Here’s an experiment that’s almost certainly not going to go well: I shall attempt to write about fat without ranting.
I’ve been reading a lot about the fat acceptance movement recently, for reasons personal and potentially professional. And as inspiring as it is to see people who are extremely well educated about the OMG HEALTH RISKS!!! (real and imagined) parsing the intersection of medicine and discrimination, demanding cute clothes for all, and busting the myth that fat people are slothful, any slog through the information that’s out there also involves learning about a lot of truly heartbreaking shit. It’s emotionally tiring, and it makes me ranty.
So ranty, in fact, that I’m beyond the point of wanting to rant about it. What do I even say about a toddler taken from her parents because of a genetic disorder that causes her to gain weight? Or about a sexual assault victim afraid to go to the doctor because she is certain–not without some foundation–that she will be lectured on diet and exercise during a post-rape pelvic exam? Or about someone who seeks help for back pain because she fell on the ice and is told, “It’s normal for overweight people to have aches and pains”? Or about damn near any of the stories here? All stuff I’ve read in the last few days, and just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t even scream about it at this point, because that only reminds me of how few people are willing to listen, and that depresses the hell out of me.
But I have a few fat-related things I think I can write about more with healthy curiosity than anger. I was going to cram them all into one post, but after seeing how much I can ramble about just one thing (like we didn’t know that), I’ve decided to make it a series. (You know, if I ever get around to writing other entries.) I’ll give you a topic; discuss.
I woke up thinking this morning about the positive aspects of having grown up in a home full of fat people. There are actually several of those, along with the numerous negatives (though the latter were really more about growing up with self-loathing, depressed people who happened to filter their self-loathing and depression through the subject of fat a lot). Maybe the biggest positive is, I’ve gotten to snuggle with a lot of fat people in my life. And you know, with all due respect to skinny people, I’ve snuggled with a lot of them, too, and it just ain’t the same.
I was thinking about this in the context of (and here, she works really hard not to rant) the fear and disgust that come up for many people when they think about touching a fat person. This group includes, sadly, a lot of medical professionals and fitness experts who claim to want to “help” the fatties. Even worse, it includes a lot of fat people themselves. I can’t tell you how many fat people I’ve encountered who are creeped out by physical affection. I’m still allowed to climb on top of my sister M. and drape my entire body over her, just as I did when we were kids, as long as it involves a lot of rib-poking, and the stated goal is to irritate the shit out of her. But if I try to simply hug her? Forget about it. THAT IS NOT OKAY. That would mean something silly, like she’s worth loving, or she’s a human being who needs affection, or touching her is not the most horrible, revolting action a person could ever, ever take. And if she let herself believe any one of those things for five minutes, her head might actually explode. Unfortunately, she’s not too unusual in that respect. More unfortunately, it’s not hard to see the reasons why.
I not only have no problem touching fat people, I actively enjoy it, in a variety of contexts. I’d like to congratulate myself on being all enlightened, but I got to wondering this morning if the reason for that is as simple as this: all the people I loved best as a kid were big and squishy. Before the culture–and those big, squishy people themselves, I should add–got to me with endless messages about how loathsome fat is, I learned it was pretty damned fun to curl up on.
But if I’d gotten those messages without the countervailing influence of awesome fat hugs, I could totally see being afraid to touch a fat person, or grossed out by it–sorta the same way sticking your hand in a bowl full of grapes is disgusting and creepy if somebody tells you they’re eyeballs. It’s all about the mental image that comes up, not how it actually feels. For a lot of people, seeing a fat person automatically evokes, “Yucky, out of control, slovenly, and probably smelly.” I could rant for a thousand years about how fucked-up that is, but let’s just acknowledge it as reality and move on. If that’s what your brain is telling you, of course you’re not going to want to touch a fat person.
I don’t really have any intelligent conclusion here–or at least no prescription for change. It’s probably not feasible to make sure every child gets fat hugs in the first three years of life. But I would be curious to see if my theory bears out. Any thin people who grew up in thin families want to cop to a fear of touching fat people, overcome or not? Or, perhaps more interestingly–if counter to the theory–fat people from fat families?
It’s times like these when I wish I had a broader and more anonymous readership. I bet there would be some fascinating answers from people who are not already my friends.
Okay, wait, I do have an intelligent conclusion: if you don’t have the opportunity to snuggle with fat people on a regular basis, you’re missing out. Trust me.