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Oooh, I'm so encouraged now!

Fun with privilege:

Dottie, the blogger-in-chief of my favorite bike blog, Chicago's Let's Go Ride a Bike, wrote a wonderful post today about the positive impact bike-riding can have on the self-esteem as well as the health of people who participate in it. She's a leading advocate of everyday biking for everyday people (with a cycle-chic slant endorsing the wearing of nice street clothes while doing it).

The most salient point of her post today is this:

When your body carries you several miles to and from work every day, you appreciate your body as a tool and a workhorse. When your lungs fill with air and your heart pumps energetically, you know your body is good, without having to examine it in the mirror, searching for flaws. If society declares that your body is not ideal because you are not skinny enough or muscular enough, or your hips or thighs are too big, you know that society is wrong because your body works for you admirably every day.

Words to bike by.

One commenter, identifying himself as Dave, weighed in with this gem of obliviousness:

I like the subject. Since I’ve started commuting on a regular basis, I’ve noticed people that ride that are quite overweight. I was impressed, I feel like giving them encouragement, Like “you go, keep it up...”.

Well, thank you, Mr Man! Now I know that I'm on the right track. I'm so encouraged! Why, I'm positively relieved. I wasn't sure about this bike-riding thing before, but now that I know I'm on the path to becoming more like you--or at least more acceptable to you--well! My bike commute suddenly makes perfect sense to me. I have a raison de rouler at last!

My reply--admirably free of profanity and sarcasm, if I do say so myself--was this:

I know that you’re sincere in your statement here, but as one of the quite overweight people who ride a bike every day, I can tell you that a non-overweight (and from your picture, presumably) young and athletic person "encouraging" me would annoy the crap out of me.

That encouragement, no matter what your intention, would feel to
me like the most egregious condescension. I would read its subtext as "the privileged person has decided that he knows everything about me based on my appearance, and deigns to 'encourage' me to go on trying to normalize myself." (I might, incidentally, also wonder whether you’d feel equally moved to offer encouragement to a fat guy on a bike as to a fat gal.)

In fact, I’ve been bike-commuting daily for quite some time now, I’m in rather good shape, and I’m as fat as I was the day I began. I’m not on a trajectory toward a normalized body type, I "keep it up" just fine on my own, and I don’t think I speak only for myself when I say that a smile and a hello would be a lot less likely to result in dagger looks (if not a really rude retort) than "encouragement" would.

The more I ride my bike, the sharper my retorting skills become, I swear. (Also, I've been listening to Sian Phillips reading a Georgette Heyer novel, and those Regency cadences are stuck in my head.)


( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 18th, 2010 09:35 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's a whole lotta privilege packed into his knapsack, isn't it? Though good on you for calling it out. Politely, even! Did he respond? More importantly, did he respond thoughtfully?

(Also: your idea of fat is completely different than mine. In all the time I've known you, I would never have considered you fat. Just sayin'.)
May. 18th, 2010 10:44 pm (UTC)
Having been accused of privileged thinking and responses to the world myself--rightly so--and having had to apply myself to understanding the problem, I try to take the informative rather than the shouting approach to people who still don't see it.

No, he hasn't replied, but I'll check back a few times to see if he does, since he's a regular commenter on the blog. He struck me as sincere and well-meaning (as opposed to a total prick), and probably young enough to be trainable.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )



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