Ma Moto Chhu

Two observations sent to me recently by thin friends:

From Spillah:

I am sitting at my desk waiting for layouts and reading my Nepali phrasebook. To differentiate between the ser and estar equivalents, it tells me how to say I am a Nepali. (“Ma Nepali hun.”)

Next, it tells me how to say, “I am fat.” “Ma moto chhu.”

There it was, page 11. The book is written by a Nepali. Would you EVER see that phrase on page 11 of an American textbook?

If only they followed with my favorite adjective in Nepali– applied to absolutely everything:

“Ma raamro hun.” I am beautiful. I am good.

From Mindy:

I like to see what people put on their vanity plates. Yesterday I saw one that made me think of you: ACTL SZ 2. Apparently this woman needs to flaunt the fact that she is an “actual size 2,” not a fake size two like all those fat size fours out there. She should be soooo proud of her accomplishment.

I think I’ve said it before, but one of my biggest fears when I decided to start fat blogging was what my friends — most of whom are thin — would think. I knew there was an audience out there for this stuff (though I had no idea there would be so many of you so fast — THANK YOU!), but it was an audience of strangers. And as Heidi noted the other day, it can be a hell of a lot easier to reveal even your most intimate secrets to a bunch of faceless strangers than to your closest friends.

And the fact is, before this blog, most of my close friends didn’t know that I believed in fat acceptance (some didn’t know there was such a thing), or that I’d finally sworn off dieting forever. If the subject of my weight came up, most of them would just say I wasn’t fat — meaning, of course, that I don’t fit the negative stereotypes of fat people, and I shouldn’t feel bad about my body, two things that are true but still don’t make me not fat. But until last winter, I couldn’t bring myself to ever say, “Hey, you might want to think about why you associate the word ‘fat’ so strongly with negative characteristics you don’t associate with me, you can’t even process the thought of me as a fat person, despite the ample (HA!) evidence that I am one.”

I mean, obviously, I’m relatively small for a fat person. But that’s exactly what I am — small for a fat person, not big for a thin person. Not in some non-existent category most frequently described as, “Well, you’re not exactly thin, but… you’re not fat.” And definitely not just a floating head with a big brain and some nice hair, completely detached from any body, which is how we often see people we love, I think. I am plus-sized. I am clinically “obese.” I am fat. And it’s okay.

I didn’t say any of that to my friends for a long time. Hell, I never really said it to them — I just started writing about this shit, knowing they’d read it. And I was nervous about that. What if they thought I was deluded? What if they thought I was just making excuses so I wouldn’t have to diet? What if they thought I hated thin people? And most dauntingly, what if they thought I was being stupid — not looking at or understanding the evidence, not thinking critically and drawing reasonable conclusions? I can handle my friends thinking I’m clumsy, loud, ranty, spoiled, weird, overthinky, depressive, half-crazy, terrible about returning phone calls, only moderately reliable, chronically late, and chronically untidy — mostly because I am all those things. I couldn’t handle them thinking I’m not smart. (I mean, shit, that’s practically all I’ve got going for me, in light of the above.)

As it turned out, I had nothing to be nervous about. There was a little head-scratching among my friends at first, but what I’ve heard most often from thin friends in the last few months is, “You know, I just never thought about this stuff before. It’s really interesting.” I’ve also heard that my blog is helping with their body images, helping them examine their beliefs about fat, helping them see that this is a social justice issue, and helping them see how fucking omnipresent exhortations to lose weight are in this culture — and what an effect that can have on anyone’s self-esteem.

And now, I’m hearing that they’re starting to notice the little things, too. A vanity plate. A line in a Nepali textbook that would never appear in an American one, because we’re so goddamned fatphobic. How awesome is that?

Not one friend has said, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” or “Aren’t you worried that you’ll just encourage people to be unhealthy?” or “It’s okay for you, since you’re not really fat, but what about people who are?” or “Seriously, the Harvard School of Public Health says you’re wrong, dude.” None of the stuff I was afraid of. Plenty of strangers have said those things, but none of my friends. (Not to my face, anyway.)

Since I first read it, I have never forgotten Joy Harjo’s line, “The world begins at a kitchen table.” One of the big stumbling blocks to the fat acceptance movement is the real possibility of not being taken seriously, of being dismissed as a bunch of excuse-making nuts. (Though I think that’s changing rapidly at the moment. As I said to Spillah the other day, in the “First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win” progression, I think we’ve officially tipped from being laughed at to fought. Which means all that’s left is the winning.) But I know I was afraid for a long time to start talking about this stuff to the people who were already predisposed to take me seriously, to respect my intelligence, to consider what I was saying on its merits. Now that I’ve done that, friends with no dog in the fat fight are on board, to varying degrees, because they trust me. Because I’ve earned a credibility with them that has nothing to do with degrees or professional experience. The world begins at a kitchen table.

Some days, it feels like there’s nothing we can fucking do about all the anti-fat messages out there, that the problem is just too big to be approached, that we will never get the attention of anyone who matters. But you know what? Nobody matters more than the people we love. So why are they so often the last people we tell about stuff that’s really important to us?

25 thoughts on “Ma Moto Chhu

  1. So, this is wonderful, and makes me think that maybe I should be more vocally fat to my friends — I’ve worried about making them uncomfortable (although one of the people I do talk to about it, a very small girl with an ED history and a dysmorphic body image, has been ALL OVER it from the start). I did talk about it to my mom and I hear tell that she’s eating steak these days, though I don’t know how much that has to do with me and how much it has to do with researching articles on how fat=fat. (I recently saw someone link to an article of hers as a gentle way to talk someone out of a diet, and I almost said “I dunno, my mom diets, and she wrote that.” And then I realized that maybe the improvement, which is all third-hand at this point, has more to do with that than it has to do with me/us.)

    Anyway, but I mainly just wanted to tell you that one my cousins? His wife’s parents? They have matching license plates that say “BE SLIM” and “BE TRIM.”

    Yeah they’re so not invited to the wedding.

  2. I think telling the people we love actually carries the greatest risk–they may be more inclined to truly listen, but if they do reject our ideas, it hurts a lot more than when the guy reading your blog does.

    On a related note, I was just reading a bit more of that Campos/Brownell debate, and the reader comments are most depressing. The same tired arguments over and over, even when Campos has already refuted them!

    I attribute it to willful ignorance, but that just doesn’t make it less frustrating. Maybe the people we can reach best are those we love; with everyone else, it’s an uphill battle.

  3. Well, there are some people, that no matter what proof you give them, are not going to change their minds. You could rub their noses in it all day long, every day, for the rest of their lives and they will not believe (heaven forbid that they could be wrong about anything). If they are that hidebound, I don’t even bother with them anymore. I will keep putting the word out for those that are willing to listen, those that don’t want to listen but will hear it and mull it over eventually, and finally, just because I’m a stubborn bitch who refuses to be told that “you’re fat and stupid, what do you know, so STFU”. Persistence will overcome the ignorance eventually (that’s what I keep telling myself). This goes for family members, friends, and strangers.

  4. This question is for Spillah. This may be a geeky language thing but I’m curious about the Nepali translation for “I am fat” v “I am beautiful.” It appears as though there is a verb shift in the former (as though it is transient) whereas the latter appears to be equivalent to the static verb in “I am a Nepali.” Is that the case? Because if it is then they bothered to use a transient verb form and I’m not thinking that’s such a great thing–although I’m completely with you that Westerners wouldn’t dare consider putting such a phrase in a phrasebook. But, yeah, I wonder that “I am fat” should probably be as unyielding as “I am female” or “I am short.” We anglophones don’t differentiate, but lots of other languages do; Spillah noted the difference between ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ for Spanish–the words both mean “to be” but the duration of that being makes the difference. Which makes me wonder–by not clarifying linguistically, are we more prone to blur the distinctions? When I say, “I am fat,” do I mean “I am a fat person forever and ever and ever” or “I’m fat right now but I can change that whenever I want?” Sorry. I love thinking about the limitations imposed by language.

    Ew ew ew to the license plate peeps. I’m the subversive type who would slap the following bumper sticker on those cars: “Eat right, exercise daily, die anyway.”

    Have I mentioned how much I love this blog? Love love love it like bellydancing and autumn and my niece? :)

  5. i’ve def. learned a lot, and continue to. and have applied the lessons to other areas as well. once we understand where others are coming from, we can be open to what they are saying. our awareness expands and we’re more apt to let go of our pre-existing one-dimensional view.

  6. I think Al and I are going to get matching ones that say BE WITE and BE STR8T.

    AHAHAHAHAHAAHAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHAHA

  7. Oh, Phledge: I was also thinking it could designate a state of looking vs. a state of being? Like, in English if you say “I am fat” it’s a statement of identity, even though it really should just be a physical descriptor, which is part of what allows people to get their self-worth all wrapped up in their fatness or lack thereof. Since Spillah translates “raamro” as both “beautiful” and “good,” I thought the “hun” it might indicate a state of being rather than a state of appearance, and so one would basically say “I look fat” vs. “I am Nepali.”

  8. I think Al and I are going to get matching ones that say BE WITE and BE STR8T.

    Omigod, this is HILARIOUS and SO TRUE.

    BE TALL would make about as much sense as BE SLIM. Who the fuck thinks this way? I am afraid of them.

  9. You know what’s weird? The part where we win? What does that even LOOK like? I can barely even imagine it. Without the idea that one body is somehow BETTER than another body… so much CRAP is based on that assumption. It would be a huge societal change.

    Sorry. Just thinking aloud a bit.

  10. Well, Miss Laura Mars, I expect the fighting phase to be long and sucky. We might never see what winning looks like in our lifetimes.

    But I do feel like people are fighting a lot more than laughing these days, and that’s progress.

  11. You have all probably seen this already, but in case you haven’t…

    WHY HARVARD WANTS YOU TO BE UNHEALTHILY THIN.
    Thinner
    by Paul Campos
    Only at TNR Online | Post date 09.11.07

    A big problem with elite institutions is that, for years on end, people in such places can abuse their positions by saying things that aren’t true, before anyone whose opinion counts notices.
    A particularly clear example of this is provided by the Harvard School of Public Health, which for many years has been pushing a phony claim with great success. The story is simple: That it’s well-established scientific fact that being “overweight”–that is, having a body mass index figure of between 25 and 30–is, in the words of Harvard professors Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer, “a major contributor to morbidity and mortality.” This claim has been put forward over and over again by various members of the School of Public Health’s faculty, with little or no qualification. According to this line of argument, there’s simply no real scientific dispute about the “fact” that average-height women who weigh between 146 and a 174 pounds, and average-height men who weigh between 175 and 209 pounds, are putting their lives and health at risk. Furthermore, according to Willett, such people should try to reduce their weights toward the low end of the government-approved “normal” BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 (the low end of the range is 108 and 129 pounds for women and men respectively).
    It’s difficult to exaggerate the extent to which the actual scientific evidence fails to support any of this…

    More here

  12. The whole “pfft, you’re not fat” thing is what pushes me away from being vocal about fat acceptance. I am plus size. I am an Aussie size 16. I’m also curvy, in that “goes in in the middle” way that makes me acceptably overweight in so many people’s eyes, and people are always saying “No you aren’t!” when I reveal my dress size.

    I mean, I’m all about fuck dieting, I’m healthy and I love my body… but the reaction makes me hesitate about trying to reclaim that word.

    *shrug* Now I’m just babbling on someone else’s blog…

  13. Babble away, Hexy!

    And you know, I think it’s important for those of us who can “pass,” to say, “Yes, I AM fat,” because that’s part of changing people’s image of fat — and of dismantling the system of privilege that gives you and me more respect than an extremely fat person; less than a thin one.

    For starters, a lot of people want “fat” to represent a category of people who are Very Different from Them — people it’s much easier to dehumanize. So saying, “Hey, I’m not that different from you, but the government classifies me as obese, and doctors claim I’m at risk for a zillion diseases, and the fashion industry thinks I’m too fat to wear clothes,” helps shift the paradigm; “fat” is something much closer to home than a lot of people would like to believe. A thin person is one step away from people like us, who are one step away from mid-size fat people, who are one step away from supersize (even though I despise that word) fat people… And three steps between thin and supersize really isn’t very far at all, is it?

    Secondly, when someone says, “You’re not fat,” what they’re doing is offering me an opportunity to classify myself as “normal” — so neither one of us has to think anymore about The Other; the real fat people. Fuck that. I AM a real fat person, and I want to think about this shit. I don’t want to say, “Well, I can fit into airplane seats and don’t have too much trouble buying clothes, so I’m not like THEM, and it’s not my problem.” I am like them, and it’s everybody’s problem that even avowed progressives have no problem discriminating against a group of people because they don’t fucking like the way we look.

    I’m not going to help anyone make a comforting mental division between someone like me and a much fatter person, because that fatter person and I are a lot more alike than we’re different — less because we’re both fat than because we’re both HUMAN. Which is the point of all this.

    And I’m sure not going to say, “Why, yes, I’m lucky enough to dodge most of the discrimination directed against fat people, so I should just shut my mouth and be thankful.”

    So, Hexy, I hereby give you permission to call yourself fat and spread the word.

  14. I actually had a rip-roaring (though digital) argument with my little brother about fat issues where he did all of the negative things to me that you feared for yourself. He didn’t take me seriously at first. Then, when he realized I was serious he got REALLY, REALLY upset with me and started lambasting me saying a) my facts were wrong and that b) I was making excuses so I didn’t have to try to lose weight.

    Then when I asked him to share his sources to back up his side of the argument, he refused, saying that if I did the research for myself, I would be more motivated. Sure because everyone is motivated to research things that prove them a) to be wrong and b) to be bad or insufficiently strong people.

    I haven’t really talked to anyone about that fight. It was maybe a month and a half ago and it still pisses me off every time I think about it.

    -E

  15. Ericka, that sucks. Though it’s interesting that he went from laughing at you to fighting with you, too.

    The fact that so many people say, “I don’t need to back up my argument! EVERYONE KNOWS fat is unhealthy!” is one of the most maddening things about this fighting stage. But all we can do is keep fighting.

  16. Yeah, it’s very interesting to me that most people when they are arguing in favor of anti-fat attitudes or policies seem to fall back on what “everybody knows” instead of even pointing to the many flawed studies that back up the anti-fat agenda.

    -E

  17. This was a very great post Kate. I loved the insight on everything.

    I personally think it’s going to take some time for major changes to occur.There’s too much bias, and the anti-fat message is pushed in our faces a lot (Let’s no forget blaming everything from global warming to increasing health costs on T3H FAT). I really think that more people are becoming neutral on the whole thing, but there’s still many people of all sizes that don’t believe in accepting others that are different or even the same as they are. We can always be ambitious though.

  18. It’s a slightly sidetracked linkage, but I think y’all might appreciate reading Suzette Haden Elgin’s blog on Livejournal. This Entry talks about hostile language and how it is propagated, and a bit about how to protect yourself against it. She’s the author of the Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense book series, and she really has some useful hints and tips. she has tips not only about how to recognize hostile language but how to try to communicate with people who use hostile language and how to try to defuse a hostile-language situation. Here’s her webpage, and here’s her HowStuffWorks page.

    I’ve found her thinking and practical exercises no end of helpful in preventing myself from sounding and feeling defensive in situations that could be deadly to my social or work life.

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