol – a lot of the time these companies and such just ignore it, but when you get through to one it’s SO worth it!

      And yes, it’s usually the people making one angry that ask that stupid question!

  • Yep, it’s a silencing technique, designed to shut down the conversation. Derailing For Dummies breaks it down perfectly, from “You’re Being Hostile” down to “You Just Enjoy Being Offended”.

    Being part of a group (fat folks) that is constantly denigrated and discriminated against and downright *hated*…of COURSE there is going to be anger! Better anger than despair.

    • ugh, in case I wasn’t clear: the accusations of “why are you so angry!?” and “you shouldn’t be so angry!” are the silencing techniques!

  • Yes! This! As an abuse survivor, I get this a lot. I am a firm believer in healing and forgiveness, but nine times out of ten, people don’t get what that means. They think it means to accept or make excuses for bad behavior or to pretend it never happened. If you continue to be haunted by the memories, or if you demand accountability from your abusers or in general, you are just angry.

    Well, if you were the victim, I bet you would feel differently! How many of these “forget and move on” people are abusers/fat haters themselves? In my case, many of them were. Other abuse survivors might fall into this thinking themselves…that they have moved on and you need to, too. At the same time, they obviously have not moved on. They still have their temper, drug addictions, eating disordered behaviors, or other sequelae from trauma that had not healed yet. I’m not saying they are bad people, just that the “forget and move on” thing didn’t work as planned.

    Anyway, you see this a lot in fat politics. “She didn’t mean it that way,” “It’s not that big a deal,” “Don’t let it get to you,” etc. Well, if you were subjected to it day in and day out…yeah, it gets to you.

    Feeling angry or sad when you have been hurt is no different from feeling burned when you touch a hot stove. It cannot be helped, it is a legitimate sign that something is wrong and you DO something about it.

    • The denial of others experiences/realities is another power play used to derail arguments, and avoid having to be accountable for ones own behaviours. That minimising of the impact of fat stigmatisation is part of what keeps perpetuating that stigma.

  • After last week and the response from the expo I needed this. Thanks again! I’m so happy we are friends on this awesome journey!

  • There’s this weird false assumption that gets used to make the anger accusation sound justified. If someone flat-out said “Healthy people never get angry, and when you get angry about me saying you’re an ugly, lazy, stupid, greedy liar, that means you’re constantly bitter and unhappy. Also, you’ve just proved that you’re too irrational to be taken seriously”, far fewer people would consider that a credible argument.

    But if someone gets angry about thinly-disguised insults or society-wide contempt, it’s somehow considered reasonable to assume they’re constantly pathologically angry and miserable, and their entire viewpoint is a cause and/or consequence of that pathological anger. And it’s considered helpful to give them some condescending “If you’d just stop being angry, and accept that the insults and criticisms are good for you and accept that everyone’s trying to help you by hurting you and happiness consists of conforming to the critics until they run out of things to criticize, you’d be much healthier and happier!” lecture.

    Basically, it’s concern-troll trick that gets way too much credit.

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