Tuesday, June 28, 2016

This American Life: Tell Me I'm Fat.

This episode of This American Life, Tell Me I'm Fat, has been making the rounds on my social media pages. It was an emotional listen. A lot of my buddies who have been posting it have been posting it through a lens of feminism and body-shaming. To me, it's like, more of a nod. Yes, to a lot of the episode.

I am fat. I have been fat since the major depression of my early 20's, and though my weight fluctuates, I have been plus-sized since. I had eating disorders in order to sustain a +/- 140 pound body weight, and I'm not roughly twice that.

Over the last decade I've experience fat-shaming of all kinds. I've had strangers approach me with unsolicited weight-loss tips, I've been on the receiving end of sneers from both genders, and I have a few pointed anecdotes of encounters that upset me deeply.

There is such a thing as fatphobia. It is a fear, dislike or hatred for fat people, based on their being fat. I would argue gender and race compact that hatred. So, as a woman, I've read faces from women that told me they couldn't live if they were my size. That they plan on exercising twice as much, and infinitely more careful. I've seen the horror in their faces in a flicker. I've caught the eyes of men as they stared at my big boobs, or more often, not seen me at all. The eyes scan over the women in the area, who would they fuck, who can they ignore totally. Old. Old. Pregnant. Fat. Ding-ding, hot girl.

First, I recognise myself in most of everything said in the conversations with Lindy West and Roxanne Gay. Ira's introduction starts strong too:
... complete strangers walk up to you on the street and tell you to lose weight. They shoot you dirty looks when they see ice cream in your shopping cart. They talk down to you like you're stupid about nutrition and calories, as if pretty much every fat person has not been around the block 500 times on that one already.
So many stories of this. So many examples. Lindy talks about her experiences with a boss/friend who has a shitty attitude about fat people, that he does not see as discriminatory or bigoted. I especially liked her segment on seeing the fat-activist / fat fashion representation on Tumblr. 
Lindy West - I mean, this was just my favourite one of these fat acceptance blogs ( a Tumblr called, "hey, fat chick!"). It was just that. It was just bright, happy, funny, smiling people wearing cute outfits. It's just, you're so used to seeing fat people presented as sad and apologetic. 
Ira Glass - And what did this do to you? What it do to see that?
Lindy West - I remember feeling like my brain was changing shape. It just had never occurred to me that you could just decide that you were allowed to be happy and live as a--
Ira Glass - As a fat person.
Lindy West - Yeah, exactly.
Lindy sounds like someone I would identify as body positive. She seems to accept her fatness, and gives herself permission to live life. After eventually confronting her boss publicly on her blog, she describes what it's like to be a fat woman, the odd reality of being both invisible in some regards but hyper-visible in the most obvious of ways.
Something lurched awake inside of me. A lifetime of being talked down to about nutrition, being kept secret by men I was dating, being both invisible and too visible finally foamed up and spilled over.
She calls him out on a lot of what he says, though it doesn't seem to change any of his views. She adds:
You know what's shameful? A complete lack of empathy.
Which is so often the case with bigotry. Being unable to relate at all, with whoever it is you're signalling out. With fat people, it's the assumption that being fat if their fault, in a real, active way. There's this assumption that there are no extenuating circumstances, no excuses. It's equated with gluttony and sloth, laziness and disgust. You're born black. You're born gay. The assumption is you aren't born fat. Though some are! I was chubby my entire childhood. I still played on several sports teams and ate well. What propelled me into fatness was deep psychological pain and a disconnection from my body and life. But that's nobody's business really. I shouldn't have to justify my coping methods. Not when they're the only thing keeping me alive.

Ira also has a conversation with Roxanne Gay, whose experience with being fat is very different from West's. Her being a black woman places her on a lower echelon of the fat-pyramid, as does her degree of fatness.

Ira GlassYou draw a distinction among different kinds of fatness. Can I have you talk about that? 
Roxane Gay
Yeah, I mean, I think there are different kinds of fatness. There's the person who's maybe 20 pounds overweight, who's fine as they are. But if they want to lose weight, they just need to go on Slim Fast for a couple weeks or something.
And then you have people who are-- I like to call them Lane Bryant fat, which means they can still buy clothes at Lane Bryant, which goes up to 28 in size. And they're the ones I find that are often the strongest cheerleaders of, this is who I am, and, you have to take me as I am and respect me because of my body not despite it. And I admire that a great deal. But I think it's easier to feel that way when you have multiple places where you can buy clothes and feel pretty and move through the world.
Ira Glass
And you noted, Lindy is what you call Lane Bryant fat. She told me she was a size 22.
Roxane Gay
Yeah, I mean, and I don't mean that in a disrespectful way. I just mean she has access to spaces that people like me do not.
Ira Glass
Because what's your situation?
Roxane Gay
There's another level. I mean, then there's when you're super morbidly obese, where you can't really even find stores that can accommodate you. You don't fit in any public spaces, like movie theaters, public bathrooms, so on and so forth.
Ira Glass
Is the official name of what you are morbidly obese? That's the medical term?
Roxane Gay
No, the medical term is super morbidly obese.
Ira Glass
It's so mean.
Roxane Gay
Yes, it is. It's mean. It's dehumanizing.
Ira Glass
How much weight would you have to lose to be Lane Bryant fat?
Roxane Gay
200 pounds.
This episode does not even go into the medicalization of fat bodies. Experiences accessing care when you're fat is a landmine. Everything is blamed on your being fat. Fatphobia in doctor's offices is real. A good friend of mine has called me countless times crying because of the atrocious experiences she's had with various specialists because of her weight. She went vegan and did a juice cleanse once, trying to get as healthy as she could, and her sudden weight loss was then used to describe her as being unstable - there is no correct way to have a body. Everything we do is suspect.

I hope you take the time to listen to the episode yourself. My overview here does it a great disservice. Act Two features stories by Elna Baker that really hit close to home, especially in the raw dialogue she has with her new husband. 

I've ordered West's Shrill, and also pre-ordered Hunger by Gay.

I have stories of my own. Many. I don't know if here and now is where to divulge all of it, but I'll write on it in the future. It's worth flushing out. Expanding on.

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