I really hope this doesn’t turn into a tl;dr for some people. This is something that really hit me hard after the high of PAX and I felt I really needed to get out.
As a female gamer I’m constantly aware of the way women are presented in games. One of my favorite panels at PAX East 2011 was about the portrayal of women in games, whether it’s as the helpless damsel in distress or the kickass heroine; the taut and toned adventure-seeker or the super-sexy femme fatale. It was interesting, and brought up a whole lot of food for thought. The year passed, and then this year’s PAX East got me thinking more, particularly with the aftermath of some photos posted by BioWare. So many comments came up about how many “fatties” were at the convention, and how all the “fat gamers” needed to get off their asses or at least get a Wii Fit or something. And it got me thinking more.
I openly admit that I’m overweight. I’d be lying to myself and doing myself a disservice to say otherwise and pretend I’m someone or something I’m not. But as an overweight individual I’m subjected to criticisms spoken and unspoken from people I know and people I don’t know. I can’t eat anything without it looking like something it’s not: if it’s a hamburger, I’m fat so no wonder I’m eating it; if it’s a salad, I must be trying to lose weight. I can’t ever eat something just because it’s what I feel like eating. But it’s the way of humans to overthink things, both on their end and on mine, so I try not to let it bother me; I work with my shape, dressing in well-fitting, nicely made clean clothes that compliment how I’m built. My clothes are neither too tight nor are they overly baggy. I’m an educated professional, sing well, and have a good sense of humor, and I’m kind and caring.
But from what I see and have experienced in society: I am overweight, so none of those things matter. I am fat and therefore I should be ashamed.
Here’s the thing: when you’re like me no one listens to anything you say about yourself. Everything is assumed to be an excuse, and you’re just “not working hard enough” or you just “don’t care enough” to do anything about your situation. It’s easy to lose weight, so if you’re overweight, you must be lazy, messy, and slovenly. That I have health issues that screw with my metabolism is just an excuse. And because I made an excuse, and I am fat, I should be ashamed of myself and who I am.
Maybe I’m just projecting, but sometimes that’s the vibe I get. And moreover, because I am a fat female gamer, I need to just stop gaming and go to the gym. Well… here’s the thing. I admit that I hate exercise; when I did belong to a gym and worked at running, I had to pretend there were zombies after me and I was just using Rule 1: Cardio. If I want to lose weight I have to obsessively measure and count everything; I have to work out at least five days a week for at least an hour each day, and if I deviate from any of that it undoes days of work in an instant.
I’m going to obsess about food and my body whether I’m dieting/exercising or not. So I made the decision to live my life; obsessing over every aspect of what I did or didn’t eat did not feel like living, at least not to me. My medical care professionals have never expressed worry, because my blood pressure, breathing, heart rate, etc. is normal. It will surprise many people when I say I’m happy with my life. I’m not skinny; I’m not even average. I’m plus-sized, but I’m happy with my life and with who I am. But by some standards I shouldn’t be, nay, I don’t deserve to be.
The point of shaming people is to point out where they are in the wrong so they may feel badly about it and correct their faults, while the shamer feels morally superior. The issue here is that being overweight isn’t based in morality (unless you belong to some sect, or obscure religion that views eating as a moral/ethical issue). There seems to be a trend where people believe that shaming oneself or others based on weight will inspire overweight persons to lose weight.
Newsflash: all body shaming does is make people resentful. When someone told me at a gathering that I “used to look so good, it would be a shame not to get that back,” it didn’t make me want to jump on a treadmill in determination. It made me angry and resentful that my other good qualities didn’t matter, and all that this person could see was my body.
I try to keep a lighthearted attitude about it most of the time, because I know people will be judgmental, and haters are going to hate (and there’s always at least one hater). I can’t control that, but I can control my response to that, so I try to keep my responses from sounding too defensive, because that’s what shame intends to do: put you on the defensive, and beat you down until you admit you are wrong and an awful, horrible person.
I don’t subscribe to that philosophy, sorry. My weight doesn’t determine whether I am a good or bad person. But the concept that we should think about our weight first and foremost in all things is a hard one to avoid.
But I’m okay with myself. I’m happy with who I am, and I’m not letting my body image determine whether I’m happy or not. While this should be an empowering idea, it also scares me because I wonder if there’s something wrong with me. If I deserve to love myself when I’m fat. If I should reassess my happiness according to my weight, and the higher my weight, the lower my level of self-love and acceptance should be.
It’s a scary thing. I should be ecstatic that I love and accept myself as I am. I’m educated, I’m a professional with a steady job, I maintain a home, and I have family and friends and a handsome Bard who all love me for who I am, curves and all. Instead I’m wondering if there’s something wrong with me for this, because I’m not beating myself up over everything I ingest, or every minute I don’t spend exercising.
While I work to overcome these feelings, they reared their ugly heads earlier this week and spurred this tirade. I went to PAX East in costume. It was my first costume ever, and I put a lot of work into it (pics forthcoming). I made it into random pictures, and I got into the front row in the Dragon Age panel. It was awesome! Then BioWare posted all their pictures from the weekend, and my elation turned to deflation. The comments some people started posting on the pictures were so rude. People who didn’t even know the con attendees were commenting on anything from weight to suspected virginity all based on peoples’ weight and appearances, and the fact that they were gamers.
One picture was of the BioWare base, and a comment said, “Look at all the fatties!” That was depressing in and of itself, but then other people liked the comment, and still more chimed in about how the photo didn’t show the buffet, or the cake. As if we all showed up to BioWare because they offered cake (rather than awesome swag and the chance to talk with our favorite developers). When someone called another person out on this behavior, another person said that they couldn’t help but comment because seeing so many people [of this size] in one place was “impressive”. Really sound philosophy there; I’ll be certain to keep that in mind and show myself suitably impressed the next time I’m in a room full of thin to average people.
But that’s the other thing: even average people didn’t escape the slaughter. There were plenty of average-sized, healthy people who got called ‘fat’. Two guys who cosplayed different versions of male Hawke were criticized for not having the same muscular physique as the video game character. Pictures of the Manticore Theatre showed a couple hundred Dragon Age fans packed into one room, and all the comments could say were things about how most of them needed to stop gaming and get off their asses; or they were all musty, smelly people who were probably virgins. Or the one guy who started off by saying that it was great to love gaming… but if you love it so much you should get a Wii fit and game that way.
One would think from all this that it means gamer must equate to heavy, but the reality is that people weren’t ragging on gamers—just overweight gamers; no one assumed thinner gamers played on the Wii fit prior to every Halo or COD session. And the shaming moves outside of this community to heavy people anywhere. It makes me sad, because the whole time I was at PAX I didn’t feel that I or anyone else of my stature was outwardly ridiculed. I had people stop me and ask to take a picture of me in my costume. I met the lead writer of my favorite game series, spoke with the creative team, and had them all sign my game. At PAX itself I was a gamer, like everyone else there. It was fitting that the convention is called PAX, the Latin word for peace. But outside of it, there is no peace. We are ridiculed and shamed and made to question who we are, and whether or not we should accept ourselves.
Since the only control I have is my response, I try to be an agent of positivity and change. To my pleasant surprise, many others were as well. I shifted the focus from the amount of heavy people to the fact that it was a large amount of BioWare fans all in one place. I thanked BioWare for being decent to their fans this weekend, and welcoming us. In short, PAX East 2012 was one of the best weekends of my life to this point, and I made the conscious decision not to let judgmental haters whom I don’t even know determine how I was going to remember it.
So shame? It doesn’t work, at least not on me. When I’m faced with a situation in which shame is a factor, I consciously decide to focus on another aspect, and to continue to love and accept myself and surround myself with the people who love and accept me for who I am rather than what I weigh. I’m sure I’ll get some haters commenting here, trying to shame me for outing myself, and moreover, accepting myself as heavy person, but hey, this is the internet; I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, and besides, this is my blog and I have control over the admin panel. You may wish to see that as a further reason to shame me, but I see it as me controlling my responses. My choice is not to respond, and to continue to be a proud gamer who accepts who she is, regardless of weight. As a gamer, I can pick and choose my games, and the Shame Game is one I won’t be playing. And making that choice is one achievement I’m happy to unlock.