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

The Mia Freedman Debacle, or, Why Moral Panics Need Strawmen

Bri King of Fat Lot of Good, fellow Fat Acceptance blogger and general advocate, recently came under fire as she found herself daring to push back against a so-called body image activist allowing virulently anti-fat comments on a recent post about feederism.

Bri has since been asked to comment for articles in several Australian news outlets. (students of sociology, pay close attention to the language used in the titles of each of these articles—five extra brownie points for some analysis, if you wish to provide it!)

1. Herald-Sun: Body blogger Mia Freedman gets heavied

2. Today/Tonight: Heavyweight fury

3. A Current Affair: Mia’s fat fight

The article is the fairest, though uses some cheap fat-mocking ‘colorful’ descriptive language here and there. Both of the other segments I watched briefly without the sound so that I could get a sense for the kind of imagery they put forth, and it’s immediately problematic — headless and legless fatties, thinner people who get attractive straight-on headshots, and so forth. But I think others can go through the segments with a bit more of a detailed analysis, what I want to talk about is what really went down, here, and why this is an example of how the strawman effect is the most powerful foundation block of a moral panic.

For Bri’s explanation and links to Mia’s post and its comments, please see her posts here (ordered by date):

1. This Angry Fatty won’t just shut up and go away…

2. still Angry Fatty

Freedman has since come back to explain that, in fact, she wasn’t talking about fat people in general but was highlighting the feederists, which we can all agree are bad, bad, bad! And why don’t us regular fatties just shut up about it, what, do we think that kind of behavior is good or something? Of course, the arguments being made against Bri are chock full of logical fallacies (extra points for those who list which ones!). And it shows either a great deal of ignorance or intellectual dishonesty on the part of a so-called body image advocate to claim that highlighting feederism in the midst of a moral panic where fat people are the folkdevils isn’t harmful to fat people in general.

Here are a few facts to chew on, in case you’re still not convinced:

  1. Feederism wouldn’t seem as horrifying if society wasn’t already panicked and disgusted by fat people in general. The natural bigoted question being, “Can you believe there exist people who not only like being fat but want to get fatter?”
  2. Feederism wouldn’t seem as horrifying if the common wisdom wasn’t erroneously that people with few exceptions have the ability to control their body weight. The natural bigoted question being, “Can you believe these people want to be fat when they could be thin if only they got their priorities straight or were sufficiently shamed, and further, that they want to be so very fat indeed?”
  3. Feederism wouldn’t seem as horrifying if the nanny-state wasn’t continually making its version of ‘health’ a public responsibility (thus placing people’s bodies into the black box of common ownership and hence critique). The natural bigoted question being, “Can you believe these people are irresponsibly choosing fatness when it’s my wallet on the line?”

Let’s further the analysis, for those who still aren’t clear on the connection between these points — demonizing feederism in the context of a moral panic where fat people play the part of folkdevil — and why such a blog post, made by a so-called body image advocate, furthers general sizism and worsens general hate of all fat people.

Feeders/Gainers, and those who are seen as clearly choosing to get fatter, are the strawmen of the ‘obesity epidemic.’ Because one of the fundamental lines of reasoning behind the moral panic of fat is that the vast majority of fat people choose to be fat. Hence, in the common-wisdom narrative of the ‘obesity epidemic’ all fat people are, to some degree, feeders/gainers.

So demonizing feeders/gainers in the context of the ‘obesity epidemic’ moral panic is the same as demonizing the vast majority of fat people.

And the comments on Freedman’s site prove this point to be true, as do many of the comments on the Herald-Sun article linked above. Those commenters don’t care if Freedman was talking about feeders/gainers in particular — to them regular fatties aren’t really that different from feeders/gainers. So what Freedman has written has the effect of only reinforcing the bigoted notions of fat put forth by the common-wisdom narrative, reinforcing people’s disgust over fat people. What Freedman has written reinforces their horrified sensibilities concerning what and how it is proper to consume food or think about wellness and how they believe ‘proper thought’ to be inextricably tied to a particular ‘proper’ size. What Freedman has written reinforces the idea that it is okay to hate and ‘be against’ this behavior, which to them is only an extreme version of what they believe all fat people do.

Freedman, a so-called body image advocate, is doing nothing more than promoting the ‘proper’ body — one that isn’t too fat — by means of what she surely believes is well-placed concern about feederism.

Still don’t believe me? Take the tenor of the comments on any article which treats this debacle (including comments on Freedman’s blog). The high level of outrage and disgust signify rage and panic over someone daring to be an outspoken member of a deviant class. This is traditionally how moral panics police their deviant classes. If most of these commenters came in with honest curiosity or concern over health, I can say beyond a shadow of a doubt the level of emotion would be quite a bit lower.

In conclusion, I would like to reiterate a comment I made on Bri’s blog about this whole debacle, in particular the backlash against her take on the situation.

Remember, the ‘obesity epidemic’ is a moral panic, and by being an outspoken member of the deviant class you threaten the status quo and that’s obviously ruffling some feathers.

In fact, congratulations are in order: it seems you’ve advanced your particular message to the third stage of activism. For as Gandhi said, “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.”

They’re definitely fighting you. Cheers, Bri, keep on!

EDIT (5/13/10, 11:30p EST): Please also take a look at Spilt Milk’s current Freedman post. She replies to a comment Mia Freedman made to Spilt Milk’s blog—it’s really fantastic, please read it!

NOTE: If you have come to submit the comment, “But don’t you know that feederism is bad? What, are you promoting feederism or something?” I might actually publish it, just to get laughs. But I request in any case that you re-read this post — and again, if you’re still scratching your head — and if you can’t get it after that, congratulations! You’re a bigoted pawn of the moral panic. Or should I say, I send my deepest regrets to your friends and family.