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It’s All Rooted In The System: A Commentary On The Body Positivity Movement

By: Nicole Wagoner

I want to start off this article by saying that I am not plus sized. I never have been. So maybe I’m not qualified to write this article, but if you will listen to me for a moment, I think we can both learn something and leave this article being more educated about the life of a plus sized person.

I have always advocated for the body positivity movement. I think every body is beautiful and I think it is amazing that (at least part of) the world is finally acknowledging this. I have always had trouble accepting my body. My few extra pounds make me get down on myself sometimes. But I have never been systemically oppressed because of my size, like many plus sized people have.

Some might find this statement controversial, but it is one that is deeply rooted in the history of the patriarchy. I think when it comes to the body positivity movement, we need to stop comparing skinny shaming to fat shaming. While both are harmful, they never have and never will be on the same level. 

Once again, this is because fat people are systemically oppressed.

You wanna know how I know that? Because when I said fat just now, you were taken aback. Fat is not a dirty word as society has now equated it. Fat is a descriptor for a type of body. But ideals have forced us to think being fat is bad and fat is a mean word to describe someone with. 

Skinny was not always considered the norm. For many years curviness and having extra skin was considered the ideal for beauty, with goddesses like Venus being artistically portrayed with pear shape, plus sized bodies. But over time, women started being held to an unrealistic standard of beauty, and they were forced to take on a “boyish” type of appearance. This included being flat chested and especially slender. Calorie counting diets brought women to periods of starvation, just so that they could fit this new impossible standard of thinness.

We can see this is rooted in the patriarchy for a few reasons. One is the fact that this standard was pushed so that the norm for women would be frail and they would therefore seem subservient. The other is when women are insecure about their bodies, they feel as though they deserve less when it comes to relationships. While we live in a world where this is no longer openly discussed, we can see how openly patriarchal the “ideal” woman’s body is in society. Women’s bodies are not made for men to gawk at. A woman is beautiful no matter what, and she has no obligation to appeal to anybody at any time.

But this insecurity is still preyed upon. Commercials for Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem air on TV every single day. One can try to escape the madness by going on Instagram only to see an ad for weight loss teas. No one can escape the way society treats fat people. They see them as an object that needs to be fixed, needs to be renewed and beautified. There’s nothing wrong with being plus sized. If someone is happy in their own skin, they should be allowed to be. 

Beanie Feldstein said in her essay, “Please Stop Commenting On My Body,” that, “A person’s body changing is simply not clearance for you to talk about it. I know that nothing will truly change until we as a society are able to unravel the ingrained notion that thinness is ideal. However, I do hope that on a more interpersonal level, we can attempt to stop commenting on each other’s bodies. Because sadly, I am here to tell you that even well-intentioned compliments can be upsetting. In my case, that brought to the surface feelings about my body that had taken years to work through. And it is not how I want to continue”.

Commenting on someone’s weight enforces the fact that the person being commented on is not beautiful regardless of size. This is why Weight Watchers and Nutrisystem and weight loss teas are bad for the soul, because they enforce that there is something inherently wrong with being fat. But there is nothing inherently wrong with any weight. 

But that is not the only example of plus sized people being systemically oppressed. Take one step into a doctor’s office in a plus sized person’s shoes. An article from medium.com explored many plus-sized people’s stories of going to the doctors office and not getting proper treatment because of their size. This has led to many deaths, and not because of their weight. It was because of cancer, kidney failure, etc. These doctors ignore signs of obvious illness because one is medically “overweight.” While being medically overweight can cause health problems, many doctors give lesser care because they believe the fat person deserves lesser treatment. Another example of this is when a fat person cannot get diagnosed with an eating disorder because they do not fit this ideal of a frail girl who can be romanticized. 

Now, where do we go from here? How do we take the information from these articles, these essays, these many sources, and apply them to our lives? By not overshadowing the body positivity movement by talking about skinny shaming. The body positivity movement preaches every body is beautiful, and that no one should be treated differently because of their appearance. So let us not take away the voices of those who are actually systemically oppressed in society because of their appearance. Show this article to your mom, your dad, your aunt, your cousin. Then encourage them to listen to plus sized voices. Because maybe you shouldn’t listen to me. Maybe I’ve got it all wrong. But if you start listening to plus sized people and hear what they have to say about this movement, you’ll find that maybe you’ve been unknowingly feeding into society’s ideal and oppression of fat people. Don’t be that person. Keep yourself accountable, and call yourself to action. 

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A Word Or Two On Gender

By: Nicole Wagoner

I had a conversation with an older female mentor the other day. We talked about gender and how we both felt about it.

One notable thing she said was, “I never had to think about that stuff when I was your age.” (That stuff being gender) “It’s so confusing for you kids. I never had to question if I was non binary or if I was a guy. I just was who I was.”

I’m paraphrasing, but what stuck out to me about what she said was, “I was who I was.”

I think that’s the beautiful thing about gender. It’s a social construct, but it is one that helps us define how we feel on the inside.

So I often ask myself, what’s my gender?

The conclusion I have come to is that I don’t have one, but here’s where it gets confusing.

I like gendered terms along the female spectrum. I like my partner to call me his girlfriend and my mom often lovingly calls me her girl, which I don’t mind.

So this makes me question my gender all over again. Am I really a girl? Am I faking being non binary for attention?

The conclusion I have come to down boils down to two things.

  1. I am still new to my gender, and I am so used to being called girl and girlfriend that it doesn’t bother me to be called those terms.

The way I came to this conclusion is that my partner, James, has been calling me his partner, despite me expressing I am comfortable with partner and girlfriend. It’s almost like he knew more about my gender than I did, because the more he calls me partner, the weirder it feels on the rare occasion my mom refers to me as his girlfriend or his friends refer to me as such. 

  1. I am still aligned with my biological sex as a female.

I am very feminine presenting. If you saw me on the street you would probably not guess that I was non binary. And up until 2020, I did not even realize I wasn’t a girl. I would proclaim myself as a strong woman, and while I am still biologically a woman, it feels odd to declare that. I would rather declare myself to be a strong person, but at the same time I feel like declaring myself as a strong woman is somewhat accurate. Because I still get harassed on the street. I still have to worry about getting a lesser paycheck than a man does. While gender is a societal construct, my gender does not define all of my societal experiences, and unfortunately, I still face the discrimination that biological women do.

So maybe that is why every once in a while I find myself wanting to declare myself a strong, independent woman, because even though I am not a woman at heart, I am still taking on the adversity faced by women.

So I find myself questioning my own feelings as a non binary person. Am I not non binary because I feel attached to my experiences as a biological woman? Am I not non binary if I feel ok being referred to as a girlfriend?

I don’t know if I’m being honest with you. Every day I question whether my experiences and emotions are valid. Because I look at a feminine presenting biological woman and wonder if I want to be her. I love putting on wigs and looking like what society considers a woman. But the day I chopped my hair off, I felt so seen by myself and I felt so validated. I felt like I was myself. So if I feel like myself while feminine presenting, even though I also feel like myself when I’m presenting androgynously, am I really non binary?

But sometimes I remember how cis people look at gender. I don’t think a cis person has ever looked at Stitch from Lilo and Stitch and envied how much androgyny the little gremlin has. I don’t think cis people feel the way I do when my partner stopped saying, “Ladies first,” and jokingly started saying, “Enbies first.” It was such a simple gesture and I don’t know if he knows how much it meant to me, and how validated it makes me feel.

In the end, I think it boils down to this: I just am who I am. It’s like my mentor said. I was born a woman and I have faced the adversity a woman has faced, and I cannot change that. I am biologically predisposed to some diseases because of my sex, and I cannot change that. But I also cannot change the way my brain feels when I look in the mirror and perceive myself as androgynous. I cannot change the way I feel when my friends use they pronouns for me (even though I use she as well.) The one thing I can change is how I show myself to the world, and how I tell the world about myself. I am here to tell the world I am non binary, no matter what my self doubt says sometimes, and no matter what the world says sometimes.

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Harry Potter and the Fan’s Revolution

By: Nicole Wagoner

The name JK Rowling most likely rings a bell for you. For years she has been an iconic figure and inspiration in the lives of children and adults alike. Many young people grew up reading her world-renowned series Harry Potter, finding solace in the relatable characters and the thrilling story. Her books were an escape from the world’s chaos for children going through significant changes in their lives, and they grew into adults dealing with political burnout who continued to find peace in the story.

But JK Rowling herself does not seem to advocate for the serenity we find in the books. Recently, Rowling has posted on her Twitter account hateful statements about the trans community. 

On June 6, 2020, Rowling replied to an opinion article from Devex titled, “Opinion: Creating a more equal post-COVID-19 world for people who menstruate,” mocking the article’s headline for saying “People who Menstruate” rather than saying women. This title is not something to be made fun of; the piece was attempting to be inclusive.

Rowling responded to the backlash from this tweet by stating on Twitter, “If sex isn’t real, there’s no same-sex attraction. If sex isn’t real, the lived reality of women globally is erased. I know and love trans people, but erasing the concept of sex removes the ability of many to meaningfully discuss their lives. It isn’t hate to speak the truth. The idea that women like me, who’ve been empathetic to trans people for decades, feeling kinship because they’re vulnerable in the same way as women – ie, to male violence – ‘hate’ trans people because they think sex is real and has lived consequences – is a nonsense. I respect every trans person’s right to live any way that feels authentic and comfortable to them. I’d march with you if you were discriminated against on the basis of being trans. At the same time, my life has been shaped by being female. I do not believe it’s hateful to say so.”

It is clear that JK Rowling is only trying to defend her offensive words. Still, she has only made herself sound more transphobic. Rowling completely disregards the difference between sex and gender and ignores why people feel the need to socially transition while not medically transitioning. She is undermining trans existence and uplifting herself as a cis woman.

Rowling’s most recent transphobic act was a tweet she made promoting Wild Womyn Workshop, which is actively transphobic and sells transphobic products. The store sells pins saying, “Trans women are men,” “F*ck your pronouns,” and “Sorry about your d*ck, dude.” This promotion is an action she has not attempted to defend. 

Rowling continues to act like a victim, which is a disgrace to the trans community’s struggles. She wrote a post on her blog talking about her “Reasons for Speaking Out on Gender and Sex issues” where she said, “Immediately, activists who clearly believe themselves to be good, kind and progressive people swarmed back into my timeline, assuming a right to police my speech, accuse me of hatred, call me misogynistic slurs and, above all – as every woman involved in this debate will know – TERF.”  TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, which, if you have paid attention to this article, you know JK Rowling is. But she is clearly very hurt by this accusation, which I remind you, is true, so she victimizes herself.

JK Rowling claims she is not a trans exclusionist because of all the research she claims to have done on trans issues and all the other feminists she has spoken to about her opinions. She says in her blog post while talking about the support she has received,  “They’re worried about the dangers to young people, gay people and about the erosion of women’s and girl’s rights. Above all, they’re worried about a climate of fear that serves nobody – least of all trans youth – well.” May I remind you, JK Rowling is not a trans person and therefore does not hold the right to say what affects trans youth. The ignorance in her blog post truly makes one wonder if she has ever even spoken to a trans person. An example of this is from the same blog post where she says, “Ironically, radical feminists aren’t even trans-exclusionary – they include trans men in their feminism, because they were born women.” What am I even supposed to say to that? Do I need to explain why that makes zero sense? 

The bottom line is Rowling doesn’t have a point, she goes in circles and ends up making herself look more clueless every time she speaks out.

Despite the fact that everyone with sense knows how naive she is, Rowling’s comments have still hit the trans and queer community where it hurts. Harry Potter is the story of a misfit kid who wants to be “normal.” He gets harassed daily by adults and peers alike. He goes straight from being painfully invisible to unbearably visible in almost a day. His family is unaccepting of his true wizard identity. Does any of this sound familiar? It is an almost universal experience for people in the LGBTQIA+ community. Queer and trans kids grew up relating to Harry Potter. They felt understood, even if it was just for a minute.

Not only that, Harry Potter’s main storyline follows the fight against an unjust and oppressive government. The villains of the story, which continuously work to overtake the government, carry hatred for “muggles” and try to take away their rights. Historically, it is a global norm that the government actively fights against LGBTQIA+ rights. Queer and trans people everywhere are actively trying to get or keep the same rights straight and cisgender people get. With Amy Coney Barret getting put into the supreme court, LGBTQIA+ kids are more scared than ever.

JK Rowling has become the villain of her story. She is supporting the oppressive government that her characters would die trying to fight. She wrote a way for LGBTQIA+ kids to escape and is now bringing more into the world they feel the need to escape. JK Rowling has hurt her fanbase in a way that will not damage them permanently but will damage her permanently.

Harry Potter’s fans that are gay, trans, or allies, are taking back the franchise. As Daniel Radcliffe, the star of the Harry Potter, said himself, “… if you found anything in these stories that resonated with you and helped you at any time in your life — then that is between you and the book that you read, and it is sacred. And in my opinion nobody can touch that. It means to you what it means to you and I hope that these comments will not taint that too much.” Radcliffe also apologized for the hurt JK Rowling has caused. His comments reminded the fans that JK Rowling may have written Harry Potter, but the fans brought it to life. The franchise belongs to the fans.” 

The fans have done things such as blackout Rowling’s name on the covers of the books. Some of them also replace the name with famous feminists who have worked to make a better world for the trans community. They also commonly replace her name with other people involved with the Harry Potter franchise, such as Daniel Radcliffe

People on social media such as TikTok, Twitter, and Instagram have also picked up a joke that “Harry Potter has no author.” This joke is a popular way people are separating Rowling’s books from her name. This is normally hard to do and has proved infeasible for some people, but for others, this simple phrase signifies the larger goal of reclaiming the franchise as something for the misfits, just like Potter himself was. 

One of the biggest takeaways from this situation is that the queer and trans community fought back. Specifically, Generation Z and Millenials are tired of people throwing slander and hatred their way. So they sent the same energy JK Rowling gave to them back to her. The trans community will not stay silent, and neither will their allies. As Marsha P. Johnson said, “History isn’t something you look back at and say it was inevitable, it happens because people make decisions that are sometimes very impulsive and of the moment, but those moments are cumulative realities.” We are fighting for and moving towards a future where trans people are accepted and loved. The reality is, JK Rowling will be left behind with only her hatred and bigotry to comfort her.