New website, BlogHer, etc.

So, there’s a new body image website in the neighborhood, and I’m a part of it — which some of you might find surprising. I kind of do myself, actually. 

We Are the Real Deal is a companion project to the body image panel I’ll be a part of at BlogHer tomorrow. Heather Blessington, who’s been blogging about body image and eating disorders at MamaVISION since 2006, approached a bunch of people who deal with the same topics about working together. So far, so good. But here’s the surprising part: the list includes weight loss blogger Roni Noone and competitive bodybuilder MizFit as well as Inside Beauty‘s Claire Mysko, Heather, and yours truly. ED blogger Melissa Henriquez is also joining us on the panel — not sure if she’ll be blogging at WATRD or not  blog (see comments for how I screwed that up) — and Jessica Weiner will be there at BlogHer, too. (Cherry on top? The BlogHer panel, as you might have noticed in the sidebar, is sponsored by Dove.)

The good news is, all of these women seem lovely from the interactions I’ve had with them. (And surprisingly, Dove was awesomely hands-off in terms of content for the panel — they just forked over money and let us do our thing.) The arguably bad news is, there’s already one post on the site I substantially disagree with. (Short version, as I’ve said before, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting to lose weight, either — that desire is a natural response to all the pressure to be thin in this culture. But I do think there’s something wrong with buying into the belief that making “healthy lifestyle choices” can make anyone thinner, with expecting that you will be among the tiny percentage of people who keep it off permanently, and with trying to move toward a more positive body image by changing your body. Roni herself lost a lot of weight and is keeping it off, but that makes her a statistical outlier, and I think that for most of us, hoping to be a statistical outlier instead of making peace with our bodies as they are is deeply unrealistic and damaging.) Better still, there’s a good chance that comment moderation will be a whole lot less Draconian than I would prefer it to be. 

So why the fuck am I involved in this? Well, I thought it might be interesting to stick a toe outside the Fatosphere and enter into the kind of conversation I have no patience for here — the 101 stuff I don’t want to deal with on my own turf. We Are the Real Deal is Heather’s turf, and she — like all of the other bloggers, who have built up loyal followings in their own ‘spheres — has a very different audience than we do here. I do like the idea of talking to a different audience, and I can muster some patience for the 101 in a new context.

Do I like the idea of reaching out elsewhere enough to keep attaching my name to this project? We’ll see. Totally depends on how it evolves. Again, I can’t emphasize enough that I’ve really enjoyed getting to know Heather, Claire, Carla (MizFit) and Roni during the planning process. (Despite my taking Roni to task for that one post, she’s also said some really cool things, both on the blog and behind the scenes.) They are all absolutely committed to the goal of improving girls’ and women’s body image, coming at it from different angles. In theory, at least, this is a really good thing. In practice, if it becomes some kind of Better Body Image Through Weight Loss clusterfuck, I’m out of there in a cartoon blur. No question.

And of course, nothing’s changing around here. I have not gone soft on dieting or diet talk. I still do not have the patience to explain this entire blog to people who can’t be bothered to read it. If we get newbies via WATRD, they’ll have to abide by the comments policy or get the banhammer. This is absolutely not a portent that I’m reconsidering my values and standards and about to make a big announcement that I’m dieting “for my health” or something. I’m just trying something new, somewhere else. It might work, it might not. But Shapely Prose will still be a haven for all you noisy, companionable folks to have Advanced Blamer-style discussions about fat and body image, with no fear of the same old shit creeping in here.

Anyway! All of this sounds terribly negative when I’m supposed to be promoting a new site, but I’m not about to bullshit you. I’m nervous about this. You might have noticed I don’t tend to compromise when it comes to this stuff, and working with a bunch of people I don’t really know involves a lot of compromise. But so far, it’s been good, and it might even turn out to be great. Go check out the site and let me know what you think — and if you do have patience for 101, please get into the comments there. 

Also, if you’re going to be at BlogHer, please do come by the body image panel at 1:45 tomorrow, then come get your copy of LFTF signed at the bookstore (Claire Mysko will be there, too, signing You’re Amazing!) between 4 and 4:30.

Try this on for size

At a recent meeting I sat behind a woman who I thought might be my former dance TA. They had the same hair and were both extremely thin, the kind of thin that I’ve seen many people confidently ascribe to an eating disorder right before they come smack up against our “no assumptions about others’ bodies, ever” policy. Of course I realized immediately that it probably wasn’t her (it was a health policy-related meeting and she’s in human rights law, for starters), but the fact that I thought it was just based on hair and frame, when I would not think that about anyone with a less end-of-the-bell-curve body type, got me thinking. This is what I thought:

  • Half of all people are thinner than average, by definition. (ETA: As volcanista pointed out, ROUGHLY half. I forgot my seventh-grade math — average is not median.) Of those, many are what you’d describe as “thin,” “quite thin,” etc.
  • Some of these people eat less than average, for various reasons. Many eat an average or more than an average amount. Some eat a lot.
  • Some of these people are healthy. Some are ill or disabled or have weak constitutions or fall at any other spot on the continuum of human health.
  • Of these thin people, only a tiny number are what you might describe as “skinny” (or some more judgmental term), falling in the “underweight” category which is also associated with higher mortality rates (at least in part because some illnesses cause drastic weight loss, not the other way around).
  • Some of these people are, in fact, in ill health. Some are just small. They, too, exist at all points on the spectrum of human health.
  • Of these, a tiny tiny number have eating disorders. (Incidence of officially diagnosed anorexia nervosa, which includes very low body weight, is only a fraction of a percent.) But certainly not all. Many eat an average or larger amount just like less-thin thin people. And not everyone with eating disorders falls into this category.

All copacetic so far, right? Of course I know perfectly well from comment-wrangling that there are plenty of people who see a thin woman and immediately sneer that she must be anorexic. But I can’t imagine a reasonable person seriously disagreeing with the thought process above. It might not mesh with their snap judgments, but once it’s laid out it starts looking like common sense. (Especially since the knee-jerk anorexia assumption is often less about truly believing someone is sick, and more about backlashy defensiveness.) I certainly can’t imagine someone claiming that this line of thinking was delusional, or that anyone espousing it must be making excuses for the thin or eating disordered or promoting anorexic behaviors. I can’t imagine anyone reading those bullet points and wishing the person who wrote them would experience violence or death.

But how many people do you know who would be nodding through all of the above, but then balk or even become enraged at the idea that natural human variation might continue on up the scale? Some people are fatter than average, some are quite fat, and a very tiny number are what people think of as “morbidly obese” (which is significantly fatter than what actually qualifies). Some of these people eat a lot, some have problems with binge eating, some are in ill health, but many are not — the variations in food intake and health and disordered eating are mainly due to the fact that different people are different people (not to mention the fact that some illnesses cause or have common cause with fat). And not everyone ill is fat, nor is every big eater or even every binge eater.

Why can the general public accept (and even argue strenuously) that a very thin woman might not be anorexic, but the idea that a fat person might not be a binge eater is considered not only absurd but offensive?

In Which I Ramble About Attraction

So, you might have seen this douchehound responding to my gayest look the other day:

Goddamn Kate. You are an unbelievably unattractive woman!!


every straight man with a set of eyes. (except for your closeted boyfriend, of course)

The funny thing is, Sweet Machine approved it because she only skimmed, and thought he was calling me an unbelievably attractive woman. Funnier still, Fillyjonk and I both thought the same thing when we first read it, even though I puzzled over the closeted boyfriend bit (and the fact that he would pick that picture to swoon over, frankly). But still, even while misreading it as a compliment, I agreed heartily with Shapeling Jen’s immediate response: “Go fuck yourself.”

There were two reasons for this:

1) The closeted boyfriend bit–seriously, go fuck yourself.

2) The fact that he presumed to speak for “every straight man with a set of eyes.” Dude, whether you’re telling me you think I should be living under a bridge or gracing magazine covers, you cannot speak for everyone. Attraction is subjective. And it irritates the living fuck out of me that this culture tries so hard to divide people into categories of “attractive” and “unattractive,” as if individual preferences don’t even exist–when in fact, individual preferences (conscious and unconscious) are at the core of attraction as it plays out in the real world.

Want evidence that attraction is subjective? Well consider the fact that all three of us SP bloggers, each of whom fares quite well on reading comprehension tests, completely missed the “un” on the front of that “attractive.” I cannot imagine such a collective failure happening if all three of us believed that I am an unbelievably unattractive woman, and furthermore, everyone knows it. If we were primed to agree with this douchehound, we undoubtedly would have read it exactly as written–but we weren’t, because we all know plenty of people find me plenty cute, and I have gotten numerous comments extolling my hotness before. (They were all from Jon B., but that’s beside the point.) Despite the number of trolls we get, a comment calling me pretty is really no more unusual than one calling me a bloated, fugly cunt.

Know why? Attraction is subjective.

I was thinking about this recently while writing a piece on fat women and sexual power for Jaclyn Friedman and Jessica Valenti’s upcoming anthology, and then it came up again yesterday while reading a comments thread on my superhero girlcrush Breakup Girl’s blog. (MAJOR Sanity Watchers warning there, I am not kidding–and if you’re faint of heart, you might even want to skip the rest of this post, ’cause I’ll be quoting from it.)

A woman wrote to BG’s alter ego, Lynn Harris, asking what to do about a guy she’d had this great connection with in e-mails and phone calls, who then saw a picture of her and said, “Call me when you lose some weight.” Lynn’s advice (he’s got a right to his preferences; you’ve got a right to blow him off and should totally exercise that right; also, how the hell did you go 6 weeks without exchanging photos?) is right on the money in my opinion, but when she opened it up to comments on the BG blog, a whole lot of people disagreed.

‘Cause, see, the problem here is not just that she fell for a guy who doesn’t dig fat chicks, which could have been avoided by coughing up the photo a lot earlier. The problem is that no normal guy in the whole entire world digs fat chicks, which means she is Categorically Unattractive and must lose weight if she doesn’t want to die alone.

Several commenters went down the fucking evo psych path with that:

We are programmed to look for healthy in every sense….healthy is attractive. Forcing the argument that people should accept others who are overweight goes against this natural selection switch, and makes it impossible for some people to accept.

Society has not conditioned us, evolution has. Men are attracted to women that represent the best chance of bearing their young and caring for them. This means young and physically fit…. This is not opinion, it is fact.

Evolution has produced men who are attracted to women who appear to be good prospects for bearing HIS children.

(HIS children! Got that, ladies?)

But most didn’t even try to pretty it up with “science.” They just flat-out don’t bother themselves with trifles like the distinction between opinion and fact.

very few guys want to date over-weight women

She should trim up or accept that people will not be attracted to her for her size.

Ok,before everyone jumps down my throat. I used to be height/weight proportionate but over the years I’ve gained weight. I’m a chunky woman ok. I’m not denying it. And I know that’s why I don’t have a BF…. OK, men are really not that complicated and we women are just wasting our $ buying all these books. You don’t even have to be that pretty. You just have to be THIN. That’s right, crucify me now. YOU HAVE TO BE THIN.

Most guys don’t want heavy babes. Unless of course they are larger themselves. Just reality. While the recent move to accept larger people proliferates, and, while it is good to feel good about yourself-self love and all it’s just too much.

You can’t expect someone to agree to marry someone else who is obese.

the fact of the matter is that men prefer shapely over fat or large or whatever you want to call it. Until woman “get” this they will always wonder why they don’t have as much success dating as they could or should. It is not rocket science.

Are you really that naive? seriously. You KNOW what guys want, look around! They want that hot, sexy, body, a gal to make them look good too. MOST men do not prefer an overweight woman.

This lady just doesn’t GET it. Some men just AREN”T sexually motivated, or attracted by a chunk. Girls, get the picture…If you want to be happy in your own skin, as all these self help horsecrap books talk about, remember, the author is hoping you buy her book, because she wants your money, so she is going to say it’s OK for you to be fat. NEWSFLASH ! You just might be happy in your own skin ALONE. Yes, you DO actually have a responsibility to look good, if you want to be accepted.

Noone likes fat people except fat people and that’s just how it is. It’s sloppy with rolls of fat hanging, creases, pendulous breasts and persperation.These are all the thoughts of the normal mind and rightfully so as it is not a myth.Take a thin person in a restaurant eating, no one takes a second look. Take a fat person eating and one will think, “slovenly overeater” That’s just the way it is. By the way, I’m fat and I think it’s ugly!

(Bold emphasis mine in all cases; caps are their own.)

You might be surprised–though I wasn’t, sadly–just how many of those commenters identified themselves as fat in the midst of their tirades against fat people. Of course, they could have been thin and full of shit, but they probably weren’t. My primary raison de blog, after all, is trying to help fat people hate themselves less–if other people learn to hate us less, too, that’s just gravy. (Mmm, gravy.) Internalized self-loathing exists among every marginalized group, but among fat people, it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t believe every last thing we’re told to feel about ourselves. You’re ugly. You’re disgusting. You’re sloppy. You’re lazy. You’re embarrassing to be seen with. You’re out of control. You have no self-discipline. You will never be loved unless you lose weight.

(P.S. I’m only telling you this because I’m concerned about your health.)

Consider this commenter, who breaks my fucking heart:

I actually married a guy that can’t stand my fat! Yes I did. Some would say I am stupid, but he treats me well, and we have a great life together. It is though, very difficult at times for me. I used to be very obese (almost 300lbs), and I am down to a size 14 and I am happy. Any one who knows anything about losing weight – when you have lost that much, you are really flabby. I can out-do my husband in the exercise department and he will admit it. I have put about 30lbs back on since we engaged, then married. I admit, I got a bit lazy and now I just can’t seem to get it back off. We talk about it frequently, and he apologises for the way he feels, but he claims he can’t change that and I have to lose more weight. He wants me into a size 8!! Hahaha – that will never happen and I tell him that. Anyway – I often wonder where I would be if I had been more true to myself.

The cognitive dissonance, it burns.

Fat people end up in relationships like that–or alone, too crippled by low self-esteem to even put themselves on the dating market–all too often, in large part because of this myth that there are Attractive People and Unattractive People, and every fat person falls into the latter category. Common sense should tell us this can’t be true–if fat people aren’t having sex, how the hell did so many fat people get here? Spaceships? Pods? But somehow, it has become a universal “truth” that no one wants to fuck, much less love, a fatty. Ever. Period.

Lose the weight and gain the power to choose.

How chilling is that? If you’re fat, you don’t have the power to choose a romantic partner. I can’t be the only one hearing shades of this shit:

  • if any man would want to rape your gigantic ass, i’d be shocked
  • whoever raped you could have just waited at the exit of a bar at 3am and gotten it consenually without the beached whale-like “struggle” you probably gave
  • These fat whores would be lucky to even get raped by someone.I hope you whiny cunts find your way on top of a pinball machine in the near future.

If you’re thin, you get to choose who you want to have sex with. If you’re fat, you’d be lucky to be raped. Face it, ladies! I’m just being honest!

No. This is the farthest thing from honesty. This is bullshit. Hateful bullshit. Bullshit that causes fat people to stay in abusive relationships or cut themselves off from relationships altogether. Bullshit that causes thin, growing grade-school girls to put themselves on diets; bullshit that triggers eating disorders in those predisposed to them; bullshit that causes feminists and non-feminists alike to identify a “somewhat underweight” woman as “maximally attractive.”

The world is not full of Attractive People and Unattractive People. It’s full of people who are attractive to some and not to others. I hear from trolls all the time who complain that they don’t want to be “forced” to find nasty, ugly fat women attractive–which utterly baffles me, since the last thing I want to do is encourage fat-hating dicks to date fat women. You don’t find fat people attractive? Fabulous. Don’t date them. I will find a way to pick myself up and move on without your love. But to assume your lack of sexual interest in fat chicks must be universal–or that the mere existence of self-confident fat people having healthy relationships somehow “forces” you to find fat attractive–is the height of fucking narcissism.

I use this as an example all the time, but I find Brad Pitt to be kinda meh, physically. (I also find him pretty charming in interviews, which does ratchet up my attraction to him somewhat, but I just do not get the concept of looking at a picture of him and swooning.) Obviously, he ain’t suffering for my personal lack of Brad Pitt lust. But it goes to the point: even someone widely considered to be our culture’s physical ideal isn’t universally, objectively attractive. I was at a bar last week with Colleen, Tari, and Ottermatic, when a Prince video came on, and we started arguing about whether Prince is, in fact, hot. Colleen and Tari pointed out the obvious: tiny, tiny man, very weird. Meanwhile, Ottermatic and I pointed out what was equally obvious to us: BUT HOT. And of course, the upshot is that there is no fact there, just four opinions, split down the middle.

Another story I’ve told before, but bear with me–when I started dating Al, he asked what celebrities I’d dump him for (only because I’d asked him first, I should note; he found the whole convo ridiculous). I started with George Clooney, but he deemed that too cliche (fair enough), so I added the likes of Peter Saarsgard, Paul Giamatti, Jon Favreau, Philip Seymour Hoffman–and probably Prince, too, come to think of it.

Al: Oh, I get it. What you’re saying is, you like unattractive men.

I handed him his ass for that one (especially after he told me that made him understand why I was into him)* because he was missing the whole fucking point: I, Kate Harding, am very attracted to all those men–and to Al. It doesn’t make a goddamned bit of difference if they ring anybody else’s bell (though they’re all doing just fine for themselves, thanks), ’cause mine was the bell in question. Al’s list (which I had to drag out of him) included Catherine Keener, Maura Tierney, Queen Latifah, and maybe sorta Frances McDormand–none of whom look remotely like me, but I wasn’t losing any sleep over that, because the list itself proves that attraction is not about a single set of physical characteristics.

I was recently interviewed by a Trib reporter for a “personal profile” (that may never come out, alas), which involved me running down my whole damn life story. In talking about dating during my twenties, I referred to this boyfriend and that boyfriend and that other boyfriend and that guy I was hooking up with for a while and then that other guy I was hooking up with for a different while, until the reporter finally stopped me and said, “So, even though you struggled with weight and body image, it sure sounds like you never lacked for male attention.” Me: BWAH!!!! That was an entire decade, lady, and years of it were spent alone and believing that unless I got and kept myself thin, I would never find love (again). Because fat people are Unattractive People. Full stop.

But at the same time, she was right–and that comment was really enlightening to me. Because until that moment, I looked back on my romantic life as a series of long, lonely periods punctuated by a few fluke relationships, when I could just as easily look back on it as a series of relationships punctuated by a few fluke lonely periods. I spent almost exactly half of that decade in long-term relationships and half not–but given all the flings and fruitless dates in the off years, the balance actually tips toward periods where I did have “male attention.” (And that’s without even getting into all the times I found out after the fact that some guy had been interested in me, and I was too damned clueless to see it.) So far, I’ve spent 2/3 of my thirties in relationships (most of that with Al), and only 1/3 alone. If this one doesn’t work out, I should be a fucking dating machine when I’m in my forties.

And have I mentioned I’m fat?

But Kate, I already hear some of you saying. You’re not that fat. You don’t even know.

You’re right, I don’t know. And there is no doubt whatsoever that the fatter you are, the more discrimination you face in every phase of your life, including dating. But there is also no doubt whatsoever that people much fatter than me are hooking up and falling in love all over the place, every friggin’ day. Because there are people who prefer fat partners, and people who are attracted to all shapes and sizes, and people who think they’re not attracted to fat folks until they meet the right one and go gaga. Because–wait for it–attraction is subjective.

But Kate, that doesn’t change the fact that in this culture, more people are attracted to thin people than to fat people.

No, it doesn’t. But that fact doesn’t mean that fat people need to choose between losing weight and getting used to the company of cats. It just means we’re looking for our respective needles in a slightly bigger haystack. And on the upside, we’ve automatically weeded out the people who think adhering as closely as possible to the cultural beauty standard is a prerequisite for deserving love–who wants to date those assholes? I have dear friends who are damn near the Barbie standard, and half of their romantic lives have been spent fending off guys like that in the first place or figuring out how to dump them; our net relationship success is about even. So who’s better off?

The fact is, I am “an unbelievably unattractive woman”–and also an unbelievably attractive woman, a kinda meh woman, a kinda cute woman, and everything else on the spectrum between “eww” and “ooh.” It all depends on who’s looking–and further depends on whether they’ve actually talked to me, whether they dig mouthy broads or dog people or spacey writers, whether I remind them of their mothers, whatever. One of the few culturally desirable attributes I possess is a huge rack, but I’ve met more men than you could imagine who say they actively prefer small boobs–and more than one who has deemed my tits “scary.” (SCARY. Not kidding. More than one.) Meanwhile, I have stubby, drumstick-shaped legs, and yet the majority of my boyfriends, when asked, self-identified as Leg Men rather than Breast Men. How the hell did they end up with me? Attraction is not about a single set of physical characteristics.

Attraction is weird and unpredictable and dependent on about 8 zillion variables. If it were actually based on a list of identifiable characteristics, we could all just walk around comparing lists with each other until each of us found a perfect match. And I don’t know, maybe that’s how some people actually do it–the people who have strict rules about only dating thin, white blondes or tall, rich guys with full heads of hair. The people who think about potential romantic partners in terms of how others will see them, not in terms of what they see. But the rest of us just have to stumble around and wait for the zing!

The waiting can suck, if you prefer being in a relationship. It can suck a lot. But the zing! does not depend on thinness or whiteness or blondeness or tallness or richness or haired-ness. It depends on the time, place, and person, on a host of things you can’t control, and on another host of things you can’t even consciously recognize.

That is the reality, people. That is a fact. That is just me being honest.

*This did, however, produce one of the best Al quotes of all time: “I mean, I could look like Philip Seymour Hoffmann… if I worked out.”

Friday Stuff: Please Help us out with the 101 Crap

Dearest Shapelings,

Because I am a Lazy Fat Person, I am asking for your help.

Since A) I’m still trying to put together an FAQ for this site (which has been temporarily back-burnered, but it’s coming), B) I’m going to be writing a book soon, and C) there’s a definite need for a Fat Acceptance 101 blog along the lines of Tigtog’s awesome feminism one, my life would be a hell of a lot easier if I had links to terrific articles, studies, and blog posts that answer the basic questions, all in one place.

For instance, here are some of my favorites.

Fat kids are just as likely to have eating disorders as thin kids, and shame doesn’t actually help them get thin — can you believe it?

HAES vs. dieting

The Fat Studies Bibliography

Is fat acceptance really what you think it is?

A classic (even if it’s not quite a year old) Gina Kolata piece about how hard it is to make fat people thin — or thin people fat

So, what are your go-to links when you’re trying to get the basic idea of fat acceptance across? What are the studies that stick in your memory? What online resources have you found most useful? Please let me know in comments.

In other news, my life is kinda fucking crazy (in a good way) right now, so I haven’t been posting as much as usual, and I’m sorry about that. I’m hoping to be a little more settled and ready to post more frequently and more interestingly by next month.

In other, other news, I’m going to be attempting my first video blog today — an interview with Stephanie Sack, owner of the Chicago plus-size boutique Vive la Femme, who is awesome. Keep your fingers crossed that I don’t fuck it up.

Intuitive Eating Case Study: My Last Three Meals

Last week, a reporter who was trying to get her head around the concept of Health at Every Size asked me, “So… what do you eat?”

Food, mostly. Tree bark and car parts are much harder for the human body to digest. Next question?

Smartassitude aside, I actually get questions like this a lot from readers — and usually, what they really mean is, “What am I allowed to eat to uphold my Good Fatty status?”

The answer is the same: food. But since I’m still learning intuitive eating as I go along, and I know how weird and… well, counterintuitive it can seem at first, let me tell you about the last 24 hours.

Yesterday, I had a photographer coming over in the late morning to take pictures of me for the article the aforementioned reporter was working on. This meant that I spent the early morning frantically tidying, selecting an outfit, and fucking with my hair. And I forgot to eat. Then the reporter was a bit late, and the shoot took a bit longer than I expected. So there I was at like 1 p.m. with no food in my belly, and I was fucking starving.

Al asked what I wanted for lunch, and I immediately said, “Hot dogs.” Plural. No question. At that moment, I felt like I wanted to eat about 10 of them, and I ended up ordering 2 at the restaurant we went to, which is unusual for me. Fries weren’t even on my radar — I just wanted dense, fatty meat like nobody’s business.

Why? Because I was hungry. Because my body was screaming for something that would fill me up as fast as possible.

Last night, I had plans to cook dinner, but then Al felt like going out. So we went to a restaurant that’s fast becoming one of our favorites. I looked over the menu, which includes steak, burgers, pulled pork, and pumpkin ravioli with sage and dates in brown butter sauce that is so fucking good, I can’t even tell you. (Not to mention the caramel apple bread pudding on the dessert menu, OH MY GOD.) I like all of those things. A lot. But what caught my eye last night was the tilapia with spinach and roast fingerling potatoes.

I’d never ordered it before, and I was really tempted to relive one of the yummy meals I’d had there in the past — the aforementioned ravioli, or another ravioli dish with vodka tomato cream sauce that was on special, or a huge bowl of corn poblano chowder, or the warm poached pear stuffed with blue cheese, alongside a big basket of fresh bread dipped in olive oil… But as I was considering all those things, I couldn’t get the tilapia out of my head, which told me that was what I really wanted. (Well, that and the bread, which is half the reason we go there.)

Logically, choosing what you really want from a menu ain’t rocket science, but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t at some point been paralyzed with indecision while a waiter stood around tapping his foot. For me, indecision is part of going out as often as not, and it’s always for one of two reasons: 1) I’m hungry and 10 different things sound good to me, or 2) I’m trying to talk myself into the “good” thing and out of the “bad” thing, having an internal battle that goes, “I know intellectually that I really love this particular salad, and it will totally fill me up, but… BURGERBURGERBURGER.”

A big part of learning to eat intuitively has been learning to leave my intellect out of it and just order the goddamned burger, because I know I’ll mourn the loss of it if I get the salad. It’s fucking stupid, this mourning of food I could get any time, but then, that’s why I’ve been training myself to just go ahead and order it — to reinforce the idea that yes, I can have this any time, because I am a freakin’ grown up, and no one is going to burn me at the stake for eating a high-calorie meal. (Yet.) And the more I believe that, the more I find myself naturally and truly drawn to a wide variety of foods, instead of having the BURGERBURGERBURGER voices drown everything else out whenever I sit down at a restaurant. That’s the damn point of intuitive eating — but it’s also why it’s trickier than it seems.

So, after way too much consideration, I ordered the tilapia, ’cause it was what I really wanted. And like everything else I’ve had there, OMG, so good. Fish was beautifully done, beurre blanc was awesome, and the very lemony spinach was so yum I wish they’d given me twice as much of it. (I should have asked and might next time, actually. I’ve told this story somewhere on the blog before, but this is also the restaurant where I once ordered the smoked chicken, apple, grape, pecan, etc., salad, and only ate about 2 bites of the chicken, because I was really just into the rest of it. The waiter said, “You left the best part!” and I said, “Ehh, I wasn’t really in a chicken mood tonight, but I could have eaten like 9 more apples.” Then I went to the bathroom and when I came back, there was a plate of sliced apple on the table, compliments of the waiter. LOVE. Also, there’s intuitive eating in action for you — most likely, I hadn’t had enough fruit in the day or two before that, so I became obsessed with the apples and grapes and couldn’t give a shit about the “best part.”)

Then it came time to look at the dessert menu, and Al and I both decided to look, because their desserts are so damn good. But upon looking, we both realized, whaddaya know, we just weren’t hungry anymore. The caramel apple bread pudding sounded good — ’cause it always sounds good — but we just weren’t feeling dessert. I was, however, feeling port. At first, I ordered the Taylor 10-year but was told they only had Cockburn 10-year. I was about to take that, and it totally would have been fine, but then Al said, “For god’s sake, just get the Graham 20. You know you love that.”

Good point. But the Graham 20 was 12 freakin’ dollars a glass, so I hadn’t even let myself consider it. Which is just idiotic, because the 10-year was $10, and if I’m going to pay more for a glass of port than I did for my entire lunch, what’s 2 bucks? But this is the kind of thing I do to myself so often when looking at menus: I immediately identify the thing I really want but feel too guilty to order it — either because it’s obscenely expensive or obscenely calorific — so I try to find something that’s good enough instead. Truth was, the Graham 20 was what I really wanted from the get-go. But I couldn’t order it until Al explicitly gave me permission. (Which means I probably shouldn’t be so hard on those friends who try to dragoon me into splitting dessert with them when I’m not hungry; it’s not like I don’t have my own hang-ups about what I’m allowed to consume and how and when.)

That meal cost a bundle, but it was awesome, and it was exactly what I wanted, start to finish. I am still new enough to this intuitive eating shit to be surprised and pleased when that happens just like it’s supposed to.

So that was last night. This morning, I woke up to a much more normal day — made coffee, puttered, got hungry, and had some oatmeal with dried blueberries and cranberries. Normal morning, normal food, yummy but not anything special. Now, it’s almost time for lunch, and I’m thinking about what I want. Most likely, it’s gonna be tomato soup and a salad with sliced green apple and blue cheese vinaigrette, as that’s what I have in the house that sounds best to me right now. And you know what really doesn’t sound good today? Hot dogs. Especially not 2 hot dogs with everything but tomatoes AS FAST AS YOU CAN POSSIBLY MAKE THEM, PLEASE. Because I had breakfast and am therefore not so hungry I could eat Crisco out of the can.*

So, there’s a snapshot of what I eat. Food. Whatever sounds good to me for any number of reasons — I’m fucking starving; I haven’t had fish in a while; I love the combination of citrus and spinach; oatmeal will fill me up without much effort; there’s tomato soup in the fridge, etc. Food. Just food. And I eat however much it takes to satisfy me at a given moment.

Seems simple, doesn’t it? Except for the part where it isn’t at all, when it comes after 30 years of being taught that my actual desires will inevitably steer me wrong, so I must apply some external set of rules to my food choices or suffer the consequences (e.g., guilt, shame, a fat ass, “loss of boyfriend,” and an early death).

This is also why, when pressed to describe what I promote here — usually as a counterpoint to someone’s assumption that I promote sitting on your ass eating donuts all day — I try to remember to say something like a “balanced” or “varied” diet, rather than a “healthy” diet. Or worse yet, a “good” diet. For the umpteenth and nowhere near last time, eating is a morally neutral act. I mean, if you want to talk to me about animal rights, or supporting small farmers, or boycotting irresponsible corporations, or minimizing environmental damage, then sure, we can discuss food in moral terms. It makes sense in those contexts. But the morality of your diet has jack shit to do with how many calories you consumed or how many chocolates you didn’t eat in a given day, all right? Depriving yourself does not make you a better person, and eating what you feel like eating does not make you weak. (Hear that, India Knight?)

And most importantly, occasionally having 2 hot dogs for lunch does not make your diet unbalanced. Having hot dogs 3 meals a day would. So would having spinach 3 meals a day. But eating a wide variety of foods as your body demands them is the very definition of a balanced diet. Being terrified of certain foods (unless your body actually reacts poorly to them) and ascribing imaginary virtue to others is a recipe for an unbalanced diet. Thinking only in terms of how many calories you’re consuming in a given day is, too. Ditto letting yourself get so hungry you’re well past the point of hearing anything from your body other than “FOOD. LOTS. NOW.” — which not only is why I snarfed those hot dogs yesterday but just might be why so many people on diets assume that if they ever let up, they’d immediately go eat a pound of bacon in one sitting and wash it down with a whole chocolate cake. Ya think?

And for my money, a balanced/varied diet IS a healthy diet — I just try not to use that phrase, because it’s most often used as code for “diet that makes you thin.” Which, as we all know, is often not a diet that’s actually good for your body. I mean, I could be wrong, and science could someday prove that eating nothing but Sweet Tarts is the path to optimum health. But as things are right now, I think listening to my body is the best shot I’ve got at giving it what it needs.

I eat food. I recommend that everyone do the same. The end.

*Dear Trolls, this is what’s known as EXAGGERATING FOR HUMOROUS EFFECT.

FAQ You All

All righty. I don’t know what Fillyjonk and Sweet Machine’s plans are, but posting from me will probably be light over the next few days, on accounta I’ve finally sat my fat ass down and begun beavering (heh) away at a long overdue Shapely Prose FAQ.

I will be rolling it out in three parts: Welcome Questions, Supremely Irritating Questions, and Questions We Have No Strong Opinions About.

If you have any questions you think should be added, feel free to leave them in comments (though honestly, we’ve probably already thought of them). I’m curious about what Shapelings think should be addressed. Oh, and if you have links we might not have seen to excellent articles on the shit we talk about here every day, please leave those, too. Thanks.

No A for effort

Shapeling cggirl shared a story in the comments to the self-esteem thread that I imagine will sound familiar to many of us.

when i was like 20, i was talking to my mother (who is a wonderful person and who i don’t blame for the culture into which she was born, which caused her to have these attitudes and inflict them on me). i was trying to get her off my case, because she was horrified that i had decided to accept my own body as it was and was no longer willing to tolerate her saying anything about what i eat, or my weight, or anything.

i said to her, “look, you’ve spent your whole life worrying about your body and trying to diet and still you never reached a point of feeling good with your body.”
so she said to me, deadpan: “but at least i was TRYING”.

At least she was TRYING to hate herself into being smaller! At least she was desperately wishing she could shrink her body to a more socially acceptable size! We’ve all heard it before: if you’re going to be fat, the least you can do is try to be less fat, even if you know it won’t work — because if you don’t try, then you’ve failed everyone else.

There’s an insidious logic here that usually remains unarticulated (as there so often is in fatphobic arguments), which is that if you accept yourself as you are, then you’re undermining the effort of those poor suckers who are trying to fit in. Saying you’re “trying” to not be fat is agreeing to pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, whereas if you decide NOT to perpetuate the cultural illusions of fatphobia, then you make the people who DO obey those maxims look, well, kinda stupid. There you are, dressing fabulously, enjoying food, and feeling good in your body, while all those other people are trying to hide, avoiding gutbusters like carrots, and desperately trying not to be in their own skins. No wonder you make them mad. If you’re not trying, then what the hell have they been doing all this time?

I’ve noticed that evangelical dieters and anti-feminist women often whip out this type of response to suggestions that people’s (especially women’s) bodies and desires should be accepted, recognized, and even celebrated. This is why dieting kerfuffles happen periodically within FA; this is why debates over makeup and high heels will never be resolved in feminist circles. We all make certain concessions to our dominant culture to get ahead or stay afloat, so when we see others who don’t feel forced to make those particular concessions, we get jealous, and we get angry, and then, too often, we get desperately mean. This is why you often hear people say things like, “But men don’t notice how women dress! Women only do it for other women” — complete bullshit, of course, but the truth is, groups do tend to police themselves. It’s what we’ve all been trained to do, every single one of us, and it’s one of the most important habits to break on your way to self-acceptance.

Remember, self-esteem is not a zero-sum game. Your self-acceptance does not magically negate someone else’s conformity; instead, it threatens to show that conformity for what it is (a punishing survival strategy in an oppressive culture) instead of what it’s idealized as (moral superiority, work ethic, individualism). It is much, much easier intellectually to blame yourself for not fitting in than to realize that the whole system has been rigged all along. No matter what your culturally “undesirable” characteristics are — your body shape, your race, your gender presentation, your sexuality, your level of ability — you can’t actually rack up “social acceptability” Brownie points by hating yourself. At the end of the day, you’re still you, with those same characteristics, and people still perceive you as a person with those characteristics whether you’re hating yourself hard enough or not. There’s no permanent record that says you were on Weight Watchers for three years so you don’t really count as fat anymore; there’s no aura around you that says “I’m really a thin person waiting to get out.”

Pay attention to the man behind the curtain. Don’t apologize for who you are. Don’t feel bad about making those poor suckers look foolish — they only want to blame you because it’s so painful to blame the whole damn culture. “Discipline” and “hard work” are not moral absolutes; they’re only worthwhile if the goal you’re pursuing is worthwhile. Hating yourself is not.