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Like a Fat Kid Loves to Hate Himself

2004-02-27 - 10:35 a.m.

Recently, I've been following the story about Naomi Wolf's article, which made the cover of New York Magazine, about her experience as an undergraduate at Yale, when Harold Bloom, one of the leading literary scholars on the planet, came onto her, causing her to go throw up in her sink. She never pressed any formal charges through the university, but she has recently been investigating their policy towards sexual misconduct. It's worth checking out, and it's worth reading the various responses written by other columnists:

However, while I was looking around the magazine website, I saw the previous month's cover story about New York parents coping with their children's weight problems. And, more often than not, creating them:

The two articles have something in common. Naomi Worf, for those who don't know her, is the author of The Beauty Myth, a book I've mentioned on this site before. In this work that everyone should read, Wolf argues that beauty has replaced motherhood as the ideal used by corporations to keep women down. That, of course, is a gross simplification, but this is an online diary. To explicate a bit, back in the 50s products were marketed to women as wives and mothers: use Schlobo Soap on your dishes and your husband and children will know that you are a virtuous woman, or some such crap. Once the feminist movement of the 60s and 70s got women into the workplace, advertisements changed to emphasize beauty and sexuality. Women were expected to look beautiful in the workplace, on the town, and at home, whether married or single. Advertisers cleverly decided to make time and the body into women's enemies, as such foes are completely implacable. Wolf speaks about anorexia and bulimia, about the similarities between diet groups and religious revivalism, and about how beauty products now use the language of food--nourish your skin, indulge your body--in hopes of courting the wallets of starving women.

Of course, I don't consider this a feminist issue, at least not any longer, merely because the corporations have wised up to the fact that they can use the same techniques to secure money from men, and as such have done all they can to spread the worship of beauty within gay culture to straight culture, hence the rise of the metrosexual and the demand for six pack abs.

I, of course, resent all this, because I have never had a sixpack. I have a keg. At my thinnest, I still had, I don't know, a couple of forties, or something.

Reading the article on these children broke my heart, not because these kids were overweight, but because their parents saw it as THE ULTIMATE CRIME AGAINST HUMANITY THAT COULD EVER BE PERPETRATED!!! GOD HELP ME!!! MY CHILD IS FAAAAAAAAT!!!!!



It's hard to pick what was the worst part about all these parents. I know that all of them believe their doing right by their child, but they are doing tremendous damage to these kids. The parents spoken of in these articles put their kids on diets as soon as they show signs of being overweight. This includes "immediately after birth." There are mothers who will stop breast feedings before the baby is finished to ensure that their babies don't get fat. There are parents who have conniptions when their children even ask for sugar, which prompts their kids to eat broken cookies off the New York streets. They ask if there are pilates classes for two year olds. They hire nutritionists. One woman talked about how she changed nannies (because, seeing as so many nannies were "from warmer climes" they weren't willing to take her son to play outside in the cold, which, you know, cued up a certain song from Avenue Q in my head) in order to find someone who would force her kid to go play outside, but that she was frustrated when she realized her new nanny ate larger meals, keeping her son's weight up.

But the piece de resistance is this one woman who said that at least emotional and behavioral problems don't show up on the Christmas card.

That just about sums it up, folks. People who are passing you on the street might not notice that your child is on drugs, or selling them, or a rapist, or violent, or someone who cheats on tests, or someone who is just plain cruel as so many of us can be at that age. They, will however, notice the child's weight, and many people with ugly souls will feel the need to weigh in, if you'll pardon my expression, on the child's upbringing.

One person talked about how, when her child was with a group of other children being supervised by another parent, someone on the street said, "How dare you give that child french fries? Look at her!"

The proper response of a parent in this situation is to ask that the person wait for a moment, go up to them, smile sweetly, and punch that cold-blooded bastard right in the face hard enough to break the low-life's jaw, or at least to knock out a couple of teeth. It is also acceptable to then jump on that person and to continue punching said asshole in the face until there is permanent damage that would require extensive plastic surgery to repair. I feel this is a fair and just response to such a statement, and it sends a good message to your kids: if someone hurts you, Mommy and Daddy will destroy the pigufkcer before you can say Blue's Clues.

I think that's what hurts me about this article; these kids need to have parents who are on their side, and I don't think that means telling them that they need to deal with the fact that, as they were graced with Grandma's hips or Daddy's belly, that they are going to have to not eat what the rest of the kids eat in order to look good. If everyone out in the world were accepting of any body type, able to embrace and love and be attracted to people af all sizes, then yes, I might be able to accept a parent urging their children to lose weight for health reasons. Sadly, we live in a country dominated by the beauty myth, where magazines, TV shows, movies, music videos, advertisements, kids on the playground, kids at parties, friends, lovers, potential lovers, and total strangers will make this child feel ugly, and unlovable, and unworthy of his or her or hir dreams. I feel that the parents should be the ones telling children that they are beautiful, that there are as many different body types as there are people, and that as long as they are eating well and exercising enough, that they should love their bodies, because the truth is that they are not going to hear that very often in the rest of the world.

Trust me, I know what it's like. I've been fat since I was 8 years old, and it has hurt. Even before that, though, I could remember my mother drinking diet coke, which I thought tasted terrible. I remember her dieting, turning down all the good food that my dad and I were eating, because she needed to lose weight. I remember her getting on the scale and sighing every morning. I grew up thinking that dieting and hating your body was something that grown-ups did. I was waiting for the day when I would finally be able to diet. I remember thinking about that even before I put on weight.

I have always had terrible eyesight, and bad allergies and asthma, and weirdly shaped feet that get sore easily, so I sucked at sports. Being also naturally shy and afraid of violence, I avoided sports as often as I could. Eventually, this caught up with me, and I became the fat kid, and it sucked. You know the stories. I don't feel like telling them again.

What I will say is that for a while I became thin enough to see my ribs, and I thought this was a good thing, even though I was constantly stressed out and depressed, a condition that actually evaporated once I started, you know, eating more than 1200 calories a day and not necessarily exercising 90 minutes every night. Funny how that works. I still had a big barrel chest, though, which made me look kinda weird. Almost concave. I got the pretty boyfriend and then I dumped him when I figured out he was an idiot. However, I still hated the way I looked. I was able to convince myself that I was fat and ugly.

It took a long time, and people like Camryn Manheim and Margaret Cho standing up and saying that, if someone has a problem with your weight, its because they have problems, not you. It took them making me realize that not caring about my weight would be something of a revolutionary act, a statement to all those corporations that I hated anyway that I did not need Urban Outfitters pants to make me happy. I started seeing myself not as a loser at the game of beauty, but as a rebel in the totalitarian state of This-is-In.

It's really fucking hard. A psychologist in the New York Magazine article said that we are attracted to those who are thin and fit because it demonstrates that they have willpower. He doesn't know what he's talking about. It takes all my willpower to eat a balanced meal, with carbs and fats and proteins, and not to just eat rice cakes and carrot sticks. It takes all my willpower to look in the mirror and not say "God, I am so fat and so ugly!" I've barely managed to get myself up to the point of "I look good today" or "I look beautiful even if it's not in a conventional way." It takes tremendous willpower not to be contstantly pinching myself and sucking in my cheeks. Recently, I had to make a videotape of myself for a show I'm doing, and I could barely stand to watch the whole thing because all I could think about was "Oh my God, how did I get so fat, no wonder no one ever wants to go out with me." It took a fuckload of willpower to get through that shit, and I still have to remind myself that no, this does not mean I have to cut down to one meal a day and work out for two hours. It means it's been a while since I've exercised steadily, and that I have a tendency to be fat. That doesn't make me a failure.

But these parents see themselves as failures when they see their children having to go up a size, or being teased on the playground. Well, moms and dads, you're making your kid feel like a failure, too, and I think it's nice for kids to be able to take comfort in the idea that it's what's inside that counts for as long as they can. If your kids are healthy, driven, and kind, then you are not a failure.

As for me, I've set a rule for myself for when I have kids: no diet ANYTHING in the house. No diet pepsi, no Splenda, no low fat, no low carb. Also, no scales anywhere in the house. This does not mean I will let them have cake and soda all the time. In fact, I don't think I'll allow soda in the house, period. But I will make them eat their vegetables, and take their vitamins, and get some exercise, and always have some cookies or ice cream for them, because life is hella bitter, and I want their childhood to be sweet, rather than nutra-sweet.

They may still get the message that they should hate their bodies from the TV or from their peers, but I will cut off my own hand before I let them get it from me.

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