It’s just a phase: Four overused, hateful words

Aside from righteously indignant rants about self-care, health, and taxpayer dollars in response to your revelation that you are fat accepting, you might also hear this depressingly common phrase:

Oh, it’s just a phase. You’ll grow out of it.

Let me just say that I hate this phrase with a deep, bitter passion.

Notice that it is only uttered in response to taboo lifestyles: cross-dressing, BDSM, childlessness by choice, paganism, homosexuality, Goth, or anything a particular person doesn’t approve of. You never hear someone say that being heterosexual is a phase and that one day, someone will grow up and meet the same-sex partner of her dreams. When was the last time you heard, “God, she’s on another vanilla sex bender. I can’t wait until she gets back into BDSM, can you?”

No, and there is a reason for that. There are a number of ways someone might have a go at your unconventional lifestyle:

  • Attack your lifestyle as irresponsible, immoral, or unrealistic
  • Point out the benefits of a more conventional lifestyle: more friends/dating partners, greater physical attractiveness, etc.
  • Condescension, or the famous “It’s just a phase. Once you get it out of your system, you’ll join the rest of us in the real world.”
Condescension is usually the deterrent of last resort, after other more confrontational methods have failed to convince you that you should do what others want. The intent is to make you doubt yourself, to reinforce the accepted viewpoint, and to make you dependent on the approval of others.
They are trying to tell you that this isn’t really what you want. You poor rebellious, confused thing, you just haven’t experienced yet how FULFILLING the life is that the REST of us have chosen.
It’s a bullying tactic.

This is not to say that people don’t go through phases of all kinds. For some people, being a lesbian or a BDSM practitioner is a phase. For others, being a vegetarian is a phase. Some other people are born-again Christians for a while and then lose interest. Still other girls are tomboys for a period of time but then choose to behave like conventional girls.

My problem is that people use this undeniable fact of human development as an excuse to dismiss out of hand people’s devotion to the taboo. There is the sense that because not everyone demonstrates the lifelong fulfillment that these lifestyles promise, they are not to be taken seriously. People who are not receptive to alternative lifestyles can stay in their comfort zones without having to learn about, respect, or really think about them. Why bother taken them into consideration when they are so obviously inferior and only patronized by the confused, vulnerable or immature?

They neglecting a crucial fact in taking this attitude however:

Just because these lifestyles are phases for some people does not mean they are not lifelong passions for others.

Lots of heterosexuals are unhappy in their marriages and some choose homosexuality or infidelity as an escape. Lots of parents are unhappy being parents. Meanwhile, some people only experiment with homosexuality in college (the famous LUGs, or lesbians until graduation) and other people start off planning to be childless and decide later that having children sounds like a good idea.

Clearly, there are still many, many people who remain homosexual or childless for the entirety of their lives. There are also many, many people who stay Christian, stay vegetarian, or remain in the lifestyle of their choice and rebut the claim that these lifestyles are nothing more than silly phases for young rebellious college types.

Of course, even if all unconventional lifestyles were merely phases to be grown out of, so what? We go through phases for a reason. Phases allow us to find out who we are and whether or not something suits us. In other words, it may not last forever, but it matters right here, right now. In order to leave the phase and move on, we need to explore it honestly right here, right now. After all, phases often introduce people to other interests that WILL last forever. It’s a necessary stepping stone. Childhood doesn’t last forever either, but we all need to go through childhood before we can reach adulthood. We all need to be dependent, make mistakes, and explore independence and good decision-making with the help of role models before we can  actually take that next step of being independent and facing consequences. Phases are like a type of psychological adolescence (I mean that in a positive way.)

Similar attitudes abound about fat acceptance. Young women who are learning to be comfortable in their bodies might hear someone reassure them that there is nothing wrong with wanting to be pretty. One day, when you meet the right man, you’ll be all too anxious to lose those extra pounds and fit into your wedding dress. A not-so-athletic man who wants to defend his right to not fit the traditional definition of masculinity might be told that he is just experiencing youthful rebellion and that once he has to pay higher insurance premiums and taxes, he’ll grow up and stop being so selfish.

For people to eat more than what is considered acceptable is literally taboo in our culture, especially for women. Not dieting, not expressing regret over the consumption of ‘bad’ foods, and not complimenting the weight loss of others aren’t just eccentric but largely condoned behaviors. These behaviors elicit rage, the kind of rage that is reserved for someone who has committed a horrible sin or taboo. More often, though, we are simply condescended to. To some, we are pathetic and secretly jealous and someday, we will grow up and face the reality of the beauty of thinness and able-bodiedness.

Don’t allow others to make you doubt our attractiveness, your productivity, or your worth. Anything you hear that this is a phase and that you’ll grow out of it, remember that THESE are the people that need to grow up. These adults have failed to use their adult brains to think critically and to respect boundaries. They have neglected to use their adult morals to avoid double-standards. New fat activists might be astonished at first at the level of vitriol they are faced with, but once you view fat acceptance as an alternative lifestyle, something that directly offends not just cultural mores but the essence of who people are, you’ll get it. Thin and healthy equals everything good about life and humanity. To challenge that is a deeply personal attack for some.

You are in for the culture war of your life. Bring your sword and shield.


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