Friday, February 13, 2009

Fat Chance and Slim to None


While I was on blogging hiatus, I gave a lot of thought to whether or not I should continue my Tower rants as I had been writing them, or reduce – or for that matter expand – the range of issues I comment on here. Hard news, in the U.S. and around the world, has been especially serious since national economies started doing excellent imitations of the Titanic last September. Everything from tribal animosities to all-out wars across the planet have become increasingly fierce and unspeakably ugly. Human rights and civil rights are under attack, hunger and illness are global crises, poverty (or close to it) is replacing middle class security. Most people everywhere are scared and struggling in some way or another.

Against this backdrop, I asked myself during the holiday season in December, is it still important to be concerned with Fat Acceptance? Isn’t this a “niche issue,” one (you should excuse the expression) that carries little weight in the face of more massive problems? I hadn’t made a decision yet when, suddenly, January dawned and, with it, Winter Diet Season: the annual blizzard of TV commercials, magazine articles and junk-mail entreaties to take a good look at your fat ass now that the holidays are over and get ahold of yourself and stop letting yourself go. Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig et al are ready, once again, to help us hate ourselves as we are and, international crises aside, focus on every inch we can pinch on our inexcusably flabby bodies.

Since this is an annual event, one that generally runs through March, subsides for awhile, then reappears in early May to terrorize us with the prospect of Bathing Suit Season, I was leaning towards saying: screw it, Fat Acceptance is a losing argument, a ridiculous cause in the eyes of most people; obesity is more feared and hated than leprosy and cancer combined. Why am I trying to fight this battle?

But two things happened that made me re-think the subject: Oprah Winfrey once again made a national issue of her weight, publicly confessing to feelings of great embarrassment and deep shame about having “packed on” 40 lbs. over the past few years. Then, the front pages of tabloids worldwide were displaying photos of Jessica Simpson during a recent concert (seen above) that proved beyond doubt that she is fat!

I am confident that more people, women especially, are more aware of the details of Oprah’s and Jessica’s “weight problems” than the impact of Bernard Madoff’s $50 billion ponzi scam. For the record, Oprah, who has been fat to some degree or another all her life, is 5’6” tall and starved herself down to a size 10 after an extended liquid diet some years back. She was shooting for an 8 but never made it. At her top weight – which is more than she weighs now – she was 237 lbs. and around a size 20-to-22. Jessica Simpson, a non-entity who became a celebrity in large part because she was blonde and size 2, “ballooned” to size 8. (How could that kind of offense not be Page-One news?)

I hasten to remind the vigilantly fatophobic that the average woman in America is still a size 14. Marilyn Monroe, who today in many quarters (particularly those occupied by tweens, teens, and 20-somethings) is viewed as fat, was, at the height of her popularity, size 12; she occasionally went up or down a size, but 12 was her norm. Fat clothing catalogs, which used to start at size 14, now begin at size 12, and “large size” models are generally a size 10 (they need a little wiggle room for the pounds inevitably added by the dreaded camera).

I would love to stop writing about Fat Acceptance, because to me it should be a non-issue. It should be no more appropriate to discriminate against, or detest, people for their size than for their skin color or the shape of their heads. But we are a vociferously fat-hating culture, not just in America but even more so in the U.K. In Brazil, it’s almost illegal to be fat. Nearly every medical ailment known to humankind is attributed to obesity, which used to mean really, really fat, but now means any size that makes you feel you shouldn’t be seen in public in a sleeveless blouse. Essentially, any size that is a two-digit number is now considered fat.

I’m very fond of Oprah Winfrey and have enormous respect for how much she’s done for women around the world to help them value themselves, resist discrimination and abuse, and aspire to vocations that just a generation ago were seen as radical if not absurd. But every time she makes an issue out of fat (hers or ours) – which she does routinely – she undermines her best work and reinforces the idea that women are only as worthy as the size of our bodies. I don’t know anything about Jessica Simpson except that she’s not related to O.J., allegedly is a singer, and is a teen role model. I hear she’s trying to tell her fans that she’s not fat and she is very happy. They don’t seem to believe her.

As our society strives to become greener and leaner (in the sense of consumer spending and energy usage), fat – including not really fat at all – is increasingly being viewed as a symbol of excess, lack of restraint, and greed. The rich? It’s becoming more popular to disapprove of the rich, but we still envy them, still long to be one of them (even though our desire is more covert). But fat? Fat is fair game, always, everywhere, for any reason. Which is why, as a fat person, I cannot abandon the cause of Fat Acceptance, even though it’s viewed with the same credibility and respectability as witchcraft. To do otherwise would make me a loser in my own eyes – and how I see myself is more important to me than how others see me.

1 comment:

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