H51: Health at Every Size (HAES)

I hadn’t planned on writing about this right now, but I am so put off by the comment threads, the posts at my favorite blogs that I changed my mind. I am going to quote heavily from Kate Harding of Shapely Prose. Especially moving for me is her essay, Fantasy of Being Thin. I encourage full reading here.

My point today is to buttress my own spirit rather than to race around the blogs and try to ‘counsel’ or ‘fix’ or ‘lecture’ anyone else. This essay of Kate’s was meaningful to me because I feel I have spent a half century being manipulated by my culture into believing myths. This Myths America katecontinued thread covers a range of areas from Women’s bodies, to Bu$h SOTU Lies, to US imperialism, to Superduperorgasmic media pimping to Diets don’t work and to the Misogynist campaign tactics.

Besides the myth that America is the greatest nation on earth, these are some the themes that spark my need to blog. Let me just say that confronting myths, betrayals, disappointments is a certain kind of anguish. It is the death of a dream, a crisis of hope. I say this despite the fact I value truth over fairy tales. And that is a good segue to fantasy.
Obese patients are often encouraged to believe that weight loss is an appropriate way to combat depression, save a failing marriage, or increase the chance of career success. The irrationality of hopes pinned on weight loss is so striking that dieting might almost be likened to superstitious behavior…. Passing from childhood into adolescence, leaving home, marrying, starting a new job, having a baby, experiencing marital difficulties, adjusting to children leaving home, and growing old — all these life situations may become unexamined reasons to diet. In other instances, concerns over weight mask even more serious problems.”

-Wooley and Garner, from “Obesity treatment: the high cost of false hope,” published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, vol. 91, no. 10, 1991.

Kate begins with this quote found in a co-blogger’s writing. As a starting place it is telling how my own thinking about the obesity crisis as overblown and fueled by a consumerist economy and that fat acceptance was a vital step in my own understanding of the statistical rejection of dieting or that dieting and exercise did not spell thin. For anyone reading this who doesn’t know about Health at Every Size might check out all of the resources and questions answered here. This is a whole ton (excuse pun) of information to absorb and also ease into the acceptance of a fat body as worthy of love and not something to direct shame and revulsion. And this struggle is what Kate captured for me.

But then, the other day, I got to thinking about a particular kind of resistance that shows up every single time anyone dares to say that dieting doesn’t work — the kind that comes from other fat people and amounts to, “DON’T YOU TAKE MY HOPE AWAY!” Those of us in the anti-dieting camp are frequently accused of demoralizing fat people, of sending a cruelly pessimistic message. I’ve never quite gotten my head around that one, since the message we’re sending is that you’re actually allowed to love your fat body instead of hating it, and you can take steps to substantially improve your health without fighting a losing battle with your weight. I’m pretty sure that message is both compassionate and optimistic, not to mention realistic. But there will always be people who hear it as, “I, Kate Harding, am personally condemning you to a lifetime of fatness! There’s no point in trying, fatty! You’re doomed! Mwahahaha!”
Despite all of the encouragement to accept one’s self, to be active, to live the life one chooses without needing to wait until one is thin enough, the magical thinking continues. Some examples Kate offers up from her own life:
• When I’m thin, I’ll have no trouble finding a partner/reinvigorating my marriage.
• When I’m thin, I’ll have the job I’ve always wanted.
• When I’m thin, I won’t be depressed anymore.
• When I’m thin, I’ll be an adventurous world traveler instead of being freaked out by any country where I don’t speak the language and/or the plumbing is questionable.
• When I’m thin, I’ll become really outdoorsy.
• When I’m thin, I’ll be more extroverted and charismatic, and thus have more friends than I know what to do with.

[Snip] In light of that, it’s a lot easier to understand why some people freak out when you say no, really, your chances of losing weight permanently are virtually nil, so you’d be better off focusing on feeling good and enjoying your life as a fat person.

[Snip]Overcoming The Fantasy of Being Thin might be the hardest part of making it all the way into fat acceptance-land. And that might just be why I’d pushed that part of the process out of my memory: it fucking sucked. Because I didn’t just have to accept the size of my thighs; I had to accept who I am, rather than continuing to wait until I magically became the person I’d always imagined being. Ouch.

That is, of course, a pretty normal part of getting older. You start to realize that yeah, this actually is it, and although you can still try enough new things to keep anyone busy for two lifetimes, you’re pretty much stuck with a basic context. There are skills, experiences, and material things you will almost certainly never have, period. It’s a challenge for all of us to understand that accepting this fact of life does not necessarily mean cutting off options or giving up dreams, but simply — as in the proverbial story about the creation of the David — chipping away all that is not you. But for a fat person, it can be even harder, because so many fucking sources encourage us to believe that inside every one of us is “a thin person waiting to get out” — and that thin person is SO MUCH COOLER.

In paraphrasing her point, I needed to find out that my fantasy to be a mythical me was more than being a thin me. For me it was to acknowledge I wouldn't be a katemastered instead of katecontinued. I need to know that my story, my life won’t be about completing a deadline, achieving an end goal. It will be my own continuing saga in progress.

Accepting myself has always has been more difficult than taking on a regimen of some sort. Mounting a campaign to change myself is a great motivator, an energizer for me. Knowing this is a plus. I know now that even though it is easy enough to slip into a weight loss challenge to pump myself up, it is damaging. So, I recognized the adrenaline rush to make-a-plan when I contemplated a sustainable challenge instead. For myself, the sustainability movement helps ground me. My body, specifically my archetypal body, as a mature woman feels more natural than ever before. I am healthy yet my loss of strength and fitness are keeping me from feeling great. But I know I will get these back over this next phase of my life, my life challenge. It is the natural progression in stepping outside and reconnecting to nature, my garden and my community. And it means not only eating locally, organically . . . but eating instinctually.


NameChanged said...

well put kate. i still have to give up the fantasy of being whatever-I-thought-might-come-with-thinness, but reading stuff like this helps.

katecontinued said...

We have taken the first critical step in realizing the truth. I suspect it will take me quite a long time to swim against the river of shit that rushes against me. I hope I can just keep my head above it all. At least I have buoyancy.

Kate Harding said...

Awesome post, Kate. And not just because you quote me. :)