Monday, May 7, 2012

From "A Weight That Women Carry"--by Sallie Tisdale

From an essay from a book I'm reading.  I wish I could type the whole thing out, but that would take so long/might infringe on some copyright rules?  Just a selection that resonated with me.  Maybe it will resonate with you.

For ages humans believed that the body helped create the personality, from the humors of Galen to W.H. Sheldon's somatotypes.  Sheldon distinguished among three templates--endomorph, mesomorph, and ectomorph--and combined them into hundreds of variations with physical, emotional, and psychological characteristics.  When I read about weight now, I see the potent shift in the last few decades: The modern culture of dieting is based on the idea that the personality creates the body.  Our size must be in some way voluntary, or else it wouldn't be subject to change.  A lot of my misery over my weight wasn't about how I looked at all.  I was miserable because I believed I was bad, not my body. 


Fat is perceived as an act rather than a thing.  It is antisocial, and curable through the application of social controls.  Even the feminist revisions of dieting, so powerful in themselves, pick up the theme: the hungry, empty heart; the woman seeking release from sexual assault, or the man from the loss of the mother, through food and fat.  Fat is now a symbol not of the personality but of the soul--the cluttered, neurotic, immature soul.  


Fat people eat for "mere gratification," I read, as though no one else does.  Their weight is intentioned, they simply eat "too much," their flesh is lazy flesh.  Whenever I went on a diet, eating became cheating.  One pretzel was cheating.  Two apples instead of one was cheating--a large potato instead of a small, carrots instead of broccoli.  It didn't matter which diet I was on; diets have failure built in, failure is in the definition.  Every substitution--even carrots for broccoli--was a triumph of desire over will.  When I dieted, I didn't feel pious just for sticking to the rules.  I felt condemned for the act of eating itself, as though my hunger were never normal.  My penance was to not eat at all.  


My attitude toward food became quite corrupt.  I came, in fact, to subconsciously believe food itself was corrupt.  Diet books often distinguish between "real" and "unreal" hunger, so that correct eating is hollowed out, unemotional.  A friend of mine who thinks of herself as a compulsive eater says she feels bad only when she eats for pleasure.  "Why?" I ask, and she says "Because I'm eating food I don't need." A few years ago I might have admired that.  Now I try to imagine a world where we eat only food we need, and it seems inhuman.  I imagine a world devoid of holidays and wedding feasts, wakes and reunions, a unique shared joy.  "What's wrong with eating a cookie because you like cookies?" I ask her, and she hasn't got an answer.  These aren't rational beliefs any more than the unnecessary pleasure of ice cream is rational.  Dieting presumes pleasure to be an insignificant, or at least malleable, human motive...


...Recently I was talking with a friend who is naturally slender about a mutual acquaintance who is quite large.  To my surprise my friend reproached this woman because she had seen her eating a cookie at lunchtime.  "How is she going to lose weight that way?" my friend wondered.  When you are as fat as our acquaintance is, you are primarily, fundamentally, seen as fat.  It is your essential characteristic.  There are so many presumptions in my friend's casual, cruel remark.  She assumes that this woman should diet all the time--and that she can.  She pronounces whole categories of food to be denied her.  She sees her unwillingness to behave in this extremely prescribed way, even for a moment, as an act of rebellion.  In his story "A Hunger Artist," Kafka writes that the guards of fasting men were "usually butchers, strangely enough." Not so strange, I think.  


I know that the world, even if it views me as overweight (and I'm not sure it really does", clearly makes a distinction between me and this very big woman.  I would rather stand with her and not against her, see her for all she is besides fat.  But I know our experiences aren't the same.  My thin friend assumes my fat friend is unhappy because she is fat: Therefore, if she loses weight she will be happy.  My fat friend has a happy marriage and family and a good career, but insofar as her weight is a source of misery, I think she would be much happier if she could eat her cookie in peace, if people would shut up and leave her weight alone.  But the world never lets up when you are her size; she cannot walk to the bank without risking insult.  Her fat is seen as perverse bad manners.  I have no doubt she would be rid of the fat if she could be.  If my left-handedness invited the criticism her weight does, I would want to cut that hand off... 


...American culture, which has produced our dieting mania, does more than reward privation and acquisition at the same time: It actually associates them with each other.  Read the ads: The virtuous runner's reward is a new pair of $180 running shoes.  The fat person is thought to be impulsive, indulgent, but insufficiently or incorrectly greedy, greedy for the wrong thing.  The fat person lacks ambition.  The young executive is complimented for being "hungry"; he is "starved for success."  We are teased with what we will have if we are willing to have not for a time.  A dieting friend, avoiding the food on my table, says, "I'm just dying for a bite of that."  


Dieters are the perfect consumers: They never get enough.  The dieter wistfully imagines food without substance, food that is not food, that begs the definition of food, because food is the problem.  Even the ways we don't eat are based in class.  The middle class don't eat in support groups.  The poor can't afford to eat at all.  The rich hire someone to not eat with them in private.  Dieting is an emblem of capitalism.  It has a venal heart...


...Finally I realized I didn't just hate the diet.  I was sick of the way I acted on a diet, the way I whined, my niggardly, penny-pinching behavior.  What I liked in myself seemed to shrivel and disappear when I dieted.  Slowly, slowly I saw these things.  I saw that my pain was cut from whole cloth, imaginary, my own invention.  I saw how much time I'd spent on something ephemeral, something that simply simply wasn't important, didn't matter.  I saw that the real point of dieting is dieting--to not be done with it, ever.  

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