Around Again

Some things bear repeating. Actually, a great many things bear repeating–I think that’s one of the reasons we have religions. They function as repositories of things that bear repeating. Of course, like any human endeavor, institution, or intention, they have a slight tendency to go kind of sideways and turn the good messages (care for Creation and one another, tell the truth, behave decently, keep your mitts off of other folks’ stuff…) into reasons to loathe/dehumanize/harm others and the planet, but that’s an impossible meditation on any day of any week, and not what I meant to do here today. I wanted to reference two articles, one of which I have referenced before, because the information in them is information we need to keep in our dealing-with-the-uninformed (who too often include our medical teams) tool kits.

Here’s a good 2008 piece on BMI:

The second is by Philip Alcabes, whose book Dread is an examination of the way we are taught to fear. You can read a useful review of it here:

and his discussion of the Obesity Panic here:

All of this came to mind today because I had a discussion with my daughter about whether she should go into her daughter’s 18-month check-up armed with articles and asking that their otherwise excellent pediatrician never mention the acronym BMI in front of her children. I’ll be interested to hear what happens. It goes without saying that I want to go with her and YELL at this perfectly nice doctor (I suspect the overwhelming majority of pediatricians are really good humans–at least if you take the fact that they’re the lowest paid and most-often-bitten-or-peed-on doctors to mean that they’re not in it for the money). But she’s a totally competent adult and it’s not my business to be haranguing my grandchildrens’ doctor. Whatever she decides to do is her choice, though I did encourage the heck out of her addressing the issue. I’m shocked, in fact, that an otherwise calm and competent doctor has drunk the BMI Kool-aid. That stuff is everywhere, and I sometimes think they knock med students out and administer it intravenously along with the cholesterol-drugs-are-good-for-people Kool-aid when the med students are not paying attention. Maybe there’s hypnosis involved. I don’t get it. Doctors are supposed to be trained scientists as much as they are intuitive artists. You’d think they’d have let go of the BMI garbage (it was designed to be a sociological tool, not a medical tool–and I don’t altogether have much respect for sociological tools in the first place–statistics just bundle humans into blobs and blobs are not humans, though the professions can be hugely useful if properly used, still, statistics…) ages and ages ago. But no.

There is too much investment on the part of SOMEONE(S) in keeping us all in a state of judgmental panic. I’ll spare you my usual Corporate-Capitalism-is-the-Root-of-All-Evil rant for today and just focus on the fact that one very good mother with two very healthy (and vaccinated–seems important to note that) children even has to talk through with someone else whether or not she should address the fact that those childrens’ doctor gives any credence at all to something as demonstrably snake-oily as BMI, and that he’s willing to apply it to the group for whom it has the LEAST validity–children. What is wrong with people?!?!?!?! With smart people???? I know there are dumb and/or careless doctors out there, but that’s a pretty relative sort of dumb given that they had to have gotten some sort of decent grade in Organic Chemistry at some point and passed a test or two that required they be able to name all the parts of the body we know about. But mostly, these are unusually smart people who are choosing to operate according to invalid scientific tools. It’s weird. Though the human tendency to do that is, arguably, our most prominent assholic trait. Well, that and hitting other humans.

And there are lots and lots of mothers out there who will believe the BMI-based crap their childrens’ doctors will tell them, and believe their children are fat, and then tell their children they’re fat. And because one of the things humans (especially the younger ones) also do is believe too much of what other humans tell them about themselves, those children will grow up believing they are fat, and will (there are a good many studies out there proving this, too) grow up to grow into their ideas of themselves. Which will keep the bariatric surgeons of the world in summer homes and high-end German cars for ages to come. I am not saying that this is THE reason there are fat adults in the world, but it’s damn-sure one of them. Lots and lots of useless suffering from this one cause.

And, furthermore, babies are supposed to be fat. The 18-month old in question was magnificently spherical before she started walking. And babies need to eat fat–it’s critical for proper brain development.

And mothers shouldn’t have to act as the correctors of their doctors’ bad practices. But I hope my daughter does, and I hope her pediatrician listens. It’d be a start.

So if you’re a parent, and your kid’s pediatrician uses BMI and talks to your kid about his or her weight, it might be your personal place to start a little revolution. The world, heaven knows, is in need of a whole bunch of revolutions (preferably the Gandhi/King/Tutu/Dalai Lama/Greenpeace sort, please), and this can be yours. The person in the white coat is not infallible. But you can help him or her get a little closer to it, and be a bit more humane in the process.

round dragon

Go for it, daughter mine!

Body Ground

I’ve been thinking a lot about the Ray Rice business. Haven’t we all–it’s pretty much unavoidable these days. Also about the two other pro football players whose recent domestic abuse wasn’t video-ed. I believe they’re still playing after very brief suspensions. And about the deep issues of how men treat women’s bodies. And about how profoundly problematic I believe football and all its associated bread-and-circus inherent culture of violence is.

I would love to blame football. I would love to blame men, or the cultural constructs of both masculinity and femaleness (interesting, isn’t it that masculinity means “cultural definition of manhood” and femininity, although it can mean the corollary definition of sexual identity, also carries a whole icky boatload of Maribel Morgan/Phyllis Schlafly/Disney bullshit with it…). And there is plenty of validity in those discussions. Plenty.

But I wonder whether there is a deeper point from which to start the discussion: Given how pretty much all of human culture treats the bodies of men–particularly of young men, how can we be shocked by the violence with which those men sometimes treat and regard female bodies? In every human culture about which I know anything (neither an unusually long, nor an unusually short list), the bodies of young men are fodder for various kinds of violence–ritual mutilation, war, entertainment of others via dangerous competitions, war, war, war. Hard not to think of the infamous Roman mothers’ words of sending when their sons when off to war (which I will probably bollux somehow here) “Come home with your shield, or on it.” Come home having killed a bunch of other mothers’ sons, or dead. It’s telling, that.

It seems to me that humans, very generally speaking, don’t much respect the individual bodies of other humans, even sometimes (often?) those of other humans they love. Never have. Maybe it’s core evolutionary biology–like ducks and sea turtles, we make so many young because biology assumes the consumption of some of those young by predators. I don’t know. At any rate, while it is very clear that humans, at least, have been making rather too many of their young and keeping (in purely environmental terms) too many of them protected into adulthood to the point where, if we don’t stop making so many young and continuing to base our economies on an economics of constantly expanding profits, we’re going to find ourselves neck-deep in some version of apocalypse in fewer years than anyone really wants to think too hard about. Which would make us, as far as I know, the only species to have intentionally (because denial is an intentional process) brought about our own extinction. Which is to say that we don’t treat our larger environment with any less violence than we treat each other.

American football is just a particularly vivid example (even in environmental terms, it’s kind of a mess)–though we could just as easily talk about war. I don’t expect that thoughtful humans everywhere in the US will stop watching football, though it will also not stop bothering the heck out of me that it has effectively replaced the rather more interesting and much less violent baseball as “America’s Sport.” I wish folks could turn their backs on football without hurting the thousands and thousands of non-players whose livelihoods depend on the massive machinery that is the NFL. Economics is always messily complicated. I do think it’s reasonable to hope that the asshat, amoral, mega-zillionaires who run it will grow consciences and start dealing with the multiple problematic realities they’ve caused and/or are deeply complicit in. But I’m not holding my breath.

Meanwhile, Ray and Janay Rice have become the focus of a discussion that needs to happen and may ultimately do some good. It is way beyond time for humans to keep the capacity to wreak mayhem upon another body out of its definition of male identity. Sure, we can blame, and hold accountable, any man who uses his (in this case, vastly) superior muscle mass to physically abuse any woman. Adult individuals are, even taking contexts into account, accountable for their behaviors. It’s one of the critically valid definitions of adulthood. But if we raise and train and reward a man for turning his body and his anger into weapons, and all that training is based on inculcating in him an unquestioning willingness to be hit and hurt by other similarly trained men, then we should be more amazed when he doesn’t turn into an adult who uses his body to hurt other bodies even “off the field” than we are when he does. Our shock and dismay are disingenuous. Maybe even a little disgusting.

Especially in the context of the other discussion that’s been swirling through the inter-sphere about how American culture has made an industry out of the dehumanization of black men. I have almost no authority to speak on that subject, other than to acknowledge my pretty much automatic (by virtue of the accidents of my birth) complicity in that grossly abusive system. But it is impossible to look at Ray Rice and not wonder how that complicated and cancerous issue factored in to how he became that man in that elevator. Not an excuse. The behavior has no excuse. But a factor I couldn’t even begin to understand.

So, yes, the incident is about all of the things it has been said to be about–all of the male/female issues, and all of the football-culture issues, and all of the racial and economic issues. But nothing will truly change until we stop seeing the bodies of young men (and of the young in general) as appropriate locations for violence.

Round Rambles

In case you missed it, too, there’s this piece from Slate that makes happy hash of the idea of extremely restricted fad diets:

Which reminds me that I have recently seen a meme that will, no doubt, show up on tees any second now (if it hasn’t already): “Nothing feels as good as chocolate tastes.” The piece features a picture of Artful Dodger juxtaposed with one of Kate Moss, who (in)famously pronounced a number of years ago that “Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” That, I think, may be the u-thinspiration, so we really don’t need to cover what I think of it, or of a woman who somewhat famously controlled her own appetite for food for years by replacing nutrition with cocaine (though I believe she’s been both clean and thin for a good long time.) Well, okay, it does raise a couple of questions: How would someone who’s never not been thin know that nothing tastes better than thin feels? And, how does she know how I feel? People are always telling each other how to feel. It’s weird. Or it’s at least weird with adults. I’ve known situations with teens where it was maybe appropriate to suggest they dial it down when something bad happens to someone in their school who they didn’t either know or like, but even then the business of “legitimate” feeling is all balled up with normal teen self-absorbtion and the fact that something that happens to any teen can, in truth, scare the bejeezus out of the rest of them.

Anyway, with all the talk about bullying out there these days, I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone talk about the everyday tyranny of one group or individual essentially telling another group or person what to feel. Who to hate, who to approve of, how sad you’re allowed to be, how long your grief is allowed to be visible. I’m not saying that folks don’t wallow in excess, and that there could be more “sucking it up” and a bit less emoting (talking to you, John Boehner), or that excessive displays of emotion aren’t essentially pleas for ATTENTION. I’m not sure I’d want to be the one forced to legislate what constitutes excessive, attention-hogging expression of feeling–it’s pretty much a case-by-case, know it when you see it sort of thing. But I am pretty sure Kate Moss (sublimely gorgeous though she may be) doesn’t get to tell anyone how to feel about their bodies. She especially doesn’t get to tell me (at least as far as I’m concerned.)

It pisses my daughters off no end that I mostly loathe photos of myself. All I can see in most photos is the bulk and the droopy double-chins. So I get ticked at them for telling me what to feel/see/think, and they get pissed at me for making them listen to me modelling self-hatred yet again. Then we get over it and move on. But it’s a small example of the complexities of the situation.

Back to the diet-satire from Slate, though. I liked the Neanderthal Diet best. Mind you, I have a friend who largely controls her MS with a fairly extreme version of the Paleo, and another who controls a congenital liver weirdness with that and exercise, and a couple of others who just feel better without eating grains. One friend feels better when she avoids gluten–not a big deal, no hint of celiac disease–she just feels better. Another is having a (to me) weirdly comfortable time using a calorie-counting app on her phone, but it makes her almost cheerful, so HUZZAH. My current “diet” consists of making a concerted effort to see to it that I have more than the basic 5 servings of fruits and veggies every day (thank you, Vitamix, and that most smoothie-enhancing vegetable, the avocado) and avoiding meat at dinner because, for reasons no one can explain to me, my morning sugars are better when I eat pasta for dinner than when I eat carefully carb-less salads and meats). As for “feeling good, I can’t say that any pattern of eating has ever made me feel one way or another, except for periods of really bad sugar consumption, which pretty obviously makes me feel like crap. I like the way it feels to breathe for a bit after I’ve exercised, and the sense of strength in my muscles, but neither has ever given me enough of a “high” to be seductive. I care less and less about eating in any pattern other than moderation + lots of veggies + no nitrates, but I do wish I felt more of a “call” to exercise. Sigh.

And I was crushed recently to find out that Stouffer’s is owned by Nestle, which is among maybe the Top Three Evil Conglomerates on the planet (they’re the folks who want to privatize ALL the drinking water in the world…) because their frozen spinach souffle is one of my pet go-to comfort foods. Seriously, it’s become impossible to avoid some evil empire or other unless you grow your own or buy from a CSA. My yard doesn’t even get enough sun for the former, and I keep forgetting to do the latter, which would only cover so much anyway. Isn’t it interesting how much attention we’re seduced into paying to how much our bodies weigh and how little (though you can easily find charts all over the net) we’re paying to how our food gets to us and with what sort of ethics the producers approach the planet? I’m not making a tin foil hat yet, but we might all be healthier if we demanded fewer ingredients, fewer pesticides and unnecessary preservatives, fewer attempts at World Domination (what was adorable on “Pinky and the Brain” is not very charming coming from the mouth of an already inconceivably wealthy COB like Nestle’s Peter Brabeck-Letmathe). Being fat ≠ inherently evil. Trying to own all the potable water on the planet: pretty decent definition of evil. And my some of my friends claim my knee-jerk anti-corporate bias is excessive…




Round Breath

Maybe it’s because there’s the godawful term “thinspiration” out there in the vocabularies of so many who follow pro-ana sites. Or because it’s just such a bloody condescending term and I don’t think a campaign to bring “fatspiration” into the general vocab (unless it’s already out there and I’ve missed it). Or maybe it’s because I am feeling extra grumpy/cynical/weary these days about how much people I love and profoundly respect post on FB about their hyper-healthy workout lives. I’m pretty sure the last thing they have planned is pissing me off. They probably don’t even plan, per se, to inspire me to move my silly ass (though it’s a thing they’d justifiably feel pretty good about). I understand (or think I do–I could be making this up) that the FB-posting of running routes and mid-run selfies and workout check-offs are part of all these folks’ keeping themselves publicly accountable to their own important relationships with their lives/bodies.

I couldn’t give a fat rat’s ass about 99% of the sports news in non-Olympic years, and have friends who post a teeny bit obsessively about how one team or another. This does not bug me. I have other friends who post an awful lot about which beer they’re either making or drinking, Doesn’t bug me, either. If the worst thing you get on FB is a window into your friends’ benign obsessions/enthusiasms, it’s a mighty good day in the FB neighborhood.

But I’m pretty sure that I am not just inspiration-proof, I fear I’ve become inspiration-allergic-or-phobic (depends on the direction).

It is absolutely true that this is my issue, my hyper-sensitivity, not my friends’ insensitivity. That is to say, it’s my problem that the overwhelming majority of inspiring memes and posts on FB and elsewhere (about pretty much any topic) just make me want to throw something. But I’m pretty sure it is at least partially the result of people bugging me since I was 7 or so about my body, and offering me mountains of inspiration to lose weight, eat less, exercise more, change my body to suit some norm. Maybe I’m too much of an only-kid-head-up-my-own-introverted-snobby-butt kind of human. I know that I’m more often than not allergic to lots of bits of sentimentality–I spend much of the semester working at teaching my intro to poetry writing students the distinction between earned emotion and the sentimental. And most of the inspirational memes out there are fairly goopy. But it’s mostly the decades of people trying to “inspire” me to make my body fit their standards (verbally, physically, with reward systems, with come-to-Jesus meetings, with fear-mongering–you name it) that is at the root of my near total inability to believe that para-athletes/dancers/senators have anything to do with my life.

Mind you, I marvel at the guy who tap dances gorgeously with one leg ending in a peg, at Malala Yousafzai, at that Guinness commercial about the paraplegic guy’s friends who learn to play wheelchair b-ball. I tear up. My heart swells. I rejoice in these other humans’ lives, abilities, courage. But I don’t see them as having anything to do with me beyond deserving my respect and gratitude for the reminder that humans can be all those good things, no matter what the evening news might make me believe about the vileness of humans. It’s a human-connection thing. But Inspiration can bite me.



Around the Beach

I OFFICIALLY GIVE THE FUCK UP ON THE SUBJECT OF FAT WOMEN AND THEIR SWIMWEAR. Which is to say that I have finally concluded that I’m a teeny bit of a prude when it comes to the issue of what looks good on fat bodies, and I didn’t used to be when I was young, and I don’t like that I’ve become more of a priss than I used to be. And my daughter has done some very pointed arguing. And then a friend sent me this, which pretty much sealed the damn deal (also, she–the chica in the blog–looks pretty cute…):


Dear Readers, what follows is the first of what I hope will be many guest-posts by a friend I knew as a student. He has since gone on to become a professor himself. It is very much time that we began to speak of men’s bodies, too, on this blog. It’s good to be reminded that Civil Rights (Racial Rights), Women’s Rights, Gay Rights, Native American Rights, Fat Rights–all movements to move excluded and oppressed sub-groups of humanity into full membership–are, first and foremost about the rights of the body. The rights to exist and to choose. Everything else proceeds from those two. All Rights movements, then, are movements about the sanctity of the body and the liberation of the body. Besides, Feminism always planned on liberating the guys while liberating the women of the world. So here goes:

I have to admit, when Devon asked me to write a guest blog, I was a bit surprised. As a feminist, I was happy that her blog was dealing with issues of women’s bodies in an interesting and sensitive manner, and I wasn’t at all concerned about the lack of focus on men’s issues. However, it is true that life isn’t easy for us fluffy fellers either. As a scholar of gender, race, and sexuality studies, I will offer the usual caveat that I’m not attempting to discuss a universal “male” experience of fatness (nor any other sort of grand narrative), but I hope that by sharing my own personal perspective, we might broaden the discussion about fat bodies.

Given that Devon first requested a guest column almost two years ago, I’ve had ample time to reflect on what to write, and I do have at least one other column in mind; however, to begin, I’d like to share a memory of being very publicly called out as fat.

Some time during my college years, about 14 years ago, a friend of mine who was an amateur stand-up comedian at the time (he’s now semi-professional) invited me to go see a show with him. I knew none of the comedians, but I like to laugh, so I agreed. As we walked into the hotel where the show was to take place, I noticed a lot of posters and t-shirts bearing the slogan “Roundboy,” sometimes accompanied by a photo of the headliner. As his act began, I discovered that “Roundboy” was this man’s schtick, much like Larry the Cable Guy’s “Git ‘er done!” Much like Mr. Guy’s catchphrase, I found Mr. Boy’s act incredibly unhilarious.

At various points during the show, the so-called comedian (His name is Jimmy Graham [], by the way—I have no compunction about calling him out for his twatwafflery) would make eye contact with some of the more robust fellows in the audience and gleefully call out “Roundboy!”, and the other party would usually respond in kind, or at least with a good-natured chuckle. It seemed that there was some international brotherhood of Roundboys, and this was their not-so-secret handshake.

At this point in my life, I was somewhat fluffy and definitely round of face, but I didn’t consider myself fat, nor was I anywhere near my heaviest weight. I watched the proceedings as an outsider and found the ritual less amusing with each iteration. And then he made eye contact with me. He pointed at me and gleefully squealed “Roundboy!” I was so taken aback that all I could do was raise my eye in a way that—I hoped—conveyed both surprise and displeasure. But he didn’t get the message. Or if he did, he’s even more of a douchnozzle than I thought.

He pointed to me, turned to the rest of the audience, and loudly announced, “Oh, this one’s gay. If he hasn’t had one in his mouth, he’s at least gotten this close!” I won’t describe the gesture that accompanied this, but suffice it to say that the microphone required years of therapy to recover. My friend’s parents, who are already fairly awkward to begin with, spent the next ten minutes looking as if a porcupine had taken up residence in their rectums.

For those of you who don’t know me, let me assure you that I can take a joke, even an insulting one. (Hell, I’d love to be in the front row of a Lisa Lampanelli show, and I’d be disappointed if she DIDN’T insult me in at least three different ways.) But something about this rubbed me the wrong way, and I still can’t entirely verbalize it. I suppose the main issue for me was that Mr. Graham was making an awful lot of assumptions that didn’t sit well for me. He assumed that I would be okay with him calling me out publicly like that, which was probably based on an assumption that I was familiar with his routine. He assumed that fat men embrace their bodies in an uncomplicated way, or at the very least that they do so in public. He assumed that my reluctance to jump on his Roundboy bandwagon somehow made me a microphone-sucker. (For the record, his technique was horrible, and I could have taught him a thing or three.) He assumed that I’d be okay with him publicly speculating about my sexuality—for all he knew, I may have been there with my parents, and if I had, it would have been infinitely more uncomfortable.

I’ve since grown more comfortable with my rotundity, but I think that I still wouldn’t appreciate Graham’s routine. In this respect, I think Devon’s male reader was right—we do need to talk about men’s bodies, and we need to stop making assumptions like Graham did. We need to acknowledge that men and their bodies are much more complex and sensitive than prime-time sitcom stereotypes.

And Jimmy Graham needs to kiss my round ass.

round kilts.2