Friday, May 11, 2012

Oh lord, big fat woman

Great-great-grandma. We share DNA.

I'm sitting at my desk, listening to Leadbelly croon the above-quoted song, from 1936. Here are some lyrics:
Big fat woman
With her meat hanging on her bone
She was born and raised in old Kentucky home
I love my woman and I tell you what I do
I love my woman and I tell you what I do
I love my woman and I tell the world I do
Oh Lord
She's so good to me just like I do you

I woke up this morning and I found my baby gone
I woke up this morning and I found my baby gone
I was so mistreated
But I wouldn't let on
Today we're told that food is bad, that it possesses a moral quantity. We're told to deprive ourselves of food. We're told that food should bring no joy. We're told that the highest good, the most possible value we can have, especially as women, is to look like this photograph:

You can never be too skinny or too rich, say the fashion magazines. She who wins, dies, read the pro-anorexic sites I used to frequent.

The fact is that farm wives look like the first photograph, my great-great grandmother, not like the second. Being a farm wife means spending all winter eating potatoes, and sauerkraut, and sausages made from the nasty bits of the pig you slaughter in the fall. It means spending all winter gathering layers of clothing and fat around yourself, to prepare yourself for the dearth of nutrients you'll suffer through during the cold season. That's what it used to mean. Now it just means self-hatred.

These beliefs are completely dysfunctional, and they drive all of us, those of us on the wrong side of the line, the vast cultural divide that no one who's ever been skinny understands, straight into the arms of the donut. It doesn't help for you to call me disgusting, to roll your eyes, to say: “I don't eat that. I eat healthy food. Do you really need to eat that?”

Another song, from 2008:
I cannot emphasize enough that my body
Is a badly designed, poorly put together vessel
Harboring these diminishing so called vital organs
Hope my heart goes first, I hope my heart goes first

We are beautiful, we are doomed
--Los Campesinos! [Buy an album.]
People have been telling me that I'm fat, or “beefy,” as my mom likes to put it, since I was eight years old. At a certain point, say when I was eight-and-a-half, I started believing it. Even the day I finished the Appalachian Trail, when I was burning 7000 calories a day, I was a full fifteen pounds heavier than the medically approved median weight for my height. What hope does that leave for me with a career as a writer, spent with an ass spreading in a chair made of wood, and a winter spent eating potatoes and shoring my body up against the cold?

And still, even now, people on television tell me how disgusting and repulsive I am. Last night on The Colbert Report, the director of the National Institutes of Health brought in a five-pound chunk of fat and slapped it on the table to show all of us overweight Americans how horrible we are, how much better we need to be doing. As if I don't punish myself enough already. As if I don't know how to punish myself further. It makes me, it makes all of us, want to obliterate ourselves with a pound of ice cream and a shotgun blast to the head.

You don't know how it feels, I want to scream to all of you skinny bastards. You don't know how it feels to know: I'm never going to be a normal person. I'm never going to be able to eat like a normal person. I'm never going to be able to eat when I'm hungry. I can never eat what I'm hungry for. I can never listen to my body and answer it. Not without guilt, without shame, without punishment from the culture at large, condemnation from the people I love, and judgment from numbers on a scale. No. What you want from me, what you've always wanted from me, is for me to starve myself. You want me to be miserable. You want me to suffer.

Childhood obesity is a problem. But I know, from personal experience, what it does to a child to tell her that she's somehow less, by being bigger, than everyone else. We have a giant cultural problem with food, clearly. It's a more dangerous addiction for us than alcohol, drugs, or sex, far more dangerous than any addiction except, perhaps, gasoline or television, but still our culture sandwiches ads for Weight Watchers in between ads for Burger King and ads for heartburn drugs.

It's not a problem of farming, or advertising, or big food companies. It's a problem of psychology. Until you can teach me not to hate myself, not to spend my life trying to be something other than I am, it's a problem for which I have no solution. If I did, I'd be a Victoria's Secret model.

1 comment:

Red Sonia said...

Amazing. This is so personal and powerful and I love that you wrote it and shared it. I can't even think of words to tell you what or why or how I liked it. Just that I did and so, thank you for being you and going to this place!