Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Gaps in the Literature, or, "The information you are sharing above feels like freedom to me."

Maybe a week ago, during a talk about fatness (we have had several lately), my boyfriend said that he thought I should write about this stuff.  Like on the internet.  Like on a blog.

And what I said is—and I think this is true—that there are already people doing most of the stuff I would want to do.  Lesley Kinzel (and to a lesser extent, Marianne Kirby also) has the giant platform of xoJane, which is fabulous, and though I hate that she has had to tone down the more theoretically challenging aspects of her thinking, I can't think of anyone I'd rather have representing my interests to a mainstream audience.  She is great at her job.  She has got it covered.  There is Lindy West at Jezebel talking about the perils of doing anything visible while fat.  There are fatshion bloggers writing about how to look like a person you want to look like while remaining a fat person and being okay with that, Gabi Gregg leading that charge.  And there are bloggers, lots and lots of them, writing about eating and fitness, and some of them do so while attuned to body image and some of them, quietly, all over the internet, are having little eureka! moments about restriction and disordered eating and broader social mindfuckery about bodies.  

So...what am I doing here?  Why am I still writing this blog that people used to read but don't anymore (that's not self-pity, internet!)?  What am I trying to accomplish here?  Or at least, what am I trying to accomplish that I can do anonymously?  (Because I do think if I just suddenly started putting up notes on Facebook or whatever about this stuff under my own name, where people would come across it just because they know me and not because they are specifically interested in fatness, it would be a different and perhaps more important project.)  

What gaps are there in the literature?  This is a question that we ask in academia.

What there isn't, I don't think—and I have already said this in a different way—is a feminist, fat-positive voice getting into the nitty-gritty of embodied self-care.  There are bodies here, real ones, circumscribed and pushed around and beaten down and carved up by ideologically-driven behavior.  This is true of bodies of any size, but it is almost certainly amplified around bodies of larger sizes.  My body is a cultural boogeyman, and I am a part of the culture—my relationship to my body, then, is refracted and partitioned, because it is both me (obvs) and not-me (because of the way the "I" of the cultural neutral position works).  That's to say, fat people experience an iteration of W.E.B. Du Bois's idea of double consciousness.  Whole other thing; about to head off on a tangent; just gonna leave this here for a second.

Okay.  I had an interaction on the internet just recently in which a woman I had never met and never spoken with previously identified herself as fat and suffering from either an eating disorder (she did not specify, but implied binge eating disorder/compulsive eating) or a food addiction.  She was seeking advice.  In response to this post, she got—not just from me—a lot of information about patterns of restrictive/reactive eating.  It was pointed out to her—and again, not just by me—that her problem was more likely to be undereating than overeating.  That what she was identifying as "binge" behavior or "lack of control" was more likely a physiological response to a history of restriction and underfeeding.  There was a little tangent off into diagnostic criteria for BED, arguing (as argued by Gwyneth Olwyn at Your Eatopia in more length) that it can't be diagnosed in the presence of a history of restriction.

She said, "The information you are sharing above feels like freedom to me."


The information you are sharing above feels like freedom to me.

Do you know how big a deal that is?

It is a real big deal.  

I told her, "[Her Name], welcome to the other side."  Immediately after hitting post on that sentence, I realized that I had no idea what it meant.  What other side?  The other side of what?  It felt viscerally correct, though, and she responded to it as if it made sense to her too; she said: "[My Full Name], that made me cry.  I have wanted to be here all my life."

Where?  What?

Her own side.  All on one side, not split in half against herself.

This is the connection to double consciousness: you are both yourself, your own basic needs, and socialized into the cultural norms that think your body and thus necessarily your behavior are aberrant.  You are split in half; you are on your own side and you are on the dominant ideology's side, even though the latter seeks to obliterate/assimilate the former.  

But in this particular case there is an objective constant that won't be obliterated or assimilated.  That constant is the human fucking body.  Your body is not an idiot.  It will not lie down and die.  It will not consent to be starved.  It is hungry, and it does not care that you are emotionally uncomfortable with wanting more than you are supposed to want as a woman and/or a fat person.  And so it reacts.  It won't obey because it can't, but more importantly, it shouldn't.  There is no getting your body on the side of the cultural consciousness, not for good, and especially not for fat women.  It won't work.  Your body won't bend that far backwards.  There is only getting yourself on the side of your body.  And that reality is under-acknowledged.  This is what happened on the internet, then: someone realized that the only way to stop being split in half was to get on her body's side, even if it means doing something she is not supposed to do, something she may experience resistance, from herself and others, to doing. 

That interaction was the best thing that happened to me this week.  It felt like doing something that mattered.

Some days I think I am going to take the PhD and go to work on this gap in the literature, because this is why I became an academic, really: because information can feel like freedom.

1 comment:

Nadira said...