Yesterday my father said he was sad that he had two fat kids. My brother is 55 and starves so as not to be fat; I am 57 and a long term weight cycler, currently fat. My father does not see his thinking as needing any new information regarding size-ism.
My mother is uncomfortable with a black man as President. She is not political per se; she is merely a listener of talk radio: long time insomniac as long time listener. I cannot say this habit has created her thinking, but for a chronically anxious person, talk radio (overwhelmingly manned by frightened, reactionary, extreme right-wing conservative men at the microphones) surely creates a fertile breeding ground for ignorance. When I mention this to her she tells me not to try to change her.
My brother also confesses to hating fat people. He uses the word hate, and does not, at least not in our conversations, see how he was/is manipulated, and coerced into that thinking by my father’s oft proclaimed issue with body image and fat.
I do not think like my family, and it ain’t easy.
During my adolescence, like most, I was rebellious, unhappy, and angry. I was awfully lucky to be coming of age during the hellacious times of the 60s. I searched for and found others who thought as I did. And when my thinking differed I was challenged, sometimes harshly or humiliatingly, so that I learned, read, and investigated where my ideas came from, and how they might need revising.
I have continued this pattern all of my life to this point. Often my ideas do not mesh with those who would appear to be as open-minded as I try to be. I don’t care. I cannot afford to care. I value my independence far too much.
This is not the kind of independence most of my friends would talk about. I have not as many friends as I once did, as my sense of personal freedom in my thinking has made relationships uncomfortable for others: I refuse more and more often to be dishonest. In any case, for many women I do know at this time, when the topic of independence comes up it often refers to physical autonomy. I remember many young women friends telling me that I needed to learn to drive. I grew up in NYC and a car seemed ridiculous. They insisted that I would be more independent, and while they had a point, it seemed a basically unimportant one considering the availability of mass transit.
Years later as a young mother on Long Island, my women friends continued the argument for a vehicle. I did learn, hated to drive, and gave up on it. I relied on my then husband, friends, and neighbors for any transportation other than my feet. I got along.
Friends exclaimed constantly that a woman like me should drive, that I could not be independent without it. It seemed that not driving negated the validity of any feminist or otherwise intellectual thoughts I might have. These were the same women who would capitulate time and again to their husbands, fathers, brothers, and their mothers who also were under the thumb of the “way it is” as my mother called it when I was young. The way was that for good or ill, men made the call.
Today, as I continue to strike out for my independence, it is clearly and most importantly the right, the need, to think independently.
Even more importantly, I have the right to change my mind, even moments after stating what I think or believe. I reserve the right, the full self-determining right, to my thinking, and consequently to my writing and speech.
In our society we have protected the right to free speech. Sometimes we cannot say exactly what we want to say in order to give the right of independence to all. It can be confusing, but it is imperative that we all be allowed to think independently. So, when my mother deliberately mispronounces the President’s name, or my father and brother rate people and their value by a BMI score, I celebrate their right to believe what they want.
I celebrate my absolute fortune to have been able to grow up as an independent thinker who reserves the right to have a mind and change it, and to challenge others to do the same.