Tell Me I'm Fat
June 21, 2016 11:00 PM   Subscribe

The way people talk about being fat is shifting. With one-third of Americans classified as overweight, and another third as obese, and almost none of us losing weight and keeping it off. Three different perspectives on being a fat woman in the USA. Coming to terms with being fat, fighting what seems to be a loosing battle and the in between.
posted by Belle O'Cosity (87 comments total) 61 users marked this as a favorite
 
This was a very good episode of TAL — the part about the semi-feud with Dan Savage was really interesting, because it laid bare pretty effectively the similarities between the kinds of bullroar that she has to put up with and the kinds that gay people have to put up with, and I frankly found it pretty disappointing that Savage (whom I generally respect as a writer) decided that the right choice was to dig in his heels and play Love The Sinner Hate The Sin.

Also: FanFare thread.
posted by DoctorFedora at 11:12 PM on June 21, 2016 [13 favorites]


Mod note: One deleted. Hey, folks, this is a pretty long podcast that looks at various viewpoints and covers a lot of ground. If you really don't want to listen to it all, you can read the transcript. But let's avoid leaping in to repeat the same stuff that's been said over and over and over in every weight-related thread over the last 16 years. We can take it as given that some of you are concerned about enabling, some have managed to lose weight and feel strongly that others can do it too if they just try, and also "calories in, calories out," and skip forward to discussion about the actual linked interviews. Thanks.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:07 AM on June 22, 2016 [123 favorites]


A loosing battle is the one I play with my belt each morning. I'm here all week!
posted by parmanparman at 12:50 AM on June 22, 2016 [14 favorites]


This is a really good TAL, not least because it calls into question a lot of assumptions.
(Read the fanfare thread).
The middle section about the woman who takes speed to stay thin was the most profound as her actions were at times in conflict with who she believes herself to really be. And what she went through to become this 'other', 'better' person are kinda sorta downright harrowing. It's an intense portrait of how we think of ourselves, who we think we 'really' are, who we should in fact be - and what all this chaos can lead to. (I so, so hope she can work it out with her husband.)
posted by From Bklyn at 2:37 AM on June 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


For me one of the weirdest but most telling incidents about being a Gentleman of Girth wasn't even about me, but about my cats.

My cats are big, top end of the breed standards and built like a college athlete. Just muscles all over. I was talking to one of my friends about how they were doing and this guy just barged into the conversation.

"Those cats weigh too much."
"The vet says they're fine, maybe even a little underweight given how muscular they are."
"She doesn't know what she's talking about."
"She went to one of the best vet schools in the country and has been in practice for over a decade."
"Yeah, well, cats shouldn't be that big. You should stop feeding them so many treats."
"What treats?"
"You know, all those treats you feed them I'm just worried about the cats. It's basically animal abuse over feeding them."
"No, seriously, what treats? I just took ten different types of treats they won't eat to the rescue. I'd LOVE to have a treat they'll eat so I could train them."

And we went round and round with him getting increasingly irate. The short version is pretty much he'd naturally overheard and thought "aww, those poor kitties, fatty can't control himself and now they're going to suffer".

Like oh, great, thank you for pre-emptively shaming my cats.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 3:58 AM on June 22, 2016 [94 favorites]


I thought this episode was illuminating. I have read a good deal here on Metafilter in some of those contensious threads referred to above and have learned a lot over the years. As someone who is not fat and who knows almost no one who is fat, let alone someone who is morbidly obese, these are perspectives I need to hear. Someone very close to me is very disparaging of fat people and I've had little luck challenging them on their attitudes in the past. I immediately sent them this podcast, they listened to it and we had some good conversation afterward. I think it will have a lasting effect, at least for that person. Lindy West is so engaging, and the back and forth with Savage helped my friend to see things in a different light. They came out understanding that we could talk about health issues or poor eating habits, but equating fat to some kind of moral failing was ridiculous.

The other thing that I really liked about the episode was that it showed that there was no one way to experience being fat. This is something I take for granted about being a woman, or queer or even when thinking about gender. I know that how we experience these things is largely constructed and I suppose I knew it about size as well to a certain degree, but this was a good reminder.
posted by Cuke at 5:12 AM on June 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


Listened to this last night and thought the whole thing, and the Elna Baker segment in particular, was really powerful. Someone very close to me lost over 250 pounds thanks to gastric bypass surgery and it literally changed her life. But she was (and is) unwilling to have the follow-up surgeries to remove the excess fat, even though she finds carrying that extra weight to be humiliating and uncomfortable. She had heard that the surgery and recovery was unbelievably painful, and I never questioned that. But I had no idea to what degree "unbelievably painful" can encompass. There's just no winning.

We're so used to hearing weight loss success stories that end in triumph and bikini shots. Our whole culture seems built around the myth that if you want it enough, and work hard enough, you can achieve the impossible body you're 'supposed' to have in the first place. When the truth seems to be that even the best case scenarios are rarely a triumph (previously), and almost always an ongoing struggle. It's a story that needs to be told. And at the same time, I listen to Baker saying she's still taking phentermine so she can keep her life (and possibly her husband and career(!)) and I don't know which feeling is uppermost for me - aching for her struggle, or wanting to know where she gets it, because despite everything (and there's a lot of everything to despite), at least it the rare something that works.
posted by Mchelly at 5:44 AM on June 22, 2016 [11 favorites]


I stopped listening to This American Life a few years ago because it was starting to sound the same to me, every episode. But the transcript of this show was compelling and really interesting.

The second story was complicated and powerful, and I hope that someday she writes some kind of followup because it seems like she is having so much reevaluation and reflection about all of this, and is unsure how to respond.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:50 AM on June 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I pray for a world where Lindy West can some day lay down her arms and return to her early style of lighthearted snark.

Not gonna happen, but we all have our ponies.
posted by whuppy at 6:02 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


Every now and then, I mention to somebody that as many wonderful things as Dan Savage has done -- and there are plenty -- I would never take his advice seriously about anything, ever, in my own life. And very often, people are completely shocked, because they've never seen, or never chosen to notice, these ugly pockets of cruelty and contempt for other people that regrettably live right next door to all his compassion for those he considers deserving. This has always been there; I have always been aware of it. This is just the first serious attention I've seen given to this side of him. It's always been pretty clear to me that he essentially thinks it's inconsiderate for me to walk the earth in other people's line of sight, so.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 6:03 AM on June 22, 2016 [128 favorites]


Phentermine use is not the only way people lose weight and keep it off. That story is powerful and important, but it isn't the only story and is not (despite the TAL framing) somehow "more" representative of "the truth" (any more than the study linked in the "previously" is). Phentermine is something Elna Baker takes. I'm sad and sorry that she feels compelled to, and more sad that she believes love is contingent on controlling her body in this (unnecessary) way. I too hope she and her husband work it out.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:07 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Lindy West's book Shrill, as I have said elsewhere around here, is a tour de force. It is a terrific book: hilarious, touching, provocative, smart. I could not stop reading it, and I went from laughing out loud to literally teary-eyed multiple times.

I was a little disappointed in this episode, especially putting Lindy's radical ideas that you don't have to be miserable if you're fat right before Elna Baker's long story about how she was miserable when she was fat and things are so much better now. It undermined Lindy's point, which is the far fresher and more radical one.
posted by purpleclover at 6:12 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Dan Savage just pushed all my rage buttons there. I actually don't think it's entirely healthy for me to feel as angry at someone as I feel towards Dan Savage right now, so I'm going to try for a while not to think about what an asshole he is on some issues.

I really appreciated that they included Roxane Gay, both because I think it's really important to realize that there is intersectionality at play here and because one of my own struggles has been to understand and support the perspectives of people who don't adhere to the tenets of body acceptance, HAES, and other body-related movements that have helped me.
right before Elna Baker's long story about how she was miserable when she was fat and things are so much better now
Wow did I not think that was the point of Elna Baker's story.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:15 AM on June 22, 2016 [34 favorites]


Wow did I not think that was the point of Elna Baker's story.

You're right; I was being snarky. (I considered using the edit window for evil after posting, actually.)

Baker's story was spooky, contradictory. Compelling! She got to her current body in a very unpleasant way. But she never wavered from her idea that she could not build a worthwhile life while she was fat. Lindy's insistence that she be allowed to do that — build an admirable and worthwhile life, even with her fat body — blew my mind. (Sounds like it blew Baker's mind too, but not enough for her to change her beliefs about herself.)
posted by purpleclover at 6:19 AM on June 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


What struck me while reading the transcript was how much I identified. For myself and many of my friends, that image of being "super morbidly obese" is actually part of our identity even if we are only ten, or twenty, or thirty pounds overweight.

It's not as new a phenomenon as you might think it is; my grandmother worried about her weight all her life, even though she was only overweight for the time. My mother, with Parkinson's that made it impossible for her to eat and a body distorted into an improbable shape by the disease, took great pride toward the end of her days that she weighed only 129 pounds as a result. My daughter won't let me talk about food or diet because it feeds into her body image issues. And I, who have spent my entire life working on accepting myself and, as Lindy says, changing the way I think, still have the thought at least several times a day that this is the day it's going to change.

I wish it was as easy as "Want to change the way you see fat people? Try it." That reminds me of what Hamlet says, "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison."
posted by Peach at 6:19 AM on June 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


But she never wavered from her idea that she could not build a worthwhile life while she was fat.
That's not true at all. From the transcript:
Recently I read Lindy West's book. She's my same age. We both grew up in Seattle. We're the same height and used to be the same weight. And she stayed fat and decided she was happy with it. She got everything I thought I had to lose over 100 pounds to get.

Sarai Walker's book Dietland hit me just as hard. I related more to those books than any I've ever read. In each of them, a fat woman grappled with the same things I did and made the opposite choice. They stayed fat. And reading these two books was the first time I was able to imagine a parallel universe where I could have stayed fat.

For the first time, I wondered if I had done the right thing by killing off old Elna. I've been honestly in a bit of a crisis.
And then she plays that upsetting conversation with her husband, which you could read as being about how she wouldn't have found a husband if she had stayed fat, but you could also read as an indictment of her relationship with her husband. I actually think this is about her grappling with everything she has gone through to lose weight, and everything she is going to have to continue to do to maintain it, and thinking that maybe it wasn't worth it. Which is powerful and compelling.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:27 AM on June 22, 2016 [29 favorites]


Years ago, after being fat for most of my adult life, I had a huge lifestyle change and lost a massive amount of weight.

Beyond it being physically and emotionally painful to lose weight, being "normal sized" was overwhelming and confusing. Strangers trying to socialize with me and be "nice", and I, accustomed to being invisible, just wanted to be left alone.

The amount of random fatty-hate just blew my mind. People who I once thought were not total jerks, talking shit about a dude for dating fat girls, or antagonizing women they hardly know about being fat. Somehow as an overweight man I never saw this stuff.

Eventually I went through some emotional shit I couldn't cope with, did a lot of stress eating, and put the weight on again and people left me alone again and I didn't have to hear the ugly hateful shit any more. Now I'm losing weight again, but I'm wary of the bullshit that will be coming with it this time.
posted by idiopath at 6:39 AM on June 22, 2016 [29 favorites]


As a black woman who is "Lane Bryant fat" I have complex feelings about Roxanne Gay's perspective on this so I am glad that her piece was included.

It's interesting how, even though I know that the plus size stores have multiple sizes larger than mine, my image of myself is always as the hugest person that could ever exist. It doesn't help that I am tall, so I significantly outweigh Lindy West even though we wear the same size, apparently.

I have always kind of hated it when people who need to lose 20 lbs lament about how "morbidly obese" they are, but the fact that there is a class of women for whom I possess some level of thin-privilege is eye opening.
posted by sparklemotion at 6:45 AM on June 22, 2016 [27 favorites]


I was a little disappointed in this episode, especially putting Lindy's radical ideas that you don't have to be miserable if you're fat right before Elna Baker's long story about how she was miserable when she was fat and things are so much better now.

I think it's really important that both views were presented right there together, and I wish more issue-focused stories did this: present intensely emotional but contrasting stories together. The acceptance movement is very relevant, and Lindy's story was tremendous, but a listener who was invigorated by her story could stay invigorated, hear the counterpoint, and be fresh enough to engage with the overall issue creatively. We need to be able to engage with these issues creatively.

These are complicated, hard issues that need to be addressed in complicated ways. I really don't want hard issues to be boiled down to just one answer or one way of responding; that seems untruthful. A particular body type isn't good or bad; an emotional response to it isn't good or bad.

It just is. An emotional response happens, and blaming or shaming or celebrating it as awesome -- choosing one response as being better -- misses the point.

I'd love it if people could take in the information, process it for themselves, and then try to analyze it: why are these particular people experiencing these particular things? Which parts apply to me or to my friends? How can I use these stories to persuade others that a simple pronouncement, or policy, is naieve?
posted by amtho at 6:49 AM on June 22, 2016 [18 favorites]


I don't think Elna's story undermined Lindy's. The horrifying details of her surgery and the recovery, for one, and the painful conversations with her husband for the other. She got what she wanted, but unlike someone who had always been thin, she saw how fucked up it was that she was treated so differently. Deep down, she'll always have to wonder if her husband, and her friends, and her career, would vanish if she gained the weight back. And wonder how much of what people say they like about her is about her looks, not who she is. How can she be sure anyone really likes or knows her at all?
posted by emjaybee at 6:57 AM on June 22, 2016 [25 favorites]


As someone who has had those same questions, couldn't we extrapolate this to any kind of hate? Do people only like me because I'm white? Or only for being cisgendered or for being physically healthy? Surely I know people who would treat me worse if these details were different. I guess weight is different because so many of us get to live both sides of that boundary.
posted by idiopath at 7:07 AM on June 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Didn't Elna say something about how she's trying to get a TV show made? If she works in the entertainment industry, that's even worse on the pressure to be deathly thin.

I think the point of Elna's story was that (a) she was happy before she got thinner and didn't know it, (b) now she's getting what she wants but can see both sides of things, (c) it's a hell of a lot of work to maintain that thinness, and (d) she knows for a fact she'd still be single if she'd stayed the same weight* because her husband wouldn't have even thought of her as someone to love.

* Though I know simply tons of fat people who are happily partnered and thinner me couldn't catch a man if she sold her soul to the devil, so....But it's probably different in an urban entertainment industry situation.
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:07 AM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Mod note: Couple comments removed; we've had an awful lot of discussions over the years about health-centric justifications for giving people grief about weight and weight loss, let's not do it yet again in here for a post that's not about that.
posted by cortex (staff) at 7:22 AM on June 22, 2016 [37 favorites]


As someone who has had those same questions, couldn't we extrapolate this to any kind of hate? Do people only like me because I'm white? Or only for being cisgendered or for being physically healthy? Surely I know people who would treat me worse if these details were different. I guess weight is different because so many of us get to live both sides of that boundary.

Not only is weight something that changes, it's seen as something that people should be in control of.

Even racists don't blame POC for not being white, and sexists don't blame women for not being male. In sufficiently progressive circles, you don't get blamed for not being cis or hetero. Depending on the ailment that keeps you from being "physically healthy" there's a good chance that no one will blame you for that either.

But if you aren't the right weight, people assume that you are choosing not to control yourself, and that you're at fault for it. And since it's a choice, the hate is appropriate. Which is an interesting parallel to the gay rights movement* because so much energy is/was invested in education people that orientation is not a choice.

*just for the record, I'm not trying to compare the impact of fat hate with the impact of homophobia, I just think they have some of the same roots.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:33 AM on June 22, 2016 [22 favorites]


And wonder how much of what people say they like about her is about her looks, not who she is. How can she be sure anyone really likes or knows her at all?

As someone who has lost weight and experienced it as a baffling and rewarding physical, emotional and spiritual ordeal, considering the changes required in terms of basic lifestyle and the changes engendered in terms of awareness and in terms of interactions with other people, I would say that "who I am" is definitely part of what changed. If losing weight is a tough, daily struggle, then it seems unlikely to leave "who you are" untouched.
posted by dmh at 7:44 AM on June 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Is change hard or what! Just now saw a photo of me years ago in a swim suit, same extra bit around the waist that I'm currently trying to eliminate, reduce, shrink. For HEALTH reasons (although it would be fun to take an old-birds ballet class occasionally).

I don't think I say rude comments to (oh god, what even to say "people of weight" omg no, "full sized" erk no, "substantial" ya no, "full...." whatamidoinghere, so just say "them") but I do know that I can not avoid the the look in my eyes. Either looking or I suspect not looking, not seeing someone I'd notice at twenty pounds less but are invisible at the just that bit over. Interactions are subtle and complex, I've seen honestly perplexed looks as a response to a glance from someone that is always "invisible".

Some of this is the modern world, there are many folks in history and around the world that would be happy to be overweight, except that they are starving many days out of the year. The platitude that hunger is a political not a technological problem is specious. Then I have personally finally proven to myself that Lays Crack chips are not something I can ever eat again (and I expect that's a baldfaced lie). The food industry has SCIENCE, and science is morally neutral, it works, it's effective, profitable.
posted by sammyo at 8:01 AM on June 22, 2016


And even if you are a non-thin person and find love, and have someone who tells you and shows you they love you as you are, and you have a job you enjoy, I promise you are not magically free from insecurity. Every time you see your picture, you wonder if his friends secretly think he is with you out of pity, or if you might have gotten further in your career as a thin person.

Elna's story (and multiple studies) seems to demonstrate that at least the second one is probably true.

And all of that fucks with your head, to the point that you feel surprised and confused when people do respect you, notice you, or praise you. Because you are focused on not being hated, and if you're invisible, it's safer. And you assume everyone thinks you're lazy and/or stupid. Because you know for a fact that some of them do.

My husband, who is not even chubby normally, recently lost a lot of weight due to illness. He did not look well. But he was getting more positive attention because he was so thin, even though he was not fat before. I think our obsession with thinness has gotten so bad even average-sized people are getting weirdly affected by it. We fear fat so much that we embrace emaciation as a marker of self-control instead of a sign that something is not right.
posted by emjaybee at 8:03 AM on June 22, 2016 [33 favorites]


The whole Dan/Lindy thing is what soured me on Dan back when it actually happened, and reading that segment of Lindy's fantastic, wonderful book was really upsetting and got me all riled up at him again.

Fat acceptance as performed by Lindy and by Kate Harding (and other bloggers) has gotten me to a place where I'm almost able to accept and love myself as I am... except that I still struggle every day with feeling like I'm unworthy of good things because I'm not thin. I dropped a bunch of weight last year when I was going through some heartbreak, made some changes to my diet and continued to lose weight, and then I put just a little bit of that weight back on because life happened (promotion at my full time job, full time school got very intense, death in the family, grandma had major health issues and i'm the only caregiver) and it got much harder to make food preparation and meal planning and exercise the focus of my life. And that's what I have to do to keep my weight down below the invisibility level -- I have to make the size of my body the most important thing in my world. This is a thing I have learned after nearly 40 years in this body.

So Lindy thrills me and gives me life with her give no fucks love yourself attitude toward her body size, I actually wept when I read about her beautiful wedding and saw the photos of the wedding dress she wore because she loved it, not because it was "slimming" (it was not! and it was glorious! homegirl was radiant!)... and I want to be like her 10000% percent but I think I am more like Elna. I'm not visible to men until I get below a size 16, and the wolfish attention I get then is scary. It feels predatory and unwelcome, even coming from men I am genuinely attracted to, because I know from experience that if I put on ten or fifteen pounds then those men will pretend I don't exist. My promotion at my job came after I dropped a dress size and since I've put weight back on I've been shunted onto a team where everyone else works in a different state and no one actually ever has to look at me. Some of this is maybe coincidental, maybe it's not, but... I've lived my whole life in this society, I've been treated so poorly by my fellow human beings just for having a larger body than some others. I know how people are. I want to be more like Lindy but society actually functions in the way that Elna responds to -- we must be thin to be validated as actual humans, and I want it to change, and maybe I have to be like Lindy and live loud and proud and say fuck the haters, but good god, it's just so hard sometimes.
posted by palomar at 8:33 AM on June 22, 2016 [44 favorites]


I absolutely agree that the health question is a dodge, an excuse people -- like Dan Savage -- make to justify their contempt, and I have no patience for it anymore.

Firstly, and what should be obviously: There is no absolute one-to-one correlation between weight and health. Being overweight increases certain risks, but it's hardly unique in that. Lots of things can adversely affect your health, but also might not, and weight is certainly not so unusual that it requires constant monitoring from strangers.

But, secondly, and more importantly, we tolerate and even celebrate a lot of things that are bad for people's health. The average age of death of a rock and roll star is 25 years younger than the rest of the population, and yet nobody feels the need to run up the the kid with the guitar and the mullet and insist that he's a moral failure, he's ruining his own life and probably doing something that's bad for all of us.

And yet people do that to fat people. They get onto message boards and scream about fat people and health. They tell total strangers than they need to lose weight. They make snide little comments and give fat people looks of disgust.

It's not about health. It's about revulsion. And if you feel revulsion when you see a fat person, even though it's absolutely none of your fucking business, you're the one with the problem, and don't try to hide behind arguments about health. Not unless you're regularly writing to Mick Jagger to tell him you are very worried about him.

You've given yourself permission to feel contempt for somebody else because you think you have social permission to do so. And you do. The message of this world is one long howl of loathing for fat people, all masked in frantic discussions about health.

If you were really worried about health, you'd be looking to legislate the food industry, which has very literally made it impossible to have a standard meal without consuming an entire day's worth of calories. You'd be looking at corner bodegas and school vending machines and what passes from grocery stores in the vast food deserts that are the American city, and you'd be furious about the fact that people are given literally no choice but to be on the receiving end of a funnel that pours as many calories into them as quickly as possible. You be outraged that the solution to this is surgery, or joining a gym, or drugs -- expensive solutions at best, failed solutions at worst, and all solutions that insist that the person who must cure this sea of calories is the person who is being fed it, and that they must pay through the nose for it.

And you'd know that thinness is often a sign of privilege -- it's people who have the time or the education or the money to build an entire alternative diet and lifestyle for themselves, and if you don't have that privilege, you have no choice but to have the default American diet, which will make you fat.

So it's not about health. We're not actually doing anything to address the health issue, except, you know, Bloomberg looking to limit the size of soda that can be sold, which he was reviled for.

No, we're just looking for excuses to be mean. As though there is any value in it. As though fat people don't live with the message that they are unattractive moral failures every waking moment of their lives. As though they haven't been shamed enough, and maybe just another little dose of shame will cause them to be able to singlehandedly undo their lack of privilege, or opportunity, or finances, or time, and step away from the default American diet.

As though most fat people don't actually wrestle with their weight. The diet industry in America is a $20 billion per year industry. People will lose some weight, but it's hard to keep off, because it requires constant vigilance, or constant drug use, or constant output of money. Will a little extra shame help this? I can't image how.

No, save your lectures. Save your need to remind fat people that they are unhealthy. Try not giving a shit about something that is none of your business. You'd be surprised how good it feels.

And if you can't do that, try turning your scorn to where it belongs. Because the people you're scorning are the products of a broken system, not the cause of it.
posted by maxsparber at 8:38 AM on June 22, 2016 [101 favorites]


Oh, and if you haven't read Lindy's book, or Dietland by Sarai Walker, and this episode of TAL resonated with you... go read them. Now. Dietland surprised me, from the cover art I expected some "get thin so you can love yourself" bullshit wrapped in chick-lit cover art, but NOPE.
posted by palomar at 8:41 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


As though most fat people don't actually wrestle with their weight. The diet industry in America is a $20 billion per year industry. People will lose some weight, but it's hard to keep off, because it requires constant vigilance, or constant drug use, or constant output of money.

Not to mention, who wants a customer that only needs them once? Selling them a service/product that will have them coming back year after year is way more lucrative.
posted by phearlez at 8:42 AM on June 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Oh, and Elna Baker wrote a really wonderful piece about dealing with the stark reality of what an "after" body actually looks like and trying to accept that the bikini after pics you see in the weight loss ads are bullshit.
posted by palomar at 8:45 AM on June 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


I really loved this episode of TAL and found it very thought-provoking. I am married to a personal trainer who is not outwardly fat dismissive, but there's no question she thinks fat is at least partly a personal failing. I've been debating whether to tell her about this episode - I'm not sure she's open to hearing it, but it can't hurt, I guess?

I also found Elna's story incredibly powerful, and I really appreciate the article palomar linked above. That woman has some serious guts to bare all like that. The part in the show where she confessed she's still taking pills, and the part in the interview where she confesses she didn't want to update the photographs because she's gained 20 lbs since then... Man, I feel for her. It sucks to feel like you're always in progress, trying to get somewhere, and you won't be OK until you do. Huge kudos to Lindy for stepping off that carousel.
posted by widdershins at 9:25 AM on June 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


This was much better than I feared/expected it to go.

Though I have to admit, there's a small, ugly part of me that resents Lindy West because to me she's the fat girl who's gotten it all! And somehow that makes her seem even more like a unicorn to me, rather than a realistic aspiration. Sigh. So yeah, still working on not just self-acceptance, but the ability to be happy for others (even, or maybe especially, people I don't even know).
posted by TwoStride at 9:33 AM on June 22, 2016


I always have such conflicted feelings about obesity.

Part of me - a lot of me - wants to be body positive, support fit at any size, celebrate body shape diversity.

But another part of me watches my mother, who has struggled with morbid obesity her whole adult life, was disabled by her weight by her 30s, and had a stroke in her mid-fifties, primarily due to her weight. My mother is - thankfully - still alive, but she has lost decades of independent living and a huge amount of her quality of life. She's not even 60, and she has the energy of an 80 year old.

And I look at the obesity that runs in my family - my mom, my uncle (also disabled by obesity), my father who has gone up and down - and I fear for myself. I want to be independent for as long as possible and not aged before my time. I don't even have kids who can take care of me.
posted by jb at 9:36 AM on June 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


I am married to a personal trainer who is not outwardly fat dismissive, but there's no question she thinks fat is at least partly a personal failing. I've been debating whether to tell her about this episode - I'm not sure she's open to hearing it, but it can't hurt, I guess?

Yes. And also because, tbh, this kind of thing is why many, though not all, fat people avoid gyms and personal trainers -- because they don't want that extra one-on-one judgement. I think this kind of belief, though almost impossible to avoid if you grow up in our culture, absolutely makes personal trainers (nutritionists, therapists, anyone who wants to help people get fitter) worse at their job.
posted by jeather at 9:47 AM on June 22, 2016 [28 favorites]


Elna Baker's long story about how she was miserable when she was fat and things are so much better now.
That wasn't what I got from the story at all. Here, this quote really hit home for me because I have been there -- I am this woman, I can't look at old photos either because I feel stupid seeing my smile, my smile from before I learned to obsessively count calories, before I learned that my appearance mattered more than anything else.
I was happy when I was overweight. I had no idea I should be sad. I was free before. I had trained myself not to care what people thought, and I'd done a good job of it.... When I looked at [old] photos, they made me feel bad, because in the pictures, I looked happy. And I'd look at them and think, you're so stupid to think that you're happy.
When you realize that appearance matters more than reality--whether in the context of your weight and your happiness, or other things that are about fiction rather than fact--it really throws you for a loop. It puts you in crisis. It makes it seem that there is no other way to get the things you want from life--love, to be valued for your hard work, a family. Like she says, "I need to stay thin so I can get what I want." I am not sure this is actually true, but it certainly feels that way sometimes.
posted by sockermom at 9:48 AM on June 22, 2016 [5 favorites]


I think this kind of belief, though almost impossible to avoid if you grow up in our culture, absolutely makes personal trainers (nutritionists, therapists, anyone who wants to help people get fitter) worse at their job.

I'm overweight, occasionally fluctuating into low levels of obesity if work is stressful or we're travelling a lot or whatever (don't think my doctor didn't take great pains to tell me my BMI was "obese" when I was literally one pound into that territory, though), and working with a personal trainer sounds like hell. It's like a doctor only with less training, less science, and more likely to be super bro-y. I'd rather take the health risks in all honesty.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 9:59 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


And also because, tbh, this kind of thing is why many, though not all, fat people avoid gyms and personal trainers -- because they don't want that extra one-on-one judgement.

I often wonder if personal trainers understand that they are shooting themselves in the foot by shaming their fat clients or being dismissive of fat people in general. Back when I had more disposable income, I did shell out for a couple of personal trainers... I left one gym entirely because my experience with the trainer was so horrible. When I am paying someone to help me learn how to do certain exercises correctly and to help motivate me to push myself harder, I should not be reduced to heaving sobs on the locker room floor after a session because my trainer thought it was appropriate to berate me for "letting myself go" so much. (I'm five foot eight with very broad shoulders and hips and at the time of that personal trainer situation I was a solid size 18. Imagine if I'd been any larger instead of being just barely larger than average.)

The best personal trainer experience I had was a few months later, when I was working with a trainer whose goal seemed to be getting me to enjoy the exercise. He never shamed me for not being able to run super fast, he never shamed me for struggling with certain movements, he never made one single remark about getting me down to a socially acceptable body size like his predecessor. He never made me feel like shit because I wasn't thin. He never once implied that the size of my body was a moral failing. He was kind, he cheered me on when I was pushing myself through doing things that I hated (which made me work harder because holy shit, being cheered for instead of being yelled at in front of other gym patrons for not being perfect at a physical movement? so shocking!)... basically, he treated me like a human being instead of a gross, ugly problem to solve or get rid of as fast as possible.

I wish more trainers were like him. I wish I could have afforded to keep seeing him. I sang his praises to anyone who would listen, and unfortunately he's moved out of state so I can't push clients toward him anymore. But I did, for many years, because he was so damn good at his job.

I think if you know a personal trainer and you know that they're anti-fat people, maybe you should tell them that they could make a hell of a lot more money by treating their clients like humans regardless of their body size.
posted by palomar at 10:15 AM on June 22, 2016 [31 favorites]


On the slightly lighter side, it turns out that I'm "lane bryant fat". When I wanted to cross dress my female friends referred me there.

The women who worked there were delightful about helping me get just the right dress and figuring out how to gin up a stuffed bra and everything. "oh honey I have just the perfect thing!" and so on.

For both myself and my wife, Lane Bryant has been just a tremendously positive shopping experience. They have great benches for purse holding husbands, lots of positive attitude, and they really shine a light on the shitty shopping experience you can have if you are fat.
posted by poe at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


I think this kind of belief, though almost impossible to avoid if you grow up in our culture, absolutely makes personal trainers (nutritionists, therapists, anyone who wants to help people get fitter) worse at their job.

Totally agree - a not insignificant number of them, ime, are indeed fat-phobic or even orthorexic themselves. Lots of people with food issues are drawn to that work. And, it's not unusual to see trainers (especially those who are bodybuilders, who usually work with young people with bodybuilding aspirations) pushing extreme and unsustainable diets (when nutrition isn't what they're often trained to do, either). Also, some of them really enjoy taking the drill sergeant approach. Do not for a second blame people who've been soured on nutrition/fitness after an experience with someone like that.

There are some who are more reasonable, and oriented toward sustainability - it can be hard to find them, though, and I wish there were more of them.

(Separately from that, though - as a whole, their raison d'etre is to support people in meeting goals, which they feel are achievable. They have to feel that way in order to do their jobs. However, a client not meeting those goals shouldn't be looked at as personal failure on the part of the client - it might not be a question of effort, it might (easily) be the trainer/coach/nutritionist's inability to look at the situation holistically or realistically, or to appropriately tailor the program and goals to the client. Or it might be a question of the timing just not being right. I think the diet/fitness industry is a real mess that needs better standards and regulation.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 10:17 AM on June 22, 2016


This was interesting, and heartbreaking, and I will have to listen again. I'm a Lane Bryant fat person who started getting chunky around puberty and then slowly got heavier, but due to...whatever, I've been invisible even when I was technically speaking in straight sizes. Now that I'm not only fatter, but also older, I sometimes feel like I should take up a life of pickpocketing because they'd never see me walking away with their wallet. (You know that whole "women can always get sex even if they're ugly" thing? I hate that thing.)

I have lost weight; it didn't stick. I think about surgery; my insurance doesn't cover it and then I worry that I'd just gain it all back anyway. My body could be "worse," it "should" be better. I am a well-controlled type two diabetic, which clearly indicates that people are right about my weight meaning that I'm unhealthy, and in fact I should have been better about this from the start because I knew it ran in my family. (When was the start? I still don't really know.) I just got a cute haircut and look at myself in the mirror and think that my body isn't living up to the cute hair- what good is one without the other? I listen to the podcast and wonder if I should try Mexican speed pills. Or if maybe this time either the diet or the radical acceptance of myself will stick.
posted by PussKillian at 10:21 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


But another part of me watches my mother, who has struggled with morbid obesity her whole adult life, was disabled by her weight by her 30s, and had a stroke in her mid-fifties, primarily due to her weight. My mother is - thankfully - still alive, but she has lost decades of independent living and a huge amount of her quality of life. She's not even 60, and she has the energy of an 80 year old.

The thing is, you can't really know the cause and effect here perfectly. A few years ago, at almost 300 pounds, I was working out regularly and was stronger and more aerobically fit than I had ever been in my adult life. Then I had an injury...and then a chronic condition flared up in a way it never had before...and now I am fatter than that and can't walk or stand for more than a couple of minutes at a time without severe pain (my doctors are working on it! We haven't given up!). I am 50 and feel older right now, but it's not because of my weight.

But I've never had any of the conditions that are comorbid with obesity and that are often talked about as if they are caused by obesity. I've never had high blood pressure or been diabetic or pre-diabetic, for instance. In fact, during an intake with a new clinic for my chronic headache, I was amused when, after going through all these things, the intake nurse said, "This will be a little different for you than most of our patients because you're healthy." It struck me as odd because, between my debilitating daily headache and whatever the fuck is going on with my sacro-iliac joints that makes standing so painful, I don't feel healthy. But she meant healthy in what I think you could short-hand as metabolically healthy.

I've been following obesity research and fat activists for more than thirty years, and I remember a writer talking about how her father died in his early 80s, and everyone attributed it to his weight. She said something like, "How old do you have to be before you can die of something other than being fat?"

All that said, though, I'll say that, just like with thinness, there is a point where being fat in and of itself does begin to create problems. I'm there, but I'm also fatter than just about everybody, and I had to be more than 300 pounds and also disabled by other conditions to get there. I'm talking about mobility, self-care, reach issues for hygiene, and the like.

I think it's also important to distinguish between "being fat caused this condition" and "this condition would be improved by weight loss." I feel confident that the pain that's making walking and standing difficult would diminish at least somewhat if I were smaller.

I think sometimes that positive fat role models often have things we don't all have. I, for instance, have never had any trouble finding lovers—I've had five in the past two years, for instance. My current girlfriend says I have "more charisma than almost anyone else she's ever met" and describes me as inhabiting my body in a powerful way, one that I've seen in other fat women but hadn't dared hope I also had. (This girlfriend is very good for me, as you can imagine.) But it is still the truth that, in general, it is more difficult for fat people to find sexual and romantic partners—the fact that I'm charismatic and self-confident and have no trouble getting laid doesn't change that. When I look at Lindy West, I see that her personal style and manner of self-expression are powerful strengths that not all of us have—I do not, for instance, dress especially well or wear makeup.

My point is, that as important as fat role models are, their success doesn't always scale. And, as with other movements for greater acceptance, there will always be more acceptance for conventionally attractive and physically fit fat people than for those of us who are otherwise. I'm struggling with my feelings about my weight right now in a way I haven't in ages, because the combination of fat and disabled is so powerfully stigmatized. I know that if I use a scooter or wheelchair in a public place, that my inability to walk will be seen as caused by my weight, because I hear those kinds of sentiments all the time. I would find it much easier to use the adaptive devices I need right now—a handicap parking permit, a wheelchair—if I were smaller, because the fat-disabled combo has tapped into a deep reservoir of shame I didn't know existed.

This complicated reality is why I do not blame anyone who chooses to lose weight, despite the demoralizing reality of weight-loss attempts. I don't blame anyone who chooses bariatric surgery, even though it has a high mortality rate, can lead to serious health complications, and isn't nearly as good at helping people lose weight and keep it off as one might wish for such a drastic intervention. Because fat people are in a tough situation with no easy solutions, living in a culture that actively denigrates us at every turn.

People look at our bodies and think they know our story: they think they know how much we exercise, how much we eat, how much time we spend on the couch. They think they know our relationship to food. They think they know how much sex we're having. They think they know whether we "deserve" to have the handicap placard or to use a wheelchair or to take up two spaces on the bench at the bus stop. They think we all have exactly the same story, and they think that every bad thing that happens to us is our own fault. They think they are not fat because they possess virtues we lack. They think this because it's what they've been told their whole lives.

Every story that challenges that narrative is a story worth telling.
posted by not that girl at 10:40 AM on June 22, 2016 [58 favorites]


The only trainer I've ever worked with was a a woman who was probably a size 16. She just happened to be on shift at the Y one day when I was in a mindset that maybe a trainer could help but didn't want to deal with stereotypical trainer bullshit, and it was refreshing to see someone who didn't look like a stereotypical trainer.

Turns out that she had lost of ton of weight (and it was part of that "lifestyle change" that led her to taking the part-time trainer job), but she brought up her own weight loss journey only because I talked about weight loss as one of my goals. I found it quite motivating to work with someone who not only knew what it was like not not be "perfect" but was still working on getting there. When she left, I didn't even bother considering a different trainer.

So, I guess that's my story of thin-shaming the rest of the trainers at the Y.
posted by sparklemotion at 10:41 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


I always have such conflicted feelings about obesity.

Me too. Why shouldn't we? Obesity isn't just one thing for pretty much anyone. My genetic makeup predisposes me to be pudgy, but I have control over my actions. I'm fortunate enough to have a lot in life that allows me the option to address it in some ways. I'm fortunate enough to have had an upbringing with the guidance and teaching to give me mechanisms to deal with it. My wife has been dealt a less fortunate hand in both a predisposition and medical issues that have required a lot of oral steroids over many years which also complicate things. We also both love snacks enough that we're not going to subsist purely on protein powder for the sake of appearance. We live in a society with a structure that rewards and pushes bad nutrition so hard that it's more expensive to make good choices, and some or many of the good choices have unpleasant moral dimensions.

Obesity is complicated and we don't need to pretend it's not, as far as I am concerned. What we need to do is stop being such assholes about other people's lives, and acknowledge all the ways that being assholes about this actually causes harm.

Hell, just the shit way we treat people who don't "conform" is complicated. It's a big mix of bad societal knowledge, poor empathy, patriarchy, economics...
posted by phearlez at 10:44 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Yeah, Dan Savage just pushed all my rage buttons there. I actually don't think it's entirely healthy for me to feel as angry at someone as I feel towards Dan Savage right now, so I'm going to try for a while not to think about what an asshole he is on some issues.


The problem for me is that I always seem to run in to those "some issues", and he's so obstinate about them. My reaction to this was kinda "why did it have to be him?". He's a skinny white dude, who consistently flips his shit on stuff like this.

It's sort of like that "would you drink a milkshake with a sprinkle of shit in it" analogy wherein most people would say any shit is too much shit... And yet people keep going "but he's so good on some issues!" and treating him like some wise sage elder. Seriously, I get that he's been really helpful for some people but he does not in any way deserve the like, progressive-y person lifetime achievement award he seems to have received.
posted by emptythought at 10:45 AM on June 22, 2016 [27 favorites]


So I'm a fatass and you know what I get tired of? Its not people cracking fat jokes or being "worried about my health". Its people telling me its okay to be fat and that its ~not easy~ to lose weight.

I know my life would be better if I wasn't a fatty mcfatterstein. I would have more energy to do things I'd like to do. I would have easier time shopping for clothes. I would be less self-conscious when meeting people. I would lower my risk of heart disease and adult-onset diabetes, both which are actually huge risks already due to history of both in my family.

I know I would lose weight if I just took up running again and maybe took the bike to work instead of the tram every day. But I don't, because I'm lazy and if I do, I won't stick with it for long enough.

Yes, yes. Other people have different circumstances and medical histories and whatever. But these are mine. Its a goddamn personal failing is what it is. I'm a lazy piece of shit who doesn't stick to things. I'm fat, don't want to be fat and the fact that I'm still fat has only to do with the fact that I do not exercise regularly and eat like a goddamn pig. Looking at the internet at large (heh) you'd think that I'm the only fat person who is fat for these reasons. I wonder why.
posted by Soi-hah at 10:48 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


The thing is, you can't really know the cause and effect here perfectly. A few years ago, at almost 300 pounds, I was working out regularly and was stronger and more aerobically fit than I had ever been in my adult life.

So was my mom, when she was 30 and 250 pounds. She could walk for hours. She also had low blood pressure, and still does.

But it still took a toll on her body. It hit in her 40s, as suddenly she felt more like someone in their 50s or 60s - and she started getting chronic bronchitis and pneumonia from the pressure on her lungs.

Everyone is different - and bodies work differently. But I totally understand why anyone would encourage people they love to lose weight. There are 20+ years of travel and adventure that I will never have with my mom - and I have to watch myself to not gain more weight. (I'm on the borderline between overweight and obese at about 29-30 BMI, though my very healthy has always been more like 25-26 than 20.)
posted by jb at 10:52 AM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


Looking at the internet at large (heh) you'd think that I'm the only fat person who is fat for these reasons. I wonder why.

I don't think there's any shortage of self loathing fat people in the culture, unless you're picking out very specific communities and ignoring society at large. You're are obviously the only person who can define your particular relationship to your weight, but that story (and it's "inspiring" counterpart the self hating fatty who wises up and loses weight) are far from invisible.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 10:54 AM on June 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


But I totally understand why anyone would encourage people they love to lose weight.

I get it, but at a certain point, you're telling someone something they already know and you're making your time together unpleasant on a bunch of levels -- either because they're always having to talk about weight, or because they're always on edge for when you're going to bring up "hey have you considered losing weight?"

Maybe it will work and your fat family member will lose weight, but probably it will just make them unhappy and do you know what makes most people feel better temporarily? Hint: it is full of calories.
posted by jeather at 11:09 AM on June 22, 2016 [20 favorites]


I'm fat, don't want to be fat and the fact that I'm still fat has only to do with the fact that I do not exercise regularly and eat like a goddamn pig.

Sure. And you know who else doesn't exercise regularly and eats like a goddamned pig? Some skinny people. Probably less of them than there are those of us who could theoretically eat healthier and get more exercise. But society doesn't make an effort at sneering equally at people eating that meal from Olive Garden than has more than 2200 calories in it, nor does the grocery clerk sneer equally at everyone who buys that Hungry Man frozen breakfast. It's somehow morally worse to have a metabolic disadvantage, all other actions being equal.

I will dare to say here that I agree in one aspect with Savage - there are some really harmfully wrong voices out there in the fat acceptance world. There's far far fewer of them than there are harmful voices in the fat shaming world, though I'm inclined to give them a small bit of a multiplier because they're saying these harmful things to people desperate to hear them. But overall the voices saying its okay to be fat and that its ~not easy~ to lose weight aren't trying to say "don't worry about your life," they're trying to sweep back the tide of folks spewing the message that your adipose is an absolute statement that you are a lesser human.

Not all of that message is well-said, and there's some shitty hangers-on, but the whole of it is a Good Thing.
posted by phearlez at 11:26 AM on June 22, 2016 [9 favorites]


I've been fat and I've been thin. Am quite obese now. I was in a crowded airport once and other than TSA nobody spoke to me at all. I saw a young lady who was in a special wheelchair, she had some serious disability (not overweight). We smiled at each other and it was like we were alone in that airport. Obesity brings both attention (always negative) and isolation/anonymity. This podcast speaks so many truths for me and I'd like to give a big thank you to those who listened to it with an open mind.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 11:49 AM on June 22, 2016 [8 favorites]


God a trainer who actually worked with me without judgement would be amazing. I have no idea what I'm doing in a gym and I have two crap knees that I have to work around.
posted by emjaybee at 11:50 AM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


The thing is, it IS okay to be fat. It's not a moral failing to be fat. Being fat does not make you a bad person. You want to tell yourself that you're a piece of shit because you have adipose tissue on your body? Fine, but you come near me with that attitude and try to apply it to me and I will hand your ass right back to you because NOPE. And it IS hard to lose weight. If it was easy, there would be no fat people.

I know I'm not a lazy piece of shit who doesn't stick to things. The two years I just spent grinding out this degree I'm working on and maintaining a 3.8-4.0 GPA while also working full time is proof that I can work hard and pursue goals. If for some reason you need to shit all over yourself as a motivator, fine, but for me and scores of other people that attitude is so incredibly destructive that I can find no value in it whatsoever. Having had that attitude used as a cudgel against me for my entire life, I know very well that abusing myself like that only makes me hate myself so much that I see no point in trying to do anything good for myself because I'm just a piece of shit, why bother. Telling myself that I'm worthless, that I'm a waste of space, because my body has some extra tissue on it? If that's how you want to live your life, man, then go nuts, but have you ever tried not telling yourself that you're a piece of shit for not riding your bike to work everyday?
posted by palomar at 11:52 AM on June 22, 2016 [41 favorites]


But I totally understand why anyone would encourage people they love to lose weight.

Back when I was a smoker, the thing that was least likely to get me to quit smoking was "encouragement" from well-meaning people. I'm not stupid. I knew smoking was unhealthy, expensive, smelly, yadda yadda. I resented people who tried to "encourage" me to quit or shame me about it. It was patronizing, demeaning, and none of their business. Maybe people like Dan Savage have never had a bad habit and dealt with this sort of bullshit, but anyone who has should understand the point of fat acceptance. Assuming for the sake of argument that the person you love could lose weight and keep it off (a big assumption), "encouragement," if they haven't asked for it, is useless and possibly harmful. (I quit smoking when I was good and ready, and I lost weight when I was good and ready, and nothing anyone said to me about either issue would've changed that.)
posted by Mavri at 11:56 AM on June 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


she thinks fat is at least partly a personal failing

We all have personal failings; for some, it's not getting enough sleep, so that driving is subtly more dangerous and all decisions are slightly less effective. For others, it's being raised in a backwater town so that saying hurtful things in ignorance happens occasionally. Many are more judgmental than they should be. We all have real personal failings.

Having things we've failed at maybe shouldn't be such a big deal.

There was a time that these might be addressed with a plea for "forgiveness", but now we need to do better. We need to figure out what is the essential person behind the failings, and the undeserved successes, and find a way to speak to that person.
posted by amtho at 12:30 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


Until recently, I've always been a bit overweight for my small 5' 3" frame. From the eighth grade until about three months ago, at 41 years of age, my weight hovered somewhere between 148-155 pounds. Nothing I did with regard to exercise or diet seemed to make any appreciable change, and I just assumed that was where my body wanted to be. I exercised because it made me feel good, and I ate healthy because I'm privileged enough to afford it. By every available metric, I was very healthy (well, except for the MS).

I was never on the receiving end of the horrible abuse many people receive, but if I lost a couple of pounds and moved into the lower end of my usual range, everyone from my mom to my co-workers would fall all over themselves to talk about how great I was looking these days. The message was very clear: we all know you're a little overweight, and being thinner is better.

Over the past six months, my MS-related fatigue had become really problematic, so four months ago my neurologist prescribed a daily low dose of extended-release Adderall. It's incredibly helpful in managing fatigue, and my quality of life has greatly improved.

As a side effect, my appetite is significantly decreased, and I've lost nearly 20 pounds. Yesterday I weighed 132 pounds. I'm thinner than I can ever remember being, and I barely recognize myself if I catch my reflection in a mirror or window. It's like I'm in someone else's body.

The strangest part? No one, not one single solitary soul, has said a thing. Because I am noticeably smaller, my clothes obviously too big, I'd been bracing myself for the annoying conversation I was sure I was going to have with anyone I hadn't seen in a while. Instead, all the people who previously felt very comfortable commenting freely on my body have been totally silent.

The only explanation I can come up with is that by sheer happenstance, I'd been at the lower end of my usual weight range for the past year or so, and because of that no one had been looking critically at my body. Because I hadn't been "overweight enough" to prompt the kind of uninvited evaluation and judgement to which overweight bodies are routinely subjected, my weight change has gone unnoticed. My thin privilege is for my body to be mostly ignored as I move through the world.

I wish I were just being cynical, but sadly, I think I'm probably right.
posted by jesourie at 1:08 PM on June 22, 2016 [6 favorites]


Its a goddamn personal failing is what it is. I'm a lazy piece of shit who doesn't stick to things. I'm fat, don't want to be fat and the fact that I'm still fat has only to do with the fact that I do not exercise regularly and eat like a goddamn pig.

I'd like to push back against this sentiment. Yes, you can change. You can start to eat better and exercise more. But that's not without cost, whether it be money, energy, willpower, executive function, or time. It's all stuff that can be depleted.

I know that I can lose weight. I've done it a handful of times. And I used to chalk up my failures as personal failings. Because I am the laziest. I spend so much time procrastinating, and sleeping, and just avoiding everything because it seems like so much. And then my doctor asked if I worried a lot.

And it was the first time I started to notice how much my anxiety fueled the things that I wasn't doing. Poor eating decisions quiet the anxious beast, so that I don't get fired. Taming the anxious beast leaves me exhausted and not up for doing things. When it's not there, I can take care of myself. So for me, step one isn't diet and exercise. It's finding better ways to handle my mental health issues.

I don't want to imply that you have mental health issues you're ignoring. But there are decisions and priorities that you are putting now above diet and fitness. And it's entirely possible that while you would like to shift your priorities eventually, you're doing the best you can do for yourself right now.
posted by politikitty at 1:09 PM on June 22, 2016 [7 favorites]


I have had a love Elna Baker since I heard her on The Moth. I think she has some genius in her in terms of story-telling ability. Both in The Moth and here.

I really really hate that's she's had to suffer so much. And I applaud her for once again being so incredibly brave and funny in how she describes how she's endured.

But I am scared for her that she's on speed. Oh, christ, Elna, hang in there.
posted by angrycat at 1:22 PM on June 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


All the people on this thread saying they'd like a non-judgemental trainer, have you hired a trainer? I have never seen or heard of a trainer who works with beginner/ rehab/ older people shaming anyone. EVER. That's their clientele, it's how they make their money and they work almost exclusively with overweight or very overweight/ obese people. If you hire someone who typically works with competition fitness models I could see them being pretty hardcore* but a regular middle America trainer judging overweight people or making them cry = unemployment. Very few regular gym goers use a trainer, it's almost all newbies, old people and the injured plus some competitive body builders etc. Athletes aren't hiring gym trainers, they have coaches.

* please keep in mind that different people respond to different coaching styles. Athletes are pretty used to being yelled at or whatever. They rarely take it personally even if you see them yell back to get upset in the moment. A good trainer will know how much to push each person. A good athlete will be open to coaching and not get into some emotional tailspin or allow a weird overly familiar relationship or dependency to develop. If that's happening or you have one of those terrible coaches who wants their clients overly dependent either speak up or find another coach.
posted by fshgrl at 1:24 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a wrought subject for me that hits very close to home. I really want to thank maxsparber especially for your comment upthread. If only I could favorite it 1,000 times over.

I, like so many others, am reminded around every corner I turn, every day of my life, every encounter I have, sometimes subtly, other times not so subtly, that I am a lesser human being due to the larger body I inhabit. That because I am lesser I should feel extremely ashamed. That I have failed not only myself but all of society. And further that I should without fail communicate via both expression and action at all times to you my sincere acknowledgement of our unspoken cultural pact -- that you have caught me red-handed being fat in public and I hereby beg for your forgiveness.

In my almost 39 years on the planet, I've come far in telling that narrative to go straight to the hell from which it came. But I still have much of the journey ahead, and I look forward to it.
posted by bologna on wry at 1:28 PM on June 22, 2016 [10 favorites]


All the people on this thread saying they'd like a non-judgemental trainer, have you hired a trainer?

I'm guessing so, since they talk about having had bad trainers. It's one thing to say "that hasn't been my experience" and another to call people liars.
posted by Gygesringtone at 1:31 PM on June 22, 2016 [25 favorites]


fshgrl:

"I have never seen or heard of a trainer who works with beginner/ rehab/ older people shaming anyone. EVER."

And now you have! Right here in this thread! One person is in fact married to a trainer who is judgmental.

"I've never had this experience ever! Have you ever even [done what many folk have already said they've done]?" is both disrespectful and meaningless, irrespectively.
posted by XtinaS at 1:32 PM on June 22, 2016 [24 favorites]


I have never seen or heard of a trainer who works with beginner/ rehab/ older people shaming anyone. EVER.

I mean, I recounted my experience with a terrible trainer and a good trainer in this very thread, did you miss it or did you just not believe me?
posted by palomar at 1:38 PM on June 22, 2016 [28 favorites]


I've worked with a couple of mean and clueless trainers. If I didn't already know that I didn't *have* to eat only chicken and broccoli forever, I would have come away from that very discouraged. And I've known more than one eating -disordered aerobics instructor (socially but still).

There's that crap, and so much misinformation and also lack of certainty around nutrition, fads etc, that I'm not surprised people are not always so open to change that looks or sounds like Ike that.

(I believe there is a sane middle way for everyone, and that it's different for everyone, also that it changes over time and circumstances. And there definitely are lots of professionals who feel that way. But people do have experiences of people who are hurtful, or unreasonable, and there's all the bullshit out there, so it's no surprise to me that they get fed up)
posted by cotton dress sock at 2:03 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


My lunch-walk partner has lost about fifty pounds off a 5'3" frame so far this year, mostly via keto and calorie restriction. Listening to this piece when it came out, particularly Elna's section, and the last couple years of regular walks has really driven home the idea that therapy is probably the best diet.
Elna's bits about missing Old Elna, and particularly the fight with her husband, were brutal to listen to. So much anxiety focused on her weight and how others see her (and rightly so, given what she described). The guy that I walk with is finally seeing a therapist, and when he talks about how he'll probably just yo-yo back up again, we talk about how he's finally doing something about why he eats, rather than just what he eats.
posted by Kreiger at 2:11 PM on June 22, 2016


One connection that keeps coming to mind lately when I read these threads, and when I read Lindy West (and others) on fat acceptance is breastfeeding. Similarly fraught, harshly judged, very heavily intersected with ideas of femininity and feminism, etc. But what I keep thinking about is the statement "breastfeeding is only free when women's time is worthless."

Because the one thing people cannot deny, even those who firmly (and, I would argue, wrongly) believe weight loss is 100% possible for 100% of people, is that IT TAKES WORK. Nobody can, in good faith, argue that it is common to lose a large amount of weight with virtually no thought and effort. I mean yes, some asshole trolls do, but again--not in good faith.

For many, it would take a lifetime of work, and occupy their minds nearly all of the time. What I see Lindy pushing back against in the beginning of the TAL episode is the idea that the entire rest of her being--her writing, her relationship, her humor, her not-insignificant level of activism--should and must be subsumed to the process of Becoming Thinner. The presumption that nothing else she does is worthy of the time and energy that might otherwise be spent losing weight. That if she has other priorities, she must simply be wrong about them.

So I just keep thinking, weight loss may be possible in the general sense that yes, some people empirically achieve it. But it's only simple if the rest of a fat person's life is somehow negligible.
posted by We put our faith in Blast Hardcheese at 2:16 PM on June 22, 2016 [47 favorites]


Since fat-shaming is already in the lexicon, we need to add "fatsplaining" for all of the "but haven't you tried a trainer?" and "calories in, calories out, it's so simple!" driveby comments that always pop up.
posted by TwoStride at 2:50 PM on June 22, 2016 [21 favorites]


Elna's story really struck me as very Monkey's Paw-esque, come to think of it.
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:14 PM on June 22, 2016 [2 favorites]


TwoStride: "we need to add "fatsplaining" for all of the "but haven't you tried a trainer?" and "calories in, calories out, it's so simple!" driveby comments that always pop up.

I think for parallelism it would have to be "thinsplaining," but, yeah.
posted by Bugbread at 3:54 PM on June 22, 2016 [3 favorites]


Even if Dan Savage hasn't had a full change of heart, I'm still pleased and impressed that Lindy West telling him off led to him moderating what his says. It's a large move in the right direction.

sammyo, "fat" is preferred. The idea is to present fatness as part of the range of human variation rather than something which needs a euphemism.

Move and Be Free is a blog by a personal trainer who's put a lot of thought into the importance of body acceptance. I haven't had him as a personal trainer, but I can vouch for his blog.
posted by Nancy Lebovitz at 4:23 PM on June 22, 2016


This article was great. Thanks for this. It and the ensuing discussion made me think of a lot of things.

1. I guess I'm Lane Bryant fat, and in fact just shopped there for the first time recently. It was kind of marvelous to visit a store where every woman was large and fabulous and an entirely different body type. (The clothing itself was less fabulous, but at least there were some things my size.) Yet fat-shaming and the health cult of thinness are so pervasive, even other people I know who are fat have internalized it. Some of the people who have been most persistent in telling me how I should try harder to exercise and eat healthy are other fat people, including some of the people closest to me, and in a lot of cases I think it's because if other people who look like them aren't trying, they feel like they won't try, or that they need to always be surrounding themselves with people who are trying. It's just another variation of the excellence cult I feel like I was confronted with by my ex-fiancé. And I guess I have my own dreams of moving to a house and exercising more and eating better and that magically curing me of my own existence and bringing me closer to the shape I was as a teen and twentysomething. And yet...I'm third generation since my Mayflower-descended grandmother on one side collected tin cans during the Great Depression and my Jewish family on the other side fled pogroms in Odessa. If you do a Google search for "starvation epigenetics," it's pretty clear that my family's genes are likely influencing me in inescapable ways. Or as some would crudely say, "Look at her mother." So there are actual reasons why this may not be entirely within my control. And if I never escape whatever this is, will I still accept myself? I have to.

2. I'm also a caregiver who has gone through an immense amount of life stress in the past few years, and I think some of it has fed upon itself. You get stressed out about impossible life situations and then you inevitably gain weight (even if you're not overeating, you're stressed and you probably don't sleep as well, which correlates with weight gain too, and then you throw out your back or your shoulder from rolling over wrong...). The stress may in fact trigger whatever epigenetic stuff you had floating in your DNA. Then your managers may see this and judge you; they see sloth and malice that they would never attribute to a thin person taking the same actions you did. All of this adds up, and when there's a time that the benefit of the doubt is called for, you no longer qualify. You're no longer the ingénue with a snarky voice; you're a slug and a hag who no one wants to see. It makes me thankful to work remotely now, although some would say that working remotely is a cause of obesity, because my abilities are foregrounded over appearance. Whatever working remotely does to a person—and I feel like we're really in the early stages of testing this out as a society—that is one huge benefit.

3. My father, who's always been obsessed with weight (and shamed my mother for her weight, which is pretty similar to mine, my whole life), is now at the point where with his 6-foot frame, after three strokes, several years' worth of persistent infections, and surgery for colon cancer, he's starting to look a bit on the thin side. We're at that point where people look at him and start asking questions about hospice. And yet he's still incredibly picky about his food (granted, it's nursing-home food, but still) and has felt proud that he weighs around 150 pounds. Peach's comment above about a mother with Parkinson's who feels proud to weigh 129 pounds is definitely familiar.

4. What jb noted about fear after seeing how obesity has affected family members makes me reflect that a lot of this fat-shaming stuff is really the result of people, including other fat people, fearing the consequences, societal or healthwise, of being fat themselves. So much fear leads to so much judgment, regardless of whether it's intentional. People behave as if obesity is a plague. It makes me think of "The Masque of the Red Death."

5. I remember when I came to college, surrounded by people of means, how good everyone looked. People had great teeth (money to afford braces), great hair (money to afford good haircuts and fancy products), and great skin (money to afford a doctor who'd prescribe Retin-A). And now, a lot of them (admittedly a self-selecting group) post photos of their adventures as thin people with beautiful partners, running and hiking and traveling the world. The thing is, you can take the girl out of her hometown, but you can't take the hometown out of the girl—another crude cliché that nonetheless has some truth behind it. Going to a good school may increase one's upward mobility, but one's origins nonetheless may place limits on it. The people I grew up with in a middle-class Midwestern suburb have now become disproportionately obese. And the people I met in college who came from more middle-class backgrounds like mine are similarly struggling. It's like, God, what did we all eat? What did we do? We can't all be terrible people. If the people of means are thin, well, maybe they had the privilege of growing up in less contaminated places; eating organic, less adulterated food; with less epigenetics-triggering life stress and parents who lived longer with fewer major health problems, as well as the wherewithal to hire personal trainers and afford fancy gym memberships. You can see it take shape across the same generation of the same family I know who grew up across the country under differing circumstances—the siblings whose parents fought and divorced and scrabbled over resources and died young have struggled with their weight more than I think the siblings whose parents stayed together and became country-club members have. All of these things factor into how people take on their adult form.
posted by limeonaire at 7:11 PM on June 22, 2016 [26 favorites]


Some of the people who have been most persistent in telling me how I should try harder to exercise and eat healthy are other fat people, including some of the people closest to me, and in a lot of cases I think it's because if other people who look like them aren't trying, they feel like they won't try, or that they need to always be surrounding themselves with people who are trying.

One of the typical sentiments about fat people that I see voiced around me is that they can prove that they're "good" by trying, and if they're not trying, they should be shamed. I saw this most recently in some Facebook posts about plus size model Tess Holliday giving birth to a son; in the comments on, like, the People mag FB post announcing the birth, there were women in there talking about how sad it is that Tess doesn't even try to lose weight. She likes herself the way she is, and that's bad, because she's fat, and fat is bad, and she shouldn't be allowed to like herself. If only she'd try! She has such a pretty face! Cue my eternal rage, because holy hell, y'all.
posted by palomar at 7:33 PM on June 22, 2016 [12 favorites]


5. I remember when I came to college, surrounded by people of means, how good everyone looked.

This totally fits my experience. I also went back to my home town a few years after college and was really startled by both how much larger people were, and how familiar that felt to me.
posted by amtho at 8:53 PM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


My dad: You'd be so pretty if you lost weight. (repeat a million times)

My thirteen year old self: I will never be loved. I will never try for love unless I am smaller.

Which will eventually translate to: I will never trust a man who proclaims to love me even when I am smaller because I should always be smaller than I am now so he is lying.

This is the cycle of my life. I lose weight, I get involved with a man. The relationship crashes due to lack of trust (or whatever else). I gain weight and will not allow myself to even get close to anyone and if anyone tries I dodge it. Right now, I am fatter again. While I can intellectually understand and want to love myself I just can't. I can't even masturbate anymore because I am so disgusted by my own body. It's so ridiculous because I have fat friends who are down with their selves and I am not disgusted by them, I don't find them contemptible and repugnant. That's something I reserve entirely for myself. Maybe this is some horrible way for me to feel I am special.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 10:30 PM on June 22, 2016 [4 favorites]


My dad: You'd be so pretty if you lost weight. (repeat a million times)

Yes, this from my mother a million times. Along with the well-worn corollary, "You have such a pretty face, why can't you work on the rest?"

*screams*
posted by TwoStride at 10:37 PM on June 22, 2016 [1 favorite]


My own mother assumed I was diabetic because I'm fat. She started talking to me very worriedly about how I could loose my feet. She was also worried because now and then I drank vitamin water (usually when I was skipping meals because I was busy - I'm working on the whole eat several meals thing right now; having breakfast at 7PM after a busy day is a really bad idea). It was a bunch of calories, you see, and despite my learning how to read the ingredients list in high school and teaching how to read it to my clients (usually, ironically, as part of helping them manage their actual diagnosed diabetes), I might not have noticed.

Turns out - I'm not diabetic. I'm just fat. Actually pretty healthy, except for the fat thing.

My own MOTHER. I still furious, just thinking about how fat hatred led my own mother to treat me like a stupid child while assuming I was in the final stages of a disease I don't even have - all because I'm fat.

I'm trying to love myself. I'm trying to take care of this body I hate, to eat regular meals, to go out and move around, to be kind to myself. It is SO HARD.
posted by Deoridhe at 12:02 AM on June 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


Elna Baker's story ripped my heart out. What bothered me the most - oh, God, so much - is the way her husband couldn't sit, even for a second, with any responsibility for the pain she was feeling. To say, Yeah, you're right, I probably wouldn't have noticed you when you were fat and that is a terrible thing and scary to think about, because I love you and it would have been the worst mistake of my life... Like, it's not about what he may or may not have done in the past; it is the horrific tone deafness of what he is and is not saying, right now, in the present.

And that was bad enough, but then to say: I think the real you is skinny - when the skinny Elna is ON SPEED SO THAT SHE CAN STAY THIN. So in essence saying that the 'real' her is her on drugs! Take that back, Elna's husband! Take that back right now! And look your fucking beautiful, brilliant, amazing wife in the eye and tell her that you'll still love her if she gets fat because that is what she is asking; she's not playing stupid hypothetical games about whether he would have dated her before she lost weight; she's asking if she has to stay on fucking speed to stay married and as far as I can tell he is saying YES.

I mean, OK, we live in a garbage world in which the reality is that many men overlook overweight women. Fine. That is bad enough. But unless there is a whole lot more to that conversation, Elna's husband is UNUSUALLY GARBAGE and right now I don't even have mental space to be annoyed at Dan Savage because I dislike Elna's husband so very very much.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 6:27 AM on June 23, 2016 [44 favorites]


I've been a Top-Of-The-Straight-Sizes fat person since approximately age seven, which might make me average but also makes me, by most other people's metric, fat. I have spent most of my life invisible to men except as a friend/buddy/snarky sidekick. I have endured countless comments from friends, family and strangers alike about how some part of my life would be substantially improved if I would lose (depending on styles and context) anywhere from 40 to 80 pounds. I spend most of my young life (aged 8-27, say) on some diet or another, never managing to drop more than 15-20 pounds at a time after months and months of being hungry all the time.

I finally quit all that. Because it was dumb. Because I am who I am. A girl who wears what she wants and has loud opinions and plenty of friends. I won't do the thing that fat people feel like we have to by listing off all of my health credentials, but suffice to stay, I feel great, physically, almost all time. And the fact that my thighs touch and fat rolls jiggle doesn't bring all the boys to the yard? Not my goddamn problem.

This was a fantastic episode. And if you've ever said a thing to me about my weight and I know how to get in touch with you, you will have found a link to it in your inbox first thing Monday morning.
posted by thivaia at 6:35 AM on June 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


And look your fucking beautiful, brilliant, amazing wife in the eye and tell her that you'll still love her if she gets fat because that is what she is asking; she's not playing stupid hypothetical games about whether he would have dated her before she lost weight; she's asking if she has to stay on fucking speed to stay married and as far as I can tell he is saying YES.

I'm not sure that's really fair. The bits of conversations we heard seemed like a bit of an ambush, with her making a lot of statements and him getting maybe half-sentences in in response.

And if she's worried about whether or not he'd leave her if she gained weight, she needs to ask that. Because there's a big difference between superficial dating preferences and what makes someone love their partner long term.
posted by sparklemotion at 7:21 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


as someone who was fat once upon a time, who then lost a lot of weight, I've always been a huge stick in the mud about what weight people should be, the public health crisis, et al. basically, I was a dick about the appearance of 'fatness' even though I was well aware of how 1) shittily superficial US society is, 2) that it's a systemic issue related to things like poverty, location, even race, and 3) just how shitty you feel when you are fat because of how the world treats you, as a default

I think a lot of my logic towards that had to do with the fact that I did grow up a poor minority kid in a predominantly white, middle-class town and, so, for me, losing weight through strenuous, body-breaking exercise was at least something that I felt like I could control about my outward image. and so when I got to an ideal bodyweight, I felt more in control, less anxious, etc, and I adopted that shitty, self-interested attitude about 'how I made it, these are the bootstraps I pulled up, now you can, too'

listening to this podcast was illuminating to say the least. I've read Roxanne Gay's work before (on The Butter and bits from her book) and that's helped me calm down a bit because it helped me to understand that intersection of class, race, and body image. but Elna Baker's story? and her husband saying 'the skinny Elna is the real Elna'? fuck that. fuck that attitude completely. holy fuck. talk about like not understanding where your SO is coming from at all. talk about failing, completely, to do the emotional labor required to understand your partner's tumultuous and confusing identity crisis that has to be such a central part to her life. ugh. let me never be in a place where I force my social norms about body image on anybody else to the detriment of their mental health. because god knows I've had that going my way enough in my life that I can be just a little bit more open-minded about it

so yeah, I loved this podcast. but, really, honestly, I HATE this thread's (and, generally, Metafilter's knack for) taking any honest, legitimate thread about a topic and turning a good chunk of that into a derail about how much EVERYBODY hates Dan Savage, what a tool he is, and fuck that guy just because he happens to have been mentioned on it. look, Dan Savage is an asshole who sometimes says shitty things. but, unlike most prideful assholes who says shitty things, he doesn't double-down on things once he gets a halfway decent talking to. his shittiness towards bisexuality, transgenderism, or fat people? he's walked those back, he notes that everytime the topic pops up that he's been called out on it. both Lindy West and Ira Glass note, in the podcast, that he's stopped being a shit about it and yet there seems to be an altnerative telling of it here where he's still made out to be a stubborn asshole. so, ffs, I know you all have a bone to pick with him but maybe you want to do that on your own time (like with darts and a printed screenshot) instead of dragging that into every single thread you see his name mentioned. assholes change. give them credit for doing so. we're not all triumphantly open-minded creatures of light like the rest of you
posted by runt at 7:35 AM on June 24, 2016 [9 favorites]


Finally listened to the entire podcast and all I have to say is that it was beautiful, touching and eye opening. The contrast between Lindy and Baker's stories was harrowing, particularly because of Baker's self awareness of the potential destructive of her commitment to keeping the weight off to get what she wants.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:59 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


But the thing about Dan Savage is that he DID double down on his stance. After Lindy posted her "Hi, I'm Fat" post to the blog at The Stranger, he wrote a sneering response that reiterated his stance. He's acknowledged that he's been called out for fat-shaming, but has he actually said he was wrong? I haven't heard it. Has he apologized to Lindy beyond the "I'm sorry that you feel this way but it's clearly a problem with you, not me" language he used in that response? He's stopped publicly being a shit, but has he ever tried to make amends?

It's weird to me that it's okay for Dan to call people out and continue to call them out even after they go silent on their bigotry, but it's not okay to treat him the same way. Or that it's not okay for folks affected by his bigotry to talk about how he's impacted their lives in a negative way.
posted by palomar at 10:34 AM on June 24, 2016 [15 favorites]


Got to hear this on my way home from work today, after having seen some of the comments here. I was not prepared for how devastating Elna Baker's story is, even though y'all warned me. Just tragic. Also the incredible weirdness of the Oral Roberts story.
posted by hydropsyche at 1:24 PM on June 24, 2016


I don't know if anyone is even following this thread anymore, but I wanted to say more. I've started so many comments that I end up abandoning. I've cried while writing them. I wanted to be real with you all. So real like you beautiful brave souls have been. And apparently I just can't. You know why? Because then it would be here, for all to see, for all to judge. And that's a fucking shame that I am allowing myself to be silenced.

But I just want you to know your pain is mine, too. God, I feel you. Each one of you.
posted by bologna on wry at 3:56 PM on June 24, 2016 [16 favorites]


Yeah, seriously, I stopped reading or caring about Dan Savage when he kept denigrating women's bodies, despite multiple people saying, "Hey, you're being fucking misogynist," and him doubling tripling quintupling decapoling down on how gross women were. He's an asshole who's occasionally charming.
posted by lazuli at 8:50 PM on June 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Hey, if anyone is still following this conversation, this was my first post after being on Metafilter for years. Thank you for the input, thank you for providing the conversation that I needed to process what I was hearing and going through emotionally. I love you all.

When this TAL showed up in my podcast cue I listened to it because it was there. Then I listened to it four or five more times because it was so resonant. I cried to it, I laughed to it, but ultimately I felt alone about it. And then I came here. I have never felt comfortable talking about these issues with friends and family because the usual end to the interchange is someone telling me "you are not fat!" or other kinds of dismissive comments that basically boil down to "you are making me uncomfortable, let's please not talk about this anymore". This has been amazing for me. Thank you all for your contributions to this conversation.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 8:29 AM on June 26, 2016 [14 favorites]


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