I would call this navel-gazing about my fat except the fat is in the way of my navel

Well, actually, I can see my navel (and my feet) pretty OK. That is one of the reasons I am currently in the throes of an Oh Noes Identity Crisis regarding that all-important lady-question: am I fat?

I’ve been inspired to examine my own privilege after having read Sady’s excellent post on such over at Tiger Beatdown: It’s Time for Another Installment of: WHAT KIND OF PRIVILEGE DOES SADY HAVE?

A similar “MEANDERING PRIVILEGE-BASED NAVEL-GAZING AHOY” disclaimer applies here, I think.

I’ve been having this internal debate, lately, wherein I attempt to asses my status re: Being A Fatty. On the one hand, I do not look like the Headless Fatties that are the face of the Ooga-Booga Obesity Crisis. I am a lot smaller than that. On the other hand, I am basically a walrus, compared to the fellow students I interact with on a day-to-day basis. A walrus with, like, three bukkits. (Apparently reading Sady affects the tone of my writing, lol.)

So, the ways I feel like I escape sizeism: I always feel welcome shopping for clothes wherever I feel like shopping, and while items in my size are often sold out, they are at least stocked in the first place, and when the store employees inform me of the lack they never even seem to suggest that I am too big to expect to find things in their store. If people think of me as being lazy, unhealthy, or unclean, it’s more likely to be based on the symptoms of my depression than on my weight (though weight may contribute). I certainly don’t have trouble fitting in most seats– amusement park rides, chairs in classrooms or at public events, public transportation– they’re all basically comfortable for me. I technically meet the standards of a Big Fat Fatty for airlines, since my thighs will touch the next person over, but since they are unlikely to think of me as a Big Fat Fatty I’m not facing a real risk of being thrown off a flight.

And yet, I seem to be really pushing the boundaries. Chairs with built-in desks are something of a crapshoot– occasionally not a problem, but sometimes the desk squashes my lap or the seat is too narrow, and it’s difficult for me to get in and out of them and uncomfortable to remain seated, and they can ruin an otherwise fun class. My thighs touch those of the person next to me when I fly, enough that I could technically be booted off and forced to buy two seats. My boobs do not fit into 80% of shirts, and clothes shopping in general is a headache as the cheap, trendy stuff consistently fails to scale up properly to accommodate for my curves. People assume that I am dieting. That’s actually the most annoying– people offer me “skinny” mochas, they recommend the “low-calorie” granola fruit tart over the cheesecake, they bring me splenda when I asked for sugar, they praise me when I order a salad, or make “knowing” jokes, like, “yeah, those calories, gotta watch ’em.” I am not in on this joke. I do not diet, and never have, and yet people look at me and instantly assume that I am splitting my dessert with the whole table, that I might want to substitute a light pesto for the creamy alfredo, that I want their advice on what lifestyle chaaaange totally worked for them.

But is that a sizeist assumption or a sexist assumption? I don’t remember things being that much different when I was only 115 (the year I stopped eating) as opposed to my current “zaftig” 170 (or wev– haven’t weighed myself for a while.) I think women of every size are probably subjected to the same basic assumptions that no matter how thin you are, you’re trying to get thinner. Plus, I don’t think men deal with the same expectations or assumptions regarding dieting at all, which suggests sexism as the motivator. But I also think it’s gotten more pronounced as I have gotten bigger, and that I am bumping up against some prejudices that I never risked facing when I was thin-but-not-thin-enough; I wouldn’t have been at-risk for being thrown off an airplane back then, for example. And a lot of the moral panic surrounding “childhood obesity” seems to be very much a gender-blind demonization of numbers and BMIs as the be-all and end-all of health, which suggests sizeism. I guess intersectionality strikes again!

But to get back to my navel-gazing, it seems that the answer is that sometimes I am totally in on the Thin Privilege party bus, since people don’t picture people who look like me when discussing Those Fatties, but other times I am totally about to die of my own fat, when an object or space is forced to reckon with my actual physical size as opposed to the size people think of me as being. Except that even then, based on the particular thin privilege I am attempting to access, I might measure up differently. Which is weird. I’m not used to my oppression being conditional.

Well, I guess I can prevent people from knowing I’m gay (in theory, anyway) and therefore piggyback on some straight privilege, but that doesn’t make the gay parts of me less oppressed. (More clearly: I can access the “privilege” of marriage by marrying a dude, but that’s not exactly a meaningful access.) But I can’t prevent people from noticing that I’m a woman, because, well, did I mention the part about my boobs totally not fitting into any shirts? Whatever the rules are for women, they always apply to me– if women can’t join the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, I can never join it. It won’t happen that one person things I’m man enough to join, since I’m pretty butch compared to the hyped-up stereotypes of ultra-femininity, while another things I am clearly unfit, since I have no hope of measuring up to the glorified media images of men. I’m not a man, so I can’t join, period. And sometimes sizeism can seem frustratingly nebulous in comparison, at least from the point of view of an in-betweenie; I can never tell if someone else considers me to be “fat” or not. Mostly, when people say anything, they say I’m “not that fat,” which, uh, doesn’t help.

Except that sizeism isn’t all subjective. Clothes and chairs and hospital beds and stretchers and blood-pressure pumps are all made with a fixed size, and that cute dress on sale isn’t going to decide that I don’t look that fat, and suddenly fit. It’s the size it is, and I’m the size I am, and often those are irreconcilable facts. Which makes sizeism about a lot more than just fighting people’s silly attitudes towards each other’s bodies. It’s about being prepared to actually accommodate the different sizes that people’s bodies come in.

I was hoping to find a way to separate, conceptually, the general you-are-never-thin-enough fat-hatred that all women face from the extra-sucky treatment that “actual” fact people face, but that seems like an impossible idea, even if there was a remotely non-ridiculous way to distinguish who even is an “actual” fat woman as opposed to someone who is “just” not-thin-enough. And when I’ve still got this many scare quotes around the ideas I’m trying to articulate, after this much navel-gazing… I think it’s time for me to call it a day and try to do something useful instead.

Does anyone have further thoughts, or maybe some helpful links from more-brilliant writers who have already grappled with these ideas? Comment away!

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4 Responses to I would call this navel-gazing about my fat except the fat is in the way of my navel

  1. nightgigjo says:

    Irony: I was about to post a link to Sady at Tiger Beatdown, which is why I remembered 1) this blog exists and 2) I’m supposed to write here!

    (Sorry, all — life has been preternaturally hectic. Thinking will resume shortly, I hope.)

    In any case, I have some navelgazing of my own, and a link. First, the link! Someone did the math on the BMI, and takes it to task: http://www.maa.org/devlin/devlin_05_09.html (it’s written by a dude, but yeah. Anyway.)

    I’m sure there’ s a bunch of stuff on Shapely Prose on this, but I don’t have handy-dandy linkage there right now, so I’ll ramble instead, and get links tomorrow.

    For the navelgazing, there is definitely sexism at play in fatphobia, as dieting is generally targeted at women (see also: Sarah Haskins).

    And FYI, I was “thin but not thin enough” for a long time, basically as soon as I was not so thin that people were worried about my health, I became just a little ‘pudgy’ or wevs, so that they were worried about my health.

    Which is not to say they were actually worried, or that it was actually about my health, but, again, wevs.

    I’m big. Always have been tall, and am now round enough to not fit any of the regular department store stuff, and am now granted enough bigness to get clothes at Lane Bryant, when they fit my body type and style all at once.

    In any case, I consider myself to be on the edge of between acceptably and unacceptably fat (when the world at large is defining those terms). I am, of course, going to die of Teh Fatz because of my baby-flavored donut habit, but I don’t feel like people look at me askance just for walking down the street. I am, however, having problems finding a baby carrier that’s likely to fit me (some of them seriously only go up to being 40″ around — not kidding!)

    But: It’s all oppression. It’s all a way of keeping women focused on hating their own bodies so they don’t start the revolution with all that extra time and energy.

  2. io says:

    Late to comment, but reading your archives right now and I was struck by your comment about the year you stopped eating. I had a similar 6 months to a year. I was NOT anorexic, but I was very clinically depressed/suicidal. I dropped to 93 lbs — I’m 5’3″. And I was praised, over and over, by acquaintances and strangers — I mean, literally total strangers would walk up to me in stores (on occasion that I could actually get myself to leave the house) and praise me for how wonderfully thin I was and how great I looked. WTF!!?? It was so, so, so messed up, and didn’t help when I started to feel better and gain weight again (omg, all the way up to only-slightly-underweight), I was no longer as “attractive.” It was also the first time I began to understand thin-privilege and body policing.

  3. eloriane says:

    Yes, that’s exactly what it was like. And the worst is when I’m looking at pictures from that time and people coo over how thin I was! And I can see is how miserable I was.

    I wasn’t anorexic. I did, technically, eat. I just didn’t eat, not the way I do when I’m well. I took no pleasure in food, I never felt hungry. I ate two yogurt cups for lunch, and whatever my parents served for dinner, and I only did it because it was socially required of me. It all tasted like paste. I can still hardly eat yogurt because I look at the little plastic container, and all I can think of is the year I subsisted, rather than lived.

    So when people look at those pictures, and look at me, and suggest, “gee, isn’t it a pity you don’t look like that any more”… it’s heartbreaking.

  4. Lila says:

    I have another perspective on size: even when I was in the throes of bulemia, my scale never got below 179 lbs/size 13-14. I mean other than that, I haven’t been smaller than that since, like, 6th grade. But I ate diet lunches my mom sent with me. For years my lunch was one slice of bologna, two slices of diet bread (yes they do make it) and a diet coke. I spent my entire childhood/young adult life thinking I was the fattest girl on earth. But when I look back now, I was pretty normal sized for most of that time. I’m 5’10, which explains part of it.

    Another part fell into place in college, when my mother (ever mindful of my weight) took me to see a doctor who specialized in non-surgical weight loss. This doctor didn’t just go BMI, she measured my body fat. Turns out that at my ‘thinner’ (I still thought it was fat) weight, I was not overweight. In fact my Healthy Weight ™ was 15 pounds more than I’d been trying my whole life to starve down to.

    Another time (before the aforementioned body fat measurement), my boyfriend’s stepmom (who is Canadian and small-boned, both of which are relevant) started going on about America and its ‘obesity epidemic.’ I stood up (we were at a restaurant) and said “I’m obese.” She said, no you’re not. I said, yes, because technically I was. Her response? “I don’t mean you. You have a big frame.” It didn’t occur to her that maybe the calculations shouldn’t be used as a measure of health if they left people out. To be fair, I have anomalously large bones (my ‘lean body mass,’ which is bones plus muscle, weigh over 140 pounds. That means that if I lost every ounce of fat, to the point where I, like, died of starvation, I would never be underweight.

    None of this is said to cast aspersions on adiposity. I’m not trying to say, “I’m not one of the fatties.” I’m trying to say “The fatties are a diverse group of people with different genes and different stuff going on.”

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