The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Paris Hilton and the Limbic "Yuck"

Is Paris Hilton Going to Jail?

Oh, probably, but not necessarily. The wealthy and powerful do have this knack for protecting themselves, but I’m not so sure this boney little idiot's parents are really working overtime to keep her out—after all, they have to be sick of seeing her panty-less in the tabloids. If that was my daughter, I’d be thinking a little Tough Love.

But yet and still, I wonder if she’ll wiggle out. Some years ago, I heard a statistic, and I was wondering if anyone out there can give me a link to it. Apparently, several sociology studies have been done, and in every single one had the same result:

If you take a look at crimes, hold steady for severity of crime, previous record and so forth, there is an inverse correlation between amount of time served and wealth of the criminal. That it goes like this:

Poor people do more time than rich people.
Men do more time than women
Blacks do more time than whites

Again, holding completely steady for equivilent records. Does anyone have access to confirming or contradicting data?
I’ll hit my initial I.F. goal this week: 175, the weight I told my doctor I’d get down to. My family has some hypoglycemia and tendency to diabetes, and I want to be careful. Curiously, this morning Tananarive encouraged me to see just how low I could get, as if there is some value in being skinny for its own sake. Hmmm. For me, there is definitely a point I’m not interested in going below, for aesthetics sake if nothing else. I like the way my body looks with a certain amount of heft. T, on the other hand, used to be attracted to skinny guys, and I was the exception. I wonder what program is running in her head?

On the other hand, maybe it’s just idle curiosity. Or part of the social programming women get hit with that says “skinny skinny skinny.” That programming is there, all right, and people without a sense of self can get sucked into it big time. Just like people who start working 50, 60, 70 hours a week chasing some illusive sense of security or accomplishment: without a governor, you are trying to satisfy external standards that can never be satisfied, and end up hurting yourself.

This is why I’ve tried to create self-contained standards for health and happiness. Nancy wondered if my “over eighty pounds overweight and I start thinking we’ve got an emotional problem” isn’t too strict. Maybe. And maybe it’s not strict enough. I don’t know, but I’m no fairer to people in their third marriage, or people who complain about lack of money, but also say they don’t care about making more.

The trick, in my mind, is to have templates that suggest internal states without being convinced that you’re right. In other words, the “Mind Reading” technique I used to teach in Lifewriting was all about developing a sensitivity to the gap between behaviors and conscious intent or verbal explanations. I’ve found it far more accurate to assume that people want to have certain physical, emotional, and financial states, and when they diverge from them, that there is pain and damage involved. I get massive static about this, but over time I’ve come to believe that that’s because people need their privacy. So I never put it in people’s faces, or tell them “Hah! I know who or what you really are…” or anything like that. And I make it clear that I honestly know that I might well be wrong in any given case.

But I bow to no outside authority on this, or anything that has to do with cosmology or epistemology. I am responsible for the salvation of my own soul, and the degree of satisfaction I experience in my life. I’ve simply been lied to too many times, about too many things, sometimes by the very forces of society responsible for “educating” me. Fine. I’m a big boy.

I still remember when I entered 1st grade, and the kids were broken up into reading groups…ACCORDING TO RACE. That’s right, all the Asian and White kids were put in one group. All the Black kids were put into another. Without testing. I thought to myself that my best buddy, Howard Kokubun (who died shortly after high school, and whom I still miss), had been put into the slow group. I giggled. After all, I KNEW how smart I was, and wow! Won’t he be disappointed..!

Then they heard me read, and put me into the other group, and I realized what had happened. And it broke my little heart once I looked at the racial composition of the groups more closely. That’s a hell of a thing for a kid that age to deal with.

So I put my thoughts on these things out in public, where thousands of people a week can (potentially) criticize my thought patterns. Why? Because I am committed to finding truth, and the best way I know of doing that is to let smart people tear your ideas to shreds. If I can’t defend my ideas, I shouldn't hold onto them.
But for the record, because I know this is a touchy subject, I think only that people’s bodies should be a source of pleasure and power, that your appearance should match your own values and that you should find yourself—or someone analogous to you-- attractive.

Yes, there is social pressure to be thin, and that can warp a mind. Just like black people are surrounded by images that promote white beauty standards. As I’ve said before, note that, for all practical purposes, virtually no black woman in public life has unstraightened hair. And yes, this has warped the minds and damaged the emotions of uncounted black folks, and yes, I consider this an emotional problem.

Doubtless, many “fat” people have been warped similarly, to hate their bodies when there is no health reason to justify such revulsion. To feel held to an aesthetic that is unfair and unreasonable. Why the hell do you think I am so insistent on self-love, on Heartbeat and Inner Child meditation. I don’t try to change society. I work on changing myself, and then sharing that change—I’m not a political beast. I deeply appreciate those who have shared their ideas and feelings on this subject with me.

Especially considering that Intermittent Fasting can be rather obviously used as a weight-loss tool. That was not my original intent. I was just looking for another way to improve efficiency, energy, and health. But the weight loss possibilities are glaringly obvious, and that triggers discussions of a slightly different nature than I intended. I won’ t shy away from it, though.
And this brings me to something that was rolling around in my head this morning. I’m sure this is a mis-labeling, but my mind kept calling it the “Limbic `Yuck’” for some reason. It goes back to my observation that white males got uncomfortable watching black men having sex in movies. And was accelerated by the observation that black voices seemed to be more attractive to whites than black faces. The practice (in the 50’s and early 60’s) of releasing black albums with white faces on them was an example of this. The number of times I saw movies with black actors given posters that bleached out their skin color was another. James Earl Jones as “Darth” (in “Star Wars”) or Roscoe Lee Browne as the voice of “Box” (in “Logan’s Run”), films that otherwise had no black people in them, also twitched the hairs on the back of my neck. Watching light-skinned black people given preference over dark. And I remember the day that an editor friend told me point blank that the art director at Men’s Fitness refused to use black models because he simply didn’t find them attractive. At editorial insistence, he started using them, and predictably chose the very lightest-skinned models he could.

The Limbic Yuck. Literally bigots, or the bigoted part of our minds, finds the “Other” to be ugly. The “Other” is a member of the alien tribe, who wants to kill our men, enslave our children, and rape our women. That Amygdalic response of anger when presented with an image of the “Other” tied right into this theory of mine, which was why I found it so easy to believe.

Now, then. I mean no harm in this, but look at it. What else do we consider “ugly” or “disgusting”? The evidence of disease. To my knowledge, there are only a few universal beauty standards. One of them is symmetrical facial features. Another is evidence of health: clear skin, good posture, straight teeth, etc. The smell of human waste is universally avoided, due to its potential to spread disease.

This would make perfect sense. I’m sure that there are minor, isolated contradictions (coprophagics need not comment) but human beings are willing to try ANYTHING, and virtually any behavior has been tried somewhere. The fact that it is minor and isolated speaks for itself.

This applies to obesity. In early human history, clearly fat was considered desirable in women—there are simply too many chubby goddess statues dug up around Eurasia and Africa. And in many societies, fat was considered a sign of wealth and security, and therefore attractive.

The PERCEPTION today is that fat is unhealthy. I won’t debate here the question of how accurate this is. We’ve talked about that elsewhere. But to the degree that that perception is held, guess what? Our hindbrains are going to consider it unattractive. The Limbic “Yuck.” I’m not saying it’s right, and certainly that would suck if you tended to hold weight.

And I’m not suggesting that fat people therefore have to lose weight. Nope. Here’s what I’m suggesting:

That every time a fat person finishes a marathon, dances up a storm, outworks her co-workers, demonstrates that he or she is living a full, healthy, sensual life—it defuses a bit of the “Yuck” factor for the average person.

No, it’s not fair at all that that responsibility is on your shoulders. But neither was it fair that Black or Japanese men struggled to get into the army and die for their country, knowing that this was the only way to be considered full participants in the American experiment. It’s not fair. It just is.

I have never said that white folks should change the way they are, even as I point out bigotry in film audiences, etc. I say that I use those statistics (of black male sexuality in film) to informally poll white attitudes, and that until I see equal numbers, I KNOW that the unconscious prejudices will manifest in thousands of other ways, and no one can convince me otherwise. It helps me understand the territory I am traversing.

I knew what I was up against when I was a kid, and decided to perfect my enunciation, to grasp the differences in body language, to learn to pitch my voice and project myself to get the response I wanted. Was it fair for society to ask me to do these things? Hell, no. But try an experiment: go down to the ocean and tell the waves not to roll in. Scream at the top of your voice. Cry. Beg. Tell the waves they are unfair. And they keep rolling in.

Human nature is what it is: flawed, screwed-up, bigoted, selfish, fearful. And magnificent, generous, loving, and self-sacrificing. We contain multitudes.

Fat folks, when you get crap from people, know that you scare them. Anger is a mask over fear. Ask yourself what they are frightened of, and you have a key to understanding how to deal with them, and how you can get what you want from others without dishonoring your own essence. It’s not fair, but learn to communicate the symbols that disarm their reaction.

Be proud, healthy, energetic, sensual, graceful, powerful, and joyous. In other words, all the things that all of us should be. And yes, some assholes will still give you grief. But you’ll never rid the world of the last assholes, any more than we’ll ever pump the last drop of oil out of the ground.

You absolutely have the right to love yourself, and to tell anyone who says you shouldn’t to go screw themselves. Period.

That said, if for your own reasons you’d like to lose weight, I’ll be in your cheering section.

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