In defense of the question, “Where do you get your confidence?”

gabourey sidibe giving a speech, wearing a red wrap dress

Gabourey Sidibe: fabulous fat inspiration forever. (source)

There’s been a lot of critique lately of people asking fat (or in some cases, Hollywood-fat) celebrities where they get their confidence. Gabourey Sidibe talked about it in her wonderful speech at the Ms. Foundation Gala:

One of the first things people usually ask me is, “Gabourey, how are you so confident?” I hate that. I always wonder if that’s the first thing they ask Rihanna when they meet her. “RiRi! How are you so confident?” Nope. No. No. But me? They ask me with that same incredulous disbelief every single time. “You seem so confident! How is that?”

Mindy Kaling also talked about it not too long ago:

“I always get asked, ‘Where do you get your confidence?’ I think people are well meaning, but it’s pretty insulting. Because what it means to me is, ‘You, Mindy Kaling, have all the trappings of a very marginalized person. You’re not skinny, you’re not white, you’re a woman. Why on earth would you feel like you’re worth anything?’”

I think there’s a lot of truth to Sidibe’s and Kaling’s analyses–people are often shocked to find that fat people, especially fat women of color, have the gall to love their own bodies. Some thin people do find confident fat people puzzling and disturbing: it challenges their assumptions, their privilege, all the work they’ve put into avoiding fatness.

But at the same time, I don’t think that type of reasoning is the only one that drives the question, and I think it does us a disservice to pretend it is.

The question can just as easily come from people, whether thin or fat, who are struggling to feel comfortable in their own skin and are looking for advice. People who see a non-conventionally-attractive woman daring to be confident in the face of a society that says she shouldn’t, and think, “Wow, I want to be like that–what’s her secret?”

Let’s face it: it is an accomplishment to build self-confidence in a world that constantly reminds you you’re lesser-than, that your worth depends on conforming to an incredibly narrow standard of beauty. For many, perhaps most, fat people–and for plenty of women of all shapes and sizes–confidence doesn’t come easily or naturally. It takes constant work to root out society’s shame and stigma, to stop listening to the messages all around you and start believing in your own power.

That’s something that deserves to be celebrated. That’s something we should ask our role models about–because it’s important to draw roadmaps for our own journeys of dealing with internalized racism, sexism, and fat-phobia. It’s important to make that struggle visible, to remind each other that we’re not alone.

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6 thoughts on “In defense of the question, “Where do you get your confidence?”

  1. YESYESYES THIS

    I love it when people ask me these sorts of questions, personally… whether it’s well-intentioned or not, it means I’m getting noticed and that’s what I WANT my activism and art to do.

    • Like…. even outright trolls mean this. They suck, and I hate them, and I struggle not to believe them, but I wouldn’t even HAVE trolls if nobody listened to what I have to say.

  2. Reblogged this on Radically Mad and commented:
    YESYESYES THIS

    I love it when people ask me these sorts of questions, personally… whether it’s well-intentioned or not, it means I’m getting noticed and that’s what I WANT my activism and art to do.

    Like…. even outright trolls mean this. They suck, and I hate them, and I struggle not to believe them, but I wouldn’t even HAVE trolls if nobody listened to what I have to say.

  3. Interesting piece. I understand why people are offended by the question. In an ideal world, people wouldn’t think to ask it. But in the world we live in where marginalized people are given the message that they are “less than,” it can be valuable and inspiring to hear the perspective of people who overcome those influences.

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