Wednesday, July 25, 2007

I don't apologize

According to researchers at the Harvard Medical School, being my friend or family member can make you fat. To my loved ones out there, I'm not sure I really am sorry.

The researchers believe that the causation may be that seeing fat people who you care for is going to change your opinion or ideas about being fat, yourself. Gods, I sort of hope this is somewhat true. I hope that by seeing me, or reading about my journey to acceptance of my body, that you too will find yourself hating your body less. I hope that you will no longer feel the need to starve yourself in order to get approval in this world.

I also hope that such changes will help you become more aware of the things your body wants and needs...a varied diet and to move within its range of abilities to keep it healthy and vital. We take better care of our cars than we do of our bodies (I mean really, would you deny your car oil or gas then try to drive it halfway across the country?). This needs to change. We need to recognize that our bodies are precious resources for ourselves, first.

Do I really want you to be fat? No. I want you to be whatever shape or size you are. I want you to know that I love you for who you are, not what size you wear.*

*Although, if we wear roughly the same size and you have extra clothes you're getting rid of, let me know. I do love me some free clothes.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Fat, dumb and ugly

It seems that these ideas always go hand in hand. Fat people are assumed to be less intelligent and less attractive. Both are matters of opinion...I and plenty of fat people I know are extremely intelligent and more beautiful than we realize. But these ideas are ubiquitous in our culture.

A recent study out of the University of Texas at Austin recently found that obese girls are less likely to attend college than their non-obese peers. The article in the Science Daily is an amazing piece of obesity-reporting denial.

It reads:

Crosnoe suggests a number of mental health and behavioral issues seem to play a significant role in keeping obese girls from enrolling in college. The study found obese girls were more likely to consider committing suicide, use alcohol and marijuana and have negative self-images.

But nowhere in the following paragraphs does it discuss what could be causing these mental health and behavioral issues. We are, it seems, to believe that obesity itself (and therefore the girls who cannot control their bodies or their parents who cannot control their childrens' bodies) is to blame for these mental health issues.

Was there a call to educate parents and children about size diversity and the utter insanity of telling children to engage in behaviors which study after study has shown to be futile and potentially damaging to the bodies of young women? No.

Was there an expressed interest in looking into the types of discrimination that these girls, and their fat male peers, experience and its effect on overall health and well-being? No.

Was there even an inkling that somehow the same pressures which infuence depression and behavior problems in obese children might also be inspiring eating disorders in their thinner peers. Absolutely not.

It's absolutely maddening.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

"You can dance, if you want to"

I spent a good portion of my therapy session last night talking about exercise. It seems that I develop headaches when I exercise and it is hot. It probably has a lot to do with several things physiologically, but my therapist and I were interested in all of the psychological issues that exercise holds for me.

I've always been chubby or overweight or obese (oh, the variety of words that can be used). For the most part, my family was not an active one. There were no camping trips or walks around the lakes. Neither of my parents went jogging or joined a gym. My dad golfed occassionally and there was the yearly trip to go fishing up north, but neither of those were terribly active.

So my model of activity was what we did as kids, playing on our block, or the PE classes in school and playground activities. Either because I was chubby or because I wasn't terribly coordinated, I didn't do well with competitive sports. Run and chase games would sometimes leave me feeling anxious and I would just stop running and let myself be caught.

I enjoyed dancing during PE - the schottishe, the Virginia Reel, square dancing - but the rest of that class was just painful for me. I asked, one time, if I could take ballet classes, but my mother sort of brushed me off. I was, after all, enrolled in soccer. Of course, I hated soccer. I was either one of the few girls on an all-boy team, or when I finally got onto a girls team, I was the worst player and got hopelessly teased.

My dilemma was made worse by the fact that my sister excelled at these things. Or she was good enough and got on good enough teams to seem to excell. She got trophies and there were awards banquets. The tropies for soccer, basketball and golf took up the top shelf of the entertainment center. Those trophies are symbolic, not only of the way that I felt a failure in exercise, but how I felt in constant competition with her...and it doesn't take much to guess who I thought always won.

In high school, I was able to do liturgical dance in my church. I loved this. I loved feeling like I was worshipping with my body. But if I had been more aware, I would have been able to acknowledge that I loved feeling graceful and coordinated. I loved this type of movement in my body.

In college, I took a conditioning class. I was intimidated by the dance classes and yet I wanted to get additional exercise - I was already walking regularly around campus. The class...well, it was sort of like PE. There was no real pleasure in what we did and since I wasn't in great condition, most of what was asked of me felt really uncomfortable. There were no instructions about keeping things at your own pace or how to make things more comfortable. And the bodies of most of my classmates did not look like mine.

The tragedy of this class is that one day, I was really getting into and enjoying a game of basketball. I hadn't played basketball for years and since I wasn't on a real team, I could enjoy the feeling of getting the ball and even the competition a bit. I jumped up to block a pass and when I landed, my foot rolled to the side and I went down. It hurt a lot. My teacher thought that I had a sprain and told me to walk it out. I wasn't allowed to use a phone at the sport facility (apparently this was their policy), so I ended up walking 5 blocks on what turned out to be a broken foot to get to a phone. It was awful, and in retrospect, I should have brought a complaint against the sports facility.

I have discovered that moving my body is a challenge for me. I like the feeling in my body after I exercise, but it is always the case that I struggle with movement for the first half hour that I do it. The one exception is swimming. I had to rediscover swimming. I never learned, formally, to swim, but growing up, as I did, in Minneapolis, it was a thing that one learned. I loved the water. I could be strong and mobile in the water. I could be light in the water. When I came to CA about 10 years ago, I took a water aerobics class and I fell in love with the water again. Now I've learned to swim with a snorkel and I'm amazed at how far I can swim...and how good my body feels the whole time.

I've also reclaimed my love of dancing. I'm taking a belly dance class and when I practice at home, I even put on a costume to feel authentic. It's silly, but it gives me pleasure and that's what's important.

It's sad that it's taken me so long to realize that moving my body can give me pleasure. I think that a lot of big folks have lost their memory of this. Our bodies sometimes make this difficult, especially as we age and the longer we go without moving. But moving keeps us strong and supple. It can help us build a better relationship with this body that our culture tells us is ugly or unacceptable.

I encourage you to think about the things that you used to like to do as a child. Did you like to dance or swim? Was playing on the jungle gym, your thing? Wrestling with your dog or doing somersaults? Is there some way that you can do something fun again with your body. Don't think of it as exercise, think of it as a way of playing and finding joy in your body again. I know it sounds silly, but recently I went rolling down a hill with my partner. I haven't laughed so much in such a long time.

Move, shake, dance, laugh, run, ride a bike, swim, walk, wave your arms whatever feels good.

Friday, July 20, 2007

So which is it?

A new study has been released in Australia describing trends in the weights of children and teens. I don't have much to say about the study itself, but the sort of schizophrenic way that it seems to be reported.

A Google news search presents first an
article from The Age. The title is "Children's Obesity Rates Keep Rising." But the rise in children who are overweight in a sample of 9000 went up only 1.3% in six years. Hardly an inflmatory number. They seem to miss the point of real concern in the study.

The Brisbane Times seems to have gotten it a bit better. It seems that a significant number of girls, about 6% increase, have used such activities as vomiting, laxatives and smoking as ways to control their weight.

This is no surprise to us who are not making ourselves crazy with starving ourselves anymore. Because, really, hypervigilance around weight and food makes you crazy (you do have to eat to live, after all). When we tell children that being fat is not only socially unacceptable but dangerous to them, we induce anxiety. When we tell them (they who are still growing and changing) that they need to control their "out of control eating" to remain thin, they use their best judgement sometimes based on input from their environment on how to enact this control.

It is okay if you want to make yourself crazy by trying to control your access to a life-sustaining resource. It is not okay to encourage children to do the same.

Fat Ass

On Wednesday, I was reading a Wiki article about Hatshepsut. In it, they talked about a relief of a journey to the Land of Punt which Hatshepsut had sponsored. The Queen of said land had a "condition" known as steatopygia and there was a link to another article about it.

It turns out that a prominent rear-end is a genetic trait (um, yeah) which is common among Bush and Hottentot women. These same women have "unusual"* genital characteristics which seemed to have been of more interest to the white explorers. The two are often descibed in the same breath, as though they are somehow linked.

My immediate reaction was one of utter recognition. Here in these photos and drawings was my ass. My fat ass that has been such a source, in the past, of shame and humiliation. That thing which consistently brings the most negative attention into my life. Only recently have I found someone who appreciates it as the lovely booty that it is. And here were two groups of people in Africa who had, obviously, appreciated it enough so that it was a prominent feature for all the women. What a lovely discovery.

It's reflective, a bit, of my journey and why I am starting this new blog. I have another blog, you see, that is pretty personal and I have enjoyed keeping it that way. But in the past year or so, I have been on a journey of accepting my body for what it is. It has led me to question so many assumptions about what is being reported about overweight and obesity and has brought up all sorts of feelings about what I am reading and my response to others in the world.

So this will be a blog about finding the things that reflect my reality in this world and sharing them here. It will be about questioning the standards of health and beauty in this world and giving voice to my anger, my joy, my anxiety, my humor, and...well, just all of me in the face of it all.

I want to put out a caveat: I am a proponent of Health at Every Size. Although, I understand it to be a personal issue, I do not agree that weightloss in and of itself is the way to health. In fact, I believe that in several ways it is detrimental to one's well-being. That's my bias. So if you are looking for support for your struggle to lose weight, you might wish to look elsewhere. There are plent of places out there which will fit the bill.

*Please note that those who find this trait unusual were white explorers. The women, themselves, were perfectly comfortable with it as, I imagine, were their partners.

P.S. I'll be making this look more snazzy soon. I promise!