Free your mind and the rest will follow…Any of my fellow xenennials want to sing along with me? If you now have the wonderful harmonies of En Vogue stuck in your head - you’re welcome.
Oh man, did I love En Vogue. And I sure did love that song. Pretty sure that it was the costumes in the music video that did it for me. Black women strutting down a runway in shiny black latex to electric guitar solos…good stuff.
But, when’s the last time you revisited this song? Because, if 41 year old me is being honest, it’s not a good song. I listen to the lyrics now and cringe at how hard 11 year old me used to sing along.
The appeal to “colorblindness.”
It’s just a weird ode to respectability politics with guitar riffs. But the title line is the one that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
Free your mind and the rest will follow.
I feel like, while we all might cringe at a lot of the lyrics in the song, many people still really believe that one. If you free your mind, the rest will follow.
But y’all….that’s pretty much never true.
Don’t get me wrong: we need to be aware. We need to understand the ways in which oppressive systems make us hate ourselves and each other. We need to be able to break free from that if we ever want to end oppression and find true liberation.
But there’s like, soooo many more steps between changing our mindset and changing the world.
I wrote a few newsletters back about my feelings on the whole “nap revolution,” please check it out if you missed it. I absolutely think that this is an example of thinking that if you “free your mind the rest will follow” (I’m sorry En Vogue, I love you and don’t think you’re responsible for all this - the song is just really, really stuck in my head). But I see this in so many of the ways in which we try to address oppression.
I am a fat woman. I’ve been a fat woman for most of my adult life. While my work doesn’t often seem to center around fat liberation, a lot of my life - the life I live outside of these internets - does. The work of fat liberation activists (please check out the amazing Aubrey Gordon (yrfatfriend on IG) or Sonalee (thefatsextherapist on IG) if you want some good places to begin to learn some more about this) has helped me immensely, both personally and politically. And, due to the immutable laws of intersectionality, has made me a better anti-racist (and vice-versa).
If you are a fat person - especially a fat woman - you are told that your body is undesirable. You are told that you deserve to be ashamed for taking up space in the world. You are told that you are ugly and undeserving of love and care. You are told to hate yourself into a smaller shape.
This constant barrage of emotional and psychological violence takes a serious toll. It robs us of comfort and safety and mental well-being. It distracts us and robs us of time and productivity. Gawd, when I think of how much more I could have gotten accomplished throughout my youth if I didn’t spend so much of it obsessed with what I was eating, who was seeing me eating, how I was sitting, what rolls might be showing… and when I think of how much of my brain space was filled with lists of clothing, shoes, hairstyles, ways of sitting that were considered “flattering” for fat girls…it’s a lot.
It was a long journey to feel like I could love myself. It was a lot to feel like I could be attractive. It was even more to feel like others could be attracted to me. It’s a journey I’m still definitely on Seeing other fat women really helped. Fat women in fabulous clothes. Fat women with no clothes. Fat women walking around with confidence. It all helped me walk with confidence. It still helps me today.
This progress has meant a lot to me personally. It has freed up a lot of my mind to focus on things that actually matter. It has helped me heal from abuse and trauma. I’m grateful for how it has helped me.
All of the above, we call “body positivity” or “fat positivity” - I guess, depending on the size of the women picture in the memes posted. It’s lovely. It’s offered up about every 5th post on social media. It’s wrapped up in a bow and sold to us in books and retreat packages. And it’s very limited.
It’s limited to a feeling. It’s limited to a thought. It’s very tied to privilege (it’s very easy for me to find fat bodies that look like mine because my body is a tall body that is “smaller fat” with an hourglass shape. It’s easy to find cute clothes that make me feel confident because I can afford them and online plus size retailers are more likely to have my size, etc.). And none of it touches the biggest impacts that fat hate and discrimination has on the lives of fat people.
Loving myself won’t make a doctor want to take my illnesses or injuries seriously when I show up in their office for care, and it won’t make the medicines I’m prescribed more likely to have been tested for effectiveness on bodies my size, and it won’t make the equipment in the doctor’s office or hospital accommodate my body either. More fat models on television won’t make more public venues invest in seating that fat bodies can sit in and participate more safely and comfortably in public life. Seeing fat bodies as sexy won’t end employment discrimination against fat people. Repeating that fat people can be fat and healthy won’t increase accommodations and services for disabled and chronically ill fat people. And for those whose bodies will almost always be deemed “too fat” for even fat positivity - none of this will help much at all with much of anything.
And none of this touches on the basic fact that regardless of whether or not we love our bodies, and regardless of whether or not anyone finds us beautiful or fuckable - we deserve to exist with dignity and safety. We deserve the right to fully participate in society. We deserve the right to explore and live up to our potential should we choose to and we deserve whatever accommodations would enable us to do so. We deserve care. Our inherent value as human beings is inviolable and fully separate from whatever anybody thinks about the size or shape of our bodies.
It is important to remember that the social and mental abuse we are subjected to is a tool of the oppression and exploitation we face, not the other way around. We are made to feel like shit about ourselves, and others are made to see us as shit, because it serves systems that benefit from being able to control us and profit from our self-loathing. Freeing our minds frees us only so much as it can provide the clarity we need to be able to focus on and fight the systems that our mental conditioning had previously prevented us from seeing. But it doesn’t do the work for us.
If your journey to freedom begins and ends with how you see yourself, then you are either a) operating from a place of privilege that allows you to feel insulated from the bulk of the actual systemic oppression that fat hate has or b) only as free as you’ve been conditioned to think is possible.
I see this in anti-racist activism as well. The idea that if we could just think different thoughts about ourselves and other people, we will change the world. The idea that if we just believed we could do more, we would be more. The idea that if we just saw more Black and brown faces on our television, we see that we are worthy and somehow that would mean that our government, education systems, and employment systems would feel the same. (I’m not saying that representation isn’t important - it absolutely is, but putting more Black faces on television screens doesn’t even change the entertainment industry, let alone the systems that impact our health and wellbeing every single day). The ways in which people of all races and ethnicities are conditioned to dismiss and denigrate people of color absolutely serves white supremacy. It bolsters a system that profits from our oppression and exploitation. But it was created to serve the system, the system was not created to serve it. Animus toward populations of color didn’t create systemic racism and lack of animus won’t destroy it.
We can say the same about ableism and classism, we can say the same about queerphobia, trans hate and sexism. These are the products of systems that are benefiting from exploitation and oppression - systems that have built narratives of comparative human worth to justify and strengthen that exploitation and oppression.
The battle against oppression will always be political. When we are sold individual systems to systemic problems, we are being bamboozled.
So free your mind and then fight the system. It’s the only way to true freedom.
Also, bring back 90’s style girl groups. They were amazing.
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Ooooooooooooooweeeee this was sooo amazing. This quote, y’all: “If your journey to freedom begins and ends with how you see yourself, then you are either a) operating from a place of privilege that allows you to feel insulated from the bulk of the actual systemic oppression that fat hate has or b) only as free as you’ve been conditioned to think is possible.” Thank you, Ijeoma, once again!
1000% this. And even before your closing remarks I too peeped the parallels between advancing "representation" in race and in body size.
Like, yes, removing Confederate statues and having the new Captain America be Black is all well and good, but having cops actually face consequences for killing us would be even better.
Thank you for always showing me how it's done.