Sarcasm: the emotional barrier of champions

Hey blog, it’s been a while!  It’s mostly been a while because I’ve been working nonstop for the past ~2 months and have finally got a break (and by break I mean I’m done working for the summer).  I should be blogging more regularly now, so yay.

My first job this summer was through the medical school at my university.  It was for Native high school kids who want to pursue careers in medicine.  This is awesome.  We need more Native doctors and I’m glad to help.

Well, a few weeks into this six-week program, a Diabetes Team from the local reservation came to talk to the kids.  I’m not going to claim that diabetes isn’t a problem in Native communities; it is, and that sucks.  However, I believe that IT IS NOT BECAUSE WE ARE ALL TEH FATZ.  The “team” consisted of two women (at least one of them was white, I’m not sure about the other): a personal trainer/fitness expert (or something) and a nutritionist.  They did the standard “exercise and eat healthy food and lose weight and you’ll greatly reduce your risk for the diabeetus” spiel, and they did not fail to mention that losing 10-15% of one’s body weight is, like, totally good for you.  (I posted last month about this.)

The whole weight loss component of the presentation made me uncomfortable, and the nutritionist had blocks of fake fat in the amounts of 1, 5 and 20 pounds.  The 20-pound chunk of fat was kind of like a front-facing backpack so you can totally know what it feels like to be 20 pounds heavier!  Because whenever you gain 20 pounds, you carry it with straps on your shoulders.  She had a volunteer go up to the front to wear the 20 pounds and proceeded to ask her, “how does it feel?  Is it harder to move around and do things?” (it was.) and asked the room “Has anyone here ever lost 20 pounds before?”  I bit my tongue instead of saying what was in my head at that point, which was Yeah, when I was depressed/had severe issues with disordered eating/was crash dieting and hated myself, thanks for bringing that up. The BMI was mentioned once or twice.

The students did sessions of Problem-Based Learning (PBL), which is apparently what they do in med school; they were given a medical case and had to see what was wrong with the person.  The very last one involved a woman who had pain in her mouth and dwindling eyesight and rapid weight loss, and it turned out she had diabetes.  I don’t remember her height, but she weighed over 190 pounds, to which one of the two boys in this particular group responded:  “DAAAYUMMMNN!!”

I felt a little uncomfortable, mostly because I weigh >100 lbs. more than this hypothetical woman, and I’m pretty sure their facilitator, associate something-or-other for the medical school, assumed for the few weeks we interacted with each other that I was about to die of fat.  This happens every time my friends/whatever people I’m with (like the students at work) talk about other fatties when I’m around; I can’t help but think “what do they say about me when I’m not around?  Do they not see that I’m fatter than [whoever they're talking about]?  WTF?”  My default defense mechanism is sarcasm, but that doesn’t really seem to work when I’m confronting issues of fat, because I forget that people actually believe that fat people don’t deserve nice things, or that no heterosexual male would ever want to have sex with a Fat Chick, EVER.  Sarcasm tends to be lost on people who have been socialized to believe what you’re saying, or they sense the sarcasm but don’t understand why it’s there because these statements are OBVS TRUE.

At the end of the program, the kids did presentations about different health issues:  COPD, pandemic influenza, asthma and smoking, healthy aging, something I don’t remember, and “Nutrition and Healthy Lifestyles.”  The Nutrition group started out by saying (and I may be paraphrasing slightly) “it’s common knowledge that obesity causes a myriad of health problems” and encouraged everyone to lose weight if their BMI was in the “overweight” range.  Common knowledge is something that irks me, especially when used about something that ISN’T common knowledge–or, in this case, something that is widely accepted but not true.  It’s like saying “it’s common knowledge that fat people never exercise and binge eat 24/7.”  There are people who actually believe this shit, and if they happen to come across a fatty who does exercise and doesn’t gorge themselves constantly, it’s “oh, but you’re the exception!” and/or “it’s okay for you because you can’t help it!”

I’m at the point where I’m finally comfortable calling people out about fatphobia, but I’m not comfortable enough to do it in a serious way.  My response to a friend who has made an effort to eat healthily and exercise tends to be “I heard fat is the worst thing anyone could ever be in the history of everything.”  It’s taken her a while to get that I don’t want to hear about how she OMG gained five pounds and that is definitely the end of the world!!!11one, but it’s happening.

I use sarcasm as an emotional shield for a lot of things, which I realize is probably unhealthy but it’s how I do.  When friends or even acquaintances say or do things that make me uncomfortable I tend to panic and revert to sarcastically remarking, “Rape is hilarious!” (why do I have friends who make rape jokes?  sigh.) because if I didn’t have that defense mechanism I might start crying and screaming at them instead.

Other fat bloggers have explained the concept of intellectually understanding fat acceptance while emotionally holding onto the Fantasy of Being Thin or just thinking “if I were X pounds lighter/X dress sizes smaller, I could really start accepting my fat body!”–or the Fantasy of Being a Little Less Fat.  To be completely honest with you, it’s only been half a year (almost 7 months!) since I was intellectually introduced to the concept that OHAI, fatness isn’t the end of the world.  I totally got it and I was ready to jump on board with the whole FA thing and fuck diets and whatnot, but there are still times when I catch a glimpse of my body from an unflattering angle or something and think “how could anyone ever find this attractive?  I’ll probably die alone,” moments after I’ve looked at photos of gorgeous fat girls who are roughly my size.

I used to wish I was shorter, because at 5’7″ I’m too tall for the category of “spunky because they’re short and chubby” girls–Tracy Turnblad from Hairspray and the like.  Oh fucked-up body image issues, you are so odd.

So it’s really sad, but if I didn’t deadpan “fat people don’t deserve nice things” or something similar, I might slip and let myself go back to an emotional place that involves a lot of self-hatred because there was a time at which I believed this was true and I’ve had a hell of a time figuring out that it isn’t… if only it were simpler.

I’m working on it.

August 1, 2009. Tags: , , , , . FA, intersectionality, real-life wtfery.

4 Comments

  1. Shinobi replied:

    I’m 6′ and fat, SO far from the short spunky fat girl It’s not even funny. I often feel like a giant in a land of tiny rude people.

    That common knowledge thing has been driving me crazy lately too. Every time I turn around someone is all “Well Everyone Knows Fat = DOOM” and oh really, “Everyone” knows? Well “Everyone” is clearly not much of a critical thinker.

    I applaud your use of sarcasm. I think sometimes dry humor makes a better point than lecturing people about why what they say is wrong. You are right about its limitations though.

    Hang in there.

  2. librarychair replied:

    This is rather infuriating. I really, REALLY dislike it when doctors lecture or try to scare people about fat, as though we are all ignorant of the medical hype. We have already been hearing all about it from every media source in every direction since we could recognize images, and giving a lecture to people about how fat is bad is just the same as saying “I think you are incredibly dense, so I’m going to say this again”. It’s insulting. In many, many ways.

  3. anon replied:

    I have been both, fat and superfly. What struck me (and it probably should have been obvious…) was how the positive reinforcement kept me on the skinny track and the negative reinforcement kept me on the fat track. Of course, diet and exercise are great, but until we explore the emotional link between diet and self-worth/self-esteem, nothing will effectively change. Thanks for your blog and an opportunity to comment.

  4. thefatandskinny replied:

    thanks for entering the contest! good luck!

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