Thursday, April 30, 2009

Random rambling for a Thursday night.

I watched the trailer for “Julie and Julia”, the upcoming Nora Ephron comedy based on the true stories of renowned chef Julia Child (played by Meryl Streep) and Julie Powell (Amy Adams), a woman who decided to go through Child’s seminal cookbook and prepare a dish every day for a year straight. I’m interested in seeing the movie because I’m quite fond of both Meryl and Amy, but damn if I didn’t get pissy with the trailer trot-out of the usual trope – that Powell is upset to the point of tears that she might be getting fat due to her labor of love. Of course, she’s reassured by the Sassy Sidekick Girlfriend character that it’s only showing in her face. Blugh. My queendom for a woman-centric movie that doesn’t contain one single fucking “I AM TERRIFIED I MIGHT GET FAT/I AM FAT/DOES MY ASS LOOK FAT IN THIS” scene. It’s rather creepy that the most frightening thing for so many people is the idea of becoming or being fat. I’m more afraid that I’m going to get into a life-or-death struggle with a giant squid or hammerhead shark than I am of my fat. But I also have to acknowledge that I’ve never held a position of thin/beauty privilege. I’ve never been praised exclusively for my looks and my self-esteem has never hinged primarily on my thinness. And it will probably sound condescending of me, but I feel bad for those who have been or are in that position. I’ve got plenty of mind-fucks for a myriad of other reasons due to a myriad of other subjects, but jeepers, that has to be one of the biggest mind-fucks to be so terrified of gaining weight and not fitting in that teeny tiny societal box of what is considered “pretty”.

I’ve lived fat my entire life. It’s simply the way I’ve always been. I’ve practically cross-stitched “You have such a pretty face” on pillows. So it’s admittedly hard for me to truly understand the kind of panic that seems to accompany so many women and men over the idea of being fat. And how could you not panic, thanks to the constant broadcast message being sent: fat destroys, fat depresses, fat makes you morally suspect, fat makes you lazy, fat makes you ugly, fat makes you unlovable. Even after all the personal work I’ve done to embrace me and every bubbly bit that is part of me, I still had a moment of astonishment not too long ago during a pretty deep conversation with a friend of mine where he told me “I’ve always thought you were beautiful”. Mercy, how I had to fight myself to not tell him “you’re wrong/you’re blind/you’re high”. I think I even had him repeat it because my brain kind of shrunk like a squeezed sponge for a moment from the volume of the “BWUH?!?!?” that echoed through my skull. You really never completely get rid of the “you’re wrong/you’re blind/you’re high”, I’ve learned. Even if you’re able to parry immediately with “oh, shut the fuck up, brain”, the “oh pshaw” litany hides in the dark, waiting for the perfect opportunity to leap out like Vegas Elvis doing karate moves to “Suspicious Minds”.

How do we make fat something that simply is, like being thin, like being blond or brunette or tall or short?

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Thursday, April 9, 2009

If you pretend it doesn't exist, it doesn't exist!

Emily Yoffe, a.k.a. “Dear Prudence” on, is into chats now, apparently. And this question came up:

Arlington, Va.: Dear Pru,

I need your feedback. I am a "woman of size". I have been all of my life. I work out regularly, don't overeat, but here I am. I'm not asking for diet advice. What I need is something different. I need advice on how to deal with the country's hostility towards overweight women. Women of size are not seen as date-worthy, have insurmountable negative connotations associated with them (lazy, slobs, smelly... I'm none of those things!), and are in general treated poorly. Being judged for your looks is the last acceptable form of "prejudice". I guess what I'm most sad about is that this is such a tiny part of who I am, yet never gets overlooked. However, I'm still invisible. So, I guess my question is: how do I overcome my anger at people who feel it's okay to judge me?

First, Yoffe’s response, and then my response to her response.

Emily Yoffe:: First of all, remember you're not alone. Most American are "people of size" so at any workplace or social setting you are hardly going to be the only overweight person. Remember, often the way you are treated is in response to the way you act. You say your weight never gets overlooked, yet you are invisible. This sounds as if you spend a lot of time looking for ways to interpret encounters as being about your weight. I am not saying there is no fat prejudice out there. But if you are comfortable with yourself, and act as if you are, you will notice a lot less hostility.

I almost want to pinch Yoffe’s cheeks for being so...deliciously clueless. But let me say first to Arlington, VA., and everyone else in general: drop the “Last Acceptable Prejudice” hoo-hah now, please. Because it’s not. And engaging in the Oppression Olympics is foolish and undermining to anyone’s cause. Now, back to Yoffe’s “advice”, which boils down to “people won’t be mean if you behave” with the obligatory “oh, well, hurr hurr I certainly don’t doubt there’s no fat prejudice out there”.

Is there air on your planet? On your very, very privileged planet? All you have to do is watch network television for an evening, look at any tabloid at the checkout stand, or read the fucking internet and there is fat prejudice everywhere. EVERYWHERE. If you stopped fat women on the street and asked them when was the last time they felt like they caught shit for their weight, be it blatant or otherwise, I’d bank they could rattle off quite a hefty list of grievances. I also don’t think Yoffe quite gets the idea of fat not being overlooked, yet making one invisible at the same time from a fat woman’s perspective. I’ve had plenty of occasions where I would say that I have felt invisible and yet simultaneously quite obvious because of my fat. Dismissed and ignored because of my fat. Being dismissed and ignored would certainly fall under the umbrella of “invisible”, I think.

Let’s also take a moment to address the idea of “start acting like you’re comfortable with yourself and people will not be mean”. I think many of us have learned that being comfortable with ourselves and being public about it doesn’t exactly warm the hearts of all people, everywhere. If there’s a blogger on the Fatosphere that hasn’t gotten at least one comment telling us to shut up and quit complaining, to stop being fat, to go on a diet because they DO SO work, to stop being lazy/binging/ugly/stupid...well, I would eat my hat. Embracing how we look and loving how we look is a threat. And the thing’s not only a threat when fat women do it. Women refusing to adhere to the demands of the very narrow spectrum of what is considered “beautiful” is a threat to the weight loss industry, it’s a threat to the patriarchy, it’s a threat to the fashion industry, it is a threat to everything we are taught from the get-go about what’s “right” and what’s “wrong” and what women should do in order to be “good” instead of “bad”.

Later in the chat, a participant chimes in with this, which is all kinds of awesome:

For the “woman of size”:Check out the Fat Acceptance movement! It's a wonderful way to work on combating the kind of prejudice you describe, and to connect with other people (mostly women) who have similar experiences. I'm particularly fond of Kate Harding's Shapely Prose blog, but just google Fat Acceptance, and you'll see lots of options.

Yoffe’s response (I can so easily imagine her sniffing with derision)? Good advice, thanks. But I also think the "woman of size" needs ways to think less about her size. Uhhhhh-huh. So if we all just think less about our size and more about...oh, I don’t know, pretty shoes or kitties or unicorns, ALL THE BAD IN THE WORLD WILL GO AWAY. Yes, I realize I’m probably hyperbolic and heavily sarcastic and getting capslocky, but for fuck’s sake. I’d love to not think about my size. However, THE ENTIRE FRIGGING WORLD IS FOCUSED ON IT. If you read anything even resembling a major newspaper/website/watch news channels, there isn’t a fucking day that doesn’t sport some sort of “holy shit the fat oh my god the fat the fat is coming we are all fat we are eating ourselves to death think of the children don’t let them have sugar or cake or anything because the cake kills” story. And what makes it all creepier is that people eat it up without question. Any other stinking story about ANYTHING and eyebrows are raised, cynical statements are made, data that looks wonky is dismissed. Something about fat, though, and it’s BATTEN DOWN THE HATCHES BECAUSE THE FATPOCALYPSE IS A-COMIN’.

FYI, the “Fatpocalypse” is here, and it’s not going anywhere because it’s always BEEN here. And it’s getting more visible. And, even’s getting louder.

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