Rounding Up, Down, Over, Around

This one’s a bit of an omnibus. Just FYI.

There’s a post over on xojane about unusually vile behavior from TV “star” Adam Richman (can we call someone a “star” because he rode the reality-show wave to “fame” by going around the country and eating grotesque amounts of food for the camera–“Man Vs. Food”–because, and you can call me old-fashioned, but I thought “star” was a term we were supposed to attach to people with, um, talent?) when a fat activist called out for using the pro-ana term “thinspiration” in a hashtag attached to a selfie of him holding out his old “fat” pants in front of a mirror. The end result was Richman suggesting she commit suicide and calling her words even I don’t use, and you know how I love an f-bomb…

The point of even repeating this particular/peculiar incident is not to, yet again, mutter about reality-tv and its staggering destructiveness (though that’s certainly a conversation we won’t quit having any time soon…), or about how a celebrity male feels entitled to speak to a woman who’s had the temerity to suggest he think about using language responsibly (though that’s another conversation that’s likely got some looooong legs, too), but just to note that the thing happened and to do my bit in calling out an asshole who has way more influence than he’s earned, like so very many celebrities these days. I’m a big proponent of the First Amendment (2nd, not so much, not surprisingly), but it seems like maybe instagram and twitter should be able to ban hate speech, which is what he engaged in.

Of course, maybe Richman is just really grouchy because he’s really, really hungry. He’s all excited about how much weight he’s lost. Good for him, but if losing it makes him more of an asshole than he was in the first place, then, yeah, not so good for him.

So, officially: Fuck Off, Adam Richman.


Now that we have that bit out of the way, on to that favorite topic of plump people everywhere, bathing suits. Yep, I do recall that I already posted about it earlier this summer, advocating, as I am wont to do, for more, rather than less coverage. I’ve been talking/writing through this issue for a while now–trying to sort out my revulsion against “Purity Culture” (google it if you don’t know what it is and try not to gag at the Purity Balls), the feminism of my youth that suggested there was a certain safety and protection for women in not dressing sexy, my ferocious belief that men all over the effing planet need to get over the puerile belief that the sight of a woman in public justifies their “uncontrollable” lust/violence/revulsion, and my personal preference/taste for lots of fabric.

I had a lot of time at the pool this afternoon to think about all of this because the granddaughter with whom I am doing swimming lessons (lesson #1: a stubborn 17-month old will not put her face in the water no matter how funny she thinks it is when you blow bubbles…) actually fell asleep in her mother’s arms while being floated on her back (lessons somewhat inconveniently happen around when she typically naps, but this was a first), and stayed that way for another 90 minutes, during a big chunk of which I held her towel-wrapped snoozy-self while her mother and brother happily practiced all the stuff from his morning lessons. So I had a lot of time to watch bodies of all ages and shapes and colors pad around. Several things coalesced, mostly nice.

Bathing suits for fat women and grown-up women more generally have gotten much better. There is much more choice than there was even a few years ago for women who just want to be comfortable and wear cute colors and not make an issue of their bodies one way or another, which seems like real progress to me. I suspect that this progress will take a while to make its way to the beaches of Brazil, but at Pretty Good U’s nice community pool, more women look more comfortable in more kinds of suits than I can remember seeing ever, and it’s nice. There was a seriously plump woman there this morning in a close-fitting, ruched & ruffled aubergine number in which she looked fantastic. Not fantastic-for-a-fat-chick, just fantastic. The lifeguards with their classically gorgeous young bodies wear the heck out of their high-cut maillots. The bunch of really thin, muscled women in their 70s who come daily to swim laps are fierce. The adolescent girls are most interesting–and they at least appear, given the way they just plain walk around in a variety of shapes and suits (I have yet this year to see one doing the arms-around-the-midriff body-clutch that used to be so common) to be less agonized by having bodies than used to be the case. And the pre-adolescent girls seem the same–the one whose breastbones were scarily prominent bugged me, but didn’t seem to bug herself any, and there were a bunch of body types in her pack. Maybe there’s a little change in the wind? PLEASE. I haven’t talked about boys at all because they seem so much less conscious of their bodies except as things to throw around and have fun with (a pack of 9-11-year olds who were technically not supposed to be in the kiddie pool–where there are all sorts of things that squirt and dump water–were having a glorious time running through the stuff and doing a remarkable job of not bumping in to any of the littles, so the lifeguard left them be, which was fine, but when, oh when,will I see a bunch of girls throw themselves around with the same abandon?). And they pretty much all wear the same long, floppy swim-drawers that every other male of every other age and description is wearing.

My only big gripe was how few of the kids were in rash guards. Only one of the lifeguards was (I wanted to hug him for setting a good example, and I wonder how much crap he’s taken from the other guards for not joining their competition to see who can get the darkest tan–are they still doing this shit?), and maybe, maybe 20% of the kids. Clearly, they all had sunblock on, which is something, but, jeez… I know all those munchkin bathing suits are adorable, but they’re not safe. And therein, in a weird way, is the intersection between at least some of those issues I started out with–there ARE some reasons to cover your children’s bodies in public, but they don’t involve modesty (well, one could argue that putting little girls in “sexy” bathing suits instead of easy-to-play-in-the-waves suits is problematic, but other than that…) and they damn well do involve melanoma. The fact is that childrens’ skin soaks up damage more readily than adult skin does. Rashguards at least cover the shoulders, back, and chest, which are where much of the sun hits. They’re not perfect and don’t replace sunblock, but they’re helpful, and the sun is only getting stronger as we shred the ozone…


Two friends told me this week that they’ve scheduled bariatric surgery for July. One is doing the “sleeve” and I’m not sure which the other one has chosen (I’m closer to one than the other). I won’t go into much personal detail for obvious reasons. In one case, I know that the decision is the result of highly-informed (she’s a PhD nurse) consideration and long thought. In the other, I’m sure the decision has been carefully thought through, and I know that the woman is in very considerable emotional and physical pain because of her weight (which is, in itself, interesting in proving that there is huge variation among fat people in their experiences of their bodies and their weight–this young woman is about the same size I am, has a good job and a darling husband–not a “destroyed” life by any standard, but her pain is real and profound.) One, the nurse, knows my opinions (she occasionally reads the blog) about this stuff and also knows that I will support whatever decision she’s made, because that’s all it’s my business to do. The other–I don’t think she reads the blog, and doesn’t need to know my opinion on the matter in any event. Neither of them, certainly, needs my blessing. So I’m going to stick to watching, keeping my mouth shut, and praying for both of them to have the best possible outcomes, both in the short term and in the long run.

All of which is to say that I am, of course, now thinking about it. This happens every couple of years, and has for a couple of decades. I don’t like being fat. I’m more comfortable with it now than I have been (I think the blog has helped some with that, and aging certainly has, since I can now gleefully rejoice in being well out of the “market”), but not comfortable, not sane, not blithe, and not at peace. So, of course I think about the surgery, especially since the “sleeve” supposedly removes the part of the stomach that secretes the hormone ghrelin, which is the “hunger hormone.” And it would be nice to not be hungry so much of the time. Very fucking nice. Food is a bloody nuisance, at least part of the time (when I’m working, when I have trouble convincing my belly that it’s had enough–which is kind of a stress thing), and it’d be nice to have a sense of power over my own stomach. And maybe that’s exactly why the various bariatric surgeries are such an easy sell to fat people–we feel so damn powerless in the face of our own appetites. You know, like addicts. Except that that (very often discussed) analogy is false. Neuro-chemically or neuro-biologically we can become addicted to pretty much anything, including food. But no other addiction is necessary for life. Not sex, not booze, not shopping, not extreme sports, not heavy metal, not cocaine, not cats. None of it; and that renders the analogy false at its core.

Also, as far as I know, no one considered responsible has suggested radical surgical interventions for any other addictions (castration being the exception for sex offenders at some points and places in history–and it doesn’t always work, either). I suspect that many, many addicts would just about sell their souls for some sort of surgical intervention that offered to “cure” them, regardless of the long-term medical consequences.

Still, it seems a bit like cutting off the hands of thieves–bariatric surgery, I mean. You respond to theft by cutting off the hands of thieves, thereby making it harder for them to steal, but also making it very hard for them to find jobs. In bariatric surgery, you cut the nutrition-taking capacity of fat people, thereby making it harder for them to keep themselves properly fed for the rest of their lives. You take people for whom food has already been an obsessive part of their lives, and give them a new, but equally obsessive relationship to it that eliminates one pleasure–food–and offers another–health. So maybe the hand-severing analogy isn’t all that worthwhile, but the ironies are there, nonetheless–in the relationship to food issue.

I had a grandmother who died at 4 from cardiac complications of “brittle” Type 1 diabetes. She didn’t exercise much at all, cooked and ate “southern” and generally was not as attentive to her health as is ideal for Type 1s. BTW, she was not overweight. I also had a great-grandmother who was splendidly fat, a Type 1, and lived healthily into her 90s. No medical person I’ve ever spoken to has taken her seriously as part of my medical history, but they’ve been beating me up with my grandmother for most of my life. I’m 60, I have Type 2 (controlled–which is so unusual that my endocrinologist couldn’t find the code for it in her computer…). I’m also, for the record, healthier than my other grandmother, who was thin, active, and an early proponent of whole grains, but already had the beginnings of congestive heart disease by 60. I’m not dumb enough to claim that I think I can scoot through an obese adulthood scot-free (the Type 1 may or may not be related to my weight, and I’d most likely have had to have the knees done later than I did were they less burdened, but I’d very, very likely have had to have them done nonetheless, which actually can be blamed on genetics). But I am suggesting that it’d be awfully nice if folks would quit predicting doom because I’m fat. People who keep “warning” fat people of the consequences of their fatness tend to do so with a certain relish, which suggests that it’s more like telling children they’re stupid and then yelling at them for poor performance in school than it is a matter of sharing actual useful information. Besides, it’s awfully hard to sort through the “warnings” when they are often based on BMI–one of the most bogus bits of “medical” measurement to ever embed itself in the medical mind, and accompanied by offers of Statins, which, in most cases, are snake-oil at best. How are we supposed to trust “scientists”–which medical training claims doctors are, and which they very, very often are, along with other equally important things–when they cling so frantically to stuff that won’t pass scientific muster, and avoid so fiercely listening to those who’ve actually paid attention to the body’s mechanisms of weight, appetite, and whatever other bio-chemical-psycho-neurological-metabolic stew is involved in fatness. Those folks haven’t gotten a lot of traction in the discussion, though there is a TED talk or two on the subject, and some gorgeously contrarian writing out there, but real research on the true complexities of fat humans isn’t very sexy to funders of research, Maybe, if there actually were an obesity epidemic, there would be actual research. Meanwhile, we’re left with BMI, bariatric surgery, and, God save us, Dr. Oz and The Biggest Loser.

Meanwhile, I am, once again having thought it through, not going to have bariatric surgery. I hope both my friends who will in the next couple of weeks do splendidly and live long and prosper.



2 thoughts on “Rounding Up, Down, Over, Around

  1. Chris G. says:

    A splendid omnibus. Although many boys don’t seem to pay much attention to the bodies they have, it can be an issue, one that I think gets overlooked too often. As a gay man, I am under constant pressure to be thin and perfect, and my, well, average body, which would be Just Fine for straight men, is seen as quite undesirable–to have and to hold–by many in the community.

    • fatmatters says:

      Hi, Chris! Yep–I’ve always thought it a nasty irony of being gay that, very often, it means being subjected to the cultural demands the patriarchy places both on men and on women–at the same time that it offers the wealth of being able, to some extent, to pick and choose which positive parts of both you want to take on/in. It’s hard enough sorting through the gender-specific standards for one gender (what part of “femininity” is authentic to me, what’s not?). I can’t imagine what it’s like to sift through and juggle both, let alone the weird math of negotiating being any sort of “trans.” For the record, I do know several not-skinny gay guys who’ve found real, lasting love, for all the awful pressure to be beautiful there is in the community, especially for younger men.

      Ideally, we’d have a culture where all kids could just live in their bodies without thinking about whether they confirm to some/any “norm.” It’d be a start if pediatricians would stop using those damnable height/weight charts (and in some cases, BMI charts, which are even less relevant to small people than they are to adults).

      And meanwhile, I take some comfort from the fact that Provincetown has “Bear Week”–though the simultaneous celebration/segregation of big, furry guys is not an uncomplicated thing.

      Hope you’re thriving splendidly.

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