Monday, February 28, 2011

Kids and my inner fat girl

I've been writing a letter to a friend's niece...well, I was writing a letter to a friend's niece, who is bullied because of her weight.

I started writing a her letter. Then it got long.

And if you know anything about me, you might have expected that a little letter would be a bit understated for me. Shucks, I'm an over-achiever.

Since the little gal likes crafty things, and since I'm pretty good with Microsoft Publisher, I decided to take my too-long text and make it into a newsletter. I have compiled her some links and am making a page or two of fantastic fat female role models.

This has been like writing a letter to my pre-teen self. It's also compelled me to reflect a bit more, not only about my own experiences, but about my relationships to other fat women growing up. I hope to write more about that soon.

But finding size-acceptance resources for kids was harder than I thought. There was a lot of stuff ABOUT kids, but very little actually written for them, on their level. What are we doing for kids? What CAN we do for kids?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Healthy Food Rituals

In my house, we have a food ritual. I'm not sure quite how it started, but it developed from our habit of getting each other something special when one of us would go to the grocery alone. By something "special" I really just mean something the other person would like or something new to try...whether it's a little out of the ordinary or a little more expensive or just a new kind of the same old something.

See, we're cheap, y'all. I mean, we grocery shop cheaper than most people I know. But at the same time we use food as indulgence. For example, we'll get some really fresh asparagus sometimes, even if the price is ridiculous. Tonight I bought some low-sodium soy and teriyaki sauces and some couscous. We try not to eat out a lot, so instead we really focus on enjoying food at home...which is pretty easy when you live with a magnificent improvisational cook.

When one of us comes home from the grocery, our ritual is to show the other person the items we got. We "oooooh" and "ahhhhhh." We show off even the most mundane items...but we save the best for last. If the other person isn't home when we come back from the grocery, we commence the ritual upon their return.

I think this is one of the healthiest food rituals we have. We celebrate all the food. There is no good food/bad food. We get excited about green beans. We get excited about a new whole grain bread. We get excited about funfetti cake mix. Any one of those items could be the "best" we save for last, the little indulgence of the day.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Body Positive Song for Men?

When looking for a song to play before my Fat Feminisms guest lecture (really, a Fat Studies 101 lecture with a feminist/intersectional bent) the other day, I came upon this song, Forrest Whitaker by Brother Ali, posted on the blog Happy Bodies.

Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did (lyrics below). *

Brother Ali-Forrest Whitaker

Perhaps I'm way behind on this one, but I was pretty fucking impressed. I don't feel like you hear many songs like this by men, since men are usually taught that body issues are women's issues and that they either need to present a strong, disembodied front, or joke about it. With increasing pressure on men regarding their looks, we need songs like this by men (and by women).

I especially like this part of the song, which comes after the "let me list the things you'd pick apart and tell you so what?" introduction.

"I'm not the classic profile of what the ladies want
You might think I'm depressed as can be
But when I look in the mirror I see sexy ass me
And if that's somethin that you can't respect then that's peace
My life's better without you actually
To everyone out there, who's a little different
I say damn a magazine, these are gods fingerprints
You can call me ugly but can't take nothing from me
I am what I am doctor you ain't gotta love me"

1. Your assumptions about me are wrong. 2. If you can't respect me, see you later. 3. Body diversity, fuck yeah. 4. You don't have to love me (implied: but I have a right to exist and live with respect).

Also, he mentions 'doctor.' I don't know enough about him or his music to take the reference at face value, and he references same elsewhere. But when I first heard it, I certainly took it literally, happily assuming he was referencing actual doctors and stigma/discrimination in health care. But alas, the only reference I could find of him talking about 'doctors' was when he was interviewed for Rock the Vote about health care. He is quite a political fella, and I will definitely be checking out his music much more, having only seen him perform a few times on TV.

The mention of Forrest Whitaker is pretty straightforward, as he's a fat Black man with a lazy eye who actually made it pretty well in Hollywood, winning both an Academy Award and a Golden Globe. Beauty tips according to Forrest Whitacker, eh? We should all follow the implied, uh, "fuck em!"

Full Lyrics

And yo whatever comes up comes out
We don't put our hands over our mouth
And whatever comes up comes out
We don't put our hands over our mouth
Whatever comes up comes out
Please mister bass-man lay it on me

Ayo, Dependin on the day, and dependin on what I ate
I'm anywhere from 20 to 35 pounds over weight
I got red eyes and one of them's lazy
And they both squint when the sun shines so I look crazy
I'm albino man, I know I'm pink and pale
And I'm hairy as hell, everywhere but fingernails
I shave a cranium that ain't quite shaped right
Face tight, shiny, I stay up and write late nights
My wardrobe is jeans and faded shirts
A mixture of what I like, and what I wear to work
I'm not mean and got a neck full of razor bumps
I'm not the classic profile of what the ladies want
You might think I'm depressed as can be
But when I look in the mirror I see sexy ass me
And if that's somethin that you can't respect then that's peace
My life's better without you actually
To everyone out there, who's a little different
I say damn a magazine, these are gods fingerprints
You can call me ugly but can't take nothing from me
I am what I am doctor you ain't gotta love me

If you would please turn in your bible
To beauty tips according to Forest Whitaker
In the third chapter of the third line
Brother Ali would you please read to the choir for me son

[Sung 3X]
I'ma be all right, you ain't gotta be my friend tonight (you ain't gotta love me)
An I'ma be okay, you would probably bore me anyway (you ain't gotta love me)

Forest Whitiker y'all


*Upon reading through the lyrics again, the line "And they both squint when the sun shines so I look crazy" obviously relies on ableist (and lookist) tropes (more on that here). Well, if Brother Ali really is political, there's something we can help educate him about. **
**And with that Google search I realize that the fantastic blog FWD/Feminists with Disabilities has closed. It was a great blog, I'm glad they made such a difference, and I'll continue to read the archives!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Self-Care Exchange

Self-care is a feminist ethic, largely because women tend to be socialized to care for others' needs and disregard our own. And, I know a lot of women who are so busy kicking ass and taking names that they forget to take time and pleasure for themselves.

Self-care is also an important ethic in the fat acceptance movement, largely because fat people are taught to disregard and dis-identify with our "disgusting" bodies, in addition to being taught we are already too self-indulgent. We often internalize this shaming and hatred, which, un-surprisingly, doesn't lead us to love and care for ourselves. When I talk about fat shame and it's effects with students, I ask them what it is they do when they are made to feel bad about themselves. No one shouts, "Self-care!" though we'd be in a better world if self-care was an instinctual reaction to shaming.

Despite knowing the importance of self-care, it's not easy for me to do. Sometimes I find it hard to feel deserving. Sometimes I am distracted. Sometimes I feel too tired. Sometimes I look to the wrong things for "self-care" out of habit. Sometimes I'm not quite sure how I would enact self-care. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed and it seems like just one more thing on my endless list of things I need to do/should be doing.

My loved ones are very good about encouraging my self-care, though. My partner encourages me to get the sleep I need and take care of my body. My friends encourage me to give myself breaks and room to grow. In all honesty, I am blessed to be around so many people who want me to treat myself nicely, not to mention their providing me with so much encouragement and support.

One day, my friend and I had a conversation that I will never forget because it really defines our friendship. If I remember correctly, upon giving me some advice, she said, "Oh, I don't mean to be mothering you." I said, "No, it's okay, it's good. We are each other's mothers. We are mutual mothers." And that phrase has stuck with us. Mutual mothers. We take care of each other, nurture one another, and give each other reality checks whenever necessary. The idea of mutual mothering really struck a self-care chord with me. We cared about each other, but also about each other's self-care.

Once when I was having a terrible time with my back, she gave me a massage. I've gotten used to my partner caring for me in such an intimate way--and honestly, I wouldn't feel at all uncomfortable, myself, about giving a friend a massage--but I'm pretty fucking terrible at letting people care for me. This friend of mine, another friend of mine, my partner, and others are helping me learn how to let myself be cared for. I am learning more all the time about how to trust and how to ask for help and support. I am getting better, but I am still not good at it.

Letting her care for me in such a way opened a door in my mind. Letting others care is an important part of self care, something I'm realizing more and more all the time. I started thinking about self-care a little differently. For a long time I rolled the idea of a self-care exchange in my head, but I never verbalized it. I don't know why. Perhaps it was because deep down it felt greedy or selfish to ask someone to care for me; perhaps it was because sometimes things just need to evolve naturally.

When Christmas rolled around, she asked for a list of things I wanted. On my list was a manicure, as I'd never gotten one. At first, my friend thought, we might get our nails done together. That could be fun. But my friend, someone of my own heart, had a better idea. “I love to give manicures and it would make me really happy if I could pamper you and give you a manicure myself.” She wanted to care for me! I was touched and agreed that I would like that much more.

About a month ago we finally set a date. We spent a whole day together having fun. But when it came to me, she went all out. She had taken a lot of time to think about exactly what she wanted to do and how she was going to make me feel comfortable and relaxed and loved. At the same time, the focus was still on what I wanted.

Afterward, we agreed that it was a great time and it made us both feel very good. I told her that I had thought a long time about a self-care exchange, and this certainly seemed like that was what we had done. What if we made an effort at a regular self-care exchange?

She was instantly on-board. Now, we plan to do a self-care exchange at least once a month, ideally every two weeks. There are all sorts of things we can do for each other—things we would almost never do for ourselves.

I think self-care exchange could be revolutionary. I like that I have a close friend who will help me with self-care, but at the same time I don't think self-care exchange is something just for close friends. I think if people were more open with one another, we could all help each other with self-care. I am amazed when I hear stories about people coming together to share resources, like poor women of color taking turns making meals for their families. That's fucking community—investing in each other and coming together to make life better for one another. And on a fundamental level, that's self-care en mass.

A self-care exchange is about human connection and human care. It's a mutually agreed-upon activity that is mutually beneficial. It's bonding. It's intimacy. It's love. Letting someone care for you is deeply touching, and so is caring for someone else. Let's care for each other!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Father, Parts I & II...and thin mom in my psyche.

Father, Part I

While my father was visiting recently, my body weight did not come up...but I think it almost did.

I mentioned that my feet hurt.

His response was to shake his head slightly and say that a person of my age (nearly 28) shouldn't hurt so much. He didn't quite have an empathetic tone. Now, he didn't say it, but I felt like it was a hint at my weight. Fatties get a sense for these things. And since everyone tells you your feet-knees-everything would hurt less if you just lost weight, I subverted what I felt was an impending weight statement.

"Well, my feet have always hurt, that's the way it's always been." He couldn't disagree.

Essentially, extraordinarily tight ligaments and tendons which get tighter and cause pain in my feed and legs if I'm on my feet for too long or walk for too long, which isn't very long at all. At any rate, it's been this way since I was little. And, in twist that will utterly baffle people who believe the anti-fat hype, the pain has gotten less and my recovery quicker as I've gotten fatter. That is, I think, not because I've adapted or because I stretch more, but because my body presses down more, which forces my tendons to stretch. If I wear a heavy backpack, it's also easier and less painful to walk.

So, he didn't say anything about my weight. I'll never know if that's what he was getting at, but if that's what he was thinking, I was way ahead of him.


Father, Part II

My father doesn't say much about my weight anymore. The last thing he ever said about it was that he was worried about my health. I can't remember if I had the knowledge at the time to combat that claim or if I just shrugged it off.

I recently realized something interesting about my father, who's been a hefty guy or at least "husky" since his twenties or earlier: He married my mom when she was skinny.  (They have been divorced since I was 5.)

I don't know why this struck me right then. It's not like I didn't know this.

My mom comes from a family of a lot of fat women, and a few fat men, and was fat in her teens. I don't know when my mom got skinny, but she had me when she was 27 and all my childhood memories of her are of skinny mom. Now, I don't know her size, but she wasn't just "not fat," she was skinny. Skinny mom with straight brown hair so long she would sit on it. And growing up that's the image I had for the way I wanted to look some day. My only wedding fantasies were about fitting into her wedding dress one day...not because I gave a damn about a wedding, but because I wanted to be as thin (and therefore, beautiful) as she was when she was first wed. I even held on to the fantasy of super long hair well into my twenties before figuring out it just doesn't look good on me.

A few years ago my mom revealed to me that, of course, she wasn't thin by accident. She was exhausting herself to be thin. In addition, she told me that my grandmother, my dad's mother, would often give her clothes several sizes too small, even after she'd explicitly told her what size she wore. Classy, grandma!

Honestly, I'm not sure if my mom was fat when she met my dad or if she had already slimmed down. His second wife was very thin, his third not so much. My dad, himself, fluctuates in his weight. At one point in my childhood he slimmed down quite a bit--a time when he was obsessed with lifting weights and running (which explains why I could lift weights and had a weight bench in my room in my early teens, a time when I was obsessed with losing weight and doing a lot of unhealthy things in an effort to become thin).

While not completely invested in the thin ideal, my dad would like to lose weight, I am sure. He lost some weight recently. I don't compliment him on it, but I know some people do. I know he doesn't hate fat people, and he loves me like nobody's goddamn business, but thinking about that image of him and my skinny mom struck a nerve.

For some reason I wondered, for a moment, if that was my dad's image of an "ideal" woman. I felt a little insecure. "He loved thin mom," I thought. "Is that his image of what I should look like in my twenties?" Naturally, he loved my mom for all sorts of reasons. He has never lamented the thinness of my mom's once-thin body.

I don't know why I thought his long-ago marriage to thin mom had anything to do with me (except for, you know, the obvious).  He certainly sees how much my partner loves me. Honestly, my dad has been one of the most compassionate people I know when it comes to my weight and my insecurity about my weight over the years. The fact that he loved a thin woman (or two) doesn't mean he doesn't love his fat daughter.

If nothing else, reflecting on all of this has made me even more aware of the effect thin-mom-as-ideal has had on the development of my own self image, and the place it, perhaps, still holds in my psyche.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Lessons from Astronauts

We're not supposed to connect emotions to food, right? We're not supposed to eat for comfort or so that we feel better. Food should not be our pleasure.

But the thing is, food is connected to emotions. Food is comforting. Food is pleasurable. Food does make us feel better.

This was reinforced for me when watching NOVA's "Can We Make it to Mars?”--a significant portion of which host and astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson spends with astronaut food scientists. In the segment, they reference the psychological importance of food and quote several astronauts.

When you're in space, stuck inside, basically, a can. Food becomes...kind of a highlight of the day.” -- NASA Astronaut Jerry Linenger

You have to eat in order to survive. But what people don't...understand, I don't think, is the psychological aspect of food.” – NASA Astronaut Clayton Anderson

Because it is one of the few pleasures you have control over. And I think, people serving on submarines have long understood the importance of food for crews' well being.” – NASA Astronaut Andrew Thomas

Of course, most of us aren't astronauts or part of submarine crews. But when it comes down to it, food has psychological value. It's something most of us don't think about...because we don't have to. It's something you mightn't think about lest you suddenly find yourself lacking.

I'm not saying food is the main course of emotional and psychological well being. However, taking pleasure in food is, in fact, helpful.

I recognize that most people's relationship with food is fraught, some people consistently rely on food for comfort in ways that are harmful to their well-being, and some people become unable to control their binging (just as some people become unable to control their urge to deny themselves food--let's not set up a false dichotomy where anorexics and bulimics are 'in control' unlike binge eaters). But that doesn't make pleasure in food inherently bad or taking comfort in it an inherently negative behavior.

Food has value for your mental health. Food has psychological value. You are not a bad person because you take pleasure in food. In fact, overall, we're probably better for it. 

For more on this from someone brilliant, visit The Fat Nutritionist here and here.