So, Kate Dailey, who did the awesome interview with Kate and I for Newsweek’s The Human Condition blog, has done a… more conservative follow up.
For the record, I’m actually not bothered at all. It’s a bit of critical thinking in the media and I am all for that. If our ideas couldn’t stand up (which I believe they do and rather well) to a bit of critical opposition than they wouldn’t be worth much, eh?
Which is not to say I, you know, AGREE with the article. *grin* Oh, it’s never that simple, is it? *laugh* For example, Kate Dailey says that you don’t need the BMI to tell if someone is fat. Oh, Kate Dailey, I wish we could have spent more time talking about this. Because actually, doctors ARE going by the BMI to determine whether or not people are fat and, as Kate’s BMI Project illustrates rather aptly, you really, truly can’t just look at a person and tell where the medical community slots them when it comes to “obesity” – in other words, you can’t just look at a person and know whether or not their doctor thinks they are fat.
This is one of those issues that gets confused across culture lines, too. Fatness starts at much lower levels in some cultures and higher levels in others. It should teach us that fatness is subjective but it mostly gets ignored.
And even if you ARE dealing with a person, like me, who is obviously fat, you still can’t judge anything about my health in any sort of reliable way.
Ultimately, though, while I have my quibbles (and the article has been updated to address one of them that Kate wrote to Kate Dailey about), what really gets me is the conclusion of the article.
It’s primarily positive. There is no imperative that fatties need to get on the treadmill. And there’s the acknowledgment that a large component of the negative side effects of being fat are social.
The other health hazard associated with being overweight is what Dr. Roizen calls social problems. “That’s depression, suicide, and other forms of stress-induced mental problems,” he says. These problems, of course, are not causes by fatness in and of itself, but with the shame and guilt that can result from living as an overweight person. There are two ways to treat that: either by losing the weight or, as Harding and Kirby suggest, embracing your body and tuning out the societal messages that say being fat makes one unhealthy — and unworthy.
And, you know what? This whole paragraph is true except for one tiny detail: there is no reliable and safe known way to make fat people lose weight permanently. I throw in the qualifiers of reliable and safe because there is always some smart ass who wants to come in and recommend everything from lipo to WLS. But diets don’t work. “Permanent lifestyle changes” (i.e., diets) don’t work. Obsessing over your weight doesn’t work.
So, that last paragraph, as awesome as it is, really ought to read more like this:
There are two ways to treat that: either by attempting repeatedly ad infinitum to lose the weight or, as Harding and Kirby suggest, embracing your body and tuning out the societal messages that say being fat makes one unhealthy — and unworthy.
That’s a bit more truthful. And, because I believe in body autonomy, I can get behind that binarism. You really do have a choice. You can continue to ride the diet roller coaster – in which case, I still wish the best for you (and, if I know you, will commence to worry about you). Or you can start doing the work of fat acceptance, of body acceptance no matter what size you are.
It could also be recast as “You can continue to hate yourself or you can work to accept yourself.” I mean, that’s catchy! But I do think that some people would be offended by it so I’m going to go with the first revision up there. *grin*
I chose fat acceptance because there’s a greater chance of success. I mean, I’d tried the diet thing for 20 years! The only thing I’d gotten was fatter. It took me forever to realize that there was another option – that it was okay to just stop. My life has only gotten better since then.
Fat people sometimes talk about how frustrating it is when doctors treat us like liars. As if we can’t possibly be honest about our food intake and activity levels. Either we just really have no idea how much we’re eating (perhaps the fat makes us stupid?) or we’re flat-out hiding our shameful behaviors. *snort*
In this way, doctors justify treating fat patients however the hell those doctors want to treat fat patients – which generally doesn’t work out too well for the fat person. Our own experience is undermined, is disappeared and other people superimpose their own fiction on top of our truth.
This happens to people who dig fat people in a “hey, I dig your bod” sort of way, too. Your preference for redheads is perfectly normal, your preference for big breasts is justified in all sorts of complicated ways, your preference for a partner who is also into sports is just common sense.
But heavens forbid you have a thing for fat people.
In that case, it simply cannot be just as simple as that’s what you like, oh, no! No, you’ve either got to be a fetishist or some kind of freak or, according to psychologist Phil Jaucy, it’s really because you’re afraid of trying a “normal” relationship.
In this case, normal = a relationship of any type with a thin person. *eyeroll* Because all relationships between thin people are totally healthy!
In an interesting reversal of the usual “she got fat so I left her” story so popular with internet trolls, Brett and Sheree Langford are filing for divorce not because she got fat but at least in part because she lost a little more than half of her body weight.
Turns out, Brett Langford just likes fat women. Oh, sorry, Brett, it can’t be that simple! You couldn’t possibly just have a thing for fatties the way some people have a thing for, I don’t know, blondes or tall people or something.
No, according to Jaucy, Brett’s problem is that he’s a fetishist with Motherhen syndrome.
“I (will) have a higher chance of that person saying that (they) need me,” Dr Jaucy said.
It’s so good, don’t you think, that we’ve got all of these thin people to explain to us how wrong and sick in the head we are?
It’s so disgusting that one of the reasons many fat people pursue weight loss obsessively is the fear that they won’t ever find love and that the people who might love them are being shamed and pathologized. VICIOUS CYCLE.
There’s a nice little “bigger and better” joke at the end of the article, too. The fat puns are just so hard for, you know, PROFESSIONAL WRITERS to resist.
Thanks, Jaucy, for tossing that extra little bit of hateful shame out there. We really needed that.
The whole post is actually a hoot (if you, well, if you think physics is an excellent environment for humor) and the comments, thus far, are amusing as well – there are many explanations for the physics of Mama Bear’s porridge!
We’re hashing it out over at Comment Is Free today! An Irish-based budget carrier is skipping any of the ridiculous justification that American companies are using and going straight to the “we’re charging you more because you’re fat and no one likes fatties” position. I woke up to find the article already posted so I wasn’t able to jump in as early as I’d hoped but there are some comments that make me hopeful anyway – along with the usual tripe. If you’re feeling feisty, come jump in! If not, save your sanity watcher points and just check out the article!
PHS found that Respondent engaged in scientific misconduct by falsifying and fabricating baseline data from a study of sleep apnea in severely obese patients published in the following paper: Fogel, R.B., Malhotra, A., Dalagiorgou, G., Robinson, M.K., Jakab, M., Kikinis, R., Pittman, S.D., and White, D.P. “Anatomic and physiologic predictors of apnea severity in morbidly obese subjects.” Sleep 2:150155, 2003 (hereafter referred to as the “Sleep paper”); and in a preliminary abstract reporting on this work.
Specifically, PHS found that for the data reported in the Sleep paper, the Respondent:
Changed/falsified roughly half of the physiologic data
Fabricated roughly 20% of the anatomic data that were supposedly obtained from Computed Tomography (CT) images
Changed/falsified 50 to 80 percent of the other anatomic data
Changed/falsified roughly 40 to 50 percent of the sleep data so that those data would better conform to his hypothesis.
You mean a scientist allowed personal bias to not just inform his scientific opinion when he was drafting his hypothesis, he went so far as to FALSIFY DATA?
I am SHOCKED, just SHOCKED that anyone in the medical community has anything other than the very best opinions of fat people. I mean, surely NONE OF US have ever experience mistreatment at the hands of biased medical professionals! That’s just laughable!
Except, oh, wait, it isn’t. I hope y’all will forgive me – I cannot stop laughing at this. I mean, seriously? He changed or flat-out lied about, well, more than a statistically significant portion of his data.
Sometimes people who aren’t into Fat Acceptance ask why I have to be so militant – as if it is a bad thing to have firm beliefs on this issue. THIS SORT OF THING IS EXACTLY WHY.
A friend of mine, last night, mentioned that there was an artist working on a series of paintings depicting her having sex with each President of the United States of America, in order of service.
Of course the immediate joke was Taft.
And it bothered me quite a lot. As I looked stuff up online about this artist and her project, called Join or Die, it didn’t surprise me at all to find that, oh look, the consistent joke is Taft.
Because, you know, fat dudes are gross and thinking about them having sex is gross.
Justine Lai is only 18 presidents in, so there actually doesn’t exist a Taft painting yet. But, browsing her other examples (it should go without saying that clicking the “works” link on her site will pull up images that are not really safe for work unless the medium of oil painting makes picture of sex okay where ever you might be), when she gets around to our 27th president, I think it will be an interesting work.
In Join Or Die, I paint myself having sex with the Presidents of the United States in chronological order. I am interested in humanizing and demythologizing the Presidents by addressing their public legacies and private lives. The presidency itself is a seemingly immortal and impenetrable institution; by inserting myself in its timeline, I attempt to locate something intimate and mortal. I use this intimacy to subvert authority, but it demands that I make myself vulnerable along with the Presidents. A power lies in rendering these patriarchal figures the possible object of shame, ridicule and desire, but it is a power that is constantly negotiated.
I approach the spectacle of sex and politics with a certain playfulness. It would be easy to let the images slide into territory that’s strictly pornographic—the lurid and hardcore, the predictably “controversial.” One could also imagine a series preoccupied with wearing its “Fuck the Man” symbolism on its sleeve. But I wish to move beyond these things and make something playful and tender and maybe a little ambiguous, but exuberantly so. This, I feel, is the most humanizing act I can do.
William Howard Taft was born in 1857. He was groomed for the presidency by Teddy Roosevelt. I do not think it can be argued that he was a great president but part of that seems to be a failing of personality – Taft was always more interested in the law than in politics and any president coming after Roosevelt was almost guaranteed to be a let-down anyway. He pushed Dollar Diplomacy but he also pushed mediation and arbitration instead of war. Taft is the only person to have held both the office of the presidency and the office of chief justice – a position which suited him far more.
William Howard Taft was also a fat man. No discussion of him, it would seem, is complete without giving his stats – people seem fascinated by them. He was 6 feet tall and averaged between 300 and 340 pounds during the 4 years he was in office.
Taft was always a fat man, always big. He was the butt of fat jokes even when he was president. He dieted, like we all do, and he had limited success (read: none) with keeping off the weight he had lost in the long term (read: like we all do). In fact, after his diet, he gained back what he had lost and then some! QUELLE SURPRISE! Taft weighed around 250 when he graduated college and weighed close to that again when he died. It’s almost like that was the weight his body was comfortable at…. Taft was an active man but became less so as he aged (and lost weight). I think he was 72 (I don’t have my references with me!) when he died – from cerebral arteriosclerosis, if I remember correctly.
When people talk about how gross it is for Justine Lai to paint herself having sex with Taft, the natural implication is that it is disgusting for me to have sex. After all, I weigh 300+ pounds. And Taft was 6 feet tall! I’m only 5’4″! He had 8 inches on me! If it’s gross for Taft to get it on (and he had a wife with a very strong personality and a lot of ambition with whom he had 3 kids so I don’t think it was a marriage in name only by a long shot), then what must people grossed out by Taft think about me?
This is where the waters get difficult to navigate sometimes with friends. Because one person’s preference isn’t the issue. No one has to want to have sex with me or think I’m sexually attractive. The problem is that not only is Taft ridiculed as an object of desire (and I will tell you straight up that I think he was a good looking dude) but so is the concept that ANYONE would find him sexually attractive.
It isn’t just that person x is not attracted to me sexually, it’s that the implication is it’s gross for fat people to have sex across the board.
Some of this is, I think, based on no one being able to accurately guess someone else’s weight. The people around you forget, because they are your friends, that when they are talking in a derogatory fashion about fat people they are also talking about you. And people who don’t have fat friends (or fat friends who are fat positive) don’t even have that little bit of information!
This is one reason why I think visibility is so important. The more I am fat and totally okay with that, the more I am able to challenge people’s unexamined thinking about fat and fat people.
I am interested in watching Justine Lai’s project develop. I don’t know if she is achieving her goals – I haven’t decided yet what I think on a critical level. But her statement moves me – her statement makes me want to see what she does, makes me curious about how she’s going to imagine Taft in her efforts to “make something playful and tender and maybe a little ambiguous, but exuberantly so.”
And in doing so, I hope, part of the humanizing message that comes through is that, yeah, fat people have sex, just like any other people.
There’s a short story called “The Things They Carried” by a man named Tim O’Brien. I can’t tell you how many times I had to read this story in college. In almost every creative writing workshop I took, it was read and discussed in depth.
“The Things They Carried” is about memories of Vietnam, about the blurring of truth and fiction, about the things we cannot simply slough off with the passage of time. It speaks, obliquely, about the persistent nature of trauma.
One reason I never got tired of reading this story (ask me how many times I’ve read “Hills Like White Elephants” *dies*) is that in some small way, I understand it. I don’t have any war experience. But personal trauma often manifests in the same ambiguous and cycle-of-shame-inducing way.
This might seem like a radical topic shift but bear with me. *grin* If you like makeup tutorials and you like You Tube, you have probably heard of Lauren Luke. She’s panacea81 on the You Tube and she does AWESOME makeup. She’s hit a bit of celebrity status now and one of things people always talk about is her low self-esteem. Check out this video from the BBC:
Now, Lauren is the first to tell you that she has awful self-confidence. And she’s total proof that accomplishments alone are not enough to build a person up out of that sort of thing. And, oh, listen, did you catch that she was bullied as a kid for being fat?
That is what Lauren carries with her. That is in her rucksack along with so many other things, informing her view of herself and her world.
I’m not into performing armchair diagnoses, but I think most people who grew up fat have some of that same baggage. It’s never been easy to be a fat kid. I’d venture to say that it’s getting even harder what with the OMG OBESITY panic but it’s never been easy and living through the worst of those experiences really does leave you with trauma.
We don’t ever talk about that, do we? We talk about our experiences as adults, with insults hurled from passing car windows and overheard whispers in the office. But we don’t dwell on having pecans thrown at us by kids at the bus stop or the boys in middle school who thought you were much more interesting because you had breasts before everyone else.
I think part of it is that this stuff is really fucking painful. Our rucksack of memories still contains the pain we felt then – pain that we couldn’t diffuse through feminist theory or logic or confidence. And I think we also don’t talk about it out of shame.
I mean, really, it’s embarrassing to even remember having the gym coach tell you to move your fat ass, much less to talk about it! So, shame keeps us quiet.
Our shame and our silence are the things we carry.
I was at the store the other night when this totally cute guy started to chat me up. I mentioned my husband in passing and the dude was visibly disappointed. And in the moment, it was just a thing. I didn’t question it as it was happening. But it’s nearly impossible to relate what really ought to be a simple and inconsequential anecdote because I am so full of the fear that people won’t believe a random man in the store thought I was worth talking to.
It took me forever to figure out when people were flirting with me and I’m much better about picking up on it these days. But I’ve had people try to convince me that such a thing could not POSSIBLY be happening, that certainly no one would flirt with me (maybe, you know, maybe they just flirt with EVERYONE and I’m reading way too much into it – nevermind that I’m not reading anything into it other than, oh, hai, flirtation). And now I’m afraid of that. I don’t want to be shamed by someone’s doubt.
That’s something I carry.
So we carry all of this crap. It weighs us down and, when we’re presented with opportunities, it buts blinders on us or holds us back or makes us feel so inadequate as human beings that we say things like “can a person who looks like me work in the makeup industry?”
Barry M is dead on – Lauren Luke has mad talent. Her lack of self-confidence – which seems to be rooted in part at least in a childhood of being called awful names because she was fat – has kept her quiet and lonely and hidden. I’m freaking delighted that she’s hitting it this big and that now she has some reason to start to question, to start to believe in her own worth.
List the things you carry. Name them and don’t let them overwhelm you. Carry your trauma with you but don’t let it stunt you. We can’t all get millions of viewers on You Tube, after all. *grin* So we’ve got to make this chance for ourselves, we need to shed some light on those things hiding in the bottom of our rucksack.
Also, I generally have no beef with organized religion but if you don’t have room in your head to grant a 9-year-old rape victim pregnant with twins an abortion because her 80-pound body is physically incapable of carrying them, then you do NOT value human life. YOU DO NOT.
I’m still completely snowed under at work and I apologize for not providing much of substance here recently – that’ll change and things will get back to normal in another week or two. Fingers crossed, at least!
In the meantime, one of the things we’ve discussed before has been that “health” is a variable concept. The current mainstream definition seems to demand we be in peak atheletic physical condition (with the particular brand of atheletics being subject to personal opinion though still limited to a certain small set) regardless of mental health.
But that definition has changed throughout history and part of a new exhibit at the Science Museum (in London – I love that the name indicates it’s the only science museum ever *laugh*) addresses that as part of a larger exhibit detailing the history of medicine. There’s some amazing stuff in there and the whole exhibit is worth browsing online.
What is being well?
What it means to be ‘well’ changes with geography, culture and also time. Historically, notions of wellness and illness have been influenced by a society’s medical system, religious beliefs and cultural values. As a result, what has been considered a ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’ physical experience has often changed. Today, the presence of continuous and severe pain is considered abnormal – if we start to feel a sharp, persistent ache in our side, we will usually get ourselves to a doctor within a couple of days. In earlier times, however, the presence of physical pain was often a reality of daily life.
What do y’all think about this? Personally, I do think that modern definitions of health are a bit more involved than the absense of pain – and the presence of physical pain is STILL a reality of daily life for many people.