True Story: Adventures In Internet Racism & Body-Shaming
Just to lay it on the table, I am a short, fat, middle-aged white woman. As a teen, I had body issues. I hated my Jewish thighs. I tried and failed to contract bulimia. I felt fat, but at 5’2 and 118 lbs, I was not overweight. When I was 27 I quit smoking cigarettes and started gaining weight. In the 16 years in between then and now, I’ve gained about 100 lbs and have off and on managed to lose about 40 of them and put them right back on.
Also, I enjoy arguing on the internet. I know what to expect when I engage with people who defend certain positions, particularly ones involving Southern racism like the Confederate Flag or the term “Cracker.” One recent argument started with the former and quickly included the latter.
The etymology of Cracker varies by source, but one good definition is here. In summation, the insult stings to some because it says that even though you’re white, you’re still not entitled to Full White Person status. You are one small step up from enslaved persons. Breaking it down further, to be offended by the word Cracker is to be offended by the reminder that you are closer in social status to Black people than to Full Whites. If you feel that way, you’re a freaking racist.
I’ve had this argument before, and I know that there is a strong correlation between people who defend racism on the internet and people who, when challenged, will resort to misogynist attacks. Those attacks range from the threat of sexual domination to body shaming.
One time, my friend’s friend got so enraged that he went through my public Facebook photos, downloaded a photo of me at my mom’s house for Thanksgiving holding our Feast Fish, and used it to make a meme indicating the odor of the fish matched the odor of my vagina. For the record, I only cook fresh fish, and it smelled like lemons and thyme. My vag smells like something, but it’s not lemon and thyme. Anyway, the point is, I know that if I willingly engage in a conversation challenging these types of people, their response may get ugly.
The last few weeks have been tough for bigots and they’ve been feeling rowdy. The whole thing started when a friend from the South posted an article from the BBC asking why people continue to fly the Confederate flag. One of his friends responded:
And cue the mouth-breather responses:
Surprise! Bonus gay-bashing! How entirely unexpected! I was drinking coffee and hadn’t had a good fight in a while, so I posted this. Here I’ll admit that when I say ‘challenging,’ I really mean mocked in a condescending fashion.
And of course, Mr. Cracker started with a shot at misunderstanding the English words we were using. My response was admittedly not likely to promote this understanding, but his next comment abandoned the racial conversation altogether and moved straight to misogyny in order to demonstrate his dominance. I chose to ignore his initial somewhat garbled attempt at body-shaming, until he decided to double down to make sure I got his point.
I was done with that nested thread, but thought there was still some fun to be had in the Cracker-calling arena, so I posted this:
Mr. Cracker offered his limited approval, because that’s what I was hoping for all along.
Just because I expect this kind of low-blow, and clearly instigated the interaction – there’s some twisted part of me that enjoys needling these idiots until they reveal their full, disgusting – it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t affect me. As much as I tell myself that the insult says more about the person using it than it does about me, it’s an obvious place to lash out and it hits home.
While I’ve been fat for a while, I was on a positive track through last summer. Over the past nine months, I struggled with series of stressful temporary setbacks that sapped my motivation and filled me with that particular desperation that comes from seeing hard-won physical gains dissolve into soft pudge. I started exercising again about four weeks ago and while I’m starting to see some improvement, it’s also frustrating to see how far I still have to go. But I certainly wasn’t about to let Mr. Cracker get the best of me.
And that for me was the end of it. I’d had my argument, felt like I’d made my points well, and was on to the rest of my day. Hours later, out of nowhere, a friend of mine decided this was an appropriate response on a post about my registration for the Specialty Food Show this weekend in New York. An event I attend for work.
That one was so out of left field that it really got to me. That ‘friend’ and I have a history. We hooked up a few times … over 20 years ago. It never meant anything to me, but I guess it did to him and I’ve been polite when he’s made comments saying that he thinks that “if the timing had been different’ we would have been a couple. We’re really just in touch on social media now. Even knowing all this, his comment it a tough one to shake off.
I know my body doesn’t look like it did when I was 20. I know that when I put my measurements into the J. Crew online avatar it says people don’t come in my size (even though their clothes fit me, go figure). I know that to many people, my body size is a reason to discount my thoughts and ideas. I’d like to be more fit, and I’m working on it. But I also know that I like tacos and cocktails and brownies, especially the ones my boyfriend makes because he made them for me. Maybe if I’d never quit smoking, I’d still be thin, but I also have asthma and I’m allergic to nicotine, so if I hadn’t I might be dead.
I am where I am and all I can do is move forward. I went to yoga yesterday after all of this and struggled to focus on gratitude for being strong and healthy and alive enough to go to yoga class. I tried not to compare my practice to that of other people, but thanks to my friend of more than two decades, it was harder than it had to be.