Fat-acceptance, skinny privilege, ressentiment, and desire
I’m really enjoying your writing on bodies and being embodied. As someone who grew up with ‘thin privilege’ it has taken me a long time to feel comfortable taking up space in the world, and I appreciate my body settling into a healthier if less desirable size as I mellow into my late 30s.
I realised pretty early in my adult life that I need to claim agency over my own health – I was suffering from things that mainstream healthcare didn’t take seriously, so I just decided to get to know my body better and deal with it my own way. Instead of feeling stuck in an uneasy partnership with my body, I have learned to feel grateful for it, and to be aware of what it tells me about the state of my relationship with food / environment / movement / sleep among other things. And, yeah, after being taunted at compulsory Physical Education classes throughout school, I’ve learned pretty late in life that strenuous physical activity can actually be fun.
eros and desire - One of the key elements around this whole discussion is _how_ we get to a place of being able to claim agency - I believe for you Rhyd it was quite a journey of self-reclamation! And what becomes support.
I agree that externalization can transform positive movements like the body positive movement into woke movements because again there is a lack of core support in how to claim agency as well as the added complexity of if you don't struggle to claim you're agency will you it mean the same? You simply can't hold someone's hand through the terror and fear. IMHO this is where we witness the loss of initiation and wilderness in our lives and practices as we grow that help us learn how to track ourselves in our bodies, navigating our defenses and trauma responses. Experiencing being in the wilderness as we grow and form (different from our experience of nature shaped by the inherent violence of the agriculturised world ) goes a long way toward shaping agency
Thank you for writing this. As a person who has also been skinny, and then fat, and now trying to become healthier, what you wrote exactly sums up the experience of being a body struggling to understand and adapt to living in this capitalist society. No matter whether you are fat, skinny or somewhere in between, capitalism finds an opportunity to prey on your insecurity and sell you something to "remedy" it.
For my own personal journey, I've begun to think of it in astrological terms, especially in regards to the planet Mars. Mars traditionally is a malefic, one of the planets that brings strife and violence. I think as a society, but for me specifically, I tended to avoid anything Mars related. Struggle isn't inherently bad, though. I'm beginning to realize that there has to be a counterbalance to the comfort seeking aspect of our lives where we embrace the burn. Otherwise, progress isn't possible!
This essay is especially timely because there is more than a hint that many of the bad health outcomes in the U S of A related to Covid stem from the population being overweight. I’d suggest that many of the side effects of vaccines may be tied to overweight, too. It makes one rethink “fat acceptance” as public health.
I also can’t say enough about how horrible the introduction of such trash-as-food as cottonseed oil, hydrogenated fat, high-fructose corn syrup, and soy oil have been for Americans and their health. (Speaking of U.S. capitalism in action: Crisco!)
Into the essay:
“This is the experience of “the trace” in ressentiment, the sense that a trauma is being constantly re-enacted in the present even though it isn’t.”
Excellent observation. It is at the core of James Hillman’s book, We’ve Had a Hundred Years of Psychology and the World’s Getting Worse.
Hillman and the Jungians say: Recognize the wound. Heal it. Live with the scar.
Ressentiment says: Keep the wound weeping.
The myth of Philoctetes says: You have to endeavor to close the wound, or you will never get off the island (where you are forced to live alone) to engage your destiny.
And W.H. Auden pointed out that every writer (that includes you, R.W.) has a wound of Philoctetes. But it cannot be a festering wound, or one can never be productive. There is a wound with a scar in a writer’s way of doing things.
“Whether you are fat or skinny or whatever, the core truth is that you are your body. Also, you are the only one who has full agency over its existence. To change how your body manifests in the world is to change how you manifest, and you are the only one who can do that.”
This paragraph is important: There is no mind-body problem. Please tell queer theorists and gender theorists to stop trying to solve the mind-body problem. The mind and body are one thing, somehow. The brain and the brain-connected eye are consciousness, somehow.
So: Lecturing us on our separable sexuality, genitalia / equipment, psychology, and immortal (!) soul is the leftovers of religion. Something from the back of the refrigerator of ideas. One cannot separate these things, even though we are composite creatures, as Buddhism tells us. Why we are engaged in warmed-over Platonism now is beyond me.
Thanks for the words—and, yes, the photos. I was overweight much of my life, and it isn’t easy. I’m now in a region of Italy where the body type for men is tall, slim (not bulked up, but not skinny), and long arms. Luckily, oddly, remarkably, that is where I am now bodily.
I'm 38, at my highest weight (teetering on the edge of overweight; in my youth I was exceptionally unintentionally thin) and I feel the best about my body that I have since before having children. Body positivity has helped. Until I learned that I have "thin privilege." It's not enough to merely celebrate "all" bodies if I don't acknowledge my "thin privilege "
On one Health at Every Size Instagram account I commented that I understood there's no such thing as "bad" food, but what to make of the industry that purposefully manipulates our biology with their products to make us want more and more? I didn't get much of a response to that question.
At the other extreme being skinning more of my life, though I did balloon in my forties and have gone and down in the last couple of years, Going to the gym sound great, but I cant drive nor can I walk much more than block with my walker. So it is unlikely for me at nearing 76.
Insightful thoughts. I've tended towards being overweight for much of my life, and in recent years became really, really heavy. In the last six months I've managed to lose a lot of that excess, and it really does make a huge difference in feeling better day to day, both physically and mentally. Aches and pains that I had become very used to have disappeared, and mental fog in the mornings has also cleared.
A keto diet worked for me, but might not suit everyone. Keto does touch on one thing I object to in your essay though: "the basic mechanism of how much you eat versus how much you do is a hard constant throughout all human bodies. No matter what physical condition you have, if you eat less food than your body needs for what it is doing, you will lose fat. No matter your social situation or disability, if you eat a lot more food than your body uses, you will get fat." I would urge everyone to read Gary Taubes' latest report, which throws into question the "calories in/calories out" paradigm, at least for a portion of the population whose bodies seem to be set up differently: https://www.statnews.com/2021/09/13/how-a-fatally-tragically-flawed-paradigm-has-derailed-the-science-of-obesity/
The almost fifty pounds that I've lost since last May were entirely due to a change in my diet. My exercise (or lack of) regime did not change at all, and I've spent most of my day in front of a computer for my job, the same sedentary lifestyle I had for the preceding years of weight gain. I'm taking steps to change that part of the equation now (just bought a stationary bike), but the metabolic disorder that Taubes writes about seems to account for a lot of the weight issues that I and others have experienced. We need to break out of this one-size-fits-all paradigm, which should also help undo the stigma attached to fatness.
Yeah, so, um, hi. I was the student in your most recent Becoming Pagan class who explicitly mentioned being a member of the Fat Activist movement. While I have no way of knowing whether my comment prodded you to write this, it doesn't seem like a great coincidence that this essay is coming out shortly after I talked about my experiences in a semi-private online space that you moderated.
In the course, you responded to some of my comments with a greatly overexaggerated claim about the fat activist movement: that it has gone so far off its rails that fat activists regularly condemn anorexics for having "skinny privilege." Any bare bones digging into the movement would show that this is not true, not least because fat and anorexic are not necessarily mutually exclusive categories. If that is what you believe about the movement, it's not much of a stretch for you to claim that all fat activists are too dumb to understand the capitalist profit motive behind the systemic exclusion of fat bodies, and that all fat activists (and not just an influencer-laden, johnny-come-lately, liberal version of the movement) understand some vague force known as "fatphobia" to be the source of their woes. Have you, perhaps, considered that you are now so invested in the idea of the woke grift that your perception of those you consider part of that faceless mass known as "the woke" has become distorted?
I'm not wholly against some of your critiques of performing wokeness. But I will say that this is, in part, why I withdrew from the course near the end. As someone who does activist work in what I suppose one might call identity politics (queer history, fat activism), I often felt caricatured by some of your responses, or that any reference to identity caused you to shut down. There was a lack of curiosity, of digging into context (even as the version of paganism you were teaching us was encouraging us to dig deeply into context), of the kind of investment in listening that the teacher-student relationship requires. Surely, you can operate in a space where you hold some of these critiques without assuming that all people who participate in identity politics are part of the Woke Conspiracy and while resisting the urge to shut down any conversation about, for instance, fat activism.
I'm also going to suggest here that weight loss narratives are just as invested in the trace of trauma and in ressentiment as fat activist/body positive narratives, and that pointing solely to fat activists as guilty of operating in this emotional register is, at best, disingenuous.