Thursday, February 25, 2016

Self-Confidence and Body Positivity

Warning: This is a long post. You might want a cup of coffee and a sandwich or something. It's okay really ... go on and make yourself a drink, at least. You can just leave me here a second and go on, fill your water glass, grab a soda, something. I promise, I'll wait.

Ready? Okay.

Now let me start off like this: I'm not usually a name dropper (especially in negative circumstances), so I'm not going to link the particular review that led me to this post. However, I intend to tell you about it so that hopefully, you'll make the same connection I did. If not, I hope at least that you'll understand how I made the connection.

I use social media a lot. I'm pretty active on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and even Google+. I go through bursts of activity on Pinterest and Vine, though I'm usually liking/sharing/repinning there, rather than creating new content myself. I have debated creating 6-second Vine reviews ... but so far I have only thought about it and not actually tried it. Videos are hard for me, because I haven't yet reached a place in my personal confidence journey that will allow me to do that regularly. I get stressed for weeks beforehand, end up tomato-faced and sweaty in the video ... it's not pretty. But the point is, I'm pretty active online, in a way that allows me to interact with people who wish to interact with me.

I don't use Goodreads a lot anymore though; I stopped using it back when people started leaving snarky reviews on books that hadn't even been released yet, just because for whatever reason they didn't like an author. I stopped using it when people began to think it was okay to hurt someone's career and well-being over petty disagreements, when the reviews there stopped being honest or meaning anything at all.

However, I'm honest enough with myself to recognize that as things sometimes swing too far in one direction, they often swing back in the natural habit of things, in search of balance and correctness. So I haven't disabled Goodreads, and I still open the copious emails they send me whenever someone wants to friend me, recommend a book, etc.

A few days ago, I received an email, letting me know that someone wanted to friend me, so I clicked, accepted, and then got curious. Since I don't use the account, I haven't added my newest books. But people add books often ... are all of my books on here? I went to my author profile page and checked, and low and behold, all of my books are there. But wait ...

On Amazon, Fat Chance is rated over four stars, and I'm very proud of the reviews collected there, especially because very few of them are actually from anyone personally connected to me. Several are from bloggers I asked to review the book, or readers who got the book in some contest or something. But what that means to me is that I can trust those reviews. I believe in them. I take confidence in my writing skill from them. But there has been one that has bothered me just a little for a long time -- I'll tell you about it in a second.

While I was on Goodreads, I happened to noticed that Fat Chance was rated just under four stars, and it had quite a few ratings and such. So, since I'm a glutton for punishment, I went scrolling.

It's my own fault really. I had been wishing for some time for just a few more bad reviews, ones that would balance out and give the good reviews a bit more in the way of legitimacy in the eyes of random book shoppers who tend to stay away from books with ONLY good reviews.

Goodreads fixed that right up. I found a review, a bad one. Well, not a bad one, really. It was a very good review, well written and opinionated. That's what we authors want, after all, to inspire such a level of opinionated feeling that the reader simply must write a review, simply must share that sense of strong emotion. This reviewer felt rather strongly (as did the Amazon reviewer I mentioned a few paragraphs up) that in the story of Fat Chance, I, as the author, had engaged in some very serious and very despicable Fat Shaming.

You know what Fat Shaming is, right? Urban dictionary has several different definitions for this phrase, so I'll share a few, just in case you hadn't heard the term before:
  • Actually, no I won't, because half the definitions listed on there are actual examples of the kinds of things Fat Shaming assholes use to Fat Shame people unfortunate enough to not have a popular body type.
I won't talk down to you. You know what Fat Shaming is. Here's the thing, you don't even have to be Fat to be Fat Shamed. I mean really. You know who Ashley Graham is, right? The curvaceous babe who recently had the nerve to grace the cover of Sports Illustrated, even though she isn't a size zero? Let me tell you though, she isn't a size 22 either, okay? She's not even Fat by most standards.

But check this other girl out; this girl is around a sixteen/eighteen, and she's a little bigger than Ashley Graham, I think. Her name is Sarah Rae Vargas, and she's is sexy, vivacious, and full of personality. She's bold and brash and strong, she's inspirational. She's absolutely beautiful ... but she calls herself Fat several times in some of her YouTube videos. Why? Because she is courageous enough, and unaShamed enough to own her body, her shape, and the image she wants people to see. She doesn't do it with shame, or with teary eyes, or with some kind of outwardly broken pity-me persona -- she does it matter of factly because her body shape is a matter of fact.

Some people are white, so we call them that. Some people are black, some are short, some are tall. Some are skinny. Some are fat. It isn't Shameful to own what you are, and it isn't Shameful to be public about it, regardless of how it makes other people feel. It's okay to be what you are, to accept what you are. A Fat body isn't any more shameful than a scarred body, a body with pieces missing, a body with extra pieces. When did we forget that inside of each body, there lives a person with thoughts and feelings that matter?

Here, let me show you this girl; she is fat too. In fact, Tess Holliday actually is a size 22, and she's completely unapologetic. Imagine this, she's actually proud of her body and makes it a point to love herself, regardless of the abundance of negative external feedback. I think she's my hero.

But you know what, here's the thing. It still isn't any of my business, or yours, or anyone else's. (And by the way, I bet I'm a lot closer in size to that last one than that first one, I'm just sayin'. Not that it's any of your business, but I'll tell you because despite the impression left in the low reviews of Fat Chance by some people who clearly didn't get the message buried inside Cass's character development, I happen to be what most people would call a Fat Woman, not a Fat Shamer.)

I'm sure you've figured out the content of my few low reviews by now, right? Fat Shaming. In writing a character who is depressed because of her body, depressed because it doesn't look the way society says it should, depressed because she has to actually live with the cruel things actual Fat Shamers say to actual Fat People ... somehow I got mistaken for a Fat Shamer. Somehow, in writing a twenty-something character who berates herself in the grocery store, who privately debates the merits of developing an eating disorder in a desperate attempt to be thin enough to be accepted, who only rejects the idea of suicide out of shame when she thinks about the size of her coffin ... somehow that got mistaken for Fat Shaming. But it isn't -- for many real life women walking around in the world right now, it's Reality.

Let me tell you, that's not what Fat Shaming is. Fat Shaming is what happens to real life people who experience real life moments just like those portrayed in that book. Fat Shaming is when you're in elementary school and you stop playing basketball with the kids on the next street because they won't stop asking if your morning vitamin is the Shamu kind. Once upon a time, that happened to me. Believe it or not, those words got wedged in between some fat rolls, and at 32 years old I can still hear those kids. But let me not be comedic or sarcastic here, right? Lest it be mistaken for shaming? Because it's okay if someone else talks to me that way, but not if I'm honest about how I talk to myself? About how millions of women have been taught to talk to themselves?

Fat Shaming is what causes little girls to start asking in middle school for a treadmill so they can try to slim down because they already think they're too fat to be worth anything, but they just have to suck it up and live with it because treadmills are costly and their overprotective family members hardly let them out of the house to do anything active. Fat Shaming is when you overhear those same family members whispering about how Fat you are and how sad it is that you can't wear a bikini (yep, that happened to me too). Fat Shaming is that cruel chiseling away of your self-worth, until you can stand in the mirror with disgust on your face, looking at your own body and literally talking yourself OUT of just slicing parts off, out of sheer desperation. That's not made up drama, it's Real. That's the hard truth of what runs through the minds of soft women.

Fat Shaming is the look you give a Fat person when you see them eating, no matter what it is, because you assume that all they ever do is eat and all they ever eat is junk. They see that look, just like you see their bodies.

Fat Shaming is NOT what most readers find between the covers of Fat Chance. Most readers cry with Cass because they feel the same way she does, they get angry on her behalf because they've dealt with assholes at work. They sympathize with her crush, with her shyness, and they pump their fists with her as she finally finds her self-worth, as she finally finds the strength to shut her critics down in the end. They laugh when she finally has enough confidence to stand up for herself, they cry when she breaks down, and they celebrate when she puts a negligee on and saunters her sexy, curvy ass out into that living room to show her man a damned fine time.

I know it's usually bad policy to address reviews you disagree with. It might even put you on one of those "authors behaving badly" lists. It might make people whisper in the back rooms of the internet book world about "drama" and "nonsense". It might make petty assholes leave bad reviews on books you haven't even released yet, just on principle. Personally, I usually abide by the concept of not responding to reviews out of respect for someone else's opinion being just as valid as mine ...

But you know what? I don't care this time. Here's the thing -- I can take a bad review. I can take someone saying the plot is a little slow (maybe it is), or that the men are too perfect in my books (duh, that's why we read those kinds, amiright?), or that you didn't like the characters, you don't feel my writing style, whatever. That's fine, I get it. I can't please all the people all the time. And thanks to a rough upbringing, I'm okay with that because I'm Pleased With Myself, and that's really ALL that counts for me in the end. I'm the one I have to live with, after all.

But I will NOT be mistaken for a Fat Shamer. I will NOT have Cass's story mutilated in that way by people who think I made up extreme scenes and dramatic circumstances that are overboard and unrealistic, just to make a quick buck on telling a story. And I am NOT afraid to "behave badly" in defense of a story that has made women send me private emails telling me how Cass's story turned their lives around and made them see something worthy in themselves that wasn't there before.

In fact, I'm so okay with not making a quick buck on Fat Chance that it is now FREE. Completely FREE. Not to Shame anyone, but to inspire and encourage.

Ahem. Dang, y'all, I just realized I was actually so frustrated I was breathing hard and my scowl was in full force. I guess I'm a little fired up over it, hmm? So I'm gonna take a break. I'm gonna go take a deep breath now, get some water and straighten out my RBF; but leave me a comment below* if you'd like to see more on this subject, because as you can see, I've got lots to say. I'd love your suggestions too, so feel free to tell me what body positive topics you'd like me to address in future posts, and we'll see where that leads us.

In the meantime, happy reading.

*(newsletter subscribers, click here to comment)*

36 comments:

  1. Brandi, I think you're awesome. I applaud the way you write and what you write about. Don't let this get you down. Stand behind what you believe in.

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    1. Thank you for your encouragement! I'm thrilled that you like my writing, and glad to have you here ... Even if I don't know who you are. ;-)

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  2. I absolutely know that God (yes, I'm bring Him into this) has the power to make us all into some identical Barbie and Ken doll look alike. But he didn't just make one perfect type of flower, no. There are roses, crocus, hydrangeas, 100's of varieties, shapes and colors. He didn't make only one kind of tree, pine, walnut, weeping willow, etc. So I know he values diversity and there is meaning behind us not all looking like XYZ. It is our own human failing that puts a certain value on certain things. I DO want to say that in the 'our body is a temple' and our stewardship of what we are given, we should take care of our HEALTH the best way we can. But good health doesn't necessarily come in a size 10 package.

    Real characters, written well in books will have human obstacles, feelings, struggles. Therein comes that "I want to turn the page and see how she grows, changes, or decides differently..."

    Don't sweat the review. Those of us here know what is true and false about you. It IS a great post though, from the heart.

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    1. Thanks, Felita! I'm not really sweating the review too much, but I think the thing that stresses me about reviews that bring up fat shaming is that obviously that was the reader's perspective. I'd hate to think anyone read Cass's story and walked away feeling shamed in any way, as she is meant to inspire.

      Still, I accept "to each his own" with full comfort, and I know that every person doesn't like every book. I myself have read books that others loved with some great passion, and found them to be AWFUL. It's individuality at its finest, and that's alright with me.

      But to think anyone feels shamed by Cass? That part eats at me just a little.

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  3. I love whatever you write, and the way you write..specially the WARNING you wrote was too good lol .I always enjoy reading your posts . THanx for all your lovely posts you share :)

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    1. Aww, thank you! I'm so glad you're enjoying my little space here - I find this to be such a great release, and I love the idea that what I'm sharing might be helpful to others in some way.

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  4. Fat shaming, political correctness, calling the bloody cookie monster the veggie monster...! Freedom of speech, who know what that is anymore! Write what you want girl, screw the haters!
    Hmm i get a little fired up myself about not being able to call a spade a spade anymore without someone complaining..

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    1. Haha! I definitely tend to call it like it is, although I am trying to mellow my professional side a bit more these days.

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  5. This is a classic example of context matters. Just because you portray a character as "fat" does not automatically equate that as fat shaming. Because there is context to why you wrote your character as such. Reminds me of the recent issue regarding Pewdiepie. He makes a video criticizing the media about how he is being taken out of context. The media then takes that video out of context and calls him a nazi. Lol.

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    1. Imagine that, right? Some people just hear what they WANT to hear. It's just sad that so many of those people ONLY want to hear the negative.

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  6. Love your writing style,your ability to be funny and serious at the meantime!

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  7. I think that most people that fat shame have their own insecurities and it becomes a defense... still not an excuse. As far as reviews go, I never read them. I personally don't care what other people think,they're not me and have know idea what I would like or not. I'm an author as well and learned well over a decade ago to never read the reviews. I write for me and hopefully can sell my potential reader on my crazy world view. Rich B

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    1. I still read them from time to time because I truly do value the feedback from my readers - it's the same thing as making sure to answer comments here because I want people to know I'm willing to make the effort. Sometimes it takes me a while to get caught up, but I'm willing. I'm writing for me, yes, but I'm writing also for my readers, and I value that relationship. All the same, I hate seeing my books, my characters, or my motives maligned by someone who clearly didn't push through to the end of what is meant to be a powerful and uplifting story.

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  8. As a curvy 30 something who still refuses to eat in front of people in case they judge me (because they will) and who wouldn't wear a dress for 20 year because I was afraid of how fat I would look, I applaud you for handling such a tough topic.
    And as a writer, I feel your pain at receiving a clearly unjustified review. I was recently told that I write like someone who speaks english as a second language (Oh, the pain!!!!). Of course, this was by someone who was trying to get away without paying me for a writing job. The point is that those kinds of responses say much more about the person making the comment than they say about you or your work! Keep up the good work :)

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    1. Thanks Ruth! I appreciate your understanding, both as a writer and as a bigger woman. I wrote Cass from the very depths of my own experience as a "fat" girl, and it still amazes me that anyone could ever think I wrote her in order to shame anyone. Clearly that person hasn't ever seen a full-length photo of me! Ha!

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  9. i like your writing. you have a unique style of your own.

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  10. It's a shame that people have to be cruel towards others. I know I'm raising my kids to be kind to everyone, no matter what they look like. I always say it's the person's behavior that matters.

    I'm sorry about the review. I wrote an e-book and it received some cruel reviews. I don't get some people, that's for sure.

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    1. The thing is, I usually don't mind bad reviews. I get that some people just don't like some stories. Some readers are not meant to read and enjoy what I'm writing, and that's okay with me. I'm a big girl, I can take a bad review from people who don't like my characters, don't like my stories, don't like my rambling poetic prose, that don't like ... whatever they don't like.

      But to think I wrote that book with a motive of shaming other women, of bringing women down about their bodies and how they look? Nope. A thousand times, nope. And I will go to the grave insisting that that review is unwarranted.

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  11. Good for you for saying this. Just because someone interprets what you said as "Fat Shaming", which it clearly isn't, doesn't mean they can accuse you of something like that (in a review no less) without ever confronting you about. They are just cowards who are more comfortable hiding behind their screens and rude words. Way to take the high road.

    | diaryofasouthernmillennial.com

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    1. I just don't want other people to think that was what my book was about, you know?

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  12. Thank you for writing a book in hope society will understand what people (both women, men, boys and girls) go through while others Fat Shame them into thinking they are not worth life. I seethe hearing, seeing, reading this shameful act and personally act upon it.
    As for the reviewers who think it is you fat shaming, just remember, what is blue to one person may be aqua blue or dark blue to another. We all see things differently so, don't let it get to you too much hun. By putting your thoughts to this post you are cleansing yourself of them :-) Keep writing and am going to be downloading Fat Chance shortly; very generous and thank you!

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    1. That was the goal, actually. To speak on it, to have my say, and to let it rest. I didn't want it to be a big huge deal, I didn't intend to be listed on "Authors Behaving Badly" or any of that drama (to my knowledge, I wasn't, thank goodness). I just wanted to say, "Hey, that's not what this book is about."

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  13. Great post! It reminded me that I have a blog post about body image shaming stored somewhere. I suppose the readers are greatly confused at what you're trying to acomplish with the book. I completely understand that as people often missunderstand me too lol

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  14. It is cool that something moved you so much that you had to write about it. I have a little girl and I am worried about those who would fat shame her. But I know you have to write things honestly and be true to your vision of a character. That's not fat shaming.

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    1. Well the thing is, I'm a plus sized woman, a plus sized writer. "They" say to "write what you know," right? Well I know, with all of my chunky little heart, EXACTLY what it's like to be a bigger girl growing up in a world that says there isn't room for me. I know what it is to have people look at me funny, regardless of what I'm eating, drinking, wearing. I know what it is to HATE myself because I've absorbed so much poison from others that it's all I see. I know what it is to hit rock bottom.

      But I also know what it is to stand up and reach out, to find help, to find friendship. I know what it is to be supported by others until I could stand on my own, what it means to love myself, not only because I'm WORTHY, but because I have been loved so well by others that now I see light again.

      And I know what it is to want to create a world that DOESN'T tell my daughters they aren't enough - or that they're too much.

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  15. It's a shame that you've experienced such a negative reaction online, but I think that's the risk we take exposing ourselves online to strangers like that. You just keep being your awesome creative self and pay no mind.

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  16. Wow. I love this post. I love how you take the time to look at the reviews you get and how you are unapologetic about who you are. You are an inspiration!

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  17. I didn't know that people would be so mean on Goodreads. But then they exist everywhere. But why would you really leave such a negative review that is not even based on facts and nor on having read the book.. These people must be so frustrated with their own lives to get down on such low level. Don't listen to them. Only listen to the ones that actually give constructive feedback. XX

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    1. That's how I usually do it, but that one just stuck to me because the reader obviously missed out on the positive message that hit hard in the later stages of that story. It made me sad that she didn't give Cass any more of a chance than Cass was giving herself.

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  18. So inspiring! I would love to be able to write books too! I did not know much about fat shaming, thanks for giving more detail on it!

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    1. That's the goal. Glad you liked the post!

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