It's my belief and experience that activism enriches your life beyond measure, fat activism especially so. I am happier, richer, have better relationships, stronger friendships, a more satisfying creative and intellectual life, and enjoy more amazing connections to people than I would have if I weren't a fat activist.
There are occupational hazards to being a fat activist, however. You are often held captive to people's ignorance, self-hatred and fear. Generally people are fairly polite about this, and contain it in the language of misguided concern or disapproval. Sometimes it spills out in more vitriolic ways, through hate mail.
You know you've hit a nerve when a mild-mannered call for plus-size clothing donations for a fatty jumble sale inspires: "i am overweight but to refer to me as fat is absolutely DISGUSTING WHEN YOU SAY: FAT FOLKS. GET LOST ARSEHOLE. YR AN INSULT." This was sent to one of the organisers of the forthcoming Big Bum Jumble last night.
I've had hate mail too, sometimes people email me directly, sometimes they just leave anonymous comments here.
I deal with hate mail in my own way, and variously. Sometimes I answer it politely, sometimes I publish it, sometimes I just file it away. Sometimes it upsets me, mostly it doesn't. My only consistent response is that I tell people about it, I don't carry it by myself. Usually people are very supportive.
I tell people because I'm interested in community responses to hate, especially creative reactions. Susan Stinson wrote an inspiring piece about the community support she had after receiving some hate mail, which involved a collective speak-out and news coverage. She concluded: "If this fat-hating letter was intended to reduce me to silence, it has backfired. I have returned to writing feeling more powerful and clear about resisting lies and shame about my body than I ever have in my life."
I don't have any answers to hate mail, and other hate reactions directed at fat activists, I just want to say that it happens. I want it to be known that this is part of the background to the things that I write here, the things I do, and that I am not the only fat activist at whom hate mail is directed.
Like Susan, hate mail does not make me consider stopping doing what I do, it doesn't shut me up. It's a faulty silencing strategy. A life without activism is unimaginable, there's nothing I would trade for it, especially not some rubbish someone emailed me anonymously. It doesn't make me afraid or remorseful. I think of hate mail as being just a blip along the way, a blip that's never about my own shortcomings, and one that I manage without even getting my hands dirty.
Stinson, S. (2000) 'Speakout Against Fat Hatred', Healthy Weight Journal, 14: 4, 62.