Letting it all hang out; or, the Incredible Bulk

By | October 18, 2008

Am I the only one who keeps finding myself in these situations?

I have a pretty diverse selection of friends, as a result of which I tend to end up at parties or general hangouts where I only know one person. These hangouts usually consist almost exclusively of women around my age (I’m 30), and there are almost always snacks involved. The conversation seems inexorably to turn to food, calories, dieting, etc etc etc—at which point the statements coming out of the mouths of these reasonably intelligent, educated women become increasingly preposterous. Playful debates over which calories “count” and which ones don’t; agonies over whether one should eat one more slice of pizza or “save some calories” for dessert; and of course, the martyr’s rallying cry of “I can’t—I’m trying to lose weight.” It’s like being in a Special K commercial. Except that I am not really in the commercial—there are never any fat girls in those ads. I am forced into horrified spectatorship, watching these nice, attractive, healthy women pillory themselves in the stocks of self-denial.

Having been raised by a relatively strict English mum, I have a certain amount of ingrained politeness that prevents me from clawing at my hair and screaming obscenities when I get trapped in one of these conversations. But they always end up reaching a point where I just can’t keep quiet anymore.

And then it happens.

Now, I’m probably dating myself here (I’m certainly not dating anyone else, HA HA), but when I was a child I used to be a devotee of the Marvel Comics character the Incredible Hulk. For those of you not familiar with the basics of Hulk mythology, Bruce Banner, a mild-mannered nerdly scientist type, receives a dose of radiation that causes him to transform into a gigantic walking tank—rage personified. This happens, predictably, whenever he gets angry, because rather than expressing his anger healthily, he represses it until it literally starts to bulge out all over him.

As a quiet, nerdy kid, I was totally fascinated by this character. I found myself wishing I could be even just slightly irradiated, in order to be able to ward off bullies in the schoolyard.

Now, as an adult, something very similar happens to me when I get trapped in these diet-talk scenarios: I become the Incredible Bulk. I bust out my ‘secret’ alter-ego of self-defined, unrepentant fat girl. Up until that point, everyone has (obviously) been aware of the fact that I am fat, but they are (to a degree) prepared to overlook that as long as I seem to worship at the altar of diet. However, once I start rampaging, the fat simply can’t be ignored.

Not that I start tearing off my clothes or throwing furniture, mind you (at least not until I hit the gin); it’s more that I go on the offensive before I even realize I’m doing it. I get into arguments and refuse to back down. And I tell total strangers that the essential ‘truths’ they’ve been told their whole lives, by everyone, are complete B.S. I’m not sure whether it’s damaging my cause more than it’s helping.

In one particular situation, a friend-of-a-friend had mentioned the well-known ‘fact’ that children were increasingly fatter with every generation, and I blew my top and started naming article after article from Junkfood Science that she needed to read before I was even going to listen to that crap again.

More recently, I was at a party where one woman was rationalizing aloud why she chose not to have a second slice of cake, and I burst out with, “Oh, for crying out loud, would you please just eat it?!” before launching into a long diatribe of the reasons diets don’t work.

I also gave a guy shit on a dating website (which shall remain nameless) for listing “being overweight” as a “habit” that he felt was a deal-breaker. (He contacted me, having clearly not read my profile, where I talked about my fat activism.)

I can’t deny that my alter-ego has been effective on occasion. People do listen to you when you’re being ranty, more so than when you are being polite, and the fact that you are so impassioned about something makes them curious enough to go and check it out.

A part of me hates that I am this person. I don’t want to become known as that rude fat girl who is always yelling at people to eat. I don’t want my anti-diet-talk to become as offensive to others as their diet-talk is to me. Because I try to respect people’s right to do things I wouldn’t do, like aspire to lose weight, in the hope that they, in turn, will respect my right to be unapologetically fat.

But it is just so exhausting to see beautiful, smart people agonizing over whether a cupcake is going to prevent them from reaching their ‘goal’ weight. Every time I hear talk like that, it’s like a slap in the back of the head, reminding me that some of these women would probably rather die than look like me.

So I’m not sure what the answer is yet, what form and voice my fat activism needs to take to be both striking and effective for others and comfortable for me. Perhaps there isn’t an answer.

Maybe the next time I rage out on someone, I will give them the link to this post.

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