This week I went to a networking event and had feelings about it. This is the story of those feelings.
There are a million reasons why I have a not-so-mild aversion to networking (to be revealed soon), but one of those reasons is fatphobia — the unspoken size politics that frequently comes with corporate environments and that meat-markety energy that gives me flashbacks to being a 21-year-old in too-light foundation and a pushup bra at a bar.
Okay. Okay. To be fair, I have been to networking things that I like. But in general I am suspicious of the premise of networking. I mean, I understand the importance and allure of meeting people who have similar interests or careers, but meeting 30 of them in a small space while we sip $7 chardonnay is terrifying. No, it's something else. It's repellant.
What is networking? In my experience it's part Capitalism and part sexual interest assessment. It's like if a bar and an office pooped out a baby.
Enter my mind as I am going into a networking event:
To begin with, I start from a place of caution. I am a fat brown lady from a dysfunctional family living in this culture. You do the math. But anxiety aside, forays into corporate culture have taught me that I should expect a mix of invisibility and hostility — sexism, misogyny and fatphobia in ample amounts. I like meeting a high integrity, passion-driven, stylish and social-justice oriented babe as much as the next person. Unfortunately, experience has taught me that, statistically speaking, that babe is the diamond in the rough here.
I head to the sofa and as I am walking there I notice something. As I get farther from the gaggle, I see where all the other fat people are. They are sitting — alone — on various sofas that lead to the door.
I am highly curatorial about who is around me and who I work with. I can’t work with someone I don’t trust. I am also good at spotting people I want to be friends with from faraway distances. My friend-dar game is strong. So I scope the room. Most people are putting off a strong "I am morally bankrupt" vibe. So that narrows the population of possible contacts by about 70-85 percent.
Then second level vetting happens — people who aren't morally bankrupt but would be too nice to stop a racist rant at a dinner party. They have a certain look. I can't be friends with someone who would let someone talk for twenty minutes about the value of prisons while I am trying to eat gouda.
Now we are down to about two people, in my experience. Okay, honestly, we are down to about one person in my real actual experience.
And that's exactly what happened this week. I found my one person. She is absurdly beautiful (anecdotal observation: very beautiful women get more political latitude and can often have more progressive politics while also still being welcome into more conservative environments), gives excellent eye contact, and likes cayenne in her cocktails.
She and I talk for a while and my deepest desire is to get her to come hang out with me on the sofa that is farthest from the gaggle of people who have surrounded the small bar. I am already unconsciously walking us over to that very sofa when she stops me and says we should say hi to all these strangers.
We have hit a fork in the road and she doesn't know it.
She doesn't understand why I want to get away from them. She likely hasn't had to see them the way that I have had to see them.
I tell her I'm not really into networking events and that she should join me when she is done. I head to the sofa and as I am walking there I notice something. As I get farther from the gaggle I see where all the other fat people are. They are sitting — alone — on various sofas that lead to the door.
They had opted out of the gaggle just like me. Or perhaps more accurately, they had learned they weren't welcome in the gaggle. Over a lifetime of heart-breaking moments maybe they, like me, had learned that it was better to preemptively opt out than to risk having hope for something different, something better. Meeting new people is a risk, and there is nothing gained if nothing is ventured. But the risks aren't the same for everyone.
Being forced to witness and experience rampant dehumanization is the hidden cost of being in public when you're fat.
This networking event represents a microcosm of the very people who maintain fatphobia — the people who are the very best at upholding the status quo. The winners in a game that is rigged against all of us. but especially the non-compliant ones.
As I am walking to the sofa, I think twice. Maybe I should get back in there and join the new acquaintance. But I truly, genuinely don't want to. I want to sit down and be quiet, but that want (as genuine as it is, as genuine as it feels) doesn't exist in a vacuum. It is informed by bigger forces, and my desire cannot be picked apart from the messy reality in which it was shaped.
The room is a metaphor. My position within it is a truth that hurts. My response to that truth is mine and mine alone. I am a moon orbiting a planet that I've stopped wanting to visit.
So I sit down and I relish the physical sensation of softness. Relief.