I Am That Girl Now

Friday, January 25, 2008

A rant, if you will, about pretty much everything

I'm in thinking mode. I've been reading a lot-- a lot-- lately, and this time I've moved briefly out of my glut of listen-to-your-body/instincts/etc. books and into a glut of seriously-the-diet-industry-is-fucked-up books. Books that indicate that a) it doesn't seem right for women to be put in the position of having to hate their bodies in order to prove that they're good people, b) what the hell is wrong with people that the level of vindictive hate toward fat people just for being fat is way higher than for, say, drug addicts? c) it seems a mite suspicious that there are a LOT of people making money off the fact that we're on a perpetual weight-loss cycle, particularly given their incestuous relationships with women's magazines and with the studies done on how fat effects health, and d) possibly, just possibly, not all women have the same body types, women naturally put on weight in bits past the age of, oh, fourteen, and maybe we should get over expecting everyone to have the body of a teenage model when that doesn't seem to be physically possible.

My Hub has been giving me a lot of raised eyebrows at my reading material. We got in a very cranky fight once about the entire concept of size-acceptance because he'd read on [very annoying website/forum name deleted] that this meant claiming that morbidly obese people had no health problems. Which is NOT what I meant. I was going with two points:

1) Correlation is not causation. Meaning that although extra weight, heart disease and diabetes seem to go hand in hand, the real thing that causes heart disease and diabetes and whatnot is a crap diet and a lack of exercise, not the weight. Eat better and get exercise: be more healthy. Lose weight by any means necessary: be less healthy. The thing that makes you healthy is not the weight loss, it is the healthy foods and exercise. Your weight is a symptom, not a contributing factor. And frankly, in a lot of people it's not going to match up exactly with their health. People can be perfectly healthy and fifty pounds overweight. People can be skinny and terribly unhealthy. Follow the health, not the weight.

2) The first point aside, how exactly does it help to hate on people "for their own good"? Seriously, this is the worst kind of concern trolling in the history of concern trolling. People are not really that concerned about the health of a fat person walking down the street; they are pissed off that their vision is being polluted by a fat person and they want that person to be skinny so that they, the viewer, can only see things that they find attractive. People discriminate against fat people all the time-- dating, employment, customer service-- and that's not out of concern for the fat person's good. That's out of pure "eeew, yuck, fat cooties". There is no respect, no admittance that yes, we're all human beings here and worthy of being treated with dignity. And frankly, there's no reason for that. It's mean. It's stupid. It's like we're all living in eighth grade, all the time, and I swear to God I thought people were supposed to mature as they got older, have we forgotten how to do that?

In conclusion: a) fat does not necessarily mean bad health, just as skinny does not necessarily mean good health, b) you're not really concerned about someone's health when you bitch about seeing a 140-lb woman on a billboard, and c) does someone's bad health mean that you should mock them and discriminate against them? ("Hey, that guy's got cancer, let's make fun of him!" doesn't parse very well if you're not, you know, in elementary school.) I'm still pissed off about that argument, in case you couldn't tell.

What I'm getting out of all of these books, besides what I mentioned up top, is this:

We do honestly eat like shit in this country. Big companies make a lot of money off of that, too: all the most convenient foods are terrible for you. Fruits and vegetables and lean protein and whole grains don't really figure into convenience; wanting to eat those last three in particular takes learning and dedicated time, instead of just toss, heat, and go. Don't even get me started on fast food. There is serious BIG MONEY in all these things, and the problem isn't that people don't know what the calorie content is, the problem is that this stuff is convenient and the healthy stuff isn't. That's it. It's not asking people to choose between apples and oranges, it's asking people to choose half an hour of work vs. waiting in line for maybe two minutes, or nuking something in the microwave for three, and either way doing no work whatsoever.

Also: we do honestly get shit exercise in this country. And there's a lot of money in that, too. Lots of money in TV, lots of money in video games, lots of money in cars, lots of money, now, in computers... and it goes on and on. Our housing is arranged in suburbs so we can't walk down the block to get a gallon of milk, we have to take the car three miles. Public gathering spaces aren't really so much of a thing anymore. The whole world is arranged for us to do as little exercise as possible to get through our days.

These things, I've been saying since forever. The game is rigged, and in order to overcome it and actually eat well and get exercise, we have to go way out of our way and that sucks. We have to spend a lot of extra time and a lot of extra money to live healthy, and that's not easy, and it shouldn't be treated as such because that ignores the reality of the situation and makes it so that nobody talks about how to honestly fix the fucking problem.

Why? Back to the Myth of the Lazy Fatties. Can't talk about how these things are a lot of work because only fat people have a problem with it, and they only have a problem with it because they're fat and, hence, lazy! BAAAAAAAALLLLS. This isn't something that only touches the lives of the fatties, this is an everybody thing. The skinny people just get to ignore it because nobody looks at them with that "shame, shame, you're doing all this to yourself on purpose" look.

Which leads me to the next point. Yes, to a certain extent we do do this to ourselves. A lot of us, me definitely included, have deep-seated issues about our looks and that turns into disordered eating, and turns into a lot of hiding at home so that we won't have to deal with having other people see us, which in turn doesn't really lend itself to an active lifestyle. Technically, though, even a rat in a maze chooses to go down corridor A, which has proven itself safe if nonetheless an eventual dead end, versus corridor B, which is obviously the right one but which gives the rat an electric shock every time it tries to set foot on it. It's the rat's choice, though, which means that the rat is stupid for ending up in the dead end time and time again. Even when the electric shocks get turned off, even though the rat can't tell; stupid rat. Obviously, it's a choice.

I am starting to feel a lot of anger toward the people dolling out the electric shocks, let me tell you.

My sister always says 'it's like we grew up with two different sets of parents' and, you know, that's true, and in the end I think my problems with my body image comes down to this: I was the first one to hit puberty, and it happened while my dad was in the middle of a war with my mom over her weight. My dad promptly went to work on making sure that I wouldn't turn out like my mom (a phrase he actually used on me, many times, which in retrospect pisses me off a LOT), assigning daily exercise, shaming me for eating more than I "should", shaming me for my weight. Which, seriously, was perfectly normal for my frame. Put that together with the way he reacted to me having problems in school in fourth grade through sixth grade-- gee, ironic, all around the same time!-- and what we had there was a recipe for disaster. It's no surprise that I grew up skittish and passive and headed directly for an eating disorder. Just as it's no surprise that my sister, having a naturally skinnier frame that doesn't come with as much boobs & butt, and who never had problems at school, didn't grow up with the same problems that I had.

I ate my way into larger and larger sizes in a way of rebelling against the notion that I wasn't good enough as I was, and that I had to be controlled because I couldn't be trusted. If my dad and I had concentrated our war on something else, like sex or dating, I probably would have ended up sleeping with every boy in town... a fate which I missed out on because I was convinced at age 13, 5'2" and 120 pounds, that nobody would ever want me because I was so grotesque. Instead, I spent all my pocket money on fast food and then, when I went to college, I spent it all on Ben & Jerry's and Doritos and pizza delivery. THIS is simple cause and effect: mercilessly shame a pre-teen about her body, and you get a socially inept teenager/college student with an eating disorder who is convinced that you hate her. You do NOT get a girl with good health, confidence, a healthy body image, and an intact loving relationship with you. How the hell my dad thought this was possible, I will never know.

Again, this is stuff I've known for forever. I haven't looked out at the big picture for that stuff, though. I haven't looked at what gives people like my dad the ammunition that they use, their concepts of "normal" and "health" all wrapped up in skinny. I haven't looked at the studies that skewed the results and the politicians that used it to create a public scare, I haven't looked at the businesses that can only keep the billions of dollars coming their way if women hate their bodies and will do anything to change them, I haven't, in short, noticed that it doesn't make any sense to start the whole process of shame when shame does more damage than it ever, ever helps, and yet that's all that our entire society seems to do regarding fat. I haven't looked at it before, and it's seriously starting to piss me off.

I eat mostly healthy foods. I exercise a moderate amount. I have awesome scores for blood pressure, blood sugar, and cholesterol. I carry between fifteen to thirty pounds more than my Weight Watchers goal said I should. I'm pretty fucking healthy, my husband thinks I'm the most gorgeous woman he's ever met in his life, I'm good at my job, I have excellent relationships with my family (even my dad, who still might get yelled at for past events if I ever get my courage up) and friends, I give money to charity and give blood and go to church, I take great care of our finances, and I keep myself clean and moisturized and deodorized and my hair is brushed and my teeth are brushed and all my clothes are clean and ironed.

FUCK the weight. If it moves, it moves. If it doesn't, it doesn't. I am through freaking out about this because all the stuff that is important to me is already taken care of. I'm healthy and I'm happy and I intend to stay that way. All I want out of life now is a normal relationship with food and with exercise, and a better ability to deal with stress, and I think I'm on track for eventually having all those things. To hell with expectations of what I should look like: my experiences and thoughts and feelings here, inside my body, need to be at LEAST of equal importance with other people's thoughts and feelings about me. Because it's me, and I am more than what other people think about me, and that's the end of the damn story.



    By Blogger Shauna, at 11:49 AM  

  • One thing I'd like to add to the issues is that junk food is uneconomically cheap due to corn subsidies. You look at most countries in the world, from US-type European countries down to third-world - the corn itself is cheaper than the processed corn syrup. Some of this is that transportation is expensive - fresh things have a shorter shelf life than corn syrup - but a lot of it is that cheap corn is being turned into meat and sugar.

    why is the US government promoting obesity with one hand while sending the USDA to fix the problem with another?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:36 PM  

  • I forgot to mention corn being turned into fat aka corn oil.

    I'm curious about your thoughts about the time/ cost of healthy food. You're saying that it's the work of cooking that's a detriment. I don't think I spend a lot of time cooking but a. I'm single so the time may not be noticeable and b. I have cooking skills and c. I basically enjoy it.

    That said, I'm sure I could shave time off of the cooking if I had to. At home - a bag of frozen broccoli is dead easy to microwave - and if you're willing to go to a cafeteria-type restaurant instead of fast food, there's always a veg side dish. I do think that fast food tastes better and is often cheaper, so it becomes a kind of stress release. But I'm not convinced that the annoying cheapness of junk has made good food more expensive. I think it comes down to choosing to eat better - and spend more. I heard a stat that even middle- to upper-class people in India spend 40% of their budget on food, so the cries of "it's too expensive to eat right" seem a little whiny. I guess I think it might cost 15% of your budget instead of 10% to dump the junk.

    I assume you disagree with this logic, but I'm curious which part of it seems flawed to you. Arguing that the poor grocery stores just don't stock produce misses the point - they stock what people buy, like in poor ethnic neighborhoods the produce is there because it's bought.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:51 PM  

  • Shauna: Thanks doll.

    Anonymous: The nature of a rant being a rant means that I didn't delve into a lot of stuff; if you check past rants, I have, in the past, talked about the corn syrup issue. And I'm sure that you have absolutely no problems making food very quickly, good for you. I am in the middle of having a daily fight with my husband about who will cook and what to cook and why we don't have the money to order pizza every night like he wants to, so this is probably not the time to have me discuss anything rationally. Let me get my blood below the boiling point and perhaps then we'll talk. Sorry!

    By Blogger Meg, at 3:07 PM  

  • Very insightful post, Meg.

    By Blogger Laura N, at 3:37 PM  

  • First of all, I'm such a big fan of yours. I probably feel toward you they way you feel about Diet Girl. I've read every blog you've posted and continue to seek comfort in the way your beautiful mind works, the depths to which you will probe, the courage of your introspection, and the manner in which you journey through life. Your posts are one of my relatively new (like, in the past couple of years) sources of comfort since trying to live a healthier life and not always look to food for comfort/escape/reward/whatever. So thanks, for being such a comfort!

    Second, a guy I know has a very unpopular view on the whole topic of overweight women in particular. He thinks - no BELIEVES - that in our primitive, reptilian brains, men are actually attracted to women who are round and curvy and soft and pillow-y and, yes, fat. Our bodies are designed on a cellular level to store excess energy against times of famine, which means those bodies would have a greater chance of survival. From this (and his own fondness for soft, fluffy women), he believes we are attracted to those in our species most likely to survive, but that we have developed a kind of social, even global, self-hatred about the aesthetics of fatness. Some time in our early development, we get messages from society that we are supposed to hate/distrust/pity fat people, which we internalize, then puberty and peer pressure set in and we begin to project that same message, which perpetuates the hatred and is then reflected back on us and everyone else in its path.

    So that line of logic suggests people like your dad hate themselves for something (maybe an inability to control something uncontrollable), take it out on the women in their lives because it's more socially acceptable, and end up creating/perpetuating the lie.

    I'm not sure I agree or disagree with the reptilian fondness for fatness, but it is an interesting theory to ponder. What I do know is that I've noticed the more compassion I have toward others, the more I experience it myself. There's a morbidly obese woman I see most mornings on my way to work. I used to see her and think all those nasty things you might imagine (hence, participating in the problem). For the past couple of years, I've been trying to catch myself and instead see her as a woman who is capable and deserving of love and respect. I drive past her thinking, "I hope she has a loving partner who just cooked her breakfast this morning." Or, "I hope she goes in to work to find out she just got a promotion today." I find those thoughts make me smile and feel better, more peaceful, than the other sort does. I'm trying to do that in other areas of my life, too, and be the change I want to see in the world. I'm rarely successful, but I keep trying. :-)

    By Anonymous DeDe, at 6:14 PM  

  • good for you! healthy loks better than skinny anyhow.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:01 AM  

  • Meg, you are so awesome. This is sort of the point where I am at in all this.

    And I had so much to say, I turned it into a post on my own blog, rather than take up oodles of comment space here. ;)

    By Blogger Mae, at 3:19 PM  

  • Great post. I think that you have a lot of valid points and I agree that health is more important than the number on the scale.

    I actually received an interesting email about the different amounts of food/cost of groceries from different countries today. You may have seen this but I found it posted on a blog.


    The American family has the most processed foods and the least amount of fruit/veggies in their picture. I was amused by the Mexican family's CoCa Cola consumption until I noticed that most of that family had a bit of extra weight on them. Food choices do make a difference in overall health.

    Anyhow... found you thru Mae.

    Again, great post.

    By Blogger Deb, at 7:49 PM  

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