The notion of control. It is a notion that, in our society, we often hold up with a god-like reverence. Control your emotions, control your schedule, control your food, control your weight, control your urges, control your environment, control yourself. Everything in our lives is expected to be carefully and perfectly planned out to the letter so that no tiny bit of time is “wasted.” We overextend ourselves to control grades or paychecks or sleep, etc. But the more that we try to control, the more control seems to slip from our grasp because inevitably, life is not at all within our control. Life in our society has never truly been within our control.
From an individual level, it is easy to see how life is out of our grasp. Try to control your waistline and it will inevitably grow, try to control your schedule and something will inevitably interfere. The list goes on and on and we can all recognize how it affects us. But the notion of control, as I have come to learn, is actually much more insidious in our society. The reason that we insist upon control is because the oppressive structures we have in place want us to believe these things are up to us. Diet industry wants us to believe that our weight is within our control because they want to sell us their products. The justice system wants us to believe that only criminals go to jail when it is inordinately black and brown men who commit crimes at roughly the same rate and sometimes less than their white counterparts. Our gender binary system wants us to believe that our “sex” is natural and that we must enact certain roles so that we will behave in predictable ways. These systems perpetuate themselves through us believing that we have control over these parts of our lives.
Yet through all of this, fat people live and can often thrive, white criminals go free despite horrific crimes and individuals defy our “natural laws of sex” all over the world. Do these things happen because we messed up? Quite the contrary, these things happen because we have designed them to happen in this way. We have designed a diet industry that pushes an agenda even through medicine, we have designed a justice system that targets black and brown people, we have designed a system of “sex” and binary gender that pushes people to the fringes. So when fat people insist that they can be happy, when black and brown people go to jail for things that white people got a warning for and when gender non-conforming people break the barriers, they are not simply out of control. Simply living is not being out of control and yet we treat these people like they lack some sort of willpower.
We want to believe that these people should just have more control because then we can justify why they’re oppressed. Because otherwise, why would these groups suffer while some of us excel? We want to believe that we are living in a meritocracy because those of us who have privilege want to believe that we earned it. At the end of the day, our society could be doing so much better for marginalized people. But we don’t. And we justify our lack of help because we delude ourselves into believing that if they simply controlled themselves better, they wouldn’t be in that situation in the first place.