Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Found It

I found the response I've been looking for.  Or at least a response that does what I have been looking for a response to do—a response for when people squeeze you meaningfully after having already spent several hours with you and having already told you that you look nice and say, "You look great."

I have been looking for a response that accepts their kind intentions but gives them some sense of awareness that I take issue with some other part of the message there—the part that congratulates you on being less fat, with all the assumptions about your intentions and feelings that it carries.

It turns out it is really simple.  It popped out of my mouth today in just this situation.  It goes like this:

"You too."

Here's why I think it works when it's a situation that doesn't actually set me on edge: most importantly of all, it maintains cordiality, it keeps the interaction friendly and affectionate.  And it also re√ęstablishes parity and equivalence: my body is like your body, it's just a body, it has unity and integrity no matter its size relative to other bodies or other iterations of itself.  And it also carries—if the person to whom you offer it in exchange has not him- or herself recently become slightly less fat—a mild rejection of that comment's subtext, because it chooses to take "you look great" at face value, to make it a compliment that can be given back to someone who hasn't recently changed size.

I like it.

"You too."

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Just a little story

They've got to go somewhere.

When I was in treatment, vitals were taken in the middle of the night, in shifts.  You were assigned to one of a few wee-hours half-hour timeslots.  I don't remember exactly what the times were, but it was something like 4:00, 4:30, 5:00. People had strong feelings about which timeslot they preferred, but it wasn't like you got to pick.  Staff would come and wake you.  Every night, in the middle of the night.  It would be freezing.  Freezing.  You were allowed to bring your blanket down with you, to wait outside the office where they did vitals.  It behooved you to get up: the sooner you were downstairs, the  further ahead in line you might be, and the sooner you might be back in bed.

So I remember a silent line of girls and women, swaddled in blankets, some lying curled up trying to sleep with their heads on their arms or the pillows they'd brought from bed, blinking and squinting in the fluorescent light of the industrial-carpeted hallway, groggy and grumpy and just wanting it to be over.

On face, this seems like an insane policy.  Sleep is important, and waking up fifty women in the middle of the night is for sure a pain, to say nothing of the weirdo hours you are foisting on your practitioners.  But it did something sort of remarkable, which was that it isolated that event.  You didn't spend the day thinking about your weight, because by the time you woke up again from your second sleep shift, that had happened yesterday, and you didn't spend your day anticipating or fearing your weight, because that wasn't until tomorrow.  And you were barely conscious of the event itself.  It was like it hadn't even happened.  In retrospect, it seems kind of brilliant.

It worked.  I don't remember what my weights were in treatment—I think I saw them at least sometimes, but I couldn't say with certitude what they were, couldn't really even ballpark them with confidence.  I don't even remember what-all information they were collecting.  Weight, pulse, other stuff, I forget.  If you were orthostatic—and I sometimes was—they would hand you a little cup of Gatorade, which is always disgusting but is particularly disgusting in the middle of the night.  I don't actually know what "orthostatic" means right this second, though I know it has something to do with blood pressure, but I remember this word and this procedure and drinking that goddamn Gatorade from a paper cup in the middle of the night.

And sitting in that hallway in the middle of the night, the silent line of half-sensate blanket piles, is one of the images from treatment that stays with me.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Notes Towards a Post About Beauty

What if beauty is a distraction?  A smokescreen?  "A quietly mad population is a tractable one."

What if beauty is—and this I think seems truer—a real thing and a relevant one, but a central thing only because of the issues to which it is adjacent?  Angela Davis's afro.  (Where is the line beyond which functional irrelevance?)

Like this: some ESPN anchor is on television talking about that basketball player that came out.  He disapproves of his lifestyle; it is an affront to God.  He says he also disapproves of the lifestyles of the guys who run around on their wives, the guys who fornicate (unmarried!).  But that disapproval is a lightweight thing, the latter kind.  It doesn't change the lives of the men subject to it.  It doesn't threaten their standing.

Or in the marriage plots of yore (your Eliots, your Austens, your Dickenses), you are reckoning marriageability, and you know beauty is an asset, and you know who has it and who doesn't, and yet the people who don't manage to go on existing without too many histrionics.  Get married, perhaps mostly to clergymen (unless very rich).  Beauty on par with speaking French or playing the harpsichord or coming from an unentailed estate.  A thing in the portfolio.  Though not unaffected, nobody wrecks her life on the rocky shores of lack of beauty, it would seem, not even those radically defaced (Esther, Bleak House) (who is the very plain but very good one in Middlemarch?  She wins out, no?).

Except Lucy Snowe.  What first freights this is hope?  That the orphaned plain Jane, the original one, Eyre, wins out too, wins big?  (Did we know that "The Sound of Music" was a remake of Jane Eyre?  It totally is, right?)  This is what makes it dangerous.  If you can hope above your station.  (How does this fit in with liberal political thought?  Mill, Locke?  The rise of the idea if not the reality of meritocracy?)  Lucy Snowe.  And this is why (one reason why) Villette feels so contemporary.  Lucy Snowe's whole life is sacrifice to her injustices.  There is a whole argument here that would spoil the plot of Villette, one of the best five novels ever written, I think, so I won't make it.

Okay, the Villette thing, a distraction.  But what if beauty only matters as much as it matters, as much as it matters to me and to other fat people suffering or defying on the internet and in their regular lives, when it is prioritized?  Are we in a moment of its prioritization?  Why?  How do we know?  Because sometimes I just want to admit that I do not find someone beautiful but I love them nonetheless.  Sometimes I want to be able to say, "there are things about me that are not beautiful; I do not care."  (This latter is an aspiration of affect, not an admission.)  (Read that Lauren Berlant book?  Ugly Feelings, I think?)  The absolute imperative of beauty.  (This is true of women, perhaps only, perhaps only primarily.)  Beauty as a prerequisite for everything.  Bitchy Jones's Diary & the post about the male gaze/male submission/the link to that slightly shitty article about how women can want to be poets but they know they want to be beautiful poets.

What are the levers that insert themselves into our subjectivity?  Into our standing?  In Florida, two parents have been told that a grown man had the right to be afraid of their child, had the right to kill him because of that fear.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Metaphor, Then

I am on a packed N train, coming home from a meeting of my writing group.  I am standing.  The window of the N train is bisected horizontally—a bar crosses just at my shoulders, so that in the reflection of the window, my head is divided from my body.  I am looking at my reflected face, staring myself in the eyes; I am scrutinizing my cheekbones.  There is an unfamiliarity to my face—it feels different, feels foreign, I have a mild sense of dislocation from it.  It is not quite mine.  I isolate that sense in the steepened angle around my chin, the mild shading below my cheekbones.  It's closer to my other face.  The face I think of as my real face, inside my regular face cluttered up by the parts of my regular face I don't like.  Doesn't that feel a little wrong?  It feels a little wrong.  How can my real face be a face I've never seen?  That doesn't make any sense.  My real face is my regular face.  My real face is every face attached to my skull, the skull within which my brain chases itself in circles.  At the end of my therapy session today, I earmarked our topic for next week: "How do I reconcile the pleasure I feel at being more acceptable by a standard I hate?  It is fucking me all up."

The train swoops up onto the Manhattan Bridge.  When the afternoon light comes streaming into the car, my reflection is gone and I am looking out eastward at the sprawl of lower Manhattan, the old tenements full of other people and their lives, the bright water of the East River.

Tuesday, July 09, 2013


The bodies in my relationship look pretty similar to this:

(And sometimes behave pretty similarly, along gender-binary lines, too.  We are one shortish excitable energetic fat lady and one skinny cerebral melancholic-tending dude.  Which, well, actually seems pretty great after watching Beth & Jarvis.)

Monday, July 08, 2013

Stand Up Straight

Yesterday, my boyfriend asked over dinner what he could do to make me feel pretty.  He asked because I had been grumpy about him admiring a woman's picture—not because it made me jealous, but because I didn't think she was particularly pretty, and that made me feel like his judgment of female attractiveness is questionable, which made me feel like him thinking I'm pretty doesn't count.

I told him he could sit and stand up straight.  This is a thing for me.  It's a thing about relative size, because he is a skinny dude (whereas I sit on the big round cushion of my prodigious ass, so when sitting in particular I tend to worry about whether I am taller than he is, which I sometimes am if he's hunching particularly egregiously), but I think probably even more it's a thing about attraction.  He's an interior, cerebral human being, my man, and he has a tendency to forget that he is a body, to wander away from it into the inner reaches of his brain and leave his physical self crumpled awkwardly on the train seat next to me.  This makes me feel gross.  It makes me feel gross because it makes me feel hulking in comparison,  which makes me feel unfeminine, but I don't think that's all it is.  It makes me feel gross because I don't find him physically attractive in those moments of bodily abandonment, and the sudden absence of the zing and twang of attraction in my relationship is depressing, makes my own body feel like a burden, a great big lump unsanctified by physical joy.

I don't think this is about the specifics of his body.  I am often attracted to him, and indeed I am often attracted to skinny dudes, their angular faces and long limbs, their agility.  But what I want is for him to be more emphatically in his physical self.  To not hunch or slump as he tends to, to cross his ankle over his knee and sit back tall, to take up space, to stand like he is enjoying the breadth of his (broad) shoulders and the power of being young and alive.  I want that because it attracts me, and when I am attracted to him I feel more attractive, sure, but mostly when I am attracted to him I don't care very much about whether or not I'm attractive because I am getting what I want, which is to say, getting a person I desire.  When he retreats from physicality it is as if he is retreating from his physical desire for me, which I find insulting, but more importantly I think, it is as if he is denying me my the inhabitance of my own body, its sensations and joys and desires.

I am not sure whether this is actually asking him to be a whole different kind of person.

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

You know, I care less and less what people think.

So, apparently our interaction on Saturday made us buddies, me and that trainer, because when I got to the rack today, he was standing by it counting his client's bar curls, but when he saw me he hustled his client along.  "We're in her spot," he said.  I can deal with that.  And he walked by when I was overhead pressing (still just the bar, which was harder than last time, either because I'd upped the weight on the squats I'd just done or because I  hadn't eaten anything yet today and had last time, or because of some third unknown thing) and said, "I can lift heavier than that!"  Now that is the kind of reinforcement I can get behind.  (Twisted?)

True to my word, those measure-y pants stayed up in the tub of clothes that don't fit me for the end of May and all of June.  When July 1 rolled around, I tried them on: they do fit differently.  They still muffin-top me, but they button more easily; I don't feel like I might break a nail if I put my hands in the pockets.  My weight's rock-solid, but with the return to lifting, things shift around a little.

I have been thinking a lot about the lessons of this year.  I joined the Bed-Stuy Y on July 10th of last year, so I'm coming up on a year of lifting, which even with the nomadic hiatus in the middle feels like a thing.  It really did take hold right away, lifting.  Felt good right away, both physically and emotionally.  It feels like it changed my whole deal, kind of, this year—made me appreciate my strength and health and toughness and willingness to go my own way, gave me a non-destructive place to put my drive and research and goal-making impulses, made me feel less left out when everyone else talks about yoga and running.  It feels important to me to still be doing it in another year.  I'm going to write about this more in a week, but lifting heavy weights feels like both a manifestation and a catalyst of some big changes in the last year and a half or so.

As ever, with my pants-measuring and the faces my aunt and uncle both made at me when I ran into them en route to therapy today and the jitters about being weighed at the doctor's office, I have to work to reconcile my feelings about size shift (mixed, including a strong strain of gratification) with my politics and my behavioral plan.  It's important to me to be clear with myself that what I am doing here is not a weight-loss attempt.  It's not.

Even though I have experienced weight loss, I've experienced it in a year in which I have pushed my own reflexive beliefs about what will make me smaller or bigger off to the side in favor of what I actually need and want on a day-to-day basis.  What we have here is a behavioral change that comes from a place of self-care—an active hobby I love and a new push to abandon disordered behaviors.  I would be a damn liar if I said I hadn't had the thought that these things might result in size shift in the back of my head.  I had that thought in the back of my head.  But what am I going to do?  Go back?  Starve myself and stop lifting because eating more food more often and lifting weights made me smaller and I often enjoy that?

What I can do is not prioritize weight loss over, well, anything.  I can keep myself honest.  I can keep my first principles behavioral and self-supporting, rather than about bodily outcomes.

And I can prepare myself emotionally for the very real possibility that my size has shifted as much as it is going to in response to this chunk of behavioral change or that even if it shifts further it will not (and this is overwhelmingly likely) make me not-fat; I can be clear with myself on the goal, which is to improve my lifts and get stronger and feed myself responsibly (by which I mean adequately and nourishingly and pleasurably) and continue to bolster my own identification with my physical presence in the world (to be a body instead of having a body).  I can keep on beating the drum with myself that my well-being is more important than my weight.  Which it is.

The thing here is that when my size stops shifting, no matter what size I am when that happens, I am going to have to continue to resist dieting behaviors.  I am going to have to continue feeding myself when I am hungry until I am actually full.  That is sort of when we will see what I am made of, really, but for now, the most important thing about all this stuff is the focus on actually attending to my own needs.  And to that end, the consideration of the politics, too, gets pushed aside.  I am absolutely concerned about being an ally to other fat people; that is super important to me.  But this is important stuff too, this recovery work, and I can try to sort through my feelings about its connections to weight, but I am still going to be on the hook for the day to day, and doing the best I can with it.  I am going to try to deal with whatever the results of this thing are in a smart and ethical way, but they are outside the box.  Inside the box is behavior.  Inside the box are my obligations to myself.

I think this is probably incoherent.