Saturday, May 15, 2010


If I get irritated watching Oprah I have no one to blame but myself, especially if she's talking about weight loss. I have the bad habit of using the television as background noise and I was flipping through the channels the day she had Geneen Roth talking about her new book. Oprah is talking about the book like it's fill of new ideas. It's not.
Many of the ideas in the book are the ones that I embraced as a teenager and many of the ideas are positive. She talks about loving yourself now and not waiting until you're thin. The problem is that she says when you fully embrace the ideas you will inevitably lose weight. It's a re-articulation of the same old tired message. Being fat means something is wrong specifically in terms of your relationship with food. Do self work to reveal what's wrong and your relationship with food will heal and you'll lose the weight -- for good. It's not that different from Oprah's earlier articulation of "make the connection".
I do often enjoy Oprah's affection for personal process. On the show she talked about a recent self revelation.
"Oprah says even she turns to food when life gets hard. "There's still anxiety when I have to say no to someone," she says. "I still worry, 'What are they going to think' ... [That happened to me recently and] I did not eat a pound of potato chips. I ate a pound of lettuce. But it's the same thing. I've switched the drug from potato chips to lettuce."
In that moment, Oprah says she started questioning her actions. After saying no and standing up for herself, why was she so anxiety-ridden that she had to eat a bowl of lettuce? "I went back to what you had said in the book,” she says. “What I'm really feeling is every time I have ever been beaten by my grandmother. ... What I recognize as I'm stuffing myself with the lettuce is I still have that feeling of if I don't do what pleased the other person, then somehow that person has the power to annihilate me."
I have some of that issue. I wasn't beaten but Mom and I did live with her parents for my first twelve years. I did get the message that we could be homeless if the grandparents got too angry. I learned to accommodate and never really trust the affection of anyone. I don't really think my grandparents would have kicked us out. Mom paid rent, which was a benefit to them. I know they loved us. But my grandmother did have a way of seeming to threaten. And when I was younger and trying so hard to do self analysis I did make connections between those kind of issues, how I ate and my weight. At some point I realized that there was no amount of any food that could take away the feelings of loss, rejection, anger, sadness, and so on. I wish there were.
There are people who will read this book and have insights and make changes in how they eat and they may lose weight. And I don't really have a problem with that. Awareness is good. Is Oprah one of them? I doubt it. Oprah has demonstrated what a fat person's body does naturally. She gains weight. Again and again. When she exercises rigorously and makes modifications to her diet she does lose weight. But clearly she can't sustain those things. I don't know her so I don't know what she does but we've watched her regain weight for so many years. I mean really. When is she gonna get it?
I remember a show back in the "make the connection" days. She was in a grocery store talking about healthy food choices and she was so excited about red and yellow bell peppers. It was cute. I support her attempts to eat well. I don't really care how much exercise she does but exercise is good. I just wish she'd stop believing that her weight is something she can control. I wish she would accept that she is a fat person and make food and exercise choices with no thought about her weight.
I resent the way the book says to do that very thing in a completely disingenuous manner. The book talks about loving your body at any size but implies that when you do that you will lose weight. I resent the idea of a god that wants everyone to be thin.
There's a really good video of Kelly Bliss in which Lynn McAfee talks about the will power it takes to walk out the door in the morning. I love the way Kelly talks about being someone who eats in a healthy manner and exercises and is still what is considered fat. The video shows women of different sizes exercising. It's good.
I have a lot of good thoughts about Oprah. She loves books and reading. She's done a lot of great work specifically in support of young women. I just wish she'd use that overwhelming media power to promote a world view in which Lynn McAfee doesn't have to summon the will to leave her house.

Only The Impediments

"Rather, a loner troubled by longings, incapable of finding a suitable language and despairing at the impossibility of composing messages in a playable key -- as if I no longer understood the codes used by the estimable people who wanted to hear from me and would have so much to reply if only the impediments were taken away." - Saul Bellow.
Bellow wrote that in a letter to Cynthia Ozick. I read it the other night and keep rereading it because it's such a beautiful sentence. He writes a lot of apologies for not writing in his letters. For me the beauty of the way he writes about not writing erases what ever lack of writing might have been. And since writing about not writing is my most common theme these days it resonated.
I've been in a wretched mood. I feel like I'm underwater surfacing long enough to catch a breath and then submerging again.
There's no one reason why I'm so cranky and there's a surprising array of things that pull me out of the funk: little bits from the reading I'm doing, catching up on Glee, finding more fresh peas when I shop, the way the light hits the water when I swim. And then the dive.
R & N are coming for a visit, which will cheer me up. In an embarrassingly frequent reflex I seem to have been even more grouchy not as a result but almost as if I'm purging.
Bellow was writing apologies for a lack of correspondence, of which I am also guilty. He, however, was pouring out fiction at the time. I'm -- well -- dusting.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Blog Rolling

Before the job swallowed me I spend every morning listening to KPFA, reading blogs and writing my daily post. I've been trying to get that grove back with no success. I tend to write posts later in the day now and I rarely read anyone. It's not that I don't read because I'm not interested. I'm just still relatively caved in emotionally. And also, it's overwhelming.
This morning I tried to get through my blog roll. I keep trying to make it smaller thinking that might help but ... I just can't. I have always been amazed by how intensely emotional blogging is and how much it has always felt like the school yard always felt to me. My longing to belong is almost as strong as my longing to be left alone. I remember the thrill of seeing my blog on the blog roll of someone I admired. Extending the metaphor of the school yard, it felt like being one of the cool kids. Ironically, the cool kids in blogging (for me) were probably not that cool in school. I like the big brains. Bigger brains than mine. I don't always get them but I like the feeling of pushing toward the thinking. I like the artists and the poets and the mommies. I like too many. I can't let go of anyone.
I wish I understood this place I'm in. I know I need to connect. I want to connect. And I want to bury myself in a game or a book or a movie or dusting or anything. I think I'm afraid to fail. But. I mean. What does that mean?
Bloggers have books out and have television shows and there are movies about them. Bloggers are referred to as news sources. Bloggers have blogged their way onto the big stage. I stopped blogging and stopped writing and stopped thinking and feeling to some extent. Obviously not entirely but ... yeah. I used myself up dragging myself through my day, my week. Years went by. I'm angry. I'm frustrated. I'm uncertain, floundering, stuttering. Hopeless. Hopeful. What do I care about? Why do I care?
I think it might be more accurate to say that I'm writing a journal. I'm not interested in being a pundit. Well that's not true I am interested. I'm interested in writing about being fat in political terms. I have things to say about everything else but the chattering is already so loud, so hyper and so bifurcated. I turned on CNN this morning and the (cough) news person was voicing an opinion about Miranda rights. And that's what's happening now. Opinion. Even when I agree I often find it annoying. I did not agree with this particular person so I was a little extra annoyed.
So I'm writing a journal and I'm trying to understand things about myself out loud in public. At this point I'm mostly talking to myself, which is probably best.
A friend of mine wanted to leave a comment on the food blog but found the process onerous. It is much more complicated than it used to be. Signing in, password protections. I understand why but it does hamper the spontaneous act that commenting can be. Oh lord I used to love comments. I didn't always love the snarky, the need to correct my spelling and my grammar, the just plain mean ones. But, hey. If you put it out there you need to deal.
Oh jeez I don't know what I'm doing here. This is a reaction to reading as much as I could and seeing some beautiful pictures and some news about families. This is a reaction to seeing that my name has been taken off some blog rolls. Of course it has. I didn't write for years. This is a reaction to wanting to write and not having anything to say and having a torrent of things to say stuck in the back of of my throat and wanting to be in the mix.
I'm going to go wash some dishes.

Sunday, May 09, 2010


I have written reactions to the ways in which fat people are represented on television in the past. These days I struggle with "what's the use" and I have to push though it.
The other night I was watching Grey's Anatomy. The show began with the doctors being lectured about sensitivity. As the first patient arrives at the emergency entrance it becomes clear why. The patient is an extremely fat man who arrives in the back of a truck. Right away I'm worried. The patient makes a lot of self deprecating jokes, which the staff struggles to ignore. His beautiful (by cultural standards) wife arrives and reveals that she is pregnant.
The first and, for me, truly terrifying moment comes when the head of the hospital says he won't OK a surgery the man needs because of the risks. He says something about not giving him care since he obviously doesn't care about himself. It's an uncharacteristic response from this particular doctor and he reversed the decision quickly in the next scene. I realize that this is television and a drama but it was terrifying because it felt too real. The man refuses the surgery because, despite all of his laughter, he is dreading having a child because of what he won't be able to do with his child and fear of the child's shame.
The wife had all the good lines. She overhears some of the doctors wondering how the couple has sex and she jams them. Her confrontation with one of the doctors is the turn around moment in which the doctor confronts the patient and talks him into the surgery. The surgery was graphic, which is sort of the way this show does things. He survives and in the end is told he needs to make "lifestyle changes", which he willingly agrees to while he smiles at his wife. Picture my grimace.
The actor who played the part is a fat man who wore a fat suit. I was reminded of an episode of House in which Pruitt Taylor Vince wore a fat suit. I am some what irritated by this but maybe there aren't a lot of 700 pound actors. I preferred the characterization on House because the man was able to be his own advocate and not need a beautiful wife but both men were resigned to death because fat people don't really love life and don't have the will to fight for it, right?
On House the man has terminal cancer. He will die, not because of his weight. Irony. Or something.
I've been trying to sort though what I think is understandable in terms of what it takes to create a drama and what I think is unnecessarily hopped up and what is just plain offensive. The phrase life style choices, for example, sets me off.
People in the high numbers are referred to as super sized by the fat community. I'm not really feelin that term. It just feels like a way of trivializing. I don't believe anyone gets that fat from too many calories and not enough exercise alone. I think something else is going on. It's difficult to articulate in positive terms.
Any idea that fat may be unhealthy causes tension in the fat community. It's understandable since the health industry continues to use fat as a one size fits all basket into which everything wrong is dumped. Fat people will never get good health care while this is true. I believe fat to be a natural expression of physical diversity. That doesn't mean my weight isn't a factor in things that go wrong. My knees probably do hurt more because of my weight. That said, until all people with sore knees are fat it's not useful to focus on my weight. I want doctors who talk to me about a health issue the same way they talk to any size person. I don't really mind when my weight is mentioned in a laundry list of things because my weight is part of my health history. I will have issues that other people don't have. When it's part of the whole picture it's normal. When it's singled out as THE issue, it's just not useful.
Talking about health in binary terms is not particularly useful for anyone. The book I'm reading quotes D W Winnicott:Health is tolerant of ill health; in fact, health gains much from being in touch with ill health with all its aspects. He's talking about psychological heath but it's an idea that works for me in more general terms. No one is healthy. All of us are dancing along a path that encompasses health and ill health. It changes every day for reasons we can control and reasons we cannot control.
The book goes on describing people with denial about health issues and the value those patients gain when they own their issue. Before the acceptance the patients are: continuously encoding information about their defective bodies and at some level they do indeed have knowledge about their handicaps and the emotional implications thereof. I am not saying being fat means you have a defective body. In fact I think this language is less than useful for the issues that the book is discussing. However, fat people are told they have a defective body almost daily. It's a struggle to unseat that internal identity. And with the struggle to unseat the conflation of defect and genetic expression often goes the understanding of real handicaps and the emotional implications thereof. If I deeply understand and own that I am a fat person and have no particular value attached to that fact I can own and parse related issues. Life style change is a buzz phrase. Not useful.
Should people who are so fat they become immobile diet and exercise to lose weight? I don't know. I think everyone benefits from a healthy diet and moderate exercise. My wish is that people of that size would be in a dialogue with the health care community, which might reveal a deeper understanding of how it happens. What I want for them is enough space and care to be as healthy as they can be with or without weight loss.
Darlene Cates is a fat actress. There's a moment in the Gilbert Grape movie when she is meeting her son's girlfriend for the first time and she says: I wasn't always like this. The girl friend says: I wasn't always like this. It's one of my favorite movie moments. It's so real and so leveling. I don't love everything about the representation in that movie but there were some great moments.
What's the use? Television and movies are about entertainment and the story always organizes around the "beautiful" people. It's a chicken and egg. Are those the beautiful people or do we just see so many of them we have come to see them that way? They all look alike. It's boring.
I wish there was more complexity in the way fat people are represented. I did get a smile from a recent episode of Glee in which the token fat character shakes off body shaming with a wonderful song.
Yeah. I feel that. Don't you bring me down today.