Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Baby talk, baby talk, it's a wonder you can walk.

When I was a youth, I had a speech impediment -- I had the Cindy Brady lisp, apparently. I say "apparently" because I don't really remember lisping, but I have very vague recollections of going to the speech therapist and working on words involving the letter "s". As of late, I've noticed that when I'm tired and in a hurry to say things, I will occasionally lisp.

It's a strange thing, suddenly finding myself lisping after years of, well, not. It's one of those things that I never would have expected would pop up, especially considering I not only went through speech therapy, but I also spent a good amount of time in theatrical voice training during college. I still try very hard to drop my voice so I cut down on the delightful Chicago nasal "a" that creeps up on me and it drives me a little crazy when I hear someone pronounce "the" incorrectly. Seriously, there's a rule: if "the" precedes a word that begins with a vowel, you should pronounce it "thee"; if the word begins with a consonant, you should pronounce it "thuh". And it's ILL-inois, not EL-inois. Anyway.

This tangential trip down Memory Lane is an unwieldy gateway into the topic of insults. That is, the power of words and do they have power, should they have power, etc. etc. etc. I often find that people who haven't often been on the receiving end of words designed to absolutely crush someone's spirit are the first ones to pipe up "Words only have power if YOU GIVE THEM POWER!!!!". They sometimes are the same people who crow that losing weight is easy and if you can't do it, you're a fucking loser scumbag fat asshole.

My own experience with having insults hurled my way has been (by miracle or otherwise) fairly minimal. I've read stories from others, primarily women, who undergo an almost constant verbal assault every day of their lives due to their size. Now, I don't know if it's because I live in a major city or I've perfected the art of being utterly nondescript (although I struggle with that idea simply because I'm 5'9", 280 lbs, with decidedly unnatural red hair and tattoos on both forearms), but I can't remember the last time someone tossed off a fat-related insult at me. The last time I remember catching any shit for the way I looked was when I was riding on the el a few years ago. I have a winter hat that I adore, a black and white Dr. Seuss-esque knit hat that's very long and tube-like. When you're living in Chicago, winter is hell. Therefore, it makes sense to dress as warmly as possible, and goddammit, my Dr. Seuss hat's fucking warm so I'm going to wear it (in fact, I've worn it a couple times just this week). So I was sporting my festive chapeau and about to step off the train, and some guy snarked, "Nice hat". And if you're fairly used to having someone blow shit at you, you know immediately when someone's being complimentary or not. Instead of having my day ruined, it just...baffled me. For Christ's sake, it was probably 10 degrees out...and you're going to rip on my warm hat??

It's kind of like that scene in "Roxanne" where Steve Martin goes on a riff of insults about his big nose to refute the truly lame insult thrown at him by someone in the bar. The best you can muster is "nice hat"? If you really want to stop me in my tracks, show some style, some flair. How about...oh, I don't know, "looks like a dead zebra on your head" or asking if the Cat in the Hat shit on my skull. Come on. That's why I find it so difficult to be insulted when people roll out the wide (HA) variety of fat-based insults mostly because they're so fucking dopey. You've got the people who will exclaim, "You're fat!" Well...yeah. The rest of the class has that figured out. Then the litany of "fat pig", "tub of lard", and any number of other invectives prefaced by "fat": bitch, cunt, whore, slut, ass, asshole, to name a few. And if you think about it, it's not the bitch/cunt/whore that's necessarily designed to be the thing meant to destroy our souls, it's the word "fat".

I see it used as the most horrible word ever all the time, even in casual, non-confrontational conversation. It's so loaded with hatred and horror; the very very VERY worst thing anyone could ever be or be considered is fat. Which blows my mind. Even before I started to dig on the concept of fat acceptance, I rarely called myself "fat" in the wrong sense. I felt I was an asshole for a wide variety of reasons, the least of which was my fat. And now, my wide variety of reasons don't have anything to do in the least with my bountiful girthitude. Sometimes I think my lack of horror at "fat" is because I've never been anything but fat. I've never experienced the momentary wonder and glory of being thin or even within the thin ballpark and all the alleged bliss that comes with it. I don't remember wearing a size under 20. The lowest weight I can recall being is 225 lbs, when I was in my senior year of high school. I've never been not big.

The funny thing is, as a fat youth, it rarely bothered me. I've kept a journal of sorts from the age of 16 to present and as a, I thought I was Queen Shit of Fuck Mountain. I liked the fellas and I went after them. If they didn't reciprocate, there wasn't one sentence that contained the phrase "because I'm fat". The tone was definitely "they're losers for not wanting me". For a long time I couldn't figure out where it went south for me and just sitting here now, kind of nattering on the keys and letting my brain take me where it may, it's struck me that my own special brand of self-loathing didn't start kicking in until I started to lose weight my senior year. I'd lost maybe 30 pounds and was going through a situation that would sadly set a particular tone for my future dealings with the opposite sex, and all the magazines and whatnot told us that when you lose weight, magical things happen and the life you dream of having suddenly starts happening and you're practically followed by fucking unicorns, things are so great. I realized then that the one magical thing I wanted (that is, for this particular fellow to love me back) wasn't going to happen and it didn't make any fucking sense. I DID WHAT I WAS SUPPOSED TO DO. I lost 30 pounds, for Christ's sake! I wasn't thin by any stretch of the imagination, but I was thinner! I was being GOOD. So why couldn't I have him? Why wouldn't he love me back?

Of course, in retrospect, it was a most fucked-up relationship that no young woman should ever have to experience. But after it was all over and I learned that I was good enough for a one-off fuck (that thankfully, never wound up happening) but not good enough to date, my self-confidence went straight into the shitter. And it stayed there for...years. It's still in the shitter in certain areas of my life and I'm still puzzling out how to fix it. What I did start piecing together was that the "fuck you" attitude I had as a teen was just the kind of weapon I needed in order to start wading through my grown-up life. The distrust I'd always had for mainstream media and all the self-help gurus telling us that we'd sprout fucking wings and fart pixie dust if we could just behave and lose weight started to re-emerge. It was only a matter of time before my brainswitch tripped and started to embrace the wacky-ass concept that I wasn't a weak slob who wasn't trying hard enough to lose weight. We all are special snowflakes (at least, DNA-wise) and we've all got unique carcasses that do different things and look different ways and none of it's bad, weak, or wrong.

The word "fat" doesn't mean anything but, well, fat. Fat. FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT. Just say it, roll it around in your mouth. Say it without that tight voice, without gritted teeth, without hissing. Just say FAT. Say it in a high-pitched voice. Say it with an accent. Start treating it like the adjective it is and stop using it as a moral judgment.


Will said...

Great post, Jane. Very insightful. Me thinks I'm gonna be reading more.

Avenging Angle said...

I know this is MONTHS late and sort of off-topic, but I had the same lisp, didn't know I had it until I was IN speech therapy, and still occasionally find myself lisping when I'm tired and talking too fast. And the same flat A, but I'm in Cleveland. :)

(I surfed over from Shapely Prose -- normally I'm just 'Stephanie' over there.)