“Nobody Wants To See That”

At risk of doing that thing wherein I get up early and proceed to make myself late by getting caught up in the wicked hempen seive that is the Internet, I want to comment briefly on a cultural phenomenon that really grinds my gears: specifically, the phrase,

Nobody wants to see that.

Over on Dances With Fat today, there’s a post about how a lot of us just plain don’t want fat people in our eyespace. It’s worth a read (I’ll come back and link it in a bit). It might feel very in-your-face, but I think Reagan Chastain and other fat people have probably earned the right to get a bit confrontational. I’m not sure the rest of us are going to hear them if they don’t.

Some of us will tolerate the appearance of bigger folk conditionally — like, as long as they fall within x distance from “normal” (whatever that is) or as long as they “cover up.”

When they don’t, the given justification is often, “Nobody wants to see that.”

There are some serious problems with that phrase.

First, I beg to differ on purely literal grounds: try dropping in on a convention for bears (not literal bears — 0/10, do not recommend, wildly unsafe — source: every naturalist ever). Try asking anyone who loves someone who’s fat. Try visiting a Sumo match.

Second, though — and more troubling — is the stunning degree of privilege and/or internalized prejudice entailed in that phrase.

Think about it: when, in judging someone else, we say no one wants to see that, what we’re really saying is:

A. Of course my personal likes and dislikes are of critical importance to how all other people live in their bodies.
B. Of course everyone shares my opinion.
C. Of course I get to police other people’s self-expression.
… And also:
D. I cannot possibly look away if I see something I don’t like.

When we say it about ourselves, we’re really saying:

A. Of course bodies like mine are disgusting.
B. Of course everyone else has a right to enforce their likes and dislikes upon my body.
C. Of course I should be invisible.

By the way, I don’t mean to imply that the people who say this about others are necessarily giant flaming arse-hats. Every single person on the face of the planet, including myself, has prejudices.

It’s just that this one is still reflexively accepted. I’ve heard some of the kindest people I know say this very thing.

Hell, it only dawned on me when I was in the middle of saying this exact phrase maybe a year or so ago that it didn’t jive with the beliefs I’m trying to embody and that it was immensely problematic.

The interesting thing is that, since I’ve forced myself to stop saying it, I’ve discovered that, in fact, fat girls can look great and stylish in lycra (not that they have to look great and stylish; I don’t get to decide that, either), fat guys can rock mesh shirts, and so forth. It was my reflexive dismissal that kept me from recognizing that.

As someone with an immense degree of body privilege, I’m in a position that allows me to step in with authority when I hear someone I care about saying, “Nobody wants to see that.” (The trick is doing it without sounding like a self-righteous busybody).

The funny thing is that, when I have, the response has usually been pretty positive. People usually sort of stop and blink and go, “Huh. I hadn’t thought of it that way.” (On the other hand, I mostly know really thoughtful people. It isn’t always going to go that well, unfortunately.)

In the end, what we say to ourselves and to others impacts the way we see the world.

And, for what it’s worth, as a general rule, there is somebody who wants to see that — but neither they not the nay-sayers really matter.

What matters is how we see ourselves.

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About asher

Me in a nutshell: Standard uptight ballet boy. Trapeze junkie. Half-baked choreographer. Budding researcher. Transit cyclist. Terrible homemaker. Getting along pretty well with bipolar disorder. Fabulous. Married to a very patient man. Bachelor of Science in Psychology (2015). Proto-foodie, but lazy about it. Cat owner ... or, should I say, cat own-ee? ... dog lover. Equestrian.

Posted on 2016/06/01, in body positive, life, queer and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Being a contrarian I have an exception. Fat people stuffed into tight clothes. Empathy alone makes me cringe when I see it. Mind you, it’s winter here and I feel the same about trim and attractive young women walking around in freezing gales with bare legs and midriffs (As was the case with my ballet instructor neighbour last weekend. Are all you ballet dancers raging masochists or something?)

    • I get the empathy thing there — anyone being strangled by narrow elastics does it for me. I have a powerful aversion to narrow elastics, heh.

      To answer your parenthetical question: dance writers will say otherwise, but they lie. The answer is yes. We just forget that we are. It’s probably some kind of Stockholm syndrome, really.

      In summary: “In Mother Russia, ballet do you.”

      • Another one for me is men in tight collars & ties. I’ve never been a tie wearer but I was a childhood asthmatic and just looking at someone in a tight tie makes me feel I can’t breathe properly. I once attended a meeting in which two of the other consultants had collars so tight their neck flesh bulged out and their faces looked like they were about to have a stroke. Despite the fact they seemed oblivious to any discomfort by the end of the meeting I had a headache in sympathy and felt like I was choking.

        Veering onto the actual topic of your post, I think more than body fascism the problem is externalising and universalising your own opinions. By doing so you simultaneously fail to take responsibility for them while casting any dissenters as a deviant minority (along with the implicit assumption that deviant minorities are wrong).

      • Also, you’re spot on — universalizing opinions and caring dissenters as a deviant minority is very much what I hoped to hit on, here; body policing is only one flavor of it.

  2. BTW, I once shared a house with a woman who was very open and friendly but also extremely body conscious and with a very strong sex drive.

    Considering her general attitudes I was always surprised by the obvious repugnance she tried to hide at the appearance of fat people. I finally asked her about it one day and she explained that the problem was that she couldn’t look at any young adult – male or female – without imagining what it would be like to have sex with them. And she didn’t want to have sex with a fat person.

    • That makes sense. FWIW, I think people feel how they feel — sometimes it changes and sometimes it doesn’t. I don’t think that’s a problem, really.

      It’s the what people do in relation to other people that’s the problem, here.

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