Sunday, May 1, 2011
Out of Balance
Success don't mean anything if you can't control your own being. "It doesn't mean anything if you can't fit into your clothes,It means the fat won. It means you didn't win. ... I am mad at myself. I am embarrassed.
Wow, I’ve been putting off writing this letter for years. Actually, I think I did write a letter several years ago but eventually tossed it, feeling it would do no good.
I think I waited so long because.... I had so much to say; for so long. Today, I am off from work for spring break and saw a look on Oprah’s face that spoke many volumes to me. (Maybe, once I get started this will turn into a book, Oprah can promote it and I can quit worrying about my mortgage and retirement!)
Today’s was yet another Oprah Show about fat. Katherine was fat, she got thin, she came on the show, they applauded, she gained it back, she lost some, she returned to the show and Oprah entertained her ideas about how to live with or without fat.
You know, I’ve stopped watching these shows generally. As a matter of fact I’ve stopped watching Oprah, generally. She got that God complex thing going there for awhile and I thought, “I can’t continue watching.” But actually, maybe a big part of the real reason I stopped, was that her pain and denial about food and fat, and her very influential ideas on the subjects, really ticked me off.
There it was again today. The denial of her pain etched into her oh-so-familiar face. I waited as she questioned, I waited as she hocked another book with “the answers” and finally, I got it, the pay off. “... and you loved yourself even at 300 lbs?” “Yes.”
“Yes, that’s the key... that’s the key.” Yes, here was Oprah wondering again if it could really be true. “Can people really love themselves at 300 lbs.? And if they do, THEN does the weight magically fall off? That must be the answer because that’s the only thing that I’ve not been able to do.”
I don’t know if people can really love themselves at 300 lbs. I suspect that they can love parts of themselves at any weight but that they will always feel “less than” if they are fat. And really, isn’t this what your internationally famous show should be discussing? Isn’t this the real issue? Why DO people feel “less than” if they are fat? Oprah has an obscene amount of success, money, power, admiration, influence..... yet, she still feels “less than”. Why is that? Does this feeling come from societal expectations, internal expectations, historical expectations? Or is it individual, dealing with internal demons, finding refuge in food, character flaws, habit, compulsion, or addiction?
I don’t want to get into the fat vs. thin debate just yet, but I can tell you I have yet to meet a thin person without all or some of these expectations, influences and tendencies.
The real crime here, and I suspect it is the demon that Oprah continues to try to escape, is, as she said today, the amount of time, or as I like to say, “life” wasted (waisted?) on this obsession. EVERY woman knows this demon... whether she is fat, thin, or “perfect”. Maybe if we could measure how much time we, particularly women, spend thinking about, talking about, wishing about, eating about, spending on, fretting over, watching, disguising, avoiding, working against, and sabotaging ourselves over, we might be so stunned by the amount of life wasted that we could begin to think differently. I say “begin” because for most of us, this way of thinking is ingrained. It is part of our souls. We are not able to remember a time when this preoccupation was not a part of every aspect of our lives.
We hate like hell to think about our daughters having to also lose so much of their lives, but we are powerless to teach them any differently. And so, the problem seems to get worse with each generation.
How do we begin to deal with this loss of “life”? To start, we examine the question of why we feel less-than. We identify and target the causes and present fair and contrary measures to change perceptions. The process would probably look something like moving a hill of sand one grain at a time, but we have to start somewhere and progress will be measured in life restored – what better cause is there?
To me, and here’s the ticked off part, the best place to start would be to have an internationally recognized figure to promote these fair and contrary measures. Someone, who might, for instance, encourage and support the use of larger people in places of respect, responsibility, and yes, beauty. This someone could buy commercial time featuring larger people as actors and promote ideas about love of self and respect for others. It would be wonderful if this someone lived a life that exemplified these ideas and accepted herself as she encouraged others to do the same.
I know why Oprah has chosen not to be this person. I know how difficult it is to accept one’s self, as a fat woman. It takes strength, love.... and courage. How can we be expected to accept something about ourselves when people tell us our whole life that it is our “fault” that we are fat. That there is blame there, and that we are responsible and accountable?
I do understand this failure to embrace one’s own fat body. But what I don’t understand is the irresponsibility of using an extremely popular and influential media to continue to promote the viability of a “cure”. How many times have we heard and seen Oprah flaunting someone’s weight loss or endorsing some diet or life-style change? Her yo-yo appearance should convince us that she does not have the answers. Today I saw her doubt.
Imagine for a moment that Oprah had endorsed self acceptance and respect. How would the world be different? Imagine seeing all types of people in all types of places doing all types of things. Imagine how much “life” could have been saved.
“Fair and contrary measures...” Aye, there lies the rub. “Fair: just, unbiased, in accordance with the rules.” Sorry, they weren’t kidding when they said, “ Life isn’t fair”. We are not born the same. Some of us will have long healthy lives and live past 100. Some of us will develop diseases. Some of us will have brilliant minds. Some of us will be blind or live in a wheel chair. Some of us have long legs and athletic physiques. Some of us will be voluptuous. Some of us will be thin and some of us will be fat.
That last sentence alone will stir debate for decades. But like it or not, some of us will be fat. That alone does not make us less-than.
So what does it mean to be fat? I have no desire to go into all the horror stories of prejudice and persecution that come from inhabiting a fat body. Fat has come to mean so much more that what it is, a fact of life and genetics. Are there some people who are fat because of life-style changes and choices?
Are there people who are fat as a consequence of mass food production? Are there people who seek solace in food and become obese? Yes. Are there thin people who are subjected to these same circumstances and choices? Yes. The why, what ifs, and wherefores debate can rage as long as there is desire, but in the end, there will still be fat humans.
I’m being fair now. So, as soon as we read those words, especially if we are fat, we say, “Yeah, but that’s not me! All I have to do is _____________ (fill in the blank- diet, exercise, cut out this food and that, etc. etc.)”. It’s hard, I know. Denial is sooo much easier to deal with than acceptance. When I say easier, I mean, less painful.
Fat people are so targeted and made to feel less-than. Who wants to admit that they are actually fat? Especially when there are so many people telling you, you can solve your problem if you just ____________ (There’s that blank again.).
I’m being fair again. I know that some will have stopped reading or absorbing any more information because of pain and denial. The fact is, if you are fat or have ever been fat, as an adult, you will not be able to be thin or permanently control your weight without extraordinary measures. And many people have chosen these extraordinary measures as an alternative to living life as a fat person. Extraordinary measures include everything from dieting, to stomach and intestinal surgery, to excessive exercise. I also include taking mental measure of everything you eat.... anything that obsessively takes your “life” time.
Remember, this section is called “fair”. Life is not fair. Being born a fat person is not fair. Fat people lead shorter lives. It’s true. If you are fat, you will most likely not lead as long a life as a thin person. It’s a hard fact, but true. Not fair. Even if you are super rich, powerful and influential; if you are born a fat person, or become a fat person, you will most likely lead a shorter life.
So, what are your choices? Well, you can choose to take extraordinary measures in the hopes of gaining a longer life. These days, doctors are likely to recommend bypass surgery for their obese patients. Even they, who purported to have the answers all those years, have come to understand that there is no “cure”. This extraordinary measure is risky, some die, some have complications, some go on to lead thin lives, some gain it all back.
You could try various forms of dieting and exercise. The statistics show an incredibly low rate of long term success and I would suspect that those who do succeed are using extraordinary measures. Once an adult puts on weight, the body will always strive to be that weight. As hard as you might try, and perhaps succeed, in emptying those fat cells, they will always want to be refilled.
What about the kids? It’s no secret that there is an alarming rate of obesity among children. Do I think this is because of life style? Yes, mostly. But I believe that the problem here is just as complicated, if not more so, than with adults. I believe that many children are dealing with a lack of parental contact, neglect and very little physical activity. I also think the issue is compounded by low self-esteem. In any case, this means that we will have even more obese adults. Will we be treating these people as we have treated other fat people? Will our attitudes toward fat people help the child obesity problem or hurt it?
The question should really be, “How much of the life you have are you willing to give up?” If you become obsessive about food intake, or exercise, and you are thinking about food, fat, and dieting all the time, you are giving up your life.
I always think about men. I know more and more men are developing these life-sucking thinking patterns, but in general they don’t waste their lives on them. (I really don’t want to get into what they do waste their lives on.)
But what if we had all that time back? Don’t we want to spend the time we have in a world where we are accepted for who we are? How can we help each other create a world where all are accepted? What happens to us, physically, if we know we are accepted? Is it possible for humans, who naturally seek someone to be better than (another story), to ever see fat people as equal or even worthwhile? I don’t see it happening in my lifetime (short as it is!). But I am optimistic (back to that pile of sand). It would be really wonderful to have someone of size, who is influential, to help us all be more accepting.