“You have such a beautiful face; you’d be gorgeous if you lost weight.” People I barely know. Okay. You have such a beautiful fantasy. You’d be polite if you got a clue. And besides, no shit: Good cheekbones, nice hazel eyes, a charming “widow’s peak,”a decent smile; I’m fine. And the radio says that fat people are responsible for The Environment.
We eat too much. It takes more fuel to move our asses down the road. We use our cars too much, take up all the close parking spaces in the Walmart lot, and use up too much fabric for our ugly clothes. We eat doctor dollars up like salted peanuts.We eat salted peanuts up like M&Ms and M&Ms like locusts. We’re a plague. Airplanes crash beneath our weight, ships sink, tires blow, stairs creak, chairs collapse, shoes split, fabric threatens to give out, antique bedsteads splinter.
Oh, fine. Keep us off the subways, off the planes, off stages (unless you need a laugh, a villain, a failure), out of pools, restaurants, dressing rooms, your beds. Any beds with other people in them. The New York Times says doctors hate us.
Here’s the thing: I know. It’s a class issue, a medical issue, an aesthetic issue, a resource issue, a character issue, a first-world issue, an environmental issue, a gender issue, a philosophical issue, a theological issue, and a scientific issue. Soon, we’ll find out it’s a meteorlogical issue. At least we don’t commit much active crime—it takes too much energy and we can’t run very fast.
I know I’m invisible. I know I’m too visible. I know I’m terrifying. I know I’m weak. I know I’m homey-comfy-nesty. I know I look like I’d eat you in the first week we were on a desert island. I know my flesh offends you. I know you want to poke my belly and see how long it jiggles. I know you’re afraid I won’t leave enough for you or your grandchildren.
We’re the answer to all the mysteries that haunt you. All the progress that offends you. Racism is our fault. Sexism is our fault. Stupidism is our fault. Fascism is our fault. Oligarchies are our fault. Tyranny is our fault. Fanaticism is our fault. Just look at Henry VIII. He did it all.
I was going to talk about this nice bit of (now months old, I gather) intelligence from Tim Gunn, who has undergone a probably-wasn’t-very-drastic conversion to pro-acceptance fashion politics: bodyhttp://www.npr.org/2016/09/14/493965878/tim-gunn-the-fashion-industry-is-not-making-it-work-for-plus-size-women
But really, people, really, has there ever been an election that was more about the body than this one. Whether the body of a woman can withstand the savage stresses of the Presidency? (dumb and retrograde, but the question is nonetheless out there) About whether the bodies of women belong to them? (Have you paid attention at all to Mike Pence’s record? And who, precisely, do you think will end up running things if the Cheeto-from-hell is elected?) Is the body worth protection from bad cops, bad medicine, bad water, bad air, bad education, bad men? Are the bodies of women valuable/worthy beyond their surface conformity to grossly artificial standards? Are the bodies of non-white people worthy/valuable of anything beyond poverty and degradation? Are the bodies of non-cis-hetero-non-binary humans even human? And, in the end, are the bodies and minds of white males to go on being crippled by dangerous constructs about the nature of masculinity?
Although I’ve spent years and years studying the history and literature of the Holocaust, and though I understand WWII as a complex extension of the grossly stupid, vicious (and overwhelmingly privileged-male-driven) desire of revenge on the part of the winners (I use the term loosely–no-one “won” that war) of WWI, and though I have lived in and visited Germany over the last 40 years during which it has undergone massive and remarkable change (mostly) in the direction of facing up to and growing beyond its own wounds and idiocies, I have never truly understood Germany 1919-1939 and how it came to be the genocidal/suicidal horror that it did. I can’t say that I understand it even now. Something in me cannot grasp the capacity of so many humans engaged in such profound denial of obvious facts, even though I believe heartily in the capacity of individuals to engage in radical denial. But I can say that I know what it it looks like.
My country has made me sad and angry. My country has made me grieve. My country has made me furious. Under every administration of my politically-aware life (so, since I was 14), I have had occasion to be disgusted, frustrated, or baffled. And I believed we’d hit bottom with W., I really did.
It is 1939 here in the United States. Voting for anyone other than Hillary (I don’t care how much you don’t like her. If you don’t like her, please do look deep into your soul to find the part of you that is simply willing to believe any stupid shit about her emails because she has the “wrong” body parts and recognize that the media is complicit in teaching you to ignore that ugly fact) is voting for 1939. Understand this: Flint is 1939. Refusing to let refugees in the country is 1939. White supremacy in any form is 1939. The Alt-Right is 1939. I am trying very hard not to descend to the “shouting match” level so much of this campaign has been decapitated by. I still don’t understand Germany in 1939, except that I know it was not made by monsters who were “not like us.” It was made by the consent and silence of people who were precisely like us, and who were sucked in gradually by their own sense of grievances unaddressed, their frustrations with a world they couldn’t face or comprehend, and their enthrallment to a history they imagined, but that had never actually existed.
Vote, please. Vote like it’s Munich and 1939 and you have some idea of what’s coming if you stay silent. Because you do. You do.
And there’s this:
JCPenney is in trouble as a corporation. They have been for years, and I’ve heard more than one prediction of their imminent demise. They’ve tried before to introduce fashion-forward lines, and I don’t follow this stuff closely enough to know whether those lines have kept them going, but the chain has never quite managed to kick its dowdy/cheap image in spite of all its efforts. Still, they keep trying. Aside from the fact that they have been for decades the best source of a huge moderately priced window treatments, I’d like to see them hang in just because if they don’t, there are a lot of folks who will lose jobs (and as lousy as most low-level retail jobs are, the folks who have them would suffer without them). So I am intrigued that JCP, in an era when H&M, Target, and Kohls are increasingly cutting back on their lines of plus clothes, JCP has chosen to hop on the body-accceptance train loudly and start a line designed by Ashley Nell Tipton that they’ll carry in their stores up to 4X and on line up to 5X. It’s a fascinating move on several levels, and I hope it turns out to have been a smart one. It has certainly worked for the direct-sales-cult of Lularoe so far.
This is neither a logical, nor a rational response, but it kind of makes me want to say “Fuck it!” and go find myself a ballet class to take. The hoot here is that my age is probably more of a problem than my size. Apparently, the little girl who wanted to grow up to be a ballerina isn’t dead yet. Which is kind of nice.
It’s been ages since I wrote. Lots has happened in the international conversation about fat. It’s been, at least for me, more than eclipsed by both the weirdnesses (and terrors) of the U.S. elections, the ongoing horror of Daeshe, and the hideously gargantuan mess of the refugee crisis. All of this, of course, is about bodies–women’s bodies, Muslims’ bodies, refugees’ bodies, immigrants’ bodies and whether we should care for them, let them join us at the table, tolerate them, grant them agency over themselves. I don’t remember a year in which I have been so angry, full of grief, drowned in disgust, and terrified by the outside world. By its apparent resistance to the basic notion that the body should be inviolable because the individual human body is (if you’re religious) a piece of the divine (if you’re not, then it’s a matter of the body itself constituting a kind of sacredness, as near as I can figure it). Bottom line, leave other folk’s bodies alone except to heal, protect, or honor them. Hands off. Laws off. Boundaries open. Now if I can only get someone to pay attention to what feel to me like seriously obvious behavioral patterns… I don’t get to rule the world, though. Which is probably better. I’m preachy and grouchy and would rather be left alone to write, generally speaking.
In case you wondered whether I haven’t been paying attention to the fatosphere, specifically: 1. Oprah’s acquisition of a big chunk of Weight Watchers stock stinks and I have pretty much lost respect for her. Except that it was probably a terrifically intelligent investment. And a manifestation of the extent to which she continues to suffer with her own body issues, which is sad. 2. The Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition featured a slightly plus-size (but still conventionally beautiful–whaddya expect, it’s a beauty-porn thing) model, Ashley Graham. Kudos to them, though she still represents a nearly impossible standard for female beauty, but heck, at least they extended the boundaries a bit. Then Cheryl Tiegs had a hissy fit about it. I mostly felt sorry for Tiegs, who has probably been quietly fighting her own demons about her body and her identity as Beautiful for decades. I’ll be impressed when they feature Tess Holliday.
Then I was driving home today and heard an NPR report (NPR LOVES anything about obesity, I swear) about a new article in The Lancet about a multi-national, multi-study analysis of BMI statistics revealing that for the first time since anyone started keeping statistics on this sort of thing, the percentage of humans who are obese exceeds that of those who are underweight. The Lancet is venerable, though they did publish the falsified evidence for the (it turns out) non-existent connection between vaccinations and autism. I suspect they’ve been extra careful since wiping that egg off their editorial faces, so I assume that the research on this thing about there being more fat people (13.5%?than underweight ones (9%). Of course, the numbers alone are massively complex, full of differences of geography, economic status, sex, blah, blah, blah, blah.
Here’s the thing. The study was based on two radically flawed, but still scientifically acceptable, terms: Firstly, BMI, which was never intended to be a medical tool (it was designed for sociological research), and which is profoundly meaningless given the infinite variety of human bodies. Secondly, the word “OBESE,” which is nearly as meaningless in terms of actual health. Most tellingly, the two terms the British researcher proudly used were not “underweight” and “overweight,” but “underweight” and “obese.” There are no words for “fat” that are not loaded with the freight of stupidity and righteousness, but the choice to use the more medically “weighty” term revealed a lot about the researcher’s biases. Besides, “fat,” “obese,” and “overweight” are all umbrella terms that include everyone from Ashley Graham (which is a joke) to a 500 lb man who is on constant pain and can barely move. Meaningless.
More to the point, it was not only bad science based on thoroughly discredited (though you wouldn’t know it by the way the majority of the medical community acts) terms, it was science with a clear, even gleeful, agenda of demonizing a pretty large chunk of the human family. BAD SCIENCE. It was also meaningless–though the researcher was suggesting that maybe governments could subsidize the availability of healthy foods for low-income folks (good idea, but not new) and tax sugars and dangerous fats (only okay if you’re going to do the first, I think.). BAD SCIENCE.
It’s kind of like the thing where mainstream neuroscience has just “discovered” that the brain has another exterior layer full of tiny veins that turn out to be crucial to many neurological and immune disorders. Osteopaths have been talking about this for ages. Mainstream medical science has also recently discovered the fascia (that stuff that forms the boundaries around all our organs muscles and keeps us from turning into bags of goo), when physical therapists who work with dancers and athletes have known about it for ages because it heals at a much slower rate than nerves and tendons and muscles. Sometimes mainstream medical science is just dumb. Fortunately, it still manages to make progress. It’s been centuries since anyone was suggesting a compote of butter and mouse dung as a cure for migraines, for instance.
Bad medical science (most bad science, I suspect) is usually a function of researchers not being able to step away from their own prejudices. You know, like the one that says all fat people are stupid, slow, and morally corrupt. Dear Lancet, fuck off.
This is a nicely precise discussion of Thin Privilege and its relationship to sexism:
This lists specific examples thereof:
The article made me think of the extent to which the obscene and constant media/cultural conversation about women’s bodies is part of the, for lack of a better word, conspiracy to keep women so focused on their bodies that they forget to think about their brains/abilities/goals/self-respect. It’s hard to think about, because it’s not actually a conspiracy if we accept that a conspiracy is a product of conscious planning (keeping the uglier facts about, for instance, the Manhattan Project out of the news for decades was the product of conscious planning, and as much as those facts haunt me, I am deeply grateful to Susan Griffin for both publicizing and contextualizing them in the bottomlessly brilliant A Chorus of Stones). Male Privilege, Thin Privilege, White Privilege are all products of something deeper, more pervasive, and probably far more damaging than conspiracy encompasses, which is pretty scary, since conspiracies have a history of being hideously dangerous already. While some of the behaviors associated with the unholy trio of Privileges are certainly conscious and have had one group or another intentionally working to preserve them–everyone from Conde Nast to the KKK–I don’t believe that constitutes conspiracy, because the prejudices that produce the privileges are so rooted in the collective consciousness that it’s more remarkable how many humans manage to consciously work against them than that they exist in the first place.
And, should you be one of those (white, male, thin–or all three) people who like to claim noisily that you don’t believe in the existence, pervasiveness, and danger of any of them, you might think about the fact that you are white, thin, and/or male in the first place and only members of your particular club are inclined to make that claim. And that the other members of your club who accept that they are privileged and live their lives in awareness of that are all smarter than you are and A) working very hard to perpetuate that privilege, or B) trying to figure out what to do to shatter it.
And should you still want to pick a fight with me about the existence of it, you may not pull out the pudgy and African-American Supreme Court Justice who just voted to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of predominantly non-white REGISTERED Texas voters, because Clarence Thomas is an outlier (among many other less polite things) and outliers don’t count, even when they’re important and influential outliers. Thomas is still more likely to be randomly pulled over by the cops–assuming that he drives himself anywhere.
But the part of this whole issue that is relevant to this blog is that ALL of these systems of privileges–these ancient, hugely pervasive, ugly, soul-damaging systems are enacted on the basis of bodies. They all see the body of someone other as a fit site of oppression.
Or, to put it in the most trivial context possible: it is not a function of Thin Privilege that I cannot find the clothes I want in the endless shades of green that I prefer to wear. That’s a function of my slightly unusual preferences and the fact that there actually is some cabal somewhere that decides on cycles of color-dominance in the commercial world. But the fact that in, say Kohls or Target, no single piece of any of their spiffy “designer” lines of clothing appears in my size is a function of thin Privilege. The designers don’t want their names associated with my size–the stores barely want to and, in spite of increasing numbers of women in my size range, continue to make the relevant departments smaller and smaller (talking to you, Target) and blander and blander (hello, Kohls). There are more and more places for fat women to go to get the cute/edgy/affordable/high-quality clothes we want (bless you Modcloth, ASOS Curve, eShakti, and eBay), but they’re all on-line and by no means mainstream. Nor are their offerings nearly as comprehensive as what’s available to “normal” women.
That’s the least of it.
And Thin Privilege, awful and soul-wounding as it is, is the least crippling of the Unholy Trinity, and wounds the smallest proportion of the human population.
Like the others, it is s-l-o-o-o-o-w-l-y and bumpily losing its hold on humans. But loathing others and institutionalizing that loathing is a beast that is going down hard, and I am frankly inclined to wonder whether they will ever go away, or, if they did, what would replace them (the older I get, the more aware I am of The Law of Unintended Consequences being one of the more critical functions of the Universe). Which is no reason to stop working on stomping The Privileges into extinction. They deserve to die. They need to die. They have no bodies, yet they poison bodies and the lives they contain endlessly, ruthlessly, causelessly, murderously.
There are ideas no one is entitled to hold. No matter how important I believe the First Amendment is–and I do–hate speech is not covered by it, and neither should unreasoning hatred be allowed to flourish or exist under its protection. And make no mistake, White Privilege is a function of blanket hatred of non-white people, no matter what its members try to believe. Male Privilege is a function of the hatred of the feminine in all its manifestations. Thin Privilege is a function of hatred of fat people, no matter how often it is cloaked in “concern.”
So what if we are hard-wired by evolution to believe in the innate superiority of certain human types? We’re also hard-wired to be selfish, rude, and ( for the most part) violent, but the (very bumpy) progress of human civilization has been built on moving beyond those natures.
Here’s the exercise for the day: What privileges do you own?
Here’re are mine:
White. Cis-hetero. Economically advantaged (if not anywhere near the 1%). Highly educated (if not, by a long shot, the smartest person I know). Securely and mostly sanely married. US citizen (though the extent to which that is a privilege is contingent, yes?). Able-bodied. Health-insured.
Take any of them away and my life would be VERY different (unless you replaced my citizenship with another western, 1st world citizenship–not so much difference then).
Add thin and/or male and my life would also be very different.
And pretty much all of those are located in, functions of, or enacted upon my body. We haven’t even gotten into the issue of beauty.
I will pass over in silence the NYT’s reaction to the scene in question. I’m working hard these days on being less enraged by things that aren’t actually killing humans or the planet (the GOP, corporations–you know my usual list), though one could argue that the sort of reaction the Time’s Judith Warner had is a denial of the humanity of fat people, which is a kind of killing. But we’ll assume that her reaction is a result of her living in a sort of everyone-I-know-is-at-least-thin-and-intellectual sort of NYC bubble.
Anyway, here’s the nice xojane piece about the sex scene in Homeland, which I don’t watch, so have no general opinion about:
And here’s a picture of Second City with Emily Walker (her membership of which suggests that she’s extra-talented). She’s the redhead:
I will say that Warner’s response is worse, in some ways, that the reactions of the press the first time they saw a black human kiss a white human on screen. Worse, actually. The NYT would never have thought of reacting to that as “weird,” or suggesting that the white person was terrified.