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.)
2. Relate to people on a human level.
My boyfriend does this neat trick where he can hate everything a person believes in, but still be able to get down with that person. One of his best friends is kind of conservative and they don’t really talk about politics. He hates “the police” on a structural level, but he can play up his Long Island accent and bro down with them like you wouldn’t believe. Dude is like a cop whisperer. He even gotten me out of a traffic ticket once, just by being friendly. (He has better social skills than I do.)
3. Made the necessary concessions
It’s hard to participate in direct action if you don’t have a cell phone. And it’s hard to make people listen to you if you’re a stinking crust punk with face tattoos. I admire those train hoppin’ crusties for their dedication to their beliefs, but they don’t make the best ambassadors. My boyfriend takes showers and has a job teaching union members US history from a labor perspective. It puts food on his table and makes his students think. Yes, he is technically being exploited, but that’s the system’s fault, so he doesn’t hate his bosses. Personally, I do worry sometimes that my job is not the most politically productive use of my time, but then I tell myself I’m helping people who are alienated from their labor decrease their surplus value by reading blogs all day at work. Miley’s sideboob has political utility, after all!
4. Draw the line somewhere
Just because my boyfriend has conceded to the necessity of making money doesn’t mean he’s going to put on a suit and become a commodities trader. He’ll never be a boss, and he’ll never make money off exploiting other people, ordering them to their deaths, etc. Know that there’s a line you won’t cross and stick to it. Think about what really matters. For example, I might try to eat healthier, but I’m never going to invent a diet product with a fat-shaming ad campaign, because that would make me a huge hypocrite.
5. Form practical alliances
Occupy Wall Street isn’t perfect. Unions aren’t perfect. Democrats definitely aren’t perfect. But radicals have worked with all these entities because their goals align enough, at least in a specific moment or on a specific issue. If you require ideological purity in everyone you work with, you’re going to be lonely. Worry about your differences when it’s time. (It probably won’t be time for a while.)
That’s all the wisdom I can think of for now. Let me know if you have any other tips along these lines. I wrote this with radical politics in mind, but it can work for a lot of different people, I think. There’s also a chance my boyfriend just doesn’t want me to get fat, but I’m willing to take good advice how it comes. I’ll start worrying about that for real when he stops bringing beer over to my house. Happy living!