“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.
A friend challenged me to explain why white women voted for 45. Rightly so. She’s not white, and like a lot of women in the non-white world, has decided that it’s no longer her job to explain race to white folks. I suspect that many Black/Latinx/Asian/Native women have been tired of explaining things to us for ages, but have collectively (insofar as it’s possible for me to speak of collectivity in very diverse communities) hit some sort of wall and have given up on us in some senses.
It’s a pig-dog of a question—ultimately there is a sliver of mystery in human behaviors that no one can define, and in 2016 that manifested in large numbers of humans voting for a man who was certain to hurt them and theirs. I didn’t. I only know for certain that two women in my extended community did vote for him, and I’m not sure they constitute a sample. Both have degrees. Both are smart. I can’t really have extended conversations with either of them because they are my daughters’ mothers-in-law and I don’t have the right to make things worse than they already are in both situations.
Here’s what I do know: There is a new “Diversity Café” here at Pretty Good U run by the Women’s Studies program. The first speaker was a Latinx sociologist. Attendance was good—about 30 women and a couple of male grad students. Most of the 32 were white, and the whole group was a mix of grad students and various stripes of faculty (adjunct, not-yet-tenured, non-tenure track, tenured). Most were visibly and seriously concerned about What’s Going On outside of the Academy, and very happy to be there listening. An International Women’s Day teach-in came out of the meeting, so it was not without fruit. But the speaker said, almost casually, that white women need to step up and start talking about race. I got kind of excited and thought that would happen, but I don’t know that I have ever seen so many people nod in agreement and switch topics so quickly. It was stunning.
So there’s one reason—even highly educated, deeply politically aware and progressive white women really don’t want to confront their own whiteness or talk about what that whiteness means—at least if that one meeting is an indicator. I’ll keep bringing it up, and we’ll see if I can ever get that conversation started (as if I have any idea where to start it…though I am not too worried about that part, since much of my adult life has consisted of getting really good at flailing about until something happens). But I am construing on the basis of this one experience with elite white women that there are deep, deep wells of avoidance in which we are still choosing to drown ourselves. And if that is the case of a bunch of humans who probably all voted for Hillary, then you can begin to imagine the extent to which that kind of blindness drives all sorts of women who don’t have PhDs. Or therapists. Or self-awareness.
There is also that other thing women (this may be a white thing, but I don’t really know) don’t want to talk about: the misogyny of women. Some of the worst misogyny I have ever experienced was at the hands of women. I’ve written before here about my theory that there is only ever allowed to be one brainy fat woman in a room at a time, and the Alpha Fat Chick will go out of her way to see to it that the focus stays on her. And that’s just one of many facets of one of many issues. So, I’m going to assume that a chunk of the women who voted for 45 suffered from what I think of as Phyllis Schlafly Syndrome, which I think the APA really needs to list in its diagnostic bible.
I also assume that some of the women were fundamentalists of one sort or another (Jewish & Christian, to be honest—I doubt very much that any significant numbers of Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhists voted for him) who voted the way their husbands told them to. Because.
I am also fairly sure that there are a number of women who voted for him—maybe on purpose, or maybe without realizing it—precisely because he is a woman-hating, abusive, moral-less mountain of lies. In my own defense, the “demon lover” types I was involved with when I was younger were smarter and better looking than he ever was, but many of us, if pushed, will admit that there is still a pull for us in dangerous men. And he is definitely dangerous. Not all of us have been lucky enough to (mostly) grow out of that attraction.
It’s unlikely that I have covered all the reasons my white sisters voted for a repulsive, destructive, inexcusable, unconnected-to-reality narcissist. We’re no more of a uniformity than any other group of women. Then again, I doubt that there are all that many other statistically significant factors. I am most emphatically NOT a sociologist, though.
There is, I think, a list of what seem to be “tipping point” issues that drove the election results other than the votes of white women (though that is certainly one of the most important ones): in historical terms, the chances of the American electorate going from one revolutionary president to another, back-to-back, might have been nearly non-existent; the white Patriarchy is not going to go down easy, no matter how much progress we like to think we’ve made, and it is a boiling sea of rage; the no-one-really-wants-to-talk-about-it misogyny of the Bernie voters; Bill Clinton. Then there’s the Electoral College.
But the bottom line here is that white women, as a block, have to deal with collective responsibility for what has happened. That is one reason I was unbothered by the mostly-whiteness of the crowd in DC on January 21st—it’s our blasted JOB to get out there and fix the mess. The other reason is that The March was not (at least in DC) quite as pale as folks have charged, though it was pretty white. I’m fairly sure that the whiteness was not the reason, as some writers have suggested, that the DC police were so nice to the marchers. I was at the Standing Rock March, and the cops were polite then, too. That crowd was definitely not predominantly white. The DC cops have no investment in supporting the current administration—the city is predominantly non-white, it is taxed without representation, and he is causing them to work a lot of overtime.
So, collective responsibility: In my lifetime, I’ve watched Germany go from being a deeply wounded (and often unpleasant to be in for long periods of time) nation determined to avoid its past, to being a healed/healing nation that is alive to its past and committed to not repeating its own horrific errors. Basically, they’ve spent a long, painful time staring at and telling their own truths—a kind of collective confession and penance. They also got the other half of their country back, which was a mess, but an important mess. We’ve never really put our country back together since 1865. White people might want to take note of Germany’s choices. Of course, Americans are justly notorious for refusing to learn from any other country’s successes. American Exceptionalism and The Partriarchy have been festering together for ages. In the best of all possible worlds, this administration will have burst the boil and we’ll be able to move on soonish. My Pollyanna half is allowed a few minutes to contemplate that each day. Then my non-Pollyana self goes back to screaming in a corner for the other 23 hours, 57 minutes of the day.
I don’t know what to do. I’m pretty sure there is no one answer, and pretty sure that answers are going to prove hard to come by. So I now have a “White silence is violence.” button I intend to wear to church and sometimes to teach. I’ve started talking about race in my classes whenever there’s the least excuse. And I’ve kind of made peace with the idea that I will screw it up sometimes, because thinking it’s my job to do it perfectly is permission to be silent. And in the tradition of English law, silence gives consent. I think many of those white women who voted for 45 did so silently.
If I figure out any other ways to add my infinitesimal efforts in any right direction, I’ll try to find my way to acting on them. It won’t be enough. It never could. And it certainly doesn’t make me particularly righteous. This isn’t nearly enough of an answer. I am profoundly sorry not to be able to do better.
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.
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.