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.


Tari said...

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?

I think this is really central to a lot of the fear I hear in this good v. bad conversation. I think it comes directly from the general human desire to conform and be normal. It's like switching one norm for another, and wanting clear, easy-to-follow rules to dictate behavior/success/failure/etc. I think it's a much trickier idea to pick your own personal rules and yardsticks, and take responsibility for the impacts of those choices. It's scary, and it's hard, and it's - for me - totally worth it.

TanteTerri said...

I don't know if this is on point or not, but I like what Deb Burgard said recently on the Show Me the Data list:

In the end, it is clear that the fattest people, like the smartest people or the fastest people or the strongest people, are gifted. They are gifted at making fat from what they eat. All the processes are pointing in the same direction, processes that in most people cancel each other out and lead to a more average outcome. It is part of the genius of nature to make all these individual organisms differ in their abilities so that some of them can survive whatever environmental changes occur. What we do in our human cultures to value or devalue those capacities is not scientific judgment, it is social and political.

Breanna said...

I like what Tanteterri said...