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skinny-fat-phobiai stole the title for this post from a post i did about a year ago at this time because i think it is awesome to cite myself and such. in a reflective (reflexive?) move, i am going to flirt with blogging more. of course, i say that at the tail end of a christmas vacation going a bit stale, hence the question mark. i can only produce  so much and with the teaching and the finishing of the dissertation, i might be busier than i think (that was a question. i think). other things i am currently doing that are bonkers (and possibly the result of the massive amount i have eaten over the past 2 weeks. well, more than that. but stop monitoring me forgodsake!):

  1. twittering. well. i haven’t twittered yet. but i have signed up (under the username beefjacky) and i’m gonna.
  2. sending xmas presents AFTER xmas. sorry ma, pa, and well…everyone else.
  3. watching many, many hours of corner gas. that’s t-bone’s fault. saskatchewan-lovin’ bastard that he is.
  4. not exercising. this doesn’t sound badass but it is. i get a little squirrely when i don’t exercise. like all coopy. and jack nicholson-y in the shining.

but anyhoo. in service of upping the blog ante, i am going to talk about my new favourite topic. which of course is fat. which means it isn’t really a departure. but i have already done a bunch of bonkers things (see above) and i gotta ease into blogging more (which is the goal) and what this “new blog” will look like (probably just more stuff about how much jacks loves jacks. another favourite topic).

i think in the liminal days between vacation and real life/work people take stock of all that they have overdone, be it eating, spending money, or spending time with relatives who make you feel good about yourself (if you were brought up in some kind of brady bunch scenario) or bad about yourself (if you are like everybody else). i’ve never had family members say anything about my weight but i come from a long line of people who pay attention. and then talk about what they noticed. not gossips per say. just really observant folk. i say all this because i have been thinking a lot about the shame associated with fatness. even oprah will be talking about her embarassment over her (re)weight gain in upcoming january shows. and it makes me sad. how hard it is for women to be in their own skin.

i often think back to how when i gained 30 pounds because of the dreaded freshman fifteen (which doubled for me probably because i have never been able to do math). and how no one mentioned it. how people must have been talking about it behind my back, but no one broached it, unless i did first. okay, so 30lbs isn’t that much you say. but it was noticeable. and i wonder why no one said anything. fatness is a peculiarly gendered phenomenon. where women are encouraged to notice weight on one another. yet not speak of it for fear of causing someone shame. i am not trying to say that someone should have talked to me and “saved” me from my weight gain. but i kinda felt like i had no one to talk to about it. like i was differently embodied (than i had been), with no where to turn. i managed to internalize notions of disgust and sheer intolerance for my extra 30 pounds, considering the kind of fat phobic culture that surrounded me (and by this, i mean the kind of fat phobic culture i think we are all complicitous in and aware of without necessary knowing the harm it causes. and the bodies it punishes). my point is, women – in their complex cooperative-but-competitive relation – support one another until it comes to weight. then it’s every woman for herself. or the unspoken self-esteem-crushing complicity of categorizing our flaws for one another. damaging ourselves for the purposes of relatability. i did it for years. and now that causes me shame.

we have a hard time acknowleding fat. talking about it like it really matters. like it really affects our lives. maybe it is inappropriate for a “thin woman” (so many problems with this determination, not least its relativity) to speak about fat like it matters. maybe that is why it remains unspoken. like if we don’t talk openly about fat oppression, we just get to live in privileged silence. silence that breeds silence to your face. and rebuke behind your back.

so let’s talk fat. whaddoyou gotta say?


so, i went to cincinnati (previously called porkopolis, swears). and it didn’t suck. like. at. all. in fact, it was pretty friggin’ fabulous. and leonard nimoy had a little bit to do with it. i know, wtf is that all about? but let me ‘splain.

i went to the annual north central sociological association’s conference between March 27 and 30. it encompassed a large swath of sociological topics but i was presenting on a fat studies panel. i presented a paper about fat phobia and authenticity in online dating. it was cool.

let me just say that this was my first foray into the fat studies world and hot damn, it was a good one. i have come to realize recently, cause apparently i am a little daft, that conferences are about meeting fabulous people and getting amazing ideas rather than about the “presenting” itself. however, my presentation went well – especially after my last non-academic conferencing debacle (please see here for more information on that little ditty). so after spending seven hours at chicago’s o’hare due to weather and wiring difficulties, i landed in cincinnati (and got into a cab with a brand new driver that didn’t even know which state we were in. after moving to the front seat, typing things for him into his cheap-ass gps, and still getting lost down a closed-off unlit road in the middle of an electrical storm, i ask him to take me back to the airport. which he did promptly after the third time i yelled it at him. up until that point he was assuring me that he knew where he was going. um, no ya don’t dude. please stop taking my life in your hands).

cincinnati, aka porkopolis, did not actually suck – i mean the downtown was nice, had trendy delicious places to eat, and i even got an up-close-and-personal fireworks show right outside my hotel window due to some kind of marathon happening on the day that i left. but wait, i haven’t gotten to nimoy yet. but i’m gettin’ there. so after some not so spectacular presentations, except one ethnographic methodological paper about “gravers,” that is, those people who gather at the graves of famous dead people as ritualistic secularized pseudo-religious activity, i finally stumbled upon the critical crew, on day two, at my panel. these people were wicked cool and i just happened to be rooming with one of them as well – a highly articulate, inspiring, and inspired woman of only 22. i wish i had been all of those things at 22. at 22 i was tanning too much, drinking too much, going to the gym too much, and dyeing my hair too much. ah, to return to the heady days of painfully “healthy” eating, overtanning, and binge-drinking. wait – that is still my life sans the healthy eating and overtanning. forget it. i don’t wanna talk about my 20s anymore.

so speaking of food and weight (how is that for a terribly disjointed segue?), i must say that i was absolutely thrilled and enlightened by what i learned about fat studies and the people that constitute it at the conference. SUCH interesting people with a refreshing view on life who ingeniously meld my interests in sexuality, gender, various “technologies,” and my new obsession with fat. basically, i have a big fat studies crush and i’m makin’ no apologies.

alright. so leonard nimoy. i am not going to tell you about how when i was a teenager i had a life-sized poster of him on the back of my bedroom door, or about how i had a star trek insignia pin that i actually wore. no, this post is not about my teenage crush on pointy-eared-blue-eye-shadow-wearing leonard nimoy, okay? it is about how he has recently completed a photography book of nude fat women – a sample of which graces the top of this post. had i heard about nimoy’s project – entitled the full body project – and his explanations of his motivations for it (found here in his artist’s statement) – i would have been surprised and pleased, and no doubt, i still am. this is a man who is channeling his creative energy into chronicling the lives of women in the fat liberation movement and to convey the respect these women feel for themselves to others. what i learned at the conference from my fellow panelist, and i think is profoundly interesting to note, is that his decision to capture the images of fat naked women positioned him as a “fat admirer” or “chubby chaser” when he was interviewed by the media. nimoy took a staunch position against taking these pictures as part of a possible sexual “fetish” which disheartened me at first. however, thinking about it further, i have reckoned that what is f*cked up is not his disavowal of the sexual “fetishization” of fat women by saying that he thinks these women are beautiful and worthy of immortalization through film, but that the interviewers were trying to construct what he is doing as “abnormal.” that is, unless of course he is “abnormal” by wanting to get with that in which case it’s normal. messed, eh?

anyhoo – i encourage you to look at nimoy’s project and let me know what you think. i’m going to go back to daydreaming about porkopolis and my reinvigorated fat studies crush.

i have been marinating a paper that i plan to submit as a chapter in a upcoming book on matchmaking practices in the 21st century. but, as you well know, i am inordinately obsessed with fat of late. it is all i can see. think about. write about. this fact has been exacerbated by the new year’s new you weight-loss resolution advertising and the general cultural obsession with fat on any given sunday. i have been reading about what it means for fat women to inhabit socio-culturally constructed “unfit” bodies and hear how their narratives are imbued with pain, rejection, and despair. it seems that fat sucks. yet it is part of life that non-normative bodies exist. and these women prevail despite slurs and fear-mongering. despite rejection and abjection. they survive.

all things considered, this chapter has to be about how the visuality of fat further mediates the online dating process. seeing fat. inspecting for jiggly bits. coming to terms with disordered BMIs. this is part and parcel of the process for men. they assume the responsibility of policing the bodily boundaries of the women they consider potential dates. they visually inspect. evaluate. decide. but this is not to say that women are agency-less in the expression and inhabitation of their larger-sized selves. the fact remains that women, even in their individual understandings of their embodied appraisals by others, do not hesitate to be who they are. they do not hide in shame, nor “inauthenticate” their profiles. they are upfront and above all else, honest. can we say the same of men who reject, deny, and displace based on a hip-to-waist ratios? not that this is a judgment. rather, it is an analysis. of what matters in matters of online love.

one central paradox that continuously puzzles me is how normalizing discourses elide the actuality of differently-sized individuals. similar to the certainty we feel about fundamental, genetic, inherent differences between men and women, we as cultural producers seem to think that denial of differently positioned bodies is appropriate. that by holding on to ideals of thin fitness, we can compel them. will them. through sheer shame alone. one of the very basic ideas i continuously try to present to my students is that critical sociology provides us with ways of thinking that allow for alternate discourses to be heard. that allow us to reject, or at least critique, discourses of oppression. one such discourse, pervasive in contemporary Canadian society, is the obesity morality tale. the individualizing, isolating, shaming discourse of “it is all your fault.”

so perhaps i’m wrong. perhaps it is not such a paradox after all. non-normative bodies are acknowledged.

if only to say, its thinness or death.

i was going to title this post as the next in my sequential ordering of “bad blogger” posts but i’m too full. i think i am on a tryptophantastic high. anyhoo – i’m a bad blogger because i was under the impression that bloggers take christmas holidays. but i was wrong. all the blogs on my blogroll have faithfully and miraculously replenished themselves with the same insightful, witty, and creative stuff of always. so you heard it here first folks: bloggers don’t get a holiday. armed with this knowledge, i too will try, high on turkey and massive quantities of carbohydrates (including my grandmother’s kick ass stuffing which i am proud to say i can adequately approximate), attempt to write something. insightful. creative. witty. jeesh.

holidays make me think of food. which is obvious if you take into account that i stuffed myself like a christmas turkey moments before realizing my requisite duty to my dear, dear blog. also, this past christmas eve, i watched the new version of hairspray (and btw, wasn’t there an old version with ricky lake? did i dream this? is this the turkey talking? help me out here folks). the film is about difference and accepting difference (exemplified in the themes of life-as-a-fat-girl who wants to be famous and a racially segregated baltimore seeking integration through the vehicle of a local television show aptly named the corny colin show or something equally retro-tastic). this intersection of holiday feasting and fat phobia apparent in the film resonated compellingly as i think about what is ahead for many this new year. that’s right folks. exercise. dieting. the quest, as one gym i saw today advertised, for the “new you” this new year.

i, of course, pig out on holidays. take a break from everything. including worrying about how big my thighs are or how flappy the skin under my arms is when i wave (chicken wings i believe they are called). and i guess we all do. it is why we have holidays – to take a break from the always and everything of worry. plowing ahead. getting through the day. and perhaps this is why we panic when the new year hits. not only were we dissatisfied with our bodies in the everyday but then we went ahead and ate. and ate. and ate. (now i am making myself slightly hungry thinking about all the chocolate under the tree. i know. i’m full and still frothing at the mouth for dark chocolate. i never said i was strong. or not disgusting. or well-disciplined). getting back to the everyday means allowing those voices to once again control us. mentally measure our thighs. watch the flaps of skin flail.

what i was most astonished by watching hairspray was not how distracting john travolta was as a woman or the fact that christopher walken can still move like he did in his deer hunter days. nope. it was the fact that a young woman was portrayed who was strong. uninhibited. proud. talented. and fat. this is an image we never see. isn’t available. does not exist in hollywood. but there she was. beautiful and bold. never once wincing at the slights, the insults, the discrimination against her fat that the movie depicted with hilariously horrifying (a expert john waters technique) clarity.

i don’t want to get into a conversation about how the media does this to us. to women. and increasingly to men. because it is not enough. to think we are put upon. agency-less. void. but i do want to encourage thinking about difference as a way of experiencing the world. we can worry about our “new selves” – which are just copies of what is ultimately similar (that is, youthful, thin, fit, active, well-adjusted, happy – the list goes on. and on. and on) – as something beyond the confines of our embodiment and the narrow ways we have to inhabit those bodies. rather our “new selves” can be defined by different categories. and we can perhaps realize, much to our surprise and decreasing worry, that our “old selves” are increasingly habitable. because difference exists. no matter how hard we try to stamp it out with resolutions. to encourage our bodies to be something other. ultimately, and unlikely, similar.

and perhaps a smidge less fabulous.

now where did i put that chocolate…

i’ve been thinking a lot about fat lately. not in the “i want to lose five pounds” kinda way but more in the “fat phobia is a pervasive theme in my research that i eventually have to turn into a dissertation” kinda way. i have never thought so much about fat. other people’s, my own, my cats’. i had an msn conversation yesterday with my friend A. who lives in far off korea at the moment and we discussed, well, what else? fat. we discussed how fat is that last bastion of overt oppression. where one can say discriminatory things about another’s weight in a group and not be reprimanded because that person just happens to be fat. as though it is a moral weakness. an all too obvious display of livin’ the good life.

fat phobia seems to represent a number of different things. it is reviled as a blatant example of being being off the mark of some kind of ideal, some kind of normative standard. yet the phobia produced and displayed is much more visceral than simply the result of some kind of non-conformity or failure to fit into an ideal (which A. and I also problematized for being too simplistic – is there but one ideal? how can we all live within our awkwardness, our large feet and noses, our stretch marks and pocked faces if we are all striving toward one, someone’s, version of what’s id/r/eal). no. fat phobia is about fear. it is born from within and spit out like venom in hopes it will shield us. protect us. from that which is other. out there. in its largesse.

i have become enchanted by this blog here called the 101 Reasons I Hate Being Fat. it is an introspective and honest account of living with fat in a culture of fear and loathing around fat. similarly, i watched an episode of oprah who paraded individuals who had lost massive amount of fat about for her ew-ing and ah-ing audience. such an achievement that we even had to see a man pull the skin that formerly stretched over his large stomach from inside the very large pants he used to wear. interesting.

i don’t have any answers as yet (not with regard to my own work anyway) but one notion keeps occurring to me. fat phobia, like other phobias, or fears based around difference from sameness, is just that: about difference. it seems to me that in a society that greets/treats difference as subversion, fat fits the bill. because overweight people (according to medicalized discourses of proper BMIs, that is) are targeted as “different,” they must pay the price. become marginalized. stigmatized. fat is less about health in these instances than about rightness. moral turpitude. fiber.

fat simply isn’t (th)in.