The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, May 14, 2007

Catching Up

I’ve been out of town for four days, visiting family in Phoenix. There’s a lot of catching up to do here…
One thing I wanted to make clear concerning any comments about I.F. NOTHING said here should be interpreted as medical advice. Do your own research, and consult with your doctor and/or therapist. I can in no way be responsible for your, or anyones, health. It’s hard enough being responsible for my own.
This blog is not about fat. It is trying to answer the question: what happens if you live your life as if all three major aspects (roughly: fitness/health, spirit/relationships, education/career) are equally important. You are watching me apply this to my own life. I’m not saying that my opinions are correct—I’m saying they are consistent with my basic values and core beliefs.
When I suggest that fat—especially when it’s enough fat to make another human being (above about 80 pounds) is, in my mind, indicative more of emotional damage than some simple physical imbalance or lifestyle choice, I’m not suggesting that fat people are more damaged than the average. I AM suggesting that EXTREMELY fat people are. But remember that I openly consider myself damaged. It amuses me that people generally don’t see it or believe it, because I have something close to an obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I’ve focused it on being balanced. So what people see they interpret as “health” rather than “sickness.” Now, the problem fat people DO have is that their wounds are visible. It’s like they’re wearing T-shirts saying “I’ve had three sticky divorces” or “I’m broke and overeducated” or “I’m an alcoholic.” I don’t know anyone without wounds. No fingers are being pointed here.
Let’s go through comments made in the last few days on el bloggo.

“I don't think you necessarily owe Nicki an apology, but you do owe her a real discussion about to what extent losing weight is your goal and to what extent it's hers, and what it's actually like for her to work on losing weight.”

Nicki and I talk seriously about every aspect of anything I’ve ever asked of her, and every aspect of our own lives, warts and all.

“You write a lot about what effect you have on Nicky and very little about hearing anything back from her, and I start twitching.”

Good for you! Thanks for caring. I don’t talk a LOT about what she says back to me because that is privileged information. My observations are slightly more public. Nicki needs to know that what she tells me isn’t going to automatically end up in Cyberspace.
“(Nicki not being comfortable with her padding) isn't surprising considering the culture, but we've already kicked that around. You put work into her being comfortable with being black. I don't know how hard that is compared with being comfortable with being non-thin, but the latter is no small job.”

There is much in common between being black and chubby, or disabled, or very short, socially. And I never said it was a small job, just that of these major issues, it’s the only one that can be changed by behavior. I’m not into “proving” to society that I’m fine as I am. I’m into getting every drop of juice from life I can, and being the best role model of happiness, success, and health I can be for my friends and family, and the most loving human being that I can be. And it ain’t just social. If Nicki’s entertainments are sedentary (which they are) and she loves carbs (which she does) she is setting herself up for serious weight gain over the next decades of her life. I don’t want her to look up one day and say: “Wow! I’m 100 pounds overweight! I’ve shoved all my pain over here, and now I’ve damaged my joints and back and slowed my metabolism to the point that it really IS a problem to lose this!” No. I won’t voluntarily let that happen any more than I would let her leave my home an illiterate, or self-loathing and incapable of relationships.
“I'm going to recommend Rethinking Thin by Kolata again--there's some choice involved in weight, but apparently *much* less than the culture wants to believe.”

I can’t be responsible for what “the culture” wants to believe. I CAN and am responsible for what I, personally believe, and that is all I will defend. My basic beliefs include the incontrovertible fact that obesity is most basically an imbalance between caloric intake and caloric output. And that diets don’t’ work, but lifestyle changes do. I never said fat people are lazy or stupid or in any way morally inferior to the thin. I also never said Nicki should aspire to being thin. I DO think she should, at at least one point in her life, have the experience of maximizing her secondary sexual characteristics, of being an absolute bombshell, within her genetic limitations. It’s FUN getting that kind of reaction from the opposite sex. We only have our bodies for a little while…why not enjoy them to the limit?
“One thing to consider--there's a least some reason to think that people's set point is apt to go up when they lose weight. Do you think this effort at weight loss is worth it if Nicki's default weight becomes 25 pounds higher?”

Nope. Which is why what I have been working on is helping her develop a sustainable lifestyle that will allow her to control her weight and appearance. SHE then gets to decide what she will look like, within the range of her genetics and bone structure, and the degree of discipline she is willing to exert. The idea that it takes hours a day is simply last-generation thinking on the subject.
“A father who mentions to his daughter that he thinks she's becoming fat (without the context of knowing her/caring about her as a person -- how are her grades? what kind of people are her friends? what does she do outside of classes?) only says to her what society already says to her, which is "You suck because you aren't as skinny as a skeleton," and "You have no worth if you are not pleasing to look at."”

You are ABSOLUTELY CORRECT. And "skinny as a skeleton" is a straw man argument, emotional not intellectual. Why would you even mention that? But I DO ask her those other questions. And more. My concern is that:

1) She was lying to herself. Saying “I can’t” when the truth was closer to “I’m not willing to discipline myself.” In my opinion she was also hiding—it was less painful for her to feel rejected for weight than to maximize her (socially evaluated) physical attributes and THEN get rejected. That would feel like a rejection of her actual core self, and much more painful. Should we mold ourselves to be what society wants? Hell, everybody does it, especially if we want the goodies society has to offer. There are many, many things I’ve done specifically to be attractive to women. In fact, ANYTHING that makes me more attractive that is in alignment with my values, honorable, and non-damaging I will do. I think it’s healthy, natural, and in alignment with what we are both as animals, human beings and spirits. I will not do ANYTHING that is dishonorable, unhealthy or out of alignment with my values no matter what reward I am offered externally.

2) I am concerned that her behaviors were out of alignment with her stated goals. When that is true, either change your goals, or change your behaviors.

3) She was attracted to guys with ripped bodies. The biggest difference between guys with ripped bodies and those without them is BEHAVIORAL. They eat differently, exercise differently, think about themselves differently. Want one of those guys? Be the female equivalent. These guys look like they’d be great hunter-gatherers, with endurance, coordination, balance, speed, strength. What the hell is there to dislike? Why shouldn’t she drool over one of those gorgeous creatures? Most people “settle” in their romantic lives. They aren’t really married to someone who punches all of their buttons, who they would marry again in a heartbeat, who has all of the things that their hearts yearn for. Most people marry “the best they could get.” And then secretly yearn for someone who is better looking, more intelligent, more emotionally giving, whatever. You know what I think? I think that the primary attractant in human beings is “the percentage of your ultimate potential you are currently and consistently expressing.” That means that if you’re hiding out in the arena of your physical, you can attract someone who is hiding out to an equivalent degree in that or another major arena of their lives. In relationships, you get what you are. And this is an incredibly painful reality that most people can’t handle.

I want Nicki to be the most she can be, in every way she can, during this brief and wonderful life she has. I want the same for my son. And I am trying my very hardest to lead the way by example.
“So, I say encourage excercise if your daughter shows interest. At this point she knows she has extra and when she is ready (if she ever is) she will take steps to make changes. Your comments will only lead her to believe she is not living up to your expectations if she is unable to lose the weight or if it really isn't an issue for her”
1) And if she hadn’t shown interest in her homework should I have decided not to motivate her?
2) If she is not “ready” to stop, say, cutting herself (she doesn’t) should I not do all in my power to help her heal?
3) She knows that I hope she will hit the heights in all arenas. But that I also know that there are limits to what human beings can do in the world. She has watched this in my own life, and I’m not at all shy about being honest here. I encourage her to find where her edges GENUINELY are, and not to let fear, or that childish “I’m the boss of me!” b.s. get in the way of her dreams.

Please remember that once upon a time I believed it when overweight people said there was no issue, or it was their genetics or whatever. The turning point came when

1) I watched a friend who had sworn he “could not” lose weight regardless of diet lose weight when I actually controlled his food intake. As soon as he had money to buy his own food, the weight went right back on—although he swore he wasn’t eating more. In other words, he was lying. Period.
2) In a series of Women’s Self Defense workshops I used to promote, I heard woman after woman with serious weight issues talking about how that weight had gone on to defend themselves from previous abuse—and admitted that they had to lie about it to their families. I kinda said: “what the #$@!!?”
3) I’ve known dozens of men and women who have been 60-100 pounds overweight. In almost every case they swore they were doing all they could. Many of them eventually lost a lot of that weight. Most of those admitted, only afterwards, that that weight had been emotional, and that healing and changing behaviors had made the difference.

So. I’m sure that in a tiny percentage of cases, maybe 2%, there are people who really CAN’T lose the weight due to pervasive health issues. But that makes a mockery of people who claim that “fat people are just as healthy as anyone else, just bigger…” doesn’t it?

I mean, this is similar to black people who want to take the position that white racism has been devastating to our community, but we’re perfectly healthy? What? You can’t have it both ways. Note the raft of shit I’ve taken for saying THAT out loud.

To anyone who is fat and happy, I’d assume you are balanced enough to recognize that my intent is positive, even if you think me deluded. If what I’m saying makes you uncomfortable, on the other hand, I suggest you are afraid I might be right.

To anyone who genuinely CANNOT lose the weight, you have my absolute sympathy.

To those who seek an ally who sees the beauty of your spirit, and would love for your actions, values, and beliefs to all be in alignment…I offer the hand of friendship.
I was asked if I would practice a life extension technique if it made me fat. How fat? Would I have less energy (and I fail to see how gaining weight would INCREASE my available energy. But I might be convinced, given proper data.) If it was fat enough that I no longer appealed to myself in the mirror, no.

And I don’t think that we’re really homophobic enough not to use the “would you be attracted to what you see in the mirror criteria.” I’ve asked this question of hundreds of people. Men might giggle about it a bit, but they get what I mean pretty quickly. Most of “beauty” these days is behavioral. I’ve met damned few people who couldn’t be “beautiful” by their own standards, if they invested a fraction of the time the average person spends watching television.

I am not attracted to fat. I HAVE been attracted to many fat ladies. But make no mistake: it was IN SPITE OF, not because of, the additional padding. I loved their energy and spirit. And had they lost that weight, while maintaining the positive personality characteristics? I would have found them even MORE attractive.

But I think this is largely because I believe it’s unhealthy. Were I to change that opinion, I’d bet anything that my taste in physical appearance would start shifting—I’d start finding fat more attractive, because I think my hindbrain finds survival traits and excellence attractive.

An example: when I look at a sexy woman, my hind-brain goes “ping!” When I look at a sexy guy, it does not. I have no conscious control here. But you know what? If I was sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island, I’d bet anything that in a few years I’d start looking at the guys differently. I’d start feeling that “Ping!” when some good-looking, strong, animalistically graceful guy walked by. No, I wouldn’t look for some little femmie. I’d look for a guy I’d want to watch my back. But who could also discuss favorite books and movies. And could tie a cherry stem in a knot with his tongue, if you know what I mean.

Survival. The need to be touched. Loneliness. Just being honest here.
Cultural stuff is certainly strong here. I remember reading Jonathan Kellerman’s wonderful “The Butcher’s Theater.” In it there is a Palastinian who is married to a mountain of a woman. She can barely move, but in his cultural context, he considers her incredibly beautiful. They had a love scene that I simply couldn’t read. I just couldn’t. But not for a minute did I think “there’s something wrong with him!” No, I knew it was me. From MY perspective, culturally and personally, this was something that triggered the “Limbic Yuck” so hard I almost tossed my cookies. But you know what? If I found myself in a context in which fat was a survival value, in which I intellectually or experientially grasped that a fat woman was more likely to survive or be a better mother to my children, slowly I would begin to appreciate the roundness of a fat thigh, the contours of an ample waist, the heft of a well-marbled rear. And I’d start getting turned on. In this arena, the sincerest form of complement is a spontaneous erection.
Again, please remember that I’m not pointing fingers. I’ve been embarrassingly forthcoming about my own flaws and wounds. I think that we are all perfect spirits having human experiences. With respect to those spirits, I would like for the HUMAN aspect of those experiences to be powerful, beautiful, and joyous. I know that wounds in the emotional arena tend to hide themselves, that it is easier for people to believe that their bodies disobey the laws of physics than admit that their minds or emotions may be ding’d up. Their minds and hearts are “them” whereas their bodies are these alien things they drag around with them.
A last thought. Someone mentioned Tai Chi and Alexander technique in regard to activity and weight loss. I am somewhat familiar with Alexander technique (which concentrates on skeletal alignment and balance) and very, very familiar with Tai Chi. I’ve taught it for over 20 years. And this is what I’ll say: if you wanted a perfect physical discipline to increase health and grace with the absolutely minimum chance of losing weight, choose Tai Chi. The whole point of Tai Chi is to achieve maximum result with minimum effort. It is a fantastic art for health of the joints, moving synovial fluid, learning to control stress levels, etc. But ramping up your metabolism? Bottom of my list. I’ve watched many many students get really very good at Tai Chi without losing a damned ounce. Practice it, love it, but don’t make the mistake of thinking that what you do there has anything to do with whether there is an efficient and relatively easy way to lose weight. It does not.

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