I've been mildly obsessed with Roxane Gay. It started after the This American Life episode. (My post about that here.) But I became aware of Roxane Gay much earlier because she was on MHP a few times. (I really miss that show.) She was always smart and charming and fun. If she had reason to call out a diversity list she always included fat.
She's every where right now. On radio. In magazines and news papers. She was in Portland the other night. So close and yet so far.
I wrote a long post about her and then deleted it because I found examples of her saying things that knocked down my concerns. Really smart things. It's tough because the articles about her memoir call out the things that are the hardest for me to take in. There's what she wrote and there's how people are talking about what she wrote. It is hard for me to accept the narrative of getting raped and then getting fat. Not hard to accept that it happens but hard to have them causally linked.
Fat women get raped too. I remember hearing the story of a fat woman who reported her rape and was told by the police that they didn't believe she was raped because of her weight. Eventually, they took her to the hospital where she over heard the doctors arguing about who would have to do the exam. It's an old and worn out idea that gaining weight protects women from sexuality. But it is an idea that more than one woman has embraced. Roxane knows that the weight isn't really going to protect her but she still sees her body as a self generated fortress.
I'm not being critical of her. I'm critical of the ideas but I've held them. I was always fat so I don't have an event that caused me to become fat. But in my young adult life I believed if I got clear I'd get thin. It would just happen. And I believed that my weight was generated by bad psychology and fear. I thought true love might melt it off.
One of the words she uses a lot is nuance. She is a fan of nuance. Me too.
In a way the rape almost grants her a kind of understanding for her weight. Like she had an understandable reaction to the wounding. And her repeated acknowledgment of wanting to be thinner makes her a good fat person. I really want to be clear about what I'm saying. She was being trolled by fat haters before the memoir. I don't know if it's worse but she still gets trolled be fat haters. She isn't having an easy time of it. But there is a way in which the narrative about her is about the rape and ... that's why the fat. It's slippery and not useful.
I'm obsessed because her book and her experience is driving a conversation about life in a fat body right now and it's frustrating for me. It's her story and I can't pick it apart looking for faulty reasoning. I can (I am) but that seems like bad faith. I feel a lot of the things she does. I also think the size acceptance movement is (somewhat) driven by younger smaller fat woman. They buy clothes at Torrid and pose with pizza and it's all so ... what ever. She thinks the acceptance movement is important but she can't get there.
I hate acceptance. Why should I have to work to accept something so fundamental about who I am? My project is to up root all the internalized body oppression I've been FED all of my life including today. (Lefty news woman making sure everyone knows she's always on a diet.)
When Roxane was being interviewed by Terry Gross she was asked why she didn't get bariatric surgery. In the book she talks about having met with a doctor to discuss it and making the (very wise) choice to not do it because ... (I'm paraphrasing) it's dangerous and it doesn't work. I was taken aback by the question. I mean. Is that just the thing that people do now? Not join a diet club or a gym? Just get your body hacked?
Roxane is said to be brave because she wrote this book. I think she's brave to go through the process of thinking about her fat body in public. I want to be supportive. I want her to get to where she wants to be, not where I want her to be. And...she is thinking about her fat body in public. I could quote twenty insightful things she's said that are so important about life in a fat body. She has a great analysis of how the culture impacts our lives. And then twenty that make life in a fat body sound so horrible that you imagine people running to join a gym. I want deeper analysis. I want surprising attitudes. I want new ideas. She's often pretty good at those things.
I wish we could uncouple the rape narrative from the fat body narrative. Always. I realize it's a truth. But it's not the truth and, again, it's not useful. I wish we could uncouple the food and exercise narratives from the fat body narrative. It's (pardon the expression) too broad a brush.
One of the things that influenced me to own the fact of my body was a line from a Frank Zappa song.
"there will come a time when you won't even be ashamed if you are fat." Startling idea. Rocked me to the core. I decided to work on getting there. I feel like Roxane is not exactly ashamed of her body. It's more complicated and ... nuanced. But when I was reading the book I often wanted to grab her and beg her to put on something brightly colored and go out to dinner with me. Let's talk too loud and eat too much. Let's be who we want to be and not have a thought about the size of our ass. And if people are asshats let's roll our eyes and smile.
There may come a time ...