Friday, January 18, 2008

fat and unfit: the paradox of online honesty

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.


Shells said...

Yes, I agree that the 'Other' is always acknowledged. As Stuart Hall argues, identification of the self is composed "across the silences of the other as written in and through ambivalence and desire." Ahhh...ambivalence, the answer to all of life's questions ;)

Shells said...

Okay, your blog really has me thinking, (damn you) and I wanted to add to, amend my comment. Although Hall was talking about race, I think this could easily be applied to the construction of fat/thin, young/old, etc. I think Hall correctly points out that the “structure of identification is always constructed through ambivalence. Always constructed through splitting. Splitting between that which one is, and that which is the other. The attempt to expel the other to the other side of the universe is always compounded by the relationships of love and desire."

Our fixation with fatness, then, may be about DESIRE. It may be about society telling us (ad nauseum) to be thin, to go without, to starve our bodies. Fat represents for some (maybe) the forbidden body and is the embodiment of the fulfillment of forbidden desires. But to desire fatness is to desire the forbidden and so we are compelled to hate it just by virtue of our forbidden desire for it.

Also, if we are drawing on critical race theories, (as I'm obviously insisting we do), Robert Young tells us that an insistence on the fixity of whiteness was "designed to mask its uncertainty, its sense of being estranged from itself, sick with desire for the other." Whiteness was constructed as fixed and stable, precisely because it was so uncertain. So, maybe our need to fixate on the normalcy of thin is really only designed to mask not only our desire to have/be fat, but to cover up the fact that thin isn't really so 'normal' either, but is just privileged and thus needs to be invested in.

Food for thought? Ignore at will.

jacks said...

this is beautiful and VERY fruitful. i have long thought that much fat phobia centres around our desire to stop chasing after thinness and exist as other, that is, as fat. various friends and loved ones in my life have acknowledged extreme fat phobia to me in shameful secret. in these shameful confessional sessions, and not realizing the resonances for wider society, i theorized (most likely from personal experience) that they were/are - envious of others' ability to "let themselves go" while they worked SO HARD at their hard bodies (out of their own anxieties, stresses, pressures and fears). thank you for reminding me of this and putting it in the beautiful language you have. you have given me an absolutely WONDERFUL place to begin my chapter and i am indebted to your brilliance. always.