What if you lose weight the “easy way”? (Reflections on Weight Loss and Weight Loss Surgery, Part 1)

In Germany, the show Big Diet locked contestants into a house to lose X number of pounds.  In New Zealand, an official proposal to tax food based on fat content was put forward in order to ‘cure’ fatties. In England, a child was sent home from school with a “You’re too fat” note while a couple was told they are “too fat” to adopt. In America, shows such The Biggest Loser suggest if you are big (re: fat) you ARE a LOSER and The Swan surgically removed fat from the bodies of already relatively thin contestants, revealing liposuction as (female) necessity.

These examples are only a minute offering of the continued abhorrence of fat in many (most?) cultures around the world. While many societal institutions and beliefs contribute to the ‘thin-is-in’ aesthetic, the media and the multi-billion-dollar ‘diet industrial complex’ are two of the greatest perpetrators of this fat-hating vitriol. Bombarding us with the equation that thin equals beauty, will-power, and success and fat equals failure, gluttony, and ill-health, the media consistently projects negative attributes onto fat bodies. Fat hatred and its ugly sister, anorexic approval, abounds not only in reality television, but in EVERY form of media. Seen any fat news anchors? Been encouraged to admire any flabulous films? Listened to any fat-positive songs? Not likely (unless, that is, you are an active fat acceptance person and purposefully seek out fat positive media – and, even then, it ain’t that easy to find).

Judging by this widespread fat-hatred, it seems the thin-loving media would have embraced the relatively new “cure” for fatness – weight loss surgery (WLS). Yet, coverage of such surgery has been largely negative.  Broadcasting surgical horror stories and framing those who opt for surgery as cop-outs, the media suggests  that being thin takes hard work, sacrifice, and will-power – that surgery is ‘the easy way out’. The now thin post-surgical body may be hailed for its newly acceptable appearance, but the words used to describe WLS from ‘drastic’ to ‘draconian’, from ‘last resort’ to ‘effortless,’ from ‘quick fix’ to ‘surgically induced self-control’ all connote WLS as cheating.

Perhaps the most-outspoken celebrity mouthpiece of this media doctrine is Bill Maher. In the following, he blasts WLS, suggesting that fatties are food addicts:

No more celebrating gastric bypass.  Carnie Wilson, Al Roker and now Starr Jones are all being heralded by the media for stapling their stomachs shut. They shouldn’t be.  They’re not making a brave choice to change. They’re giving money to doctors to reroute their ability to turn food into crap. It’s like kicking cocaine by crazy gluing your nostrils shut.

Drawing on the widely held erroneous belief that fat people are gluttonous, Maher makes it clear that he believes if you’re fat, it’s your own damn fault. However, despite his claims to the contrary, WLS is hardly praised in the media. Rather, typical before and after shots celebrate newly attained thinness while guffawing at former fat grotesquerie. They frame the pre-WLS body as out of control and GROSS. The post body is then dissected for evidence of quick weight loss – saggy skin, chin folds, upper arm sags – with an implicit message that if these fatties had done it right – or the ‘hard way’ – they wouldn’t have to suffer the post-op baggy-body-syndrome.

Thus, while our culture wants us to be thin it wants us to suffer to do so. Moreover, it wants us to be thin at all costs – with the emphasis on cost – to buy diet pills, exercise machines, diet food, etc, etc. Apparently the cost of surgery (which was for several years covered by various health insurance companies) was not generating enough profits for the weight loss industrial complex.

Oprah Winfrey, like Maher, is in line with the media’s message that WLS is the easy way out. Her mantra seems to be, “I did it the hard way, so can you” – yes, the ‘hard’ way with a personal trainer and full-time chef. Embracing her new thin self, and famously espousing that losing weight is her greatest achievement, she still supposedly wants to teach us to love the bodies we are in. Oprah seems to have fallen victim to the idea that the female body must be disciplined into proper shape. Relentlessly shedding her former fat self, she emerged as a new and improved cultural icon of female will-power. Yet, this shedding was, as it is for the vast majority of bodies that are not born to thinness, temporary. Now Oprah is “embarrassed” about her lack of discipline, embarrassed her body is back at the 200+ mark.

Oprah’s sidekick, Dr. Phil, also characterizes weigh loss surgery as the easy option, advising members of his “Weight Loss Challenge” group “If you want a quick fix, get your stomach stapled.” This idea that surgery is easy (and that in order to count, weight loss has to be a challenge) has been widely adopted by the media. Fat people are not supposed to have a cheaters way out, damnit! They should be made to suffer for their self indulgence, laziness, and constant eating! Never mind the fact that many thin people eat as much or more than their fat counterparts, many exercise less or not at all, many have just as many or more health problems. Never mind that such surgeries are hardly ‘easy’ (nor do they work for everyone) and YET they are more successful than yo-yo dieting, pills etc. This is not an endorsement of WLS (nor is it a condemnation) – rather, I ask, WHY does the media only champion certain types of weight loss? Why pick on people who have “chosen” – either for health reasons or for aesthetic reasons – to opt for surgery while celebrating others who make the very same “choices” but do so with pills, extreme exercise regimens, or starvation diets?*  Seems like a double standard… Does it perhaps come from the fact that the diet industrial complex’s main goal is for people to FAIL and that, as of yet, WLS has been one of the most successful ways in which fatties become skinnies? A drastic way – to be sure – but a way that has a much higher ‘success’ rate than obsessive colon-cleansing or chomping down acai berry pills…

While I am all for loving the bodies we are in – and loving all types and sizes of bodies – I understand we live in a world that force feeds us the message we must NOT be fat. As such, many, many people are constantly trying to lose weight. THIS is the problem – yet, too often I have seen people who have been brainwashed into believing they must be thin to be happy/healthy baring the brunt of attack from all sorts of places – including from fat positive activists. Shouldn’t we, as body lovers, be attacking the system and NOT the people who are its victims?

Up next, part 2, in which I consider the fat acceptance movement and condemnation of WLS…

—-

*I put chosen and choices in scare quotes to indicate the idea of free choice is a bit of an oxymoron given the level of fat-hating cultural indoctrination.

Advertisements

What if we loved fat girls as much as we love the “bowl full of jelly” Santa?

We attended my son’s holiday concert the other night. The kids were mainly middle schoolers, with a handful of high schoolers sprinkled in the mix. There were a number of solos, and the talent rivaled that of American Idol auditions – some were brilliant, some you had to mentally plug your ears to…

One part of the show I can’t get out of my mind though:

Two girls came to the front, 7th or 8th graders I would guess, dressed in identical shimmery gold and black sleeveless dresses. One was tall, thin, and tan, the other was pale, fat, and short.

Now, without describing them further, most people will picture the tall thin girl as attractive, and the short fat girl as ugly. This is the reaction the people sitting behind me had, as they audibly tsk-tsked as the fat girl made her way to the front of the stage (I had to force myself not to turn around and begin to beat them over the head with my umbrella). Their sounds of disapproval seemed to emanate through the audience, and, as the girls performed, I sensed the (mostly parents) in attendance trying to muster applause for the fat singer, while the thin singer was showered with whistles and mighty claps. Yet, the fat singer was the better singer – and, in my book, she was beautiful. I loved her dark hair, the way her limbs pushed mightily from the sleeveless dress, her full face, the hulk of her form as she sang clear notes into the audience.

The thin girl next to her exuded embarrassment due to standing next to such fatness – her look indicated that she was trying to convey to the audience, “please, it wasn’t my choice to have to sing next to lardo here, if I smile big enough and look pretty enough and just pretend I’m up here all by my beautiful batting eyelashes self, maybe it will work.” I hated her. I know she is only a tween, but I couldn’t help it. The contempt and shame she exuded due to being placed on stage next to a body she deemed ugly was way too palpable for me to forgive.

As for the fat beauty, she never looked up, never made eye contact with the audience, never owned her wonderful singing talent. At 13 or perhaps 14, she seems to have learned that her body is not supposed to exude confidence, that it is not supposed to expect praise and love, and that, perhaps, she is lucky to even be included in the show with a body such as hers. The skinny-minny family behind me certainly would have preferred her not to be in the show, that they made clear. (And, yes, I realize I am doing a bit of skinny bashing here, but fat hatred and the destruction of the self esteem of young fat bodies brings out the skinny-hater in me…)

Anyhow, as I wished fervently that I could somehow make that fat girl on stage love herself, love her body, and love her pale, full limbs as much as her vibrant voice, I thought of, of all people, Santa. As the holiday carols boomed out from the choir, I pondered why we love this iconic fat old “man” so darn much, but can’t muster love for fat girls. (For my refusal to believe that Santa is really a man, come back for a post on this matter Xmas eve.)

This holiday season, my wish is that all fat bodies, not only those bedecked in red suits and donning beards, will be shown love. They too deserve affection, praise, and compliments – and, yes, a plateful of cookies.

Happy holidays fatties! And, yes, to the skinny-minnies too.

What if we got over the whole weight thing?

In the past few weeks, I have enjoyed squeezing a number of summertime activities into my life before heading back to the grindstone of fall semester. (By the way kind readers, as classes start tomorrow, the frequency of my posts may diminish… But, I will do my best to keep “kicking ass” in the blogosphere).*

While soaking up sun at the beach, whizzing down slides at water parks, swimming at public pools, and being spun upside down and backwards at theme parks, I have appreciated the wonderful diversity and beauty of all the different bodies that populate this planet.

I love body watching at the beach, but not the kind of bodies that popular culture deems ideal. No, in fact the bikini clad bodies with long blonde hair or the board short wearing six-packs that cavort in groups while tossing Frisbees are not the bodies that bring me the most joy. Rather, I like those bodies that our culture deems imperfect, undesirable, as too fat, too hairy, too pale, too wrinkly – I like to see these bodies in all their different swimsuits and sunwear enjoying the surf and sand. I am saddened when such a body feels the need to hide itself under a sarong or when is visibly worried about being out in public. I hate to see such a body wearing what is obviously an attempt to hide. I love it when all the ‘Othered bodies’ refuse to buy into the bodily hatred our culture doles out by obviously enjoying letting it all hang out at the beach.

At water parks and swimming pools, even more bodily diversity is often apparent as these tend to be family hangouts rather than quasi-pick up places for the young and hot to strut their stuff (it seems even at ‘family beaches’ it is hard to get away from the feel of California beaches as pick up joints). And, at water parks and pools, pretty much everyone is in a bathing suit because that is all you can wear if you wish to ride the slides or dip in the water. In fact, these places should be a required experience for the crazy designers and advertisement big wigs out there who stubbornly perpetuate the idea of ideal sizes and average height/weight. As such places attest, bodies (no matter their age) are radically diverse. Now, while this truism does not hold up so well at certain public pools (I was in Palm Springs once at a pool where a friend and I were playing “Try to spot the real boobs” due to the overwhelming presence of surgically modified uber-tan fat-free bodies posing poolside), for the most part, a public space populated by swim-clad wearing bodies will reveal a fact that people like to deny: bodies come in all shapes and sizes.

At a beautiful outdoor pool overlooking the Puget Sound I swam at this summer while in Seattle, I witnessed two memorable body moments. Unfortunately, neither of them were positive. In the first, a boy of about six pulled off his shorts and underwear poolside so as to change into his swimsuit. Upon seeing him, his father became irate and started shouting “What is wrong with you boy?!? Get your clothes back on!!!” Then, he began to verbally abuse the woman with him (who appeared far too young to be the boy’s mother but seemed to be the father’s girlfriend). He questioned her judgment, asked her what was wrong with her to let the boy do that, yelled at her for letting the boy embarrass him in public. A general sense of dread spread over the sun chairs. I could collectively sense others wondering if they should say something, if they should pretend they couldn’t hear, if they dared to step into a ‘private matter’ when the man ‘in charge’ was obviously extremely angry and was not short on muscles to back up that anger. As the yelling went on, I myself wondered what to do. I have stepped in before in similar settings with mixed results. (Once, I phoned 911 when a man was beating a woman outside a gas station only to be chased down the street by the woman as she was so angry I ‘lied’ to the police about her boyfriend). Cringing inside for the naked little boy and the woman (and hating the father), I got up to walk towards them not knowing what I would say or do. However, before I got there, the boy grabbed his stuff and ran to the bathroom, and the woman did the same. The man, all smug in his self righteous king of the castle manner, laid back in his chair and gave his other children a look that said “you better not give me no shit neither.” I wanted to say something, I wanted to call him out on his assholery, but I didn’t. Frankly, he scared me. And to think that all this was over a six year old boy being so excited to get in the pool that he bared his butt poolside. Who the frig cares?!? The dad obviously did – he acted as this brief show of nudity was a catastrophic emasculating episode.

The other memorable body moment involved seeing a girl of perhaps 14 wearing cumbersome gingham outfit that resembled a swimsuit from another century that consisted of long bloomers, a sleeved top, and a Holly Hobbit style bonnet. I happened to spy the cover of the book she was reading, something like How to be an Obedient Woman. Now, I of course have no idea why she and all the women with her were dressed like this, or what the idea of ‘obedience’ meant to them, but judging from their attire, it seemed to involve keeping one’s body covered, even when swimming. While the choice to do so would be one thing, the title of the book suggested another – that being an ‘obedient female,’ a ‘good girl,’ meant one should deny the fleshy parts of existence. I am not sure why this group of women struck me so much, or why I felt so saddened by their dress code. Although I agree people should be able to choose how they cover (or do not cover) their bodies, I have a sort of gut reaction to bodies that appear to be excessively covered in order to hide what are deemed as ‘defective’ parts. In some cases, the defectiveness seems to be associated with being a female body. In others, it is due to inhabiting a body that differs from the ‘ideal.’ In either scenario, I am saddened when people appear visibly uncomfortable or embarrassed about their own unique embodiment. (Mind you, I am not a fan of major boobcrack or buttcrack display in public spaces either – mainly because such let-it-all -hang-out antics tend to play into an objectifying “I am just meat for your enjoyment” paradigm.)

This Saturday while riding as many extreme roller coasters as possible in very hot Valencia, California, I did more musing on the variability of bodies. Most people wore short shorts and tank tops due to the 90plus degree weather. Some were thin, some were fat, some were hairy, some were wrinkly. One thing I noticed while jammed in close proximity to other bodies in line is that even thin, toned bodies have the so called “cottage cheese” look to their thighs and/or “tummy rolls.” These fleshy parts are natural. They are not gross or ugly but only perceived as such because we live in a culture that profits off of making people hate their bodies. If it was ok to have jiggly thighs, varicose veins, tummy pouches, and love handles, how would corporations rake in the dough on cellulite creams, diet pills, age-defying potions, and Botox injections? I was pleased that the heat prompted the fleshy display of so many different types of bodies and this got me thinking about a fat-hating conversation I heard earlier this summer.

While at dinner at a relative’s house, someone brought up the news that airlines might start charging passengers by their weight. Now, my family is not known for having “skinny genes,” quite the contrary in fact, but a number of people piped in about this being a good idea. One of the more skinny obsessed in attendance suggested she should get a discount due to her low weight. Judging by the comment thread here, lots of people agree that charging by weight is a good idea. However, if you consider that what we weigh is a complex combination of genetics, metabolism, age, diet, and, now more than ever, how we are force fed high fructose corn syrup, it doesn’t seem fair to reward those who can eat trainloads of food and weigh in at 110 while punishing those whose bellies expand if they merely look at a cookie. Seems to make about as much sense as charging for skin color.

Yet, as the people at the dinner table bemoaned “It’s so uncomfortable when you are crammed next to a fat person that spills over into your seat.” Yeah, will imagine how it feels to be that fat person. Do you think s/he likes to not “fit” in our world, to be reminded that if you are over a certain weight/height you don’t belong? Flights are uncomfortable full stop. Yes, it is hard to be crammed in next to so many other bodies, but give me a fat seat companion over an annoying one any day – or over a kid kicking my seat the entire flight while her/his parent snores away in oblivion.

Seems to me a better solution would be for airlines to offer a few rows with less seats and more leg/body room. If you are taller or fatter or merely want to stretch out, maybe these seats could cost a bit more (but not double, and not the price of first class). I know this is not very feasible in our profit is all culture, but is a dehumanizing weigh in at the check in counter really the best airlines can come up with? This would give being “overweight” an entirely new spin. I can just imagine alarms going off at the check in scales and the accompanying shouts: “This one is over weight by 20!” “This fatty is over by 50!”

What the heck does that term really mean anyway? Over what weight? How can a person ever possibly be over the weight of their own body? They can be over the weight culture deems normal, over the weight doctors peddle as healthy, over the weight diet gurus suggest one needs to be at, over the weight considered attractive by a thin obsessed society, but certainly not over the weight their own body naturally stabilizes at. Now, factors like high fructose corn syrup and dangerous dieting lead to a weight that might be over the set point of one’s body – but this is due to culture practices that pump food full of junk while expecting people to be as thin as possible and, in so doing, promote crazy dieting/eating habits. Ridiculous.

This is why I don’t use the term overweight. I think it’s is an idiotic brainwashing three syllable mind-numbing term. It should be banished from the lexicon. I also hate obese. Medicalized hogwash. The term I like is fat. If we embraced the term, perhaps we could embrace fat on our own bodies. Cuz most bodies have it somewhere – even those thin little bodies in teeny tiny shorts have fat somewheres. Fat is human. Bones are for skeletons – you know, when you are dead. So, let’s get over the whole stupid weight thing and embrace the fact that our bodies are made of flesh, and bone, and FAT.

*A big fat thanks to Eric Stoller and Womanist Musings for each giving me a “Kick Ass Blogger” award.

What if “summer is here” wasn’t used as a stick to beat us into bodily submission?

All year long, one of the instructors at my gym uses threats of summer to scare his students into hefting the hand weights higher and squatting the butts lower. While I understand he means this to be encouraging, it actually makes me feel like launching my hand weights towards his head. (Ok, so exercise brings out a bit of aggressiveness in me). I do not exercise due to a change in seasons, nor am I at the gym to fit into a bikini or any other forms of fashion associated with torture of the female form. I am there because exercise makes me feel good, sleep better, and release tension. Yet, when said gym instructor starts making anti-fat comments, the tension relief aspect goes out the door.

I wonder how the older women in the room feel when he talks about needing to fight the ageing process, that we don’t want “triceps that jiggle and wave.” And, when he makes comments that we have to “get rid of that fat” I wonder how all the different sized bodies in the room react. There is one regular who appears to be anorexic. If she is actually suffering from anorexia, his comments likely only heighten her belief she is still ‘too fat.’ There are a number of other regulars of all different shapes and sizes, some of whom our thin obsessed culture would deem ‘fat.’ There are, however, no beautifully fat people – no one who would fit into the medicalized term ‘morbidly obese.’ Is this because fat people don’t exercise? Of course not! It is because fat people are not made to feel welcome at (most) gyms.

Of course, gym culture is hardly a body-loving environment. Rather, gyms tend to be like pick up joints on steroids where younger and younger, thinner and thinner females and pumped males primp and prance amongst weights and Stairmasters. I hate this aspect of the gym, and I hate the comments made by the appearance-obsessed instructor mentioned above. But, I like exercising, and his weight lifting class, minus his commentary, is excellent. I have considered trying to talk with him about how his problematic comments, but he seems so indoctrinated into the idea that only thin and muscular equals healthy that I don’t think I would get very far. (I did however convince him to stop playing “Super soak that ho'” during our workout. He was shocked when I told him the meaning of this song. He, and way too many others, apparently never think about what such lyrics mean.)

Anyhow, I like exercising. I like the fact it helps relieve stress which translates into better sleep. I like the fact it gives me more overall energy. I like that it makes me feel healthy and strong. But, for the most part, I hate gyms. They are like sweaty hormone dens oozing with one of the worst traits of humanity–vanity. They are seething with testosterone (yes, women have it too) and excessive muscle-to-fat-ratio consciousness. They prey on the body insecurities of the young (my gym allows 12 year olds to join but I swear I saw a girl who looked about 9 on an elliptical machine the other day). They don’t promote fitness, health, and strength so much as diet, extreme exercise regimens, and muscle obsession. As of yet, I have not found a HAES (health at any size) conscious gym to join in my area.

Until I do, as I am a creature prone to lazing on the couch reading or slouching at the computer writing, I need task-masters like the above mentioned instructor to goad me into a good workout. If only they could do so without using summer as a stick or suggesting the natural variety of the human form is an enemy to be killed via crunches and squats though! If only gyms could take the advice offered at Mouthfeel and make the paradigm shift to an HAES mentality.

And, if only the bikini could stop being dangled like some sort of gold medal women are supposed to kill themselves to wear. Heck, why would I want to wear a garment named after a nuclear test weapon site, the island of Bikini Atoll? Supposedly the name came from the idea that this fashion would cause explosive excitement in the viewer-yeah, you got it, bikinis are the ultimate objectification fashion and celebration of the nuclear age all in one. Not to mention the fact that the over 20 nuclear tests on the island made it uninhabitable and were accompanied by secret medical experiments on the island’s indigenous population to study the effects of radiation on human beings. So, yes, I get the intent behind Marina Wolf Ahmad’s post “28 Days to a Bikini Mind,” but I think in addition to learning to love our bodies, we should be aware of the history behind the bikini-it is not merely a bathing suit, but a fashion intended to exploit the female body that was named after the exploitation of indigenous people and the planet in the name of “progress.” Take that stick and use it to prod anyone who suggests your bod, in all its glory, is not ready for summer (or anything else for that matter!)