Q&A: Rude!

By | March 4, 2010

My loves, I am sorry. I am all apologies and excuses. I’ve been briefly out of town. I had the norovirus. (”There was an earthquake! A terrible flood! Locusts! IT WASN’T MY FAULT, I SWEAR TO GOD!”) I am also doing badly with time management at present. My email is piling up so large that I fear it will shortly evolve sentience and threaten my life for being so neglectful. I have multiple half-finished blog posts that are currently doing nothing so much as standing by my locker smirking and making vague threats about dumping my books after school.

So, until I get my shit back together, I am sharing a few more of my favorite recent questions and answers that you may have missed from Formspring, which is also becoming unmanageable given that over the weekend my to-be-answered queue has ballooned to 49 questions. That said, I welcome you to add to the lumbering horror by asking a question of your own. I will get there. And I promise there will be fresh content, sweet and shining as a spring morning, very soon. Someday… somewhere… we’ll find a new way of living.

(This is what happens, kids, when I am sleep-deprived and overstimulated. You get an abundance of old movie references.)

Q. I think some of the questions asked on here are a bit rude. Yet you still answer so graciously, what is your secret to being so gracious and kind?

A. In every anonymous internet exchange, I’ve made it a habit of assuming everyone’s best intentions. Constantly assuming the worst will eat away at you slowly from the inside like a poison, and that’s how activists get burnt out.

That said, I’m also aware that people who ask rude questions usually do so in order to get a particular reaction. They’re looking for me (or whomever they’re trying to incite) to get angry or act stupid or betray some hurted feewings. Answering graciously, as you put it, effectively defuses that attempt.

If I were capable of taking the rudeness personally, I might find it more difficult to deal with. But the rude people aren’t really speaking to me; they’re speaking to fat people as a monolith, or they’re speaking to the fat family member that disgusts them, or they’re speaking to the fat coworker that they hate, or they’re speaking to the anonymous fat guy who sat next to them on the bus this morning. As a public fatass I’m just a conduit for that, and I accept that it goes with the territory. It isn’t about me, it’s about what I represent: that is, fat people refusing to buy into shame and self-loathing.

Confidentially, I find the rudest questions are often the most fun and challenging to answer in a polite and thoughtful way. If I couldn’t take a punch — or if part of me didn’t dig getting under people’s skin enough to make them take a swing at me — I wouldn’t have been able to do this for as long as I have.

And thanks for the grand compliment.

And with that, two of the aforementioned potentially-rude (or potentially-not, I can never tell and try to err on the side of optimism) questions are answered after the jump!

Q. Most people who diet gain the weight back so you say “diets don’t work.” Most people who try to quit smoking fail. Would you say to them “Quitting smoking doesn’t work!” and start a Smokers Acceptance Movement?

A. You are indeed a very clever monkey, I tell you what. This is a rare instance in which I can speak to both of these issues from personal experience.

Once upon a time, I was a very heavy (PUN!) smoker. We’re talking nearly two packs a day. I was also a grad student at the time, so most of my waking hours were spent sitting and reading (and smoking), sitting and writing at a computer (and smoking), and whatever time was left I spent playing Everquest (and smoking). I quit smoking cold turkey. Literally, one day I smoked, the next I didn’t, with no step-downs, no patches, nothing at all. I succeeded the first time. It was incredibly difficult, but hey, my self-discipline had been carefully honed by having spent my formative years from age 8 forward on one diet or another. It’s possible that the only marginally-positive thing I took away from my extensive dieting history — being an inveterate optimist I can always find something useful in the worst experiences — was that it enabled me to learn to employ self-discipline from a very young age, luckily without going so far as to develop a full-blown eating disorder, as an excess of skill in the area of self-control can often do.

I honestly know smokers even today who feel like they’re constantly shit on, and would probably grin and nod at the idea of a Smokers Acceptance Movement. Fortunately, I’m not real invested in policing the decisions other folks make about their bodies and their health. I’m glad I quit smoking, for sure; it was expensive (I thought it was expensive then, over eight years ago, but it is RIDICULOUS now), time-consuming, and triggered all my worst hypochondriac impulses. But I don’t give a damn if other folks continue.

That said, the glaring and obvious difference between smoking and dieting is that smoking isn’t necessary to live; eating food is. A body can quit smoking and never smoke again and go on to live out a normal lifespan without having been negatively affected by quitting. Dieting isn’t “quitting” food because obviously, you can’t quit food. You have to eat. Thus, dieting is a much more complex mechanism than your average smoking-cessation technique, and is an effort that the body fights not because of chemical addiction, but because restricting food intake for the purposes of intentional weight loss is not an evolutionary imperative. Quite the opposite, in fact.

(This is also why I sigh a bit when folks talk about “food addiction”. I don’t doubt the sincerity of those who believe this, but part of me always thinks: OF COURSE you are addicted to food. Everyone is. If we do not eat food, we will literally wither and die. Perhaps, someday, medicine will find a means of removing our digestive tracts and installing personal ion engines into our abdomens and we can be Free of the Tyranny of Food Forever! But I don’t think that’s going to happen in our lifetimes, and until then, we need to make peace with food.)

My point being, the addiction metaphor really doesn’t work for me. Food isn’t nicotine, or hard drugs. Nor is food poison or medicine, as I’ve heard a friend recently remark. It’s just food, and no matter how vigorously you may resent it, you will always require it to live. Therefore, my opinion is that quitting smoking and dieting are incompatible for comparison purposes.

But it was a thoughtful challenge, so thanks for that.

Q. But isnt being as fat as you are a huge physical burden? I can imagine that being that big must make it difficult/impossible to run.

A. These sorts of questions and concerns always make me chuckle, though I promise I am not laughing at you for asking, but rather at the reality that we’ve got so many assumptions imposed on life in a fat body that it really must be difficult to imagine how a fatass navigates the world. And I don’t just mean in terms of space.

I’ll address the running question specifically first: I won’t deny that I hate running. I’m a quick sprinter — if I had to dodge a smallish horde of shambling-zombies standing a couple yards apart on my way into the safe haven of a shopping mall just over a hundred yards away, I could do it without trouble. If I had to outrun a pack of 28 Days Later-style zippy-zombies for a mile to get to an abandoned farmhouse, yeah, I’d be utterly screwed. That said, it may surprise you to learn that I have several fat friends who DO run, like, for fun and/or exercise, and who enjoy it. (I know it surprises ME, but that’s because I find running interminably dull.) I’ve also known quite a few great big fats who’ve done the Couch to 5K program (http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/2/2_3/181.shtml) and gotten a lot out of the experience. So, running fatasses are not that unusual, at least amongst able-bodied fatasses who choose to keep up an exercise routine of some kind.

Simply put, no, being as fat as I am isn’t a huge physical burden for me. Would it be for you? Almost certainly, because you lack the decades of experience I have in moving this body around. In my experience, being fat and active means one’s muscles and joints and flexibility will adapt in order to successfully carry one’s weight. Sometimes, some aspect can’t adapt for one reason or another, and you get folks with knee problems and the like (though, in fairness, often folks prone to knee problems will have them to some degree no matter their weight). In my case, all I need to do in order to be physically active and adept is… be physically active and adept. Everything else just falls into place.

This is partly why I have trouble with television shows (OH HAI TYRA) that strap non-fat people into fat suits for a taste of what life as a fat person is like. It’s true that this might give one an idea of how social status is affected, but very often, once stripped of temporary fatness, the fat-pretender will say, “Ugh! It was so HEAVY! And so HOT! It made me so TIRED! Being fat SUCKS!” In fact, it is being trapped inside a big fake costume that sucks, just like if you woke up tomorrow with an anvil strapped to your back and had to carry it around all day would suck. It’s not your familiar body; your sense of scale and self-awareness is skewed; you’re not accustomed to it. I daresay if you and I were to swap bodies for a day, I would likely be as confused and inept in a smaller form as you would be in a larger one.

Hence, I can’t say my body or my weight is “a huge physical burden” because it isn’t. I’ve never thought, wow, my big ol’ fat leg is so much heavier to lift and walk with than it would be if it were… not as heavy. What the fuck do I know from “not as heavy”? It’s my leg, the one I’m used to, the one that matches the other leg, the both of which I use to trot up and down stairs at work, to jog through the Target parking lot in the rain, to FWOOSH away on the elliptical at the gym for forty-five minutes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I don’t think about the physical heft of my body; I don’t have to. I just use it and live my life.

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