Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Mmmm donuts!

Living in today's society, I have incorporated all of the messages that we tell ourselves about eating and what's okay to eat. Today, I was craving a donut. My immediate internal message was that this was "bad" and that I should resist the urge. But resisting the urge often has the opposite effect - I can become fixated on the donut I didn't indulge in.

Why should I resist a donut, anyway? This is the question I come back to. I've shared with you all the struggles I've had with weight my whole life. The struggle comes down to this: I'm heavier than is considered acceptable and this is a challenge for me to live with.

I have tried diets and when I go off the strick guidelines, I gain back the weight that I've lost. I can lose weight, but this is not the issue. I eat healthily and I'm getting more active. But I am painfully aware (even when I was at my thinnest recently) that if I am walking down the street eating a donut there will be someone walking by who's judging me for eating the donut and being fat.

In some ways, I am lucky. My family is big. I've never been blamed for being big or told to eat less. My mother is sometimes hard on herself, but only a few times was I made to feel bad about my weight (comments by Sister when we were both too young to know better). I've heard the tales of other's whose family and friends are not so forgiving.

I just finished reading Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata, and she asks a great question towards the end of the book. Why are fat people judged so harshly for their body size? Let's put aside the health question because that is actually a different issue. What I'm questioning is the disdain and outright hatred that people seem to exhibit when discussing fat people.

Is fat a moral issue that people should judge the obese and feel hatred and disdain towards them? It is, in fact, an issue that the Old and New Testaments of the bible address in the form of gluttony. Eating too much and the attendant issue of not leaving enough for those who need food is at issue. It's an interesting thing to think about in this day and age...in a sense we are a gluttonous nation more so than just individually. But early Christians seem to further the issue by defining gluttony as more of an obsession with food or with eating. Indeed, among the 5 ways of identifying gluttony which Thomas Aquinas came up with, one is identified with "dainty eating" (perhaps an early form of dieting?).

But most often within Christian traditions, it is the fat that were looked upon suspiciously and accused of gluttony. I hypothesize that this early belief is transferred from generation to generation, despite the fact that most people no longer believe in the "7 deadly sins." If you think that generational disdain doesn't happen, think about whether you have heard anyone refer to Jewish people as "stingy." It's been a long time since the usury laws were overturned in most countries, but we still seem to blame a whole ethnic group for the sin of being not accountable to that law.

It's a damaging belief this idea that we should blame fat people for their body size. We buy into the idea that if fat people would just be less gluttonous then their lives would be gloriously better. But, really, fat people's lives would be so much more gloriously better if others (including ourselves) could just accept us without the judgement of how or why we are the shape that we are.

Today, in particular, I am saddened by the damage these beliefs cause. Sister called last night (something that rarely happens) to tell me that a friend had tried to commit suicide on Sunday. Her friend is fat and Sister is pretty sure that her self-esteem is pretty low because of her weight. Considering that she is living in the same society as I, I can only imagine that she has tried to lose the weight she carries and has not been successful...the cascade of internalized fat hatred from there is painful to imagine.

Our journey to accepting fat people starts with accepting ourselves. It starts by acknowledging that the body we are born with is perfect in and of itself...no diets or surgeries or control top undies are needed to make it the only house you will ever truly have. Loving yourself leads to loving others.

P.S. I couldn't find a donut, so I had a muffin instead.


Hyde said...

I agree with most of what you say here. But I think that you are simplifying things if you portray "self-acceptance" as a "choice."

I've gone through periods in my life where I've acted like I've had self-acceptance, but haven't really been able to achieve it. That sort of "false" self-acceptance could never quite compensate for the fact that I didn't feel "socially" accepted. "Self-acceptance," as such, can be self-delusion masquerading as mental health. In the case of weight, this might lead to denial of the real health problems that can accompany weight gain.

I don't think that anyone should be judged for their size. I don't think it's a moral issue. But people do judge. And it takes an INCREDIBLY strong individual to resist that judgment. I wish that I could read your suggestion of "self-acceptance" and see a real solution. But, in a way, you're still putting the responsibility on people like Sister's friend to somehow manage to "just accept herself," the same way others expect overweight people who have repeatedly failed at dieting to "just lose weight." In fact, many probably see that as a failure in self-respect as well.

I feel like this comment got insanely long. What I'm trying to say is that asking a fat person to just eat the donut (or muffin) on the street without fear is like asking a fat person to just lose 20 lbs. Both are tremendously difficult. Those who are not socially acceptable are doomed to suffer... whether or not it's fair.


Cody Bones said...

I refuse to live in a society where anything relating to dounuts is wrong.

hammer said...

I would add to this discussion that even thinner women experience these similar guilt issues about food.

spinsterwitch said...

Hyde - I don't think that self-acceptance is simple, neither is choice. I think that both are the most challenging battles we can face as human beings (hell, I've been in therapy for years continuing to work on my own). But I really do believe that our ability (or inability) to have compassion for our own "flaws" and learn to accept who we are is the road to overcoming our fears and hatred of other people.

I think what I was trying to say about Sister's friend is that it saddens me that there are so few places in this world that she can get affirmation for who she is. This can make self-acceptance nigh to impossible, and I don't blame her for "being tired" (as she wrote to Sister). I certainly think that a major depressive episode is much more complicated to deal with than just saying, "accept yourself." But that is the process that I work toward, both within myself and within my clients.

Cody - I agree!

spinsterwitch said...

Hi Hammer! It's good to see you again. I agree. I think that we really fuck ourselves up because we have unrealistic ideas about what bodies should look like when really every body is different.

Aravis said...

Thanks. Now I have a donut craving, with no donuts in sight! *G*

It seems to be a cultural thing as well. Er, disdain for fat people, not donuts. Although those might be as well.


In many cultures, skinny women are considered ugly; fat women are the real beauties. I have found this to be especially true of South Americans, who are notoriously religious, usually Catholics. The thought of "gluttony" doesn't seem to bother them much.

But here, in the U.S., I think you may be onto something. There's the bible doctrines which you mentioned. I think a lot of people also see it as a lack of self-control, a quality also despised in our culture and often ascribed inappropriately. As in this case.

Whatever the case, I think you're beautiful. I hope you do, too.