The Motherhood Post I’ve Been Promising

I spent most of the first year of my older son’s life in a haze, trying to navigate between his overwhelming need, my overwhelming desire to be a good mom, postpartum depression, doctoral coursework, sleep deprivation, and social isolation. This form of life was so new to me, and at times so desolate, that it took a long time to notice that aspects of it were deeply, deeply familiar.

Not my altered mother body that looked like it belonged to someone else; nor the way I was now smilingly by firmly shut out of mix-gender grown-up conversation, to be addressed only later, as an afterthought, with “And how is the baby doing?”; nor the intrusive sing-song-voice questions from strangers. Those were bizarre, unexpected and disorienting.

What felt familiar, though – as I eventually realized — was the combination of vast privilege, intense and anxious self-scrutiny, and utter lack of self-regard that I found now situated my life. Here, specifically, is how it finally dawned on me, one day when my son was out of infancy and I’d just come back from a Weight Watchers meeting. “Oh!” I thought. “Being a good mother is like dieting!”

At the time, I didn’t consider that in a “Holy shit, that just goes to show how they’re both ridiculous and futile enterprises!” I thought that I could marshall my discipline from dieting into discipline for good motherhood. But since I started giving up on both fantasies – the fantasy of being an acceptably-good mother and the fantasy of being an acceptably-pretty girl/woman – I’ve though a lot about how far the similarities really extend, and here’s what I’ve got so far:

First, there’s the fact that multiple oppressions help define the scope of an already-oppressively-gendered competition. The dominant culture’s possibilities for “pretty enough woman” and the dominant culture’s possibilities for “good enough mother,” are both fraught with racist, heterosexist, classist, and ableist assumptions. By the time the serious competition starts, many people are already ruled out and told, “You might as well not try.”

But if you are one who’s made it past the audition round – as I am, as a white moneyed able-bodied in-betweenie – then there are the methods, the expert books, the products to get you from “before” to “after”, the results-not-typical testimonies from people for whom a certain program worked, the manufacturing of insecurities so you’ll buy this book or that product.

And, of course, the self-denial made into virtue, where you get more applause and affirmation the more you sacrifice. Which is not to say the self-sacrifice should ever – EVER – make you truly unhappy. You can gripe a bit, sure, but when pressed you may only say how fulfilled and happy you feel at all the virtuous sacrifices you are making for what’s best.

There’s also an assumption that “responsible” eating/parenting requires retention of vast stores of information about every little situation, every bite, every nutrient, every variable that puts your body or your child closer to what’s best. What, you DIDN’T know that mustard has X points / that blueberries are a super food / that that toy was recalled last month / that Montessori education has the following positive outcomes / that the latest IOM or BMJ study says such-and-such / that it’s bad to be too hovering / that it’s bad to be too inattentive / that carbs are good now? / that carbs are still bad? What are you, selfish? Or just stupid and benighted, one of those sheeple who just parents/eats unthinkingly with no connoisseurship, health-consciousness, or taste?

Moreover, all those little details have to coalesce into a Special Way of Doing Things. An eating program, a “healthy lifestyle,” a parenting philosophy. Nothing can work in practice if it doesn’t work in theory, because it’s the theory that distinguishes you from those poor slobs who just do whatever they want. You certainly can’t just eat on the fly, enjoying what tastes good and what makes you feel good. You have to have a special way you eat that you tell people about with a convert’s zeal. And you certainly can’t just parent on the fly. You have to have even the smallest decision be part of a consistent parenting ethic more substantial than “It was what happened to work right then, for me. For you it might be different.”

And oh God, the way we talk to each other when we’re trying to achieve the ideal. All the “I was bads” and “I did X even though I know I’m supposed to do Y” and “Help me keep my female relatives from sabotaging my plan!” and “My problem is that I just…”

And finally – and I’ve done this, and I hope we can help each other avoid doing this in the comments – there’s the fact that strangers will snicker into their sleeves at how trivial such concerns are. Look at these silly women, working themselves into a dither about calorie counts and organic sleepers. Of course, it’s also those judging strangers who are all too happy to blame you for your selfish eating/parenting, at times when your mere presence — whether as a mother of a child they find insufficiently silent and adorable; or as the possessor of a body they find insufficiently, um, silent and adorable -– gives them an ookie feeling.

Forgive me, I’ve been leading seminars and can’t help but throw out some discussion questions. What do you make of this? Do you see these similarities too, or am I overreaching, pulling a Roiphe, saying “Here’s my master theory for everything based on the experiences of me and my six friends!”? Have I and my mothering cohort been so formed by weight loss that we inevitably bring it to bear upon other areas of embodied life? Or is it the case that dieting, and self-effacing competitive mothering are both instances of some more general artifice that frames a certain sector of privileged women? Is there a way to talk about this that isn’t all WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE POOR MONEYED WHITE GIRLS?!?! What are your perspectives — those who are mothers and those who aren’t, those who get entered in the pageant and those who don’t — on self-effacing hypervigilant motherhood and dieting?

Am I “worth it”? Well, yes and no.

Hello, Shapelings! This is A Sarah, reporting from amidst a sea of boxes. (Well, actually it’s more of a puddle of boxes at this point, hooray!)

As usual, a lengthy preamble and personal anecdote: As I’ve mentioned before, we recently moved to a different area of the country, and I’m just now starting my first faculty job. Because I’m young and female – and because I’ve been peppered with advice over the years about What! Not! To! Do! If! You’re! A! Young! Female! Faculty! Member! — I’ve been paying closer-than-usual attention to my self-presentation, knowing that my colleagues and students are forming first impressions that will be hard to undo later.

Attention to self-presentation, honestly, still fills me with anxiety and dread; I feel as though I’m always “on” and can never relax, and I berate myself whenever I do something that accidentally gives away power or otherwise gives the impression I wasn’t going for. That said, I have found that, this time around, I’m able to relegate some pieces of advice to the list of Things I’ve Decided Not To Care About Because They Aren’t Worth It To Me To Try And Change At The Moment.

So, for example, if it’s really true (as I heard once) that one cannot be young and female and warm and friendly in class and be taken seriously… well, then, too bad for me and my institution, because my default warmth and friendliness is not something I’m willing to spend time changing. For the record, I don’t actually think that rule holds true — though I can squint and see where it comes from. But my point is: even if it IS true that I must never smile while teaching? The amount of effort and emotional energy it would require for me to change my personality so thoroughly would leave me with nothing left for my students, my colleagues, my family, my friends, or my own well-being. Which would not be my fault, and which would suck. But people’s lives are complicated. One person may have the energy and circumstances and privilege that enable them to do something that would exhaust another person. Personality transplant, under oppressively gendered circumstances, in exchange for success in the academy? Not a tradeoff I can make. Someone else probably can; not me.

On the other hand, there’s apologizing. I tend to apologize too much. I learned early on that it was a way to keep people from being mad at me when I wanted something they didn’t think I should want or didn’t understand, or my personality didn’t appeal to them, or I was smarter than they found congenial. As an adult, this habit no longer serves me well; and it is of course a function of sexism that I ever acquired it in the first place. In my new job, am I willing to try and keep my gendered habit of apologizing in check? Well… yeah, I can do that. That’s an area where, for me, a modest amount of effort actually results in some noticeable change; but maybe more importantly, I actually find it life-enhancing to remind myself periodically that, no, I have nothing to be sorry for. I suppose it’s a kind of self-improvement (in the sense that it improves my life); but for me, it doesn’t require any kind of punitive understanding that I was BAAAAD before and now I’m trying to get GOOOOOD.

In a different category, I think, is dressing up for work. Which I’m also able to do fairly easily, and which I currently do, because it seems to go a long way toward causing people to perceive me as a competent colleague and teacher. Of course this ability — less so, I think, than not apologizing so damn much — is clearly a function of my class privilege and thin privilege. (I’m not thin, but it’s fairly easy to find US size 14 women’s business wear.) And so I sit uneasily with that, wondering what exactly I’m colluding with by dressing up, wishing that it weren’t so, and telling myself that old story about how I’ll do this to get tenure and then work to change things. But right now, dressing up is a tradeoff I’m willing to make, and I’ll keep reevaluating.

Anyway, making these kinds of conscious tradeoffs with respect to self-presentation — where I decide what things might make my life easier and better, without requiring of me huge amounts of energy or a script of self-loathing — has got me thinking about a little phrase you hear from time to time, usually when someone is trying to encourage you to devote huge amounts of your time and energy to the self-improvement scheme they want you to embark upon.

“You’re worth it.”

Like many Weight Watchers alumni, I once heard, and used, the phrase “worth it” in connection with dieting. I proclaimed I was “worth the effort” (not to mention the considerable financial expense and time drain) of staying on program. I’m “putting myself first,” I said. I’m “doing this for me.” I’m “taking charge of my life,” and so on and so on and on and on and on. And of course, all of these sentiments are just repetitions of what we all hear on diet commercials — albeit phrased, not in dainty “I” statements, but in brash imperatives, needling interrogatives, and pious testimonials. Put yourself first! Take charge of your life! I did it for myself! Aren’t you worth it?

And, Jiminy Christmas, what a ridiculously messed-up sentiment.

On the one hand, it’s ridiculous on the very face of it — in ways that we could all probably articulate without much trouble. I mean, really, Weight Watchers meeting leader? I’m “worth” the time and hassle of impressing people who wouldn’t like me otherwise (because, goody, they’re the ones whose favor I want!)? And I continue to be “worth” that effort even when the chance that it will have the desired effect is close to zero and it takes a major toll on my sense of well-being? I’m “worth” a self-defeating and time-consuming regimen undertaken for the purpose of gaining the approval of people who don’t see value in me as I am now? AWESOME, thanks!

But there are two deeper, and possibly even-more-ridiculous aspects to “You’re worth it” that I hadn’t really thought through before… both of which bear on self-presentation and intersectionality. So the idea I’m currently playing around with is the idea that, hidden in all the fake-empowerment “worth it” nonsense are two dangerous and disingenuous – and somewhat contradictory – sentiments that need to be exposed. Here’s my best first guess at what they are, but by all means let’s clarify them further in the comments:

Sentiment 1: Attention: Women In General. We, the spokespeople of the dominant culture, know best how you should negotiate the obstacles you encounter by virtue of being female in a sexist society.”

With the blanket assessment that weight loss — a very specific kind of attention to self-presentation — should strike you as being something “worth” your time and energy, these spokespeople presume to know your circumstances enough to dictate what kind of tradeoffs you should make in your life. Now: that’s temporarily leaving aside the fact that (as we all know) dieting almost never results in lasting weight loss!! But hey, you know, let’s say that it did. Let’s say dieting was one way to reliably improve your chance at being seen as more competent or attractive or valuable — within a system that codes women as being less valuable than men, less competent than men, and existing to look pretty to men.

Even if dieting “worked,” who are they to dictate which obstacles are most worth your attention right now? PARTICULARLY when the obstacles you have to steer your way around were PUT IN PLACE BY ONE OR MORE SYSTEMS OF OPPRESSION which… oh, hey!… they speak for! Bah. Spokespeople, you have no damn clue what I have to negotiate, any more than I have a clue what the woman next to me is negotiating or the trade-offs she’s able and willing to make. (Unless she tells me, in which case it would be nice if I’d shut up and listen and not pronounce about what she should do to become new and improved.) To the extent that I’m able even to influence the way I’m perceived by others: how do YOU know that my time and energy isn’t better spent on some other way of dealing with this shit? I’ll tell you what that time and energy is “worth,” thank you… IF I ever even decide that YOU are worth my time, which I just mightn’t.

Of course, it’s not reeeally all women who are “worth it,” is it? On a different frequency than the above announcement (directed, ostensibly, to women in general), comes this announcement to a select few:

Sentiment 2. “Attention, Very Specific Group of Women: See those unworthy people who can’t spend hours a day at the gym or hundreds of dollars on a weight loss program? Take my word that we can identify them by their fatness. Ew, right? What’s wrong with them, that they don’t have extra cash and time to spend working out? Show, with your thin body, that you’re someone who is “worth” money and time.”

Now, this one has of course bubbled up from the pits of hell. It basically says: Hey, you (presumed middle- or upper-class woman)! You are “worth it” exactly because there are others who aren’t, and you’re different from them. Anyone with eyes and discerning taste can tell the difference, amirite? Plus, all that money and leisure time that enables gym-going and calorie-counting and meeting-attending to be a viable option for you? You had it coming, because you are just soooooo worth it. Being worth it means you never have to consider that, maybe, just maybe, you got some of those perks by being born into them, and not through your own morally perfect decisions. So yeah, go ahead and draw ridiculous analogies — like saying that some people spend money on shoes (OMG SO SAAAD!), but YOU choose to spend your time on your health (as if you couldn’t also buy designer shoes if you wanted them!) No, it’s all FAIR AND SQUARE WHAT PRIVILEGE LA LA LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!

As Paul Campos, among others, has noted:

“Americans are obsessed with fat because fatness has become a symbol for poverty, downward mobility, nonwhiteness and socially marginal status in general. Fear and hatred of fat has very little to do with the health risks associated with being “overweight” and “obese” (which are wholly imaginary and highly exaggerated, respectively), and everything to do with the symbolic meanings that thin and fat bodies have in this culture.

The fundamental strategy of the war on fat is to universalize the attitudes of middle- and upper-class white American women toward weight, food, dieting and exercise.” (emphasis mine)

(As if you really needed a current example of this very phenomenon.)

So I think that’s where a chirpy “You’re worth it!” eventually lands us. Any tension between the (faux-universally-applicable) first sentiment and the (very-specifically-targeted) second sentiment is resolved, if we translate it thus:

“I don’t know who you are or what your life is like. But I’m pretty sure that we, the spokespeople of the dominant culture, can pronounce authoritatively upon what you need to care about — and even on how you should best negotiate the oppressive systems we help sustain. And, in that vein, we have agreed that you should want to be a thin white straight cis femme moneyed woman, who takes what we say as authoritative, and who tries to improve herself for our sakes. You’re worth it! You’re welcome!”

That’s my best, and very wordy, guess. What do you think, Shapelings? Is this the real work that “You’re worth it!” is doing? Are there other things it’s doing? How do you decide whether and how to care about self-presentation? What’s the best way to think about being “worth it”? Alternately, feel free just to talk about how “worth it” you REALLY are — just because you’re awesome, and not because of the degree to which you meet someone else’s oppressive standards.

[cue Mister Rogers theme]

[No, really, we’re watching Mister Rogers at our house]

Friday Fluff, sort of. And sort of an open thread also.

So here’s what I’m wondering, as I type while meanwhile my younger son naps and my older son tells me “Mommy! Keep looking! Mommy!” because he’s sure that if I just watch this episode of Word World for the thirtieth time I will finally come to appreciate it as much as he does.

I’m wondering how best to introduce a thread intended to accomplish two things:

1) Provide an open thread, because it seems like it’s high time. At least, a number of Shapelings have had interesting links to offer in the comments, prefaced with an apology for being off-topic but rightly allowing as how there was no other place to put it. They are great links, so please put them here!

2) Gently suggest, without intending to be overly directive, that one possible Friday fluffy topic of conversation on said open thread might be your funny internet things that have stood the test of time? By way of background, in the last couple of days I’ve just for the first time been introduced to Auto Tune The News (over at Fetch Me My Axe) and and Homestar Runner (thanks to Fillyjonk via email) and now it’s clear to me that everybody else in the world knew about them a long time ago. So I am just personally curious about what else I’ve been missing. Not, of course, that it’s a duty of Shapelings to bring me up to speed on newfangled things like the Infermashun Sooperhighway and Home Pages and automatic horseless carriages and whatnot. Actually it was Fillyjonk who suggested it, and if SHE were writing this post she’d have zillions of links to things that would make you pee your pants in laughter. But she’s not feeling well (so do send her get-well wishes in the comments, if you think of it) and so you get me, and I have nothing to make you pee your pants, I’m sorry to say.

Well, Word World has just ended and my presence is now being loudly requested at the swing set. (Yes, our new house has a SWING SET! LOVE!) Oh, and hey, the younger son has just now woken up. Well, lovely. Okay, look, obviously my environmental conditions this afternoon didn’t end up allowing me to write anything coherent here; hell, I even resorted to the tired old writing-about-your-writing-process thing. (AND THAT WAS WHEN SHAPELY PROSE JUMPED THE SHARK! later generations would say.) But you all are really smart — surely there’s something here you can use as a spark for a conversation that’s actually, um, interesting. Go to it!

An Urgent Message To Shapely Prose Readers

Your attention, please. From Fox News’ Neil Cavuto (won’t dignify it with a link), by way of Talking Points Memo, by way of Jezebel:

Michael Karolchyk — who started the Denver Anti-Gym for the purpose of “getting clients in shape for sex;” who included in said gym an extra-special super-secret sauna for clients below a certain BMI; who idolizes Holden Caulfield (*snicker*… oops, sorry. (*snicker*…SORRY! I’M SORRY!)); who thought it appropriate to wear a “no chubbies” slogan t-shirt when appearing on national television; whose gym was shut down for not paying its taxes; who thereafter couldn’t quite muster the business savvy not to leave his clients’ documents (including credit card numbers) in a dumpster; and who giggles involuntarily if you walk up to him and say “boobies!”* — does not think Regina Benjamin should be the surgeon general.

I knew you’d want to know, so that you could adjust your opinions on the matter accordingly.

Anna N. at Jezebel reports:

Karolchyk says (based, again, on the scientific method of Watching Video Footage) that Benjamin is “lazy” and makes “poor food choices.” He asks if we’d want “the head of the Fed Reserve to be a guy in a cardboard box” or “Michael Jackson’s doctor” as the head of the DEA.

Folks, the comically un-self-aware man-child who is so desperate to feel young and vital that he appears to have willfully resisted outgrowing his years as a middle school bully is right. The mantle of authority is a privilege. Not everyone can enjoy a visible public platform from which to spout his or her opinions on stuff. That kind of space should be given only to those whose personal circumstances show them to be, not only thoughtful and of unimpeachable judgement… but also prosperous, lucky, and in the fickle general public’s good graces.

Thank you to Fox News, and Michael Karolchyk, for this reminder.

*-Astute readers may wonder how I know this. As a matter of fact, I know this because I have magic boobie-giggler vision: I can look at men and magically discern whether they snicker at the mention of boobies. This is a superpower akin to Karolchyk’s super-power of being able to look at people and magically discern how healthy they are. You call it pulling stuff out of one’s ass; Karolchyk and Fox and I call it penetrating insight. Potato, potahto.

Dainty Little Bites: Discuss.

So the fellas and I are packing up and moving several states away this week — on Friday or Saturday, depending on how packing and loading up the truck goes — and as a result I have no dadgummed clue where my copy of Susan Bordo’s Unbearable Weight is. It may be in the garage (appropriately off-the-floor and well-cared-for, I hasten to add; for I am not a hater of books, and I would wither if any of the awesome Shapeling librarians or librarians-to-be gave me the hairy eyeball) or it may be in a pile of somethings, or under something, or in with the cookbooks, I’m just not sure.

If I had access to the book, I would here post something intelligent and pertinent about the Dainty Little Bite — that culturally-approved way for women to have appetites. Because I’ve been thinking a lot about appetites, as I expect most of you have noticed; and I’ve been thinking lately about the Dainty Little Bite in particular. And I would love to rehash what Susan Bordo has already said, and use an excerpt as conversation fodder. (Note to Susan Bordo, if you’re reading: You are my fantasy Famous Shapeling. I love to imagine that you read here. I like to think that that’s actually entirely possible, and that one day we’ll discover that you’re a regular commenter here with a wickedly clever little alias that you chose so that you could help collaborate on some of the more ribald contributions that the SP community has made to humanity over the years… the parodies, the Douchehoundings, etc. But a friend of mine from college has now gone and ACTUALLY STUDIED WITH YOU in grad school, and she tells me that in her opinion you’d have no qualms about commenting here under your own name, because you’re fearless like that. Sigh. Reality, why must you get in the way of all my cherished fantasies?!)

But, as established, the book is not handy. So here are my off-the-cuff thoughts and questions about the Dainty Little Bite. First, it really has cognates in other appetites, no? (I’m just thinking for example of all those advertisements, mostly ones directed at heterosexual doods… where a woman is pictured with the product, the camera angle is from above and looking down on her, she’s looking up playfully — childishly let seductively — and her mouth is half-open. Isn’t that kind of the Dainty Little Bite of sexual appetite? Or have I got it all backwards and inside-out?)

Related to that: is it just me, or is the Dainty Little Bite not basically a shorthand for “I have just enough desire to indulge my appetites when you would find it titillating and/or useful, but not enough desire to spur me to set my own terms”?

And third, how is the Dainty Little Bite situated by whiteness and by middle class identity? Having seen the racist and classist ways in which virtuous eating functions among white middle-class people* I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s thoroughly situated by whiteness and middle class anxiety/internalized superiority. But I’m a white straight cis middle-class chick. For me, the DLB goes all the way down, so far that I can’t see where it starts and where it stops.

All these may be obvious, and all may have been stated better (BY SUSAN BORDO, PROBABLY, which is why I wish I could put my hands on the damn book). Anyway, may we talk about it? (I feel a twinge of guilt here for not having, you know, a strong and assertive thesis statement — “In this blog post, I shall argue that…” etc. — but honestly, I’d more like to know what you all think. Plus, I’m in the middle of a move, and I’m rather pleasantly surprised I can put together sentences at all beyond “The thus-and-such goes in the this-or-that.”)

Sooo, discuss! (Please? And thanks.)

*-Recently someone cold-called one of my husband’s colleagues and asked him if their church group could bring “fresh fruits and vegetables” to their neighborhood in the “inner city.” He was like, “How did you get this idea? Do you know anyone in our neighborhood? Did anyone call you and ask for your gracious help?” No no no, they just heard from other white crunchy virtuous eaters, and saw on the teevee, that there were poor people of color in the inner city who were miserable wretches in need of produce. So they decided to help. Without being asked. Which straightaway reminded me of the clip from Sesame Street where some kids are just eating their lunches, minding their own business, and are interrupted by the obnoxious and intrusive Captain Vegetable… who bursts in and sings “It is I, Captain Vegetable! With my carrots! And my celery!” Ah, Sesame Street. Always so ahead of its day. I think I’m going to start humming this now anytime someone starts plotting to save the world from types of eating which they find icky-poo.

Fat Faith?

First off: Remember this one?? For those that don’t want to click through and read it all again: that was the one where I snarked at a guy who, based on his understanding of Catholic theology, opposed marriage equality by (among other things) comparing homosexuality to obesity. His basis for the comparison was that both indicate “disordered appetites.” (Because human beings are “ordered” to reproduce with the opposite sex, just like they’re “ordered” not to eat truckloads of deep-friend lardballs with mayonnaise every day. Which is the only way people become obese, natch.)

The fish-in-a-barrel moment was when he asked incredulously whether anyone SERIOUSLY believed that OBESE people deserved “special” civil rights, by which he seemed to mean the right to be obese. Or something. It wasn’t always clear.

Okay, well, I’ve sat with my resultant mocking screed for a while now, and… you know what? I can really see why it struck some as anti-Catholic. My little vignette at the beginning about the odious priest was, in particular, gratuitous. And I’m sorry. By way of context: I forgot that not everyone can magically discern that I in fact once became Catholic at some personal cost, having been taken by a number of things about Catholicism — its mystical and contemplative traditions, its healthy numbers of peace activists, and its age. And just a few years later I left, because I felt very hurt and let down by the church, such that I could no longer believe it was anything like what I’d thought it was when I’d first become Catholic. Point is, although I knew I was writing as a grumbling estranged family member, I can see how it would have seemed like I was an outsider taking cheap shots.

I think I also knew it was my first real time out, and I was trying to bring extra snark, because I wanted to prove myself.

Anyway, as an attempt to make amends… and as a special gift to those Shapelings who are self-identified religion and theology dorks and have requested a theological post… I’d like to go out on a limb and share some of my own (not-especially-snarky) reflections. I mean, this Fournier fellow took something of a risk, putting his thoughts about sexual and gastronomical appetites out there for the whole world to see. And I just aimed my cannon and fired at him, without offering much in return or taking many risks of my own.

So what follows are some ways that I think about FA intersecting with my spiritual life. My goal isn’t to bring everyone around to my own way of articulating faith (yeesh…. no!) but rather just to see whether this is a conversation to be had, and whether there are other Shapelings who see fat acceptance as a spiritual thing. I write in a Christian idiom because… well, at this point in my life there would be no other honest way for me, personally, to write. The Christian community, for good and ill, formed who I am spiritually and furnished the symbols with which I think. But my idiom isn’t the only idiom, let alone the master idiom, and I really don’t want to seem like I’m proselytizing. Let’s bring all our faith lives, or lack thereof, and talk about what they might have to do with FA, or not, is what I’m saying.

Okay, so. One of the reasons I grudgingly remain a Christian, is because of a particular story that Christianity tells about bodies. Now, I hardly need to point out that not all the stories Christianity has told about bodies are good ones. A lot of them are crap. Maybe most of them; I don’t have an exhaustive understanding of Christian stories about bodies, but of the ones I come across, most are terrible. But there is, I think, a strand of the Christian tradition that is very body-affirming. For example: You might not know this, but there’s actually good reason for viewing the notion of a “soul” going to “heaven” as an interloper in the Christian tradition. Well, maybe “interloper” is too strong. But many theologians would say that, at best, it’s a belief that’s become an unhelpful distraction simply by being so focused upon. (Like, it actually doesn’t say in the historical canonical creeds that Christians’ souls will go to heaven when they die; it says only that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and then ascended into heaven, where he’s hanging out until he comes again.) (Er, I’m paraphrasing.)

Arguably, the FAR more consistent and long-established Christian belief about life after death is EXACTLY NOT that some immaterial vapor of selfhood will go into a happy place in the sky. Rather, it’s that our bodies will be resurrected and perfected.

Aieee! Perfect bodies. I’ve gone to church since I was a wee tot, and have now made a job of it — and yet when I hear about bodies being “perfected,” what springs to mind is not the Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead. No, it’s diets. It’s bikini season. Clear complexion products and spray tan and so forth. I fill with dread and anxiety and self-loathing.

But in the Christian theological sense, “perfected bodies” means mostly that our bodies won’t be in pain or die again. (Well, you have people like St. Augustine who also specified that everyone would be 33 years old in the resurrection, but that’s sort of an academic point.) More interesting than what the bodies won’t be, is what they will be, according to this particular flight of the Christian imagination. Namely, they will be ours. Recognizably. They will be physical bodies, the same ones we have now, just… transformed, somehow. They’ll be even more what they are now, more alive, more there. Their longings and yearnings will be fulfilled and satisfied. The delightful tangibility and vulnerability that comes with being fleshy won’t go away, but it won’t any longer be an occasion for danger and harm. It has even been speculated by at least one Christian theologian (and yes those are weasel words, and no I can’t remember who said it but I swear it’s in my seminary notes!) that our perfected bodies will retain their scars. The reasoning was that it makes sense that anything which testifies to suffering’s having been overcome will be preserved.

And what’s one image in the Christian tradition that has consistently been used to describe this new, redeemed, embodied life that awaits? Obviously not immaterial souls becoming harp-playing angels on clouds. Nope nope nope. A feast. A feast, where nobody is left out and everybody has enough. A feast where – if I may extend the image in a manner I think is faithful to it – there are no good foods and bad foods… no popular table and no nerds table… no foods that look gorgeous on the plate but are the result of cruel and world-killing technology… no need to make eating into a locus for control in the hopes of finally, finally being worthy of love. Just a beautiful, intimate, abundant, joyful, and peaceful meal with your close circle of friends. Except that the circle is extended to every creature, and the Holy One is sitting with us at the table too.

Okay, so that’s one very ancient and long-standing Christian image for what awaits: a feast. Want to know another? A “wedding night,” but understood as sexual encounter between two as-yet-unconsummated lovers who have been waiting, yearning for each other so much they’re practically driven crazy by desire. And now they FINALLY know that the desire is mutual, and they FINALLY get to be alone together and touch each other, erase all the distance between each other, and thank heaven the wait is over because IT’S BEEN DRIVING THEM CRAZY NOW TURN OFF THE LIGHT ALREADY!

Please, just for a second, put out of your mind everything you’ve heard about purity balls (tee hee) and True Love Waits and staying “pure” until marriage, and just… you know, think about that kind of longing. Er, I trust some people here know the feeling? *pointed look*

Now, proviso time: Goodness gracious, have those images EVER been turned into weapons. The wedding night one, in particular, has been HORRIBLE for women. One might almost guess that its main use has been to equate “God” with “male” with “savior” with “(sexual) agent”… and “creation” with “female” with “saved” with “passive” with “pure receptacle for Him.” It’s a vile and death-dealing construct, and I wish it weren’t there. Well, then why is it there? Why do these nearly-universal embodied longings — which are used to say something important about the purpose of all creation — end up being a cause of division and exclusion?

Ah, that’s where I see the whole “ordered appetite” thing come in. And, you know, I can *almost* cut my tradition some slack here. I mean, if you’re saying that both gastronomical hunger and its fulfillment, and sexual longing and its fulfillment, reveal something about the very goal of the whole cosmos… well, suddenly, it seems pretty important to put in a bunch of provisos about how there are right and wrong ways for those appetites to be ordered. Because we don’t want to say that just EVERYthing that someone might theoretically do sexually, or EVERYthing you do related to your meals, is redemptive and good. A meal can be the occasion of exclusion and harm, even accidentally. So can sex. So can a bunch of other embodied longings.

Well, better make a whole bunch of rules to make sure that people only do the right things with their appetites, and not the wrong things, right?

Uhhh, sure, go ahead. Make a list of ordered and disordered appetites. And rules. And good people and bad people. And good bodies and bad bodies. Knock yourself out. EXCEPT REMEMBER THAT a big horking part of the Judeo-Christian narrative has to do with the guardians of “order” always being tempted to use that order to shore up their own power. And meanwhile – at least as I read the Christian Bible, but I’m not alone – God has pretty consistently cast God’s lot with those who’ve been othered by the authorities of the day.

Seriously, that’s like, um, kind of the whole freaking plot of the Bible, over and over and over and over and over again. The guardians of order say, with some plausible reason, “These are the conditions necessary for God to find favor with people!” And then God says, “Aww, nice try, mates, and I can totally see how you got there… but turns out I’m not so simple. ‘Scuse me a sec… Hey, you outcasts over there! Come join the party!”

I trust I don’t need to draw you a map of how I connect all that to FA. And I should wrap this up, but I can’t write about this without mentioning a memory that I shall cherish for as long as my memory functions. It illustrates everything I’ve just been trying, in fits and starts, to describe.

In the early ‘aughties I lived in a sort of pacifist anarchist Christian commune. One of the things we did — in addition to dumpster-diving, protesting war, and gardening — was provide a place for families with children who needed somewhere to stay. (At the time, in the city where I lived, most regular shelters and agencies wouldn’t place parents and children together.) One young woman, a high school student, stayed with us for more than a year. She’d been kicked out of her house when she got pregnant and decided to proceed with the pregnancy.

One day – when she was getting near her due date – she and the baby’s father announced they would be getting married. “WHAT!? CONGRATULATIONS!” we exclaimed. “WHEN?!” Whereupon this woman said somewhat dejectedly that they’d just get it taken care of the next day, because it’s not like they’d have any family who’d want to come.

At this point the matriarch of the community BEGGED her to let them try and give her a beautiful wedding. The bride happily said yes. And what I saw come together in the next twenty-four hours… I just don’t know how to describe it except that it felt like God was a sprightly and eccentric auntie throwing a wedding for her favorite niece. Somehow the news spread throughout the whole neighborhood. Little things just came together. For instance, the next morning my friend Christy and I found gorgeous entire bouquets of fresh flowers in the dumpster behind a florist, which we used to decorate the basement chapel. The intentional community down the street baked a wedding cake using, for the toppers, boy and girl chocolate Easter bunnies that they happened to have gotten on clearance. One of the other moms in the house worked as a caterer, and she made piles and piles of pupusas and heaps of black beans. Other neighbors brought chicken and I don’t even remember what else. A very psychologically troubled friend of ours who had some musical gifts sang “Danny Boy” as a solo. The preacher from the storefront church half a block away offered to do the ceremony. And the eighty-five-year-old grandfather who lived up the street — the sort who’d sit on his front porch in all but the worst weather so he could greet everyone as they passed – asked the bride if he could give her away.


It was both a feast, and a wedding night. And to me, it was a very scripturally-appropriate foretaste of the future of justice and peace that I try to work for. But I’ve often reflected how it satisfied exactly nobody’s rules for proper behavior or ordered appetites. Nobody. Certainly not wedding experts. Certainly not most religious people, who would have frowned on the bride (and perhaps only her) for having sex. Not the young woman’s family, who were angry she proceeded with the pregnancy. Not the vegans in our community, because of the chicken. I mean, they handled it with good humor and everything; I’m just saying if *they* had been in charge there probably wouldn’t have been chicken, you know? The wedding probably wouldn’t even have satisfied the government, seeing as how the groom didn’t speak English, couldn’t understand a word the preacher said, and didn’t actually repeat any vows. Hell, as a feminist I wasn’t thrilled in principle that she was being given away!

Didn’t matter. There was some power that had gone out ahead of us, ahead of all our rules, and brought us together in a place of peace… in a way that none of us could have anticipated. It was a gift *precisely* *because* it didn’t just spring up out of our fastidious adherence to rules.

Well, that’s my take, anyway. It’s also a long way of telling how I eventually found my spot in a liberal Christianity where a love of embodied life (in its lumpiest and bumpiest and earthiest sense) is at the heart of my faith… a Christianity that expects God to be especially at work in the lives of people with the “wrong” kinds of bodies, who have or are believed to have the “wrong” kinds of yearnings, longings, appetites.

Is anyone still reading? Do other Shapelings see spirituality and FA as informing each other? Or if you don’t believe in a deity or multiple deities, how (if at all) do you articulate your source of ultimate hope that sustains your work? I want to make sure I’m setting that up in a way that won’t lead to debate.

Friday Fluff: The Shapely Manor

Does anyone remember the episode of Family Ties where Elise and Stephen Keaton go out of town and leave Alex in charge? And he turns the place into a cozy little B&B called Keaton Manor, and rents out rooms?

Yeah, so the other SP bloggers are living it up in Minneapolis this weekend, leaving me in charge. WOOOOOOO! My sisters Mallory and Jennifer will be cleaning up your rooms and cooking you comically bad breakfasts, while I will be taking your money!

No, not really. But it provided me a handy way of mentioning two things:

1. Y’all, I’m it for the weekend, AFAIK, and I’m new; so go easy. I’ve got a very long and theological post in the works, but I think I shall save it for tomorrow, because we’ve had lots of posts today and I don’t wish to overwhelm. (Edited Saturday PM to add: I’m SORRY, I’m SO sorry, but it will be Sunday. I just keep obsessing and editing. It’s just such a fraught topic, so personal to me yet so prone to giving offense, and I already gave offense once before… blah blah, anyway, if I don’t put it up by tomorrow night then give me grief for it because that will mean I’m really obsessing way too much. ) And if you need something you can email me at teenageradiostar at gmail.


2. Let’s talk about cozy interiors! (Er, the connection was that B&B’s often have cozy interiors. Was that clear?)

See, we are moving to a new city in two weeks, and our new home (while not fancypants) is nicer than our current home, in that the new home has wood floors and granite (I think?) countertops and solid doors and whatnot.

What it lacks is color and quirk and personality. Not that I fault the previous owners for that because when your house is on the market that’s precisely what you’re supposed to do — make everything look generic and neutral. But once we arrive, we are getting down to bidness in terms of adding color and quirk. But most of all we want to be welcoming; we want there to be people coming over, playing, eating, relaxing, connecting, etc.

So anyway, what does the SP collective consciousness say in terms of making a house/apartment a home? How do you make a space welcoming, and what does that mean to you? What are some rooms and homes that you’ve loved? If you want to go all Derrida and talk about whether violence is inherent in “hospitality,” go to it! If that’s not fluffy enough for a Friday, another burning question I have is how we all feel about orange kitchens. (Specifically orange kitchens with black countertops? Too Halloweeny?)

What say you?

You think you have self-esteem? That’s so cute, you poor thing.

Sweet Machine noticed this otherwise-okay article from the New York Times. She commented, “This article is not so bad… But the ‘what about your heeeeeealth’ caveat is even more ridiculous than usual.”

Indeed, check it out:

But others point to serious health consequences of being overweight. Andrea Marks, a specialist in adolescent medicine in Manhattan, suspects that “the vast majority of overweight girls are not so happy.” Apparent self-acceptance, she added, may be a cover for defiance or resignation.

Okay, I don’t really know who Andrea Marks is. Google tells me she is on the faculty at Mount Sinai, has co-authored a book called Health Teens, Body and Soul, and previously wrote a column called “Ask Dr. Marks” for CosmoGirl. More to the point, I don’t know if she was quoted correctly — which can be difficult, I’ll grant. So I’ll hold off on lambasting her, personally, and try just to look at this as a phenomenon.

Let’s say you’re a fat adolescent girl – or hell, ANY adolescent girl in any sort of western capitalist milieu – and you manage, somehow, to hold onto your self-esteem and like your own body, despite all the shit that our culture hurls at adolescent girls. You even think you might like to dress, or eat, or look, or sing, or dance, or date, or not date, or talk to adults, or [insert your own activities here] in a way that pleases you.

Apparently such girls exist. I was not one. But thankfully, blessedly, they are there — evidently in numbers large enough to have their “apparent self-acceptance” be a phenomenon that gets a nod from experts.

Except… wait, no they’re not! Turns out they’re only pretending. Because either the paper of record, or an expert in adolescent medicine, or both, can’t quite wrap their heads around the idea of a fat adolescent girl who likes herself. “That’s cute, dearie,” they say, patting you on the head in response to your adorable little act where you stand up for yourself, “but you can’t REALLY think you’re worth anything, and deep down inside you know this. That veneer of confidence is really just defiance and resignation.”

OH GEE YOU THINK? Bravely defiant to smarmy condescending attitudes like the ones displayed in the article, perhaps? Stoically resigned to the fact that there’s not a lot an adolescent girl can do to change the fact that most dominant discourses describe her primarily in terms of her defects? WHY YES I THINK SO TOO.

But, pray tell, how are those two attitudes — that’s “defiance” and “resignation;” as opposed, one assumes, to “compliance” and “lack of interest in buying self-improvement products — incompatible with the very same adolescent girl thinking, “Hey, I really kick ass!”

(Hint: They actually are NOT incompatible! In fact, they may be correlated. Also, you don’t bury survivors, and the surgeon was actually the child’s MOTHER. Mind-blowing.)

Keith Fournier, Man Who Pronounces

A charming Roman Catholic priest once said, to a female friend of mine preparing for ordained ministry, “Seeing a woman give a sermon is like seeing a dog walk on its hind legs. You’re so amazed she’s doing it, you don’t really stop to think about whether she’s doing it well.”

Ho-HO, chaps! Amirite? It’s funny because WOMEN AREN’T REALLY PEOPLE AND ALSO THEY’RE KIND OF STUPID, geddit?

Well, in the same vein, I’d like to offer this observation: Seeing a man with an inflated sense of entitlement pronounce authoritatively as though he’s considered all the available evidence that the universe has to offer – when in fact it’s clear that he’s only considered the evidence proffered by other Men Who Pronounce — is like seeing dogs make friends with each other by sniffing butts. It’s so commonplace and unsurprising, you don’t stop to think, “Now, how does THAT convey pertinent information?”

Why do I mention this? No reason, really. Say! On a completely unrelated note: Here’s an essay by Deacon Keith Fournier. He thinks that people with “disordered appetites” shouldn’t get special “civil rights.” Or, well, he grudgingly acknowledges that they have rights because they’re humans with “dignity,: but still, he thinks it’s really important that they be made to know how disordered they are by, um… not having rights. That is to say, they shouldn’t be discriminated against, they just shouldn’t get to do the things that other, presumably more “well-ordered” people can do. Oh, also, he thinks that the Catholic Church will have its definition of marriage that’s essentially independent of what governments say about marriage… and this is why it’s really, really important for Catholics to oppose government-sanctioned marriage equality, even in instances where marriage equality is the majority will of the governed.

Confused yet? Well, your nose may not be as finely honed as Deacon Keith Fournier’s. There are many elements of this essay that offend me as a religious scholar and as a person who likes a good logical argument. I’m resisting the urge to get sidelined into a theological discussion of Natural Law, though, because I want to draw y’all’s attention to a point far more pertinent to the fatosphere: Deacon Keith Fournier knows that being gay is disordered, because being gay is a lot like being fat, and everyone totally knows that fatness is disordered:

Some maintain that same sex attraction is a genetic predisposition. This is disputed. Even if it were the case, that does not give homosexual activity any special status. Should we really give disordered appetites civil rights status under the law? Let’s consider an absurd example. I have struggled most of my life with fighting obesity. I am on the “winning end” lately, but just give me another Holiday! A very good argument can be made that obesity also has a genetic predisposition. However, I will fight it my whole life because it is unhealthy. It is a disordered appetite. Should we as a Nation decide that fat people have a civil right to be fat?

HA HA HA HA! What an absurd example! Fat people having the civil right to be fat! Ahhh… *wipes eye* … Deacon, you’re such a card.

Should those who insist that they resist that “genetic predisposition” to overeat be called Fata-phobic?

Um… with the exception of the adorably clueless capitalization and extra “a” in “Fata-phobic”… I’m going to go with yes?

Here, Deek, let me spot you a few clues:

First, yeah, about those “disordered appetites.” I don’t know how to tell you this. You know what other things have been counted as disordered appetites in the Christian tradition? The relentless pursuit of wealth at all costs. Seeking physical pleasure over spiritual union with God. Putting an exaggerated emphasis upon physical appearance. Now, assuming you think it’s worthile to talk about “orderedness” and “disorderedness” in this kind of detached and context-disregarding way (which I don’t) — come on, you don’t think those things frame a lot of our contemporary constructions of heterosexuality and/or thinness… oops sorry I mean “health”? So who else doesn’t get civil rights now that you, Keith Fournier, speaking for the Roman Catholic Church, find them disordered?

Second… dude, YES, the “Nation” should indeed decide “that fat people have a civil right to be fat[.]” People do indeed have a civil right to simply BE in ways that might make others feel icky-poo or scared or grumpy or oddly titillated or resigned or sad at no longer being in the majority. Even you grudgingly acknowledge that the people who give you that ookie feeling shouldn’t exactly be discriminated against:

Disordered appetites – and the actions engaged in by those who give into them – simply should not be called civil rights. Certainly, those who succumb to them should be treated with the human dignity that they deserve and not be discriminated against.

Great! Yes! You go right along thinking that gays and fatties are disordered, and LGBT folks and obeses will go right on enjoying equal protection under the law. Fine! Wonderful! You won’t get an invitation to Pride Week or the Fatosphere feed, and deathfats and gays won’t get an invitation to your Bible Study. Sounds like a fine plan that will work out well for all concerned.

What? Oh, you’re still not happy?

However, that is because they are human not because of their behavior! Homosexual sexual acts are simply homosexual sexual acts. Our bodies do not lie, they speak the language written within their constitution and confirmed in the Natural Law which binds us all.

Ahhhh, special rights. SPECIAL! Now I see. You’re not worried about gays and fatties having rights, you’re worried about them having special rights! You’re worried that they didn’t bring enough of their special gay and fat rights to share with the whole class!

Specifically, you seem very worried about that “special” right — which I’m sure you have never enjoyed yourself — NOT to have your identity judged legally and bindingly “disordered,” according to one particular religious account of “the language written within [its] constitution and confirmed in the Natural Law which binds us all.”



Happy now?

But then, presumably — since you’re standing so bravely against “special” rights for one class of people — you’re totally cool with sharing your special perks and privileges of maleness with everyone else, right?

Because I have a friend who can preach one hell of a sermon. What Sunday works for you?

(Edited to add: Shapeling Sarah rightly takes issue with my characterizing Fournier as “speaking for the Catholic church.” Let me try to make a distinction that I should have made originally: I do think that in the essay he presents himself as offering what the Catholic Church has always taught. He also is a deacon, which is an officially-sanctioned position of leadership in a congregation. But he is NOT a spokesperson for the Vatican, the US Council of Catholic Bishops, or other official decision-making bodies of Roman Catholicism, and it is overstating it to say that he’s “speaking for the Catholic church.”)

Quick hit: GLAAD Call to Action

I started working on a longer post about this, but didn’t finish it in time, and I want to get this out there before too many people head off for the weekend. (EDITED TO ADD: Okay, clearly I didn’t manage this, sorry. I’m still getting the hang of WordPress’ dashboard and accidentally posted this as a page with a tab at the top, right up there with “About” and “Don’t You Realize Fat Is Unhealthy?” Oops.)

Please go read this call to action from GLAAD, issued in response to the hateful and abusive comments made about transgender children on the May 28 edition of the Sacramento radio show Rob, Arnie, and Dawn In the Morning.

According to the transcript, host Arnie States shared some particularly odious and hateful sentiments, such as his belief that “If my son, God forbid, if my son put on a pair of high heels, I would probably hit him with one of my shoes. I would throw a shoe at him. Because you know what? Boys don’t wear high heels. And in my house, they definitely don’t wear high heels.”

And this gem: “You know, my favorite part about hearing these stories is about the kids in high school, who the entire high school caters around, lets the boy wear the dress. I look forward to when they go out into society and society beats them down.”

GLAAD provides the following contact information for those at KRXQ who could use some contacting. Please, please do so. (I hope to write a bit more about this later, relating it as well to pro-life extremists and the understanding of childhood that seems common to – perhaps even required by? – certain hateful ideologies. But for now, please take a moment to email the folks at KRXQ, as well as the show’s sponsors, and let them know how unacceptable this is.)

(h/t belledame222 at Fetch Me My Axe)