The terror of free will

The inimitable Joy Nash has just posted an excellent rant about being called in as a health expert by Fox News, who wanted her to say that even though Dunkin Donuts is no longer using trans fats, it’s not a license to eat as many as you want.

I’ll speak for Donut eaters everywhere when I say: “I don’t need your PERMISSION to do ANYTHING, Mr. TV News Channel!! YOU ARE NOT THE BOSS OF ME.” Seriously??! Do you really think I’m sitting here, restrained in my chair, rabidly salivating over the mountains of glorious food that float past me- held back from tearing them to peices with my teeth, SOLELY by the fact that YOU HAVEN’T SAID IT’S OK??!! Puh leeze.

As usual, Joy’s gotten right to the heart of the issue. Absolutely this is what they think! Fox News represents that part of the country that lives in constant terror of their own desires. All the power of being white, rich, and in control can’t erase their fear of food and sex and sinfulness. For chrissakes, these people think that it’s anti-gay marriage laws that keep married straight men from shooting out of their conjugal beds and into a pair of leather chaps and a glory hole. They think vaccinating girls against cervical cancer will cause rampant teen pregnancy — if you remove one of the dangers of sex, all our daughters will just slingshot onto some punk’s cock! They’re so tightly wound that one crack in their facade would send springs shooting everywhere, so they assume everyone else must be the same.

And they’re in charge, and have been for a long time, which is why we’re seeing this attitude (about food, anyway) in places that aren’t Fox News. Make no mistake, fatphobia is about fear of indulgence, fear of desire, fear of pleasure, fear of temptation… fear of free will. To some people, we are the living incarnation of sin, because we appear to be people who recognize desires and do not repress them. It doesn’t matter if we’re really gluttons or not; because the fat body seems to say “I eat,” and because the fat female body in particular invokes lushness and fertility, we become a very powerful and scary totem for anyone who thinks that it’s only rules and restrictions that keep them sane. And because of the ways in which control-lust and fear of free will are passed along, these tend to be the people in charge.

35 thoughts on “The terror of free will

  1. That’s a heck of a second paragraph (the one right after the quotation). Thanks for the laugh.

  2. For chrissakes, these people think that it’s anti-gay marriage laws that keep married straight men from shooting out of their conjugal beds and into a pair of leather chaps and a glory hole.

    I am going to be laughing about that for days! Awesome!

  3. you are totally spot on about marginalizing fat people out of a fear of indulgence. i think it speaks to a larger fear — a fear of ourselves. we are afraid of ourselves and our own potential. we all want someone or something outside of ourselves to believe in, whether it’s god, a life partner, or an institution. we really ought to heed that whitney houston song: “the greatest love of all is inside of me.”

    also would like to point out that not everyone who watches fox news is hateful. misguided? yes, i’ll give you that. but in positioning yourself as a victim of “the assholes in charge,” you’re embracing the same “us versus them,” mentality that you criticizing.

    we have to try to understand each other better instead of marginalizing each other. the extreme right scares the shit out of me too (hell did you see jesus camp? terrifying!) but they are certainly not in control of hollywood or big media and those honchos are as politically and socially liberal as they come (and have been for for the past 90 years). that has not changed body perceptions, or made people more tolerant of each other.

  4. I don’t think I’m positioning myself as a “victim” of anything here. Power and Puritanism have always been found in the same place in this country. So have power and racism, but it wouldn’t be a “victim” mentality to point that out. A few exceptions don’t change the fact that racism, misogyny, homophobia, fatphobia — all of which participate in the fear of losing control — are institutionalized in our society, and that institution is rooted in a particular sin-fearing mindset. You have to recognize what drives the warped thinking that’s normalized in this society before you can overthrow it.

    (I also think it’s pretty obvious that I’m talking about the people who run Fox News, not the people who watch it. The viewership did not spontaneously organize a phone call to Joy. I don’t think Fox News fans do flash mobs.)

  5. Fox News represents that part of the country that lives in constant terror of their own desires.

    That may be the truest thing I’ve heard all day.

    (Long-time listener, first-time caller. Hi!)

  6. Thanks for coming outta hiding, galnoir! Especially because by quoting that, you reminded me that I did also talk about consumers of Fox News. I do want to say that I’m not intending to call anyone hateful across the board, as colio apparently understood me to do. Rather, I’m talking about a popular and deeply, DEEPLY ingrained set of prejudices (often inculcated as prejudices against the self, then later directed outwards) which Fox News uses to appeal to their target audience, and which, by playing to that audience, they thus perpetuate. In the case of your average citizen, it’s not really a case of wilful hate; it’s a case of having an understanding of the world that is frequently lauded, infrequently challenged, and based on a particular kind of fear.

    It’s not really about Fox News, but they are a metonymy for this mindset.

  7. I’m still agog that Fox thought Joy Nash represented some kind of medical authority who had special powers to persuade people (especially female people) to step away from the doughnuts. “See, ladies, even Joy says you should be watching that figure of yours, so it must be true!” Absolutely stunning.

    When are they going to get around to the idea that if you quit making doughnuts, or any other food, into some kind of magical fetish object, people will actually wind up eating less of them anyway? Oh, wait, I get it. It’s the terminal profitability of the diet-binge cycle, isn’t it?

  8. I got laid off on Monday – completely unexpected. I’m an internet/tech project manager type. So the resumes went out to the recruiters and the calls have been coming in. Here was one of today’s calls:

    “I have an immediate opportunity at a media company in New York City.”
    She starts describing the work.
    Me: “Is this Conde Nast? Because someone’s already sending me there.”
    Recruiter: “No, it’s Fox News.”
    Me: “I won’t go to Fox News.”
    Recruiter: “Why? What have you heard? Do you know someone who works there?”
    Me: “Oh, it has nothing to do with the work environment. It’s a personal political judgment.”
    Recruiter: “I understand, no problem.”

  9. Good call, coyote. I work in a place where I have to be conscientiously nonpartisan [1], and that’s torture enough! (Luckily everyone else is a progressive or at least a liberal, except the one killjoy Libertarian.)

    My boyfriend used to have a roommate who would watch Fox News at like 9000 decibels in the living room. We tried to eat once while this was going on, and I literally had to put my plate aside for later because I could not choke down food and listen to that shit at the same time. Yes, Fox News put a fattie off her dinner.

    [1] This is why I blog under a pseudonym. :>

  10. I think what you say is right fj, but can you seriously try to pass fatphobia off as a right-wing thing? In our dreams! The left/progressives are even worse in my view, because it is out of keeping with their usual view of the world, at least the right-wingers are consistent in their themes of repression.

  11. Wriggles, I think the fatphobia infecting many portions of the left has more to do with the diabolical ability of the right to re-frame prejudice and discrimination and to co-opt the language of the left in order to advance decidedly anti-left agendas.

    Just because people are generally on the left doesn’t mean they have rooted out all their own prejudices. History shows there were plenty of people who were in favor of ending racial discrimination but who still thought women didn’t deserve the vote.

    I agree, though – fat hatred from a fellow lefty really can hurt more. I think because it’s easy for us to think, “Ah yes, here’s a person who absolutely will not tolerate discrimination, this is a safe space for me.” and then when we get blind-sided by the diet talk or the, “Well, I just really think one’s health is so important. I mean, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being fat, I just would rather devote my life to working out like a rabid hamster on speed than weigh more than 180 pounds. It’s just a personal thing.” As if ten minutes before this very same person hadn’t been railing on about how the personal is political or whatever.

    Not, y’know, that that’s ever happened to me. I’m talking totally hypothetically here, of course. ahem.

  12. colio2007 said “also would like to point out that not everyone who watches fox news is hateful. misguided? yes, i’ll give you that. but in positioning yourself as a victim of “the assholes in charge,” you’re embracing the same “us versus them,” mentality that you criticizing.”

    But that is the problem. They are not the ones who have a live and let live attitude like most posters here- they instead need to dominate and make law over everything that doesn’t fit into their neat & tidy, ordered world.

    I just get so frickin’ mad about my “lifestyle choices” (ie- being a big fat lesbian with my life partner of 13 years and our 4 adopted kids) debated in the news by pinched up looking white guys. Who as it turns out, just like to demonize stuff to make money and feel like bad boys when they take it up in the men’s room!!

  13. I lost a very good lefty friend of many years after an idle conversation in which she revealed her fatphobia in a way that shocked me. And I realized that this woman, who is known in our community for being more politically correct than just about anyone else, would go to the mat for people of color, people with disabilities, Jews and Buddhists and Muslims and Quakers. But she would sit at my table–at MY table–and make fun of fat people with impunity.

    It was a shocking realization.

  14. Harriet, same thing for me. In my workplace, I’m surrounded by highly educated and mostly left-wingish people, very politically correct, very open-minded, who seem to have a repeating Oprah-tape in their heads: “Fat is BAAAAAAD!!!”
    Was it Paul Campos or J. Eric Oliver who wrote that the higher educated people are, the more fatphobic they are? Rings very true to me. Although, peculiar as it may seem, none of my colleagues seem to realize that I’m fat (and I non-apologetically am, there’s no denying it) when they make fat jokes or cry out about disgusting fatties when I’m standing *right next to them*. Weird huh?

  15. Kate touched on progressives and fat in her post about Dan Savage (I think the discussion got more obviously relevant on the Shakesville thread, but I can’t link it while Shakesville’s down). The basic idea was that progressives don’t tend to realize that fat-positivity is a social justice cause, and that it is particularly a personal autonomy cause, which is actually what they’re SUPPOSED to stand for. The messages are so strong and pervasive that they just don’t recognize it as part of the same Puritan guilt machine.

  16. “Progressives don’t tend to realize that fat-positivity is a social justice cause” – doesn’t it also have to do with the idea that being fat *is* considered free will within lefty circles? I still get that so often: ‘you know that if you wanna be thin, you *could*, you just need to eat less and blahblah willpower blahblah’. Sometimes I just comfort myself with the thought my friends and colleagues just don’t understand yet, so it’s my job to tell them.

  17. I’m not sure that on the left fat prejudice has entirely to do with the notion of “choice.” Religion or belief in God (or lack thereof) is a “choice.” Interracial dating is a “choice.” A woman working after the baby’s born even if she doesn’t need the money is a “choice.” Dyeing your hair purple and green and festooning your skin with safety pins is a “choice.” Hell, even coming out of the closet is a “choice,” in the same sense fat is. But leftists support all those choices. I support them, too. But it’s fucking painful to see the line drawn at “the choice not to obsessively diet and work out to the point you have no life, or surrender your internal organs, if that’s what it takes to be thin,” under the rubric of “we all have to be heeeeeeaaaalthy.” (Which I think is a bogus argument even for leftists, most of whom would entirely support the rights of junkies to have clean needles and a private place to shoot up, call for compassion for people who got HIV through unprotected sex, or think people shouldn’t lose their jobs for coming to work with a daily hangover.)

  18. “Well, I just really think one’s health is so important. I mean, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with being fat, I just would rather devote my life to working out like a rabid hamster on speed than weigh more than 180 pounds. It’s just a personal thing.”

    But what’s wrong with a person thinking that way? Because aren’t you just making a judgment call on THEIR life by criticizing them for thinking that way? If a person wants and likes being fat, I think that’s great. If another person really likes working out like a hamster, then i think that’s great too. Why do we all have to be the same thing? Some people dye their hair, because they want it some other color than they were born with. Does that make them unauthentic? or “traitors” to everyone with their same natural hair color?
    Why are we making judgment calls on the way others choose to live their lives?

  19. I find progressives are worse about fatphobia than conservatives. It just expresses itself as pity, disdain, and superiority rather than blatant mockery and hatred. I was talking about fat shaming to a very progressive guy I know and he asked: “Don’t you think society should frown upon and attempt to discourage negative behaviors?” And that kind of sums it up for me. Progressives have a tendency to think they know what’s good for you better than you do, and if they bully and shame you, it’s for your own good. For your health! I’ve long been a progressive, but trying to talk about fat acceptance on the progressive message board I’m going to is almost starting to turn me into a libertarian… at least they support my right to be fat.

  20. I grew up in fairly-rural Texas, and still spend summers there, but I go to school with the hippies in the Bay Area. And there is one thing I know: it is far easier to be fat at home than it is in one of the most progressive areas in the nation. I know plenty of liberals in Texas, but most of them are staunch labor advocates, and really could swing either way on social issues. More to the point, most of them are working class, or grew up working class. Most of progressives I encounter at school, however, are white, upper-middle class people who are concerned about sustainability, and who like to rail against the greed of corporate America. The correlation between SES and fat certainly seems to do its work–to the folks I know in Texas, fat is a way of life, because they’ve all been poor and they’ve all grown up eating good old-fashioned country cooking. To the folks I know in California, fat is what happens when you buy into that sin of all sins: American overconsumption. Fat is what happens when you’re “part of the problem.” And I think that they don’t want to recognize the amount of leisure time it takes to obtain that slender, fit, hippie body–or the money it takes to feed a family fresh, whole foods. People always argue with me that fruits and vegetables really “aren’t that expensive”–but calorie for calorie, compared with how filling other types of food are, they certainly pack a punch to the wallet. Being “healthy” makes them feel morally superior, which I find far more reprehensible than people who just think I’m a physical atrocity.

  21. Madge, it’s not about all looking or thinking the same — it’s about people disingenuously framing fat as a personal choice rather than a medical and social fact. I think the key part that you quoted from Thorn’s ironic commentary is “It’s a personal thing” — in fact, the desire not to be fat is part of fatphobia, an institutionalized form of discrimination. Many progressives, for instance, if they heard someone say “I don’t have a problem with interracial dating for others, but it’s just not for me. It’s a personal thing” would call bullshit, because such a sentiment is clearly political and not “just” personal. But in the experience of several commenters here, the same people would turn around and blame a fat person for being fat.

  22. Killjoy Libertarian here throwing my two cents in for fun – I think Becky hit the nail on the head.

    “Progressives have a tendency to think they know what’s good for you better than you do, and if they bully and shame you, it’s for your own good. For your health!”

    I am frightened by any group who thinks they know better for me than I do – the WHO, CSPI, FOX News, etc. What I put into my own body is my own business, whether it be a cock or a cheeseburger (or both at the same time!), and that’s why I find both ends of the spectrum pretty damn reprehensible and restrictive.

  23. Justa reminder:

    Please keep in mind that all progressives, conservatives, libertarians, donut-lovers are not identical.

    I am a progressive (radical, even). I am fat. And I will support your right to abuse your body all the way.

    So, yeah.

  24. Agreed, Shade. I just wanted to point out some “progressive” interest groups who seem to be offenders in the anti-free will department when it comes to fat and so called bad foods. I’m sure there are Libertarian ones out there too, if you look hard enough.

    (as a side note, I shouldn’t have capitalized “Libertarian” in my original post. My ideas run more towards the small “l” type, rather than identifying with an organized party.)

  25. That’s true Shade, and I didn’t mean to imply all progressives are that way. Just… a lot more than I’m comfortable with. And it’s true that most progressives support people’s rights to do what they want with their bodies, but to a large extent it’s: “I’ll support your legal right to do what you want with your body, but I’m still going to try to shame and bully you into doing what I think you should be doing with it”. You know? That’s how progressives end up supporting legalising drugs but putting prohibitively high taxes on cigarettes. It’s not that they think drugs are better for you than cigarettes, it’s that they think everyone should have the choice to smoke or do drugs, but that they should choose not to. And I know that’s not all progressives and maybe not most, but it’s an uncomfortably large number of them.

  26. Madge, Becky and sweetmachine already pretty much answered for me, but just to kind of round it out – I certainly don’t expect everyone to be the same. People who exercise because they enjoy it, or eat a certain kind of diet because that’s their preference – hey, have at it. That’s great.

    But it’s not about those behaviors. I know plenty of fat people who like to exercise and prefer a vegetarian diet or a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, etc. etc. But the prejudice comes through in the word choice “…one’s health,” and by the identification of a particular number on the scale as the tipping point between “okay” and “not okay.” These people aren’t talking behaviors either, at that point.

    Instead, when someone says something like that, the message is not, “Hey, it’s cool, you do your thing and I’ll do mine.” The message is, “Well, I suppose it’s all right for poor people/dumb people/misguided people/whatever, but I hold myself to a higher standard than that,” which basically confers upon thinness a certainly level of moral superiority over being fat. And as sweetmachine pointed out – it’s a message that we rightly identify as discriminatory when it’s put out there about other progressive issues, so what makes fat so different?

    Whether it’s a “choice” or not really isn’t even the issue. Most progressives support the right of people to modify their bodies, in the form of tattoos or piercings or whatever. Me, I’m not really into it. I’ve got pierced ears, and have talked for years about “maybe someday” get a tattoo, but I’m also pretty sure it’ll never happen. But that doesn’t make me superior to anyone. It /is/ a personal choice, and as far as I and most progressives I know are concerned, one which in no way reflects upon the value or morality of the people making the choices. The kind of statement I described in my previous comment does not presuppose that fat vs. thing are similarly value-neutral, and that’s what I was addressing.

  27. The message is, “Well, I suppose it’s all right for poor people/dumb people/misguided people/whatever, but I hold myself to a higher standard than that,”

    Bingo. That’s the translation.

    And Shade, I’m totally with you — I’d definitely describe myself as a progressive. Which is what makes it all the more disappointing when other self-described progressives see fat as an issue that magically only involves “personal choices” and not social forces at large (ha).

  28. ZOMG, fillyjonk! You want people to *GASP* take personal responsibility for their choices and acknowledge that their own desires influence their actions?!?!?!


    I’m sorry to laugh, but it’s just THAT ridiculous – because you are SO right.

  29. sorry, Thorn, if i sounded defensive. I just often see those who exercise a lot getting lumped in with the anti-fat crusaders when, in reality, people exercise for a myriad of different reasons (not just the pursuit of thinness). I personally do it to tone down aggression, stress, and depression. I have no idea where my weight would be if i stopped, or exercised even more, and frankly, i don’t care, because its not about my thighs as much as it is about clearing my head.
    if others choose to de-stress by smoking pot or eating donuts, what’s it to me?

  30. Madge, I see your point, and should have been clearer. Or perhaps gone with the “Celery and Oxygen diet” idea rather than the “exercise like a hamster on speed” line.

    The problem is certainly not with people exercising. People exercising because they enjoy it is great. People deciding that their exercise habits make them morally superior to people who don’t exercise as much or at all, is not. Which is what I think we’re both saying at this point. :D

  31. I’m not sure it’s ever healthy to exercise like a hamster on speed — I thought the image was very evocative, because it implies compulsion, fruitlessness, and overexertion. I exercise a lot too, but I wouldn’t say I do it like a hamster on speed. I do it like a human who needs to move in the middle of the day or I’ll fall asleep at the end of it. So personally, I wouldn’t take offense at the simile.

    “Celery and oxygen diet” is all Kate originally, by the way. But I’m sure she’d be more than happy to have everyone steal it!

  32. I consider myself progressive. Yet, I’ve had to leave many a liberal websites and message boards because of the outright hatred of the members toward those “fatties.” It is really disheartening. I’ve read every single post here, and I have gotten lots of good information and opinions. It’s nice to know I am not the only progressive that has these feelings.

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