Let’s be frank. There’s a lot of hellabaloo over “body shaming” and “body acceptance” and “all sizes are beautiful” and what have you. But that doesn’t change what we know.
We know we make judgements every day about what we see, from “that chair doesn’t look safe to sit on” to “this person appears to be in charge.” Pretending we don’t see things, or that things have no data attached to them, is silly.
Yes, we are overweight. No, that’s not always a sign of a body crisis or a psychological disorder or an obsession with a number. It’s the frank truth that we know and perceive that we’re carrying more weight than is health for us – for our internal organs, for our joints, for our function, for our ability to sleep, for thousands of things. Let’s not pretend that’s not the truth. It IS the truth.
The question I think we (those of us who are overweight, and I am) want to know is, what does that mean about us? How many times have we put “fat” and “lazy” together — that fat, lazy cat, etc. So when we realize that we are, indeed, fat (e.g. carrying more adipose tissue than is healthy for us), it is not just a realization of our physical condition. It automatically prompts a mini-crisis about our moral standing. Are we lazy? My gosh, it sure feels like I’m working hard enough. Are we undisciplined? Are we gluttons? Do we have poor work ethics? Do we make poor choices? Do we just not care what happens to our bodies? Are we stupid? Do we just not get cause and effect? Do we not value health? Do we live only for pleasure?
I could make arguments about all that. Mostly societal arguments, that says as a culture we’ve moved further and further away from authenticity, and we have to fight culture more and more to in order to live in a healthy manner. But the fact remains, regardless, that here we are. Now what?
And it’s easy for people to start throwing out diet suggestions and work out routines, but again, let’s be frank: the first question is really what do we do with the motions and self-evaluations? Hide from them? Wallow in them? Or, if we dare, wade into them and sort them out and see which ones we can learn from?
One little thing I’ve managed to grasp or gnaw at is that I view my body and my health as a given (or I did, prior to the bubonic plague). Sure, it would be nice to take extra good care of it; everyone knows exercise is good and that you should probably only have one brownie. But essentially, I deserve to have a body that is functioning well, and generally speaking, that’s the body I will have.
Now this is subconscious. Not conscious. Trust me. I’ve cared for enough elderly people on the way out the door, helped enough people out of bed who can barely make it to the chair. I “know” death and sickness happens to us all. Just this modus operandi of “my body works for me, and I’ve got stuff to do, so body care is just going to take last priority while I put out all of these other fires, and ‘someday’ I’ll return to dutiful body care.”
This seemed like it made sense. Prioritize emergencies first. Once “the scene is safe,” then attend to sundry things. Problem is, by my count, I my “state of emergency” has lasted almost 7 years now. Little wonder, to me, that stuff has finally hit the fan (whether you agree with my declaration of a spiritual problem or if you insist on one-dimensional theories of physics, biology and chemistry). And the fact is, even if I “get better” — even if this isn’t a chronic condition that will follow me throughout my life — there’s no going back to what those 7 years were like, because those were seven years of burning my body like fuel on a fire. Something has to change, so I have to take that painful look at what the heck went wrong.
And this is the thing, I think–well, one of the things. It’s that the god of achievement leaves no room for that think called “maintenance,” or even better, “tender, loving care.” People, there is STUFF that NEEDS to be DONE! Do the things, so you can do the things, so you can do the things, so you can ACHIEVE!
I have to go to school, so I can pass my classes, so I can complete the program, so I can get a job, so I can get a life. In this line of thinking, it some how seems to make sense to drag your sick body to school, barely able to interact with anyone or even keep yourself propped up in the chair, because Deadlines. Stupid? Not in the moment. Rational. Have to pass classes. Have to complete program. Seven years of this insanity, in one form or another.
And the opposite, unfortunately, rings irrational to the ear. Trash my understanding of the course material to make it to a gym? Skip class to day dream and write? Make a priority out of going for a hike instead of turning in an assignment?
Oh, I am such a sucker for the phrase “the expectation.” Whether the expectation is that I’ll come in for work regardless of illness or the expectation is that since I’m a graduate student I’ll never miss a minute of class, that insinuation hooks right in to my sense of guilt and duty and obligation, and drags me along like a senseless being. I’m “expected” to show up, so I will, because no one has given me permission to not. Do I belong here? Heck, I’m here only because one said I could go! Please, please, please give me permission to Not Show Up.
Nobody ever gives you that permission, not even while they’re saying “your health comes first” and “take care of yourself.” They always finish up with “just do what you can do.” People, we don’t really know what all it is we can do till we die in the process. Is that really how you want me to approach this?
And then people tell you you’re fat because you’re lazy. I’m not lazy. I just poured myself out on the wrong stuff, is all. I think maybe, because part of me is still hooked on guilt and is trying to say, “look, sometimes you have to make sacrifices.” Yeah, but sacrifices to what? The god of Achievement? How’s that workin’ out for you? How about sacrificing the god of Achievement on, gosh, I don’t know, nearly any other altar, or just straight up killing the god and getting on with your life without that kind of guilt and bondage?
Easier said than done. I had to enter in my work and academic history today. I felt a little bad anytime I saw an A- next to all the A’s and A+’s and noticed the thought flitting by in my head — why couldn’t I have just tried a little harder? What went wrong that I couldn’t get those few extra points?
WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH ME THAT I CARE ABOUT A LITTLE DASH OF BLACK INK ON A STUPID PIECE OF PAPER?
That’s my problem. Not an insatiable desire for food. Not an abhorrence to exercise. Not a desire to sit in front of a screen instead of go outside. Not a lack of curiosity about the world. My problem is, faced with the “expectations” of others and my own good common sense, I fold to the “expectations.” My problem is, I have convictions in theory, and fling them on the side of the road when faced with the “threat” of “failure.” My problem is, I know darn well what is good for me, and pretend I have no other choice, because I’m afraid to defy the established norms of what I perceive to be my responsibility. I “have” to, and so I “can’t” do otherwise.
It’s hard to admit to myself that I’m a coward.
But that’s the only way to go looking for courage.
And if courage is what it takes to get out of the spiral of destruction of the last 7 years, then I guess courage is what I need.