To know me is to watch me change. I’ve had about five different hair colours in the last year, but that’s not what I mean. I want to talk about changing my mind, my outlook, and my behaviour.
It’s highly unrealistic to have a picture of someone in your mind that never changes, yet it’s the simplest thing to do. I’m not a psychologist or nothing but I bet it’s because there’s so much information in the world. It’s easier to take a mental snapshot of a person, a friend, a family member, even an adversary and file it away, referring to it only when that person pops up. You might only need to pull up a snapshot when that person’s name is mentioned, if you run into them on the street, or come across them on the internet. That snapshot doesn’t really need to change, because for the most part, we cling to the things we know and the things that define us. Change is hard work! So when someone you know tweaks something small, and you come across them again, most people don’t stop and take another mental picture. You keep trying to compare them to the mental picture you have in your mind, and it can get confusing!
You might know me through my words and pictures, or you might know me as someone you hang out with in real life. You might even be my Mum. Hi Mum! You may have known me for a little while, or you may have known me for a few years. There are things about me that you know, that are part of your mental picture of Natalie Perkins. I like drawing and making stuff, I’m pretty opinionated, and I like to wear clothes. If you’ve known me for a while you might know more stuff, stuff that doesn’t really mesh with the things I love to talk about now. Like how I think criticising other people’s fashion choices is a hurtful thing, but… wasn’t I the girl who set up a community on the internet where people could say mean things about what other people are wearing? I was. If you remember it, you’re not remembering incorrectly!
A few people are asking me, now that my words are being read by a larger audience, how I can be the same person. It’s a fair question and it’s why I’m writing this post. I’m Natalie Perkins, ex-fashion snarker, current feminist and size acceptance activist and I went through a process of questioning the ways in which I took part in putting other women down, being called on my crappy behaviour, and making a resolution to change my mind. Lots of people think that changing your mind is a power struggle, that “giving in” and admitting that you’re wrong is a Bad Thing. I’ve got to tell you that is A Grade Crapola. That’s the power systems that favour you and afford you privilege trying to get you to resist change and that is one of the reasons why things are so crappy in this world. Another reason is because Arrested Development is not being made anymore, but it’s just a small sliver in the pie chart of Reasons Why The World Is Crappy.
I did not change my mind overnight. No, I am pretty stubborn. I take after my Dad. The fight I put up was drawn out and dirty and took place over months. I denied that my snarky behaviour was anti-feminist, I denied my racism, and I denied my privilege. Smart people, who really did not owe me anything and were not obligated to educate me, offered me links and discussed things with me but I stood my ground. No sir, I was not going to back down. But after a while, months even, things started ringing true. Making fun of people, who were mostly female identified, began to feel like I was part of the system of oppression that keeps women down. That didn’t feel good at all, but I COULD NOT GIVE IN!
Despite my stubbornness, I found myself snarking less. I could abide that, so long as I didn’t have to lose face by giving in! So I was coasting along, not having to admit my follies and engaging more and more in feminist discourse, when people started asking me questions. “Why aren’t you commenting in the snark community anymore?” Oh, I’m busy. Um… yeah. And then, “How can you justify being so loudmouthed and opinionated on women’s issues when you’re still a mod?” The penny dropped. It was time to own my behaviour. The question wasn’t offensive anymore, and I didn’t feel so weird about answering. I understood that I wasn’t losing anything by owning it and admitting I was wrong – I was gaining some excellent life experience and more to the point, I understood what it meant to be an actual feminist. Someone who isn’t afraid of admitting when she is wrong.
At the end of the day? A backflip isn’t a bad thing when you’re backflipping on hurtful behaviour. Protecting my ego was a selfish thing, and all the fat activism I engaged in was for naught if I couldn’t understand and front up to the realisation that I was a tool for putting people down. I’m still a mod of that community and if I’m honest, I’m at a place of confusion. Do I remain a member and a moderator, and call people on their hurtful words? Or do I leave, and never think about it again except to denounce it?
I don’t need a pat on the back. If you go through a similar process and expect a cookie, you’re not quite there yet. Change is a tool for growth and it helps you to be a more awesome human being, part of a more awesome human community. I think it’s our job to be re-evaluating, questioning, being questioned… all the time.