Men and Their Diets

People in my life like to not conform to gender standards. I like this, but sometimes it presents interesting challenges.

Today, I had three conversations with male-folk. One was about Halo Reach and the other two were about how they want to lose weight. Now, as awesome as Halo Reach looks, I’m the high end of bad or the low end of mediocre at FPSes and this blog is about my path to body acceptance, so sadly that’s not going to be the subject (though if you like that kind of thing, the extended trailer for that game is just breath-taking).

I’m getting better at being anti-diet pro-body love when it comes to talking with the people who normally talk about these things AKA women. I can say “Check out these great FA bloggers!” though I usually don’t. But I could. Interestingly, I have not had a conversation about weightloss with any of my female friends recently. But if I were to point them in the direction of any of the FA bloggers that I know about or even read, those friends will be the target audience.

But that’s not the case with my guy friends. It’s not that I don’t think they should be exposed to feminism, but FA is baby steps. Feminism brought me to FA so seeing all this feminist rhetoric mixed in isn’t something that strikes me as at all weird. But anyone coming at FA without feminism (without even being female) is now approaching two concepts. I don’t mean to say that men cannot be feminists, but often their feminism isn’t as active. I know at least one of the friends I mentioned tends to agree with my feminist ideals, but sometimes the idea is new to him. So it isn’t that they now have to both accept gender equality and body acceptance, but they have to actively participate in the dialogue of these ideas, even if it is just by reading.

Not only that, but anyone who hates their body, is dieting, whatever is probably going to be touchy on the subject of their body. And when you mix new concepts with even more new concepts going back to the status quo has a lot of comfort to it. And then there’s seeing a post called “Vagina Friendly; Make Friends With Your Area“. This makes it clear who the target of these entries are, but weight loss commercials often have at least one token man, so they get to be all inclusive! And commercials for muscle building equipment are not only targeted at men, but almost always mention weight loss (and they don’t always pair that voice over with the token woman).

To be fair, The Rotund also has her most recent post (as I’m typing this) titled “What about the Mens; Gender, Gender All the Way Home”, but even that is seeped in feminist ideals. It’s not just Marianne, either. Fatshionista and Kate Harding also mix and alternate between FA and feminism.

I don’t think it’s wrong that FA is mostly targeted at women. I think a lot of points about space and women and feminism and society are all very important ideas to get across to the dieting women out there. And maybe there isn’t as much feminism as I think, after all, that’s who I am and so that’s what I’m gong to find. However, the size issue is not an approach that is even relevant to men. They’re allowed to big, they’re even supposed to be big, they’re just not allowed to be “sideways” as one friend put it.

This post is both an observation and a call for help. I know I mentioned something about not responding to comments at some point way earlier in this blog, but I would really love some now. Word Press is still insisting I get a few hits. Who and/or where can I point my friends the next time they talk about how they feel fat and how they want to lose weight and how eating is totally ruining their diet?

One last thing. I know there are a lot of FA blogs that focus on a lot of feel good self esteem exercises. This is not what I’m looking for. My generation grew up on self esteem building and being special snowflakes and how everyone is wonderful and deserves to be loved. I cannot speak for everyone else, but I know I have witnessed too much disconnect between this kind of discourse and the “real world” to do anything but roll my eyes at these ideas. I know my peer friends have expressed similar sentiments when this kind of topic comes up. Blogs that like statistics are preferable.

Note: I’m at that awkward age where people are no longer “girls and boys” and while technically “men and women” identifying as such is uncomfortable and not quite fitting. So any odd gender nouns in this entry is due to that.

September 14, 2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Class

There are a lot of things I would like to write about right now, but I think the most prominent has to do with my identification as fat. Anyone who has been paying attention to FA or even just the obesity epidemic (the wording of which I’m going to ignore) is that fat is a class issue. Basically the argument is that poor people are fat because they do not have the time, money and/or access to gym memberships and fresh, healthy food. I’m not arguing that this isn’t true. It probably is, but I have no experience and haven’t done the research to really argue that.

See, there’s another side to this. I grew up in a pretty well-off area. While I was relatively poor compared to some of my classmates, they had the kind of houses that rival those on cribs and would be allowed to bring a few friends for a week in Paris for their birthday. So, relative is the key word there. I have access to good, fresh food. I have a gym membership (or maybe two). Thing is, I’m still fat. Or at least, I’m still what I would consider fat.

I’ve mentioned before, when I was in high school, playing fattest person in the room would generally mean me or a handful of other people. I went to a large high school. I can think of about four other fat girls out of my graduating class of hundreds. My idea of fat is different than a lot of people’s idea of fat. The problem is, all but a few media images reaffirmed the idea that the average woman was tall, blonde and thin. I had some sort of idea that the rest of the world wasn’t as blonde as I was experiencing but not about how they weren’t as tall or as thin.

When I got to college I noticed that while I did have a lot of friends who were taller and thinner than me and a few who were fairer there were large masses of short, dark, fat girls running around. I’d sit and people watch and marvel at the body type that represented the average sorority girl. Most were thinner than me, but I didn’t count a lot of them as thin. Maybe the freshman five/ten/fifteen (take your pick) played into this, but I think that wasn’t the case. I think I didn’t make the best social impression because the first two years were spent trying to figure out where my body fell on this spectrum. I’m still not sure, but I care less now.

When I hear things about my size being a small fat or an in-between, I don’t see it that way. I grew up being on the end of a spectrum, not the middle, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to deprogram myself from that. I was able to readjust my mental classification of others when I’m in that environment but put me back where I spent the first seventeen years of my life or ask me to evaluate myself and I’m still going to see things the way I was taught to see them by my environment that was then reinforced by the media. (The media is its whole separate rant.) Further when the idea of people getting fatter is framed in as a socio-economic argument, I’ve found that it is presented that the fat rich person is clearly an inferior human being because (s)he has no excuse.

This is a hard post to write because I do acknowledge that I have a privilege that comes with my family’s socio-economic status. Even in being fat. But the privilege doesn’t extend far enough to make me immune. I don’t want this to sound to FA like the “what about the menz” argument is to feminism. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded, but this is my experience.

July 15, 2010. Tags: , , , . Reflection. Leave a comment.

Bad Day

I’m reluctant to write about today, but I keep reminding myself that the whole point of this blog is to publicly (and I use that term loosly) reconstruct my ideas about weight and body image etc.

Today was the first time I stepped on a scale in five months. It didn’t suck. Five months ago, I weighed less, but six months ago I weighed a lot more. I’m pretty much where I always am, and I’m fine with that.

The problem came when my mother was like “But you’re going to lose weight this summer right?” When I offered her a skirt that didn’t fit me and I don’t particularly like anyway. I said “No.” She said “Why not?” I said “Because I haven’t lost any the last four summers.” And then she offered to take me to an endocrinologist because clearly that means something is wrong with my thyroid*.

She also told me I had gained weight since the last time I was home (not true). To me that “No” was hugely emotionally … something. I’m still not over it and it was an hour ago and she apologised for hurting my feelings. I then did 50 crunches. I don’t know if I’m going to eat dinner tonight. I’m going to start jogging tomorrow with my mother since her apology was “I’m sorry but it isn’t like you can’t fix it with exercise.” Since I’m doing it with her, I want to get it over with ASAP. She might be thin, but she’s not in very good shape.

I’ve done this before. Being the friend someone chooses to go running with because they assume since I’m fatter than they are, I’m in worse shape. At the very least they assume I’m not in better shape. It doesn’t make people feel very good when I am. I wanted to play that time. This time I just want to get this over with. I’ll play your game, I’ll play by your rules, but don’t blame me when you quit because I’m winning.

I know I’m being irrational because I was thinking of doing this anyway (without my mother), but the way this came about does not make me happy.

I don’t know if the “No” is a small step, or a step forward accompanied by several steps back.

*Granted, thyroid problems are not unheard of in my family.

June 3, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Current. 1 comment.

Walking Doesn’t Burn Calories

My mother came to visit me last week and we did the touristy thing. The touristy thing here involves an insane amount of walking (Her: “Do you want to take a cab? Are you sure you don’t want to take a cab?”) and lots of stairs (Her: “So this country doesn’t believe in elevators?”). Also, eating delicious food. Which prompted the following conversation*.

Mother: If I lived here, I would be so fat.
Me: But think of all the walking we’ve done.
Mother: Well, walking doesn’t do anything for me. I mean, I can walk and not burn any calories.

Now, I’m not sure if I managed, but I certainly tried to convince her that walking does actually burn calories. Just like being alive does. Really, everyone needs calories so that our bodies can do their things. I know that I have, in the past, fallen into the train of thought where in order for me to burn more calories than I consume, I need to burn them with exercise. As in, if I decide to DDR for a half hour and burn 300 kcal** and then assume that a relatively inactive day added onto that would only burn 100 additional kcals so I would have to eat under 400 kcals to lose any weight.*** That was just wrong on so many levels. I’ve heard that the old diet advice “If you want to be 120 pounds eat 1200 kcals” is more like “If you are 120 pounds, you need 1200 kcals to function on the most minimal level, and then eat more if you actually plan on moving.”

And I didn’t come up with these ideas in a vacuum. My mother was a large contributor (she’s really a great mother, but still human, which is where this comes in) and she had to have heard these ideas somewhere as well. I’ve heard a lot of what she’s said about weight said elsewhere. So I’m going to try and unpack some of what she said to me this week. This time without any of the quotes.

1. Exercise is not magic. Someone who goes from being fairly sedentary to any level of activity is not going to magically drop the weight s/he always wanted to lose. Especially if this exercise is something like “walking a mile a day”. While the increase in activity will probably**** be beneficial to this person’s health this benefit will not always show up as a lower number on the scale or even a smaller pants size. This goes doubly so for anyone who assumes that an increase in activity is permission to eat what they want. Sure, you don’t need permission to eat what you want. No one does, but if the goal is to be healthy (and/or lose weight*****) exercise is only one component.

2. Eating like a normal person. My mother said something like that and I had no idea what she meant. I don’t even know if she knew what she meant. I don’t know if I know a “normal person”. I certainly couldn’t tell you what s/he eats. There are people of varying heights, weights, metabolic rates, food allergies/intolerances, able-bodyness and activity levels. Probably other things I forgot. Someone who has IBS can’t eat like someone who has no colon who can’t eat like a lactose intolerant athlete who can’t eat like a cubical worker with really fast metabolism who chooses not to eat like a vegan. Any and all of those people can be fat. Or skinny. Or somewhere in the middle. And I still can’t figure out who a normal person.

3. Gaining a pound. Anyone who has ever had an obsession with their scale can tell you that they weigh differently in the morning when they first wake up than they do before they go to bed. Before and after they go to the bathroom. Depending on how much water they drink and food they’ve eaten. If and what clothes they’re wearing. Even the spot in their cycle if they’re female. Or at least I can tell you that due to my few month obsession with a scale (I no longer own). I can also say that my pants size and my weight don’t always correlate as nicely as scale numbers gaining means pants tightening. Sometimes it can mean pants falling off. So I can’t understand why people flip out over a single pound, especially after they mention how much better their clothes are fitting. The disconnect astounds me.

The crazy thing about these three things is that while I can sit here and type the “right answers”, it doesn’t mean that I won’t say, increase my exercise when I get back to my home country and then wonder why I can’t eat like a normal person and freak out about a pound I’ve gained. The disconnect is just as strong in me as it seems to be in the people I talk to. Hopefully just being able to return to here and see that no, I’m not being logical, will be enough. It’s harder to argue with yourself than it is with someone else, I’ve found.

*My memory recall is not so great as for this to be word for word, obviously.
**I’m really good at DDR. Not like, those crazy kids at the arcade good, but good enough not to be totally embarrassed doing DDR in public.
***Pre FA days when I was “dieting”
****I’m not a doctor, I can’t say for sure. And people are individuals and who knows what which exercises might trigger especially if someone’s doing something incorrectly, etc. etc.
*****I like asterisks way too much. Also I know FA is not an advocate of dieting but I’m not going to judge. Also, in the context of my mother, this is her goal.

May 1, 2010. Tags: , , , , . Reflection. Leave a comment.

Run, Fatty, Run.

It’s been said before but it needs repeating until it hits home. Fat shaming does not help the problem. There’s the problem of feeling bad and maybe emotionally eating to the reaction. But there’s also the fact that being fat in public is a shameful thing.

I’m a fairly active person when I’m emotionally healthy (or else I run the risk of not leaving my room/home except for the absolutely needed). I fence, when I’m not fencing, I run. I play DDR. I walk places. I don’t go to gyms. Gyms are scary, scary places. Playing Fattest Person in the Room is hopeless because if I am, oh shit. If I’m not, it doesn’t matter, because I’m sure not the skinniest. I’m in a public space and people judge. The last time I went to a gym, I made a beeline for the elliptical, spent a few minutes trying to figure it out, and then I felt shame. Every time another person got on one of the ellipticals near me I’d try and match their speed if not go faster even though none were on the machine as long as I was, but I had to prove I was better. I had to prove I wasn’t just that pathetic fatty at the gym. In shorts and an oversized t-shirt I was probably the most clothed woman there*, and that was shameful. I felt shame about sweating; I felt shame about being out of breath when I finally stepped off the elliptical one hour and a little over five miles later. I felt shame about never going back, like somehow the people there were going to remember me and think that they never saw me again because I was fat and couldn’t handle it.

I don’t own an elliptical, a treadmill or a stationary bike. So when I want to do cardio I can either DDR or run. Since DDR requires a TV and volume, when someone else might be disturbed by the noise or presence of me flailing in the space with the TV. So, that means running outside. I only run outside in the summer in my neighbourhood and even then I try and do it in the morning, when it’s raining or at night. Obviously there are practical reasons for this like heat. But it’s also because I see fewer people and therefore fewer people see me. I jog at a pretty slow pace. I tend to do about three miles in a half hour, which is about the pace of a powerwalk. To me this is laughably slow and my neighbours are going to look out their windows or pass me while walking their dogs and see me and thing “Run, fatty, run.” And this has stopped me from running (by myself) on my campus because the people who see me might actually interact with me beyond waving and asking how my mother is doing. I might see friends, classmates, TAs, professors and this scares me.

I like swimming too, but hello swimsuit. Enough said there.

This idea of being even more ashamed while exercising probably has something to do with the fact that exercise tends to involve clothes that aren’t always good at covering or flattering. But I think a big part has more to do with the fact that there’s so much pressure. In a public space, if I can’t run as fast or as far as another person, I feel like I just let down all the fit fat people by reaffirming someone else’s expectations. I also feel like people are judging me more. This might be because I’m already uncomfortable or the fact that I don’t make sense. I’m in “deceptively good shape” in that my shape is deceptive, in that I’m more fit than one would guess by looking. And maybe that unsettles people by bucking at things they thought they knew. I don’t know.

I do know that when I’m confident, I don’t mind the stares as much. When I fence and I beat someone and they’re surprised, I feel more triumphant. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m confident in fencing that I’m able to do it so boldly in public. I have had this body since I’ve started fencing (give or take) and I wasn’t always confident. I think part of it has to do with the fact that to me it’s not exercise. It’s not something I do because I feel like I have to. It’s something I want to do. I have to think on this more.

*There was a girl who later came in wearing a t-shirt and capri-cut yoga pants. She was heavier than me.

April 6, 2010. Tags: , , . Reflection. Leave a comment.

By the way. . .

Once upon a time, not too long ago*, my flatmate had a birthday and invitations included those of us who lived in said apartment, as well as some people we didn’t know. We went to a restaurant. I wasn’t enchanted with the menu and ended up ordering an appetiser for dinner. I do that a lot, I’m pickier than I’d like to admit, but that’s okay. I also had water to drink. I wish I were one of those people who were concerned about her weight and drinks soda, but I’m not, so I have nothing so simple to cut out.

The birthday girl and her out-of-town friends split a giant appetiser platter four ways plus one more appetiser. They also ordered a main course. I have no issue with any of this. Instead of getting dessert there, we went to Cold Stone.

At Cold Stone I decided that, you know what, I’m going to go for a small with one mix-in and a dipped waffle bowl ’cause I never do the waffle bowl (and when I do, I remember that it’s because I need to do a mix-in OR a waffle bowl or it’s too much). Other, non-birthday flatmate decided to down like, six lactaids** and get a medium signature. Two of the out-of-town friends split a small with one mix-in.

Now, I know probably no one cares exactly what I or anyone else ate that night, but this is where it starts to matter. One of the skinny, out of town, ice cream-splitting friends comes over to me and other flatmate and says something like “Wow,you guys are so brave, I could never eat that much ice cream.” But everything but the words themselves said “No wonder you guys are so fat.” I want to make it clear that other flatmate has a really good shape, but still the kind a bitchy, very slim person can feel smug about not being.

Other flatmate laughed it off and said something like “I figured if I was going to take a lactaide anyway I might as well make it worth it.” I don’t know if she heard the translation. I think she must have, but I hope she didn’t. And she handled it without blinking. I, on the other hand smiled fakely and said in the same tone of voice “Well, it’s not like I do this often.” As a retort it wasn’t much, but I didn’t want to offend birthday flatmate and I wanted skinny, out of town, ice cream splitting girl to know, yes, I heard what she said.

Now, normally I’d be mildly off-put about something like this because bitch, you can’t tell me why I’m fat just from one ice cream outing. And no selective evidence by ignoring what I ate at dinner. And I wonder why I usually don’t eat in front of people I barely know. But this bothered me for a whole lot more reasons. First of all, other flatmate. She’s awesome and she doesn’t have a body worth fat shaming. Genetics also dealt her a terrible hand; if anyone can say “back off, you don’t know what you’re talking about” it’s her. Secondly, birthday flatmate. Birthday flatmate also struggles with her weight. Now, there’s been psych (anthro?) studies that say groups of friends have a very narrow range of attractiveness. I feel like this sometimes applies to weight as well and in my head I call it “fat flocking”. But I feel like skinny-bitch’s remarks was based on at least one of the following 1. She couldn’t put down birthday flatmate because it being her birthday 2. She was indirectly putting down birthday flatmate by calling us, her friends, fat overeaters or 3. She is so insecure about her own (slim and pretty) body that she needs to assert she’s in fact better than someone. It could have been all three. I have a hard time accepting meanness as a cover for insecurity though, without any other signs. Mean is easy and mean can be powerful. I know mean is not always a cover.

So basically, I’m retroactively saying “Bitch, shut up and mind your own business.” I’m also saying that simple comments like that aren’t always simple. They stick. And it hurts. Not just the judgement but the fact that she’s probably forgotten by now and I will carry it with me for a long time.

*It took a lot of will power not to bust out into “99 Problems”
**I have no idea how to spell the lactose-intolerant helper pills.

February 23, 2010. Tags: , . Reflection. Leave a comment.