One of the main living-my-life endeavors that has occupied my time and energy during my “forgetting how to write” patch was doing a show. Yes, after all was said and done, I got a part in that Sondheim show I blogged about back in May, when I was convinced I hadn’t passed muster. Go figure.
The show was Sondheim’s Company, which, for the uninitiated, circles on a group of friends in 1970 NYC: one single guy/womanizer (Bobby), 3 of his girlfriends, and 5 married couples who use their get-togethers with Bobby as a way to ease/escape whatever tensions are going on within the marital bond.
Back during JALC’s first lifespan, I took some small enjoyment from watching my WordPress dashboard to see what sorts of google searches brought readers to my posts. (I even used that as an excuse for a quick one-liner-type post way back when.) Google has since redone its programming, so there’s much less of that possible on JALC’s current life cycle.
Nowadays, most everything is hidden behind an “unknown search terms” privacy curtain. I haven’t the slightest level of understanding as to why certain terms making it out from behind the curtain to appear on my dashboard, but since I know the dashboard list is a mysteriously reduced and redacted version of the “real” list, I just haven’t really paid that dashboard feature much attention this time around.
Until I got back form my trip Sunday night and saw a new phrase in that screen field:
we hate ragen chastain
In case you don’t know, Ragen Chastain is a fat activist, someone I would say is out helping lead the movement. She has a book, an active speaking calendar and is currently co-organizing an online Fat Activism Conference that will take place from August 22-24. And she has a blog, a blog that is one of my go-to sources to continue expanding my awareness and evolving my thinking around fat acceptance and health at every size.
I would wager that Chastain and I wouldn’t see eye to eye on everything. For example, my guess is that she would consider my recent HCG journey simply to be a capitulation to diet culture, even though I contextualized it for myself as a detox experience. And, you know what? If she did have some questions about my motivations, and how mixed they might have been, I can respect that. ‘Cos Gaia knows, I had to do a lot of my own inner discernment to keep unwinding my old weight loss programming so that I could keep the goals of my HCG journey distinct from losing weight. And the uncomfortable reality is that no matter how hard I worked to keep my own focus in the detox lens, my decision to do HCG meant that I financially supported a company that makes its living off of diet culture, women’s insecurity, and size policing. (Ugh.)
So yeah, I can respect how Chastain and I might have differing opinions on some things. But the level of puzzlement and shock I felt about that search term being used to find this blog is largely driven by the great level of respect I feel for Chastain, her work, her voice. (My best guess, looking back at my old posts, is that the phrase must have made contact with one of my own FA/HAES rants where I quoted one of Chastain’s posts and then talked about “hating” some fat-shaming shenanigan-or-other.)
The other piece of my upset about having been, even ever-so-peripherally, connected to that phrase is the general sense of despair and discouragement I feel about the ugly way that people treat each other, out here on the Interweb.
Often, I see the most virulent, soul-staining ugliness in misogynist response to feminist writing of some sort or other. For further commentary on this subject, see Chastain’s blog, Shakesville, Jezebel, Pacific Standard, Forbes, and the Washington Post.* To quote Shakesville:
Every time, the people with whom I share this experience express shock. It is always, always, a surprise that a woman who does public advocacy is subjected to this sort of abuse.
And it shouldn’t be. Because every single woman I know who does public advocacy is subjected to it. . . .
And then we are told not to talk about it. We are told that we empower the people who do this to us. No. NO. Victims do not empower abusers. People who refuse to acknowledge that abuse do. People who tell victims to be silent do.
I am not going to be silent. I am tired of people being surprised. I am tired of hearing “I’m sorry this happens to you.” I don’t want shock and I don’t want pity.
I want your fucking awareness and I want your fucking anger.
I want us to talk about the real costs of being a woman who does public advocacy. I want us to acknowledge how the costs of providing a safe space is that we stand on the line and absorb massive amounts of abuse. I want us to make noise about the people who create an atmosphere in which women are discouraged from participation.
And I want people to stop telling me to be quiet about it.
In addition to the politicized, misogynist harassment, there’s the general garden-variety flavors of awfulness.
Actress Zelda Williams, daughter of comedy great Robin Williams who died Monday from an apparent suicide, has quit social media after receiving taunts from Internet trolls.
Williams abandoned her Twitter and Instagram accounts Tuesday after saying at least two people were sending her Photoshopped images of her father’s dead body and other disturbing messages.
“I’m sorry. I should’ve risen above,” she wrote in her final tweet. “Deleting this from my devices for a good long time, maybe forever. Time will tell. Goodbye.”
The episode proves that, with the anonymity of the Internet, some people will be horrible no matter the situation. (CNN)
Though I don’t know enough of the facts to say this for sure, I can’t help wondering whether Williams’s daughter was receiving more online harassment than his two sons, and whether she was targeted for that higher level of harassment because — well, because we live in a fucking kyriarchy, that’s because. And if my vague suspicions are true, well then there’s a very fine line indeed between “garden-variety” Internet awfulness and the misogynist endeavor to silence women’s voices.
I don’t often use the word “hate” to describe my feelings for people. Cultural trends, political positions, social patterns, even individual actions — those I’ll use the term for often enough, but not so much for referencing an individual person, in their entirety. So suffice it to say that I’m really kinda hating the way that JALC was connected (however temporarily, however peripherally) to someone on just that sort of hate-filled trip.
* PS– Am I the only one who found it odd that the WaPo’s main angle was to talk about how online harassment was viewed by or affecting the female writer’s male partner? I’m not saying, I’m just saying…
South Park: http://designaterobertson.blogspot.com/2012/05/your-south-park-tigers.html
I’m very healthy, except for my weight.
It all started because of the interactive at the science museum. It was in an exhibit promoting healthy nutrition and physical activity, and it used proportioned weights to help indicate what sorts and durations of physical exertion would be enough to “burn off” particular food choices. You know, a reproduction of the old fiction about calories in/calories out.
And I tried to keep quiet — I really did. I was with someone I didn’t know all that well, and, for better or for worse, I’m a wimpy enough “activist” that there are lots of times when I choose not to say the many many feminist or fat acceptance-y things that cross my mind in any given moment.
But I just couldn’t stop myself. Because to have that kind of destructive fiction presented as if it were Truth in a goddamn science museum was just beyond the beyond as far as what I could take.
In some of my earlier FA/HAES rants, I’ve talked about the ways that dietary and exercise choices can make a positive impact on your health. (Am rushed now, so will provide citations at appropriate places throughout this post in an update sometime this weekend.) I’m not foolish enough to say that it works for everyone all the time (see the bouquet of sidebars/disclaimers I put down below the dividing line), but I know from my HCG journey that changing my dietary habits has positively impacted my own health. And my individual experience has been corroborated by some of the studies I linked in those earlier rants.
However. The calories in/calories out bullshit and the cultural weight obsession are just so damn destructive. Because they keep people’s focus on the wrong damn thing!
Let’s say you want to improve your health so you decide to shake up your diet and activity routine in whatever way works for you. Eat more fruits and veggies. Eliminate/lessen added sugars. Train for a marathon. Start biking for some of your errand-running. Here’s the not-often-enough-acknowledged truth of one’s genetic set point: those lifestyle changes could be having all kinds of positive impact on your health without making much (if any) alteration in the number on the scale. So, because of all the false conflation between weight and health, because of all the ways we’ve been lied to about how certain calorie/food/exercise equations are unshakeable, it is entirely possible that someone who’s making great and positive changes in their health will instead feel like an absolute and utter failure because the number on the scale isn’t moving.
And so they might give up, or turn towards drastic weight loss methods that are undeniably detrimental to one’s health. And that’s just heartbreaking to me.
“I’m very healthy, except for my weight,” she said to me.
“Then I’d say you’re healthy. End of sentence,” I replied.
Here’s the small bouquet of sidebars/disclaimers.
- No one owes the world to have “health” as their top priority, or anywhere in the top 10 list.
- People who have chosen to prioritize health (to whatever degree) can set their own definitions for what’s healthy “enough” — whether that’s five servings of produce per day, or five servings of produce per month.
- Diet and exercise choices often make a positive impact on health, but there are lots of factors outside our control, so don’t you dare getting all snooty and superior about anyone who faces health challenges you have been spared.
Another catch up post for Writing 101, done in place of Day 20. (Day 20 is supposed to be a long post — which for me is rather a scary prospect — and so the “due date” is Monday.) Any how, here’s the Day 12 prompt:
Today, write a post with roots in a real-world conversation. For a twist, include foreshadowing.
Mr. Mezzo and I spent the weekend up at the lake house with my Mom. One of the benefits of moving to Boston was the fact that we can have more regular weekend access to the place, so the promising weather forecast made it seem like a great time for the first visit of the season. Besides, what with yesterday being the fifth anniversary of my father’s way-sudden passing, it just felt best for Mom to have company rather than to be left alone with possibly-gloomy thoughts.
Not that we talked about any of that. Not the anniversary, not about my motivations for coming up this weekend, not about what she might be feeling/remembering, not about my own feelings and memories. None of that was discussed.
Though truth be told, I didn’t expect anything different on that score. There’s a reason for all those cliches about emotionally reticent, laconic New Englanders. And the superficiality of conversation among families in the corporate/country club set.
But I did tell Mr. Mezzo, as we were breezing through the Hampton Tolls Friday night, that I was wondering whether Mom would say anything about my weight loss. After all, if my body looks different enough for hairdressers and co-workers to notice, one would think that the change would be obvious enough for one’s own flesh and blood to be aware.
Mr. Mezzo predicted that she wouldn’t say anything. At least, he figured she wasn’t going to bring up the topic independently. As he explained it to me when I asked, he thought she might say something if the subject came up organically, but he knew he wasn’t gonna bring it up, and he knew for damn sure I wasn’t gonna bring it up. So, he concluded, silence was likely to rule.
I wasn’t so sure. Yes, she’s been nice and polite about not nagging me for becoming fat, but it felt like there might be a chance of her going to the super-enthusiastic place about how much better I look now, how great it is that I’ve finally gotten thinner — the kind of compliments I wrote about previously, and the kind which would inspire an internal wry smile and a silent monologue about “Oh, so there’s the judgement about my body type she’s been polite enough to keep hidden all this time.”
So I just wasn’t sure whether or not the topic would come up, and then I wasn’t entirely sure how explicitly I was going to talk about my detox journey if the topic arose. (Somehow, I don’t imagine my mother being all that open to the subject. I rather imagine her being in the whole narrow-minded Industrial Age “quackwatch” kind of place.)
But when all was said and done, I needn’t have wasted any time wondering or rehearsing what I might say. Because Mr. Mezzo’s prognostication won out and the topic of my body shrinkage remained as subterranean as any consideration of my father’s passing.
I am mostly deeply relieved at that turn of events.
But I am aware of a small part in me that is disappointed.
I get it. I know I still carry a small kernel of my younger self with me, that little girl who naturally wishes for her parents to show their affection and approval.* And even if there’s lots of reasons that I find compliments about weight loss to be deeply problematic, I know my mom’s not even remotely aware of FA/HAES, and she’s really not likely to be agreeing with that perspective. So, that part of me which yearns for acknowledgement would kinda sorta be okay with taking in a problematic compliment, because sometimes that feels better than no compliment at all.
[SIDEBAR] There’s also a whole other angle in contemplating how deep the cultural programming around body size goes. Kate Harding once wrote about the “cognitive dissonance” phase of the fat acceptance journey, “thinking it made perfect sense that the OBESITY CRISIS hype was way overblown, and even if it weren’t, dieting doesn’t work anyway — but still wanting to lose weight.” And Cat observes that for a fat person to want to lose weight “is the sane choice when you live in a world that finds you disgusting.” So, I also wonder if there’s a piece of me that would kinda sorta be okay with weight loss compliments on account of the residual weight of all that cultural baggage. [/SIDEBAR]
So whichever way you slice it, there’s lots of feels, some of it self-contradictory. ‘Twas ever thus.
* I’m guessing I’m not the only one, but I’m not going to assume I know about anyone’s soul but my own.
One of my other weekend activities was to get a somewhat-overdue haircut (and a color touch-up, though that was more on-time).
I had a haircut scheduled two weeks ago, but my hairdresser got sick, and I just decided to grit my teeth and wait till the Saturday coloring appointment I already had on the books.
The upshot of all this scheduling information is that my last haircut prior to this one was the weekend before I flew down to begin the HCG protocol. So, my hairdresser hadn’t seen me since this whole journey began. And I guess I look different enough now for it to be noticeable.
“You look great! Have you lost weight?”
Welcome to the compliment minefield.
[HAES/FA Basics Break]
Just for clarity, let’s recap some of the reasons why this particular “compliment” is deeply problematic and not very complimentary.
As a start, here’s Regan Chastain at Dances with Fat:
People who undertake weight loss attempts are often encouraged to motivate themselves by hating their current bodies. When they are successful at short term weight loss, they are encouraged to look back at their “old body” with shame, scorn, and hatred. And that’s a big problem.
Not just because at some point the person will probably start to think “if everyone is talking about how great I look now, how did they think I looked before?” but also because the vast majority of people gain back their weight in two to five years. Then they are living in a body that they taught themselves to hate and be ashamed of, remembering all of those compliments. Yikes.
Tracy I at Fit, Feminist, and (almost) Fifty unpacks some of the deeper implications of this compliment, and its collusion within a structure of the Foucauldian panopticon:*
It reinforces the idea that it’s okay to let people know that we are monitoring and judging their bodies. One thing that shocked my friend in the story I opened with was that she really didn’t even know the person who commented on her weight. And yet the person felt completely entitled to say something. What kind of a twisted world do we live in where the state of our bodies is fair game for comments from whoever feels like making them?
Finally, here’s a meditation from Michelle Parrinello-Cason at Balancing Jane on the question of what exactly we’re praising when we compliment weight loss.
What if I say “Have you lost weight? You’re looking great!” to someone who has been starving himself for weeks. Now I’ve reinforced that behavior.
What if I tell someone she looks great when she’s actually suffering weight loss as a side effect from a deadly disease (as happened to this woman’s friend who was suffering from Lupus).
We don’t know what we’re praising if we’re only praising a result. If our goal is to encourage people to take care of themselves and to be healthy, then shouldn’t we make sure that we’re actually encouraging people to, you know, take care of themselves and be healthy?
If someone gets up an hour early and went for a run, we should praise that. That’s hard work.
If someone cooked healthy meals all week long for themselves and their family, we should praise that. That’s hard work. [. . .]
If we rethink the way that we give praise, we can begin to restructure our norms. If we praise hard work instead of outcomes and acknowledge beauty wherever we see it and the people who are doing that hard work don’t get any thinner, we’re still reinforcing positive, healthy changes. Isn’t that what we really want to value as a culture?
For all that I agree with these multiple analyses about the problems behind my hairdresser’s statement, I also agree with Golda Poretsky at Body Love Wellness about the root cause of these “compliments”:
I think people are, in some ways, nearly literally blinded by weight loss culture. So when they read something or someone as beautiful they make an automatic connection between beauty and weight loss. I really don’t blame people for that. I think that most of us who have woken up from weight loss culture have been truly hurt by it (or have great empathy for someone close to us who has been hurt by it), so people who haven’t had that experience often just see our current weight loss culture as normal.
So the question becomes, what do you do in the moment? Depending on the context and your relationship to that person, you can handle the compliment of “You look great. Did you lose weight?” in many ways.
Among the options Poretsky lists are saying a simple thanks, setting a boundary against public discussion of your weight, or using humor to redirect the conversation. In the moment on Saturday morning, I didn’t select any of those precise options, though I feel as if I kind of rolled them all together, a bit.
I thanked her and said I’d been doing this detox diet for a number of weeks, limiting my food to lean proteins and fresh produce. I was sure some weight loss had occurred as a side effect of the detoxing, but that’s not my focus.
“Do you have an ultimate weight loss goal?”**
“Nope,” I repeated, “that’s not my focus.“
And that’s where we left the topic. Me wanting to acknowledge and appreciate her desire to say something nice and kind, while also jiu-jitsuing my way out of the specific value proposition (thin=beautiful=virtuous; fat=ugly=lazy cow) she was unconsciously peddling.
* I stumbled across this blog tonight looking for good links to use here and I am already head over heels in love with Tracy’s intelligence and insights.
** You see, this bit shows as much as anything how deeply unconscious and blinded we are by the weight loss culture. When an otherwise lovely young woman hears a statement about how weight loss isn’t my focus and then without blinking an eye disregards that assertion to ask me my weight loss goal, there’s nothing else to call that but a symptom of cultural insanity.
Image credit: http://www.groundnevermisses.com/2012/02/striking-grappling-traditional-mma.html
(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.