Month: December, 2009

Diet pop culture: Dolph Lundgren’s Maximum Potential.

From my sweethearts at Everything Is Terrible! — isn’t it odd how the face of MAXIMUM FITNESS looks an awful lot like the face of serene sociopathy?

Either way, this dude — with his short shorts, his Nair-smooth legs, and his zinc-oxide lip balm — is basically my ideal man.

(Well…except for the shorts, the hairless legs, the lip balm, and the utter lack of human emotion in the face of his high technology lifestyle.)

Dear Fat Nutritionist – You’re pretty good looking (for a girl.)

French version of this post here, courtesy Stéphanie Potin-Grevrend.

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There’s been some talk about the way I look in comments this week, which always brings up issues for me. Then I received the following email this morning, and I thought it was the perfect way to address this issue — which is not just a personal one, but very closely tied to fat acceptance and feminism.

Dear Fat Nutritionist,

Here’s a question from a first-time visiting guy: how would you rate your awareness that you’re so beautiful it’s kind of totally ridiculous? You know, on a scale from 1 for “totally oblivious” to 10 for “painfully aware, I get messages like this every day.”

Have an awesome week … and good luck with the site!

-Anon

Hey Anon,

I appreciate the compliment, and it’s charmingly stated. You probably intended it as a rhetorical question, but if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to tell you a story about my awareness of my own beauty.

When I was very little, I became aware that I was considered more valuable to other people when I looked a certain way. On days when my mother curled my hair and dressed me in ruffles, I was treated with a kind of fawning admiration by the adults I encountered. When she didn’t, and as I grew older, out of that perfectly sweet toddler age and into a considerably more awkward and willful one, the more invisible I seemed to become.

I proceeded through childhood seeing romantic movies, even cartoons, that depicted the lives and problems of conventionally beautiful people as more important, and endlessly more fascinating, than the lives and problems of the dowdy or traditionally unattractive.

Do you remember how, in ancient times, and even up through the past several hundred years, plays and novels and epics almost exclusively concerned themselves with the lives of royalty, the nobility, or, at least, the very, very wealthy? And have you noticed that now, in this supposedly classless modern society of ours, the stories of the rich and powerful have simply been exchanged for the stories of the young and beautiful? In 1847, Jane Eyre was considered a startling departure from this convention — and it kinda still is. I’m sure you’ve noticed. At any rate, from a very young age, I did.

I spent my girlhood, like many American girlhoods are spent, wishing fervently to become beautiful. When I was ridiculed in school, when I was ignored or picked on or called a nerd, I turned to the fantasy of sudden beauty as some kind of protector-saint, as though it could save me from the pain of being a human among other humans. Unfortunately (I thought) for me, I was an awkward kid, a tomboy with straight brown hair and glasses, and a pearish figure unaccommodated by the fashionable clothes of the day.

I began to seek beauty like a person possessed, starting around age 11. I read fashion magazines and bought makeup. I put the makeup on. I looked ridiculous, but I kept practicing. I bought clothes, and did it all wrong and got laughed at and made fun of, but I kept trying. I had a feeling that if I could just find the combination to this particular padlock, I would be liked by the right people, I would have the right sort of life, and I wouldn’t have to feel like an alien or an outcast anymore.

Once I hit puberty around 12, I basically looked like a grown-up and stayed that way. People thought I was an adult when I was still in gradeschool. Objectively, my looks did not actually change very much between the ages of 12 and 16.

So imagine my surprise when, one morning when I was 16, I got the combination right — the stupid padlock opened.

At that point, I’d actually sort of given up on the whole enterprise of becoming fashionable, and thought to myself, “Fuck it. I’m just going to do whatever I like.” Since I have a kind of eccentric personal style, this meant styling myself in a way that would have been right at home circa 1915. The previous evening, I’d bobbed my hair and received some new clothes in the mail. All the years of making myself look absurd with makeup had actually made me quite skilled with it.

I got dressed and went to school as usual — pleased with myself, but not expecting anyone else to give a rat’s ass. I walked into school where, just the previous day, I’d been ignored, completely invisible, and considered nerdy and unfashionable and weird. As the doors opened, the first thing I heard was, “SHE LOOKS LIKE A MODEL,” loudly stated by the most intimidating punk of the school to his entire group of intimidating friends.

I froze, half-mortified and half-transfixed. It was one of the few times I’d heard anyone comment positively on my appearance since I was a toddler. It was exactly what I’d been craving for so many years; how could I not feel at least partly pleased? But I was also taken aback — this was not, after all, what I was going after when I’d gotten dressed that morning. Still…it was not exactly a bad result, no? Surely my life would now get better?

Sadly, I realized too clearly that I was not, objectively, “beautiful.” I realized that beauty was not a static thing, not a fixed commodity, and that there were very few people in the world who rolled out of bed looking the cultural ideal. And I was certainly not one of them.

For me, beauty was a costume I put on in the morning and took off at night, when I was finally alone with myself. I knew this, and it made me nervous as all hell, frightened that someone would see through my disguise and take away the status I’d finally, accidentally, managed to achieve.

I began to feel an external obligation to put on my beauty costume, every single day. I was unbearably nervous to leave the house without it. Sometimes it took hours. Sometimes it meant getting up at 5am. Sometimes I rebelled — there was a period where I refused to wash my laundry, to do anything but lay in bed most of the day, and I would literally pick my clothes up off the floor and put them on, then tramp through the mud in my heeled oxfords and long skirts to school.

Pretty soon, I stopped leaving the house as much as possible.

There was another reason for this — when I reached puberty, but not quite fashionability, at age 12, I had my induction into the world of womanhood via the ritual hazing of sexual harassment. I was tormented, squeezed, hissed at, touched, groped, fondled, and pulled forcibly into people’s laps at school.

Do not misunderstand: this was not flirting. It was humiliation and cruelty. These people were not interested in me as a human being; they did not have crushes on me; they did not care for me. It was degradation, plain and simple. And I wanted no part of it. I physically and vociferously fought back. But I was confused — I did not understand why it happened, what I’d done to deserve it, and why no one came to my aid.

As bad as this was, it only got worse when I started dressing in beauty drag. I began attracting the attention of perfect strangers, of people much older than me, people who didn’t just mean to humiliate me, but who actually meant me harm. I went from feeling like an invisible person who was occasionally objectified for other people’s pleasure, to being a deer in hunting season. I was highly visible, something about me was now considered highly desirable, and I was no longer just vulnerable to attack — I was actively targeted because of the way I looked. My life and physical safety were threatened more than once.

My peers also seemed continually amazed to discover that I was intelligent, as though the previous ten years — when I’d been known by reputation as a school-nerd — were blotted out completely by my changed appearance.

Even so, boys at school wanted nothing to do with me — except to talk to their friends about how badly I needed to be screwed — and girls who weren’t already my friends started kissing up to me because my status was now higher. I rebuffed them. I told them off (in my head.) But I was desperately lonely.

As I mentioned, I started becoming afraid to leave the house. A computer nerd from way back, I started using IRC a lot in order to talk to people in a context where I could control how/when to reveal my sex and my appearance.

I had internet boyfriends, who sent me mix tapes, instead of real relationships because I thought I could keep myself safe that way. I was almost completely isolated.

I’d been depressed since about age 12 (SHOCKER), but I was finally diagnosed with depression formally by a therapist who told me, “You look like a Maxfield Parrish painting.”

My last year of high school, I started to mess around with my beauty disguise. I played with the levels of visibility I could achieve, I suppose as some manner of taking back control over this thing that had gotten entirely out of hand. I dressed up some days, and then, other days, I’d wear running shoes, old jeans, my mom’s jacket and glasses.

Once, a kid I didn’t know approached me at school as I sat in my habitual spot in the commons, doing homework.

“Excuse me,” he said. “I have to ask — are you the same girl who normally sits here?”

“Yeah…?”

“I mean, you normally wear a long dress, right? And no glasses?”

“Yes.”

“You just — you look like a completely different girl. Wow. I thought you were someone else.” And he walked away, shaking his head a bit.

I was oddly pleased by this, but it also reinforced my knowledge that the beauty thing was just a disguise, a costume.

In college, when I was 18, I saw a boy in my mythology class who seemed interesting. He took absolutely no notice of me for several weeks, dressed in my jeans and army surplus jacket. I decided to conduct an experiment: for the next class, I would dress up and see what happened.

What happened was he came and sat by me, asked me if I was new in the class, then carried my books while walking me to my dad’s car when class was over. The only thing different was my mode of dress.

I am older now and a lot fatter, but I still can manage to put on the costume when I need to. I am conscious that I am treated differently when wearing beauty: better in certain circumstances, worse in others. I am sexually harassed more on the street, but receive better service and kinder attentions from people. I get more attention, but people, perhaps, take me less seriously.

I made the conscious decision, when I started this website, that I would use an attractive picture of myself on the front page. Because being fat in this world is already a black mark against me, I knew I would have to tap some of the status that my false beauty can afford to partially make up for that. I knew my writing would be more likely to be read, and people would be more interested in hearing me out, perhaps even giving me media coverage, if they thought I were beautiful.

The truth is the same as it has always been: I’m not actually beautiful. I’m simply and idiosyncratically myself. Beauty is a cultural construct designed to keep people balanced on a knife-edge of anxiety over the potential loss of status, and the rabid desire to gain it. That knife-edge is so slender that hardly anyone, as I said before, rolls out of bed in the morning and balances on it effortlessly. Those who do are highly paid to do just that.

There will come a time when this costume no longer fits, when I am old enough and changed enough that no amount of makeup, no hairstyle, no set of clothes will be able to obscure my nature to the extent necessary to imitate cultural standards of beauty. When that happens, I imagine I will grieve, but I will also feel relief.

So, to answer your original question, the answer is somewhere around 152. Not because I’m constantly showered in praise for my looks, but because I deliberately construct or deconstruct this papier-mâché facade in front of my mirror, depending on what needs to get done that day.

Oh, and I married the internet boyfriend who sent me the most mix tapes.

Warmly,
Michelle

Parrish_Maxfield_Her_Window

P.S. I hope you don’t mind, but I’m publishing this email :)

Notes on how I eat.

Dorothy Bradley, Who on a Diet, Watching the Woman on the Right Slurp on a Milkshake

This is an intensely personal thing to write about, and it’s something I usually avoid, because I absolutely believe that it’s no person’s — especially no fat person’s — obligation to disclose what they eat as a means of justifying their existence.

But because this blog is about nutrition, dieting, and normal eating, and because I’m positioning myself here as the “expert voice,” and setting something of an (anything but perfect) example — and not least of all, because I’ve grown gradually at ease with this space — I thought it might be useful for people to get a peek at some of the behaviours of a mostly-normal eater.

I say “mostly-normal” because I do have a history of disordered eating (which is distinct from a clinical eating disorder, but, I believe, falls along the same continuum), just as anyone who has ever dieted has a history of disordered eating. And there are still things I’m working on — I’m not perfect at feeding myself, and likely never will be.

But in the past eight or so years, I think I’ve come a fairly long way.

It occurred to me today that there are some things I do with food that, a few years ago, I would never have believed I would or could do, and which may prove interesting to people struggling to find a semblance of peace with food.

For instance, last night I went to a movie with my husband. Beforehand, we went out for drinks. My appetite has been very weak for the past few weeks, due to illness and side-effects of medication for that illness, and I’ve just not been very interested in eating. Whenever this happens, I find it mildly distressing, as I actually miss the pleasure of getting hungry and looking forward to food.

After drinking a beer, I felt a little hungry. I tend to get beer munchies. (In fact, I started rambling to Jeffrey about how they should serve beer to sick, malnourished patients in the hospital, if it weren’t for, you know, all the potential medical complications.)

I was excited to actually feel hungry again, so I ordered a cup of clam chowder. Jeffrey got onion rings, and I filched two of those as well, and was so pleased with the experience of not feeling indifferent to (or mildly nauseated by) food, that I bounced in my seat with happiness as I ate.

(Yeah. I do that sometimes.)

We next stopped at a drugstore to fulfill the obligatory tradition of buying verboten treats to sneak into the theatre. (I get a cheap thrill out of this, even if I’m not hungry.) I had a feeling that, once inside the theatre, I’d be jonesing for a snack, due to past associations if nothing else. I got Jr. Mints with M&Ms for backup.

(I should disclose right now that I really, really love candy. Like, a lot. A whole lot. This is sure to be a recurring theme on this blog. Consider yourself warned.)

We got to the movie theatre and the lobby was, of course, redolent of melted butter and toasty popcorn. It was lovely, but not very tempting — though I love hot, salty popcorn with my Jr. Mints and M&Ms, as salty + sweet + chocolate is one of the best flavour combinations OF ALL TIME (thank you, Kanye), my appetite just wasn’t up to popcorn, and I suddenly disliked the idea of getting my fingers greasy.

During the movie, I happily switched between Jr. Mints and M&Ms, reaching over frequently to throw some in Jeffrey’s open mouth.

As I ate the M&Ms, I discovered quite by accident that, for me, the absolutely ideal number to have in my mouth at once is three. Exactly three M&Ms. It allows the chocolatey flavour to spread evenly on all sides of my tongue, without being so overwhelming as to make my mouth feel sticky or dry, or to be laborious to chew and swallow.

Don’t ask me why I notice these things.

Partway through the movie and candy — maybe about 3/4 through both — I stopped. I put them in my purse. That was that.

I don’t know why I stopped when I did, exactly. As a person who previously had (and sometimes still has) a compulsion to eat candy until it’s gone, appetite be damned, I still find it mildly surprising when this happens. It was not an entirely conscious decision. I’d simply had enough — reached some kind of natural stopping-place, the end.

The movie finished and we walked home in the delightfully cold air, then slept till noon.

The next day, I had oatmeal for breakfast, and decided in the late afternoon to wander to a local coffee shop for some reading and thinking, as an excuse to put on proper clothes and get outside for a bit.The box of Jr. Mints were on the fireplace mantel, and I decided they would be a good accompaniment to coffee, so I took them with me.

After being greeted and teased by the barista, I sat and drank cappuccino and gradually ate Jr. Mints, one at a time, while alternately reading, highlighting, making notes and staring off into space.

Around 6pm, my prodigal appetite returned with a vengeance. My mouth kept having little fantasies of mashed potatoes, so I suddenly cleared the kitchen and set about making myself a meal out of the holiday ingredients that had gone unused during my illness.

I peeled and boiled a lot of potatoes. I chopped an onion, a pear, and an apple and sauteed them together in butter, to which I added salt, nutmeg, allspice, cinnamon, cardamom and black pepper. I defrosted some pork tenderloins, salted them, rubbed them in cinnamon and allspice, and cooked them with the fruit. Then I made some classic American boxed stuffing.

When they were soft, Jeffrey’s strong arm helped me whip the potatoes into smooth, fluffy goodness with no lumps, and we sat down to a miniature holiday feast.

My hunger was so intense that, after I’d finished about 3/4 of my plate, I went back for pre-emptive seconds — more mashed potatoes, more stuffing, and a second piece of pork. But just a couple of bites later, I was done. That was it.

We shared the leftover M&Ms for dessert; I put my full plate in the fridge; I washed the dishes.

Three hours later I was ravenous again. I reheated the plate of food and ate half of it, with two glasses of orange juice.

It was the kind of hunger that only seems to come after a long period of not eating quite enough — the kind that still gnaws a bit even after your stomach is physically full. To me, it’s the hunger of depleted nutrient stores, not the simple daily, rumbling-stomach kind of hunger. It seems to come only after days of living primarily on cereal and toast, broth and gingerale.

I know tomorrow will most likely be different. Different foods will seem appealing, and I’ll eat them in different amounts. I may know again with stark certainty where to stop — or I may not.

If not, I will remain assured, as I did today, that my body will make up for it. That my appetite will eventually compensate for whatever mistakes or miscalculations I might make.

No matter what changes, I’ll remain relaxed. If I like food, if I don’t like food that particular day, I’ll be okay. I’ll know that another day will come when things will be different, but unchanged in one vital way — I’ll trust myself.

And I’ll prove worthy of that trust.

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How goes it for you? If you feel like it, leave a snapshot of your eating in comments.