choosing shape
August 13, 2002 11:55 AM

I posed a question to the WHB crew last weekend. A question to start discussion about the notion of anorexia as a choice (a lifestyle versus a disease versus whatever else). And yes, I suppose it implied that being fat was a choice, too.

Because. Being fat is a choice. It's often as simple as a choice to stop trying to destroy your body. Notice I said: being fat is a choice not to destroy your body. Forcing any body not to eat, be it a fat one or a thin one, is cruel. But it is a choice you can make, one you're often pushed to make in a culture that rewards thin. Or, you can choose to be the size your body settles at.

The responses to this question floored me. I expected to take this topic personally (hell, when do I ever not take anything personally?). But. As a fattie who would rather stay fat and healthy than diet to a shape and size no one would ever consider small enough to be acceptable in the first place, I ended up feeling slightly betrayed.

It seems so easy for everyone to accept that anorexia is a disease, but when it comes to fat, a lot of responses seemed to imply that being fat was a result of some sort of compulsion. That fatties are desperate and diseased because their hands just can't stop moving from the chip bag to their mouths.

Of course, there are such things as binge eaters. There are fat and thin people for whom eating and exercise are a problem. But the assumption of fat itself as a disease undermines not only the social role of healthy fat people but also the treatment of people who actually have compulsive eating problems. Just as accusingly or jokingly calling a thin person "anorexic" undermines people who have survived and struggled through anorexia.

I wanted to talk about the pro-ana movement/trend. I wanted to talk about how much I worry that we've turned anorexic into a trend, into something a fourteen year old might aspire to be. Anorexia, the new pink.

I wanted to talk about how clear it is that feminism isn't dead when you see the number of young women for whom food is the only element of their lives they can control.

I wanted to say that maybe pro-ana is the new girl power, the new feminine community. That I see an element of "fuck your fascist beauty standards" in the anorexic body. That sometimes you have to take what power you can get, even if that power is just over your body, which is you. I wanted to say, I understand that. I can see the appeal. And I wanted to say, what good are we - if that's still the only power women think we have?

And then I think about us fatties. And the way we (society) have been trained to think that fatties have no control over themselves. We've let ourselves go, we're lazy binge eaters, we're going to die now now now. Bullshit.

Here's something you probably don't know: there is no "diet" that works. When people diet (which is usually a sort of starvation; most commerical diets offer about 800 calories a day, little enough to qualify you as anorexic if you were already thin), they lose weight, then gain it all back. Plus more. The nature of diets teaches the body to expect starvation, to hoard food by slowing the metabolism. Diets fail unless constantly decrease the level of food you take in - and then, slowly, you starve. When you diet and then stop (even if you stop at a healthy level of food and exercise), you almost always get fatter. When people adopt healthy lifestyles, sometimes they shrink and sometimes they don't. Sometimes they grow.

I have been thinner. But I am stronger, more flexible, more mobile now. I do not understand how someone could think I am less healthy this way. It just plain makes me sad.

So. When we worry that Americans are getting fatter, maybe we should look at when it started: in the mid-eighties, shortly after the commercial diet industry first started booming. Maybe we should worry about the constantly shrinking definition of "ideal" weight based on studies that show little to no causative effect of weight on health. Maybe we should consider the diet industry's complicity in the vast majority of that research, or our own willingness to believe anything that makes us feel guilty. Maybe we should wonder why sex, but only the exact right kind of sex with the exact right kind of body, is the primary power advertised for women. Why we spend so much time on this one issue and make so little progress.

And maybe we should think about those things when we wonder why young women would find it so appealing to shrink themselves into non-existence.

I worry when I see people running litigious to claim this food was bad for me or that cigarette was bad for me. I think it robs us. I know it distances us from our bodies, just as the starvation process (the proscriptions made by eating disorders and dieting eliminate your ability to identify hunger) makes the body and the person two separate things.

The body, the feminine body in particular, can become a battle site. But. It is the one place you should feel most in control - not because you've altered your form to match the prevailing idea of beautiful (although that's a choice you can make), but because your body is a vehicle. It is also, simply, you.

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