Around

Several pieces of possible interest to the readers of this blog (what would I do without XOJane?):

http://www.xojane.com/issues/why-im-over-the-size-acceptance-movement-or-hey-sa-what-have-you-done-for-me-lately?utm_source=FBPAGE&utm_medium=post&utm_campaign=Issues

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2015/01/06/375387779/from-paleo-to-plant-based-new-report-ranks-top-diets-of-2015?utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=npr&utm_term=nprnews&utm_content=20150106

http://www.bustle.com/articles/55228-12-ways-to-make-yourself-more-attractive-that-have-nothing-to-do-with-your-appearance-according?utm_source=FBTraffic&utm_medium=fijifrost&utm_campaign=CMfacebook

They’re mostly self-explanatory. I skipped the satiric article (actually a chapter from a forthcoming book about the author following a bunch of celebrity diets) about eating like Taylor Swift. How Taylor Swift eats is not on the list of things I care about, so why I read the article is a mystery to me, except that it’s been one of those “don’t-have-myself-together” kind of days and those are days when I read way more stuff that’s linked to on FB than I would on a day when I know what I’m supposed to be doing or am willing to do what I’m supposed to be doing. Sometimes actually worthwhile stuff enters my head this way–today was a good day to re-read Neil Gaiman’s defense of the First Amendment, for instance. So that wasn’t wasted time.

I confess to only having skimmed the diet-ranking article because A) it wasn’t that revelatory and B) skimming is about what I think a yearly article that ranks popular diets is worth. Grapefruit, sauerkraut soup, clumpy stove-top egg custard–I watched my mother work her way through all of them over the years of my childhood. I think it maybe left me a little cynical. Also, did Atkins and Weight Watchers as a teen. Atkins is tolerable for a while, but then gets boring (and any diet that tells me to count the carbs in broccoli is, by its very nature, dumbass). Weight Watchers felt creepy and invasive when I was 15. Atheist friends would argue, but I will stick by my claim that I have a cellular allergy to cults and revivals. And, insofar as WW is sane and healthy, it’s entirely unoriginal since it’s all about (the solid parts) teaching folks moderation. The rest of WW is about lying and teaching people to loathe and blame themselves. Or value themselves only according to numbers on scales and clothes. The article also ranks Dean Ornish’s pretty extreme low-fat very high, but I’d argue that that’s an irresponsible kowtowing to the medical establishment’s obsession with cholesterol, which is a considerably more complicated issue than the makers of Crestor, etc. would have us believe. Gosh, what a shock that U.S. News & World Report would lean toward whatever Big Pharma and Big Diet would want them to… But, yeah, I’m reacting from the gut rather than from any sort of respectable intellectual position. Not a journalist, me. Just a grump.

It was a shitty day in the world today, what with extremists murdering cartoonists, extremists bombing an NAACP office, and extremists shutting down the German government’s websites. An extremist Congress has now been sworn in (lying their asses off all the while) and will now go about trying to please their corporate masters and screwing the rest of us who are not in the, let’s say, 5% for the next 2 years, during which time I suspect I will thank the guys who wrote our government into existence for the Presidential Veto often and fervently. Oh, yeah, and Pegida.

Barry Goldwater was wrong. Extremism in defense of liberty is unacceptable, as is extremism in defense of territory, property, race, religion (what God is worthy of worship who is so fragile He/She requires human defense?), and a whole list of other things. Things. Not that “liberty” is a thing, anyway. All of that list, no matter how much we want to make those items into “things” consists of ideas. Even God, in whom I believe, is an idea–for me The Idea, but still an idea. And definitely not a person. I know I’m not defining “extremism” here, or haven’t yet. I think my definition of extremism has, almost entirely, to do with the body. Extremism, for me, is the willingness to destroy one person’s body in defense of another person’s idea. In those terms, the NYPD is, as a conglomeration, clearly willing to destroy an individual body for the sake of an idea (and a trivial one, at that–the law against selling single, untaxed cigarettes), so it’s an extremist. Ditto the prosecutor in the Michael Brown case. Extremist. The person who is willing to dismantle, for the sake of corporate profits, a system that allows human beings access to medical care, a system that protects rivers and groundwater and air, and a system that allows women to control their own bodies–Extremist. Sometimes, one extremism becomes so dangerous that others must be brought to bear in order to stop it–WWII is the only case I can think of right off hand where that applies on a large scale, and it wouldn’t have been necessary if WWI hadn’t been such a start-to-finish clusterfuck of stupid ideas, failure to Learn Anything or See Anything, and colonialist hubris for which we are still paying, daily, all over the planet.

I’m not saying there aren’t ideas (and things) worth dying for. But there’s a huge difference between what’s worth killing for and what’s worth dying for. But we’re not very good at making that distinction–which is the distinction between forcing death or the risk of death or causing death on human bodies, and choosing to put your body between those who wish to destroy whatever you want to protect and the thing/person/idea you feel strongly deserves protection. Because the second is a decision about what to do with your own body.

It’d be odd how often things come down to individual bodies and their sanctity if it were not for the fact that we are, the planet and all it contains are, bodies.

Which brings me (admittedly abruptly) to the Size Acceptance movement. It started out with the rather nice, and even rather important idea that people should leave other people’s bodies alone–that they should shut up about what other people eat and wear and how much space they take up or how much they move. I don’t think that it actually ever constituted a movement in the same sense that Gay Rights or Feminism or Civil Rights are all movements. There were no demonstrations, no laws changed, no social tides shifted. At its base, it was a set of ideas about leaving a bunch of folks who’d already been battered plenty alone and letting them get on with their lives as best they can–which does make it a Human Rights issue. But, since it mostly happened (is happening) in the blogosphere, it’s not much of a movement. it’s not like we called a boycott of Target for carrying fewer plus sizes or mounted a world-wide protest when H&M quit carrying them. It’s not like we ever marched (truth be told, our marching would be a matter of offering ourselves up for epic levels of bullying and harassment without any real chance of any change–since our agenda is not exactly clear or purposeful–so mostly it would be a matter of causing ourselves pain for no gain.)

Blogs do not a movement make. Not in global terms, anyway. So, no, I can’t say that the Size Acceptance movement has done anything for my white, privileged, middle-class self, except maybe teach me to rejoice a bit more when I see fat women on campus dressing like they like themselves as well as they like clothes. But that, too, is a function of bourgeois privilege, is it not?

And I just do not believe the folks who say they are comfortable in their 300 lb bodies. Except for professional athletes whose sports require that kind of size (and I have no idea at all whether Sumo wrestlers, weight lifters, and defensive linemen are actually comfortable) nobody is comfortable at that size. Our feet, bless them, are not designed to keep going with that kind of weight on them. After six hours this past weekend on the mostly marble and concrete floors of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, my feet, in super-comfy shoes and with custom orthotics in them, were mightily unhappy. And they were still unhappy when I made them haul me through the Frick the next day. That’s not because my feet are weak (indeed, the feet that haul me around are mighty feet, no matter how they complain). It’s not just because of marble floors (though they are cruel). It’s because the human foot was not designed by Nature to bear so much extra poundage around for decade after decade. No Size Acceptance advocate is going to change that. If the SA advocate has succeeded in spreading the news about where to buy funky-colored tights that fit and are comfortable, YEAH. But sharing info and encouraging folks to forgive their bodies does not a movement make.

That being said, the reasons that bodies are fat, and stay fat, are complicated and varied–emotionally, scientifically, socially, medically, genetically. And speaking in defense of fat folk, who are treated, pretty much universally, as lesser–dumber, lazier, ickier, greedier–by science, medicine, airlines, the fashion industry, and society generally–is definitely worth doing. And doing. And doing.

As is any research that aims to debunk the multiple and damaging shibboleths surrounding fatness–especially the medical crappola that is still hard-wired into doctors. It needs work. Obesity needs research. It does not need another dangerous-as-shit pseudo-salvific drug or another money-making diet/cult/plan or another dangerous surgery. It needs real research. But that would involve letting go of the conviction that fat people really deserve their suffering because they’ve done “it” to themselves.

Which brings us back to my 105 lb mother, who, every time I ever made the mistake of announcing a weight loss effort to her, has gone out and bought me candy bars or pastries. I’m quite sure she is utterly unaware of this (well, what with the dementia, she’s unaware of a lot these days, but I’m sure it was always unconscious behavior). I’m also sure that the rat’s nest of environmental/emotional factors in my size (as opposed to the genetic and externally environmental ones) is both very individual and very common in its parts. In any event, it is as much MY story as it is MY body, and I get to work on it, and with it, where and how I choose.

But it’s hard, hard, hard not to note the horrid irony of the success of all her hard work protecting her cardio-vascular health when her mind–partially due to MS, and partially due to factors her neurologist was painfully unable to enunciate (in part because there just aren’t all that many 81-year old MS patients out there to study)–is going. The nursing homes of America are full of folks whose hearts keep (or are kept) going long after their personhoods have dissolved. But the culture I live in has not learned to make the distinction between its terror of death and the sanctity of the body.

Which is enough of a ramble through the Escher-ish apartment house of my brain for one day.

2 thoughts on “Around

  1. cathcarter says:

    I think “terror of death” really hits it on the head (and the irony of a largely-Christian society being the one that can’t bear to talk about assisted suicide or get serious about good end-of-life care never wears out.) There’s this widespread sense that death is the most terrible consummation possible, to be avoided at all costs, and the longer can avoid it (no matter what the quality of our lives), and the less we talk about it, and the less anybody is allowed to admit that it’s going to happen no matter how well we live, the better. And that’s one of the most commonly cited reasons for hating fat: “But you’re going to diiiiieeeee!” Well, fat-hater, so are you, no matter how much kale you (or I) eat. Neither one of us knows when or how. Eating kale (even though I’m totally a fan of the kale) doesn’t change that.

    Suffering is terrible; dying may well be terrible (though there’s some evidence that it doesn’t have to be); but death? Why are we so convinced that it’s the very worst thing that can happen, worse than torture, worse than physical misery? And is it really a good use of our outrage, culturally, to hate fat people for being allegedly closer to it?

    • fatmatters says:

      The obsession with, and the need to define and restrain, eschatology have been the plague of Christianity for ages. Thank you, Mr. Alighieri and everyone else who’s been at such pains to enunciate the horrors thereof. Not that Dante and Bosch weren’t reflecting as much as inventing, and certainly St. Paul framed much of his discourse around it. But I don’t think The Inferno or Paradise lost have helped in the sense of moving the issue to the center. And then there are the Puritans, and their horrid suspicions of anyone who looked like he or she might be having too much fun. Having Gluttony as one of the 7 Deadlies (can’t we PLEASE replace it with Fearmongering?) has also not helped. I would, provided that the brain was working decently, like very much to live as long as possible–say, to see the grandkids marry and settle. But then I’d want to see the great-grands enter the picture, and then I could want to see them settle (we’re traveling waaaaaay far out on the actuarial edge here), and then… It’s a kind of greed, I think, this desire to live and live and live, even as it is also clearly hard-wired. And the folks on what my son-in-law called the Zombie Floor at the nursing home my mother was in–that was something other than life. Something sustained artificially by drugs and families’ unwillingness or inability to say STOP. It’s cruel.

      All that being said. at one point my mother had an obese roommate. That was a worse version of life because she had to be moved with 2 aides and a lifting machine, so was attended to to a lesser degree by the overworked staff. She frightened me. Her life frightened me. Her lack of cognition frightened me, but the not-so-enthusiastic care (she was also fairly unpleasant, personality-wise) marked my consciousness. And the ugly truth is that none of us knows what parts of our personalities will hang around when the dementia starts eating away at cognition. Very often it’s not the nice parts. But, clearly, being big is also a serious disadvantage in that situation. So there are just practical issues. But it is also true that we tend to shy away from those who are closer to death, for the most part. When I was young, cancer was still treated as bad form on the part of the victim and nearly contagious for anyone around him/her. We’ve gotten a little better about that.

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