Some Stuff

So, three of us have colds, one of us is out of town and indisposed, and the other one hates you all. (Kidding. Mostly.) Until we’re back into blogging shape, have some links.

I wrote about Lincoln University requiring fat students to take a “Fitness for Life” course before they can graduate here. I’ve got more thoughts, and we’ve got a half-assed SP roundtable going on about it behind the scenes, but that might take a while to get anywhere (see above), so start there.

I’m also writing for Broadsheet 5 days a week now (usually two posts a day), if I haven’t officially mentioned that, so there’s lots of other stuff there. For instance, I wrote today about a British “Next Top Model” kinda competition for women with disabilities, and a couple weeks ago about Candy Crowley’s weight and how The Rules will. not. die.

I would link to stuff other people are writing, but between working and and traveling and getting laid out with a cold over the holiday weekend (and thus spending 3 straight days doing nothing but watching 21 Jump Street on Hulu, which was actually kind of awesome), I haven’t been reading shit. Well, I did read Nick Hornby’s latest novel while I was traveling, and I loved it, but that’s about it.

One more link, though! Women, Action and the Media (WAM!)  is auctioning off a bunch of cool stuff to support their work for gender justice in the media, and one of the items is an opportunity to have me edit any prose manuscript up to 25 pages. I actually used to do that for a living, and I really miss it, so if you need feedback on something you’re writing, support WAM! and give me the chance to have some fun with it.

How to Pig Out on Thanksgiving (But Without the Guilt)

That’s the title of a list of handy tips from Cosmo, sent to me earlier this week by reader Maggie. Cosmo offers the usual “If you really want to eat X, try Y instead! It’s exactly the same thing except for how it doesn’t taste as good or fill you up, but THINK OF HOW VIRTUOUS YOU’LL FEEL!” advice.

Since you’ve all read that article a thousand times before — alongside a million other helpful diet tips — I’d like to offer you an alternative. Let’s call it “How to Eat Like a Normal Human Being on Thanksgiving (But Without the Guilt).”

  1. Eat whatever you want. You’re a grown-up, and it’s your fucking stomach.
  2. Enjoy your food.
  3. Stop eating when you’re full.
  4. If you don’t manage to stop eating when you’re full, don’t worry about it. Nobody does on Thanksgiving.
  5. Do not feel guilty about any of the above. You’re a grown-up, and it’s your fucking stomach.

Follow those simple rules, and presto! You’ll have enjoyed a feast day without guilt! Cosmo‘s instructions run three pages, but I just told you how to do the same thing in about 50 words. And when I’m the one who can get a point across more efficiently than… well, any other writer alive, you know there’s something wrong with that other article.

Happy Thanksgiving, if you’re celebrating. If you’re not, please feel free to apply those rules to whatever you eat today anyway. Especially 1 and 5.

Wednesday One-Liners

• Remember how Starling gave a rough number of 1 in 60 when guessing how many men commit rape? And Dude Nation went ballistic about how it wasn’t a robust figure? They’re right. At least in some populations (in this case, college students of all ages) it should have been four times higher.

• The calorie recommendations have been telling you to eat too little, but this is NOT a license to eat more!

• Breaking: Some obese people don’t want to lose weight! They actually had the delusion they were healthy, even though they had incidences of high blood pressure and high cholesterol that were similar to or lower than the population as a whole!

Weekly Wish List

When I was college I took a graphic design class. I eagerly enrolled encouraged by the 100 level of the class but possessing no artistic talent. I dreamed of prismacolor markers, art bins and black bound sketch books. I fantasized about being locked in an art store and sleeping on a bed made entirely of Faber-Castell sketching pens.

I sat behind a woman who possessed incredible artist talent and wonderful discipline. However, she was not strong in the theory as I was. We both came to the first class with decidedly lopsided skills.

If you’re waiting for the part of the story where we combine our powers like The Wonder Twins, well you can exhale. We didn’t. In fact I never actually had a conversation with her deciding instead it was much more useful to be bitter and envious.

But what if we had? I would have developed my meager drawing skills and she’d know Gropius from Albers.

Each Sunday night I pull out index cards and write my weekly wish list. My weekly wish list doesn’t merely contain tangibles like “Get season three cast of Homicide: Life on The Street to perform top five episodes in my living room.” though it probably should!

It usually starts with one wish:

  • Replace judgement with curiosity.

That initial wish informs the rest. Sometimes I make big, loud wishes like, “Stop calling self Dr. Schadenfreude” (that’s probably not going to happen anytime soon.) Other times it’s something like, “Find one good thing about each day”

When I started doing these I was skeptical. I do not always believe in the magical. I go to the puppet show and look for the strings. But I have to tell you these 3 x 5 index cards of wishes transformed what was once a relationship to my body to something that is starting to approximate a relationship with my body.

Y’all are smart cookies. Smart, delicious cookies…wait, where was I? You can connect these two stories. The way you feel about yourself informs what gifts from others you allow yourself to accept. And I say “allow” not because SP is going LOA, but because new shit is coming to light daily and you have to be outside your head to notice it.

Sometimes we are so defeated by our -isms we forget to wish for something beautiful. We forget we’re more than our bodies or our -isms. We are more concerned with pain avoidance and less concerned with pleasure seeking.

Flip that script. Make some wishes for yourself today.

…A Grown Up Fairy Tale

1981 saw the release of Sharky’s Machine, a Burt Reynolds helmed taut crime thriller. The film is both a love letter to the city of Atlanta and an astute critique of the systemic corruption that held the city hostage for much of the seventies and eighties.

Critic Roger Ebert had this to say:

SHARKY’S MACHINE has a lot of plot, most of it inspired by the original novel by William Diehl. Maybe it has too much plot for a movie that Reynolds has referred to as Dirty Harry Goes to Atlanta. But this is an ambitious film; it’s as if something inside Reynolds was chafing at the insipid roles he was playing in one car-chase movie after another. He doesn’t walk through this movie, and he doesn’t allow himself the cozy little touches that break the mood while they’re letting the audience know how much fun Burt is having. The result of his ambition and restraint is a movie much more interesting than most cop thrillers.

This film came into my life during a very low point and provided both the inspiration and encouragement to chafe at the insipid societally sanctioned roles required of me. And my handle is a loving homage.

That answers question number one.

In The Fantasy of Being Thin Kate closed with the following:

The question is, who do you really want to be, and what are you going to do about it? (Okay, two questions.) The Fantasy of Being Thin is a really convenient excuse for not asking yourself those questions sincerely — and that’s exactly why it’s dangerous. It keeps you from being not only who you are, but who you actually could be, if you worked with what you’ve got. And that person trapped inside you really might be cooler than you are right now.

This was my first entry into the Shapely Prose world and at the time when I read this quote I wasn’t having any of it. I was going through my own TFoBT and I had some damn good reasons why I deserved a “doctor’s note” to be excused from class.

My logic was as follows: Being brown and female were two fixed points of oppression. Being a chunkerbutt wasn’t. So if I could jettison this one oppression in order to lessen (but not entirely relieve) the way in which the other two impacted my life… (wait for it) THINGS WOULD BE SO MUCH BETTER.

Sound familiar?

No matter how you arrange the notes, the song is the same.

Who was this woman to take away my sunshine! My reasoning was certainly legitimate. I had oppressions and examined things through lenses and used “the way in which” and found things problematic. I didn’t need anyone harshing my mellow.

Gimme my weight loss! Give me my moment standing inside one pant leg. Give me my makeover montage set to New Attitude.

I had been on this roller coaster before. I practiced body acceptance, usually when things were going well. It was always amazing how a couple of challenges would send me back to the fantasy. Oddly enough it was through my fiction that I was able to find my way back. I created a character who could only complain about her life if she turned it into a blues song. I spent so much time living with this character that I found myself Bessie Smithing my own woes. It is quite challenging to pout when you’re making harmonica sounds without the benefit of an actual harmonica.

Harmonica sounds led to making complaints in Vader voice, which of course led to actively seeking ways to get out of the body snarking business completely. Talking like Vader gives you a sore throat.

State of the Prose

kateiconAs I write this, there are 1,181 posts on this site, most of them written since late March 2007, when Shapely Prose was born. That’s a lot of fucking writing — and for a while, it was all me. When I started, it was my full-time job; I had come into some money and gave myself a year to figure out if I could turn a blog into a writing career before breaking down and getting a real job. Rather unbelievably, the plan worked. Which means that increasingly, paid writing has taken me away from the blog.

On the one hand, it’s really sad that writing elsewhere means I no longer have much time for the blog that started it all. On the other hand, that was always going to be the case: If the writing thing hadn’t worked out, I would have had to find some other paying job by now. All of my co-bloggers have always had full-time work — and one of them has two kids on top of that — so for all of us, it’s a labor of love that involves sacrificing time that could be spent relaxing or spending time with our families and friends. And in addition to writing 1,181 posts, in the last two and a half years, we have moderated 91,017 comments. That’s a lot of fucking comments. (For a glimpse of what moderation entails, check out Sweet Machine’s collection of some of her favorite deleted ones. Trigger warning on that whole damn blog.)

Why do we do it, then? Because it’s worth it. There have been incredible rewards — seeing fat acceptance get more mainstream attention, developing a large readership comp0sed of people we (mostly) love talking to, getting to know each other well (Sweet Machine and Fillyjonk were already besties, but the rest of us met online), getting immediate feedback on our posts, learning ridiculous amounts of stuff from the Shapelings. And for me, obviously, enjoying the beginnings of a real writing career, which is all I ever fucking wanted. So I’m not complaining, I swear. (Nor are we quitting, if anyone’s worried that that’s where this is going. We all love this blog, love the commenters, and remain as passionate as ever about feminism and fat acceptance.) I’m just putting this in perspective: Thousands upon thousands of hours of work have gone into this blog, almost entirely for the pure love of it — and in my case, because it was an investment in my career (but still mostly for the love of it, or I could have quit a year ago).

Before anyone starts offering suggestions for monetizing the blog itself, we’re not interested in doing that right now. We decided long ago that we didn’t want ads, nor did we want to solicit donations. And this isn’t about money, anyway. Like I said, there are loads of rewards that make it worthwhile.

But increasingly, there have been headaches and frustrations that have made this feel a bit like the kind of job where, if they didn’t pay you, you’d have no motivation to show up every day. Thousand-comment threads. Blogwars we tried to stay out of but somehow got dragged into anyway, without any of us saying a fucking word. Constant arguments about whether the boundaries we’ve set for our own space are appropriate. That sort of thing.

But most troubling of all is the expectation of leadership on our parts — of a movement, a community, a fatosphere — just because we’re a high-traffic blog. Some people have argued that whether we asked for a leadership role or not, that traffic means we’ve got it, so we have a responsibility to accept that our position means certain things. Like that we must be more democratic about what goes on here,we must weigh in on blogwars, we must set an example, we must respond promptly to all assertions that we are, in some manner, Doing It Wrong.

But you know what? No. It’s a fucking blog. As we’ve tried saying a gazillion times, it is not the movement. It is not the fatosphere. And the fatosphere is not, in fact, a real place or institution that has — or needs, necessarily — an identifiable leader to set standards, referee fights, and generally be all things to all fat people. If the majority of fatosphere bloggers decide it does need such a leader, that’s cool — but none of the Shapely Prose bloggers are running for office. We write a blog. We own what we write on the blog. We moderate comments on the blog. We started a community site for people who want to have discussions off the blog.  That is the beginning and the end of what we do, apart from paid work and hanging out with friends and family and occasionally sleeping. We are four human beings, writing one blog among many. Period.

But just saying that isn’t enough. A lot of people refuse to accept our self-identification as bloggers — no more, no less — and keep insisting that as long as Shapely Prose remains the most visible blog in the fatosphere, we have an obligation to “lead” it in ways that are never clearly defined and involve some highly mobile goalposts.  So we made the difficult, much-discussed and verrrrry well thought-out decision to reduce our visibility in the fatosphere — by simply not being part of it anymore.

What this is not: Some big, dramatic flounce or rejection of other fat bloggers or abandonment of fat acceptance.

What this is: The four of us making the decision that’s best for our blood pressure.

What this means: We’ve taken ourselves off the feed, as Bri mentioned the other day, and we will be taking the feed off of the sidebar here.

If you count on traffic coming from this site, or you rely on SP for access to it, we’re sorry about that. (The feed can be found here, for anyone who wants to add it to an RSS reader or their own site. Please do!) But there are other reasons why we made that decision, too. For one thing, the combination of our workloads and the increasing number of fat blogs (which is a fucking awesome thing) means we can’t actually read 90% of what comes up on the fatosphere feed, and we’re not comfortable giving an implied endorsement to blogs we don’t read. We wish we had time to read more. We don’t. We can barely keep up with this one.

And finally, when we made the decision, Bri hadn’t made this explicit yet, but now that she has, I’ll quote her, from the new rules for submitting your blog to the feed:

Your submission will not be accepted if your blog entries are not at least 75% relating to fat/size acceptance – Notes and Fat Chat are fat acceptance feeds for a reason…

Most of the 1,181 posts on this blog are about fat. Which means we could probably write about nothing but lemurs and still technically clear the “75% fat” hurdle for some time, but going forward, we are not necessarily going to be focused on fat more than 75% of the time. This is not — let me make sure this part is clear, NOTNOTNOTNOTNOT — because we are any less committed to fat acceptance than we ever were, or because we want to distance ourselves from the movement, or because we’re softening you up for the big announcement that we’re all going on diets “for our health.” It is because, quite simply, we’ve already written like a thousand fucking posts about fat. I’ve also written half a book about fat, and many more posts and articles for other outlets. I am in talks to start writing about fat for a monthly publication. I’ve been doing (and arranging more) speaking engagements about fat, and dozens of interviews. We all will still be writing about fat here. But it’s just, with all that writing and thinking and speaking about fat, we’re starting to feel like broken records. And we all have other interests we would like to write about. So we’re broadening the scope of Shapely Prose a bit.

When I started this blog, the tag line was “humorless feminism and fat acceptance.” I envisioned it as a general feminist blog that specialized in fat, but then the fat part really took off, and I tightened the focus. What we’re doing now, more or less, is going back to the original vision. 90% of topics will probably still be feminism or fat-related — plus some lemurs and shit. We’re not really setting rules. We’re just going to write about whatever interests us on a given day, so that blogging feels more fun and less stale than it’s been feeling lately.

We know some people aren’t going to be happy with some or all of this news. We’re sorry, insofar as we don’t relish making people unhappy. But given that we are, in fact, doing this for the love of it, we need to make sure it remains something we love doing. And all of the above are steps we feel we need to take to make that happen.

If you’re angry and/or don’t want to read SP if it’s going to be like this, that’s okay. We’re grateful to all of you who have helped to build our traffic, and if we lose traffic now, well… decisions have consequences. That’s okay, too. You gotta make ’em anyway, and these are the decisions we made.

It’s just one blog. And it’s our blog. And this is how it’s going forward.

So now I’ve told you everything I can about the State of the Prose as of Friday the 13th of November, 2009 — except for one bit of FANFUCKINGTASTIC news I am going to share in a different post, because I don’t want that overshadowed by whatever WTF-ing happens on this thread.

Thank you all for reading this blog. Really.

The Embiggening

My first post here was about a radical bodily change I was undergoing (drastic weight loss due to an undiagnosed medical condition) and how it made me think about myself, my body, and my visibility as a woman. I shrank, quickly and unintentionally, and the experience reaffirmed my commitment to FA, because people praised me so lavishly for something that was both not under my control and actually a symptom of, well, misery. I was constantly reminded of the strange world of thin privilege: my clothes no longer fit, which was dispiriting and embarrassing — but when I walked into a store I could just buy a skirt, right off the rack, just like that! (That first skirt, I’m telling you, I am still amazed over two years later.) My body felt different in certain ways (chairs felt different; I got cold more easily) but not in others (my rack still got in the way of everything; I still had the same proportions, only narrower). I had crossed the line of cultural acceptability (as I had before in my life, but without the perspective of feminist theory and FA); I was through the looking-glass, almost literally.

Now I’m back on the other side. For the last year, a change in medications has both improved the state of my rebellious organs and caused weight gain as a standard side effect. I’m back around where I started, in the inbetweenie range, with an “overweight” BMI and a cartoony-sounding bra size. And you know what? I’m happy about it. Because I feel so much better than I did when I was thinner. Any negative thoughts I start to have about my fatter body — and we all have them, because we’re trained to — are outweighed by the positive thoughts I have about, say, being able to eat cheese again without dire consequences.

This is not to say that there haven’t been things that were difficult about gaining a bunch of weight. I want to make it very clear that here I am speaking from a position where, “overweight” or not, I still retain a lot of thin privilege: doctors still listen to me (so far), people don’t demonize me to my face or on the news, I can still shop in some straight stores (to give just a few examples). Interestingly, the only person who’s commented on my fatter body so far (as contrasted to the people constantly commenting on my thinner body) is a good friend who knows why I was losing so much weight before — and her comment was that she was glad to see me looking healthier. (Okay, to be fair, Mr Machine has also commented that my rack has gotten, uh, more substantial.) The point I’m trying to reach, here, is that between my still-not-that-fat privilege and my gradual shedding of weight-obsessed or non-feminist friends over the last few years, people haven’t given me shit for gaining weight. (I’m sure my grandparents would have had some strong opinions, but dead men tell no tales, right?) I will tell you exactly what has caused me the most grief in the process of fattening up: my bras. Oh, and my boots. And my pants and belts. In other words: the clothes, the manufactured things, the objects. (But I have been patiently updating my wardrobe to keep up with my hips — and this week, I finally got some new bras (thank you Figleaves clearance!), and my world is suddenly a hundred times sunnier.)

Here’s what was not difficult or irksome about getting fatter: my body. My reflection. My shape. Losing sight of my hipbones. Noticing a fold of flesh return to my back. Watching my profile change, take up more room in the mirror. Feeling more of me moving around. I like me. I don’t mind having more of me, as long as I can afford to clothe more of me. There is no absolute value to any body size. There is no line on your mirror saying “If your hips touch this, your body is wrong.” My body’s not wrong now, and it wasn’t wrong before. It’s my body, and now that I live with respect for it, I don’t dread or thrill to its changes in size.

In that first post, way back when, I wrote this:

Right now, I’m a lot thinner than I’m used to being. Temporarily, I’m feeling a disconnect between the “real me” and the “representation of me.” But maybe I’ll stay at this weight, and I’ll realign my self-conception; maybe instead of a chubby healthy person, I’ll be a thinnish person with a medical condition. I’ll adjust. I’ll be good to myself. Maybe my health will improve again, and I’ll gain back those 20 pounds and more. I’ll adjust. I’ll be good to myself. I’ll remember that this body I live in is me and not a container or disguise or symbol for me. How will I do it? I’ll start right here.

Thanks for helping me be good to myself, Shapelings. I drink to you tonight.

Monstrous cookies for cookie monsters

From the NYT comes this story about the Cookie Diet, a diet plan in which you survive on “six prepackaged cookies a day, plus one ‘real’ meal — say, skinless chicken and steamed vegetables.” The idea here seems to be that you will be so entranced by the idea of eating the sinful “cookies” that you will forget that you are, you know, starving yourself, and that these aren’t exactly your grandma’s snickerdoodles. (Ahem: “The main ingredient in the Soypal cookie is okara, or soy pulp, which absorbs any liquids you drink with the cookies.” Delicious!)

Surprisingly, the NYT actually acknowledges the cultural clusterfuck that the Cookie Diet symbolizes:

The popularity of cookie diets is hardly surprising in this culture of quick fixes. Who wouldn’t want to exert the minimal effort to get long-lasting results? Who wouldn’t want to lose weight by consuming something verboten on most diets?

“The Cookie Diet is very appealing, because it legalizes a food — the cookie — that is banned from most weight-loss programs,” said Jenni Schaefer, author of “Goodbye Ed, Hello Me: Recover From Your Eating Disorder and Fall in Love with Life” (McGraw-Hill, 2009).

“The diet gives people a false sense of control, simplifying balanced nutrition into one food: the cookie,” she added.

The same cultural forces that tell you you must always be on a diet, Fatty McFatterpants, tells you that some foods are “good” and some are “bad.” Cookies, along with cake, pie, baby donuts, and other sweet things usually made with oil and butter, are the sine qua non of bad food. They are the snack of the robot devil himself. The Cookie Diet brilliantly exploits the false morality of fat: you diet by doing what would count as “cheating” on any other diet. You can’t just eat cookies without a plan, after all. And heaven forbid that you make your own cookies rather than spend $56 a week for someone’s soy pulp with secret spices.

Look, here’s the thing: you’re allowed to eat cookies. This is true if you’re fat or not fat. You’re allowed to eat six cookies a day if you feel like it. You’re also allowed to eat a cookie today and a salad tomorrow, or a cookie for dessert and a smoothie for breakfast. You’re allowed to eat whatever you want.

Cookies are not evil. Some things are evil. Cookies are just cookies.

No more “fat talk”

We’ve been deep into Advanced Feminism and Fat Acceptance the last few weeks, but sometimes it’s good to get a reminder of the basics and why we have to start there. The most important step of FA — and the one that often hardest to do — is to stop talking shit about yourself. This is Tri Delta’s Fat Talk Free Week:

(The video soundtrack is just music, for those of you watching without sound.)

What I really appreciate about this campaign is the focus on how fat talk isn’t just about you — every time you put yourself down, even if you really, truly are thinking only about yourself, you are also adding to the toxic environment that your loved ones live in, too. Self-shaming behavior implicitly shames others.

The Fat Talk Free Week campaign says “Friends don’t let friends fat talk” — what are your tried and true ways of resisting fat-shaming conversations?

Friday Fluff: Longfellow Edition

Listen, my children. You already know
Of Paul Revere’s midnight ride, and so
I won’t rehash how, “in Seventy-five…”
For hardly a U.S. child alive
Has escaped being quizzed on the day and year.

But in school or in scouts or in all your youth,
Or in history texts, do you recall learning
Who rode twice as far as Revere – ‘struth! –
To warn her dad’s troops of Danbury’s burning?
For she of a different gender be
From old one-if-by-land-and-two-if-by-sea.
And this “female Revere” business needs be quibbled with.
So by Shapelings all, at their most ribald, with
Regrets to Longfellow: you’re about to get Sybilled with!

alibelle kicked off an interesting conversation here about female historical figures (such as Sybil Ludington, the subject of my verse attempt above) whose contributions are downplayed — or at best allowed to confer on them the status of being “The female [Big Famous Man]” — while male historical figures have their contributions memorized by generations of school children. As I expect every sincere commenter here realizes, this dynamic plays out across all axes of oppression.

No, that’s not the Fluff part. The Fluff part is where we take all the poems and songs we had to memorize in elementary school — the dippier, the better — and recast them to draw attention to historical figures who were removed from the main story and relegated to cutesy sidebars in history textbooks; and/or taught only in “special” units covering rare exotic breeds of humanity like… Women! or, People Who Aren’t White! If they were remembered at all.

(Also fair game: crafts. Anyone other white Shapelings find themselves wearing a construction paper feather headdress in November of third grade?)

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