Open Letter to a Special Snowflake

Dear Special Snowflake,

We got it: you’re special. There’s nothing wrong with being special–in fact, I celebrate the specialness of each person I meet and get to know. While it’s interesting to study the rise of and adherence to conformity in society, I actually find conformists boring. I’m on the lookout for unique traits, those characteristics which set each of us apart.

I have no problem with your specialness. Rather, I have a problem with how you are not special. I’ll explain.

I know you think you are, by virtue of being A Special Snowflake, superior or set apart in a way that individuals are not typically set apart from each other. I know that you think your genetics, experiences, talents, and education have forged an individual so complex that no one else can in any way understand where you’re coming from, how you came to your conclusions, or intuit what you might do next. Further, I know that you think you have nothing in common with the un-Special Snowflakes around you.

That’s fine. I don’t even have a problem with how you view yourself–that’s your business. What I do have a problem with, however, is how you treat the un-Specials*. And the way you treat them is not special: cruel people have been treating other people cruelly since we slithered from the goop. The issue here is not how your specialness is special, but rather, how you use what you view is a superior uniqueness of self as license to abuse the people around you.

You say that by virtue of your Special-ness–genetics, talents, education, experiences, money–your cruelty is excused. From you, accusations are truth. From you, insults are necessary. From you, abuse is to be expected. You are a superior being: you do not have to play by social rules. Your Special-ness excuses it. Your Special-ness is so needed and desired by the world, that they are willing to put up with anything you dish out just to get a little of that Special something. Maybe you’ve even convinced someone else–a boss, a mentor, a lover, a parent–of your Special-ness, and that person does the work of covering up your cruelty, leaving you free to wreck even more havoc.

“But you don’t understand!” cries the Special Snowflake. “I am more intelligent than you are. I am more capable. I did work harder. I am a genius. I did suffer, once. I am suffering. You’re just jealous that you aren’t Special, like me. You’re stupid. You’re incompetent. You’re lazy. You’re ordinary. You’re sheltered. If you were Special like me, you’d see how Special I am.”

Legions of men and women of the Special Snowflake brigade have echoed you, over the centuries. Their birthright, abilities, intelligence, money, and power excused them from the need to be civil, and gave them allowance to be cruel. How Special is Special-ness of that sort, truly? It would seem, unfortunately, rather…ordinary.

So, Special Snowflake, at the risk of further raising your perpetually-elevated ire, I’m calling you out. You are ordinary. You are a pattern, a type that bubbles up over the course of history; in fact, you are so common that there is one of you in nearly every classroom and office. One can be intelligent, talented, well-educated, and monied without being cruel. There is no requirement to be cruel. Cruelty is a choice, even for Special Snowflakes.

Love,

BigLiberty

*Note that I’m not suggesting those who the the Special Snowflakes treats like un-Special aren’t special. Rather, I’m framing the judgment and perspective of the Special Snowflake.

I don’t like her: She’s obese.

Today I was subject to such blatant, naked sizist hate that I’m still struggling to process its rationalization (that is, its lack of rationalization).

My very good friend is visiting my workplace for a couple weeks, to help train and be trained. Though I’m very lucky to work mostly from home, twice a month I commute into the city and to the office. I was excited to visit with her — we made lunch plans, and it was a beautiful day.

We talked about lots of things during lunch. I feel more comfortable speaking to her about my life than anyone, even probably my husband (sorry, sweetie!). After a while she brought up a colleague of ours, asking me how I felt about him. He’s a megalomaniac, believes he’s a super-special snowflake who is genetically superior to most people, and his stated goal in life is to prove himself “better than other people” (and yes, that is a direct quote. Amazing, huh?). He’s also the big boss’s new protege. Eh-heh. It’s like that.

I express this to her, though she’s heard it before. She’s in agreement. Then she tells me she’s at the point where she doesn’t feel the need to say another word to him, ever. Sensing a story, I ask her to back up and explain. You can imagine my surprise (and how proud I was of her) that the reason had to do with me. She, him, and a few other colleagues were out at lunch. There are animated arguments, the typical fare between competitive scientists. Then she overhears this person say my name, then:

“I don’t like her. She’s obese.”

My friend, being the lady-in-shining-armor that she is, and also being a strong ally, anti-sizist, and fat-positive — not to mention well aware of my activism and views on sizism — presses him on his statement, asking him why he’d say such a thing. He responds:

“She’s obese. And you know, she gets defensive about it.”

My friend’s got a hold of the special-snowflake now, and won’t let go. She says:

“Defensive? Defensive? Don’t you think she might have a good reason to get defensive, that, you know, certain people discriminate against her because of the way she looks?”

My friend is a ballet dancer. She knows how to use every bit of her body expressively — she showed me the look she gave the special-snowflake, and it was not, in any way, ambiguous. She was pissed, y’all.

The special-snowflake didn’t have much to say to this, apparently.

Later on I’m talking to a colleague and friend about my novel (he was honestly interested and asked, I don’t just bug people about my novel!) and special-snowflake makes an appearance. He challenges something I say, I respond, but it’s time for me to leave so I can fight with Boston traffic. So I close out the impending brawl with a sugary-sweet, “Oh, I can’t argue with you. I wouldn’t want to sound — defensive — or anything.”

Down the stairs I went, every — obese — bit of me.

I think I handled it fairly well, considering the special-snowflake’s ingenue status with respect to the big boss, and my friend handled her end extremely well. But it’s still bothering me. Eating away at me. And this is after a week away at a writer’s conference, where the response to my work, and the great people there, boosted my self-esteem enormously.

I know it’s not rational. This dude has real deep-seated issues, he’s got a toxic personality, and is a scary person in other ways (he harassed my friend — the one who stood up to him — a couple of years ago). I don’t care what he thinks. But that raw hate, so close to me, makes me feel extremely uncomfortable in my work environment. Especially considering the favoritism he so obviously enjoys.

It bothers me. It bothers me that I’ve spoken to this person at length and on several occasions about a wide variety of topics, ranging from poetry to physics, and this — this — is his opinion of me. I’ve been reduced to a superficial visual characteristic. Part of me is thinking, “Are you serious? Really, dude? How in the world can you pretend to be any kind of intellectual, to know anything about philosophy and political science, and not see your own views in this matter as deeply problematic?”

Also this — this — is the kind of person who gets ahead in my industry. This is the person getting showered with praise and opportunities. This–a nakedly obvious small-minded bigot, who feels just fine hating you, thanks–is the person bending the ear of the powerful. The idea that this person will eventually, and probably soon, be leading people under him, makes me shudder.

EDIT: I just found out that dozens of people from an old messageboard haunt of mine — where I met my husband — linked to my blog and snarked me in a thread on the messageboard. Some of the people I’d even been friendly with; that was a wake-up call. They actually went to the extent of analyzing some picture of mine to see whether I’d gained weight in the four years since I was active there (I certainly have), then suggested that this blog exists because I’m irresponsibly attempting to claim victimhood status when of course my weight’s entirely in my control, and blah-ed on and on about how fat hate doesn’t exist (ironic, much?), or creepily that it does exist and is justified (ew).

Score for the day: Bigotry: 2, Tolerance: 0

On What Isn’t Ground-Breaking

A fat person, or former fat person, buying into the ‘healthy weight’ mysticism is not ground-breaking.

In fact? It’s downright mainstream.

A fat person, or former fat person, blaming themselves for how our culture (mis)treats fat people and (mis)characterizes the fat experience is not ground-breaking. We are (mis)fits, after all, in that we are outliers, living in a world built for those who are smaller than we are. Self-blame for nonconformity is such a normal social response that it hasn’t seen a ground-breaking since Genesis.

A fat person, or a former fat person, coveting the higher status granted by a smaller pants-size is such a foundational part of our culture that it supports a $60 billion-dollar (and growing) industry, not to mention providing employment for bored pseudo-science journos, teevee doctors, washed up celebrities, professional snarks, and any dieter in possession of a word processor.

In summary: trashing a lifestyle you fear and failed at (body acceptance) while giving lipservice to some kind of bullshit concern for others under the guise of promoting venerable Healthistic ideals and body-driven moral imperatives isn’t ground-breaking.

It’s the same old bullshit. And the attempt to Trojan-horse fat-hate and body-shaming into HAES and FA/SA circles? Obvious. The people convinced to lose weight by a former/current fatty peddling body shame are the same people who currently subscribe to the yo-yo-diet-a-month club, anyhow. Welcome to the cannibalistic nature of the diet culture: compared to that, was body acceptance really so bad?

Quick Hit – Does Your Body Belong to You?

An essay by A. Barton Hinkle on Reason.com

Does Your Body Belong to You?

Some nice quotes:

“Perhaps you’ve noticed the trend among certain people these days,” wrote Neil Genzlinger in The New York Times the other day, “to decide that certain other people are not living acceptable lives and must be reformed.”

Yes. There certainly is a lot of that going around.

And when you finished reading Genzlinger’s column of page A16 in last Sunday’s Times, you also could see the trend he wrote about just a few pages further in—on the front of the Times’ Sunday Review section. “What will it take,” asked the paper’s Mark Bittman, “to get Americans to change our eating habits?”

This is a subject of great concern to progressives today. Many of them are deeply distressed that—despite incessant lecturing on the subject—too many of their fellow citizens continue to eat what they like, rather than what progressives think they should eat.

….

The progressive campaign against obesity relies on the assumption that the individual no longer owns his or her body—rather, society as a whole does. This has some profound implications for, say, abortion. And Bittman’s contribution to that campaign should serve as a warning: Anyone who thinks it would be “fun” to use government power to dictate everyone else’s choices—from sex partner to dinner menu—should not be allowed anywhere near it.

Read the full article, it’s worth it. As per usual, read the comments at your own risk.

I love this comment by Dagny T.:

This fetishism over “healthy” (whatever the fuck that means to the individual doing the bleating) food has really become tiresome. Food is a necessary fuel, not a goddamn religion.

EDIT: Also, this is a good read (though not perfect): Meddling in Other People’s Diets is ‘Fun’ and ‘Inspiring’

But the weakest part of Bittman’s argument, since paying the taxes he proposes won’t be optional, is his justification for using force to change people’s diets. The government simply would be “fulfilling its role as an agent of the public good,” he says. Treating diet-related diseases costs money, he adds. “The need is indisputable,” he avers, “since heart disease, diabetes and cancer are all in large part caused by the Standard American Diet.” Furthermore, “look at the action government took in the case of tobacco.” In short, “public health is the role of the government, and our diet is right up there with any other public responsibility you can name, from water treatment to mass transit.” So many assumptions, both fiscal and moral, packed into so little space. Bittman does not pause for a moment to consider the vast expanse of human behavior that is subject to government manipulation under his theory of public health.