Cruise Control

So one of the things that cruises are notorious for —

Wait, did I ever mention that The Trip was a cruise? I can’t recall and I’m too damn lazy to go look it up. In case this is new news, and just to get this down on the record: The Trip was a cruise.

Display on the first cruise day, in the Windjammer (the buffet restaurant)So anyhow, one of the things that cruises are notorious for is the quantity and quality of the food you’re served. Actually, I’m not enough of a hard-cross cruise traveler to know whether all cruises are known for having good food, or if it’s more like the same rep an all-you-can-eat Vegas buffet has: food that’s notable  more for the available amount than for the flavor profile. (Even if most cruise ships have food that’s more adequate than exceptional, the ship we were on is on this list of the “best cruise ships for foodies,” so trust me when I say that not only was there tons of food available, it was tasty, tasty stuff.)

Now, there’s a whole lot of rhetoric out there about how it’s inevitable to gain weight on a cruise, with various fat-panic/fat-shaming suggestions on how to approach that “problem.” For example:

  1. controlling your on-ship behavior to minimize weight gain
  2. doing a little prophylactic weight loss ahead of time to build your “buffer zone”
  3. going on x, y, or z post-vacation diet plan
  4. deliberately infecting yourself with a parasite or the norovirus in order to stay skinny

(Okay, maybe I made that last one up. And, for once, no, I won’t be providing links to sources. I don’t feel like actively participating in Diest Culture, and you can find this kind of shit so easily with the simplest of google searches.)

It was an interesting comparison across the years, thinking back to the first-ever cruise Mr. Mezzo and I took back in 2007, right when I was at the verge of learning about fat acceptance and adopting that perspective for myself and my worldview. That first cruise also had lots of good food. I indulged, and I know I gained weight — though at this distance, I can’t recall what the number was. And I felt so ashamed for all of it. For my lack of dietary discipline, for my laziness in not becoming a cruise-ship gym-rat, and then for my inability to diet and lose the weight after I got back on land.

martinisThis time around, I decided adamantly against imbibing a guilt-and-shame chaser with any of the meals, martinis, or desserts I had while vacationing. I have no idea if my food was any less rich or sugar-laden this time around as in ’07. (I’d guess not much appreciable difference, then and now.) But I do know I’m feeling lots better than I did 7 years ago — if for no other reason than the fact that I’m not mired deep in a self-shaming and self-punishment cycle. ‘Cos honestly, when I let those voices loose in my head, it’s never to my benefit. Spiritually, emotionally, or physically.

Having said that, I am feeling a bit logy after-the-fact. I’m guessing, based on my HCG experience from the spring, that I’m mostly feeling the after-effects of the dramatic uptick in added sugar during those two weeks (read: desserts, martinis and Belgian chocolate). And I’m kind of fascinated by the way, as far as I can tell, that my spring detox journey helped me more attuned to my body so I could notice this change, but my history of fat acceptance work and my ongoing growth around overall self-acceptance has in a place where I’m not upset or blaming myself about it.

belgian-chocolateInstead, I’m just quietly moving back to some of the cooking routines and rituals I used during the spring, adopting something that’s closer to “clean eating” than I was doing recently. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not on some extreme ascetic kick. Beyond my own natural sense of fullness, I am setting zero limits on the quantity of food I’m eating.  I’m even having a little taste of “added sugar” each night after dinner (I say again: Belgian chocolate. You don’t think we were coming home without a small stash of that to enjoy, did you?)

I’m just trying to listen to my body. And if my body is craving greens and chicken rather than my cruise staples of pasta and red meat, I’ma good with that.

Plus a little of that Belgian chocolate. Yummy and absolutely guilt-free.


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Fruit buffet:







When the Fat Lady Sings

BrunnhildeI am about a month behind the times in commenting on this, but back near the middle-to-end of May, I saw an NPR post about a distressing batch of reviews responding to Tara Erraught’s performance as Octiavian in Der Rosenkavalier at the Glyndenbourne Festival.

As summarized by Anastasia Tsioulcas (from a compilation gathered by Norman Lebrecht on his blog Slipped Disc),

What is stunningly apparent is just how much a woman’s body matters onstage — way more, if these five critics are to be believed, than her voice, her technique, her musicality or any other quality. . . . Bonus disgrace points to [Rupert] Christiansen [of The Telegraph], by the way, for going after the other lead in Rosenkavalier for having the temerity to be a working parent: “Kate Royal … has recently sounded short of her best and stressed by motherhood.” Kudos for pinpointing motherhood as the source of Royal’s putative shortcomings. She couldn’t possibly have been overbooked, or feeling under the weather — couldn’t have been any other reason, right?

Tsioulcas observes that the lone dissenting voice in this chorus of fat-shaming was a female opera critic; she also does a bit of counterpoint to see if these critics are as likely to mention issues of weight/stature when reviewing the work of male classical singers. (They’re not. In other news: water is wet.)

As tempting as it might be to reduce this controversy to some simplistic formula like “men critics are bad patriarchal meanies while women support each other,” that kind of reductiveness is not entirely what I see going on here. To shift to Maclean’s summary of the point-counterpoint:

Elle magazine accused critics of “fat-shaming” Erraught, who isn’t even particularly heavy by normal standards. It seemed to many like the culmination of at least a decade of unrealistic expectations for opera singers’ looks, especially among women. . . . Alice Coote, a star English mezzo-soprano, blogged on the music news site Slipped Disc to defend Erraught and remind critics that opera is “all about the human voice.” And Elle’s Natalie Matthews wondered “why bring up her weight at all?” finding the issue irrelevant to opera singing.

Others argue that it isn’t irrelevant at all. They fear that the view expressed by Coote and others could bring back the days when singers like Luciano Pavarotti were cast for singing alone, even in parts they were physically unfit for. “I don’t believe opera is all about singing,” says Wayne Gooding, editor of Opera Canada. “It’s all about music theatre. There are many reasons why somebody may not be appropriate for a particular role: wrong kind of voice, or wrong timbre, too old or too young, and yes, wrong look.” [Conrad L.] Osborne adds that “physical appropriateness, within reason, is a perfectly legitimate artistic consideration.”

(Okay, yeah, that passage also lends itself a bit to gender bifurcation, considering that once again the voices defending Erraught are female, and the voices defending body-policing are male. But that wasn’t what I was intending to look at. Move along, nothing to see here…)

Let me hone in on the pieces I wanted to chew over: the emphasis of opera as musical theater, and the tricky territory of artistic vision in creating a stage production of any show. As Anne Midgette summarized last week in the Washington Post*– the column that got me thinking that maybe, weeks later, it still was worth writing about this:

On one side of this debate are those who hold that opera is a musical experience and therefore looks are not as important as sound (witness the success of extremely large singers such as Luciano Pavarotti and Montserrat Caballé). On the other are those who aver that opera is also a theatrical experience and that appearance matters. Guess what. You’re both right. I’ve been at opera performances where the staging was awful but the singing was glorious, and nothing else mattered. I’ve been at opera performances where the production was so compelling that I was willing to overlook so-so singing. These things have to be taken on a case-by-case basis. Any time you make rules about what art “has” to be, you’re doing it wrong.

I do want there to be room for artists and creators and theater companies to be able to communicate a unique vision in their artworks, whether that be a painting, a poem, or a stage production. And it’s an uncomfortable truth that if your artistic creation has any focus to it, then there are likely other viable choices and representations that have been excluded in the creation of a particular emphasis.

Off the top of my head, I can think of three vastly different productions of Macbeth — one I attended, one was directed by a friend of mine, and the third had a friend as a member of the acting company. They all had fascinating “hooks” to them — one a meditation on ethnic violence with stagecraft that alluded to the Serbo-Croatian wars in the 1990s; one an all-female cast that thoughtfully turned the all-male productions of Shakespeare’s day inside-out; and the final one an exploration of the legacy of European colonization and of military dictatorship. Each one of these was a worthwhile lens through which to explore the original text, and there is absolutely no way that all three of those lens could have co-existed in a single production. So maybe it’s perfectly legitimate for a director to prioritize whatever he wants to prioritize in casting a show, whether it’s weighing voice over looks or vice-versa.


There’s a reason I used the gendered pronoun “he” in talking about directors, above. HuffPo: “According to Fandor, women make up a total of five percent — five percent! — of the directors in Hollywood, down from nine percent in 1998.” The Guardian: “Only 24% of directors employed by the theatres during 2011-12 were women. Looking at creative crews as a whole (directors, designers, sound designers, lighting designers and composers) only 23% of the total employed were women.”

To quote Midgette again:

The reason that “Taragate” has blossomed into such a focus of opinion and argument is that it encapsulates current flash points in our society: how we talk about weight and think about weight and how we look at and evaluate women and women’s bodies. . . . [T]here’s also a disingenuous way in which male critics (and the majority of performing-arts critics are still men) protest that it is perfectly relevant to criticize a woman not for what she does, but for how she looks. . . .

I will defend the right of critics to have strong opinions and unpopular opinions and to offer blunt and unflattering descriptions of performers. And I continue to aver that people would be even more upset if critics went away and there were no criticism at all. But it’s naive in a #YesAllWomen world to deny the implicit sexism of the discourse here. And to offer it is less an offense to our womanhood than to our intelligence.

Are there times that the emphasis on physicality can have artistic integrity to it, and if so, when and under what conditions? And when is that emphasis just another vehicle to reinforce patriarchal/misogynist cultural standards?


One of the reasons this all has been so top-of-mind for me is that I am trying to decide whether to audition for a show this upcoming week. It’s been a production/audition cycle that’s been on my radar since I first started thinking about community theater a month ago, and I still haven’t figured out what I’m going to do.

I’ve felt the pain of not receiving a part, knowing (and sometimes even having it acknowledged) that I was a better singer and actor than the woman cast, but also knowing that the woman cast was thinner and prettier than me. And so I wonder whether there’s any chance of goodness stemming from bringing my “overweight” body into the audition hall, or if that’s just such a set-up for judgement and rejection that it’s not even worth engaging in.

I’d better figure this out soon. ‘Cos if I’m going to do it, I need to choose in time to actually make the audition window. And if I choose against auditioning, I want that to be an actual conscious choice, rather than me dithering until the window of opportunity closes on its own and I never actually had to take ownership of my life and choices.

This lady’s still (and forever?) fat. Is she singing? The jury’s out.

* See, they do have some respectable journalists on staff!


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A Culture of Shame

What are all these military people going to do when they lose their jobs? And then I thought, well, hang on: we’ve got all these service industries now, things like psychotherapy, and the military approach to psychotherapy would really be kind of perfect. Really efficient and fast! You know, “Listen, you are nothing. You are a worm. And if you don’t get that mother complex solved by 0400 hours, you are dead meat!”

~~ Laurie Anderson, The Mysterious “J”

Gunnery seargent hartmannWhen I was writing about Fat Acceptance/HAES a couple nights ago and had to stop midstream, as it were, I was very aware that I hadn’t really said everything about fat shaming that I would want to. I mentioned the ways that fat shaming carries negative health effects for the target of such stigma, but I didn’t really unpack the general insanity of fat shaming. Or, to be more precise, the bananas nature of how fat shaming is usually justified as a means of informing/inspiring some poor fattie into losing weight and getting healthier.

Of course, those two concepts don’t even really go together, because weight /= health, but I’m using that phrasing to indicate the double level of bananas that’s going on here. First is the delusion that weight and health are equated, but even if that particular myth were true, I still trip over the insanity of the expectation that shaming and stigmatizing someone will inspire them to make positive change in their life.

Now, just in case you’re silly enough to think that engaging in fat-shaming will inspire some one to get on the healthy-eating-and-exercise train, let me give you a quick hit to a study from back in 2007:

We have seen over the years that it does not work to make people feel worse about their bodies. The data are striking — talking about weight, worrying too much about diet, focusing on it increases risk not only of eating disorders, but also of being overweight.

So, no: shaming not effective. (As Kate Harding once said: Special Delivery from the Duh Truck.)

One more thing: considering how steeped our culture is in anti-fat rhetoric, does a fat-shamer really think that his or her observation of my fatness is something that’s going to be news to me — or to any fat person?

So I’ll admit: considering that these two notions — 1)  fat people already know they’re fat; 2)  shaming doesn’t do anything to build positive choices, but instead just beats someone down — are so very common sense indeed, I’ve pretty much assumed that anyone who does indulge in fat shaming (no matter how prettily it’s couched in concern trolling language), is just kinda being an asshole.

Fat Heffalump pretty fully eviscerated that particular behavior pattern a few months ago when she pointed out that You’re not the First to Tell a Fat Person…  Taking direct aim at concern trolling and claims that “I’m just worried for your health!” she has this to say:

No you’re not.  If you were, you would be standing beside me fighting fat stigma and advocating for equitable health treatment for all.  You don’t give a damn about the health and wellbeing of fat people.  You don’t care that fat people can’t get treatment for everything from the common cold through to cancer because they are all blamed on their fatness and they’re just given a diet, not actual treatment.  You don’t care that the public vilification of fat people causes depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.  You don’t care that fat people are dying because they are so shamed by the medical profession that they can’t bring themselves to go back to the doctor when they are ill.  Claiming you care about our wellbeing is a lie.

And the inimitable Regan at Dances with Fat more recently pointed out that Being a Jerk is Not Actually Brave:

We are aware that you think “Fat bad, thin good, shame the fatties grunt grunt grunt”. We can hear this message  386,170 times every year.  I’ve been fat for 17 years, which means I’ve heard it around 6,564,890 times.  How can you possibly think that hearing it 6,564,891 times is going to improve my life?   Being 6,564,891 does not make you special or brave, it makes you one more doody in a big ole pile of poo.  It is an act of hubris that is almost beyond understanding to not only be a bully, but to ask for credit by claiming that your bullying is an act of bravery. […]

Or you could swim against the stream and treat fat people like the intelligent human beings we are- not like confused misguided sheep who need your strong guidance – and encourage others to do the same.  Let there be a fat person who only hears 386,169 messages about their body because you refused to pile on the shame and body hate.  That’s brave.

But, if I can come down off my own high horse for a moment, it’s worth mentioning that — however common sense it may feel to me that shaming has no positive effect on a person or situation — the fact remains that we do a lot of shaming in this culture.

And not just about fatness. Almost any aspect of life that comes up for judgement and it deemed to “need changing” comes up for that Nike drill sergeant (“Just do it!”) so beautifully satirized by Laurie Anderson, above. And maybe I’m right, sitting in my own little superiority-tower: maybe we’re all just assholes.

Or maybe there’s some deeper delusion we’re all trapped in, to honestly halfway think that the way to change a life’s path is to try and block off the “undesirable” option with a pile of shit and shame.

Something worth further examination.


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Some Fat Acceptance/HAES Basics

(Apologies to anyone who’s a Facebook friend — some of this will be a re-hash of the links I’ve been posting there today.)

It’s occurred to me today that because I’ve been thinking about fat acceptance & health at every size concepts for a few years now, I sometimes talk about these concepts in a very “I hold these truths to be self-evident” way. And maybe, instead, it’s worth unpacking just a little bit about my perspective on questions of fatness and health.

Now to be sure, plenty of bloggers have already dropped the mic on this again and again and again, which may be part of my reticence tonight. After all, why cover ground that has really truly been covered with great insight before?


Maybe because the things things these writers have said are worth saying again. And again and again and again, until people finally stop all the fat-shaming and masking their superiority in concern trolling and their obesity panic and bleeping get it.

So here’s my own little piece of the mythbusting puzzle.

Most of what “everyone knows” about fat is pretty much wrong.

To start off, being fat is not automatically unhealthy. Fat people actually tend to live a bit longer, and are more likely to survive cardiac events. There’s also a fair bit of evidence that a lot of health problems supposedly “caused” by fatness might instead be a result of dieting and weight cycling. There is some evidence that certain health risks are tied to having a very specific type of adipose tissue in your body (visceral fat), but guess what? Thin people AND fat people can have too much visceral fat hurting their organs, and unless you’re Superman, I defy you to tell me you have the kind of x-ray vision to know who’s packing VF and who isn’t.

Warning: that last article I linked may give you stabby pains behind the eyes because after reporting on a study that pretty clearly states that the important factors are metabolic health and visceral fat, the author still ends with the concluding thought that these results should not be taken as “an excuse to remain overweight or obese.” Because even though the study shows obesity as a non-factor in measuring health, it’s still somehow a health risk. (Just because?) Ah, rumor-mongering science journalism at its finest.

And while the illustrious staff writers at Time have left such tempting fruit, let’s take on this whole balderdash that implies one’s body shape and size are completely under one’s Ayn Rand-ian will. Because, statistically speaking, diets don’t work. Sorry Not-sorry to burst your bubble on this one: they don’t. And they do incredible harm along the way. The weight loss industry, has a catastrophic “success rate” and an evil jiu jitsu way of transfering its own failings out onto the customer so they feel guilty about it all. Well, to quote Golda Poretsky at Body Love Wellness: “It’s bullshit and it’s bad for ya.”

As for healthy diet and exercise choices, yes they do indeed matter and they can make a big difference in reducing the effect of various “fat-related” conditions like cholesterol levels or blood pressure. But here’s the funny thing: those conditions get reversed independent of any actual weight loss being caused by diet and exercise choices. And considering the negative health effects of being fat-shamed and stigmatized, and considering the fact that fat people have a dramatically lower chance of even getting decent health care on account of the prejudicial attitudes of medical professionals, it’s probably best to steer clear of claiming that a fat person’s health challenges are being caused by weight. ‘Cos I’m seeing a lot of confounding causality here.

I need to get to bed at a reasonable hour, so I’m pulling the cart to a stop here. With one final thought.

Even if fat were unhealthy and if being fat were entirely under an individual’s control, every fat person on this planet would be deserving of fundamental human respect, acceptance and compassion. Just because of their humanity.

The heart-breaking thing is how little respect, acceptance, or compassion fat people get in this culture today —  even though fat isn’t unhealthy and it can’t reliably be controlled.

Back in My Yoga Pants

Today’s schedule is entirely in the care of my detox/consciousness center. Since I’m with family today, I am garbed in my usual course weekend ensemble of yoga pants, layers and a light sweatshirt. Very different from yesterday’s ensemble.

The doctors’ office down here we used to get my HCG prescription markets HCG through the weight loss lens. Despite that, I give them much honor for being energetically cleaner about it than the places I researched in Boston. To my perception, the tone on the Boston places was all about glamour and enhancing women’s attractiveness to the patriarchy — which is why HCG was bundled in with Botox and laser peels. The doctor here in Atlanta seems more to speaking from a place of saying “this is really good for your body and it’ll help you lose weight!”

Now, there are lots of problematics with any line of discourse that draws a strong connective line between “healthy behaviors” and “weight loss.”  This was pretty brilliantly deconstructed over at Dances With Fat back in January, so rather than rehashing the subject tonight, I’ll content myself to providing a link and a brief quote from Ragen’s insightful analysis:

There is so much confusion about weight and health.  That causes people to confuse weight loss behaviors with healthy behaviors and that, in turn,  causes people to do unhealthy things under the false belief that they will be healthier when they get thinner no matter what they have to do to make it happen.  The next thing you know someone’s doctor has convinced them that the healthiest thing that they can do is have their stomach amputated.

Still, the cultural delusion equating healthy behavior with weight loss is really strong, and there’s a deep deep assumption that almost any woman in this culture wants to lose weight — and, statistically speaking, that assumption isn’t all that far off. So, given the desire of the doctor’s office to stay in business, I get why their marketing plays into the weight loss thing. Honestly, it would be naive of me to expect anything else.

Coming straight out of that cultural construct, it’s not real surprising that my intake form asked various questions about my history as a fatty: highest weight, lowest weight, past techniques attempted  in the inevitable quest to be skinny*, when and how my “weight problems” began, and what my current weight loss goal is for the HCG.

When I got my intake form on Wednesday to fill out, I wasn’t especially surprised to see this line of questioning. Okay, let’s be blunter: I wasn’t surprised one iota.

Despite my utter lack of surprise, it was fascinating to watch how hair-trigger my defensiveness and anger was around that section of the form. There’s the one in me that bitterly knows the pain of being fat-shamed and all the subtle destructiveness of fat microagressions. As my eyes took in the start of these questions and as my mind processed the reality that yes, we were coming up against THAT section, I could literally feel that one armoring up. “Here it comes,” she said, steeling herself. Steeling myself.

I left most of that section blank when I filled out the form Wednesday night.

So yesterday morning, as I was getting dressed, I was super conscious of how I was deliberately costuming or armoring myself for the doctor’s visit. Great sweater, skinny jeans, rockin’ boots. A indisputably Good Look for me.

Nope, my clothes were saying. I am not your self-hating fatty caricature. I am a woman learning to love herself who knows exactly how to dress so I feel confident and centered in my skin.

And with that extra bit of protection, I was able to be calm and matter-of-fact when the doctor and I went over my intake form with all its lacuna in my “history of fatness.” I was absolutely plain-spoken and honest about having a focus on health and detoxing, and not caring what my number on the scale is (or what it’ll be 4 weeks from now). And the medical staff acknowledged that they have clients before coming from a similar place.

I’m doing a lot in this journey to let connection and care in, to practice where and how I can be vulnerable, rather than staying perpetually turtled up in the psychic armor I so often try to wear.

Yesterday was an fascinating reminder that sometimes a little bit of protection is the perfect dose of self-care: something that allowed me to face an unfamiliar and somewhat triggering circumstance for the purpose of starting this detox movement. In other words: allowing myself the armoring movement around the little thing (my distaste for the culture’s weight loss obsession) gave me the space to remain open to the BIG thing (the HCG journey and the larger detox exploration).

That’s a tradeoff I’m entirely at peace with.

* Because as I’ve observed before, to not want to be skinny is pretty damned inconceivable.