So I’m on a bit of an organisation kick at the moment. I’ve been going through all the files on my computer and refining the filing structures, archiving the old and irrelevant, generally tidying things up and making them work. In the process I came across a reflective piece I wrote for a creative project at the end of my honours year (back in 2006 I wrote a 15,000 word thesis on why I hate The Biggest Loser).
Any you know what? It’s not a bad piece of writing. So, here it is.
I’m having a fat year.
A whole year of feeling fat. Of thinking fat, of talking fat, of writing fat, of being fat. Of owning fat. My fat.
how to talk about the body like it’s not my body
I spent years in classes where lecturers talked about ‘the body’. I read articles and chapters and theories about embodiment. I wrote papers on corporeality. All with the (un)easy knowledge that none of it, none of it, was about my body. Not my body. Not this body. Not fat. In the specificities of race, gender, class, age, ability, and desire, size has disappeared. In the intersections, the networks, the inscriptions and readings, the talk about boundaries, fluidity, impulses, lines of flight. In all the talk about flesh, there is a careful avoidance of fleshiness.
Not that body.
At the library I look up books on the body. There are many. I search the shelves for titles on the body and philosophy, the body and society, the body and what it means to have one, to live one, to be one. What it means to be a body. I take these books off their carefully arranged shelves and turn to the carefully arranged indexes. I look up ‘fat’. I look up ‘obese’. I find almost nothing. I look up ‘weight’ and ‘size’ and sometimes find references to thinness, eating disorders, diets and exercise.
In books dedicated to the study of the body, only certain bodies have been deemed acceptable. In books dedicated to the study of the deviant body, only certain deviations have been deemed worthy. Fat is not one of them. Transgression, it seems, should be edgy, razor-sharp and full of angles. Should be about the corporeal but not the corpulent.
Fatness is absent from the body of bodily theory, which is thin theory, anorexic theory, theory afraid of fat (but which, perhaps, perceives its reflection to occupy more space than it actually does; the space of all bodies everywhere). Fatness is a structuring absence which is not acknowledged, not admitted to in (or into) theory, but which nonetheless is constantly implied/denied by the normal(ised) anorexic body. Corpulence is the repressed and silenced other of corporeal theory.
I can, of course, find many books the talk about fat. About how bad it is, how unhealthy it is, how unattractive it is. How stupid and poor and ugly and smelly and lazy and immoral it is. Most of all, about how to get rid of it.
There is a war on obesity. A war on bodies like mine. Can I call it genocide?
how to talk about bodies like mine
Susan Bordo[i] writes about ‘bringing the body to theory’. Not just theorising the body, taking the flesh and making it words, but making the words fleshy. Bringing the body to theory. The body which sits cold and tired at the desk and writes. The body which eats, sleeps, desires, hungers, grows. The body which thinks, which cares. Thinks this is important and cares enough to make something of it. The body which labours to produce.
Not the body of Descartes, a great deceiver fundamentally other to the self. Not the body of Orbach[ii], a great betrayer manifesting psychological wounds. Rather, the body as body.
Mid-year I stand at the front of a class and talk about the body, the fat body, the body that is like mine, but I don’t say it is like mine. I don’t say I have anything to do with it. I talk about fat and the self, fat as antithetical to the self. Inside every fat person, the story goes, is a thin one trying to get out. (There is no possibility that person trying to get out is fat.)
I talk about visibility, about what it means to see bodies like that (like mine). How Laura Kipnis[iii] argues that fat is obscene (off-screen), that its display is pornographic in and of itself. How bringing these bodies to the screen is a potentially subversive act. It threatens to make them normal.
I wonder what could happen simply by being seen.
how to talk about my body like it’s my body
La Nell Guiste[iv] writes about ‘coming out’ as a fat woman. It seems ridiculous, redundant. Fat’s very visibility, its insistence, its immanence, make closeting seem impossible. There is no hiding it. Coming out as fat means not trying to pass as ‘on the way to thin’. It’s a deviation not only of matter but of intent. The refusal of a compulsory desire.
To be ‘out’ as fat is harder than you might imagine. It’s socially taboo. People protest when you mention it. They deny, minimise, try to reduce the impact. But the body insists. They don’t like the word ‘fat,’ think it’s ugly, offer instead ‘big-boned’ or ‘broad-shouldered’ (I laugh) or ‘overweight’ (I protest: over whose weight?). They don’t like the thing, the substance, the look of it, the implications. The threat.
To insist on my fatness is a radical act.
To not try to change it, unbelievable (denial).
To find others who like it? Incomprehensible.
(and I thought coming out as fat was hard)
The disbelief disappears quickly enough, and I am left with the uneasy question of validation: is it acceptable only because he says it’s acceptable (preferable)? This is one of the main grounds on which the war is fought (the other being impending death), but isn’t equal-opportunity objectification is still objectification?
how to write the body like a body
How to write about fat as fat? Not as psychological disturbance or eating disorder. Not as wrath or greed or sloth or gluttony. Not as comfort or sorrow or guilt or grief. Not as the failure of thin.
Not as the failure of thin, but as substance and substantial. As meaningful and relevant. As desirous and desired. As loving, lusting, aching, hurting, hungering. As a body in the world, as person, identity, self. As a real thing.
How to write a body like mine?
[i] Bordo, Susan, 1993, Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body, University of California Press, Berkley.
[ii] Orbach, Susie, 1978, Fat is a Feminist Issue, Hamlyn, London.
[iii] Kipnis, Laura, 1996, ‘Life in the Fat Lane,’ Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America, Grove Press, New York.
[iv] Guiste, La Nell, 2004, ‘Let ME eat Cake!’ Off Our Backs, Nov/Dec <http://www.findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_qa3693/is_200411/ai_n9473135>, accessed 19 February 2006.