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2003-02-07 11:26 a.m.

So, on the subject of my McDonald's entry and the recent fervor over it, Andie wrote some cool things here.

And, I got another email from "X" today, regarding our recent discussion.
Hey Justin,

Can I ask you a favor? You are more than welcome to say no, of course. I was hoping you might post the letter I sent back to you yesterday as well, the one where I responded to some of your points. I feel like some of the people who have written in your guestbook about my letter misconstrued where I was coming from, and I'd like them to see my response, where I feel like I clarified that a bit better. I'd put it in my own diary, but as I said, I'd prefer to remain anonymous. If you don't want to, that's ok, but at the very least please let Andie see it, because I agree with what she wrote on her diary today and I want her to know that. I think that shows through in what I wrote you. I don't mind if she knows my name/diary/who I am. Like I said, I'm more concerned with controlling who knows my identity than I actually am with being private.

I hope you have enjoyed our exchange as much as I have. :)


With the exception of the drama in my guestbook and comments pages, I had very much enjoyed my exchange with this person. I learned a few things about myself and was forced to see some different and challenging points of view. So, I was happy to oblige. Here is the letter that "X" wrote to me yesterday:

Hello Justin,

Let ME begin by thanking you as well. I appreciated such a well thought out response. And let me clarify a few things right off the bat. I think what I was hoping to hear from you was how you thought about the (apparent/seeming/whatever) paradox in your own writing. Or perhaps the rationale as to why you didn't feel the need to resolve that paradox, or why it wasn't a paradox to you. I suppose I didn't articulate that very well, but what I was trying to say was that I saw it as a paradox because I saw your writing about fat people as cruel and hurtful and then I saw you espouse a philosophy of openness and love. So if that was never clear, I hope it is now. I've responded to a few other points below.

First of all, let me start by saying thank you. I appreciate so much that you took the time to open yourself and share such intimate thoughts and perspectives.
You are welcome. I'm actually pretty open and non-defensive about such stuff as long as I can control who I am revealing things to, if that makes any sense. I didn't fear any negative repercussions, and since it had been lingering in my mind for so very long, it seemed worth *finally* writing you about.

You are the second person to email me about that same diary entry of mine. The other person was a very insecure man with what he considered a "weight problem". From what he expressed, he was unhappy about himself and this had a cyclical interrelationship with his weight. I am sure you are familiar with this cyclical phenomenon that I speak of.
Yeah, I am. I haven't really been through it myself, not exactly, but I know what you mean.

Part 1

Why does Justin write?

I write because it feels good. It's like masturbation. Except I can do it in public and not get in trouble. I write things because they make me laugh. I am not a public figure or a public writer. I write for myself. I never asked to be "famous" or "popular". I write for me. And, more than anything, I write things that make ME laugh and make ME happy. Yes I make fun of retards. Yes I talk about urine and penises. I love that stuff. But, do I really hate retards? No. Do I hate fat people? Not at all. But, do I write things that make me giggle and laugh out loud? You better believe it, yes!
Yes. That makes sense to me. And, believe me, your writing has made me giggle out loud more times than I can count. And I definitely analyzed my own reaction to that particular entry and realized it was because of my personal involvement that I was feeling how I did. For what that is worth. I'm big on (forgive the psychobabble) "owning my feelings."

I surely don't claim to be right, although I have been told I write with an air of authority. I am surely not an expert on anything I write about, although I wish I was. And, of course this doesn't mean that you shouldn't feel hurt by what I wrote. Yo have every right to feel whatever ways you do.
Thank you. And, actually, I felt hurt, but it was in a weird, intellectual way, distant, not really personal. I guess it's because I have had at least some success with losing weight and because I know it wasn't me you were talking about. And I definitely spent a lot of time considering my reaction, too. I have a friend, K. (who also has a diaryland diary and who reminds me a bit of you, at least in terms of some of the writing) who has expressed negative remarks about fat people to me, and it's weird because I know he's not talking ABOUT me, even though he's talking to me about something that affects me. I'm not sure what my point is there, except to say that I guess I have a lot of experience with distancing myself from that kind of pain.

I just want you to know why I write and where I am coming from.
Fair enough.

Being fat is fucking weak. [Note from Justin: by "weak" I meant that it "sucks", not that it is a sign of weakness.] You feel bad about yourself, and people place heavy judgements upon you. I was pretty fat until I was 14-15. Then I got deathly ill from dysentery and the majority of the weight went away. Violently, I might add.
Yeah. There is so much I want to say here and I'm not sure I can put it into any coherent structure, but let me try. Being fat IS weak. It sucks. Except that I really didn't feel all that bad about myself a lot of the time, even at my heaviest. And if people judged me negatively (and I can only assume they did, because that's how people are), well, I never really noticed all that much, and I still don't. It's sort of a paradoxical high and low self esteem thing... yes, every now and then I felt bad about myself, but mostly not. And I continued to carry myself with confidence and poise, and I think people responded to and respected that, and therefore didn't always subject me to a lot of the stereotypes that fat people get subjected to. Of course, that's not true across the board, and sometimes I'm not even sure whether it was just my obliviousness or some self-protective feature or something. In any case, it didn't suck nearly as much as it could have. :)

Now, I was not unhealthy or dying from my weight. But I couldn't do a single pull up or the things that other boys did. I think I weighed near 190, and I was much shorter then. Sure, lots of people were/are heavier than I was then. But this isn't a contest. The fact is that in our culture being overweight is binary. There is no grey area. You either are fat or aren't fat. And I was fat. Everyone told me with their actions and words.
I think it was eventually the physical stuff that finally made me decide to lose weight as well. Let me be clear that it was a very active decision on my part both to lose weight, and (prior to that) NOT to lose weight. Eventually, though, I got tired of being the only person in my martial arts class who couldn't do a push up.

I've been thinking a lot today about your comment that being overweight is a binary. In some ways, I agree. It doesn't matter if you are merely pudgy or grossly obese. You are subject to the same doubts and insecurities about your body, the same sense of self hatred, the same messages from society. And, yet, it seems like there are degrees. There are people who would call me fat at my lightest weight and people wou wouldn't, depending on their own standards and how they judge things. There are many men who probably wouldn't find me attractive today, but there are also plenty who do. There are a few who would have found me attractive no matter how heavy I was, and some who wouldn't find me attractive until I lost another 100 lbs--all based on their perceptions of what "fat" is. Similarly, I think a person who is 200 lbs overweight would be subject to a lot MORE of the stigma than a person who is 50 lbs or even 20 lbs overweight. So I'm not sure whether I agree with you or not. I think that the people who are grossly obese are almost seen as not human, and that people think it is somehow OK to stare at them and make rude comments or faces, whereas a smaller person would still be seen as a person.

I don't know, though. I'm just sort of speculating. :)

WEIRD!?!?! I was angry! I was the same person I had always been. It was just that I lost all this weight all of a sudden and people treated be VERY differently. And, because it happened very quickly, I sure as hell noticed. And I was pissed. I was so mad at them all for being so superficial. (I should also mention that I was also ugly by popular standards, as well. I was not like the really cute girls that happened to be overweight that I had crushes on my whole life. I was plain unfortunate looking according to my peers. And I had really bad hair. I was a mess, let me tell you. But, I digress...)
I can understand that. One thing I've had to deal with as I've lost weight is how to feel about compliments I've gotten. Because part of me feels good--but part of me says that the only reason I feel good is because I am being just as superficial as they are. It's hard, as a feminist, to deal with losing weight. My feminism has informed a lot of my thinking on the subject. Let me back up and say that one of the reasons I actively chose not to lose weight for so long was because I was angry with the objectification of women in our society and I truly believed that the diet industry only existed to play on women's self esteem problems and to profit off their misery. I refused to support an industry I found so wholeheartedly evil, and I was demanding to be accepted on my terms.

Similarly, even though I knew it was HEALTHY to lose weight, I wanted to be certain I was doing it for the right reasons, and not because I was buying into some sort of cultural stereotype about how women should look--must look--to feel good about themselves.

That being said, I eventually reached a point where I WAS prepared to lose weight, and again, I wanted to do it on my terms. I have been doing weight watchers ever since and have come to grips with supporting the evil diet industry (and have even seen how it has a bizarrely empowering effect for some women--so much for my universalizing stereotypes!). But part of what that has meant for me has been losing weight slowly, not focusing on a "Goal," allowing myself some indulgences, and being kind and forgiving to myself no matter what the scale says each week. It's been such a great experience for me to take this program and mold it into something that suits me, and something that is good for me. :)

It was not until maybe seven years later that I got over my anger at them and realized that my unique perspective allowed me to see and experience things which most people would not ever see. I got to be on both sides, although I spent more time on the other side than this side. But still. I see how people treat me now. I know I was the same person before. But what was there to do but keep walking?
Yes. That's sort of what I've been doing, too. And I am still looking forward to the point at whcih (if ever) I'm on the "other side" of that line. It should be interesting. :)

So what did I do with my accidental weight loss? I laughed at it. I treated it like this funny thing that landed on my shoulder. I no longer resent it and the way people treat me. I don't have time to fight that battle. It's not worth it. It's like being rich. Lame people think that their money reflects upon them and their worth. The few wise ones realize that the money is just this funny "thing". It might be gone at any moment. They know that they are normal people, only with more money. The money does not reflect on their worth.
See, that is the thing I respect about you. I think you are absolutely right, here. And I guess that was what I was asking about when I emailed you that first time.

Neither does being thin and good looking. People compliment me now. Do you know how weird that is? I have to laugh out loud! They act like I am cool or a good person simply because I am "cute" by today's standards. If they only knew...
You are cute, that I will have to concede. :) Maybe you weren't back in the day, but definitely now. Heh.

I went to an airport and I noticed that all the people with the shittiest jobs were black. Am I a racist now? Hardly. I am just noticing what is around me. Black people only being able to get the worst jobs bums me out, too. Just like it bummed me out to see the people at McDonald's hurting themselves like they were. So, I wrote about it in words that make sense to me. I laughed at the silliness of life. If I censor so that I don't make you notice something that you don't want to see, then I am not being true to who I am.
No, no, I don't disagree with you. And when you put it like that it makes a lot more sense to me. And, like I said, I definitely realized that some of my emotional reaction was more because I had personal experience as a fat person. I definitely believe that humor can be used to take away some of the pain in life. If you would rob something of its negative power, laugh at it. If you would increase something's positive power, laugh at it. Laughter is amazing and wonderful. But without this sort of context, I didn't see WHY you were laughing. I didn't see the side of you that said, you know, I've been there and that sucked. I didn't see the side that has compassion for people hurting themselves. And probably I should have, because I've read your diary from day one, but perhaps my own defensiveness got in the way of that.

Again, not to keep repeating myself here, but that's a major reason I asked you about it. Because now I don't feel like I did the first time I wrote you. Which is not to say you owed me that explanation, or that you have any real reason to protect me from pain. Still, I thank you for sharing your thinking on the matter anyway.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I feel that you read into my words sentiment that wasn't there based on your own feelings. I did not talk about fat–bashing or hate crimes. I did not talk about raping pudgy babies. I did not talk about how all overweight people smell like moldy sandwiches and like to infect orphans with AIDS. Why didn't I? Let me introduce to you the overweight people in my life: my mother, my stepfather, my grandfather, my grandmother, my stepmother, and my brother.
Hee. No. You are correct, you didn't say any of those things. And perhaps I did read a cruelty into your words that was not intentional. I think that may have been partially because of my own defensiveness (as I said already). However, I do think it was also partially because we all already know the rules of life. You were pointing out that they were fat. And in this culture, that in and of itself is a bad thing to be, a bad thing to say about someone. It may not be a bad thing in your mind (necessarily), but it is an insult in and of itself, even if it's just speaking the truth. Especially if it is combined with the insinuation, as I felt your entry was, that fat people were dumb, didn't realize they were hurting themselves, or somehow had more control over the situation than they were exercising. (That is, of course, a debate unto itself... to what degree are we really free to make changes in our lives?) So you are probably right. I probably read too much into your words. But I do think it is because of societal beliefs about fatness (as opposed to my and your individual beliefs) that I leapt to the assumption that you were saying something cruel. And I hope you can at least appreciate that wasn't SUCH a stretch for me to make, even if I was wrong.

You might be right. Maybe I should be more sensitive and make sure not to say anything offensive to anyone in my diary ever. But, if we follow that path, how far do we go before we have neutered all expression? I have a feeling that there is a bigger, more powerful way of solving this issue -- this issue which exists with many more people besides you.
No, no, I hope you didn't take my letter to mean that I was pissed or offended or chastizing you for hurting me. I wouldn't WANT you to censor yourself. Indeed, I'd be ashamed to ever suggest such a thing to a person, especially a complete stranger!

Stop correlating a person's WORTH with things like weight, looks, height, breast size, wealth, and other things which are often obtuse and out of anyone's control.
Yes. I agree. Let's get started on that right away. This, I think, is the thing that relates to the fact that "Fat" is seen as a derogatory term. It's no longer simply descriptive. So how do we do it? How does the world change?

You are guilty of this behavior, too. I am as well. You are doing it to yourself in some ways.

Instead, replace your self esteem with things which you have 100% control over. Your character. Your love for people. The way you treat and pamper yourself and your body and your mind. Your education. Your achievement. Love yourself like you deserve to be loved.

Let me say that again. Love yourself like you deserve to be loved.
I agree with you, and much of my life--not just my weight loss, but all of it--has been a project to do just that. I am determined to find peace and contentment in the world, and that requires looking at myself with a critical but kind eye. It requires learning how to admit faults without being defensive. It requires learning how to love myself without being narcissistic or unhealthily hedonistic. These are all projects of mine. We are all works in progress.

And when you love yourself not just in theory but with all your actions, you will hold your head high and smile and make eye contact because you know you always deserve this and more. And everyone in every room you enter will want a piece of you. And it is at that point that you will realize that you can break the self–imposed connection between weight and self–worth. And people will follow your lead. They will only capitalize on pain that you allow them to capitalize on. They smell fear like an animal can. Look down and say, "Yeah. That's me. I don't always like it, but I am committed to loving it." Everyone you meet will start doing the same. The smell of insecurity will be forever replaced by the smell of self–worth.
I appreciate this paragraph so much. I have already been doing that for a long time, but I can always use a gentle and kind reminder. And that is something I so often find in your entries, and something I love about your writing. I hope that makes it clearer why there was some dissonance for me between this sort of thing and the entry about fat people. If, you know, I haven't explained well enough already. :P

PS: I would like to post what *I* wrote on my diary with only an oblique reference to you as an unnamed person in the introduction. Would that be ok with you? I just looked back and realized that I wrote some things I am really excited about and would like to save that in that medium. Think it over.
Absolutely. I think you SHOULD share it in your diary. I think you wrote some incredible things, yourself. And you have permission to share my comments as well, if you would like to. I don't want to be mentioned by name, but if you care to put anything I wrote in your diary, I don't mind that. The only reason I asked you not to do it at first was because I wanted to see how you would respond to me. I'm so glad I finally wrote you about this, as I have really enjoyed this discussion. :)