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Recently I came across this article about Chris Christie and pulling the “red handle”. I remember clicking on it because I didn’t know what the “red handle” was. As I read the article, I immediately understood, in a very visceral way about the red handle and connected it to a number of recent conversations I have had with friends, family and coaching clients.
The article describes the “red handle” this way:
A lot of people have a red handle installed deep in their person, where if somebody yanks on it, it hurts. For some people, it’s some terrible mistake they regret, and for some people, it’s something they’re always trying to get better at that hasn’t worked, or a relationship they can’t repair, or a weakness that makes them self-conscious, or a memory that’s sort of awful. I’m not any better or worse off than anybody else in having something like this in my nature/history; the only difference between mine and anybody else’s is that mine is on the outside.
I get the concept of the red handle. Oh yes. In my life, I always referred to it as my hot button, but I understand the idea. The notion that, regardless of how well somebody does or doesn’t know you, they may freely assume that there is this one thing about you that is “up for grabs”. They see a target at which they can aim. And regardless of whether or not this is a deeply sensitive subject for you, they feel a sense of glee at being able to push your hot button or pull your red handle.
In a society that constantly hounds, harasses, embarrasses, traumatizes, cajoles and bullies people who don’t conform to an extremely narrow vision of acceptably attractive, it’s not hard to imagine body size as the red handle or hot button for many, many people. I’m sure that’s what was behind the “attack at the Mexican restaurant” I told you about, or the many, many hateful email messages and comments I filter out of my blog, YouTube channel, website, and facebook profiles on a daily basis. Because people are pretty sure this is my hot button/red handle. And even though I’ve become much tougher and it doesn’t affect me nearly as much as it once did, for much of my life their guess about my hot button, my red handle would have been pretty much true.
And that sucks. Because most of us have the ability to choose when we share our hot button with other people. Feel insecure about your education level? You don’t necessarily have a sign on you that says ,”I flunked calculus” that everybody in the world, including complete strangers can see. People actually need to get to know you, get to know a little bit about you before they discover that hot button. Your “I have abandonment issues” might not become apparent to even your closest friends or lover until your relationship deepens and becomes more meaningful. I have often reflected on the power inherent in exposing our hot buttons, our red handles, our soft underbellies to those who love us the most. The power that knowledge gives our loved ones to strengthen or destroy us. To build us up and gird our loins or to wound us deeply and permanently.
But fat people don’t always get this chance. Many of us have been bullied our entire lives about the size of our bodies and for many of us this is our hot button/red handle/soft underbelly issue. And that means that complete strangers, can yell at us across a crowded room and wound us deeply and even permanently without having to know anything about us or even give it a second thought.
Add to this, the notion that lots and lots of people still suffer under the delusion that wounding us this way will somehow help us. That it will shame us into “doing something about our bodies” as if we didn’t have piles and piles of proof that shaming people does not make them healthier, happier or thinner. And what you get is fat marathoners getting eggs thrown at them, cowardly people offering unsolicited advice before they scoot off subway trains, and a whole lot of nasty aimed at our soft underbellies from people we don’t even know.
I can say that this is no longer a primary hot button or red handle for me. And I’m not super eager to tell everybody in the world what the newer versions of those hot buttons are. I think I’ll ask you to know me a little better before I tell you–or at least buy me a drink first. I feel very privileged to have come to the point in my life that somebody calling me a fat cow is more likely to leave me annoyed, angry or even amused than devastated.
But it has made me more dedicated than ever to work with my amazing colleagues like Ragen Chastain and Golda Poretsky to help fat folks understand that they do not deserve to have their hot buttons pushed and their red levers pulled–and to help the world at large to understand that pushing this hot button, that pulling this red lever without permission in a complete stranger or even a friend is a form of psychological rape. It is not justified under any circumstances, and it is never, ever okay.
Jeanette DePatie AKA The Fat Chick
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Want to learn to face the spring holidays with more joy and less trauma? My dear friend and colleague Golda Poretsky is offering a HAES for the Holidays course just for spring. I am an affiliate, so if you join her class, you can support me at the same time. Win, win WIN!