When Facing Micro-Aggressions, Community Matters

posted by 
Naomi Finkelstein
August 4, 2016

I just came back to the Bay Area after a month-long vacation in my hometown where I got to relax, rejuvenate, and spend quality time with my family and friends. While it was a wonderfully healing and delightful retreat of sorts for me, I am relieved to be back in my supportive Body Positive community.

The difference is not so drastic that just anyone would notice it, but I have come to be extremely sensitive to the tiny ways that people who haven’t adopted a body positive lifestyle affect my inner world.

It’s my mom commenting on her view of her water aerobics instructor’s body from the pool and how “she looks much better when we’re both on land.”

It’s my sister-in-law mentioning my niece’s love of sweets that morphs into a discussion rooted in fatphobia.

It’s my aunt refusing to wear short sleeves in the sweltering Chicago heat.

It’s the challenge that I come up against when cleaning out my old bedroom closet, tempted to keep certain items because, “I might fit into them again someday.”

It’s the off-handed comment from a friend, summing up his weekend, saying,  “I usually do fat guy stuff but I’m on a diet now so it was rough.”

Each one of these experiences hit me like a freight train at full speed over the past month and I was saddened by how normal it all was to everyone around me. I was faced with having to decide how to respond each time, weighing the importance of my feelings, their feelings, the chances that my companions would be able to really hear what I was saying, my commitment to activism, and my energy level. (For the record, I challenged my mom, changed the topic away from sweets, ignored the comment from my aunt, got rid of most of the ill-fitting clothes [but kept a couple of them], and educated the friend).

The words from each interaction echoed through my whole body well after the fact. I felt isolated, so different from my loved ones and alone in my pain. I ached to have the ability to communicate the deep impact that their words had, both on myself and on them. I wanted to pour the images, words, experiences, and love that I have absorbed through my work with The Body Positive into them, so that they would see.  

And through it all, I was so aware of being filled with gratitude that I have people in my life who do get it. I thought of the fifth Competency of the Be Body Positive model: Build Community, and I thought of all of the members of our community, spread across the country and the world, who are doing this work, often times alone. I write this partly to heal from the experience I had and partly to remind all of you that you are NOT alone. We are in this together. Don’t mistake these types of comments for being acceptable or true. Don’t shrug them off, or let anyone tell you that you’re being too sensitive - not even your critical voice! Recognize the pain that they cause. Recognize the energy that it takes to hear them, to figure out how or even if you’ll respond to them, to feel the reverberations of them. And then write about it or reach out to someone who gets it. We need each other.

Naomi Finkelstein
Naomi is a Chicago-raised, Berkeley-based Jill-of-all-trades. She has over a decade of experience working in education and has worked professionally as an actor, writer, yoga instructor, and artist. She has been working with The Body Positive since 2014 and is also a wellness coach, with a passion for working with people in large bodies who want to pursue wellness on their own terms, without the pressure of weight loss. You can learn more about her at www.naomifinkelstein.com.
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