Tag Archives: Fat Studies Reader

Singing the Diet Talk Blues … Reading Your Way Out

Lynne Murray says:

What is the diet talk blues? How is The Fat Studies Reader like a box of chocolates? How (and when) can a book rescue you? Bear with me and I’ll tell you.

Over the holidays in the dining room of an assisted living facility my friends overheard two elderly women at a nearby table discussing how they had gone off their diets during the holidays and needed to watch what they ate to get on track.

My friend said, “They’re in their late 80s, why can’t they just relax and enjoy their food?”

Her husband said, “They’re not talking, they’re singing together.”

His insight made me think about how ritualized diet talk is, even though it’s spoken rather than sung, it is much closer to song than speech and I realized a lot of the anxious and sorrowful feeling that holidays can evoke may be drowned by post-holiday diet talk.

People sing sometimes to cheer themselves up (I know I do) and rather than think about all the emotional issues some people sing the old familiar diet songs to reassure themselves. We all know the lyrics of these songs, not that the actual words matter much:

Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky,
Gotta diet
Since the holidays I’ve run riot
Seems like I’m falling way behind….

Apologies to Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler

Interrupting someone’s diet talk duet with a non-diet health suggestion would get you the same reaction you would get if you tried to strike up a conversation with people singing a duet. They would regard it as a rude interruption.

I also realized that these two elderly women were bonding by turning to a ritual conversation over the shared frustration of a virtually impossible task, which they have been conditioned to believe is essential.

Many, possibly most, people spend much more time exchanging highly ritualized verbal “songs” to themselves and others. The “gotta diet” talk often functions as a kind of social cement based on agreeing with the Hallelujah chorus of popular opinion that”fat is bad,” “losing weight is necessary” and “dieting makes you healthy.”

There are just a few windows of opportunity to accept new information before the songs become a substitute for thinking. Youth is one time when minds can be opened to think.

I hope to see more and more young people questioning the lies that have served us all so poorly. That spark of hope burned brighter when I heard about The Fat Studies Reader and Fat Studies conferences and programs such as the one at San Diego State University. Here’s a quotation from:

Advocates say the field reached a tipping point in 2006, when three national conferences addressed fat studies.
“It’s a field that believes all people should be treated with respect, regardless of body size,” said Esther Rothblum, a San Diego State University professor who is considered a leading scholar in the field….

“People are suffering terribly due to weight prejudice,” said Sondra Solovay, a San Francisco attorney who co-edited
The Fat Studies Reader. “Weight prejudice can mask many other forms of prejudice that we already consider to be undesirable,” Solovay said, noting that many employers discriminate against heavy people who are also minorities, lesbians, women and elderly. “What difference does a number of a scale make when we’re talking about civil rights?”

Here’s one more reason I rejoice to see The Fat Studies Reader and fat studies being taught at colleges and universities–scholarly folks (and students who want to get good grades) will actually read the research that backs up each essay. Reading footnotes is like varsity sport in higher education and critical thinking is their job.

When university scholars stop, read the footnotes and actually think about scientific data and things like the sociological and psychological effects of prejudice, they can present the evidence to their students and encourage them to think as well.

Footnotes are optional for those who, like me, only occasionally read them. John Barrymore is famous for saying that reading footnotes was like going downstairs to answer the door while making love. However, I found a link that suggests it may have been Noel Coward who said that. They may both have said it–and this link, the computer equivalent of a footnote is optional

The irrepressible Marilyn Wann, who wrote a rousing Foreword to The Fat Studies Reader, told me the book is “Like a box of chocolates, each one has a different yummy filling.” Okay, I wasn’t taking notes, I do recall that she said “yummy” it’s the kind of word I could imagine her using. But if she didn’t say it, I will. Thought-provoking and yummy. A rare combination

Aside from civil rights issues, medical myth-busting, access and gender-related issues, The Fat Studies Reader also delves into popular cultural portrayals of fat people in books, movies and television. Other essays describe unique challenges faced by fat people in employment, dating, health care and out on the street in real life in a wide range of social contexts.

It’s a very accessible book, sometimes entertaining, sometimes heartbreaking, sometimes enraging. I love that the Judy Freespirit and Aldebaran’s 1973 Fat Liberation Manifesto is included as Appendix A!

See what I mean? Like a box of chocolates, and yet strangely empowering.

Not-So-Beautiful People?

Lynne Murray says:

SJ at I, Asshole pointed out this link. It’s a news story about a dating service “for beautiful people only” that recently purged its site of 5,000 or more people who had posted pictures of themselves looking unacceptably fat. Presumably candid holiday shots. The Telegraph article quotes:

Robert Hintze, founder of BeautifulPeople.com, said: ”As a business, we mourn the loss of any member, but the fact remains that our members demand the high standard of beauty be upheld.

”Letting fatties roam the site is a direct threat to our business model and the very concept for which BeautifulPeople.com was founded.”

According to the site, managers have been kind in breaking the news to former members. Each is said to have received an email encouraging them to re-apply when they are back to looking their best. They have also been sent details of recommended boot camps.

Oh, goody, boot camps! Surely any pain is worth enduring just to be able to meet and who knows, maybe date, those wonderful people who have such full lives that they are able to spare the time to go on a fat witch hunt and prune the undesirables from their ranks.

All this self-righteous intolerance reminded me of the social underpinnings of Frannie Zellman’s Fatland, a novel in which fat people who do not meet mandatory legal guidelines are incarcerated in “Pro-Health Re-education Program” prisons. In, Fatland, irate fat people flee hatred and discrimination to establish a new country.

But what are these 5,000 excluded people really missing over at Beautiful People?

Here’s how the landing page describes their site:

Do looks matter to you, when it comes to selecting a partner? Do you want to guarantee your dates will always be beautiful? No more filtering through unattractive people on mainstream sites. Meet beautiful people locally and from around the world – now.
Attend exclusive events and private parties

Did I miss something, or does this sound like an escort service come on? I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume that these are all (or mostly) amateurs looking for love in a particular kind of package.

Lovable? Well, let’s see–vicious, judgmental, arrogant and self-centered, the kind of person guaranteed to make you miserable. These beautiful bozos are living proof of the “beauty is skin deep” theory

Coincidentally, I read this news story just after reading an essay that somehow seemed oddly appropriate, “Fat Women as “Easy Targets: Achieving Masculinity through Hogging” by Ariane Prohaska and Jeannine Gailey, in The Fat Studies Reader.

“Hogging” is a practice in which men prey on women they deem fat or unattractive to satisfy sexual desires or compete with their peers. Hoggers, a self-imposed label, are groups of men who hang out at bars or parties and try to pick up fat women for sex or make bets with their friends about who can pick up the fattest or most unattractive woman.

Am I the only person who sees the same hatred, just expressed in a slightly different way?

Excluding people while looking for online dating matches is not necessarily a bad thing. Fat people are routinely told, right in the profiles of many online daters, not to bother communicating. When I engaged in online dating years ago, I would always search for ‘BBW” or “fat” in hopes of finding a fat admirer. (This happened once or twice.) But mainly the profiles that would pop up after the search would be men specifying “NO BBWs or fat women” so that no one fitting those descriptions would send them a message. I was just as glad to know because some of these people seemed as if they might be worth emailing and I was glad to know in advance not to waste my time.

Somewhere out there I am sure there are “Aryan Match dot com” dating sites that purge would-be daters who post candid Christmas pictures showing them linking arms with people of color. And no, I did not look for such sites, I would bet money that they exist but I wouldn’t want to see them or give them even one mouse click of web traffic.

So what do I think about the people so ignominiously kicked off the “I’m Beautiful and You’re Not” dating site? It’s a little hard for me to understand why someone would join such a site to begin with, so it’s hard to speculate on what they’ve lost by getting kicked off.

I’ll take out my novelist’s crystal ball–i.e., I’ll extrapolate from real life what I think might be happening. My theory is that many of the people who got kicked off joined the site during a post-diet honeymoon phase, in the flush of weight-loss triumph. “Now I can sit at the cool kids’ table and date beautiful people, because I am one of them.”

I’ve always thought dieting should not have simple Before and After pictures. There should be a truth in advertising requirement to post: Before Diet, One Year After Diet, Two Years After Diet, and Five Years After Diet (same as “Before Diet” but older).

So in my imaginary Beautiful People reject scenario, the successful dieter begins to regain weight (as you probably recall, the odds are 98% in favor of this happening within five years). But our newly beautiful person hasn’t yet realized how fragile their Beautiful People status is and so does not “get” what disgust will be kicked up by posting a fun candid picture to share with all those beautiful new friends.

Let me say it directly to the person who experienced it, who will probably never read this, but it’s worth a try:

“Those are not really your friends, my dear. They are there to criticize you, maybe to compete with you, or maybe just out of sheer bitchery, they get you kicked out.”

The question is, what to do about it. Maybe you’ll reframe this as “a wake up call” and desperately diet in an effort to once again reach the heights of shallowness.

Or maybe, just maybe, you’ll see exactly the unattractive nastiness hiding under those so-called beautiful exteriors and look for some friends and possible mates who value other people by the content of their character rather than the number on a tape measure or scale.

If the people who got kicked off this site were really looking for love, I think they’d have about the same chance of finding it with the abusive louts in that hogging gang as with that other group of self-centered, proud-to-be-weight-bigots who describe themselves as “beautiful.”

Imagine the amount of pain such a person could inflict on you if you accidentally got married during the lower weight dips in the diet yo-yo cycle. How wonderful to have them right in your own living space where they could attack you in person for any pound gained thereafter!

Oh, and by the way, beautiful people–yeah, I mean you–you’re getting older every day. Age-phobia exists as well as fatphobia. Enjoy.