This was the phrase written in big white block letters on the back window of a car I saw in Portland the other day.
I was surprised that anyone would put something like that on their car.
If I had been able to, I wanted to ask the driver (almost certainly a guy), how he thought “Fat Chicks” might feel about his sign.
But I am confident that if I had asked him, he would have laughed and dismissed my question with some sort of derision.
His proclamation is just another example of the ways that people do things that hurt others. It poses a real problem for anyone who wants to foster nurturing in every corner of life. What do we do with such behavior?
Typically we try to punish it. I am sure that more than one person has angrily accosted this guy about his sign. I am equally sure that such attacks are highly reinforcing for the guy. But even if our criticism of him were aversive to him, I doubt that it would bring about the kind of change in his behavior that we would love to see–more caring and respectful toward all women, sorry about the hurt he had caused to women who might feel sensitive about their weight.
I have to believe that for this guy, “No Fat Chicks” was a statement about how he was superior to at least someone on this planet. He was so “cool” that he could reject “fat chicks.”
I am convinced that underneath virtually every hostile act toward another, there is fear. Fear that we aren’t good enough. The function of this guy’s sign was to proclaim that he was better than someone.
The problem we have is that if we want more and more people to become nurturing, we have to be nurturing enough to them that they can let go of their fear, feel cared for, and in that context, make contact with the pain and needs of others.
The ACT work suggests a way out of this problem. It shows that getting people to look at their thoughts and feelings as thoughts and feelings–not as facts and helping them get clear about their values helps people to become more caring. If we could get close to that guy–or if he came to us for help because, say, another woman had left him, we might be able to get him to notice his fears about not being good enough, defuse from them, such that they became less powerful for him. In the context of becoming more caring toward himself, he might begin to feel more empathy for others.
But of course, we aren’t likely to have access to him. And, since beginning this piece I searched the internet and discovered there is a website called NoFatchicks.
There appears to be a network of folks who are getting their social support by banding together around this theme.
This is guaranteed to get them the kind of mutual support from other members of the club, and constant anger from those who are offended by it.
Here is another place where ACT seems relevant. Suppose, instead of attacking this guy OR getting angry about his statement, we simply defuse from the thoughts and feelings we have about it. Notice how angry it makes you. If you are a “fat chick” notice the hurt the phrase evokes. Can we make room for the hurt, anger, frustration, or depression we feel when we see something like this and do what will work to move people in a more caring direction?
The hard part is that attacking people is unlikely to work. We hesitate, of course to do anything that might remotely be seen as accepting such talk. In fact, in writing this, I hesitated to use the term “Fat Chicks” because I feared that people would say I shouldn’t even use the term. It is like the “N word.”
But does it work to give words such power? Does it reduce their power to have words be so powerful that we can’t even say them? Over time do they become less powerful? I don’t think so.
My history professor at the University of Rochester went down to Alabama to witness the marches in Selma. He reported that civil rights workers had started to call Martin Luther King, “The Nigger’s Jesus.” It was nonviolence in action. They did it because they knew that embracing this derision took the power out of it.
What would Gandhi do?
So if we want someone like the young man with the “No Fat Chicks” sign to become more nurturing, we have to deflate the power of hostile or hurtful words by recognizing that they are words.
What would happen to this guy if every time he stopped anywhere an overweight woman came up to him and smiled and showed genuine interest in him?
I don’t want anyone reading this to think that I feel callous toward women who are overweight. It was my own feelings of hurt for anyone who would feel hurt in reading this that made me write this post. (And feel free to comment, especially if you have other views of it.)
There is a recent ACT study, by the way, that found that helping people to simply defuse from negative thoughts about their weight (that is, got so they noticed the thoughts, but just accepted that they were thoughts and didn’t get caught up in them). Not only did these negative views become less hurtful to them, they lost some weight as well (though weight loss was not the purpose of the program).
This issue goes well beyond “fat chicks” (don’t you just love ‘em!). Every controversy is fed by two warring factions shouting epithets at each other from secure bastions of their own. Fox vs. MSNBC, Republicans vs. Democrats, Conservationists vs. Resource Extraction Industries.
We have been trying to shout the other side down ever since this great experiment in free speech began in America. It hasn’t worked.
Maybe the only way we will ever come together is for some group of us to start a movement that is about defusing from all the “loaded words.” We might call it “The [blank] word! Movement.” It would start with chanting all of the words that are used to revile and arouse people.