Archive for May, 2009

YOU and me on Fat Acceptance

At last, the kids are asleep so I can try to commit to pixels the thoughts that have been rolling around in my head the past few hours!

So, this is what my calendar for the first half of May looks like:

May 1: Second anniversary of my mom’s death

May 4: Australia and New Zealand releases of Lessons From The Fat-O-Sphere (which contains the essay I wrote soon after my mother’s death)

May 5: U.S. release of Lessons From The Fat-O-Sphere

May 6: International No Diet Day

May 10: Mother’s Day

Y’all, that is a big crazy confluence of fat-related “the personal is political” mojo, y’know? When I write it down like that, I find myself thinking, “Ah! No wonder I can’t seem to keep my ordure in order worth a bean!”

I’m super-proud of Kate and Marianne, and really happy that their book is doing well. I’m most of the way through it myself, and it’s fantastic. Everything I love about their blogs, in a format I can stuff in my bag and read wherever, whenever. And I’m really proud they included my essay in their book, for all that the circumstances involved mean it’s hard to feel completely celebratory about it now.

So I’ve kind of been letting on that the book is out there, and that… hey, words I wrote can be found, for purchase, at a bookstore near you. That’s kind of amazing, really.

But because I’m just not the sort of person to go, “Hey, remember that heart-wrenching essay I wrote about my mom’s death?! It’s gonna be in a book! Sah-WEET!!” (because, y’know, AWKWARD), there are a lot of people (friends and family in particular) who are suddenly learning about my stance on fat acceptance and my participation in the fat acceptance movement just now.

Don’t get me wrong – obviously I haven’t been working undercover for the diet industry this whole time or anything. But I haven’t always made it clear that my lack of interest in diet-related talk is more than just a personal affectation, but is in fact a firm political stance I have embraced and a political movement which I try to stay active in, as my life allows me to.

And I’ve felt the pressure of the questions that a lot of these people – friends and family who may feel kind of blindsided by this – may want to ask, but don’t know how and don’t want to light off some kind of massive horrible debate or anything. And then I remembered I have this handy blog-thing here, so I could try to just answer questions here. So here goes:

First off, I want to make something clear: If you are dieting, or embarking on an exercise program, or otherwise restructuring your life in a way which you hope will facilitate weight loss… I still like you. If you’re family, or a really really good friend, I even still love you. Heck, deep down, I may even hope that you’re part of that miracle margin of people for whom diets do lead to permanent weight loss. (What can I say, I’m a complicated woman…. grin.)

But I don’t really think it will. And that’s okay. You don’t have to live your life in a Barb-approved way for me to care about you and want you to be happy.

So if you are dieting, or otherwise working toward weight loss… well, good luck. But I don’t really want to be a part of it. If you’re someone in my life, then I can guaran-goddamn-tee that I consider your weight to be one of the least interesting things about you. Instead, let’s talk about your job. Or your partner, your kids, your pets, your dust bunnies, whatever. Or something you read recently. Or what craft project you’ve been working on. Or what you thought of the most recent episode of The Big Bang Theory. Let’s talk about THAT, because I think that’s way more fun.

Which is not to say we can’t talk about food or exercise or health or even fashion and beauty. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Of course you can talk to me about food. Dude, I’m Italian! I know from food, okay? So if something in your life has changed – a health issue, an ethical decision, a religious affiliation, whatever – which has dramatically changed how you go about feeding yourself on a daily basis? Feel free to talk to me about that, if you’d like. I will be more than happy to sympathize with how hard finding gluten-free products must be, or let you vent about how sick of reading package labels you are, or share your surprise at foods you never knew contained animal products.  Go ahead and tell me if the changes in your food choices have had any influence on how you feel physically or mentally. And I especially want to know about any good recipes you’ve found!

Exercise? We can totally talk about that! Have you discovered a new form of exercise you enjoy? Tell me about it! Tell me about the new move you’ve finally managed to get right, or how your recent dance performance went, or who won the tournament last weekend. Did you recently run a marathon? (Seriously?? You did?? Holy crap! I’m super-proud of you, but dayamn. You’re going to have to speak slowly and use small words to help me understand what’s fun about that! Same goes for golf.) And then I can tell you about yoga, and maybe even treat you to some of my waffling about whether to give bicycling a try or not.

And yes, of course tell me about your health. Our health is a major factor in our quality of life, I definitely want to know how you’re feeling! Did you start watching your post-noon caffeine intake and has it helped you sleep at night? Me too! (Do you keep forgetting that iced tea has caffeine in it too, or is that just me?)

So really, very little about our conversation topics are curtailed – we can still talk food and exercise and health all we want.

And clothes? We can still talk clothes. (Well, as much as I ever talk about clothes – if you know me, you already know I’m not very fashion-forward.) But our bodies change all the time, and if your body has changed recently, and it’s made it hard to find clothes? You can talk about that if you want. Or if you tried on some outfit that’s outside your norm and were surprised at how well it worked for you? Awesome, tell me about it!

Really, it just comes down to the scale. The SCALE is the thing I don’t care about. All the rest of it is the stuff of life, of living, and how do you have a relationship with someone if you can’t talk about your LIFE?

So really, tell me ALL about what you’re up to. YOU, I care about. The scale? Not so much.

It might seem that by pointing out that food and exercise and health and fashion are all still topics I’m happy to discuss, this next bit might seem a bit redundant. But just in case it’s not, I want to make some things clear:

I am not anti-exercise.

I am not anti-vegetable.

I am not anti-health.

And I am not anti-beauty.

In fact, I would say that embracing fat acceptance has made me more PRO-exercise, PRO-vegetable, PRO-health and PRO-beauty than I used to be.

Heaven knows I never would have taken a yoga class before I found fat acceptance, because I used to be convinced that yoga is only for you super-slim willowy types and those who can naturally put their right toe behind their left ear (I have since been informed that these mega-flexible people are actually very rare, even among long-time yoga practitioners, which I found surprisingly reassuring).

Before I found fat acceptance, I often felt that taking care of my health wasn’t all that important.  Now… well, I’m still working on that sometimes, but I’m a lot less likely to put off seeing the doctor because I’m worried about getting a lecture on my weight. And now that I have come to believe that health and fatness are not mutually exclusive, I’m more inclined to take steps to preserve my health, rather than just writing myself off as a lost cause because I’m not thin.

I said before I’ve never been particularly fashion-savvy, but as I’ve come to feel more positively about my body, I’ve also learned to both cut myself some slack (like those days when I really do wind up driving the kids to school wearing yoga pants), and also give myself more credit. Sure, I’m never going to look like Jessica Alba (after all, even Jessica Alba doesn’t look like Jessica Alba). But I’ve stopped thinking that looking good is completely beyond my grasp. Which, y’know, means I’m more likely to give a new look a try. And I call that progress.

And vegetables…. Okay, the vegetables are a metaphor. I like all the same vegetables I ever did, though I have given a few new ones a try.

What I really mean with the vegetables is that healthy food is healthy for every body (making room for exceptions due to allergies, food intolerances, etc, of course). So long as it’s made of ingredients your body can tolerate well, a big lush salad is good for everyone, fat or thin. Fresher, less-processed foods are healthier for everyone.

Fat acceptance isn’t out to banish fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains and lean meats from our dinner tables. What fat acceptance IS about is separating our food choices from how we feel about our worth as human beings.

There is no moral superiority to eating “healthy” versus “unhealthy” foods. Deciding to eat a big plate of locally grown, organic vegetables and organic cous cous (mmm, that does sound good) for dinner doesn’t make me a better person than I am right now. And deciding to have a snack of some Cheetos and a root beer float (wow, a float sounds good too) later on doesn’t make me a worse person.

I’m still me. I’m still just as worthy as I ever am, no matter what my most recent meal consisted of.

And you’re still you. You’re still my friend, or my family member, or my weird long-time internet acquaintance who I’ve never actually met in person, no matter what you choose to eat, or what activities you do or do not enjoy, or how you dress, or whether you are careful or reckless with your health.

That’s what fat acceptance means for me, and what it means for my relationship with you, whoever “you” happen to be.

May 7, 2009 at 9:36 am 10 comments

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