Round, Round, Get Around, They Get A Round

Okay then, I have seen recently an article from the NYT explaining that the antibiotics used to raise livestock for meat–the “benefits” of which have much more to do with causing the animals to gain weight more rapidly than with prophylactic protection from disease–most likely also make the folks who eat that meat gain weight more rapidly (a profoundly “no-duh” iteration of “you are what you eat” that you’d think someone might have thought of a while ago…). And an article about a Swiss study showing that vegetarians, though significantly healthier by some measures (BMI again, or Bogus Measurement Index, or Battering Measurement Index, or Beastly Malignant Index), but tend to die earlier and be more prone to mental illness. The fun bit is that the you-might-also-be-interested articles listed at the bottom of that article–at least one time I pulled it up on CBS’s website, suggested that too much running will also cut your life span, and offered a list of the worst carbs. I swear there was also one about how meat will kill you, but I couldn’t find it when I went back. I don’t think the 24-hour news cycle has helped clarify the larger conversation about food and weight. But then, what/who has it helped other than Rupert Murdoch?

There’s also been stuff in the news recently about how extreme low-fat diets are not only ineffective in stemming heart disease, but may contribute. I always suspected Dean Ornish was selling snake oil.

I wish I didn’t feel compelled to keep stating what has become increasingly obvious, and continues to become more and more obvious and researched–that fat is a complex issue that has, almost invariably, little or nothing to do with the character/will/discipline/motivation or lack thereof of the humans who are fat. But it DOES need to be stated and restated, especially as the evidence (as in peer-reviewed studies by responsible scientific bodies–that stuff the Republicans want to stop funding because scientists ask questions and think the world works better when you base your decisions on facts rather than opinions…) mounts. And mounts. And mounts. I am compelled to keep stating and restating and yelling it from whatever rooftop a blog might be, partially because I have been so battered by the culture’s insistence that my weight is A) a summation of my character or lack thereof, B) easily dealt with if only I would __________ (fill in the blank for yourself), and C) means it’s okay to treat me like shit, and, most importantly, because based on the evidence of my experience plus lots and lots of testimony (admittedly anecdotal evidence, though, there again, real research is backing me/us up on this), I am not alone in experiencing this battering. So I do, in fact, need to read it, write it, hear it, shout it, and keep on shouting it.

I do not need to be proud of being fat, or even like being fat. I do not need to proclaim that “Thin may be in, but fat is where it’s at.” I certainly do not need to despise or disparage thin or super-thin people. I just need to be left the hell alone, be treated as fully, complexly human by the medical industry, be treated by people who know me as the reasonably smart and worthwhile human that I mostly try to manage to be, and be free to walk down the street without some bitchy jerk yelling things at me about my body. I also need to be able to buy clothes I like and want in the FULL range of styles that are made for “normal” (horrible word, that, very often) sizes and shapes. I am deeply aware that most of my problems are functions of my living in a culture and class where some kinds of abundance are the norm. But the fact that a kind of suffering only, or mostly, exists in the context of a highly developed economy does not mean that it is acceptable, especially since the sorts of social/cultural progresses of which “first world” countries are capable by virtue of having certain luxuries does kind of mean that they should maybe be setting higher standards for their behavior than countries with more crisis-based economies (not that the US isn’t in the process of trying to turn itself into a different kind of economy in which the middle class either learns to keep its mouth shut or finds itself disappeared, but this isn’t an economics blog). You know, that old fashioned standard according to which those who have been given much (or have “earned’/been blessed with being able to “earn” much) have profound obligations to behave better, give back, and push harder for the world to be a better place for everyone? That one. Let’s give it a try, country mine.

In any event, here’s what I conclude today. It’s going to get radical here, so fasten your seatbelts.

1.The manufacturers of foods should stop poisoning the people who eat their food and the planet that produces it. I do not accept that mass production of food necessitates mass rape of the planet or mass toxification of the population, or that those two things are necessary byproducts of healthy capitalism.

2. Most of us most of the time should eat a more or less balanced variety of foods that should include lots of fruits and veggies, but also probably animal proteins (I think the soy thing is a bit of a agro-corporate plot, though the stuff undoubtedly has its uses. But it upsets the hell out of my system.), and/or whatever makes you feel good and keeps your stuff running. Some of us have things we can’t/shouldn’t eat for a variety of reasons, many of them possibly linked to one or another environmental screw-up of one or another sort, but if gluten makes you sick, don’t eat it–seems fairly straightforward.

3. Most “diets,” whether geared toward weight loss or longevity or making your hair curl are goo-brained. And no one who comes up with one–except for the rare ones that come out of real, unagenda-ed research (which is a VERY rare bird) and are responses to specific medical conditions–has any real plan other than to make money via book sales or membership dues or product sales.

4. In the phrase “fat people” the only important word is “people.” Fat is inherently meaningless in 99.99999% of its instances, especially as its related to BMI and all the pseudo-science attached to it. And it’s meaningless 100% of the time in existential terms.

5. Beauty is tremendously important–possibly even in some lizard-brain sense–but it is, except for a couple of research-able traits like the preference for symmetricality among mammals, essentially indefinable and nearly infinitely mutable. Which means that it is both important and meaningless. Yippee for paradoxes.

Conclusion: Everybody needs to calm down and leave plump/fat/obese/chunky/stout/curvy/round people the fuck alone and make clothes in our sizes. Just like everyone needs to stop telling skinny people to gain weight. Mostly we don’t tell short people they need to grow (except in places where they actually do horribly abusive surgeries to make women’s legs longer so they can be more “western” looking–which is just stupid and vile), and mostly we don’t expect tall people to shrink themselves. Doesn’t mean we don’t say mean things to both groups–because we’re human and humans are horrid much of the time, so some calm-down-and-shut-up would be useful here, too–but we don’t have any reality shows about “My 6-foot Wife” and the reality shows we do have about radically short people are not based on forcing them to be taller.

Conclusion.2: This stuff apparently needs to be said over and over until at least a majority of people get it. Of course, I am blithely assuming that we won’t then proceed to find a new group to pathologize and despise…

Digression: I really “thought” I’d come up with a insight. I noticed how often, when my being fat comes up in a conversation, nice people immediately tell me that I’m not really fat. It’s weird and kind of assumes that I am not a reliable witness for my own experience and identity, but it’s not, per se, hurtful. My “insight” was that this doesn’t happen to black (or, probably, Asian) people (though I bet it does to Native Americans in some situations). It’s always good to be reminded that you, too, are capable of idiocy, so, when I tried this out on one of my classes which is unusually racially diverse (one of the poems we were working on that day raised questions of race and how to talk about it, so it wasn’t just a case me self-indulgently opening up a random tough topic), the black women shut me down immediately with a whole bunch of stories about how “nice” people tell them that they’re not really all that black, which is, I suspect, considerably more damaging than my friends claiming that I’m not all that fat. One of the white women then admitted that she just didn’t know how to talk about race at all. I suggested that she make peace with the fact that whatever she said, ever, would have a very good chance of being wrong and that that was no reason to not talk about it, because silence is at least as dangerous as hate speech. I rather love that my students felt comfortable calling me out on my skewed/privileged assumption, though I do not love being wrong. And I loved them for calling me out, which was an act of generosity and courage on their parts. Also, they clearly had some (fairly meaningful) fun doing it, and some of the white students actually seemed to be paying close attention to the conversation, which kind of let me off the hook insofar as I could be pleased that the discussion happened at all and I had some part (though not the major or most important part) in it.

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to acknowledge that anything I have to say about the Anguish of Being Fat is still said from a position of not inconsiderable economic/educational/racial privilege, and that I do remember that I will get things wrong now and again (except about the Koch Brothers, Monsanto, Big Pharma, and, you know, all the other really bad actors I tend to fuss about, because they are at least as poisonous as I think they are–but for the rest of it, I’m just doing the best I can to think through an issue I know some things about and learn some others about).      

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