Doubt, honesty and community
I became an atheist at the age of ten. It sounds precocious, but really it wasn’t anything more than realizing that the version of god I had learned about in church just didn’t match up with the world I lived in. Some of the beliefs were lovely, but the difference between a world inhabited by an all-powerful deity managed to look just like a world subject to random chance and I decided that it wasn’t for me.
As I got older and learned more about differing approaches to spirituality, I became interested in exploring various paths and ideas. Long story short, I ended up in Neo-Paganism (many would call this Wicca, but they are different.) And wow did I love it. The pageantry, the focus on the natural world, the celebration of sexuality. Sign me up!
I threw myself into paganism. I collected shelves full of books. I joined online forums (back in those days it was nearly impossible to find an IRL group that would accept a 14 year old even with parental permission.) I meditated and conducted solitary rituals. And I immersed myself fully in pagan theology.
And I never really believed any of it. I mean, I absolutely got something out of it – a lot in fact, but I buried all of my doubts and disagreements. The ‘history’ of ancient paganism for which there was no real evidence, the abuse of complex concepts in physics in order to pretend there was a scientific basis for magic(k), and the existence of gods and goddesses which I still saw no reason to believe in.
Eventually, five years later, I left. Totally. I dropped out of the pagan student association at my university. I gave away or threw away every last book on paganism. I stopped going to festivals and scraped most of the candle wax off of all my possessions.
I still felt drawn to paganism though and I would have brief periods of renewed interest only to walk away when I couldn’t continue to engage in practices or repeat beliefs that, for me, weren’t true.
And it did eventually occur to me that the problem wasn’t with my atheism nor was it with my great love of neo-paganism. The problem was that I had convinced myself these things could never coexist. Except they already did exist together in my brain and I just needed to be honest enough to explore this seeming contradiction in order to be more fully who I already was (er, that’s a tortured new-agey kind of sentence, but I hope you get my drift.)
Likewise, I have been circling the FA movement since high school. I was the only teenager I knew with a subscription to Mode magazine (and seriously how much better was that than advertisement-disguised-as-magazine Figure?) I read Fat!So? by Marilyn Wann when I was 18. I was all set for a lifelong career of fighting fat-phobia by the time I graduated high school and yet I’ve spent more time on the edge of the movement than I have trying to find my place in it. Certainly part of that is due to having periods where I accepted being fat followed by periods of being sucked back into the fantasy of being thin , but another part of it was having an idea of what a ‘real’ fat activist was and finding myself never quite there.
Now before you start firing up your keyboards, I’m not really comparing FA to religion. Nor are my questions about the details of research really comparable to my lack of theism. But here’s the thing, by finally ‘coming out’ as a pagan atheist, I was able, for the first time, to actually find my place in the pagan community. I was also able to do real thinking and real introspection and I’m more comfortable and more at peace with my ‘spiritual’ life than I’ve ever been before.
And when it comes to FA, I know that asking myself (and sometimes my readers) the honest questions that I’ve wondered about can only make me a better activist. And even if it causes more disagreements, being honest will be the only thing that creates a place for me in the FA movement.
I know that some people think these are minor quibbles on the margins of FA theory and that we can, and should, focus on the big picture of discrimination. There is a lot of truth in that. Honestly, I hope to get back to the big picture on this blog. But there are strong feelings surrounding some of these issues on all sides (obviously!) and the conclusions people come to about dieting, health, science, public policy etc… absolutely inform where and how they focus their activism. So I think it’s also important to discuss these issues occasionally while trying not to have them become giant dramas. Let’s keep in mind that the very act of demanding respect and fair treatment for fat people is a fucking revolution in our society.
Now who wants a hug?