Friday, October 19, 2007

My thinking about this had become very uptight

(To paraphrase The Dude.)

This week I got to hear a talk by Katie LeBesco, author of an excellent book called Revolting Bodies? The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity. She came to campus to give a lecture for the Media Studies senior seminar, entitled "Bodies Out of Bounds: Fatness and Transgression" (which is also the title of a book that she co-edited with Jana Evans Braziel. I won't try to summarize the whole thing here, but I just wanted to point out one thing about it that has changed my thinking about fat. In the talk and also in Revolting Bodies, LeBesco made the point that the fat acceptance movement is probably better served in the long term if we quit claiming "innocence" all the time. A lot of pro-fat writing (including mine, I'm afraid) centers around the idea that fat people are not to blame for being fat. It's genetic, it's developmental, it's environmental, it's caused by a virus, it's caused by having fat friends (ha), it's a result of suburban sprawl, it's because we work too much, it's because junk food is cheaper than healthy food, it's a big mystery, etc. And hey, look at me, I eat like a rabbit and I work out all the time, but I'm still fat.

It's not to say that there isn't some truth to all this -- by now it should be obvious that not all fat people are lazy gluttons, and clearly different people have different metabolisms, giving the lie to the standard "calories in-calories out" model of weight loss. But what LeBesco is saying is that we should not act like we are totally helpless in all this. For one thing, it's easily falsified. Of course there are fat people who eat a lot of junk food and don't exercise, so we shouldn't pretend like every fat person is a health nut. Also, even those of us who feel like we don't "deserve" to be fat based on our eating and exercise habits are still not "perfect" (whatever that might mean), nor should we have to be. I don't think I eat more than the average person and I think I may exercise more than the average person, but I do have a sweet tooth and I also drink a fair amount of alcohol. So it's not as if there's absolutely nothing that I could cut out of my lifestyle if losing weight were a big priority for me. The point is that even though I may be predisposed to being fat, I am still choosing not to do everything I possibly could in order to get thin. But by acting like I am doing everything I can, I am just reinforcing the idea that being fat is something you should do everything possible to avoid. And I am also contributing to the idea that fat people don't control their own lives, they are just passive victims of whatever causes fatness.

So I have decided I am going to stop doing that. I still take pride in my identity as a runner and a vegetarian, but I am not going to act like I as a runner and a vegetarian lead some kind of ideal lifestyle that everyone else should aspire to. Rather, I am a runner and a vegetarian who is also a foodie and an enjoyer of fine beverages. And I can also be lazy sometimes, just like everybody else, and that is OK.

I am very grateful to Katie LeBesco (who in addition to being a great writer and an entertaining lecturer is also a very cool person who I was fortunate to have a chance to hang out with a bit when she was in town) for opening my eyes to this defect in my thinking which I should have recognized a long time ago.


Lee said...

Hey Mare's Nest - Thought you might find this interesting:

Mary said...

Thanks, that's a great article. The bit about that stupid detective game makes me feel good about our recent decision to switch away from Kaiser for our insurance. And I think that business about some doctors blaming fat for every medical problem a fat person ever complains of is a really serious problem (our mutual acquaintance "anonymous" and I have talked about this at length, along with the related problem that some doctors seem reluctant to treat a thin person for problems like high blood pressure that only fat people are supposed to have).