The other day at the beach, I was talking to my boyfriend about the conflict I feel over believing in fat acceptance, on the one hand, and wanting to lose the weight I’ve gained recently, on the other. Still somewhat of a traditional liberal (but increasingly more of a commie, because I adopt the ideology of whoever I’m dating, tee hee jk), I was still clinging onto notions of the personal being political. Society is made up of individuals, after all, and we can change society by changing as many individuals as possible, starting with ourselves, right? Be the change you want to see, and so forth.
My boyfriend replied that he thinks this idea is bullshit. Society is not just a bunch of individuals together, but a special organism all its own. Some people even think there’s this third mode being of being that is the result of the individual and society interacting. (I am totally going to read about that soon.) The idea that there’s any such thing as an authentic and independent “self” that could, or should, be walled off from society is actually kind of ridiculous. And furthermore, we have to live in the world that we have while we work towards the one we want.
“But babe,” I asked. “What if that society is pernicious? What if it’s hurting people and telling them they suck and giving them eating disorders? What then?” His answer, always, as I understand it: change society. And you know what? He had a point. He made me an analogy. (Yes, this is what we talk about at the beach.)
“I’m a libertarian communist,” he said, “I think capitalism is a bad system” (I’m paraphrasing). “For a while I lived in a punk house and barely had a job, because FUCK THAT. But a few years ago, I realized I need to make concessions to the world that I live in and it would be good to have some sort of career, etc.” I know that this is true. When we first started dating, I asked him more annoying questions than Elaine Benes did when she was dating a commie. Did it bother him that he has to buy things using money? Did he have only one shirt? Did he hate having to go to work, etc.? He answered all of them patiently. He’s the most pleasant, well-adjusted communist I’ve ever met, and he has a rational answer to everything. Which is part of how he converted me, actually.
Despite being way more radical than me, my dude is probably about 100 times better at dealing with the things he thinks are shitty. I’ve learned a lot from him over the years, so here are some handy tips I’ve picked up.
1. Don’t put the weight of the world on your shoulders. Keep an eye on the bigger picture.
I’ve often pressured myself to be a perfect feminist, a perfect progressive, and a perfect consumer. In the grand scheme of things, though, it doesn’t matter that much where one person shops. I maintain that it can’t hurt to try to buy things that kill fewer people and animals (I’m still a vegan, after all, because even if it doesn’t make any real impact, FUCK EATING DEAD THINGS), but don’t beat yourself up if you can only afford to shop at Walmart, and not the fair trade coop. Or similarly, if you can’t help feeling compelled to conform to the beauty myth. Or whatever. Real change comes from struggle; you can’t just sit back and shop/individuate your way to a better world. (Which is unfortunate, because I like shopping.)