Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Centered

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.

17 comments:

Mindy said...

Setting myself up for a whale joke here, but... I don't know very many 37-year-olds who can move their thin bodies through the water as gracefully and fast as I can. I've always been a great swimmer, it was almost innate. I could always swim like that, no matter my size.

Yeah, that "handicapped" remark has so many things wrong with it. I'm no handicapped at all, and have always been able to do what my thin friends could do, if not better -- I was the only one in my elementary school who could do a cartwheel on a balance beam, fat or not. :)

Mindy said...

Ick. That should be I'm *not* handicapped at all...

Piffle said...

I love this post.

Anonymous said...

I am fat and ride bareback too! I am also a black belt at Taekwondo. So much for being handicapped by my fat. :) Instead, I see being fat as part of what makes me so strong and centred.

Keechypeachy

ZaftigWendy said...

That is probably one of the best posts I've read in weeks and weeks! I feel that way every time I see one of those skinny-person-in-a-fat-suit shows.

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nuckingfutz said...

I feel sorry for anonymous #2. It must be hell walking around with so much bile that one feels one has to spew it at every opportunity.

You, however? Are made of win.

RubyB said...

Actually, anonymous #2 touches on something I've been wondering about. I weigh about 117kg, and the last time I wanted to go horseriding (I weighed 109kg then) I was refused (their cutoff point was 101kg). Do you know what size/breed/etc horses could carry me? Cos I love being on horseback! (I'm not very good at it, but enjoy it)

Anonymous said...

There are drafts, draft crosses, and many types of heavy ponies like Fjords and Highlands that were bred to carry large men or full-sized deer in the mountains. In the UK there are wonderful heavyweight cobs bred just for the purpose! I am about a hundred kilos and own a quarter horse cross who is short but very sturdy. My vet repeatedly says I am fine to ride her.

I think the usual rule of thumb is that you need to weigh one fifth or less than the horse, so any horse over 500 kilos would be fine for me, and a little heavier horse would be fine for you. Just make sure the bone in the legs matches the heaviness of the horse; some thoroughbreds crossed with heavier horses look solid but their legs are too spindly for their own weight, nevertheless to carry a person! In the UK they used to measure a horse's weight capability by the measurement around their cannon bones.

There is no reason why you can't ride! I make sure that my horse has a well-fitting saddle and is kept in good condition, so that she is better able to handle my weight, but anyone who cares about their horse would do that anyway.

I'm sure my mare is happier living with fat me, being spoiled and going for gentle trail rides, than being walloped all over the polocrosse field by thoughtless normal-sized people as she used to be!

Keechypeachy, (anonymous one), sorry, my username was chosen for another blogging subject and I would rather stay Keechy in the fatosphere.

JoGeek said...

RubyB: like the second anonymous said, the general rule is that a rider can be 20% of the horse's body weight, but how the horse is actually built is the key difference. Look for thick-boned legs, nice wide hooves, and a short, wide back. Like she said, some breeds like thoroughbreds may look big, but they're delicate. Look for draft horses, draft crossbreeds, quarter horses and other "working" horses. They tend to have been built for power instead of speed.

The best thing to do is simply steel yourself for rejection and start asking around. Some riding stables have a few sturdy horses just for heavy riders. You might also find someone who's willing to half-lease to you to share costs (at least if the price of sawdust and hay over there is anything like it is here).

Christa said...

Well I have to agree it could not be close at all to have unfeeling padding all around my body. I do have to say that I AM clumsy. I'm 24 (25 in about a week) and I still have that early teenage no sense of anything going on.

But that is part of who I am, not because I am fat. I got thin once, and I was just as clumsy! haha. I just have no awareness of where my limbs are or more of where anything else is around me. I don't have great vision, poor depth perception (but I get by!), naturally uncoordinated (I can dance to rhythm but something like DDR or aerobics and forget it!), can't throw with accuracy, can't catch most things... I worry sometimes I feed into the clumsy fat girl myth, but I can't really help who I am.

jamboree said...

Your post reminds me of the story my mom tells when she had me. Her genius of a doctor cut into an artery during the c-section, and she was on death's door for several weeks after my birth. She lost over 50 lbs during that time, and when she was finally well enough to stand upright, she felt like she was floating. She felt very odd about her body, and unfortunately, it triggered a lot of disordered habits in her life again. Anyway. It is possible for someone to don a 'thin suit' as it were, and it gives a person the same level of bodily disconnect as a 'fat suit.' Just thought I'd mention it.

rubyb said...

Thanks for the info, Keechypeachy and jogeek! Good to know there's hope for me :o) I'll start investigating in my area for suitable mounts.

Piffle said...

Christa, my son is clumsy and had no sense of where his body is in space (he's thin too, so weight isn't a factor). He was diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder; we got him some occupational therapy, which has taught him a lot about movement. He couldn't make a swing work when he was seven, now he is much better after a couple years of work.

Therapy is expensive, but one thing that helped him nearly as much was taking some gymnastics classes with a teacher who also specialized in kids with sensory processing problems. That wasn't nearly so expensive. My guess is that tai chi would be helpful too.

Anyway, just some ideas in case you're interested. It was your comment about not knowing where you are in space that sounded so like my son.

JoGeek said...

Christa: I'd recommend Tai Chi or Yoga. They both teach you how to find your center of balance and be more aware of how your body moves. My approach to Yoga was to find a beginner's DVD and just work on one pose at a time instead of trying to rush through the whole thing at a go.

Fat Bastard said...
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Anonymous said...
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