Powerful interview, The Unbearable Weight of Fatphobia: A Conversation with Samantha Irby
But let’s be clear, this is about far more than just hurt feelings and humiliation. This kind of body terrorism means that fat people get denied jobs, housing, affordable and adequate healthcare, and various other services simply because other people don’t like our bodies […] Everywhere we turn, everywhere we go, we are reminded about how much people hate us and our bodies, and how much they think we should hate ourselves and our bodies, too. We are continually told, in one way or another, that we are not allowed to take up this space and that we will not be valuable unless we shrink. For many of us, this has been happening our entire lives, or for the vast majority of it. It’s deeply dehumanizing and demoralizing, but for a lot of fatphobic people, that’s exactly the point. They think we don’t deserve to have a good relationship with our bodies. They think we don’t deserve any other kind of existence. They often think we don’t deserve to exist at all.
I was very interested to find out about exercise bulimia, not least because I believe that I suffered from it for years. It’s reassuring to have a term for this kind of eating disordered experience. When I stopped showing the more conventional symptoms of bulimia, I thought I was better, but then I started engaging in exactly the kind of behaviours described in the article above. I exercised compulsively in my late twenties and early thirties, and my experience of exercise is still hijacked by my eating disorder. I find it very hard to exercise without making it into a sort of penance for eating. It’s a difficult condition to address because we tend to view exercise as being always beneficial.
This devastating article about boarding school trauma helped me to better understand my father. He was sent to a brutal Catholic boarding school and suffered from a lot of the symptoms described on the survivors website. He was a workaholic and terrified of abandonment. He struggled to maintain friendships outside of the immediate family circle and couldn’t give up the cigarettes that eventually killed him. He was sent to boarding school at eleven, which is older than most of the men featured in the article, but what makes my father’s case so horrible is the fact that he was abandoned by his mother at the age of five. I just can’t imagine the trauma of that second abandonment by his father’s family. On reflection, I’m surprised that my father managed to be as functional as he was in life.
Content note: discussion of ED triggers and strong emotions
I think I have finally had a breakthrough in my struggle with eating distress. This breakthrough has come about through work I’ve been trying to do on the relationship between anger and fear in my life.
Just out of interest, I decided to take the Net Doctor test to find out whether it thinks I have an eating disorder
I started by ticking the boxes that best represent where I feel myself to be at the moment. Here is my result:
I linked to this post on my culture blog, but it’s relevant here too: Fat People are not your literary go to for evil:
Evil: its a complex negotiation of personal history, personality, upbringing, and societal and cultural expectations, not a physical attribute.
I think I was first made aware of the evil fat character in the work of Enid Blyton, which is basically an introduction to Fascism for kids. She was writing in the 1940s, but the evil fat character is still alive and kicking (or rather, wheezing and sweating) in literature and pop culture.
A great post here from s.e. smith on Denial as Virtue:
This is not about whether people should love or hate their bodies, or about how people should navigate their own relationships with their bodies. It is about the ways in which society encourages a disconnect from the body, rewards people who ‘control’ their bodies by effectively turning them off and refusing to listen. It is also about a society where certain bodies are considered controlled and others are not, and by extension, people in control are considered virtuous while others are not. Lack of willpower, loss of control, are believed to be negative personality traits which can be read in the body. After all, if someone was in control, the body would be thin and lean and hard and it would conform with a specific beauty ideal. It wouldn’t be soft and fat.
Please read the rest. This is so important in creating a cultural and historical context for the development of disordered eating. My father, for example, who was sent to a brutal Catholic boarding school, could never get over his belief that denying himself food was virtuous and, in this, I’m sure he subconsciously influenced my own feelings about food and eating. He believed that denying himself breakfast and lunch was virtuous and because he was starving would then eat “too much” in the evening and feel guilty about it. Quite often, I would catch him having guilt-ridden fry-ups late at night. It effected his health and his mood. We tried to talk to him about it, and my mother even banned him from using negative language about food and eating in the house (he would refer to eating as “stuffing”), but we could never shift it.
A few weeks ago, on twitter, I came across this list of 20 Things that People with a Positive Body Image Know. I can’t see any links to research that this list might be based on, so I don’t know if the statements are evidenced anywhere or if it’s based on the opinions and experiences of its creator. While I don’t object to most of the individual statements on the list, the list as whole (and especially its title), initially made me feel defensive and quite angry. I was annoyed by the suggestion that I could ‘know’ my way out of my body image problems and experienced the list as a bit of an implicit criticism, as if my body image problems are the result of a lack of the right kind of “knowledge”.