Monday, September 29, 2008

Fatter Than the Moon

so one of my housemates is big into anime and somehow this translates into me watching season one of sailor moon, the japaneese version with subtitles. it's cute, more or less, in that whiney school girl saves the world and her classmates kinda way.

i'm about for or five episodes in, rather enjoying the formula that allows me to know what's coming and thus truly veg, and suddenly usagi (sailor moon) is slumped on the bathroom floor crying her eyes out over having gained weight. now, all of a sudden, i'm leaning forward in my seat waiting to see how this plays out. not really interested in the idea of how the episode would go but in how the show, so obviously aimed at pre-teen girls, would handle the idea of body image and weight loss. i have to say, the show did not disappoint my expectations... which is bad since i was expecting the worst.

her brother teases her, her father tells her it's healthy for growing girls to be a little chubby, and her mom lets her know that it's true but all the same if she's really worried about it she could go on a diet. the worst part is the talking cat that is part friend and part mentor who draws a picture of a very round usagi and tells her this is what she'll look like in six months time. which of course makes the poor girl freak out, and begin to "diet". i say diet in quotes because her idea is to just stop eating. which her friends at school encourage because, as the token fat one states, thin girls are so much prettier than fat ones.

suddenly the girls all hear about a new gym that just opened up and promises weight loss in just one session, and beautiful thinness in just three. of course it's just a plot by the bad guys to steal the energy of young women, but the girls rush in on the promise of beauty and thinness. or maybe thinness and beauty. either way they're equated one with the other. so the girls slave on stationary bikes, free weights and rowing machines with beefcake instructors egging them on. once the girls have all but exhausted themselves it's off to the "shapely ray" for some relaxation and to help with their goals. so here's the evil plan bit, but the girls come out weighing less and all manner of excited, especially when they get told how much thinner and how much more beautiful they all look.

meanwhile unsagi still hasn't eaten and collapses in from of the video game arcade. she's helped by the young man she currently has a crush on, and he tells her she doesn't need a diet. he likes chubby girls. which gives the poor thing some kind of permission to eat. not that this new found acceptance lasts beyond the first few dumplings because both the cat and the dark haired stranger she keeps running into both confirm that she's just going to get really fat if she doesn't stop eating.

meanwhile the evil gym owner muses with his evil ruler about how stupid these women are. he says something to the effect of these women and young girls are willing to kill themselves just to be thin, how pathetic. this is really the only part in the whole episode where anything is said about how unhealthy and how dangerous this kind of thinking can be. even the idea that men like the "chubby look" gets laughed off as not the norm and besides chubby is sort of ok but fat is never ok. of course in the end sailor moon defeats the bad guys and save her friends and teacher, but the message is very clear.

thin is beautiful. fat is not acceptable. chubby is only ok for some and most men don't like it. there's no mention of health, no mention of how bad it is to starve yourself, no affirmations of any kind. just this push to be thin, and how monstrous it is to toy with a girls dream of being thin.

there's talk in the fat/size acceptance world about the subversive nature of the this thin=beauty myth. but this was anything but subversive. now, i have no idea if this episode aired in the usa and no idea about eating disorders in japan, but i can imagine what this would do to a young woman who has gained weight prior to a growth spurt. or just in general. and i found myself begin that thought process of self evaluation that says my stomach isn't flat enough and my hips are too big. i shouldn't have been surprised but i was, at least a little. but i think the fact that i could recognize the seeds of that kiltered thinking is a sign of progress.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Book Store Feminism

Anyone who knows me know that I love books. I mean I LOVE books. So for me, going to a good book store is akin to heading for Mecca (or other religious city of your choosing). Especially if I can sit with a stack of books and hide on the floor in a corner and read through the first several pages or chapters to decide if this is THE book to buy.

So I'm in the local book store with my boyfriend, enjoying the evening out together, enjoying our trip to Mecca, enjoying the wooden floors and oddly tiered wren of stairs and nooks. And lo, into the Women's studies section I wander. Now, under normal circumstances I shudder at the thought of entering this section of the book store. There isn't enough of me to give over to the anger reading these books tends to generate. I can't put that much of myself into the idea of feminist conspiracy, and men as the ultimate in oppressors and villains. I just can't. Plus I'd rather be a humanist than a feminist.

But here I am looking at a bright little book I could fit into my pocket with a pretty pink daisy and the word CUNT plastered on it in bright yellow letters. And i have to stop, I have to pause and look at this unassuming little book with such a charged word on it. As I reach for it, I notice that it's sitting on the shelf right next to a book on planning your ultimate wedding. I started laughing, couldn't help it. Here I am, surrounded by feminist and post-feminist books on giving up our oppressive self images, on what it is to be a woman in less enlightened places, on how we need to fight the oppressions of men and the double standards of sex. Here I am practically hearing the angry voices of a dozen women and right in the mix is how to have the best wedding.

Hooray for cognitive dissonance.

But this is illistrative of the issue of the beauty myth. Not that we can't be women of power. Not that we can't reclaim words like cunt or bitch or whore. Not that we can't disolve the word slut, or remove the double standard that keeps it on the lips and tongues of teenage girls. But that we are expected to do these things AND plan the perfect wedding. Or, and I noticed this sitting on the same shelf, be "alternative" brides who still want an amazing and perfect day just not like THOSE women. And it's the idea of my kind of women and those kind of women, the idea of us versus them that is so hard for me with feminism.

I have a girlfriend who has the ability to be a stay at home mom. She could choose to be otherwise, but her spouce makes enough to support her and their three kids without it. So she chooses not to work in an office and wear power suits. She chooses to stay home and homeschool the girls, and taxi them to their half dozen extra curriculars. She chooses to be an author and a mother rather than a power broker. But she's been told she is oppressed by her domaniering husband and she should make him get her a stitter so she can get out of the house and be more fulfilled. WTF!?!?!?!? She is one of THOSE women in the eyes of many feminists. And I don't get it.

Why do I have to choose between being a cunt and being a wife or mother. Aren't I supposed to be able to do both?

But then that's part of the oppessive issue too. This idea that I should be both. That I should try and be both. That I somehow need to be super mom and run a business or museum.

I read breifly through a handfull of those books, sitting on the wooden floor of that book store and found something profound. One of the authors wrote that the feminists of the 70s don't think that there are any young women wanting to fan the flames or carry on the torch of modern feminism. And I think there's a reason for that. Gender rolls have been torn appart by the upheavals of the 70s. And they needed to be. But in this ambiguous place where women and men can be anything, so long as they're not traditional, a vacume now exists. And we all know nature abhores a vacume. So we try to fill it, as best we can, with sex and beauty and money and youth. We starve ourselves to be beautiful and mutilate ourselves to be better, and make snide comments about women who don't. We scream about male oppression, without giving men any idea of what to be, and then wonder why young boys grow up to oppress women.

And now I feel as though I need to deffend myself for making these statements, lest I be thought of as one of THOSE women. And I shouldn't have to.

Monday, September 22, 2008

The Fantasy of Being Thin

Posted on November 27, 2007 by kateharding at Shaply Prose

this particular blog really hit on some things for me that i hadn't realized i did. so, in the intrest of further dissemination i'm reposting it here.

A while back, Joy Nash provided us with this excellent quote of the day:
Obese patients are often encouraged to believe that weight loss is an appropriate way to combat depression, save a failing marriage, or increase the chance of career success. The irrationality of hopes pinned on weight loss is so striking that dieting might almost be likened to superstitious behavior…. Passing from childhood into adolescence, leaving home, marrying, starting a new job, having a baby, experiencing marital difficulties, adjusting to children leaving home, and growing old — all these life situations may become unexamined reasons to diet. In other instances, concerns over weight mask even more serious problems.”
-Wooley and Garner, from “Obesity treatment: the high cost of false hope,” published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 91, no. 10, 1991.

For the last few days, I’ve been thinking I wanted to blog on this subject but haven’t quite been able to pull my thoughts together. (Hence “help me find a dress” post.) Here goes nuthin’.
Once you’ve really started believing in fat acceptance — as opposed to thinking it sounds nice for other people, but you still need to lose X lbs. before you’ll be acceptable — it can be hard to remember how you thought about these issues before (just as it can be hard to imagine what it would really be like to accept your fat body before you’ve done it). I’ve written several times about how I spent ages in the cognitive dissonance phase, thinking it made perfect sense that the OBESITY CRISIS hype was way overblown, and even if it weren’t, dieting doesn’t work anyway — but still wanting to lose weight, still feeling like I, personally, needed to be a size 10, max, before I could really get started on my fat acceptance journey. The thing is, that memory is almost totally intellectual now; I don’t really recall what it felt like to believe those two contradictory things simultaneously.

But then, the other day, I got to thinking about a particular kind of resistance that shows up every single time anyone dares to say that dieting doesn’t work — the kind that comes from other fat people and amounts to, “DON’T YOU TAKE MY HOPE AWAY!” Those of us in the anti-dieting camp are frequently accused of demoralizing fat people, of sending a cruelly pessimistic message. I’ve never quite gotten my head around that one, since the message we’re sending is that you’re actually allowed to love your fat body instead of hating it, and you can take steps to substantially improve your health without fighting a losing battle with your weight. I’m pretty sure that message is both compassionate and optimistic, not to mention realistic. But there will always be people who hear it as, “I, Kate Harding, am personally condemning you to a lifetime of fatness! There’s no point in trying, fatty! You’re doomed! Mwahahaha!”
Yeah, that’s exactly what I’m saying. *headdesk*

And then I started thinking about what it was really like before I’d actually made peace with my body. And what it was really like was this: The Fantasy of Being Thin absolutely dominated my life — even after I’d gotten thin once, found myself just as depressive and scattered and frustrated as always, and then gained all the weight back because, you know, diets don’t work. The reality of being thin didn’t even sink in after all that, because The Fantasy of Being Thin was still far more familiar to me, still what I knew best. I’d spent years and years nurturing that fantasy, and only a couple years as an actual thin person. Reality didn’t have a chance.
We’ve talked a lot here about how being fat shouldn’t stop you from doing the things you’ve always believed you couldn’t do until you were thin. Put on a bathing suit and go waterskiing. Apply for that awesome job you’re just barely qualified for. Ask that hot guy out. Join a gym. Wear a gorgeous dress. All of those concrete things you’ve been putting off? Just fucking do them, now, because this IS your life, happening as we speak.

But exhortations like that don’t take into account magical thinking about thinness, which I suspect — and the quote above suggests — is really quite common. Because, you see, the Fantasy of Being Thin is not just about becoming small enough to be perceived as more acceptable. It is about becoming an entirely different person – one with far more courage, confidence, and luck than the fat you has. It’s not just, “When I’m thin, I’ll look good in a bathing suit”; it’s “When I’m thin, I will be the kind of person who struts down the beach in a bikini, making men weep.” See also:
When I’m thin, I’ll have no trouble finding a partner/reinvigorating my marriage.
When I’m thin, I’ll have the job I’ve always wanted.
When I’m thin, I won’t be depressed anymore.
When I’m thin, I’ll be an adventurous world traveler instead of being freaked out by any country where I don’t speak the language and/or the plumbing is questionable.
When I’m thin, I’ll become really outdoorsy.
When I’m thin, I’ll be more extroverted and charismatic, and thus have more friends than I know what to do with.
Et cetera, et cetera. Those are examples from my personal Fantasy of Being Thin, but I’m sure you’ve got your own. (Please do share in comments!)

In light of that, it’s a lot easier to understand why some people freak out when you say no, really, your chances of losing weight permanently are virtually nil, so you’d be better off focusing on feeling good and enjoying your life as a fat person. To someone fully wrapped up in The Fantasy of Being Thin, that doesn’t just mean, “All the best evidence suggests you will be fat for the rest of your life, but that’s really not a terrible thing.” It means, “You will NEVER be the person you want to be! All the evidence suggests you will never find a satisfying relationship or get a promotion or make more friends or feel confident trying new things!”
So if that’s what you hear when I say, “Diets don’t work,” then yeah, I can see how that would be a major bummer.

Overcoming The Fantasy of Being Thin might be the hardest part of making it all the way into fat acceptance-land. And that might just be why I’d pushed that part of the process out of my memory: it fucking sucked. Because I didn’t just have to accept the size of my thighs; I had to accept who I am, rather than continuing to wait until I magically became the person I’d always imagined being. Ouch.

That is, of course, a pretty normal part of getting older. You start to realize that yeah, this actually is it, and although you can still try enough new things to keep anyone busy for two lifetimes, you’re pretty much stuck with a basic context. There are skills, experiences, and material things you will almost certainly never have, period. It’s a challenge for all of us to understand that accepting this fact of life does not necessarily mean cutting off options or giving up dreams, but simply — as in the proverbial story about the creation of the David — chipping away all that is not you. But for a fat person, it can be even harder, because so many fucking sources encourage us to believe that inside every one of us is “a thin person waiting to get out” — and that thin person is SO MUCH COOLER.

The reality is, I will never be the kind of person who thinks roughing it in Tibet sounds like a hoot; give me a decent hotel in London any day. I will probably never learn to waterski well, or snow ski at all, or do a back handspring. I can be outgoing and charismatic in small doses, but I will always then need time to recharge my batteries with the dogs and a good book; I’ll never be someone with a chock-full social calendar, because I would find that unbearably exhausting. (And no matter how well I’ve learned to fake it — and thus how much this surprises some people who know me — new social situations will most likely always intimidate the crap out of me.) I might learn to speak one foreign language fluently over the course of my life, but probably not five. I will never publish a novel until I finish writing one. I will always have to be aware of my natural tendency toward depression and might always have to medicate it. Smart money says I am never going to chuck city life to buy an alpaca farm or start a new career as a river guide. And my chances of marrying George Clooney are very, very slim.

None of that is because I’m fat. It’s because I’m me.

But when I was invested in The Fantasy of Being Thin, I really believed that changing this one “simple” (ha!) thing would unlock a whole new identity — this totally fabulous, free-spirited, try-anything-once kind of chick who was effortlessly a magnet for interesting people and experiences. And of course, the dark side of that is that being fat then became an excuse not to do much of anything, because it wouldn’t be the real me doing it, so what was the point? If I wouldn’t find the right guy until I was thin, why bother dating? If I wouldn’t have a breakthrough on the novel until I was thin, why bother writing? If I wouldn’t be the life of the party until I was thin, why bother trying to make new friends? If I wouldn’t feel like climbing a mountain until I was thin, why bother traveling at all?

Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.

Accepting my fat really wasn’t the hard part. Accepting my personality — and my many limitations that have jack shit to do with my thighs — was. But oddly enough, once I started to do that, my life became about a zillion times more satisfying. I found the right guy, I took up yoga, I started taking my writing more seriously, I stopped apologizing for taking vacations in the U.S. and Canada instead of somewhere more exotic, etc. And lo and behold, things got a lot more fun around here. The thin person inside me finally got out — it just turned out she was actually a fat person. A reasonably attractive, semi-outgoing fat person who has an open mind and an active imagination but also happens to really like routine and familiarity and quiet time alone.
That was never who I expected to be — it was just always who I was.

So giving up dieting and accepting my body didn’t just mean admitting I would never be thin; it meant admitting I would never be a million things I might have been. (Which, I’m told, is a phenomenon sometimes known as “maturity.”) I am absolutely not one for settling — which is where the confusion about pessimism comes in, I think — but I am one for self-awareness and self-forgiveness. Meaning, there’s a big difference between saying you can’t be anything other than what you are right now, and you don’t have to be anything other than what you are right now. You will probably never be permanently thin, unless you are already, but other than that, the sky’s the limit. You can be anything or anyone you want to be, in theory.

The question is, who do you really want to be, and what are you going to do about it? (Okay, two questions.) The Fantasy of Being Thin is a really convenient excuse for not asking yourself those questions sincerely — and that’s exactly why it’s dangerous. It keeps you from being not only who you are, but who you actually could be, if you worked with what you’ve got. And that person trapped inside you really might be cooler than you are right now.

She’s just not thin.

Cheesecake Liberation

Article by Lady Becca for Fashion Sanity
Reprinting here on my own blog

This past weekend I went to an amazing social salon. Every month this group gets together and presents on topics they know, feel passionate about, or are interested in. It’s a varied group in terms of gender, economic background, sexual preferences, and lifestyles and so the topics are equally varied. During a break I ended up getting into a deep conversation with this super hot red head about the fat acceptance movement, the fashion industry, skinny models, fat hate, skinny hate, medical science and self love. I realized a few things:

1. the media half truths are more pervasive than I thought.
2. even “fat chicks” will think of anecdotal evidence that reinforces the media’s half truths.
3. I really dig red heads.
4. I need to do more home work on the subject.

So I did. I sat my cushy ass in front of the computer and stuffed my brain with facts and figures. The more I learned the better I felt about myself, my body and my ability to have this discussion with people. I looked at myself, and what I do and don’t eat. I knew I was ok, but now I see where I’m doing better than ok, and where I could be doing just plain better. I’ve also become more aware of people.

Last night I went to a certain big name home improvement store. No, the other one. Along the way my housemate, boyfriend and I stopped into Trader Joe’s to feed her addiction to dried mango and my addiction to chocolate…and dried mango. I bought a box of cheesecake bites, enrobed in deep dark chocolate and we wandered about the home improvement store eating chocolate covered cheesecake and dried mango while discussion devious plans for a Rube-Goldberg device. And I noticed something…I didn’t care.

A week ago, I would have bought that box, put it in the car and waited until I got home to open it and enjoy those little morsels with my boy and a few Heroes episodes. Instead, I walked proudly, defiantly, through a major chain store nibbling on cheesecake and my boy. I know, for a fact, that several of the older women manning departments and registers looked. I could see the thought as it marched passed on their faces, the thought that I could be so pretty if I would just put down the sweets and get moving.

I wanted to laugh in their 40 something plus, pursed lipped faces and ask if they had any idea how much moving I do? I wanted to lustily grope my boy right there in front of them, and show them just how hot he is for me. I wanted to rub their faces in their own self loathing and ask if they were really happy with swallowing the bullshit fed to women every day about our bodies and how they should look.

Instead, I smiled coquettishly and had another bite. The effect was better.