Monday, March 31, 2008

Sizism or Sexism? (the answer is "yes")

A friend of mine pointed out an ongoing buzz in the Indy racing world, where the main regulators of the sport have mandated a minimum weight limit for each vehicle/driver combination. One driver, Danica Patrick, believes that the new mandate is pointed directly at her. At 5'2" and 100 pounds she's the lightest driver on the circuit by about 20 pounds.

And boy oh good'ol'boy, are the male drivers in a tiff.

Claiming that her weight gives her a significant and unfair advantage in racing (you know, demonstrated by the fact that she hasn't actually ever won a race), several male drivers have petitioned hard for this minimum weight ruling, some even refusing to race with Patrick until such a ruling was in place.

Patrick (rightly) feels that she's being penalized for being a small woman in a primarily male-dominated field, and that the weight restrictions are one more form of bullying to keep women drivers from succeeding as anything but a PR sound-byte in racing.

When I first heard about this, I had very mixed emotions. First I wondered how much difference 20 pounds (or even 100) could really make in a 3200 pound car. Since I don't follow car racing at all, I'm still not sure (although the head of the Indy Racing League states that it doesn't make any significant difference). Then I thought about how this might actually level the field, as all drivers under 200 pounds would need to add weighted ballast to the car to bring the driver/vehicle combo up to the minimum. They've been doing it in horse racing for many, many moons to make up the difference between the weight a horse is assigned to carry (their "handicap") and the weight of the jockey (who often live in a semi-permanent state of anorexic dieting to stay under weight limits).

But the more comments I read from bloggers and commenters, the more I'm convinced that this is pretty much a pacifier move for the boys who want the feminists to think they allow girls in their club, but don't actually want them to be competitive.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Perspectives and the Dr. Office

So in that great leap of synchronicity that hits me so often, This Post on Shapely Prose and This Post on The Rotund came out just as I actually needed to go to a doctor for the first time in several years because of some internal feminine malfunction (of which I will not be going into details).

My dad is/was the type of person who never actually goes to the doctor unless he needs stitches or cannot possibly deny the fact that he's at risk of dying within 24 hours (i.e. heart attack). My mom has to bully him into regular checkups. I think I inherited a lot of his stance on this. When I do actually have to go to the doctor I tend to do as much research as possible beforehand so that I can walk in and say "I have an ear infection, give me this specific antibiotic." If I think it will pass without treatment or if there's nothing they can do but give me a fancy brand of cough syrup, I don't go. I also (off paper) don't have a specific primary care doctor that I see. Instead I ask for whoever can slot me in after work or on a weekend in the group of doctors that work at that office.

Maybe it's fear of fat-hate, and there are probably some vestiges of that somewhere in the mental process. But if I really examine it, I find my aversion to doctors and checkups has more to do with my being a fiercely private person. I don't like the idea of a single person knowing so much about me. I don't generally discuss my health issues with friends and family, so why should I let a stranger have all this private data and such very personal access to me?

So I hadn't been to a doctor in a year or two and hadn't had my girly bits examined in about six years since I went off birth control (bad reaction to it). In the meantime, I've discovered FA, and read the stories at First Do No Harm. The stories of fat women being humiliated, harassed, or refused treatment when seeking care are horrific. The reluctance to open private matters to a stranger became a solid gripping fear that I would undergo an ordeal of hate and disgust for daring to demand medical care as a fat person. Unfortunately, my internal organs decided to not allow me a choice.

That's when I learned a much-needed perspective. The horror stories of fat prejudice in health care are a real problem. They're horrific, outrageous, and call for much-needed correction in the medical industry's treatment of fat people. They are, however, not necessarily the norm.

I'm sure that at some point in my life I will probably experience prejudice from a doctor. For that matter, maybe it is the norm and I'm just extremely lucky. All I know is that after working myself into some serious stress, I had nothing to worry about. I stepped on the scale (digital) and looked away, the PA wrote the number down in my chart without comment or reaction (thinking back, in that office they have never said the number out loud during weigh-in, or commented on it, during any visit!) She and the doctor were both very concerned that I was comfortable, asked good questions, and listened to the answers. When the doctor asked why I was reluctant to get a pap I specifically brought up FA and the fact that so many fat women have bad experiences or are refused examinations by doctors. She was shocked and outraged at the idea and responded that she treats patients, big or small. By her reaction, I'd say that the idea of refusing treatment to anyone or treating them badly because of their weight had never even crossed her mind. Better yet, she never once made any sort of premature "guesstimate" diagnosis or suggested that my weight might be a factor in what was going wrong. She simply ran the gamut of tests (needles...brrr!), warned that if they didn't show anything conclusive I might need more, and made sure I was comfortable every step of the way. I'm going back in little over a week so that she can go over the test results and decide what to do from there. I think I'll wait and see how that goes before I submit her name to the fat-friendly doctors list.

Basically, I went in with an expectation of something to fear that I had greatly exaggerated in my own mind. I think it was a learning experience for me. I need to adjust my perspective to where I don't expect prejudice, since the fear of it will lessen my ability to live and enjoy life, but am aware of prejudice so that when it does occur I can respond appropriately. It's a fine line to walk, but it's the difference between making activism a part of your life and allowing it to take over.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Ot: Earth Hour (for the Chicago readers)

Earth Hour 2008: Saturday, March 29
On Saturday, March 29, turn out your lights to show your support and commitment toward taking action to combat climate change. Earth Hour started in Sydney, Australia in 2007 and this year cities across the globe, such as Tel Aviv, Bangkok and Copenhagen, are taking action. This year the City of Chicago is partnering with World Wildlife Fund as the U.S. flagship city for Earth Hour. As an environmental leader, Mayor Richard M. Daley is committed to fighting climate change and this year he will launch the Chicago Climate Action Plan as Chicago's roadmap for action. Join City Hall, Chicago area residents, businesses and organizations in this symbolic event to show Chicago's commitment to combating climate change by flipping the switch. Enjoy the skyline as never before when skyscrapers, landmarks and shops along Michigan Avenue go dark.
When: Saturday, March 29
Time: 8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m.
What: Turn our your lights in support of taking actions to combat climate change
Who: All of Chicago, plus other citizens across the globe
Why: Flip your switch to show your support of climate action
For more information & a video narrated by actor Jeremy Piven: Visit

Clothing Fit: A Rant

Every time the topic of clothing comes up in the fatosphere, there is a response that's beginning (IMO) to fall into a pattern:

1. No one can find affordable clothes that fit short people
2. No one can find affordable clothes that fit short fat people
3. No one can find affordable clothes that fit tall people
4. No one can find affordable clothes that fit tall fat people
5. No one can find affordable clothes that fit long-waisted people
6. No one can find affordable clothes that fit short-waisted people
7. No one can find affordable clothes that fit pear-shaped people
8. No one can find affordable clothes that fit apple-shaped people
9. No one can find affordable clothes that fit women with large breasts
10. No one can find affordable clothes that fit women with small breasts

In every case, there's a rant about the designer's assumptions (i.e. that all designers assume fat women are amazons/large-breasted/short legged/big-thighed/small-thighed/etc.

Basically, I'm starting to think that affordable clothing is made to fit mannequins. 5'6" mannequins with socially acceptable proportions. In other words, the reason why it's cheap is because it's mass produced for a median range of height/weight/proportion. If you're outside of that height/weight/proportion, you'll have trouble finding stuff that fits unless you're handy with a needle. It isn't a conspiracy against short/tall/apple/pear/long-legged/small breasted people; anyone outside that median, in any direction, is going to have trouble finding stuff that fits.

Personally? I'm 6'2". I can tell you that affordable clothes are NOT made for "Amazons" (a term I personally hate. Just because I'm tall doesn't mean I want to chop off a breast and go frothing-at-the-mouth into war). Skirts designed for ankle-length hit me at a very unflattering mid-calf. Skirts designed to hit at the knee are, on me, inappropriate for the office. I have a long torso (making the hunt for tunic-length shirts my raison d'etre in shopping). I have a high waist and large belly that turns any empire-waisted top into a "8th month maternity" look (this season's dresses are a nightmare). I have a smaller butt and thighs that means any jeans that fit at the waist will be baggy everywhere else, and solid Viking-peasantry calves that mean I have to look for boot cut or flare jeans (which works, since I'm a hippie at heart). My longer arms mean that there is no such thing as long-sleeve shirts or jackets; they all hit behind the wrist, and so get shortened to 3/4 sleeves so that it at least looks deliberate.

I'm also definitely not rich. My definition of affordable clothing is no single piece over $20, and hunt the clearance racks for those great "under $10" finds. Given that, and that I do have reasonably good taste, I have two options; make with the needle and look for the stuff that's on clearance because of fixable issues (i.e. that awful neon shirt is a good cut and can be dyed darker; that fringe can be removed; that collar can be altered; that skirt can be sized down).

Yeah, that's work. But I'm not a clothes-hound and don't buy "trendy" stuff that won't be viable in a few years. I could probably afford (a piece at a time) to build a really kickass wardrobe from Igigi or something, but beyond the fact that empire waists are popular at the moment (grit teeth and wait it out) I have much better things to spend $100 on than a piece of clothing. I could landscape my front yard or finish my attic or tile my kitchen and bathroom for what they charge for a dress. For two outfits I could buy a close-contact saddle or a nice sheepskin saddle pad. That kickass wardrobe would buy me floor-to-ceiling bookcases for my increasingly enormous epidemic collection of books.

The point? Don't assume that anyone (taller, shorter, thinner, fatter, etc.) has an easier time finding clothing to fit their own style. I have one friend who's a size 10 with perfect classical proportions that looks really good in a lot of cuts and styles that I'd love to wear. Despite that, I still see her get frustrated over clothes outside her size range, or designed for women without hips, or that end up too baggy in the bustline. Everyone has trouble finding clothes that fit and look good on them, because everyone looks good in something different. Don't expect every brand to cater to you; the Old Navy stuff that you complain is cut too long is a blessing for those of us that need it and can't find it anywhere else. The Lane Bryant dress shirts that are way too short on me would look really sharp on a woman with a shorter waist. Until I can afford a private tailor, I'll have to learn to compromise.

And learn to not grit my teeth when someone complains how the "amazons" have it so easy in the fashion world.

I really do hate that term. Why not Valkyries? I'm Irish, not Brazilian. Or Leprechauns? ("and was that not the biggest joke of the Irish, for the leprechauns in their day were the tallest of the mound folk" -American Gods)

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Intuitive (Curry) Eating

Happiness is a warm bowl of Paneer Makhani over Basmati rice.

The Indian grocery that just opened up in town is giving me a renewed determination to rein in my finances by making time to prepare food on a regular basis instead of my current trend of "oh crap I hit the snooze, now I'll have to buy something on the way to work and get take-out for lunch again."

I'm a complete neophyte to Intuitive Eating as yet, but I'm just starting to get past the place where I crave everything I denied myself while dieting. My body is finally catching on that I can eat anything I want (budget willing) whenever I want, and that there's really no value judgement on food. I can feel it starting to trust me that this isn't just another breather between diets, so I don't have to hurry up and eat everything "while I still can." It will be there when I actually want it, whether that's the next day, or sometime next month. For those of you who've been doing this for a while, bear with me and try not to smirk, it's still quite a groundbreaking experiment for my personal perspective :-)

Anyway, I found these great little meals at the Indian grocery. They're foil pouches full of preservative-free vegetarian curry dishes (mostly paneer or lentil-based). I can keep a bunch in my desk drawer, bring in a bowl of rice, and have whatever I feel like for lunch as determined at lunchtime instead of the day or weekend before. Since Indian food runs the gamut of sweet, spicy, hot, mild, etc., there's a good chance that I won't be driven screaming from the office by the thought of yet another slightly soppy sandwich packed two days beforehand when I happened to have actual free time at home. I'm not somebody who can stick to a steady routine without going a little insane, so the whole "make up a bunch of meals on the weekend and split into servings" thing has never worked for me. I'll cook up something I'm craving on Sunday (provided I actually have free hours to cook on a weekend) only to be nauseatingly sick of it by Wednesday. At which point I'll throw it away and go get Chinese, blowing my restaurant budget for the week instead of saving it for when I get together with friends on the weekend.

I want to do some landscaping this summer, but the cost can only come from what I can save out of my grocery budget and whatever I can e-bay. I went cautiously crazy in this new store today and bought a week's worth of meals for about $30. They keep their prices surprisingly reasonable, which means they're actually catering to the (quite large) Hindu population in the area, rather than the yuppies. Sure, you can get pre-packaged curry lunches at Sawall's super-elitist eco store for eight bucks. I'd rather pay $1.99 and not have to cover the cost of their entire aisle of trendy exotic bottled waters. I mean, what's up with an eco-store selling plastic bottled water anyway? Even at $5 a pint? Freakin hypocrites.

(Their bulk spices are pretty good, I'll grudgingly admit. It's not like I can find mugwort at Wal-mart.)

It's strange how much easier it is to tackle my budget woes without having a diet on my plate (so to speak) at the same time. It also helps that I quit smoking before I concentrated all my energy on my spending habits. It's interesting to see how the different forms of consumption interact. I used to find that out of the three (diet, spending, smoking) I had about enough mental focus to really tackle one at a time. Which meant I could always use running out of money as a handy excuse for why my diets ultimately failed. Once I take dieting and smoking out of the picture, I might actually get my spending under control and start chipping at the credit cards.

And I didn't even think to look at calories on anything. Not by force of will, but it never even occurred to me. I went by "that looks good" and a brief scan of ingredients to eliminate anything with too much anise (yech.) How much simpler it is to not have to work to get the most bulk for a set amount of calories, but instead just think "garlic and green chilis...yep, that's perfect for the office; I won't have to talk to anyone for hours after lunch." There's the perk also of no one giving me grief for not eating in the breakroom (i.e. bumping elbows with a crowd of people going into gory details of their childrens' pooping habits and whatever sports team currently sucks.) After one sniff of green curry fresh from the microwave they might just beg me to be anti-social :-)

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Fat Hate Experiment

What would you do?

ABC News put together a social experiment with telling results. A fat actress sat on a boardwalk bench while two thin actresses in bikinis verbally harassed her. The experiment was intended to see how many people stopped to help.

According to the article, only 5 out of the 60 people they determined had noticed the altercation were willing to stop and speak up. One passerby missed a great opportunity to set a good example for her kids when she just hurried them past the scene without a word.

They mixed up the experiment by making the aggressive abusers male instead of female to see if that would increase the number of people willing to stop and help. The article doesn't give a number, but did mention a few cases where people (mostly women) ignored the perceived threat to themselves to step in. Two even stepped between the victim and her attackers and called the police.

So there are several questions that come up for me in trying to analyze this experiment. Is it a fat issue, or an issue of no one ever wanting to get involved in someone else's trouble? Would the results change if the victim were a man? a teenager? What if the aggressor and victim appeared to be a married couple or a parent/child? Why were women so much more likely to step in, even if they felt physically threatened? Also, what would I do?

I would LOVE to organize a continuation where different factors are changed up to see if the results change depending on the gender, weight, age, and race of the victim and aggressors; the nature of the taunts (i.e. sexual harassment or racism) to see if the experiment reflects sizism or a simple reluctance to get involved regardless of the nature of the altercation; the geographical location (i.e. if people react differently in San Francisco than they would in Chicago), etc. Oh, for a PhD in sociology to give me research funding....

The day must have been a special kind of hell for the fat actress playing the victim. I hope ABC springs for a weekend at the spa or something to make up for it! Kudos to ABC, by the way, for tackling this rarely mentioned issue head on!

They're broadcasting the story on "Primetime" at 10 p.m. ET

Monday, March 24, 2008

Scottish social workers threaten to take fat children from the home

Social workers in Dundee Scotland have given a family a three-week deadline for their children to lose weight or be removed from the home. According to an article in The Scotsman, the family has been ordered to send the children to dance and football (U.S. soccer) lessons, at their own expense, or lose the children. Another parent in the same city is threatened with the same.

The children's weights are given in stone (1 stone=14 lbs in U.S.) but not their heights.

The article gives the usual rundown of the "epidemic," citing Scotland as the second fattest country after the U.S. (oh those crazy Americans...) They even claim that it "has already forced some as young as 13 to seek NHS weight-loss surgery. "

Yup, 13 year olds getting their stomach stapled. That sounds like a good idea. Can't see anything going wrong with that plan.

These statistical claims actually confuse "fattest country" and "country most obsessed with fat". The WHO (which has it's own particular conflict of interest issues when it comes to fat) puts the U.S. at number 9, after Nauru, Federated States of Micronesia, Cook Islands, Tonga, Niue, Samoa, Palau, and Kuwait. Hmmm...that means that the fattest countries are in Southeast Asia....but hey, that can't possibly mean that there are racial and genetic components to weight. As one of the comments on The Scotsman article put it:

"Nazi Social worker: I see that your child falls outwith the Normal spectrum
Poor Parent: What's the normal spectrum?
Nazi Social worker: We have compiled a normal range by measuring Arian type people. On average your child must be blonde, blue eyed, 6ft tall and have a BMI of 25 or under. I'm afraid your child doesn't conform, we must take him away for "correction".
Poor Parent: Um, we're of Afro-Caribbean stock. Good luck with that...."

Read the rest of the comments at risk to your own stock of sanity watchers points. I'll sum up: There are some supportive, a lot of "this is none of the government's business," one that suggests fat people eat puppies, and a lot of misguided "caring" people who think this is excessive, but still thinks the children should be put on diets.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Friday Fluff: Candied Rose Cookies

The news feeds are pretty dead on this spring equinox morning, and the newscasters are calling for up to a foot of snow on the heels of the white rabbit and it's odd habit of laying eggs.

So as a reminder that it really is spring (no, really! Ignore the coat of frost on your car this morning and the blizzard this afternoon...) I've decided to post a recipe that I consider summertime aromatherapy for your mouth.

Quite a few flowers are edible, which is why they're used so often as garnish. I'm considering picking up an ice-cream maker one of these summers in order to experiment with jasmine or lavender sorbet. I've found recipes for marigold iced tea, stuffed squash blossoms, and violet punch over the years and have been intrigued enough to want to try them.

The cautions in using flowers to cook with are that you must be sure that the particular flower is edible. Some hybrids become toxic where their natural counterpart was edible, and vice-versa. You must also know the origins of that particular plant. Nurseries and flower shops generally sell hothouse flowers sprayed with pesticides and fertilizers that were never intended for food crops. If you can find a small home-town nursery that's willing to swear blue that they only use organic fertilizers and no pesticides, that may be a safe place to obtain plants. Trusted friends might also be willing to let you use their organic cutting-gardens for the kitchen (especially if you share!). roadside stands and farmers' markets are often a good source, but be sure to particularly ask about chemicals. The best sources, of course, would be your own garden or a store that sells flowers specifically for eating. Try the specialty international stores. The Indian Grocery store in town sells rose water and orange blossom water. So does the health food store, although you should make sure it's edible-grade and not just for cosmetics.

Another consideration is that since flowers aren't a regular food for most people, you must be sure to use caution when it comes to allergies. If you're allergic to ragweed, for instance, avoid chamomile as they're in the same family. Start small with only a few petals at a time before making an entire salad, and pay attention to your body's reaction.

Also, too much of any flower can make you sick, due to generally increased alkaloids or acids. Don't make an entire salad or meal from flowers. They're intended to be accents and garnishes, not a main dish. Some, like squash blossoms and okra, can work well in quantity, but not all. Some flowers have medicinal properties, in which case they should be used sparingly or not at all. St. John's Wort, for instance, can interfere with heart medication. The name of the game is research, just like when introducing any exotic ingredient into your cooking.

These rose cookies are best to start the day before you need them so they can chill/dry overnight or more before baking.

For the cookies, you'll need:

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened (not melted)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp rose water
2 cookie sheets covered with parchment paper (baking section of grocery store)

Extra sugar (for rolling)

For the candied rose petals you'll need:

1 red rose (at least 30 petals, pesticide/fertilizer free)
1 egg white
1/4 tsp rose water
1/2 cup super-fine sugar (really fine cane sugar works well)
wax paper over a rack or cookie sheet
watercolor paintbrush (invest in a nice one that won't shed bristles in your food!)

DAY 1:

With electric mixer, beat the softened butter until creamy. Add sugar and continue to beat until creamy again. Add egg, vanilla and rose water, continuing to beat.

Turn the mixer down to the lowest setting and add flour and salt. Scrape down the sides as you mix so that everything is incorporated. Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap so as to prevent air from drying it out, and put in the fridge. This will need to chill for 2-3 hours at least, but since the rose petals will need a day to dry, best to just leave it in the fridge overnight.

To make the petals:

pour a layer of sugar in the bottom of a bowl
beat the egg white with the rose water until just frothy
remove the petals from the rose, and carefully remove the white part of the petal near the base (it tastes bitter)
Using the tweezers, dip the petal into the egg white. If it doesn't coat completely or coats in more than a thin layer, use the paintbrush to even it out. You're not "battering" the petal, just providing a very light layer of glue for the sugar.
Hold the petal over the sugar bowl with the tweezers, and sprinkle a pinch of sugar over each side
lay the petals in a single layer on the wax paper to dry
let them sit for 12-36 hours to dry completely, then they can be stored up to a few days in an airtight container.

DAY 2:

Make sure the rose petals are dry! If not, put them in the oven at about 175 degrees F for an hour or until dry.

Pre-heat the oven to 350 F
Pour a layer of sugar on a plate or bowl, at least 1/2 inch thick
break off chunks of dough about 1-2 tablespoons and roll in your hands to form a ball. Drop it in the sugar and roll it to coat.
Use the bottom of a small glass (shot glass or wineglass with a small base) to flatten the center of the cookie.
lay a candied rose petal in this flat area, pressing it gently into the dough
lay the cookie on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper
repeat until sheets are full, leaving a 1" gap between cookies

Bake at 350 F for about 15 minutes, checking after 12 minutes to watch for color change. They should be slightly darker than the dough, but not browned around the edges. For a more even bake (unless you have a super-fancy oven, which I shall hypnotize you into giving to me) turn the sheets around half-way through baking to bring the back rows to the front.

Transfer to a cooling rack, or loosen from the parchment to keep from sticking.

These can be kept in the fridge for up to a week, although they serve best at room temperature so you don't get that "solid butter" aftertaste.

If your mother /grandmother isn't a chronic dieter, this makes a great mother's-day present. Especially if you're short on funds.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Arts reporter calls foul on sizist audiences

In Washington DC's Metro Weekly today, Opera reviewer Kate Wingfield devotes a large part of her review of Washington Opera's "Flying Dutchman" to chastise audiences who feel it's all right to be rude to fat performers. She makes an interesting comparison between the behaviour of the supposed adults attending the opera to that of unruly pre-teens interrupting a school play to bully the fat kid in the lead.

My favorite bit of the article:
"How could such crass behavior occur in a crowd paying top-dollar to hear a Wagnerian soprano? Did these ladies and gentlemen forget they were at a live performance, so accustomed are they to gossiping about each other over lunch? Did they just not care? Could they be so saturated with Eddie Murphy's Norbit fat-jokes and the over-plucked glistening flesh paraded before The Bachelor as to have become mere snuffling moles, utterly blind to true human beauty? Perhaps the requisite hush would have prevailed if it were Spitzer's call-girl in the role. She claims to be a singer, after all. "

Buono detta, Ms. Wingfield! Bravissima :-)

Can you imagine a reviewer suggesting that Pavarotti would be a much better singer if he just tried Atkins? Opera has always been the one place where talent trumped any social judgement of appearance. That's how it appeared from the cheap seats, anyhow. Could it be that the new digital standard of preference perfection is changing that? Could live performance art be shuffled out to make way for not-so-cheap imitation?

Personally, I think perfect digital sound is impressive in it's own way. But I've never heard a piece of digital music that has impressed or moved me to the degree a skilled live performance is capable of. I'll always choose a movie with good acting over one with digital effects, and I'll always choose music with real voices and instruments over the bland and soulless midi sound. That's just me. Maybe for the rest of the world, one can never be skilled enough to appeal without also being a piece of "over-plucked glistening flesh" made industry standard.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

RIP Sir Arthur C. Clarke

Sir Arthur C. Clarke, scientist and author of over 100 novels and short stories (including "Sentinel," which became the movie 2001: a Space Odessey) died yesterday at his home in Sri Lanka at the age of 90.

He was famous for his visions of the future, of which many came to be. He was one of the first to work out geosynchronous orbits for communication satellites, dreamed of such (then) improbable ideas as what is now called the Internet and cell phones, and predicted a man on the moon by 1970. He's also famous for his "Three Laws:"

1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.

3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

He posted a farewell message to fans and family earlier this year on Youtube.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Myth of the Good Fatty

I've put a lot of energy into disputing the "good fatty/bad fatty" assumption, which as Shapely Prose and Babble have pointed out this week, may be an unnecessary (yet self-fulfilling) battle. So why do we preemptorily attack the assumption that only disease-free fat people who eat right and exercise are deserving of respect?

Well, I can only answer that in the royal "we" as I can't speak for anyone else. But a little self-examination into whether the lady doth protest too much brings up a few possibilities.

Mainly doubt.

I've never been a believer in anything, and often doubt (politely) fervent belief in others. If real belief was so common, martyrs would not be so rare as to qualify one for sainthood. That's not to say I don't embrace knowledge as such, but I do differentiate between knowledge (a concept held in the mind) and belief (knowledge assimilated on the subconscious, instinctive, "gut" level). The latter becomes part of a person's paradigm, against which all new ideas are measured for truth without a conscious process. Until that happens, knowledge held in the mind is subjected constantly to doubt as it is "tried on for fit" against the existing paradigm. During that process, the person is likely to defend against the doubt originating in their own minds by asserting the idea to others. The stronger the doubt (or the more the person is dependent on the idea for self-definition), the more vocal and extreme the assertion.

The above has absolutely no basis in actual science. Of course, that's the beauty of belief; it doesn't have to.

So when I take the pains to point out and harangue the dangers of the good/bad fatty comparison, I am probably motivated by doubt. After all, what if I'm not in the right group? What if the good fatties do get all the equal respect and rights, and the remaining scorn is heaped upon the rest of us? What if I do get diabetes and have to transition from the "yeah but I'm fat and healthy" to the much more difficult argument of "yes but it isn't because I'm fat"? Or worse yet, what if I myself fall into the trap of being prejudiced against the fat people who choose to not practice HAES?

The last point is a big one, and hard for anyone to admit. Who wants to acknowledge the potential for miserable ass-hattery within themselves? Of course, acknowledging it is the first step to eliminating it, but that kind of detached self-examination is a difficult thing. Personally I think it's more difficult than a detached look at the physical body.

Then, deep down under all the rest lies the worst layer of doubt undermining the integration of SA and FA into the self: "What if I don't really deserve it?" How many of us have yet to overcome the obstacle of being more willing to stand up for others than for ourselves? Could the Straw Fatty problem be one of feeling as if I, personally, only deserve acceptance if I "follow the rules" of HAES and yet remain fat? Could it be that I think that I can only earn the right to be a human being if I agree to be a poster child?

Yeah, that's absolute crap, and has no basis in fact. That's the downfall of belief; it doesn't have to.

Once an idea is assimilated into your own personal paradigm it becomes a yardstick for every other idea you encounter, regardless of which is actually true. The quaint idea of telling yourself something until you believe it is up against a thousand non-verbal reinforcements of negative self-worth each and every day. What is a mantra, to stand up under that kind of onslaught?

The connecting factor between knowledge and belief is hope. Hope is daring to consider a new idea, even when it contradicts belief. I really, really want to believe in FA, and that gives me hope enough to bridge the gap between the knowledge and the belief. All the studies in the world cannot convince someone against their own will, which is why chronic dieters are so rabid in their opposition.

So, in the meantime, I worry. Not every day, and a little less each day. But there is always that piece of longstanding reinforcement that tells me that I'm not a very good fatty, and therefore am less deserving than those who are. That is the origins of my own straw fatties.

Perhaps when I'm ready I'll have my own personal Burning Man to get rid of them.

And, in the meantime, I read blogs. I post blogs. The doubt occasionally seeps into both reading and writing, twisting words and ideas around little self-hate fingers in my brain. Especially when it's raining. But there are days when I read something that reaches down into the core guts of belief and wraps hope around it like a shiny happy incubator. Everyone has both kind of days, really, even if they never talk about them. In the meantime, when I post thoughts about HAES, health, and other dichotomy-rich topics, remember that these are just ideas being tried on for fit. They might contradict what I posted before. They are often open to challenge through the constant learning process. They may reflect subconscious prejudice, but prejudice can be one of those nebulous things only easily visible in other people, and don't always stand alone as the summary of a complex and evolving being.

I know that a person's health and lifestyle is a very personal issue that is none of my business. I know that skinny people are just as healthy or unhealthy as fat people on the whole, that you can't tell anything about a person by their weight, and that every person has the right to be treated as human regardless of health, size, or lifestyle. I know that HAES is not necessary to FA, nor is it the same for every person, nor is it a fancy sneaky method of dieting. I know it. I'm working on believing it, especially when relating to myself. For now, I know that knowing is the first half of the battle won.

Friday, March 14, 2008

New baby at the stables! (pics)

The woman who owns the horse I'm leasing came back from the Shipshewana horse auction with another rescue! This 4/5 month old colt was in the kill pen with his mother, but he couldn't keep up with her when they put her up on the block. He was initially sold to a meat buyer for $30.

Well she wasn't about to let such a sweet little thing go for dog food, so she hunted down the buyer and offered him $40 for the colt. He accepted!

She thinks he was an Amish horse, because the Amish in the area shave the forlock off their horses along with the bridle path. His mother (not rescued, unfortunately) was a standardbred, and his sire was probably (hopefully) a Belgian, considering the mane and short back. That will make him the perfect horse for a heavy rider in a few years, especially if he grows into those knees!

His name's Lucky, and he's both highly intelligent
(has already learned to open gates, lift his feet when asked, and leads with just a hand on the jaw instead of a halter) and very sweet-tempered. He's a bit nervous and clingy still after being force-weaned at the auction pen, but he's adopted Sunshine (the horse I'm leasing) as a surrogate mom and seems to be very comfortable/trusting of humans.

Speaking of Sunshine, I didn't leave her out of the lens!

This is the Sunshine, the 6 year old Belgian mare I took on a half-lease this month. She's 16 hands and a bit (about 5 1/2 feet tall at the withers/shoulder) and a real sweetheart, even if a bit skittish on the trail (probably just having a new rider).

Her mane's a bit ragged yet, but it's growing back in from when half of it was shaved off last year. I mixed some Jojoba oil and rose water as a detangler and it seems to work very well. Her tail was docked by her first owner (common in draft horses, although extremely cruel!) and might not get much longer than it is now.

When they get the arena finished so that I can safely learn hunt seat (she's too spooky on the trail for me to dare an english saddle) I'm going to see if my photographer friend would be willing to come take a few shots of me riding.

When I got there today, she was loving the spring weather, and tossing a ball back and forth with Belle, the Exmoor pony.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Women declared too fat for police work

An article in South Africa's Daily Dispatch today revealed that more than 10 candidates were turned away from the Mthatha Police College today for being too fat. The women were responding to a recruitment effort by the South African police forces to fill 700 vacancies, but said they were not told about any size requirements for the trainee program until they were weighed and measured as part of their interview:

"She said when they arrived at the college they were told their waists should be no more than 88cm and their body mass below a certain measurement. "

For those who are wondering, 88 centimeters = 34.6 inches.

No fitness tests were mentioned in the article; only weight and waist measurement.

I wonder, really, if this is a not-so-subtle form of de facto racism? By using a BMI standard that was developed in reference to Western European white males and using it to restrict the employment of South African black women, they set an unfair standard. Not to mention that a person's waist circumference has little or nothing to do with their ability to do the job! Not when they could simply offer a fitness/endurance test to screen applicants. They also need to disclose the requirements of the position before applicants show up on their doorstep, so that the applicants can include physical conditioning in their preparations.

As badly as South Africa needs keen, ethical and dedicated officers, it's a wonder that they'd turn away any potential recruits on the authority of a measuring tape.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Lisa Marie Presley sues paper that called her fat

Ok, it's celebrity crap, but apparently calling someone fat can be grounds for a lawsuit.

According to Time, Lisa Marie Presley is suing Britain's Daily Mail for running photos of her eating at a restaurant along with pointed jabs at her weight, comparisons to her father's middle-age weight gain, and hints that she would, like her father, die a early death because of the fat(never mind that her father's death came from tasting the pharmaceutical rainbow.)

Now she's suing the paper, insisting that she's pregnant, not fat, and demanding an apology and damages for the "mental anguish".

Seriously? You can do that? What's the statute of limitations, because we could all retire on the financial support of every high school bully who ever engaged in casual cruelty.

I'm really of two minds on this one as far as reactions go. On one hand it's someone standing up to the media to demand treatment as a human being rather than a sacrifice on the altar of public amusement. On the other hand, by treating fat as a damaging insult, it's further marginalizing fat people and setting up fat as something to be hated and feared. I suppose you could go either way, depending on whether your glass is half full or half empty today. Personally I think the glass is simply twice as large as it needs to be to fulfill it's intended purpose.

I wonder if the glass can sue me for saying so? :-)

Friday, March 7, 2008

Real Women Wanted in British Beauty Contest

This article in the Oxford Mail today was a great start to my Googley Friday morning!

Angie Beasley, the organiser of the Miss England contest, has reminded young women in Oxfordshire that size does not matter when it comes to taking part in the Miss Oxford contest, which is being backed by the Oxford Mail.

The article is about Chloe Marshall, the latest Miss England contestant who's facing down the prejudice of competing in a beauty pageant at size 16 (about a size 14 American) The encouragement from the organizers is heartening in a time when size 0 is still the ideal on the fashion runway.

Don't get me wrong, I personally think beauty contests are silly at best, dehumanizing at worst. But I do respect anyone willing to throw themselves into the fray of any contest where they challenge the status quo. I like people who make other people examine their own assumptions. Especially when they can also serve as a positive role-model for girls when it comes to notions of beauty.

So maybe I'm behind the times on this one, and I'll get a lot of "what rock have you been living under that you haven't heard of Chloe Marshall!?" But even though she's the buzz in England as the largest Miss England contestant, I haven't heard much in the U.S. Especially since I don't really care much about fashion.

It probably won't get me interested in beauty contests in general, but I am curious to hear more about how she gets on and what message she's sending. She's got a Facebook for those who're on it (i.e. who haven't been living under a rock.)

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Fat to determine custody or parental fitness?

I normally try not to post two "downers" in a row, but an article in the Canadian National Post on Monday is already old enough that I don't want to pass it up.

"The societal panic over childhood obesity, already entrenched in the medical system and evident in the furor over school lunches, is beginning to influence custody judgments and child-welfare authorities in their decisions about fitness to parent."

A lot of us are familiar with the cases in California in recent years, where a young girl was taken from her mother because she was too fat. In those cases, NAAFA helped advocate for the parents in getting their child returned. In the meantime, apparently, Canada has been busily establishing legal precedents to allow the weight of both child and parent to figure into determinations of parental fitness in custody and adoption battles.

The article mentions an ongoing case in Toronto (the reporter isn't allowed to release details until the case is resolved) where a young girl was removed from her home because the child was fat, and the mother refused to force the girl to diet.

It goes into more detail concerning a pair of fat twins in a custody battle which raged over 8 years. The twins, now 10, have spent nearly their entire lives in hospital-based weight-loss programs. Can you imagine sacrificing a child's entire developmental period to dieting?

That particular case, at least had a mixed happy ending:

The mother, Lisa, argued against the father gaining full custody, saying that his approach to parenting was "his continuous attendances with the children on numerous medical reviews, weigh-ins and the administering of blood tests; combined with his continuous negative references to others and directly to the children that they are overweight, not normal and are ill and in danger of developing certain conditions or diseases."

In the end, the court determined that primary custody should go to the mother, where the children seemed most happy and well-adjusted, while conceding "the weight-management of the children was a problem that needed addressing."

In other words, we haven't seen the last of fat, in either adult or child, as a determining factor in parental fitness and rights. The Ontario Family Court is still deciding whether a child can be removed altogether from her natural parents simply for being fat.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

et tu, Eric Oliver?

Reading the latest CBS News Story on Fat out of London today is an extreme experiment in "good cop, bad cop" for readers.

For those of you unfamiliar with the technique (in other words, those of you who've never seen an American television show or movie involving the police), the "bad cop" starts off aggressive in order to attempt to intimidate the suspect. In this case, the bete noir of baby flavoured donuts bludgeons the reader with a one-two combination of visual (a disembodied fat stomach over too-small trousers) and tried-but-untrue fattism:

"Go on, have another doughnut. "

Then the good cop steps in. His job is to befriend the suspect, earn their trust, and invite confidence.

"The obesity epidemic has absolutely been exaggerated," said Dr. Vincent Marks, emeritus professor of clinical biochemistry at the University of Surrey. "

There's some back and forth for a while, with the good cop coming out ahead as Eric Oliver, author of the most excellent "Fat Politics." His book was one of the first I read when I got into FA, so I got ready for the white knight to run to the rescue. Sure enough:

"Blaming obesity for diabetes and heart attacks, Oliver says, is like blaming lung cancer on bad breath rather than on smoking. Excess weight may actually be a red herring, Oliver says, since other factors like exercise, diet or genetic predispositions towards diseases are harder to measure than weight. "

All right! Go Eric Oliver!

It gets even better, of course, now that the good cop is on a roll.

"Yet the 1997 Geneva consultation was held jointly with the International Obesity Task Force, an advocacy group whose self-described mission is "to inform the world about the urgency of the (obesity) problem." According to the task force's most recent available annual report, more than 70 percent of their funding came from Abbott Laboratories and F. Hoffman La-Roche, companies which make top-selling anti-fat pills. "

Finally, a mainstream news source is catching on to the plethora of conflict-of-interest that exists in the world of obesity research. What an excellent bit of fact to cast doubt on the legitimacy of one of the more institutionalized anti-fat organizations. Bravo to CBS for bringing it out into the light of day.

But wait, although 70 percent of the article is pure refreshing gold, the bad cop isn't quite done yet. In a surprise move, the good cop switches roles and leaves the FA reader reeling from the let-down:

""The vast majority of people who get labeled under the obesity epidemic are well under 300 pounds and probably are not facing big health consequences," Oliver said. "It's the morbidly obese people who should be worried." "

This from the author of such a great book on fat bigotry? Ouch.

So sum-up, if you ignore the first two paragraphs and the last two paragraphs, the information in this article is fantastic. Getting through the sanity-watchers barricade to get there, however, is a slog.

Call me pessimistic, or better yet lugubrious (since it's one of my favorite words), but the hasty scramble for legitimization by Eric Oliver in the closing sentence, the rush to assure the reader that he's not talking about the really fat (which, by his definition, includes me), that it's ok to target them with all the institutionalized social hate and government programs as long as you don't hate the middlin' fatties...that's disappointing. I really, really hope he was misquoted or taken out of context. That's always a possibility to keep in mind. I've been horribly misquoted in interviews before, to the point where I had to wince and count to ten before calling the editor. Could Oliver really be suggesting that only "kinda fat" people are really being misrepresented?

Say it ain't so.....

Monday, March 3, 2008

Giving Up the Fantasy (Success!)

For those of you who haven't been following, a few weeks back I posted a blog about my own personal Fantasy of Being Thin. Essentially, along with all the other attributes I as a fat person so commonly associate with the magical state of thinness (poised, confident, successful, admired, talented, fending off the men, etc.) I believed that thinness would automatically open the door to horses again. I grew up with horses, but had to give them up when I went overseas at the end of high school. During those ten years I used the potential to ride again as the prize in my many attempts at weight loss, with 240 pounds as the final goal. That's the weight limit at most commercial riding stables, so it became that magic number at which everything became possible. I don't think I ever had any illusions about reaching the "medically acceptable" weight range of 160-180; I'm 6'2" and a genotype formed from a very long line of sturdy Irish peasant women and Viking invaders. It would take an actual terminal illness to get me to 180 pounds. 240 sounded possible and reachable, even though the set point my body has naturally settle to throughout my life has been just over 300 pounds. So I worked, and failed, and put everything in my life on hold until I hit the magic number, with horses as a carrot to keep me on track.

Then I found FA, thanks to my Tante' (aunt) who invited me to NAAFA. Then I found the Fatosphere, thanks to Google. Then I read this post. Then I cried a bit :-)

Then it occurred to me that regardless of what people thought of me while I was riding or how ridiculous I looked trying to mount, there were quite a few horses out there I could ride. As the draft horse has disappeared from modern farms, those who love the breeds have trained them to saddle instead. So I steeled myself against the potential for nasty responses, put an ad up on Craig's List and started calling farms.

Last week I posted an update when a woman contacted me with a beautiful Belgian mare available for half-lease. She's a rescue from the kill pen at the Shipshewana horse auctions who's been trained up into a great saddle horse, and more than able to carry me.

Yesterday I went out to meet them both. We took a short trail ride to try her out and I made an idiot of myself trying to scramble onto an 16 hand Belgian after not mounting a horse for 10 years (finally used her deck to get high enough so I wouldn't yank the saddle around on the poor girl's back). She was a bit jumpy, whether from not being ridden for a month, the wind, or just having an unfamiliar rider on her back. She shied a few times at barking dogs and the apparently horse-eating squirrels running across the road (and completely spooked once at a wild, horse-eating puddle that the wind rippled while we were passing) but I managed to stay on and kept my balance until she collected herself.

The biggest challenge was that she was trained in English aids, and I was trained in Western. This led to some confusion for the both of us, since my instinctive movements were a little contradictory to the poor horse and we didn't exactly keep a straight line down the road. It's something I have to work on, and thankfully she seems to have a really forgiving personality.

So, yes, I made the first month's payment, and only have to call ahead whenever I want to ride. I was impressed that she had a lease agreement ready, along with very clear barn rules, helmet rules, liability waiver, etc. It's really encouraging. The barn is one of those beautiful antique two-story barns with hand-hewn rafter logs I've always wanted to see the inside of, so that's a perk. I might invest in a tall mounting block to keep there so I don't have to bring the horse up to the deck each time. I also need to keep up on my Yoga, and maybe add Pilates. I'm taking note of all the places that hurt this morning, so I know which muscles to work on and stretch out for the future.

I can't believe such a great horse was in the kill pen ready to be auctioned off for meat. She's only 5 years old, very friendly, doesn't bite or kick, and I'm sure that once she learns to trust me as a rider she won't be inclined to spook. It really makes me wonder how many other neglected horses go straight to dog food without ever being given a chance. How many champion show horses or just really good trail horses are funneled quietly through the kill pen?

I'm also a little surprised at how easily it was all accomplished once I put my mind to it and just put the calls out there. Of course I feel a bit foolish for putting it off for so long, but I'm sure that where I am in my life is eactly the point where I needed this and will benefit the most from it. That's really how life operates :-)

The overall point is that no one should put off anything they want to do in life in anticipation of some distant goal. Especially when that goal involves a radical change in your physical body. I know that you've been trained most of your life to believe that you don't deserve to have fun, be successful, find joy in movement, or live your life as you see fit. Not when your very body is condemned as a moral failing by the modern church of the fashionably thin. Buying into that condemnation is a prison sentence; you are handing authority over your own body, mind and spirit to those who have the least vested interest in preserving it. You are quite possibly the only person in the world who will ever be able to care for your yourself to the degree you deserve as a human being, or really know what will make you happy. Never lose an opportunity to embrace something that will add to your well-being. No one knows how long they have in the world, and there's no reason to ever avoid something you love simply because of our society's distorted concept of appropriateness when it comes to fat people. Your body is what it is, but you'd be surprised at what it is actually capable of when you learn to trust it and take the risk of putting your own happiness ahead of other people's opinions.