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Taking Up Space

Posted: February 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: personal | Tags: , , | 1 Comment »

Fat acceptance has given me my body.  Of course, I always had a body, but for a while there I was pretty disconnected from it.  I remember years ago someone telling me that they had seen me some place and I was shocked.  I was shocked that they had seen me, that I was visible, that I actually, physically existed.

I’ve also, in the past, had trouble consciously acknowledging physical pain.  I’ve had chronic ankle and knee problems since I was a kid, and even though I knew that, and could articulate it to some extent, I would recast the physical limitations engendered by that pain as defects of character.  Rather than consciously acknowledging that I couldn’t walk too fast or too far without causing myself pain, I would ‘forget’ about how much it hurt and interpret my reluctance to engage in physical exercise which actively hurt me as being a bad, lazy fatty.  I have, thankfully, developed much more awareness, and I find it easy to manage when I’m by myself – I’ll just catch the tram for two or three stops rather than walk, for example.  But it’s harder when I’m with other people and have to negotiate the shame (or fear of shame) of being (perceived as) a lazy fatty.  I not only walk with them, but often try to walk at their pace.  Which hurts me.  And I have to stop.

In the last year or so I’ve also had pretty bad RSI in my shoulder, from all the time I’ve been spending on the computer (note to self: blogging may be a break from thesising, but it’s not a break from the computer!).  I’m doing what I can to manage it – gym, stretching, regular breaks, yoga, massage.  One big factor – and by far the hardest for me to negotiate at the moment – is that I need to let my body take up space.  I find it particularly hard on public transport, where space is extremely limited already.  I’ve noticed how I hunch my shoulders, draw my arms across my body, try to shrink down to take up less space.  And how I stay that way even when my shoulder starts to ache and my neck muscles spasm.  Well, at the point of my neck muscles spasming I start to stretch and wriggle and find some way of sitting that doesn’t actively hurt me.

I do think it’s useful to be aware of my body in space and how it relates to other people.  I am endlessly infuriated by people (mostly men, but certainly not all or only men), who  s p r a w l  a n d  s p r e a d  o u t  and take up a four-seat all to themselves when the train is packed.  But this is not simply an awareness of my body in space, it’s also an awareness of how taking up more space is coded as selfish, anti-social, and shameful.  And how this coding affects the way I manage my fat body in public spaces.  And how subtle the monitoring and disciplining of the body can be.