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Big Fat Carnival #3, some criticisms

A few people suggested that they might like to read more about my negative reactions to some parts of some of the posts and comments featured on Big Fat Carnival 3. My original post on the subject is here.

Disclaimers:
  • I've included only posts about which I had some criticisms. There were a number of other posts that I didn't have any negative opinions about.
  • I've mostly only included criticisms here. VeganKid did a good job of describing the value of each contribution. But I want to say that I also deeply appreciate anyone who takes the time and energy to think and write about fat acceptance. It can be a very scary thing to write about, both because for someone who has been labeled as fat it can be a very personal topic, and because such writings are bound to draw fire from people who are very invested in societal fat-phobia. (As some of the comments on the posts showed.)
  • Some of my criticisms are really nitpicky, and some of them go into the connotations and implications of phrases. Others may not read the same connotations or implications into the words. If I find an implication that doesn't mean I believe the writer necessarily intended it or necessarily believes it on either a conscious or a subconscious level. I'm just writing about the words and my reactions to them. I think some others might well have similar reactions, but perhaps not, and either way it's fine with me.
OK, here we go.

http://brutalwomen.blogspot.com/2006/04/lets-talk-about-sex.html
I'm delighted that Kameron takes on plastic surgery TV shows including the Miami surgeon who is careful to remove "vaginal fat". I love that she writes "You're the same person at a size 2, 12, or 22. "

My first "urk" was when I read "I acted like a fat girl. I acted ashamed of the way I looked. I believed I wasn't attractive."

The way it's phrased reinforces a stereotype that fatness in and of itself causes people to be ashamed of ourselves and to believe we aren't attractive. (This isn't true for the most part - it's society's hatred of fat that causes this.) It also reinforces the notion that fat is shameful and unattractive and implies that you have to reject the label "fat" in order to reject the shame.

But I want to claim the label "fat" AND ALSO be unashamed of my body.

This also bothered me:
"My weight obsessions meant my weight has spiked to as high as nearly 270 lbs when I was 18 (depression, bad relationship, being on the pill). Spiked again in South Africa at 230-240 (binge eating, stress). And it comes back down to my set point of 175-180 when I stop obsessing about food (like now)."

Lots of people have fluctuating weight, there isn't anything wrong with that. I find it enlightening, though, what stories people like to tell about what their weight changes mean. Kameron tells the story that she gained weight because of bad things in her life and that she maintains a lower weight when she is taking care of herself. It's a very common way to tell the story of weight, perhaps partly because it's a feel-good story with a moral. "See? Do the right things and you will be, if not thin, then on the thin side for you."

The problem isn't that this story exists, it's that this story is way more prevalent than other stories, such as "I gain weight no matter what" or "I lost weight because I was very ill" or "My weight doesn't seem to have a lot to do with my health or what else is going on in my life." The prevalence of the story that Kameron tells makes it hard for people who have different experiences of our bodies and our weight fluctuations to find our place in fat acceptance.

Well, maybe it just makes it hard for me.

Kameron goes on to say: "And still, I have to work a little to stay here. I have to maintain my weight routine, eat enough protein, and pay attention."

That bothered me a lot. Maybe I'm reading in stuff that isn't there, but I hear "Dieting is good as long as it's the right kind of dieting." If there weren't so much pressure on everybody to diet, that wouldn't be so bad. But there is.

Kameron writes: "But losing weight doesn't mean that I look like Paris Hilton. I won't be putting out a sex tape." The way this is phrased assumes the reader will share her view that people who don't look like Paris Hilton shouldn't put out sex tapes; that is, that fat people aren't worth looking at in a sexual context. If she had said that she isn't personally comfortable enough with her body to put out a sex tape, or that she isn't into exhibitionism herself, it would not have reinforced a damaging cultural norm.

Some of the comments on this post are more problematic. La Gringa writes, "I worked out at a gym with a sixty year old man who lost 120 pounds over the course of a year just by walking on a treadmill every day twice a day for thirty minutes."

Uhm, can we say "Results not typical?" Most people don't lose 120 pounds "just" by walking on a treadmill for an hour. They have to restrict what they eat. And usually the weight comes back on later.

La Gringa goes on to lump fatness with a whole lot of negative traits and then declares the whole package irredeemably unattractive: "I've dated some big women that I've met through personal ads. But in each case, it turned out to be a variation of the same kind of person: a woman who was very overweight, and was inactive. Women who had a hard time even taking a walk with me. Women who liked to stay in and watch TV rather than get out and do something active. Women who were defensive about their weight.

And that's simply not attractive. Not to me, and I suspect not to anyone else."


So, I am to conclude that because I'm fat and am at present sufficiently turned off by exercise that I do have mobility problems (because of lack of exercise, not because of fat - I've been fat and mobile at times too), and because I sometimes get defensive about how I'm constantly attacked for being fat, that means I am "not attractive...to anyone." Fortunately I have five partners who think otherwise, so I'm not as damaged by statements like that as some people might be, but you know what? It makes me mad.

La Gringa invokes the time-honored distinction between good bodies and bad bodies by writing, "if you are a size 12 and weigh 175 pounds, then you ain't fat, honey. You're a big ball of muscle. There is a huge difference." and "But I never deceived myself that being simply *fat* was a good thing. It isn't. It will kill you before your time. It will degenerate your joints and bones. It will destroy your arteries and your heart. It will cause you breathing problems. And nobody should be telling young women that being fat is a positive thing." She adds, "I'm talking true obesity, kids being so overweight that they can't walk for a mile, or can't walk up a flight of stairs without losing their breath."

OK, so a good body is defined to include a size 12 body, and that hasn't always been the case. That's fine as far as it goes, but it really goes hardly anywhere. Spending mental energy on moving the line between good body and bad body back and forth doesn't accomplish the inclusiveness I want to see in society. I want the line erased altogether.

As for the notion that fat people are incapable of mobility. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised when this myth comes out of the mouths of physically active people whose weight has fluctuated. But I am surprised anyway. Did these people really find that all physical activity was impossible for them at higher weights? That hasn't been true for me. Some activities aren't possible for me when I'm bigger, but plenty of others are. Defining "true obesity" (assuming you want to define it at all) in terms of mobility issues alone is silly - if I am 5'3" and weigh 325 pounds, I am "obese" by any common definition, but I have also, at times, been quite mobile at that weight. Conversely, there have been times I weighed much less and had mobility difficulties, simply because I wasn't regularly moving my body. (To repeat, I am currently pretty sedentary and I am not judging people for being sedentary. I'm simply stating a fact.)

To her credit, Kameron took issue with some of what La Gringa said and addressed a number of the above points: "And, of course, there are going to be people on drugs or with medical conditions who will always be 400 lbs, but by golly, they can walk around the block every day and feel better for it, even if the weight never comes off." THANK YOU.

http://irrationalpoint.blogspot.com/2006/05/that-woman.html
http://www.meloukhia.com/2006/05/evolution-of-style.html
These posts both repeated a lot of societal myths in what was intended to be an ironic or critical "voice." I have a problem with this style of criticism. Maybe the problem is unique to me, since I haven't seen others write about it. The thing is, I don't reliably hear tone of voice in written words. So when I read these posts, I saw these myths repeated without enough (for me) explicit context that they are WRONG. Even though I know they are meant ironically, just seeing those hateful beliefs sitting there giving off photons upsets me.

This problem also means that I can't always follow links to ridiculous fat hating news articles that some fat activists post...without the critical analysis immediately there, I get sucked into the article and some part of me believes it even though the rest of me thinks it's so much night soil.

The Meloukhia post also contained a fair amount of thin-bashing. I already complained in my discussion of Kameron's post about fat-acceptance built on the backs of more-fat people ("I'm this kind of fat and that's OK because at least I'm not [any more] THAT kind of fat"). Guess what? I also want a fat-acceptance that's not built on the backs of thin people. Seeing this sort of negative stereotyping does not make me feel good about myself: "thin people are obsessed with food. They are wrapped up in consuming themselves, and food becomes an all important issue for them, rather than a pleasurable daily ritual. No wonder skinny people look so bitter and stressed all the time, because skinniness is a never ending quest which must be constantly pursued."

Sure there are people who are obsessed with food. They come in all sizes. And not all thin people are obsessed with food in an effort to be unnaturally thin for them.

http://feministing.com/archives/005098.html
This post wasn't officially a part of the carnival; it was linked because another post commented on it. Be warned there is one enormously fat-hating comment by someone named pamps, of the "i hate to be politically incorrect, but it comes down to STOP STUFFING YOUR FAT FACE" variety. The only other comment that even begins to disagree with it is phoenix's, and it begins by reassuring "i understand what you're saying about people not stuffing their faces."

Y'know, I've read The Lathe of Heaven and I know you can't change bad things without maybe changing things you like, too, but I'd be sorely tempted to wave a wand and change the world so that such hatred just didn't have any reason to exist any more.

http://hugoboy.typepad.com/hugo_schwyzer/2006/04/there_are_so_ma.html
Hugo perceptively analyzes the way some men rely on conventionally attractive female partners to bolster their self-esteem and their standing among other men. Then he writes, "Some of my friends who know my wife will point out that she is a toned, muscled triathlete/boxer/cyclist, and this it's easy for me to come down hard on men who are upset at their wives' weight gain." I generally feel a bit uncomfortable when people criticize status-seeking and then turn around and admit they have the status they are criticizing others for seeking. He reassures us that "If she gained weight thanks to depression or some other crisis, I would of course be gravely concerned -- not with the weight gain but with what precipitated it." It's nice to know that he would not be concerned about the weight gain, but why does he assume that "depression or some other crisis" is likely to be causing the weight gain? Instead of something positive, say, a new addition to the family? Here we go again with the story of the Bad Things that caused the Fatness to come.

The real problem, though, is with the comments. The notions that fatness means lack of self-respect and working out automatically makes you thin and the squabbling about where the line is between the good body and the bad body ... they're all over the place. On the other hand, there is also significant and perceptive disagreement with most of these comments.

http://starsandmoon145.wordpress.com/2006/05/24/no-bagel-is-worth-95/
Roberta is chock full of ambivalence about fat. Her post starts by mocking the medical jargon "morbid obesity" (which I agree with) but then a few sentences later she is discussing a fat man's inability to dress "with any decency". Whatever that means. What bugged me most, though, was this comment, so compassionate-sounding on the surface, about the same man: "I understand the prison this guy is in. And the pride he carries as he pretends he is not caged."

When her bar friend makes fun of the guy in front of her, she is offended on her own behalf - doesn't he realize she used to be very fat? (She has had WLS so she is not currently fat.) She compares his act to making a racist comment to "a black person with Caucasian looking skin." I do find this interesting: by comparing her currently-thin self to a black person with light skin, she is suggesting that fatness is like race. Race, many of us believe, cannot be changed, although you can fiddle with your appearance so you'll look less like a stereotypical member of a race. Anyway, I guess she's suggesting that no matter what your current weight, if you were ever fat you will always be a member of Fat.

Roberta goes on to write, "I do not find it acceptable to equate fat with disgusting, unattractive, and deserving of ridicule." I'm sorry that she shows not the slightest understanding that calling a fat person's body a prison and a cage is equating that fat person's body with a disgusting and unattractive image.

Later on she writes: "I don’t have a problem with it as a fact of life; that a woman who is more than a hundred pounds overweight is not as sought after in this society as a woman who is fifty pounds overweight."

Well, why the hell DOESN'T she have a problem with it?

http://anewforkinthejourney.blogspot.com/2006/06/sex-sexuality-and-fat-girl.html
Overall I enjoyed punkindunkin's post, except for some thin-bashing and a minor reaction to the following overgeneralization: "Boobs are a fat girl’s consolation prize. Seriously. We don’t garner much positive attention from the opposite sex but at least we’ve got massive twins to compete against all the stick figure A-cups out there." Um, speak for yourself, honey. Some of us fat women have big waists and pretty small boobs. That makes figuring out ways to appear feminine an interesting challenge to us (well, to those of us who want to appear feminine), just like it is to you.

http://persephonesboxblog.blogspot.com/2006/04/flavour-of-good-life.html
Sage's post is good as long as it stays on the subject of her experience of life in her body, but when it wanders into advice, I start having a problem. "Want to lose weight? Sell your car" is an overgeneralization - not everyone loses weight when they move more, not to mention that some people aren't physically able to get around without a car for reasons that have little to do with their weight. I also found an implication throughout this post that if you just seek genuine natural pleasure with no artificial flavorings and colorings, your body will magically find health. She doesn't exactly say that you will therefore lose weight, but it still smells like another variation on that morality story people tell about their bodies. And I can do without it, because it's not true for everybody.

[Update 6/29: The below link was removed from the Fat Carnival because the Dimensions web site promotes feederism. However, I'm not removing the link from my post at this time.]
http://www.dimensionsmagazine.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6447
This one is a bit different, and I didn't find something to criticize about it, I just found it kind of fascinating. The link takes you is a Dimensions Magazine forum thread labeled "How about some CHEST SHOTS?" Although there are no naked female nipples or naughty bits, it's probably not work safe. It includes the following:
Photos of 9 fat men's chests/manboobs and bellies either with no face showing or with the face blurred
Photos of 4 women's cleavage with no face showing
Photos of 4 women's faces and cleavage
Several of the men apologized because their chests/bellies weren't big enough.
Mainly I found it fascinating that none of the men showed their faces and half of the women did.

Comments

( 13 comments — Leave a comment )
apis_mellifera
Jun. 10th, 2006 04:28 pm (UTC)
If you've read any of Kameron's recent posts, you will find out that her dramatic weight loss and need to take care that she's eating enough food has less to do with her life being super-fantastic and more to do with the fact that her pancreas was slowly dying--she was recently hospitalized and diagnosed with Type I diabetes.

That bit of information provides a lot of interesting context for some of her remarks, I think. After the fact context, but still. It's been interesting to read some of her re-interpretation of what was going on with her body.

I haven't looked at all the links for the Carnival yet, but I agree with much of what you've said--I don't want a fat aceptance movement that's built on the backs of anyone. Bah.

And I refuse to look at anything on the Dimensions website. That place skeeves me out. And the guy who provided the link--william--is sort of creepy, too. He was posting on BFB for a while and while I can't remember exactly what he said, it really rubbed me the wrong way.
firecat
Jun. 10th, 2006 04:51 pm (UTC)
If you've read any of Kameron's recent posts, you will find out that her dramatic weight loss and need to take care that she's eating enough food has less to do with her life being super-fantastic and more to do with the fact that her pancreas was slowly dying--she was recently hospitalized and diagnosed with Type I diabetes.

Wow, interesting. Did she find this out before or after she made the fat carnival post?

I don't blame you for refusing to look at Dimensions stuff.
apis_mellifera
Jun. 10th, 2006 09:00 pm (UTC)
After--it's only been in the last couple of weeks that this has happened. She was *amazingly* lucky. If her girlfriend hadn't called 911 when she did, she would have died.

She's made a few really interesting posts about the subject since.
firecat
Jun. 11th, 2006 07:13 am (UTC)
Wow. I'm glad she made it. Thanks for pointing me at those posts.
shryve
Jun. 12th, 2006 04:07 pm (UTC)
Hi firecat

A great post on the Fat Carnival #3

Many of those Blogs I do not read even if they are on My Kinja.

About your Comments on:
Roberta
http://starsandmoon145.wordpress.com/2006/05/24/no-bagel-is-worth-95/

I think that even though she is not into living with Fat herself she should have tried to be more Fat Accepting in her post. I think a duality comes out in her posts where her Fat Acceptance of others gets mixed in with her not accepting her own fat.

Her posts about the Fat Guy really did not contribute anything positive.


About your Comments on:
http://www.dimensionsmagazine.com/forums/showthread.php?t=6447

I am one of the “headless” photos is in that thread

Fat Guys with large man-boobs (larger than most Fat Guys) do have a body image problem that that Fat Women and relatively flat chested Fat Men are not bothered with. I have often said that many Fat Men experience just as much Fat Image problems as Fat Women.

It seems mostly to effect straight Fat Men because what Fat gay sites that I have seen have many full body photos of all shapes of Fat Men.

One of the comments in this thread commented on the source of the thread Dimensions, well that thread was in the Fat Mens section and it was not Fat Admiration/Exploitation activity. The Lady that started the thread is a very kind person.

Although I do not like a lot of things on Dimensions the Owner has made a place for Fat Men instead of discouraging them. It is one of the few places online where a Fat Guy can share life experiences without getting loads of comments from others qualifying/correcting his statements.

I do not consider myself creepy like natalieann wrote, but I do speak my mind and most of the time I am the only Fat Man in a thread giving the male side of being fat.

Any way firecat keep up the great work.

William
firecat
Jun. 12th, 2006 06:11 pm (UTC)
Hi William, thanks for stopping by. It makes sense to me that fat men experience body image issues and that man-boobs would be especially complex to deal with in terms of body image for a straight man. I haven't heard a lot of fat men talk about this, but my guess for one issue would be that society associates "boobs" with women and so there's a message to fight that man-boobs "feminize" a man.

I'm glad that Dimensions provides a place for fat men to discuss issues.
epi_lj
Jun. 10th, 2006 10:33 pm (UTC)
I haven't made it through all the posts yet, but for the ones I did read, I had many of the same reactions.

On the one hand, I've spent a lot of time pointing to my lifestyle when it was active and when I was eating what people would think of as very healthy and saying, "Look at what I'm doing and look at what I'm eating, and I'm not thin." I think that for a lot of discussions it was important, although I don't know that anybody ever believed me and I wonder if it made any difference in anybody's perceptions.

Now, I'm also starting to wonder if that itself was the best approach anyway. In particular, I'm not sure why I should have been justifying my life at all. By coming back and saying, "Look, I'm doing all this exercise and I'm eating 'right'," in some ways I'm reinforcing the idea that you have to do these things to be a good person. I really think that it's also important to question the prevailing definitions of "good" in much of this society. I mean, why am I saying, "I do X exercise and I eat Y," instead of, "I write music and give it away free to the world and I donated to these charities and did this volunteer work," or something like that. Why are people so fixated on measuring how "good" a person is by their physical fitness anyway?
firecat
Jun. 11th, 2006 06:36 am (UTC)
Very well put. I think it is important for the myth of "exercise and eat certain foods and you'll be thin" to be busted, and people like you are in a position to bust it. But I don't think goodness should be defined by what you eat or how you exercise any more than I think goodness should be defined by whether you're thin. And it can be hard to know how to get that across while correcting misapprehensions.
pir_anha
Jun. 12th, 2006 09:42 am (UTC)
*nod*. yeah, i've felt similar about some of my attempts to argue against fat myths.

i still think telling one's personal story is important when that story puts the lie to bullshit advice or generalizations about fat some people spread. i think it's worth pointing out that i've been at my thinnest when i was very sick (chemo is such a fantastic weight loss program; jenny craig would be jealous) -- and never did i get so many compliments on my looks and my weight loss, which was surreal, unobservant, and eminently stupid. and the experiment an ex and i conducted where we ate exactly the same things in the same amounts for 2 weeks, and did largely the same activities -- zie lost weight, i gained -- it was instructive as to the huge difference an individual's metabolism makes. i also think it matters that i am quite unashamed of my fat and that i don't justify it, which i think is a needed perspective in a culture where the vast majority of fat people are ashamed. or maybe i just like arguing against generalizations, because i hatesss them, preciousss. :)

i haven't talked about it recently (i get tired of these types of discussions very quickly), but i think i'll add a disclaimer next time, about how i basically think fat people deserve to be treated decently, no matter how fat, no matter what their personal story, and that their fat isn't a measure of their value, and that people should, dammit, learn to look beyond the surface.
leback
Jun. 10th, 2006 11:37 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. I noticed some of the same problems in some of the posts I read, but not all of them, so your comments have given me some good food for though. I appreciate the time you take to educate people on these issues.

I initially liked the "thin people are the ones obsessed with food" comment, because I didn't think hard enough about what it was actually saying. If I were the author's editor, I might ask whether it would be appropriate to rephrase the comment to talk about dieters specifically, rather than "thin people." I think my initial appreciation of the comment was based on the fact that I personally have been most obsessed with food at times in my life when I was holding my weight down by restrictive dieting (something at which I sometimes seemed to be successful for brief periods), and so it resonated with that experience--basically, I was a lot more obsessed with food when I wasn't eating it than I am when I do. But if that's what the author's getting at, it's of course a mistake to assume either that thin people are dieters or that dieters are thin people. I'm glad you called my attention to that.
firecat
Jun. 11th, 2006 06:42 am (UTC)
Yeah, I thought the author was thinking about "people who chronically restrict their calories" and didn't express it very well.
queervegan
Jun. 11th, 2006 10:39 pm (UTC)
nice
hey firecat (this is vegankid),
i'm glad you took the time to critique the carnival. as i said to Amp (the carnival creator) before i posted the carnival, i also took issue with several points in several posts. but i wanted to put them in the carnival because of that not despite the fact. and i wanted to leave discussion up to the readers instead of inserting my opinion as the ultimate truth (as i felt it may be read with me being the carnival host and all). in all honesty, i was kind of disappointed in the lack of discussion that i've found around these posts. not that i think people should be pointing fingers and screaming how fucked up and wrong these people are, but i find the greatest value in dialogue. and i don't think that the Fat Acceptance Movement has to be homogenous in its thinking. i'm not a fan of dogmatic thinking and enforcement. there was one very controversial post that i was hoping to include because i felt it would generate a lot of great discussion, but understandably, the authors asked that i not include it.

basically i just wanted to stop by and say thanks. you've helped this edition of the carnival be the interactive dialogue that i was hoping it would be.
firecat
Jun. 12th, 2006 12:51 am (UTC)
Re: nice
Thanks for stopping by! I'm also in favor of dialogue and your decision not to insert your opinion as host makes sense.
( 13 comments — Leave a comment )

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