Archive for October, 2007
Originally written back at the end of July:
The damn family picnic is coming up. A little more than a week away, and I’m completely on edge.
Part of it, mind you, is because I know I’m going to be teetering on an emotional precipice as it is. It will be the first time I’ve seen my mom’s family since the interment. And, just to really stack the deck against me, the last time I saw Mom alive was at last year’s family picnic.
But the other part of it is that I’m worried about someone saying… something. Supposedly Aunt Brenda talked to Uncle John, so ideally no one will say anything. That’s the plan. But then, who would have thought anyone would say anything the last two times either?
Seriously, though – I think that’s Rule No. 1 of Fat-Bashing: it always appears when you least expect it. You’re cruising along, you’re doing all right, and next thing you know someone makes an assumption or treats you crappily because of your weight, and the rug’s been pulled out from under you. And then you’re shaky and self-conscious and unsure of yourself and feeling freaked out, and it just sucks all around. There you were, living your life, doing your thing, and suddenly you’ve been singled out for abuse simply for having the temerity to exist.
Of course, this is where the sheer, diabolical genius of fat-bashing comes into play: A little goes a long, LONG way.
You don’t have to get bashed often or necessarily very hard to feel self-conscious and vulnerable. And those feelings don’t disappear overnight. They linger. As Rose and I found after Joan’s little tirade before we could even get on with planning our mother’s funeral, words like that hang around, no matter how much you want to scrub them away.
And this is the genius part – for a long time after getting bashed, you worry about it happening again. You practice your rejoinders, your witty repartee. You take deep breaths and remind yourself that you are completely within your rights to say “Fuck off” to a mannerless stranger who thinks your body is their business. You steel your nerves and go in ready to swing, and nothing happens. People just kind of look past you like normal, and no one says anything crummy, and you leave feeling both relieved and slightly foolish.
But that doesn’t mean you don’t go through the whole exercise again the next time you go out, and the time after that, and the time after that.
And the part we don’t like to talk about, the part we hate to admit, even to ourselves, (or at least the part I hate admitting even to myself) is that sometimes? There are things I want to do, but I can’t do them without first psyching myself up in case of a confrontation. Which would be fine (well, not fine at all, but the closest to fine I usually manage in these instances), except sometimes I wind up deciding that whatever it is I want to do? Is not going to be cool enough to merit the exhaustive psyching-up preparation I have to do. And so I wind up staying home. Or I choose some less-scary alternative plan.
But either way, I let the fuckers WIN, because they’ve shamed me out of living my life the way I choose to. One little bit of fat-shaming, and they don’t have to look at me for weeks.
And that’s me – an adult woman, an opinionated, somewhat educated mother of two children, who used to hang out in an online community that was occasionally described as akin to “debating in a shark tank.” I’m not a weak little spineless nothing, you know?
But still – that fear, that anxiety about getting shamed? Continues long after the shaming is done, and does what an outright “No fatties allowed” sign would not: it keeps me from participating in the public sphere, it keeps me from living my life. It lets them control me, and all out of the fear of what someone might say.
Which brings me back to the family picnic, and the mounting wave of anxiety that’s threatening to engulf me. There’s a pool where the picnic is held – which swimming suit should I bring? Do I really still dare to swim with these people? Yes dammit, I do. Fuck Joan and the horse she rode in on. Besides – swimming is healthy! Heeeaallllllttthhhhyyyyyyyy!
But more importantly, I like swimming and most importantly of all, my kids love swimming and the idea of going someplace where there’s a pool that I won’t let them go play in? Sh-yah, right. I may as well just hand out spikes for everyone to jam in their ears – it’d be less painful than listening to the screaming.
But still – I’m frustrated. I feel like I should shop for a nice new outfit – something super-cute (the folks at Fatshionista are being super-inspiring lately, I swear) and that doesn’t hide my body or anything. But we don’t have the money, and even if we had the money, I don’t have any time to go shopping without dragging the Terrible Twosome around, and well… yeah. Not that this keeps me from clicking around online every night after the kids go to bed, pondering this cute top or that cute dress, on and on and on.
But see? It’s a fucking picnic. There will be watermelon and people hanging out and chattering and junk, and iced tea and Aunt Tina’s Candy Apple Salad, and really – it’s not supposed to elicit this level of anxiety and panic. It’s just not.
And yet it does.
Epilogue: The picnic was, of course, fine. Nobody said anything weight-related to me, though if Joan had tried one more time to cajole me into taking a cookie I was going to decide to take offense (I was on the fence as to how to interpret that – in my mom’s family the offering of food is often an expression of love, after all; she may well have been trying to be nice, or even overcompensating for her previous poor behavior, “See? I don’t think you’re too fat. If I thought you were too fat, I wouldn’t offer you cookies!”). We went to the pool, the kids had a blast, it was all pretty much fine.
Oh, and for the Fatshionistas: I wound up wearing my standard uniform: a green T-shirt and a pair of jeans, which was for the best because everyone else was totally casual – I would have looked like I, too, was overcompensating.
So, as I mentioned the other day, I’ve spent the past several months writing up posts for this thing, or half-posts, or whatever, and never actually putting them up. Well, I figure it’s time I start, y’know? So, starting today, I will occasionally fill my quieter times (i.e. times when the kids keep me too busy to blog much) with some of these older posts, finally finished and polished up all nice.
I will try to remember to mention, at the top of those posts, when the post was originally written – especially if it’s germane to understanding the post better. But if I don’t, it’s probably because it doesn’t much matter.
Apparently there’s some drama in the Fat Acceptance community right now. I hate to go all name-drop-y about it because really, there are people involved whose blogs I never commented on, for all that I read them, and so I feel weird about linking to them and using their names as if I know them, or more to the point, as if they know me.
For a fair synopsis, though, you can go here and read Fashionable Nerd at Photophobic’s post about it. In fact, even if you aren’t interested in the synopsis, go read the post, because it’s kind of important for what I’m about to discuss.
No really, go on, I’ll wait. 🙂
This bit right here:
Because, you see, supporting the PERSON has absolutely shit to do with supporting the PROCEDURE. Apparently, this is a distinction that has been missed–or not adequately shown.
That really made me perk up my ears. It carried a certain echo for me, of the whole, “Hate the sin, love the sinner,” thing, that often gets talked about by people who say their religion tells them to condemn homosexuality. I agree with some of the arguments that people have against using the gay rights movement as directly analogous to the fat acceptance movement – at the very least, it is incomplete. However, in this case I think it’s valid.
Too often, the folks who claim to “hate the sin, love the sinner,” are in no way loving toward the people they call “sinners.” Sadly, there are people out there who use that phrase as an excuse to, in fact, hate homosexuals and treat them in cruel and appalling ways.
That doesn’t make the phrase invalid, though, as I see it. It means it has been co-opted by people who don’t care and/or understand its true meaning, but it doesn’t negate the phrase.
The world, despite our fervent wishes, is a complicated and confusing place sometimes. Often the decisions we need to make are not easy. Often there is no clear “right” or “wrong” answer, and we’re left to muddle along, figuring it out as best we can. Sometimes we all wind up making decisions we don’t like. Sometimes it’s because we don’t have sufficient knowledge and don’t even know what questions to ask. Sometimes it’s because we lack the resources to actually choose what we believe is the best choice. And sometimes it’s because we have reached a point where we are so beleaguered, so demoralized, so desperate that we will take whatever choices are offered to us, even if we know as we are making those choices that we may well come to regret them later.
It’s a sad truth, but that’s life sometimes. It’s part of being a grown-up, of being responsible for ourselves and the people who depend upon us. Sometimes we just have to accept that we do not live in an ideal world.
Heidi, in particular, does not live in an ideal world. Of all the people who I wish did live in an ideal world, she is high on my list. Do I think surgery will provide a lasting solution for her? Sadly, I do not. In my completely uneducated, utterly removed from the situation opinion, I believe she has both medical and psychological concerns which need to be addressed, or in time she will wind up right back where she was up until a few days ago.
I wish her a speedy recovery, and I wish her all possible success in her life post-surgery, but I don’t believe that surgery will fix everything for her.
However, this does not prevent me from realizing that in all likelihood, surgery was the best of all the options being offered to her. Doctors can be just as petty and spiteful as anyone else, and if this surgery is what Heidi had to do so that her doctors will at last pay her some real goddamn attention and figure out what’s really going on with her, then I cannot in any real conscience condemn her for that.
This schism over the decision Heidi and other fat people have felt compelled to make reminds me of a series of debates/discussions which occurred on various feminist blogs… maybe a year or more ago? I’m afraid I can’t remember exactly when.
The thrust of them, though, was this: some people felt that women who wore makeup and high heels and otherwise dressed in patriarchy-approved ways could not also be considered feminists; others (correctly, to my mind) recognized that while it’s unlikely women would choose to wear makeup and high heels without patriarchy’s influence, until such time as our culture abandons patriarchy for good, sometimes we all must make small concessions in order to survive.
Does lipstick and a pair of stilettos negate a woman’s work with NARAL and her local rape-crisis center? Absolutely not. Does wearing a skirt on a cold day erase a woman’s volunteer work at the women’s shelter, or her letters to her local representatives, or even her donations to NOW? Absolutely not.
As Sandy Szwarc discussed this very day, we who are fat, especially we who are fat women, live in a culture which does not value us. Which, in fact, is sometimes (oftentimes, it seems) openly hostile toward us, and seeks to do us harm.
The choices we make, in such a situation, are choices made under duress. These are the choices we make when the choices available to us are limited to a) bad, b) bad, c) really bad, and d) worse.
It’s easy sometimes, to play the Monday Morning Quarterback and tell people all about how their decisions were wrong. But we’re all living under siege in this fat-hating culture, and friendly fire isn’t going to do anyone a lick of good.
Do I hate WLS? Yeah, I do. I think it’s dreadful and, in my more dramatic moments, I’m inclined to declare it a culturally approved mandate of extinction upon fat people. However, my hatred of WLS does not prevent me from caring about those who, given a short list of crummy options, choose to have WLS.
I may be pretty new to the fat acceptance movement, and I may be younger than a lot of the people who worked so hard for many years to even get the movement where it is today. But I’m plenty mature enough to separate how I feel about a procedure, and the institutions which perpetuate that procedure’s use, and how I feel about a 28-year-old woman whose quality of life I can scarcely imagine.
Would that others could do the same.
It’s been several months now, since the posts about my mom‘s death ran over at Shapely Prose. When they first came out, there were a few people who suggested I ought to start up a blog of my own. I said, “Y’know, I think I will!” And so I did.
And then I didn’t post a damn thing until yesterday.
Which is not to say I haven’t been writing – I have. I’ve got an even dozen half-finished posts hanging around here, because I keep writing things thinking, “Dammit, that’s it, I’m just going to do this thing.”
And then I don’t.
To be fair, sometimes it’s not just fear that stops me. Sometimes it’s that I’m partway through and one of my kids needs me, and then it’s hours before I can even look at it again, and by the time I return the train of thought is utterly derailed.
But most of the time? It’s fear.
I’m not even sure, honestly, what exactly I’m afraid of. Being called fat? Entirely possible. It’s not like I’m in some kind of denial about being fat. It’s more that I’m in denial of having a body at all, no matter what it may look like.
And dealing with that kinda freaks me out. It means admitting a lot of things, and facing a lot of things I’ve mostly managed to avoid, and maybe even looking in the mirror and admitting I’m not just a brain in a jar.
So why now?
Actually, I was going to do this about a week ago, in response to these posts, but I never did get any farther than throwing the links into a draft post along with an opener, “Well,” that was it. Seriously. One freakin’ word. Whatever I was going to say about them, though, is lost. At least for now.
I do know the other thing that had me realizing I really ought to get my thumb out of my ass and start blogging finally, was discovering that people are still reading those posts about my mom on Shapely Prose.
I sounded good back then, didn’t I? All full of vim and vinegar, all fired up about the way fat people are being killed by prejudice from the very people who are supposed to be saving us.
But there was a part of me, to be honest, that just wanted to fade away. That wanted to put all that up and then meander off into the blogospheric sunset, like Shane in size 22 chaps. There was a responsibility there, a pressure which I just didn’t feel like I could face.
I’m still not sure I can face it, honestly. But I think I need to try.
The Rotund commented on this LJ entry about a father, one night, letting this three young daughters choose to eat anything and everything they wanted for dessert. She said it made her cry, and I gotta admit, I got all misty-eyed as well.
As she says, the idea of being given utter permission like that is simultaneously exciting and scary.
The interesting thing was, I read it less with an eye to how the daughters felt at the time, and more with an eye to how it effected them. What did they learn from it? I saw it, I suppose, more as a fellow parent to that father, than from the author’s point of view.
And it couldn’t have come at a better time, honestly. I’ve been struggling with that very thing the past few days, in fact. There was a trick-or-treat event at the zoo this past weekend, and I took my kids, and we also did some MAJOR grocery shopping over the weekend, so our place is STOCKED. Seriously, there’s food everywhere – both “good” and “bad.”
I gotta admit, it’s a little heady sometimes even for me. We’ve been living a weird barebones sort of existence for a while, and so now to go, “Gosh, I’m hungry,” and open the refrigerator to find choices and options practically spilling out of the thing is, well… both exciting and scary. And I’m a grownup, y’know?
My kids, on the other hand, are 3 years old, so of course they want nothing but their Halloween candy and ice cream and maybe the occasional Goldfish cracker to round things out. Obviously, as a responsible parent, not to mention a renter who has not QUITE given up hope that we may yet receive some small portion of our security deposit back whenever we move out of this place, I can’t let them do that.
But at the same time, I don’t want to teach them to moralize about food the way I do. I certainly don’t want them to associate “bad” foods with love or affection. I certainly don’t want them to come to associate all foods they enjoy, regardless of nutritional content, as “bad” like I do.
So I wind up walking this weird little tightrope between trying to help them appreciate all kinds of foods and not stigmatize the “bad” foods. And it’s not easy. Some days I feel like I do a lot better than others. Some days I get a Magna-Doodle chucked at my head for not letting them breakfast on Dots and Tootsie Rolls (that would be yesterday – fun times…).
Sometimes I worry that I’m too much of a soft touch – do I let them eat too much crap? Should I be tougher about setting limits? Should I be more diligent about keeping snacks to a minimum, and preventing grazing but instead encourage them to eat only at proscribed meal and snack times?
But when I throw open the refrigerator and they crowd in front of it and one reaches for a plum and the other reaches for a stick of cheddar cheese, I’m reminded to have a little faith. That they ARE only 3 years old, and there’s a lot more to stigmatizing food than just having a mom who won’t let you eat gummi fruits until you vomit.
Truthfully, sometimes it is through them that I’m reminded to give myself permission to eat whatever I want as well, and reminded to give myself credit for choosing a variety of foods, and not just an endless well of crap, as my Inner Fat-Hater would have me believe.
So this afternoon, when I decided, “Y’know what? Normally I would say we had to wait until after dinner to have some ice cream, but if you want some now, that’s okay too,” well, I like to think I was being like that dad. That I was giving permission at a time when it’s good for permission to be given. And when I threw a scoop of spumoni in the dish for me, along with their scoop of strawberry? That’s okay too.
Because once we ate our ice cream? They asked for fruit, and yogurt, and foods which I am only too glad to give them.
The reality is, sometimes the harder part is not in helping them make good choices, but in silencing my own hateful inner voices, to trust in the choices they make for themselves.