Friday, August 6, 2010

Lessons from a Fat Girl

I just read a blog post by my friend Nance about the politics of food. I found it intriguing because I had never given much thought to there being a political aspect to what we choose to eat. However, I think Nance presents a point of view that appropriately stirs up the brain cells; check it out.

I was rolling along just fine until I got to the image that Nance posted at the end as a sort of what not to look like. I know Nance, and she was merely illustrating her overall thesis about food, the environment and health. Still, give her an Afro and a really good tan and the woman in the photo could be me.

I'm fat. As y'all regulars know, I don't like the word obese; it sounds like some greasy substance you sell in a can. Weight  is a major issue for a lot of us. Most of us who are fat are uncomfortable talking publicly about weight. The first lesson that a fat girl learns from her mother is not to draw attention to herself. Don't do anything to make people look at you such as wear bright colors or laugh loudly and maybe they won't notice that there's a fat girl sitting in the corner. 

I wore a lot of pastel colors as a child. It was a faux pas to dress a child in black (the alleged slimming color), so pastels were preferred to bright reds, blues, and greens. To this day I hate anything in a pastel color; give me something in a bold magenta print with teal accents, or an animal print.

I suspect that fat boys have similar experiences but I've never been a fat boy and I write what I know. I do know that fat men appear to get away with less disparagement, at least they do in straight culture. Think of the television or film career of fat actors; they have wives (slim, pretty wives), or girlfriends. They get to have romantic scenes. They get to play the lead. It's still big news to have a fat woman play the lead in a television show. Drop Dead Diva made  the news when it debuted a year ago because the lead actress was plus size.

People who would never disparage anyone based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation fail to even recognize the daily insults that they and others toss at fat people.

The focus should be on maintaining a healthy weight but we live in a culture where looks are everything. Attractive people are more likely to be hired and more likely to be promoted. If you're fat, perfect strangers feel that it is appropriate to comment on your weight. If you're fat, people take pictures of you from the rear, always a fat person's worst angle, of which you are unaware and use it as a warning of what not to become.

As for fat people, we still hide in the corners, trying to avoid attention. Most of us are unwilling to bring fat prejudice out into  the light because to do so means drawing attention to ourselves. We laugh at the fat jokes and cluck disapprovingly at the image of some hapless fat person in an ad about the nation's obesity problem. We allow the image of fat people as lazy, unattractive, and willfully fat to go unchallenged. We are secretly grateful when there is someone in the room who is larger because we are able to escape the dubious distinction of being the fattest person present.

At age 55, I've gotten beyond having my feelings hurt by offensive comments about my weight. I still have my insecure days when I'm convinced that I look like a small tank, but most of the time I see myself in a more positive light. I have a standard comeback to rude comments when I feel that one is warranted, "I'm fat and you're stupid. I can always lose some weight." My friend Burmadeane came up with that one years ago.

However, most children and teenagers haven't made peace with their bodies and go through untold emotional pain as they receive a consistent message that they are worthless. Don't misunderstand, I think efforts to teach healthy eating and the joy of movement are needed. However, there is a big difference from conveying a message that being physically fit will enhance your enjoyment of life and conveying the message that being fat is akin to wearing a sign around your neck that says criticize me, emotionally batter me until I have no self esteem left and then tell me how it's for my own good.

I think that some of the animosity expressed by fat people towards healthy eating campaigns and efforts to combat childhood obesity (that word again!) masks hurt feelings and insecurities. To be fat in a culture obsessed with appearance is to be a fair target for ridicule and shame. It means being a teenage girl out with your friends and having some woman whom you have never met stop you and tell you that you are going to die young if you don't lose weight. It's having people become so obsessed with the issue of weight that they forget there is a human being in front of them and not an obesity problem.


Anonymous said...

I always feel like the issue of weight itself is far less spiritually significant than the issue of whether one medicates with food, and over what.
In that way it's both the most and least visibile of addictions. We see the physical aspect, but are we sufficiently acknowledging what that represents? Or does it even? I have never been sure. Getting drunk or doing drugs (how I medicated) gave me such a clear high--I never know whether it's a real of false equivalency to a relationship with too many calories.
I tend to believe one can very easily be overweight without even overeating much.
In any event, hats off to you for stepping out of the psychological closet. The shame associated with this can be absolutely toxic.

Elisabeth said...

Shame is the operative word here and we can conquer shame by speaking about it.

Everyone of us has difficulties about which we feel ashamed. It's in the nature of the human condition, but most can hide their shame.

No one sees the addiction, the fear, the anxiety whatever it is that assails most of us, but not so when it comes to being overweight.

Being over weight is visible to all and as you so rightly say here it is frowned upon, mocked and ridiculed from earliest days.

From earliest days little people learn that it's wrong to be big, size wise and a whole industry is built around it, whole industries in fact, weight watchers, and beauty salons, fashion houses, gyms etc etc. and the individual gets lost under the pressure.

Thank you for a brave and beautifully written post.

P. Hentermine said...

I can no longer tolerate full fat dairy products and I have totally eliminated products contains gluten.

Mark said...

"Editor" was me. I forgot I was signed in under that name, as I edit a blog for a program. said...

Ditto what Elizabeth wrote:

"Thank you for a brave and beautifully written post."

Thank you.

Sarcastic Bastard said...

I think you are beautiful just as you are.

I love your comeback, by the way.

Love you lots,


Big Mark 243 said...

You are a pretty deep lady, Sheria. You treat 'obesity' the way I do the term 'African-American'... at least in my mind, it seems that way!!

I think that it is part of being human that makes people pick on someone they percieve as vulnerable... and when it comes to physical appearance, it seems how a person looks is fair game.

The archetype of the thin, skinny girl is relatively new, right? That look didn't come over until Twiggy came across the pond and has spawned all kind of mutations, all towards an unnatural, manufactured standard of beauty.

While there does not seem to be the same kind of pressure on men, that is a surface thing, because men keep those kinds of insecurities to themselves. But judging from the fashion models with their chest implants and liposuction incisions, something MUST be going on with fellas!!

Whew... anywho, interesting read.

Anonymous said...

I weigh 120 & at 5ft 3 I sometimes feel fat. I went out on a first date once with a man who pointed out a woman who was probably about 140 & then he said: Why do women let themselves get like that?

WHAT? We have all gotten just a little bit too ignorant about the weight issue.

I admire your intellect; I'd take the extra weight to have the extra intellect. ~Mary

Octopus said...

Sheria - “People who would never disparage anyone based on race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation fail to even recognize the daily insults that they and others toss at fat people.”

Guilty as charged. I realized within a few hours after I left my first comment under Nance’s post that I had committed a faux pas. I realized it almost immediately but should have fessed up. I thought I was criticizing a website for dispensing misinformation about food and nutrition. I could have, should have selected a different example … like mercury in seafood for instance. Octopus was not thinking.

For me, this is a learning experience, and this is not the first time I have suffered bouts of tentacle in mouth disease. Last year, for instance, I wrote a post on climate change and lapsed into patriarchal gender terminology, i.e., man, mankind, etc. Within hours, my fellow cephalopod called me on the telephone to admonish me. I promptly rewrote the article.

To be a student, it takes humility to grow in intellectual, emotional, and spiritual terms, and it also helps to have a gifted mentor. I feel especially privileged in having you here. I learned a lot from this post, Oh hell, I’m talking about race again, far more than I thought I knew. I learned from this post too.

Unthinking does not necessarily mean uncaring. Sometimes when my comments are misplaced or go too far, I realize that intellectualizing amounts to little without emotional understanding, that feeling what another person feels from the inside means far more than factual knowledge alone.

Sheria, your posts are not merely intellectually brilliant, they help me feel and understand, and I always learn the most valuable lessons from you.

Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

Excellent entry. The key is the last paragraph and the fact that we are all human in whatever shell we reside.

Yasmin said...

Excellent entry as always, as kids we were conditioned to eating plenty of food without much thought to the healthier aspects and every plate had to be cleaned because there were "starving children in Africa" or some such far flung place.

Leaving anyhting on your plate was never an option, so we learned those habits at our mothers knee that to blame them but it's what they were also taught.

Now we know differently but society now insists that we have to skeletal to get ahead so the size zero's with the mammoth boobs etc even going as far to have surgery to fill their figures out all I wan to say is eat something for christ sakes.

I have to say Sheria I never thought of you as fat, becaue you are so much more that your outer body and from what comes from within looks pretty good to me, though I have to add in 3-4 yrs since I've known you have become much more trim but that does not take away from the fact that your a thinking woman and in many cultures that means goddess.


Sybil said...

Sheria, I love you. You write with such honesty. You FAT never your are a delightfully cuddley what child dosn't want to snuggle up to the likes of us !!
Anyway who say's if you are fat your are unfit and unhealthy. I may not be fit but that is for another reason altogether but I sure feel healthy enough and my Goddaughter was well shall we say...PLUMP !! but she could get up to the top of a hill faster than some "skinny ma linkies !!"
Much Love Sybil xx

Nance said...

On each of our co-posting blogs and back home on ML, I've left long comments lauding this post, lauding your comments, and expressing gratitude for the reminder to be sensitive on this subject.

THIS time, as I began to comment, I realized that-DANG-I was writing a whole 'nother blog post! So I shall.

This subject, the coming Food Fight and the particular complexities required in a campaign unprecedented in the history of this country or any other, is both deep and wide.

Boy, do I love our blog relationship, my smart, eloquent, and beautiful friend!

Suzan said...

Who could see anything in that gorgeous picture (not to mention your totally fabulous blog) except your overflowingly gracious soul?

Stay the same, girlfriend!


mrs. miss alaineus said...

this post really touched me as i am struggling with being labeled 'obese' by my insurance company, who has decided, based on the work of a statistician and not of a doctor, that i must lose between 60-80 pounds to be at an appropriate BMI for my height. at the dr monday i found out that my bmi puts me as a candidate for surgery.....yet i didnt feel 'fat' until all this hoopla started. i used to feel strong and muscular and capable but now based on data, i feel like a slug. plus, if i don't make an honest attempt to lose the weight, they are gonna charge me more for my insurance (which seems like discrimination to me and i have actually considered talking to the ACLU). I can't control that i have big boobs and wide hips that will always be at least a size 13. i cant control that i tend towards muscle, and shouldn't be punished for having healthy, dense bones. yet i am.

there needs to be a revolution to help people maintain a healthier weight, and i think the single payer health system could be the cornerstone of this movement towards total health. people can't be labeled like cuts of meat.

thank you again for an open and honest dialog.


Ms. Moon said...

I was a fat kid and have fought the weight battle my entire life. I find that when I do as I should- use my body in a physical way- and eat the way I should which is to do as Michael Pollen says, "Eat food, mostly plants, not too much," I can maintain a healthy weight without much struggle. But we're surrounded by so much which is NOT really food but "products" which we can eat and none of them are really anything we need, even if they are advertised and labeled as "healthy."
Our bodies have not evolved with our society and culture.
And our society and culture still judges us on on a less-evolved basis.
It's so complex.

Linda S. Socha said...

Ah Sheria
This is so beautifully written. Thank you. As I know you know you are so much more than your dress size