Saturday, December 1, 2007

the largesse of fat phobia

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.


Chaos said...

I would like to respectfully agree and disagree. I agree that our obsession with fat is pervasive. We disapprove and discipline those who are 'overweight' in so many ways that it can scarcely be called anything else except fear. (though I have been reading about the distinctions between fear and anxiety and it may be an interesting trek theoretically for you to take?)
My disagreement, though I haven't really thought it through fully, is around your contention that fat phobia is about 'difference' and 'sameness.' These binaries, I think, hide something that I find most compelling; that even those who arefat fear, ridicule and disapprove of those who are likewise fat. Maybe even more so, sometimes. In a society where the 'average' is increasing in size, the 'norm' of thin is not 'normal' at all. Who is the 'same' and who is 'different'? Just food for chaotic thought ;)

jacks said...

Chaos - I desperately love your respectful disagreement. I, too, began thinking about my "difference in sameness" idea. I fear I might just have written it because it sounded good. ;) You make an excellent point though and it encourages me to a) think about degrees of fear, anxiety, and phobia, and b) problematize the notion of not only the ideal, but also ideas of normalized thinness. Thank you, thank you.