Lynne Murray says:
Laurie suggested I guest blog about fat language, and I find myself looking into the pool of ideas that the mist of words rises up out of. Language is alive as a sort of cultural breath that changes as we move through it, and I think words come from a deeper place in us than we realize. Words are the hammer that drives the poison sliver of any sort of prejudice into our hearts. When it is fat hatred that poisons us, it invites us to split off and label as bad that part of our bodies that we define as fat.
I’ve been a Buddhist since 1968, but I still remember the sting that first summer when a cruel boyfriend called me a “fat Buddha” after the well-known statue of the Bodhisattva Hotei, often called the Laughing Buddha. I was 19, and not actually fat by any sane measure (175 pounds at 5’5″) although both then and now that is considered overweight. It was meant as an insult to both my body and my religion. I got it–and eventually got rid of the boyfriend.
Over the years as I’ve come to accept my body, even now at over 300 pounds (still 5’5″) as it more closely resembles that much-feared statue, I’ve begun to see what the Laughing Buddha was laughing about. He’s confident, nurturing–often depicted with children playing around his knees–and pats his belly with serene good cheer. I once dated a fat man once, who playfully referred to himself as “Hotei in a bow tie.” Clearly my taste in companionship has improved with age and heft.
My own playfulness with language is probably more story-oriented than that of some other activists I admire. I don’t feel comfortable shaking a hot pink pom pom in the face of prejudice as Marilyn Wann does when she uses “fun fat” words like flabulous, just as I admire, but couldn’t see myself joining the gang at Pretty, Porky, and Pissed Off. I’ve insufficient perk to the pound for that kind of guerilla action.
I do feel moved to counter the torrent of fat-hating words that rain down on us every day, telling us that the body’s own fat is false padding, diseased tissue, or a foreign invader we can somehow starve out, cut out or flush out–the flush metaphor implies that fat is a waste product.
To the degree that we swallow this poison, we find ourselves hating and trying to banish an integral part of our own body. When we are constantly fighting ourselves, we can’t win anything. As the founder of my own Buddhist sect puts it:
Even an individual at cross purposes with himself is certain to end in failure. Yet a hundred or even a thousand people can definitely attain their goal if they are of one mind. . . . Many raging fires are quenched by a single shower of rain, and many evil forces are vanquished by a single great truth.
–Major Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, Vol. 1, page 153
How do we pull out the poison sliver, and heal a heart divided against itself? The first step is to stop hitting ourselves. You can take that literally if it applies–I mean it that way also. Before we can change, we have to be aware of the way we talk about fat to ourselves and others.
At the wonderful body positive site I found an interesting suggestion (particularly aimed at interacting with fat children). It urges first awareness and then combatting the tendency to project negative traits onto fat.
Observe the “fat talk” between yourselves and others, and in your own head. What feelings would you be expressing if you couldn’t use the words, “fat, ugly, disgusting, bad”?
What would a non-judgmental exploration of fat, and respect for fat’s role in the body look like? I found this lovely
interview with Dr. Garry Egger, Professor of Health Sciences at Deakin University:
“My eyes light up talking about fat. I’m one of the few people that are fascinated by this whole area of fat – the evolution of it and the current biology of it. The fat cell is a lot cleverer than anybody’s ever thought. It’s got an amazing number of functions – sending messages out, getting them back. It’s the appestat, if you like, in the brain. It tells the brain we’ve had enough to eat, switches it off, and says, “I’m satisfied. I don’t need any more.” And that comes from the fat cell itself.
I’m sure Bodhisattva Hotei would understand this point of view. I decided to see if I could channel his wisdom in an imaginary focus-group interview, examining his attitude toward fat.
If fat had a favorite song, what would it be? All of Me.
If fat were a soft drink, what kind might it be? Root beer, because it’s the root of abundance.
If fat were an automobile, what sort might it be? Something built for comfort, not for speed. By day a mini-van to carry an abundance of children, and at night a Bentley sedan–comfortable, solid-bodied, high-performance and luxurious.
If the body were the Starship Enterprise, which crew member would fat be? One of specialist “engine room” crew members–like “Scotty” Scott in the original Star Trek, or Geordi La Forge in The Next Generation, monitoring the dilithium crystals that power the ship, reinforcing the hull against cold and external attack, and keeping the engines running in the best of times and the worst of times.