On Madame Maxime and Self-Preservation

It all started with Harry Potter.

I know, I know. We #millennials and our obsession with the boy wizard. Incidentally, the series just turned 20, and I realized I think of it as my youngest sibling.

But back to my story.

Not long ago, I decided to listen to the Harry Potter audiobooks at work… again. I’d gotten as far as Goblet of Fire, and at a point, Hagrid (a half-giant for the uninitiated) meets a lady named Madame Maxime, head of a rival magical school. He confides in her about his parentage and how thrilled he is to meet someone else like him. You see, Madame Maxime is (pretty obviously) also part giant.

However, when Hagrid presses her about it, she becomes very upset and claims to be “big-boned”. Our main characters overhear this exchange, and later on, we learn that Hagrid’s confirmation of his status is a big deal because giants were known to be very violent and had assisted the dark side when Voldemort was in power.

I remember reading this part of the story as a kid and thinking that Madam Maxime, a pretty arrogant character, was just being silly (everyone could see, after all) and trying to act like she was better than Hagrid. This time through, however, I was struck by how much I related to it as a fat person.

The thing is, I know that people can see my body. I know what size it is. If I decide not to verbally confirm that I am in fact fat, it’s not because I am unaware or willfully disbelieving. Like Maxime, I think, it’s also not an attempt to distance myself from other fat people.

What it is, though, is a self-preservation technique. Not because I know too little, but because I know too much.

I know that the size of my body is associated with laziness, ugliness, gluttony, ignorance, uncleanness, lack of desirability, and lack of ability of almost any kind.

I know that people feel better about themselves when they ascribe these traits to me.

I know that no matter what my habits actually are, no one will believe me when I explain them.

I know that society is not made for me, and I will rarely be perceived as healthy, competent, and worth knowing.

I know that our built environments emphasize my largeness and that I spend a good deal of energy anticipating issues with things like seating.

I know that I’m less likely to be promoted at work, and that my size limits my being perceived as a positive role model.

I know what it’s like to be physically uncomfortable in dressing, moving, maintaining, and existing in my body.

I know that some of the slimmer people in my life will feel offended or attacked by this list.

I know that this is a critique on systemic discrimination, not individual people.

I know that I must make this clarification or risk people shutting out my other points.

In short, I know how to structure my life around my size because I don’t have any other choice.

And so, like Madam Maxime, I already know what they will say and are saying...

And we are both perfectly allowed not to place more ammunition in their hands.

LU: July 2017

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