Sometimes, the elephant in the room is me.

By | October 20, 2009

EDIT: The podcast is up! You can listen to it on the web here (click the “Listen to this show” button at the top of the page), or get it via iTunes here.

While I’m waiting for the podcast of my radio debut (warning: some of those comments will cost you mightily in Sanity Watchers Points) to go up, I wanted to make a point about self-reference in the context of broader conversations about fatness, since this is something I did today, and I’m always conflicted when it happens.

Let’s be real here: I am publicly fat every day of my life. Every day that I get up, make myself presentable, put on a fabulous outfit, and go out into the world, I’m being Fat in Public. That’s the truth.

When people see me being Fat in Public with my mouth shut, they can project anything they like onto me. They can pretend I’ve got some horrible fat disease. They can assume I’ve got mobility issues. They can figure my self-esteem is in the gutter, or that I’m on a diet. I’m not really pressing their boundaries too much; I’m not attacking their assumptions simply by existing.

When I’m Fat in Public and being mouthy about it, well, then I become a problem. I start being critical; I start trying to make people think; in some cases I even have the gall to try to change folks’ minds. In any conversation about fatness, I can hang tough with the best of them, and aspire to the lofty heights of dissociated, unbiased logic–but there will always be a pall over the conversation, and that is the reality that I am fat and thus I have a personal stake in the discussion. In these situations, the elephant in the room is me.

I have this difficult relationship with using myself as an example, as I did today on NPR. On the one hand, it’s inaccurate and unfair to hold myself up as The Acceptable Fat Person. I’m not. More than that, I don’t want to be. When we divide ourselves up into Good Fat People and Bad Fat People, some folks are still getting the short end of the stick, and I’m fighting for the basic human dignity and respect of all fat people, regardless of their habits. I’m here to say you don’t get to hate fat people simply because they’re fat. That’s not allowed. It makes you a jerk. Stop it.

That said, in my individual case, the fact is I really do go to the gym–but not to lose weight, rather because I actually like going to the gym. I really do prefer to eat a diet of whole foods I’ve prepared myself, and mostly vegetables or whole grains at that–but not to lose weight, rather because I actually like the way they taste (plus I enjoy cooking). For me, weight loss is not even something I consider as being within the realm of my own possibilities. And I’m completely fine with that. It doesn’t make me sad or disappointed. I honestly don’t even think about it. Though I am aware others are scandalized by the notion, I really am comfortable with being this fat. I ought to be, since I’ve been this fat for many, many years.

Using myself and my own experience is real, and it’s what’s missing from so many conversations about weight and health–the voice of the person who exists outside the prevailing discourse of fat as necessarily (and deservedly) unhealthy, and fat people as necessarily (and deservedly) unhappy. I am neither unhappy nor unhealthy and I grow tired of being portrayed as both. This is my experience and my life, and rather than using myself as a representative for us all, I’d rather open and hold the door for the everyone else–even those with experiences far different than mine–to speak up and be heard. I am a person, and an individual, just like you. I’m no less moral, no less human, no less pure.

I’m just a little bit fatter.

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