Five years ago, Disney and Barney’s announced a partnership for the Barney’s holiday window in which they would dramatically alter Minnie Mouse's body — making her a 5'11, size zero in order to "look good" in a Lanvin dress. There was an uproar, the result of which was that Disney and Barneys changed the campaign, making it a “dream sequence” with Minnie eventually waking up wearing the dress on her actual body.
However, when Disney announced the changes in a press release, they claimed they had planned to do it the whole time and added: “We are saddened that activists have repeatedly tried to distort a lighthearted holiday project in order to draw media attention to themselves.”
They were talking about me. I was the "attention seeking activist."
I had started a petition against the campaign that garnered over 140,000 signatures (including actors, models, and Walt Disney’s granddaughter) and drew international media attention.
It wasn’t the first time I’d been called an “attention seeking activist” by a person or company I had called out for oppressive behavior. When activists point out the bad behavior of a company, the response is often to attack the activist. One of the most common ways that activists are attacked is by being labeled as “attention seeking.” Sadly, it can be a successful strategy. Often, people are uncomfortable with change and activism, so they are all too happy to roll their eyes at these rather than engage with the real issues.
Knowing this, I wanted to write an open letter to any activist who has ever been called “attention seeking.”
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So it happened. You got called an “attention seeker” because of your activism. I know that right now you may be questioning yourself, wondering if your activism comes from an authentic place or if you really do just want attention for yourself.
I’m here to tell you — fuck a bunch of that. Congratulations!
What you are doing in the world matters, and you did it well enough to become the target of someone who is so desperate to keep the status quo that they are trying to attack you instead of having the courage to come to the table and discuss your ideas.
These people don’t know what it’s like to have friends and family who don’t understand why you do what you do. They don’t know what it’s like to be asked if you can tone it down a bit for the big family holiday. They don’t know what it’s like to dedicate yourself to fighting not just the sources of injustices, but all the people who are content to sigh and shrug and say that things will never change. They can’t imagine what it’s like to find your e-mail flooded with violent — if poorly spelled — threats from online trolls.
What they don’t know is that being called an “attention seeker” is a badge of honor for an activist. That’s what activists do. Rather than putting their heads in the sand or giving up before they try, activists seek attention for issues that need to be faced and fixed. So being called attention seeking is proof that you are effective. You are part of a long history, a rich tradition. Let this commit you even more to being an activist.
Keep working, keep pushing, live so that these people call you attention seeking every day. You are making the world better. You are seen, and you are appreciated.