Laurie Toby Edison

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Fat Myth Walking

Laurie and Debbie say:

Over at Too Beautiful, we find a blogger’s contempt for what we think is an all-too-predictable story.

We missed the media and internet hype about Steve Vaught, walking across the country to take off some of his 410 pounds and to write a book with a large advance, based on his story.

The only surprise is that it was a book deal rather than a movie deal, and that’s a surprise is that we can hear the soundtrack playing in our heads.

Without knowing the details, it surely sounds like Vaught is a very particular kind of victim: not necessarily a victim of his weight or of his experiences as a Marine or even of the publishing industry (though all of those may be true). He’s almost certainly a victim of the mythologizing of the 21st century hero.

He lost almost 100 pounds. We would have guessed he would lose less. He was unable to agree with his ghost writer about the truth of his own story. No surprise there. And he walked all the way across the country, followed by film crews, and the admiration and hatred of tens of thousands of voyeurs. Almost undoubtedly, the crowds, the adulation, and the abuse all helped keep him from getting what he was actually seeking, and he knows that: “he will do [his next] journey alone. No more film crews and no more distractions.”

The only thing he didn’t do was live up to the mythic fantasy, the one where walking across the country would make him thin, sexy, talented, and irresistible. It’s the same thing that happens to people (usually women) who write books about their great marriage and then get a divorce. Or the almost-Lance-Armstrongs who recover from near-fatal diseases and then don’t win the Tour de France.

The post from Too Beautiful tipped us to what’s happening: “So he blew his book deal, he blew his chance at free publicity, he blew the whole purpose of the trip, he lost his family, and he is still fat. I feel sort of sorry for the guy, but my sympathy is limited.”

This story was never about Steve Vaught, human being. It was about “the fat man,” going up against the myth and failing.

This is America, a culture that rejects the myth of Sisyphus, doomed forever to push the same rock up the same hill. Instead, we’ve chosen the myths of “get rich quick” and “lose weight now,” the ones which end with everyone (at least everyone important in the story) inevitably becoming beautiful, thin, free, and rich.

Thanks to Badgerbag for the pointer.

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2 Responses to “Fat Myth Walking”

  1. Lynne Murray says:

    I feel for Steve Vaught. His experience reminds me of how we impose a story or myth on people and demand that their lives adjust to it.

    The Lose-Weight-Solve-all Problems scenario does resemble Sysiphus and his rock. But the pattern we are supposed to cut our lives to (if we want the approval, whether or not it involves major media coverage as poor Steve Vaught’s did) is closer to the story of Procrustes–the guy with the bed that the hero, Theseus, met on the road. Procrustes offered free hospitality and a “one size fits all” bed–which he used to stretch those were too short for it. Those who were too tall for it had their legs chopped off.

    I’ve recently been thinking about a woman who is play the Procrustean game for real, and marketing both ends against the middle. Her publisher is happy to market her, and she markets her “program”–even using the icon of a fat “super woman” on the cover of her cartoon-autobio, while the actual content of the book is how to become the Incredible Shrinking Woman.

    Jude Milner, Once a fat acceptance activist, she ended up with weight loss surgery and –she’s got her book contract, she’s even attacking the fat acceptance movement as she offers therapy, counseling about WLS and for WLS survivors and exercise training. Meanwhile she has a supersized “super heroine” on the cover of her cartoon book http://www.fitnesstherapy.org/book.htm While the copy of the book flat out states (in the excerpt I saw, and certainly in her promotional materials) that if she had continued in fat acceptance she would have ended up in a wheelchair.

    Ya know, I didn’t realize until I typed those words how deeply angry this makes me on so many levels (and not just because she’s got a book deal–LOL!)

    She’s playing the game like a pro.

    I don’t think Steve Vaught even knew there was a game, though he may be getting the idea…

  2. Patsy Nevins says:

    I don’t blame you for being angry, Lynne. It makes me feel angry too. Damn her for selling out & taking the “easy” way out, even though in the end she will probably regain all the weight, have all kinds of health problems, & most likely die younger than she would had she not been butchered! Damn her for suggesting (yet again) that being fat means being or becoming disabled & also for suggesting that having a level of disability is the end of the world! Damn her for profiting from her self-hatred, promoting more self-hatred in others, for co-opting the image of a vibrant, proud, beautiful fat woman to sell her garbage! Damn her for being able to get published when it is so hard for you to get all your good fat-positive work into print!

    As for Steve, we discussed him awhile ago in the Fatso Gabcafe. We talked about his self-hatred, his total acceptance of the media image, & I guess most of us held him responsible for getting his head out of his ass, getting the truth, & finding some guts & some self-respect. Of course, part of HIS brainwashing comes from the Marines, & we KNOW how fat-positive & body-accepting THEY are! He chose to do this, though, to hate & try to change his body, & also to try to gain fame & even profit while doing so. He may have been victimized to some extent, but he chose to allow himself to be victimized & he chose to show disrespect for himself & every other fat person i the world & to be a part of reinforcing all the myths, too.

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