Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Fat Experience Project

This is from an e-mail I received this week. Check out the link and be sure to give the creators feedback so that this can be a positive force in the FA community:

"The goal of the Fat Experience Project is to map the global experience of fat in a way that is human, has a face, a heart, a mind, a body and a voice. The Fat Experience Project is an oral, visual and written history project which seeks to be a humanizing force in body image activism. By collecting and sharing the many and varied stories of individuals of size, the Fat Experience Project seeks to engage with, educate, empower and enrich the lives of people of size, our allies and the world at large.

As the project grows, it will be filled with first-person, non-fiction narratives (in text, video or mp3 format) that speak to the many and varied aspects of the life lived large. Some of the content will come from interviews already gathered on an extensive 2-month road trip (with the lovely Val Garrison) in both audio and video format. Some content will come from trips on the horizon. Most content will be submitted via the website by readers such as yourself.

It is my hope that the project will be a community tool to combat prejudice/stereotype/discrimination as well as to help externalize shame so it can discussed and dissipated. The things we keep silent about are the things that do us the most harm. Shared burden is lighter. I am hoping, as well, that the project may eventually be used as a humanizing resource for fat studies and social anthropology courses.

...It is my fondest hope that, ultimately, with time and resources, this project will grow beyond a specific and exclusive fat focus and move toward addressing the many intersections of shame. "

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

The Off Switch

This started out as a comment on Fillyjonk's Ask Aunt Fattie post about a woman who is uncomfortable with the occasional sizist thoughts about her partner's body. After a few paragraphs I realized the comment was getting post-length, so I moved it here.

Starting off with the excerpt that really nailed the concept for me:

"Luckily, the key is not to remain untouched by prejudice, but to consciously and deliberately rise above it at every opportunity. You are not failing in your fat activism when you look at your girlfriend and the voices of a thousand magazines and TV shows and judgmental relatives trill out “is she going to eat that?” Rather, you are succeeding when your response is to shake your head and say “how ridiculous you are, tiny voices in my mind.” "

I think this is a brilliant expression of the fact that there is no magically delicious "off switch" when it comes to cultural conditioning. It is a process of constant revision. After spending a lifetime having a prejudice beaten in our heads Aldous Huxely-style, no one is expected to shake it overnight. For example, I wasn't raised to be an accepting person. I was raised with every influence geared towards turning me into a conservative Christian suburbanite WASP. Luckily some of those gears went *sproing* in time for me to do something about it, but they still pop up at inopportune moments. Ten years later I still find a lot of prejudices in me that I have to stop and confront, and a few that get past me without me even noticing until it's too late.

I believe this is an issue for a lot of people in FA. I know it is for me. There was this great tipping point where I looked FA and finally got it. Joy Nash had a lot to do with that moment, as did my Tante' who sent me books and websites to nudge me in the right direction. I suddenly realized that there was nothing inherently wrong with my body. A lot of you know what that moment felt like.

The problem is that I woke up the next morning buried under all the same old baggage. The only real difference was that I now knew it was there. Part of the self-loathing built into our cultural message is wrapped up in the complete helplessness to find any way to fix what we are told is a problem. The only solutions to our differentness, we're told, are to either force our bodies into a semblance of normalcy or, when that inevitably fails, to hide them. We work and slave and sweat in an attempt to solve "the problem" of differentness, with the increasing pressure of shame and guilt heaped on as motivation. That moment when it all clicked was not the moment I solved the problem of my differentness. It was the moment I realized it wasn't a problem.

Since the click was not universal, however, it also didn't remove all the pressure. It didn't stop the negative thoughts about my body (or other people's bodies). It didn't stop my envying thin friends. It didn't stop the built-in reactions to magazine spreads, fat jokes or diet ads. That's because no moment (or year of moments) can undo the conditioning of a lifetime. All it can do is make me aware enough to start to re-condition myself. I can tell the tiny voices they're being ridiculous, that I don't have to justify my food or clothing choices to anyone. I can start catching the judgemental little part of me that comments on the habits of others, and tell it to STFU. Every time I do, I come a little closer to not not believing what they say. But it's a process. I'm not an enlightened human being, so I have to work at it. But those bad moments (and days) when I feel like a mess and stare longingly at the smiling fakery of a Weight Watchers ad don't make me any less a Fat Acceptance activist. Our culture is eerily efficient at creating shame and guilt from natural processes like that, and we don't have to buy into it. The bad moments don't make me a failure; they make me a human being. One that's still learning.

I don't honestly think there will ever be a day when I stop being aware of my differentness, or stop wanting (on some level) to go back to trying to fix it. But when the good moments outnumber the bad, I think I'll call it a win.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008


I had a good ride today. It's been almost a week since I've been out, but it was hot enough that I left the saddle in the barn and rode a long bareback ramble through the lanes of the deserted christmas tree farm behind the stable property.

Riding bareback is a matter of balance. You ride with an awareness of the center of your body, and balance your center over that of the horse as it moves. It's a form of meditation in motion. As I rode along, belting out The Hedgehog Song to the miles of open air, I thought about the myth of the clumsy fat person.

Occasionally there is a thin person who wonders how it is to be fat. They don a heavy padded suit (usually for the benefit of cameras) and try to move through the world under the honest mis-assumption that they are somehow gaining the perspective of what it feels like to be fat. It feels horrible and unnatural, this thick envelope of sensory-dead stuffing isolating them from the world. Their skin no longer gives them cues of space, motion, heat or cold. The thousands of small motions of balance and posture their bodies perform without their awareness are useless against the unfamiliar weight in unfamiliar places. They feel monstrous, clumsy, humiliated, and alien. They then take off the suit with great relief and continue through the world with a renewed sense of how terrible it must be to live like that every day. The problem is that they haven't actually learned anything.

I grew up fat; I haven't been thin since my black-irish genes kicked in around third grade and turned me from a thin blond to a fat brunette. What the person in the fat suit doesn't realize is that if they wore the suit every day of their adult life, it wouldn't be awkward or alien (unless they wash it, of course, it will begin to smell...opening up an entirely different discussion of fat stereotype). I grew into my fat body and learned it's strengths, movements, reach and ability just as any other teenager would. I don't wear my fat as a suit, but as part of me. I don't have to think about the extra effort to move, because it isn't extra effort to me. My body knows how to move and balance because it has developed all the unconscious and necessary thousands of tiny motions it requires. It has done so exactly as a thin body would.

My point is that those who try to simulate, or even imagine what it's like to be fat may simply be unable to do so. A naturally thin person would be awkward and uncomfortable if they were fat because their body has developed into a shape they are accustomed to and has no idea how to accomodate the change. Likewise for the naturally fat person who found herself suddenly thin. The body would have to re-learn how to move and react and balance, just as it did in puberty. That's why, for all the fantasy potential, I don't think I could even imagine myself as a thin adult. My body only knows what it has learned.

A girl once raised my eyebrows and ire with the question "don't you feel handicapped with all that fat?" Putting aside the more complicated response to her rather awkward vocabulary, I'll respond to her real question. Do I feel like I have some dead, awkward envelope of fake padding restricting my movements and throwing me off balance? The answer is no. I have my body, which I've known all my life. It is living, sensing, reacting flesh all the way to the skin. I know how it balances. I know how it moves. I know where my center is.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Think Tank

The Think Tank is tomorrow, but for all those I'd hoped and planned on meeting it turns out I'm too sick to go. The last thing I want to do is drive three hours and share bronchitis around the FA community (not to mention ten strangers sleeping in the hostel room with me).

So I won't make it :-( but I do hope to see reports from those who do and I'll check the twitter stream between Nyquil doses.


Well I'm officially dipping into my summer break-from-blogging with this post, but I need to check in to the Fatosphere for some information.

I know there's a few readers out there with PCOS (Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome), so I'm hoping for some direction. It isn't certain yet, but the doctors are looking at it as the most likely eventual diagnosis for me and approaching it accordingly. The problem is that every website I can find seems to indicate that you can't effectively treat PCOS without weight loss (which makes me say hmmmm....since, like diabetes, thin women get it too), or low-carb dieting.

The usual "losing just 10% of body weight cures most of the symptoms!" garbage is prevalent on official websites like Mayo Clinic and WebMD, without any clinical information to show whether the improvement is from the actual loss of fat tissue, or the exercise and arugula-eating the person engaged in to lose the fat tissue.

For those who are already struggling to balance Fat Acceptance, HAES (Health at Every Size) and PCOS, are there any books or websites you'd recommend that are light on or free of the weight loss mantra, and possibly advocate holistic therapies? I'd really appreciate some recommendations to get started. My doctor recommended the book by Samuel Thatcher (PCOS; the Hidden Epidemic). Does anyone have an opinion on the book?