I want to continue with my thoughts from yesterday’s post about my eating disorders, but take this post in a slightly different direction. Several years ago, I became aware of the fat acceptance movement, and I was intrigued. As an aside, I didn’t know that it started back in 1967, and I would agree that a lack of continuity in a movement happens when the current participants are unaware of the history of said movement. If you were to ask me to define the movement, I would say that one of the main tenets is changing society’s bias against fat people while simultaneously becoming internally comfortable with the messages of the movement because it’s just as hard to change one’s own mind, especially when you’re bombarded with messages to the contrary on a daily basis. I would add that less formally, it’s being a cheerleader for fat people. In fact, I thought the name of the movement was the fat positive movement, which is very different than the actual name, which is the basis of this post.
At the time when I discovered this movement, roughly six or seven years ago, I stumbled on a blog that was dedicated to it. On this blog, commenters were not allowed to talk about diets or ways to lose weight at all. The reasoning being that oftentimes, women disguise their body hatred by talking about losing weight in terms of the health benefits. In addition, it’s so culturally acceptable to be constantly dieting, they may not even be aware that their desire to be healthy masks a deeper desire to be not fat. So, even people who talk about how much healthier they feel when they, say, are eating carrots all day long, probably harbor some anti-fat feelings underneath all their healthy talk. Banning all talk about dieting and losing weight circumvents that slippery slope, and I had no problem with it. As the proprietor pointed out, there are plenty of dieting websites if someone wants to brag about how she exists on three stalks of celery a day.
I started having a problem with the emerging rigidity of the blog herd mentality, which was that you should never talk about someone’s weight or looks. Ever. Also, that there are no risks associated with being overweight, no matter how obese the person is. The sizable medical evidence to the contrary was dismissed as just perpetuating the bias. Someone having weight loss surgery was seen as a traitor as, you can probably guess this, the blog didn’t consider any reason to have the surgery as valid.Anyone who tried to argue any of these points was told that she could find other blogs which supported her point of views, which usually caused the person to leave, making the inner circle more and more homogeneous. I became uncomfortable with the ‘think like us or get us’ mentality, so I stopped reading the blog because I felt it was stifling me.
I have several different points to make about this, so bear with me. The first is how unrealistic the expectation that someone will never comment about someone else’s looks is. The first thing we notice about someone else (if we’re full-sighted) is what they look like, and to keep that to ourselves all the time is folly. I’ll give you an example. My niece is an amazing person. She’s creative (she took first and third place in a teen art contest! Her works were great, and, yes, I’m a proud auntie, why do you ask?), sensitive, intelligent, moody (hey, she’s a teen), has a unique and funky sense of fashion, kindhearted, funny, caring, and she’s stunningly striking. I mean, like fucking gorgeous. It seems odd to me that I would compliment her on all the other things and not on her beauty. I’m not saying I’m going to fawn over her looks or single them out, but if I’m listing her positive attributes, then I’m not going to skip over her the most visibly obvious one. You could argue that since it’s something she’s born with, it’s not really an accomplishment, but you could say the same about her intelligence or her creativity.
As a side note, it’s generally better to compliment someone on what she does rather than who she is, so I can agree with saying, “I really like how you put together this outfit” or “Your color composition in this painting is excellent” rather than, “You’re beautiful” or “You’re a great artist” because she has control over the former rather than the latter, but I don’t think it’s harmful to say, “Hey, you’re beautiful” or “You’re really smart” from time to time. In fact, given the negative messages women are given about their looks regardless of if they fit the culturally accepted norm of beauty or not, sometimes a gal needs to hear that’s she’s beautiful.
The idea, however, that I’m not supposed to notice my niece’s beauty or pretend it doesn’t mean something is ludicrous, as is the idea that wanting to lose weight is always wrong. On that same site, the loudest advocates of not ever dieting because it gave in to ‘the man’ and the unrealistic expectations of what women should be, shaved their armpits and legs, and wore makeup. I point this out because I don’t do either, and I could easily parrot their patriarchy speech back to them about changing their appearances to fit the societal norm of beauty. I’ve heard the counter that they do it for themselves because it makes them feel prettier, more confident, etc., but I would ask why is that? It’s because you get positive reinforcement if you meet the cultural norm, and sometimes, again, a gal just wants to feel like she still has it.
I feel the same way about my weight. I know part of the reason I want to lose weight is to fit a more culturally accepted norm of beauty, but in the end, I feel better when I’m not this fat. I am medically obese, and I do think from a health point, I would be better off if I lose some weight. I don’t agree that all the research that says being obese is harmful to your health is bunk, even if if I do agree that our society is unrealistic and harmful when it comes to its obsession with being thin. A side note: It’s funny that now that awareness of eating disorders is higher than it’s ever been, the word thin is no longer used as the ideal for women. Now it’s ‘strong’, but the way to get there is still basically the same. Eat nothing and exercise compulsively. Toned is another buzzword for the same thing.
Back to me, of course. I’m not going to lie to you. I want to lose weight because I feel like a beached whale. i don’t want to be as thin as I was when I was anorexic because in retrospect, I didn’t look good then, either. I was fragile and looked as if a hearty gust of wind would knock me over. I was also dead inside as I was obsessed with losing weight. I didn’t feel anything other than fucking hungry when I actually allowed it to manifest. I couldn’t think about anything else, and I found no pleasure in life. My only focus was losing weight, and when I wasn’t thinking about that, I was staring at pictures of desserts on the internet. Yes, I was looking at all the foods forbidden to me as if it were porn.
I like having muscles. I’m a mesomorph, which means I build muscles easily. There is a taiji weight set, and I may start doing that after asking my teacher what it is again. I haven’t done it in years, so I don’t want to try to recreate it on my own. I like being curvaceous, though I wouldn’t mind trading in a cup or two of boob for more junk in the trunk. I don’t have an ass, and it’s one of my biggest regrets in life*. I want to eat better because I eat like crap, and I want to add more movement into my daily routine because I mostly sit on my flat ass all day long.
But I digress again. The point is that ideologies don’t work well in real life because life is messy. There is no way to ensure that what you do is purely internally motivated, and you could spend all your time second-guessing the reason why you do everything. Again, I’m aware that most of the reason I want to lose weight is because I hate the way I look. I’m also aware that I never like the way I look, but I especially hate it when I’m this big. On the other hand, I’m also aware that I don’t like the way I feel when I’m too skinny even more than my dislike for being this fat. So, the trick is to lose weight in a way that doesn’t push me down the road to anorexic thinking. I think my renunciation of all things related to weight was the right decision immediately following my bouts with anorexia and bulimia. It wasn’t the healthiest way to deal with the issues, but it was better than continuing down that road. I’m still alive and in relatively good health. My blood pressure is a constant 120/80 (though the lower number was 87 at my last doctor’s visit), and I know that practicing taiji several times a week has made me stronger as well.
Now, however, my refusal to be at all responsible about what I eat is childish. It’s merely a reaction to how I used to be (and to the societal messages constantly being thrown in my face), and I’d like to think I’m past the point of, “Fuck you, you can’t tell me what to do!” It’s why I have such difficulties with rigid ideologues in general. There’s no room for nuance and messiness and conflicting human emotions. There’s no room for being, well, human. In addition, there’s often conflicting ideas within the ideology that isn’t acknowledged by the adherents, which annoys the fuck out of me. Not the fact that the ideas are conflicting because that’s just human nature, but that the adherents don’t recognize or acknowledge said discrepancy.
I also don’t think that doing the opposite of what you’re expected to do all the time is laudable, either. If you’re constantly reacting to the patriarchy, for example, you’re still allowing it to dictate your behavior. “The patriarchy tells me I have to be thin? Then I’ll be fat!” “The patriarchy wants me to wear revealing clothes all the time? I’m going to wear a sackcloth instead!” I think it’s not a bad way to act when you first realize how oppressive something like societal norms can be, but at some point, you have to decide for yourself what is right for you. For example, I don’t wear makeup or shave my pits or legs, but it’s more because I’m lazy than that I’m making a statement. In addition, I’m not good at the whole makeup thing, and I can’t be stuffed to learn how to apply it properly. The one time I tried to use a lip wand (lip gloss, a nice, dark, plum color), I looked like someone had punched me in the mouth. I always felt like a little girl playing with her mom’s makeup kit, and the results were less than optimal. I never felt comfortable wearing makeup, and while I suppose I could have gotten used to it, I didn’t see a reason to bother. I wore it for three or four years before giving it up. Then, I wore lipstick for a few years after that, but I always ate it off for one reason or another, and I got tired of reapplying it throughout the day. In addition, I’m allergic to most everything, and makeup wasn’t very hypoallergenic back in those days. It was a relief to give up putting on makeup, and it gave me an extra half hour a day as well.
Shaving is a different matter. I’m Taiwanese, so I don’t have much body hair in the first place. I have very sensitive skin (I’m a delicate flower, damn it!), and shaving irritated my skin to the point of redness. Also, denuded pits and legs look weird to me. I’m a grown-ass woman. I should have body hair, damn it. Anyway, I quickly gave up shaving, and I haven’t regretted it since. Again, it wasn’t so much a feminist decision as it was a I like my skin not all puffy and red decision. But, it wouldn’t be outre to suggest that there it’s partly my feminist awareness that led me to give up makeup and shaving–it’s just that it coincided with my natural inclination, anyway.
My point is, we rarely have one reason for doing what we do. It’s important to tease out what is influencing us and to what extent, but at the end of the day, you have to live your damn life. One of my issues with all the scolding that I see happening on Twitter is that life is hard for most people on a day-to-day basis. While there are social structures that benefit certain groups over others, when it comes down to individual life, even people in those groups don’t have it made in the shade. it can be comforting to have a rigid sense of right and wrong, especially in a world that is so messy and complex, but it’s not how I want to live my life. I have enough strictures in my head that are barring me from doing what I want to do. I don’t need external voices that echo the rigidity of my brain. I’ll have more on my problems with Twitter in another post, but let me end this by saying, i like the basic tenet of the fat acceptance movement, even if I don’t agree with all the methods. I think when you first realize that the ideas you’ve been fed all your life aren’t necessarily true, you need a community in which you can safely express your contradictory thoughts. That’s why I get the need for safe spaces (which I’ll also elaborate on in a future post), even if I think they are being overused nowadays. But at some point, you have to put your beliefs to the test in the real world, which is complicated, complex, and not tidy at all. That’s where I am right now, and I think I’m finally ready to face my ED** demons instead of indulging them or ignoring them. About damn time.
*I’m joking, of course, but I would like to have a nice badonkadonk.