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Marilyn and Me (Schools of Thought)

November 3, 2014

Weight LossFat PoliticsFat HealthMy Boring-Ass LifeDiet Talk

Trigger warning: Discussion of weight loss.

There are a few fat activists whose online activity I follow on a regular basis, and they include my hero Angela Meadows, the Health at Every Size® (HAES) blog and Facebook (FB) group, Ragen’s blogs and FB page, and Marilyn Wann’s FB page. What with my day job over at the university, I don’t really have time to keep up with more, even though I know my current shortlist leaves out a lot of other really great writers and thinkers.

I figure that if something happens in fat news that I need to know about, somebody will link to it anyway through one of my usual high-profile people. I follow up a lot of links that way. Sometimes I’ll binge on one site or another: Lindy West, First Do No Harm, etc. Sometimes I’ll assign some readings to my students, if it reasonably fits in the syllabus. Once in a while I contribute something to an online conversation, but more often I just lurk.

When I first started hanging around Marilyn’s FB site, I was surprised at how often a party-line-spouting fatphobe would come KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAblundering into the conversation, outraged (or maybe just confused) that HAESers and size accepters feel entitled to any asylum anywhere from the reigning ideology. Some of them are so ignorant that you can’t even really call them trolls.

A month or two ago there was a gal carrying on: Yeah, oppression’s bad and all, and self-esteem and body-positivity are good, but, landsakes, you’ve still just got to admit that FAT IS UNHEALTHY and weight loss therefore desirable. By the time I got on the thread quite a number of people had already tried to gently educate her… and a few somewhat less gently.

At this point the lady started to accuse her interlocutors of being like religious “fundamentalists” in the way they thought and argued. This tickled me because of course I think it’s exactly the reverse: the members of the Church of Thin just don’t get it that their faith is actually not the universally-revealed timeless truth, but simply one parochial and historically-contingent mindset.

I also mused, if Size Acceptance were a religion (instead of a social justice movement well-rooted in sound ethical reasoning and empirical fact), well, then, wouldn’t Marilyn be something pretty close to the Pope of it? (Or Matriarch, maybe?) Would this fat-bashing lady go to the Pope’s website and post “Jesus was just some guy, and then he died, so stop already with the wine and wafers”?

I mean, if you weren’t totally clueless (or a troll), you’d have some respect for a space in which people have dedicated themselves to certain philosophical commitments. Hmm… maybe Marilyn’s more like a Philosopher Queen than a Pope or Matriarch?

Schools of philosophical thought give rise to other schools. Socrates teaches Plato who teaches Aristotle and before long our intellectual leaders do not agree on every point. Sometimes there’s some drama on one of the sites I read regularly. Somebody might alert somebody else to intersectionality issues, for instance, and then the somebody else might get hurt or indignant. It can get heated. In the fat community we don’t agree on every premise, let alone how to reason from premises to policy.

Last week, Marilyn got turned off by a chapter (on “science”) in a newly-published anthology on fat kids and she said so forthrightly on her page. The author/editor, understandably, was distressed. By the time I got to the thread, she (or someone) had already deleted her remarks, but you could reconstruct the conversation pretty well by what was still there. The following day the author posted in the HAES FB group, asking for moral support, which she got. My hero Angela Meadows said a few things. Me, I just lurked.

On both pages, many people argued that nobody can possibly judge a book they haven’t read all of. I do not agree with this. Granted, an anthology isn’t in quite the same category as a monograph, but still, you always get to choose your own assessment criteria. There are different schools of thought about which parts of HAES are most central, as well as how tolerant we ought to be about deviations from our central values. If one bad chapter is enough to sink a book for you, and one chapter is determined to be bad, then that’s that and Bob’s your uncle.

I have formed a preliminary opinion of the book by reading the HuffPo excerpt. Maybe I’ll read the whole thing eventually; maybe I’ll decide I don’t have time. In any case, I’m glad to have had Marilyn’s input.

Here’s the funny part, though. Several years ago, I asked Marilyn to blurb my book and I sent her the manuscript. The book is a memoir about how my life experiences (plus library research) led me to the conclusion that the concept of weight-loss dieting is based on a profound misunderstanding of how bodies work. Weight loss, I believe, is an unhealthful project that should be neither attempted nor recommended. Yes! I’m pretty hard line on this one: dieting is a terrible error, don’t do it! (I know, I know, I’m risking an underpants infraction.)

But since it took me a while to come to this conclusion, and before then I went through pretty near a decade of attempted weight loss, actual weight gain, and concomitantly increasing self-loathing, well… I guess Marilyn couldn’t wade all the way through the young narrator’s wrong-headed attitudes to get to the epiphany. She wrote back to me saying the book had too many negative descriptions of fatness and she was giving up on it.

Oh… dang. Marilyn, illustrious Marilyn! She is a great leader and I only a small lurker. Gladly bend I to kiss the ring upon Her Holiness’s hand. Philosopher Queen, you shall lead me out from the cave of shadows into the light. But, dang. I do wish Marilyn had wanted to read my whole book.

Eh… oh, well. People get to decide how to allocate their time. In that regard, I’m an underpants fundamentalist.

Jean Braithwaite

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