Reading List: Drawing Lines as a Grey Area

By | January 14, 2009

Recent posts about inclusivity and line-drawing got me thinking, in a more personal vein.

I like lines in the sand. I also like grey areas. I like the former because it represents a forceful, conscious effort on my part to change the world in which I live. I like the latter because it’s an inevitable, unavoidable, and intoxicating part of life as a socially-functioning human.

But I do like my lines. I do. One of the most powerful (ongoing) emotional experiences of my life has been learning to say no. To take a position – unpopular or otherwise – and hold my ground.

There was a period – from 1986 through 1996 inclusive, with a couple of mail-order (oh yes) backslides between 1996 and 1999 – in which I dieted. All the time. Several times a year. Dieted commercially, via your Jennys and your WWs; dieted medically, via programs at the local hospital and consultations with numerous nutritionists; dieted improvisationally, via my own highly imaginative systems of food ratings and values and punishment and reward. Dieting, not-dieting, and thinking about or planning my next diet ranked highly as primary intellectual pastimes from my childhood through adolescence, until I graduated from high school in 1995 and decided the whole endeavour was ridiculous, and then a year after that, when I discovered fat activism. When that happened, I drew the first of many lines in the sand: I would not diet any more. I would not. Diet. Ever. Again. Nor would I passively sit by and participate in or even listen to people talking about their diets. I would change the subject, or if that failed, quietly remove myself from the company involved. In my (maybe) esteemed opinion, dieting is ridiculous and idiotic, not to mention damaging. I wouldn’t stretch this to call dieters themselves ridiculous and idiotic – that would be unfair to the wholeness of the people involved. But I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t think diets are dreadful. I’ve kept behind this line I’ve drawn, and I’d draw it again.

There was a period, even after I stopped dieting, in which my family would periodically bring up weight loss – that is, the idea that I ought to/might be/could consider losing weight for insert-stock-reason-here. There was a period in which my family would feel enabled to comment, apropos of nothing, on perceived changes in my body size, as though such information were public property. Until, eventually, I drew another line. I said, fucking stop it, y’all. FUCKING STOP! My body is not wide open for commentary and criticism, no matter how well-intentioned it might be. My body is my private business, something I will discuss with people when I choose to make it a subject of conversation. On my terms. Not yours. Now get behind that line, or else get away from me.

There was a period in which I would go to the doctor and panic, heart pounding, head spinning, anticipating the moment when I’d have to get on the scale, an act that brought back years and years of miserable weigh-ins at diet centers and hospitals, standing in terror of what the mechanism would reveal, like spinning a roulette wheel in which the number where the ball fell would determine how much self esteem/self loathing I would carry for the next week. I drew a line here too, and learned – it took YEARS – to say “NO” to doctors and nurses and physician’s assistants who wanted to weigh me Just Because, just because it’s what they do when you come in, when knowing my precise weight at that particular time was not medically necessary for any solid reason. I drew that line and I still struggle there, to be honest – sometimes when I’m asked to get on the scale that old panic flickers up again before I remember how to say no and how to simply stand my ground, hold my body back from following orders that serve no purpose other than to bring back feelings and anxieties I am far better off without.

I was hurt by fatphobia. I was injured by dieting. It’s taken me years – and I am still working on it – to begin to recover; to begin to have a healthy concept of food and eating; to begin to love my body for being mine no matter its size; to learn to see myself reflected in a mirror, or a shop window, or in a photograph, and not cringe; to survive in a culture that stereotypes me as lazy, stupid, disgusting, immoral, out of control, and so forth. I was bent by all this, and am very fortunate I never broke. If I draw lines, it’s because I don’t want anyone else – my friends, my family, even total fucking strangers – to have to go through that shit, to hate themselves for it. I don’t want to get sucked back down into that vortex myself.

The truth is, you can never get away from fatphobia, any more than you can ever get away from racism or classism or homophobia or ableism or any kind of insitutionalized social oppression. Short of being raised in the woods with your culture dictated by bears and wolves, there is no escaping it. Sometimes, I have to stand up for what I believe, even if it alienates other people, even if folks think I’m crazy or deluded or dangerous.* I have to draw lines sometimes, to define the boundaries of what I can live with, what I can accept and still feel like I’m being true to the principles I’ve set for myself. I don’t expect everyone to agree with my boundaries, or even to respect them – but I’m keeping them because they are good for me. Everyone else has to come to an understanding with themselves, with their bodies, on their own – by their own terms and by their own path. I don’t pretend to prescribe a certain kind of Universal Fat ActivismTM for everyone because nothing is totally universal. I respect others’ individual bodily sovereignty and uphold their rights to make the decisionsthat are best for them.

But I do have my own lines, to sustain my health and my sanity. I think everyone draws lines somewhere, and that is part of what makes us – as people, and as fat activists – such a diverse and intersectional bunch. I personally would rather let folks find their way to the fat acceptance that works for them, one they can relate to, one that is as forgiving or as stringent as they need it to be.

I keep my lines not so that I can disrespect those who don’t share them. I keep my lines mostly so I can respect myself.

*Okay, I admit I actually enjoy being thought of as dangerous.

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