Tuesday, August 7, 2012

All of Me (Why Not Take All of Me)

Belonging.  Be longing.  I have always struggled with both states of being (although they are aspects of the same core emotion), and I have many opportunities to reflect on what belonging means, and what I am longing for, at this point in my life.  It may be a cliche, but it seems to be true, when you figure out one answer, another question pops up to bedevil you, and so the quest for a state of belonging, and the absence of longing, continues.

Some answers came.  I was longing to be loved, not by duty, but by want, and that happened.  I tend to be an over sharer on social media about my relationship, and a large part of why I do that is to reassure the phantom me from the past that, yes, love can happen to the oddest and misfit-est of us, too.  I'll tell you I do this as an example to others, who may be struggling with finding loving relationships of their own (and such relationships come in so many different forms, not just the binary romantic 'couple' form), and that is true, too.  I always thought I was too 'something' to ever have the kind of partnership I wanted, and needed:  too needy, too cold, too fat, too queer, too unaccomplished, too immature, too poor, too awkward, too moody, and so on.  I figure we all feel we're too 'something,' in different ways, and I hope that the fact that my 'too something' was somebody else's 'just right' might provide a speck of hope for others to know that they're 'just right' (yes, I know you're now probably thinking of Goldilocks and the Three Bears.  Thinking about bears, no matter what kind, is always a good thing).

This is a joy that can't be described, and I am thankful every day for this gift.  However, there are other longings for belonging that tap into our roots as social creatures.  I can't fight societal dynamics, no matter how hard I try, and so I also long for community.  Honestly, when I see the word 'community' used in current discourse, it often annoys me, as it seems too insubstantial a word for what kinds of kinship organizations we create with others who share an intrinsic aspect of our being.  I use it, too, reluctantly, because I haven't found a word that encapsulates what I need from the communities I find myself in.

Perhaps too, the problem is that I long for one magical place, filled with darling humans, who accept all aspects of myself.  I don't mean that in some magical sense of perfect harmony, but a space where nobody thinks twice about whether I am 'allowed' to embody a particular identity.  I don't think I'm unique in longing for this, and feeling that there isn't such an ideal waiting for them, but it often is a surprise and blow when I am made aware of how difficult this is to locate.  I want to be among people who accept me for being fat and queer, not one or the other.  I want to be in a space that accepts me for loving someone who self-identifies as a Fat Admirer, and accepts my partner, too.  I want to be in a space where my voice is longed for, where people let me speak for me, and accept that I have valid things to say about my embodiments, and that recognize that there are very many different ways to live a life of value and integrity and wholeness.  In fact, a place that recognizes that wholeness is an impossible goal anyway, and allows us to figure out what shape we want our lives to be.  A location that thinks weirdly rule abiding and anti-authoritarian contradicting eccentric queer spheres are hunky dory and full of self agency. 

I know, I'm asking for rainbow dolphins and super galactic kittens and rivers made of sweet, sweet chocolate here.  I get that much of what guts me here is the dirty flip side of group dynamics-that what helps bond a certain community of people together creates other groups of people to be guarded against.  We only know the borders of our own groups by knowing, and in many cases actively policing against, those who are not fit for 'our group.'  No group is immune, no matter how 'progressive' or open-minded, particularly when they rarely have to interact with people who fit the definition of the 'other.' I'm not proud of my own prejudices, and I don't expect a pat on the back for my work to undue my prejudices; I do follow a live and let live position about other people's lives, and I often try to analyze my own reactions to people I recognize as my 'other,' lest I allow myself to wallow in lazy thinking or the need to feel superior, or threatened by, others.  I hope I am doing the work I need to do to overcome these aspects of societal community building, but I suspect this is a lifetime work order.

What I can do, and what I know is probably not the best thing, is to stop associating with groups who refuse to hear my voice, or evaluate my lived experiences in mis-informed and stereotypical ways, when deciding what they think about people 'like me.'  I have always been a 'you draw more folks with honey than vinegar' kind of person, but it is only recently that I've begun to re-evaluate that position.  I'm embarrassed to admit this, but it is only recently that I have fully understood what I've heard people of color who are involved in social justice circles say, that it is not their job to educate whites about their privilege, and about racism.  Previously, I accepted that this was true, and that this was a viable option for some, but for myself, I would need to be 'nice,' and not rock the boat.  Now I get it, now I understand, and now I want the same for myself-if you aren't at least minimally responsive to ideas about gender privilege and straight privilege and thin privilege, then I have no time for you. 

I think one of the absolute best slogans I've ever heard is from the disability rights movement: "Nothing about us without us."  When you are hit with the realization that in fact the world doesn't hear us all equally, or allow us the latitude to live lives as rich with possibility as those taken for granted by so many US residents, it masticates reality and tosses you out of your own center.  It sure makes the journey back to your center so much easier when you have allies, colleagues, friends, loved ones, who recognize you in all your complexity, allow you to speak your truth without denials and erasures, and recognize the joy, love, and worth of even your most stigmatized identities.  I still long to belong in such a space, but do have hope that someday this sphere will exist, and I hope that for you, too.

In the meantime, I am hoping to adopt a dog.  As I've told my partner, caring for dogs taught me how to care for, and love, humans.  I try to model the acceptance, the unconditional love, the gratitude, the trust, and the subsuming joy for life that dogs show in my own relationship.  Thank goodness I've learned so much from dogs, for I also, like many dogs, will follow you wherever you go if you have a treat in your hand.   

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Zombies: It's a Lifestyle Change, not a Diet

Stephen King argues in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre (http://www.amazon.com/Danse-Macabre-Stephen-King/dp/1439170983/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1336655091&sr=8-2) that the types of horror that we consume are influenced by the cultural fears and anxieties of the times we live in.  For example, movies like "Them!" from 1954, about giant ants, represents cultural fears over the realization of nuclear weaponry, after the horror of dropping the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The great Universal horror films of the 1930's, which harken back to an almost pre-industrial 19th-century Europe, were a great distraction from the all-too-contemporary Great Depression and the frightening modernity of living in a post World War I world.  Are these European monsters (Dracula, Frankenstein, the Wolfman) merely the front lines of the very modernist horror show of World War II to come, teasing out US audiences' anxieties about what was left unresolved after the devastation of WWI?  Gives a whole new spin on the next generation of these films, when Abbott and Costello hung out with the Wolfman, doesn't it?  Once WWII was over, and the United States begins its ascendancy to the top of the superpower heap, Boris Karloff and the rest have to jape with comedians, not menace poor damsels in distress, a sure sign that the world was safe for democracy and consumerism once again.

I've always been a fan of a good monster movie, and my allegiances have always been to the vampires.  They're the most human of monsters, if for no other reason than their close resemblance to non-monstrous humanity (although in recent decades the serial killer has usurped vampires in this category, adding a sort of 'banality of evil' ethos to the monster pantheon due to their obvious un-supernatural nature).  Their sensuality and allure have been well documented, and they have been able stand-ins for all sorts of cultural fears, many of those related to queerness (see, Carmilla, Anne Rice, "True Blood").  In fact, vampires themselves seem to embody the idea of 'queer time' or 'queer temporality' in provocative ways, since their ultimate allure is their immortality, and their shady existence (literally).  Who wouldn't want to have the power to mesmerize others, draw them into your control, and then decide if they live to serve you or not, all while living forever, and never aging?  It sounds like both the historical stereotypes of gays, and everything our contemporary time dreams about, and no wonder their popularity continues to live on in so many different forms, including Mormon vampires (the "Twilight" series).

Even though my fandom has always been for the vampires, there are aspects of Frankenstein's monster that appeal to me.  In keeping with my evocation of queer theory in the previous paragraph, the tomb as womb in the Frankenstein narrative is a queering of reproduction in very provocative ways.  As well, using a more traditional assimilationist approach, the primal need of the monster to be accepted as fully human, to be able to participate in perhaps the most fundamental of human rituals, the ritual of kinship formation and social networks via communication and connection, and to feel something akin to giving and getting love, speaks to any outsider bullied or stigmatized or shunned.  In other words, Frankenstein's monster sure could have used an "It Gets Better" video.  The werewolf doesn't much interest me, but I appreciate the dynamic it tries to play out, the culture/nature divide, although the lack of any real female werewolf leaves the base story of the werewolf much too patriarchal for my tastes.  The werewolf narrative often reads to me like a scary variation of Huck Finn or any John Wayne movie, those rugged individuals trying to escape the constrictions of 'polite society' (otherwise known as 'Girls Town') and heading out for the wilderness in order to enact 'real' masculinity free from criticism and restraint and girlie cooties.

I've spent some time on some other monster staples because, well, even though this blog post is about zombies, I don't much like zombies at all.  They bore me.  They have no personality, they have no humanity, they don't for a moment allow me a point of connection, and even worse, they don't much scare me.  However, I find their use in this contemporary moment as being a great source of amusement for so many to be telling.  I would argue that zombie narratives are so popular today because they represent the 'obesity epidemic.'  Many folks are familiar with the cultural analysis of perhaps the greatest zombie narrative in the US, "Night of the Living Dead," that it evokes the dread of what was happening in the 60's, the Vietnam War, Civil Rights struggles, the rebellion against the military industrial complex and the increasingly ineffectiveness of governments to serve their citizens.  Zombies, because they are such ciphers, seem to have gained traction in recent decades as being a 'go-to' monster for explicating societal dreads.

What could be more fearful than the 'obesity epidemic'?  Every day, in a million different ways, fat people are presented as the most dangerous thing to happen to our society since perhaps the Black Plague.  Soon the whole world will be fat, we'll all die impossibly young, with a plethora of crippling diseases, draining the coffers of nations via our health expenses and failing to reproduce, because everyone knows fat people are icky and shouldn't be touched, let alone screwed.  According to the now-disproved social-contagion theory, just being around us fattys will make you fat, and of course hauling our fat asses around in cars and airplanes is causing the destruction of the environment.   It is heady stuff, having the power to destroy the universe as we know it, and I for one won't take this responsibility lightly (rim shot).

Zombies are fat people, no question.  Like the stereotypical representations of fat people (and not, let me be clear for those of you who traffic in fat stereotypes, real fat people), zombies stumble and lumber around, unsteady on their feet and struggling with locomotion.  Like fat people, zombies have pasty, blotchy skin; the fat get this way from all that time indoors in their mother's basements gaming and consuming high fructose corn syrup.  Like fat people, zombies rarely get to dress in fashionable tailored clothing, or even care to invest in their personal appearance.  Like fat people, zombies have no interest in sex.  Like fat people, zombies are mindless and have no reason and won't deviate one bit from their hunger drive; fattys are so dumb you can't get them to see the error of their ways and start dropping the lbs.  Like fat people, all zombies care about is eating, and will do anything to eat.  Not only that, but their favorite thing to eat is brains, thereby symbolizing exactly what fat does to a human, it eats away their brain, their seat of consciousness and understanding of themselves as a human being.  Like fat people, zombies reproduce rapidly, and if we don't annihilate them, they'll be none of us (thin)humans left.  Therefore, no mercy or kindness can be shown to the zombie or the fat person, and they must be destroyed as soon as possible.

Thus, both zombies and fat people are completely dehumanized, and audiences can deploy their own well-stoked anger and fear of fat people vicariously through zombie narratives in TV, film, and games that requires exhilaration when zombies are killed, and the collective sigh of relief that the world has been made safe for the non-zombie/fat again.  Every day the collective drumbeat of 'obesity epidemic' rhetoric does nothing more than hasten the transformation of fat people into dehumanized, monstrous zombies who must be destroyed.  However, there is one key difference between representations of zombies and fat people, and I think it is frighteningly telling:

There are no images of headless zombies, but an industry of headless fatty images*+

*thanks to Charlotte Cooper for this wonderful phrase
+although I've been playing around with these ideas for a few years now, thanks to folks at the Popular Culture Association Conference for indulging my riffs on this topic

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

My 400-pound pet peeve

I just read this interesting New Yorker piece (linked from Longform.org) about Hurricane Katrina:


Maybe none of you know this (mostly because you're not reading my blog), but one of my dissertation chapters was going to be about fatness and Hurricane Katrina, so I tend to read things I stumble across about Hurricane Katrina.  This may sound like a stretch to you, a whole chapter about fat and one particular event in U.S. history, but it was meant to be deployed as a space and place to talk about larger issues of size, race, class, and identity/community formation (among other things), and of how fatness was used (and, more importantly, not used) to discuss the event, the aftermath, and what it symbolized about U.S. society.  It would have served as a great prelude to my last chapter, on geographies, nationalities, and fatness.

Since the dissertation was never finished, I suppose what I was going to do is irrelevant, but I share it anyway.  The reason I want to talk about this linked article does link to the dissertation chapter in a rather loose way.  Specifically what I'd like to speak about is this early sentence from Katherine Boo's piece: "On the evening of September 3rd, though, a gunshot victim, a four-hundred-pound woman, and a man with a broken spine arrived at the gym simultaneously, joining two hundred other evacuees."  I was excited, here was a journalistic piece that will talk about fatness and Hurricane Katrina!  However, the 'four-hundred-pound woman' never made another appearance in the story, and so I have no idea what happened to this woman.  Did she have to go through what had been mentioned on the less mainstream online sites, that is, wearing plastic bags as clothes because there were none to be had in her size?

If Ms. Boo never planned to write about this woman, why did she make an appearance in the article? Presumably because she was listed alongside individuals with bodily trauma, the reporter sought to portray her as equally traumatized.  However, without supporting details, we have no idea if her weight was impacting her health in such a way that she needed special attention from health-care professionals.  Even if this was the case, Hurricane Katrina did not cause her weight, so her inclusion in this group seems odd.  More likely, Ms. Boo, like many non-fat people, grossly underestimate the health of fat people.  Telling the reader that an individual is 400 pounds says very little about their health, particularly if it is framed in the context of bodily trauma.  More precisely, the bodily trauma that woman was experiencing was a trauma placed on her by a society that refuses to recognize, let alone shape itself to accommodate, fat people.  Sadly, Hurricane Katrina only exacerbated that condition. 

I think the real reason we are told that a 400 pound woman is one of the early arrivals at the shelter has nothing to do with Hurricane Katrina at all.  It is part of that all too familiar trick of making sure 'we' call out and move to the margins any person who does not fit 'our' idea of what a human being should be.  Those 400 pound women must be marked, a permanent 'O' on their written selves, so the rest of the reading public knows that they're reading about someone who is 'less than' and 'other than' themselves.  It happens in all sorts of written work, from newspaper pieces to critical law books, college textbooks and in footnotes to college textbooks.  It also happens to people who weigh both much less, and much more, than the 400-pound woman of this New Yorker piece. 

Why do writers include weights for those who have weights many deem to be 'too much' or 'too little'?  If they don't plan on addressing the topic of weight and body size in their work, then there is no reason to do so.  I have asked one of the former ombudsmans of The Washington Post why body size isn't included in their style guides in ways that seek to minimize this type of othering, in keeping with their policies about race and other characteristics.  Unsurprisingly, I got no reply.  Unless the weight is given for every person mentioned in an article, this kind of selective 'outing' of fat people in writing is bias, and it needs to stop.  I'm tired of seeing bodies like mine treated as freaks of such magnitude that our weight must be hung around our heads even in places where no image of fatness exists, the ultimate shame of daring to live while fat.

I also get angry when I see this happening for people with other bodily traits, like stature, for example.  I also find the practice to be so obviously about policing bodies, that I find it hard to see how otherwise knowledgeable people don't catch it and erase it.  My favorite example of this is found in the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism (http://www.amazon.com/Norton-Anthology-Theory-Criticism/dp/0393974294/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1331141739&sr=1-2).  In a book chock full of cultural studies critiques of all sorts of representations of various identity groups, we find a charming footnote in the entry for Judith Butler's Gender Trouble.  This charming footnote provides basic biographical information on both the drag queen Divine and the director John Waters, queer film collaborators.  Divine is described as a '300-pound drag queen' and Waters is described as a director, with no body weight given. 

One of the reasons I find this so delightfully f-ed up and endemic of the need to stigmatize fat people no matter when and where they dare to show themselves is because it collapses all temporality into one moment.  At the time of this book's publication, Divine had been deceased for many years, so the editors of this book decided that the corporeality of Divine was frozen in time for the periods of his life in which he weighed 300 pounds.  Considering that weight is often a destabilizing status (our weight fluctuates daily, even if only by a few ounces), this fact seems oddly flattening of the varied lived experiences of any person, even a fat one.  Secondly, it rather hilariously presents an image of Divine bursting fully formed, like Athena out of Zeus' head, as a fat drag queen from birth, and that he maintained a stable 300-pound weight for his entire life, from cradle to grave.

Since I think Divine is a god, this image is oddly comforting, even as I recognize the insidious way it seeks to mark an individual with a stable identity while at the same time performing the slight of hand that makes most people think that a fat identity doesn't exist, is in fact impossible, and that we're merely only thin people waiting to be let out of our traumatic fat cages.  A good start would be if writers actually provided some humanity to the fat people they seek to diminish by making them an absent presence in their work. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The rest of the (fat) story.....

My last post described my own experience with a public health initiative geared towards ‘childhood obesity,’ and of my impressions that it was not successful in instilling lifelong thinness in at least two of the teens involved, myself and one other teen:  one female, one male, both at the higher end of the percentages used to measure ‘childhood obesity.’
I tried for the most part to let the events tell the story, so one could take away an impression from that blog post that the experience, in the long run, was not particularly damaging to my health.  I lost a little bit of weight, I gained it back, but maybe I learned some things along the way about ‘good health, nutrition, and exercise’ that I didn’t know before, one could infer.  Plus, there was no mention of explicitly shaming tactics used to get us to lose weight; we weren’t publically humiliated in front of our thin peers at weigh-ins or in forced exercise routines, or otherwise exposed to negative images of fatness and fat people.  However, these sorts of programs don’t happen in a fat-hate-free vacuum, they are bound up with a lifetime of campaigns, both covert and overt, that seek to belittle the fat person with very little push back from fat people themselves.
What comes after that National Institutes of Health-supervised program shows the long-term effect these sorts of messages have on fat children and teens.  The following school year, at about the same time of year (Spring), I was in the ER, having my stomach pumped after a suicide attempt.   I was in my first year of high school (10th grade), and had turned 16 only a few months before.   I won’t say that my life as a fat person was the only reason that I decided to take an overdose of pills, but I would say that it was the biggest reason I felt as depressed as I did.
I had discussed in my previous post my understanding and awareness of my fat identity, and of how young I was when I realized the importance this part of my embodiment would have on my life.  I wasn’t aware of my conflict over my gender identity until I was older, perhaps no older than 5.  I spent a good part of my childhood deeply puzzled by gender identity and expression.  About the age of 7 I was exposed to a transgender identity for the first time (via a CBS Evening News report on Renee Richards), and I wondered throughout my youth if I might some day have a ‘sex-change operation.’    One thing I remember doing all the time as a child was praying to G-d to change me.  I was a reasonable youth, and offered G-d a choice, since I was sure asking for a lot.  G-d could either keep me as a girl, but make me thin, or keep me fat, but turn me into a boy.  At a very young age I was aware of the different standards about fat and gender, and thought that the worst possible outcome for me was to be female and fat.
Sadly for that young me, I never woke up in a differently sized or gendered body.  I grew up, and out, and stayed a tomboy for a long time.   Once I entered puberty in my early teens, I began to question my sexuality.  I questioned it not so much because of who I was attracted to, but because of my gender conflicts.  My teen self could not even imagine a world in which a trans man would be gay.  It was still difficult for me to imagine being trans, or gay, let alone combing the two together.  Remember that we’re talking about the mid-80’s, during the ‘AIDS hysteria,’ and in a suburban world where I knew no openly GLBTQ people.
Thus, I began to contemplate life as a lesbian.  That made some sense to my adolescent mind, since I could be a tomboy and like girls, since that is what I thought lesbians were.  But as I contemplated this identity, well aware of all the stigma surrounding gay and lesbian lives, I noticed something else.  There were striations of ‘acceptable’ female identities, and one of the representations used to demean women was an image that looked a lot like me: a mannish, fat, lesbian woman.  Nobody was claiming that representation as a cherished part of their community-not women, not feminists, not lesbians.  I didn’t know there were women who were seeking to cherish fat representations like this, women who formed the Fat Underground in the 1970’s.  I had no idea there was any sort of fat positive community in the world until my late teens.
I felt like I was living in an impossible body, with unthinkable identities, and I had no idea what to do.  One thing I thought would solve my dilemma was to take sexuality out of the picture altogether.  I decided that I would not have romantic and sexual feelings for anyone, since I could not reconcile my own sense of self with the labels available to me, and when I tried, I only saw abjection.  This is really an impossible place for one to exist and thrive in, and as a result I suffered from depression.  The thought of a lifetime of loneliness and estrangement from perhaps the most exalted state of human experience, love, was weighing me down more than any ounce of adipose tissue ever could.  Thus, the suicide attempt at 16.
For me, the combination of queerness and fatness was hard to navigate, and the societal forms of prejudice against both states of being were detrimental to my mental health.  However, as odd as it may sound, growing up I was never personally shamed, insulted, hated, or belittled due to my gender nonconformity, presumed lesbianism, and attempted asexuality.  I did not grow up in a family that made me feel bad for wanting to dress like a boy, or play sports, or spending most of my playtime with boys.  I did grow up in a family that made me feel awful for being fat.  Once I claimed my queer identity, my family has never made me feel less than for being queer.  And although I never told my family that the fat stigma that I grew up with contributed to my suicide attempt, my family stopped shaming me for being fat after it happened (and please know I am not suggesting suicide attempts as a way to stop fat stigma!).
I’ve been blessed in so many ways; despite having to grow up dealing with pervasive and powerful stigmas around sex, gender, and body size, I made plenty of good friends as I grew up.  Outside of some teasing in 1st grade, I never was singled out and targeted for bullying, and my closest friends accepted me as I was.  Sadly, I was much better at being social and making friends when I was a youth than I am now as an adult.  But that, along with every other aspect of my ability to interact with other humans, has been profoundly impacted by the fat stigma I endured as a child, where the scariest part of that scarring was the language around being excluded, unloved, and hurt because I was fat.
The picture above shows me and my partner, the amazing Mycroft Masada Holmes.  Until we became partners, I had no idea if I could be in a healthy, romantic, loving relationship with another human being.  Thus, the slogan, which Mycroft designed, reflects the fact that the child me, the one who learned how to feel excluded because they were fat and queer, has learned in adulthood how to love and be loved as a fat queer person.  I hope you will support campaigns that seek to minimize shaming children for their bodies, and that you’ll learn more about this particular campaign to speak back to those who refuse to listen to the words of scarred former fat kids about how soul destroying it is to recognize that the world wished you never existed in the body you have.

Sunday, January 22, 2012


You may have seen or heard something about a campaign in Georgia to address 'childhood obesity,' using the label 'Strong4Life.'  The above picture, of Marilyn Wann, is using the same design scheme as the campaign, in order to fight back at the fat shame deeply and pervasively embedded into this campaign.  There are a lot of insightful blog posts about this campaign out there, so I won't begin to list the problems with the campaign, I'd urge you to search them out.  Better yet, if you're interested in finding out more about the efforts taken to counter this hateful campaign, join the "Stop Strong4Life's Fat Shaming Campaign" Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/344255848935079/).

What I do want to talk about is my childhood experience with being singled out for a public health intervention due to my fatness.  I just turned 41, so this experience happened well before the current 'obesity epidemic' fear mongering moral panic, and may provide some light on how these things worked in a less harmful climate for fat children.  I will be sharing some secondhand knowledge about another individual, and I apologize for this, but it is needed in order to describe my own experiences in this program.  I won't be naming the person, of course, but should they happen to read it, and would like details removed, then I will honor this request.

In the spring of 1986, when I was in my final year of junior high (ninth grade), I was summoned to the Assistant Principal's office.  When I got there, I was among a small group (maybe a dozen others) of fat peers, and we were informed that we had been chosen to participate in a weight-loss group.  We had permission forms to take home for our parents to sign, and if we had permission, we'd then spend one day a week for the rest of the school year (missing class to do so) learning how to lose weight.

If I remember correctly, at least at the first meeting, there was one or two women from NIH (the National Institutes of Health) who were providing the framework and materials for this program.  It turns out that one of our peers, a boy one grade behind mine, had been enrolled in this program at NIH, and had lost a lot of weight.  I don't recall if he was part of a study at NIH, and to what degree he interacted with NIH in order to follow this program.  Was he meeting with someone at NIH once a week, was he enrolled in something that required more supervision, including perhaps overnight stays, or was he simply following a program at home, with occasional check-ins with the folks at NIH?  The one thing I remember hearing was that part of the reason this program was started in our school was because it would help support the boy with the large weight-loss maintain his weight-loss.

I had many thoughts in that initial meeting, the first of which was embarrassment.  I quickly imagined some memo being circulated among all the teachers, asking for them to pick their fattest students for this program, and wondering which one of my teachers recommended me (or was it all of them!).  This probably didn't happen, but at that age, the last thing I wanted was any public acknowledgement that I was fat.  Not that I was in denial about my fatness, or that I wanted to pretend it wasn't there, but I did want to pretend that the bias against fat people wasn't there, so anytime I was made aware that others recognized my fat self, it was as if I was being exposed as well to their negative beliefs about fatness.  Plus, teens at that age are embarrassed by all sorts of attention like this.

I was 15 years old when this happened.  I had reached my full height by age 12 (5'5), and I already had the body of a 'woman' by 12, as well.  I also weighed 150 pounds by age 12.  Today, at the same height, 150 would have me squeaking into the 'overweight' category by a few hairs, but as a 12-year-old, I was the fattest of the fat, and indoctrinated accordingly.  By the time I was recruited for this government subsidized weight-loss program, I weighed 220 pounds (by comparison, when I graduated 3 years later at 18, I weighed somewhere between 260-280 pounds).  I give you this information to establish my degree of fatness as a youth.  I do not exaggerate when I say that I have been fat for every second of my life, because this is how I was raised. 

We all are a complex mix of identities, and when we come to consciousness about these various identities happens in different times and places for each of us.  I know that, after I was aware of my status as a girl and as a white girl, my next awareness of an axis of identity was my fat identity.  My fat identity is tightly embedded into my class consciousness as well, so I often feel more 'at home' in a classed space that is more lower middle class than the economic space I grew up in (a middle middle class, if that makes sense.  A class born of lots and lots of work paired with white privilege, not a class born of college degrees and wearing pricey clothes).  So even as I look at pictures from my elementary school days and 'see' a girl who isn't 'that' fat, the mind's eye has always seen 'that FAT'. 

So, I was curious about the program, mostly because there was a boy in the group I was attracted to.  He was new to the school, and had just moved a few months before.  He also was in the grade behind mine, and I knew very little about him (other than his name) because we hardly saw each other on campus.  I thought this might be a great way to get to know him, and perhaps, well, do whatever teens that age do when they 'like' each other.  It wasn't as if I came from a home where one never dieted, or talked about weight loss.

By this time I was also well schooled in why I needed to not be fat.  I watched my parents diet time and again, and not hold onto long term success, and I was leery of the practices in part because of the evidence of failure that I had grown up with.  I also was mindful of all the various discussions and plans used to try and get me to lose weight, and most of those shamed me very deeply, particularly when these words included language about my inevitable failure at being able to find love and coupledom in a fat body.

Besides the presence of a cute boy in the group, part of me wanted to give it a go, see if this diet thing might work for me like it did for the NIH poster child.  He was not someone I knew well, even though we lived close to each other.  We had attended different elementary schools, for one thing.  I remember one day walking home from school with a different boy who lived in our neighborhood, but closer to the weight-loss boy, before this boy had lost his weight.  This particular day, the pre weight-loss boy was in front of us, by a fair distance, so we could talk about him without being heard.  I don't remember us talking about him, until the classmate told me that the boy only had one pair of pants, and the boy's mom would not buy him another pair until he lost weight.  I don't remember what I said, but inside, I was shocked, saddened, and glad I had different parents.  How mean and shaming that was, and I hurt for him. 

I don't remember him having a lot of friends, and I do believe he was picked on a lot.  The few times I witnessed it in the school hallways, I did nothing, except internally thank god I wasn't the one getting picked on.  I to this day am shocked and grateful that my days of being singled out as 'the one' and picked on ended once I left 1st grade.  So, when he showed up in this meeting, thin and wearing snazzy new clothes (including great suspenders), looking like the best dressed person in the school, I'm not gonna lie, I wanted some of that, too.

So, I allowed my parents to sign me up for the group.  I remember very little from the group (mostly because it started so late in the school year that we didn't have a whole lot of meetings to go to).  We were weighed, of course, but I can't remember if it was done in front of everyone, or in private.  I remember having to go home and have my mom measure me with a tape measure, to track inches lost.  I remember sticking with an 'eating plan' for not a whole long time, and I remember losing 20 pounds in total.  So, down to 200, and I don't remember how long it took me to re-gain that weight, but considering I was heavier when I graduated, it must not have taken long.

I have no idea of how the other students did with the weight loss program.  The weight-loss poster boy went to a different high school, so I never saw him again, and I don't know what happened to the cute boy I was crushing on, as he never made it to the same high school a year after I matriculated to high school.  In my late 20's, I heard a bit of news about the boy whose weight-loss success with the NIH program had instigated our public junior high school weight-loss program.  His cousin worked with me, and remarked one day that his cousin was planning on having weight loss surgery.  I don't know how much he weighed then, when he moved from thin back to fat, or anything else.  I did hope, at least, that he got to enjoy thin privilege throughout high school, and that he no longer had to deal with cruel classmates and parents who wouldn't buy him adequate clothing.

As for me, I now weigh over 300 pounds, and have done so for most of my adult life.  My health is pretty good to me, although I do take a very cheap pill every day for high blood pressure (that, untreated, isn't greatly above 'normal' blood pressure).  I don't have 'metabolic disorder' or whatever medicine is using to describe the matrix of conditions that are attributed to 'obesity.'   I have no idea how to classify my health using popular metrics, but I feel good in the body I have.  I don't know if my experiences with public health interventions into 'childhood obesity' have any bearing on today's world, but I still wish that these programs were more likely to listen to those of us who were fat children and teens, before they design public campaigns.  While I am against institutionalized weight-loss programs, I am all for learning about nutrition and exercise, and the positive role they play in one's health, and I've no problem with anyone losing weight as a result of practicing behaviors that increase physical and mental health, as long as the focus is on the behaviors and their benefits independent of weight loss.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Place Holder

I'm still figuring out what I want to do with this blog.  For now, this quickly typed post will have to do.

I've struggled my whole life with writing.  I can be good at it, and I do enjoy it, but I also hate it.  I hate it because it is hard, because I am very self-critical of my writing, and because it is one of the things in my life that if I can't do it perfectly, I don't want to do it at all.  Since nobody does things perfectly, this is an impossible situation.  I also am no fan of the anger and sadness I feel when I read something by somebody who is a gifted writer.  Nothing but sad, unearned jealousy over the talents of another, and such a waste of my emotional time. 

Just between you and me, imaginary reader (OK, my partner), writing to me is so enveloped in my own insecurities that it is probably for the best that I don't pursue it as a main focus in my life.  The insecurities I speak of are the insecurities of someone who is conflicted with shame about their need for attention, validation, and praise.  Because it is so much easier to deal with life when you only have two choices, I seem to swing between thinking I should dive into whatever it is one 'does' to get a wide bandwidth of attention and validation, and thinking I should become a modest monk, spending my days composing faint odes to willow trees and whippoorwills.  Writing, since it is the first thing I learned I was good at, is the place where these anxieties settle.

So, as I said, this post is a place holder.  The idea of place holder as an image that reflects my life is too rich to pass up, so let me touch upon that briefly.  I am in a time of waiting, and while in some ways my whole life has felt like that, always waiting for something to happen, and usually too fearful to make it happen, this waiting is different.  The future is clearly spread before me, and forces beyond my control, for the most part, are keeping me from activating that future.  Since this is a very good place to be, I am struggling with being happy and satisfied with my life while at the same time being depressed and unmotivated because I can't flip over that first domino that gets the whole thing going.  Tis a weird place to be, both hopeful and depressed, and since these sorts of non-binary problematics are exactly what I try to avoid, I'm still figuring out how to move forward without 'moving' at all.

Happy New Year!