Tuesday, January 31, 2012

all evidence to the contrary

Yes, fat can be healthy. Thin can be unhealthy. So whenever we make assumptions about a person's lifestyle based on weight, we should know that our judgment is really based on aesthetics, not health. If we won't listen to the many fat acceptance experts who have been telling us this for years, maybe we'll listen to a "cute" thin girl whose diet is killing her.
An extremely good point--the point about all this stuff, really--from a tight, well-written piece by Amanda Hess about media coverage of Stacey Irvine, a girl in England who's eaten nothing but chicken nuggets and fries from McDonald's for years and is now suffering anemia and other problems. Cultural bias is so strong that the assumption Irvine is fat persists even though all the articles show photos of her. She's thin.

People seem to be clucking in bemused shock at her. Does seriously nobody care about unhealthy thin children? This worries me as much as the way fat kids are treated.

Friday, January 27, 2012

hey Paula

photo accompanying People poll
I haven't written about the Paula Deen story here because, well, I haven't wanted to. Something about the way this story revealed just how wide and fucked-up the landscape of people's relationship with food, health, fat, and celebrity is took the wind out of my sails.

What's to say? She has diabetes. Kinda awful. The story, like all of these news stories with huge amounts of traction, represents a challenging test case of our feelings. In this country we really love issues when they are attached to one person, preferably in some intense form. With all the variables ratcheted up. That's how we like to shape our discussions of issues. We think we can solve them if we crack the dilemmas one person embodies. Except of course, they're not solvable that way--you don't "solve" issues looking at individual people.

Anyhow, I saw this today on People's home page (what, was I not going to click on it?):

It occurs to me that what is so wrong with this may not leap out at everybody, but the reason I'm finally blogging about this little chapter in the whole PD story is HELLO WE DON'T AND IN FACT SHOULD NOT HAVE ANY INPUT IN WHAT SHE OR ANYBODY ELSE EATS LAY OFF WHO CARES NONE OF OUR BEEZWAX.

She is a person engaged in the ugly business of money and celebrity, and that makes it hard to see where the boundaries are, and yes that Krispy Kreme burger she made on her show sure looks gluttonous, and yes it's all kinda sticky, but that question above shouldn't be asked. It scares the hell out of me in some ways to see it put as baldly as that.

When you click on the poll, these are the two options:
--which at first make the whole thing look better, but there is ultimately no difference between the two. Either way--she shouldn't eat hamburgers or she can enjoy the occasional burger--we're telling her what to do.

Plus--are we saying if she gorged in private then it'd be okay? (Since this is about appearances and setting examples.) Or if she starved herself? How will we be sure she is only occasionally enjoying a burger? Are we planning on photographing her every time she eats? Will we know by whether or not she is thinner? Are we getting her A1c numbers and fasting glucose levels?

Modern celebrity being what it is--we might see those numbers. She might show us these numbers. And she will from now on probably get photographed every time she eats in public. She may involve us in all this รก la Kirstie Alley and Wynonna Judd and people like that--make us complicit via the media in her weight guilt or struggles or angst or do the opposite and dive into a chocolate trifle on TV (although I think Deen actually has some decent boundaries in amongst all this murkiness, weirdly). But you know what, we don't get to tell anybody what to eat. We just don't.

I think the issue in this case is a lot about seeing her eating. It's one thing to talk about it, but to actually see it seems to spark visceral reactions in people (and in People!). To me this reaction feels instinctively connected to the way fat people are often effaced and desired to be invisible in public and in the media. Because if a fat body is Wrong, then you're just kinda supposed to hide until it's Right. Kind of like--you go home and fix that, and then you can come back. You may be begrudgingly allowed out in the meantime, but if you're seen doing something to make it Wronger, especially eating--something that people are dead sure is making it more Wrong--then you are violating an unspoken contract with the world.

I know this sounds melodramatic, but think about it: If your body is wrong, and you caused it, how are you allowed to exist--to be seen, which is the same thing in the media--right now? In what way? Eating what?  The only way you're 'allowed' to be fat with any approximation of autonomy is if you are shown to be trying to change it--or if you at least aren't seen doing things that everyone is quite sure make fat happen (like eating a hamburger). Then the criticism is held off just a little. At a fundamental cost, of course, because you must always make it clear first you don't like your body either. But if you don't do this...all bets are off. The world's going to go get the belt.

The other day somebody posted this comment by her sister on her Tumblr page: "I think people who don’t actively try to lose weight should be euthanized." People have posited that fat children should not be given food stamps, because "they've already had enough food." That's what I'm talking about. These horrible sentiments are nothing more than the usual thinking--all the much nicer, concern-trolly versions--taken to their logical ends.

Anyhow. I certainly won't solve anything by writing about her either, but I do wish people would back off.

As of right now, by the way, these are the results of the poll. I guess if one of them has to be 84%, might as well be #2.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Prince Fielder!

Such a great name (and such a great name for a baseball player).

The dude signed an enormous contract for the Tigers today, but the thing that caught my eye were these old photos, posted by the Twitter account @si_vault (complete with a little fat-bashing--of a little kid--yay), which showcases photos of athletes from the Sports lllustrated archives. Here is a young Prince Fielder, shown in two of the photos with his father, former MLB and Tigers player Cecil Fielder (how cute is that first one of him at 9 years old):

Sports journalism being the obsessive thing it is, I am sure Fielder's size has been examined all to hell and back. That's basically how I know his name, from it popping up in conjunction with "too fat?" discussions. (One description of him from The Hardball Times: "Up close, compared to his teammates, he looked like a man among boys. His arms were bigger than my thighs, but he didn't look fat--he just looked huge.")

The thing I think looking at these photos today, when we live with so much emphasis on and hysteria about childhood size, is: how should the world treat kids like him? How did the world treat that kid? Did his family/his dad know he could be a great athlete and more or less let him be himself--let that body be the one he became a great athlete in? How much did he have to fight to become who he was?

A fat, talented kid like that these days--I'm not sure he would have been left alone. I'm not talking about the bullying aspect: he would be put on diets, and sent home from school with notes for his family, and tsked at in various ways. All that stuff happened when I was a kid, and when he was a kid, but without quite the large-scale institutional hysteria that informs most aspects of our discussions of children and food now--the constant chorus of childhood-obesity-childhood-obesity.

You can't know what that kind of stuff will do to a child, but I do know that it usually increases your chance of being fatter, of developing an eating disorder, of yo-yo dieting. How much does our emphasis on size over health interfere with kids becoming who they might be? Is it okay that this little dude grew up to be a famous fattish athlete? Is being a fat child so bad that it is worth the risk of taking away what he might become on the chance you might get him thinner now? Temporarily.

always having the wrong reaction

This billboard--yes, you would see this driving down the street--is from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, who advocate a vegan diet and are targeting dairy products as a major contributor to body size.

I think we're supposed to be appalled by the butt, but all I could think was--wow, what a fabulous ass. Plus the hands squeezing the hips add to the overtly sexual nature of the image. I guess it's supposed to be a doctorly squeeze of the fat, though.

Are fat bodies so devoid of sexuality in the minds of the advertising agency/PCRM that this image is in their minds completely clinical? And can be used--negatively--to shame people? PCRM must think so, but the billboard that resulted is a bizarre kinky mess of shame, sex, hate, and dehumanization. They don't know what they're doing.

p.s. Some vegans are fat. Just sayin.
p.p.s. Thanks to The Society Pages for the article above (worth clicking).

women's sumo

How cool is this lady? (Even if the Daily Mail's hook is the calories she gets to eat, whoopdeedoop*.) She looks very strong. I'm not sure I knew or remembered that there even is women's sumo wrestling, but--neato.

*Ah, the Daily Fail. Where would we be without it? Although really, because that paper is an absolute shitstorm of obsession with the female body it can be strangely inclusive compared to other media in its coverage. At least you actually see different kinds of bodies: fat bodies, thin bodies, old bodies, whatever. You see them with crazy judgmental, hostile, sexist commentary attached--but you see them.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Miss. Etta. James.

This was the first time I saw Etta James, in Hail! Hail! Rock 'n' Roll (1987), a tribute to Chuck Berry on his 60th birthday. I remember I was shocked at the sight of a big woman singing like that, shaking her ass and taking the stage for her own. It's cool to watch and in 2012 still seems kind of bold and unusual. She's really big, she's really moving, she's really good at it. I wish I could have seen her in action more. And heard her (apparently) fantastically nasty stage patter.

I have been reading snippets of her autobiography via GoogleBooks and here is something she wrote about that:
Fans will see me kicking off my shoes and stomping on stage, turning my back, sticking out my big butt and shaking it like a fool. I'll rub my hands all over my body, roll my tongue, and play the slut. Been doing that shit for years. Why? I'm conflicted. Sometimes when I sing live, I feel like the devil gets in me. I want to scandalize the squares; I want to be bad. I'm defiant. I know people are thinking--man, that woman is fat!--and I want to show 'em right off that I don't give a shit.
But I do. I feel like the clown. I feel the humiliation every fat person feels. I get tired of treating myself like some joke. The joke, you see, is my way of hiding pain. It's protection. And it feels like punishment.
Depending on which obituary you read, the gastric bypass surgery James in 2002 had either created complications that contributed to her death or saved her life (maybe both, eh?). I wouldn't know. She wasn't a clown, though. She may have felt like one sometimes, but from where we sit, she wasn't. She was fantastic.

the singing at 3:30 - 3:50 kills me:

ADDENDUM: This is a fabulous obituary I hadn't read when I posted the above. By Kenyon Farrow.