You might remember Rebecca from her awesome guest post about the children’s book I Get So Mad. You might have read her children’s book posts (part 1 and part 2) at Shapely Prose as well! I’m so glad she’s back with another post for us, this one on the way fat and disability intersect for her in a very personal way.
I love HAES, and I try to do it. I eat the foods that make my body feel as good as it can, and I exercise the amount that makes my body feel as good as it can.
You might not guess that if you were tracking me. I eat a high proportion of animal fat and animal protein – at every meal. If I don’t, I end up in screaming physical pain. (Not exaggerating.) I’ve tried every non-meat food and food combination under the sun, in order to try not eating all that meat. Nothing else works.
Also, I can’t exercise much. On a good week, I can manage two or three short walks. If I exercise more than my spoons allow, I end up in bed for days, in severe pain, with fevers and chills, unable to read or understand sentences. For my body, energy can’t be generated by exercise, and exercise can’t build upon itself.
Sometimes it’s a bit oppressive to live in a culture that believes that regular exercise always leads to a higher exercise capacity. That’s not true for everyone. Because I have CFIDS and fibromyalgia, I’ve been perceived as lazy and deluded. I’ve been perceived as malingering, even when I’m doing everything I can to live the fullest life possible.
Some of the garbage thrown at disabled people is the same garbage thrown at fat people. Pain flare-ups from massage are common for CFIDS patients, but I was once told by a massage therapist that the subgroup of her patients who’ve had bad physical reactions to her massage is the same subgroup of her patients who “want to be sick.” A recent article quotes a doctor saying, “‘The problem is that most of those people [with fibromyalgia] are very difficult patients.’” Sound familiar, anyone? Fat folks receive the same blame, the same labels of “difficult.” (If we weren’t difficult we’d have laid off the baby-flavored donuts already and become thin.) Both groups are told we’re lying about our body’s physical workings.
Some of my personal fatness/disability intersections are hard to navigate. When people see me eat but don’t know I’m sick, they may well think I’m a typical fat person eating typical FATTEH FOODS. I hate to feed (snork!) into that stereotype, but because I believe vehemently that a fat person should be able to eat whatever they want whatever their health, I don’t “excuse” my foods – even though the excuse could bank some serious mainstream credit.
Another challenge occurs when people who do know my illness’s needs offer me a kind of “free pass” for being fat. ARGH! No one’s fatness needs a “pass.” The people offering the pass assume that if I weren’t sick, I’d not be fat. But there’s no way to know that, and frankly I don’t much care. Fatpol has been in my heart and soul since long before I was either fat or disabled.
I am white, and although I work ongoingly on identifying and challenging my white privilege, I’ll always benefit from it. I also benefit from my illness being mostly invisible (and when visible, probably resembling the flu) – I’m not subject to the insta-prejudice that visibly disabled folks receive. Those are two ways that my body conforms to society’s prescribed ideal. On the other hand, CFIDS’s invisibility opens the door for some rather soul-crushing suspicion from the world at large as to whether I’m really sick.
There’s one way in which being sick and in pain every day for fifteen years makes fatpol a little easier for me. I appreciate what my body can DO. I’m so euphoric on days when I can take a walk or cook a goulash that residual insecurity about fatness wafts away on a breeze of triviality.
On the other hand, it’s a strain to embody a double societal violation of agency and aesthetics. My body threatens the notion that a person can do anything under her own steam, that we all have individual agency over our physicality. My existence disproves bootstraps.
Thinking we can completely control our health has a quality of bargaining with God or performing magical rituals. Of course there are healthful actions people can take. But the degree to which those actions succeed, especially given the myriad other factors in everyone’s life, is often complex and untraceable. I dislike how attainable “health” is portrayed to be. A term used in some disability communities to describe non-disabled people is TAB – “temporarily able bodied.” Just a reminder that anyone can become disabled.
Even HAES sometimes pokes my heart a little. I love it – I do – but sometimes it’s colored by the religion of health that our culture holds so dear. Sometimes we forget that health is elusive to find, elusive to keep, elusive even to define. Sometimes morality flavors our HAES movement even when we don’t mean it to.
HAES shouldn’t foster superiority. Where is the line between strongly supporting everyone being as healthy as they can be, and defining health as something a person should try to be? Where is the line between health aspects that are our choice, and those that aren’t? Where is the line between valuing health, and subtly placing less value on those of us who aren’t healthy?
Often even the liberal side of HAES encourages working towards “your OWN standard of health” for “you as an individual.” This is wonderful, but even my own “standard of health” is unreachable to me. The individualness of HAES isn’t just about different people having different health goals and values; it’s about different bodies having materially different abilities. Don’t assume that a disabled person can exercise or that they can’t, or what their HAES is.
Being disabled is supposed to be shameful, and I’m not always immune to that. Sometimes I catch myself worrying that my sickness is a shame because it’s harmful to fat liberation – like I’m not “representing” fatness well enough to the outside world. But that’s hooey. My sickness is a shame because it makes me sick; and it’s *a* shame, which is not the same as shameful. Fatness is neither – neither shameful nor a shame. My best spirit days are the days when I can say FAT CRIP with a big grin.
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