“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.