Sunday, May 1, 2011

Rights Denied

Recently, I was pondering how eating disorders are born. Part of the reason for this is my own experience, but another reason was that I saw documentary which showed women who suffered from anorexia and bulimia. Watching these women operate around food, one couldn't help but see that they consistently denied their right to eat, and when they granted themselves the right to enjoy food, they denied themselves the right to be nourished by it and vomited it back up.

I also have been having several days in a row in which I have been incredibly hungry and denying myself the right to feel sated. I finally relented and did something I do occasionally, and just ate. In fact, I ate too much. That is to say that I ate more than necessary to feel sated. I wonder if I did that because of a pent up need to allow myself to do what I wanted to do, rather than simply to be "full" for a change. At any rate, at the end, I didn't beat myself up or anything because that's not what I do. I just get back on the horse the next day and all is fine. Everybody eats a little too much on occasion. I have that right, too, don't I? Well, apparently not... if I'm fat, I don't have the right to eat to maintain my weight, let alone to ever eat beyond my caloric requirements. This would make my thinking pattern not altogether different from that of anorexic women. They also do not feel they should eat more than necessary. They just set the bar very low for what they feel is required.

I was thinking about the pattern that many women (and sometimes men) experience in which they start to question their right to eat. That moment starts with some sort of notion that their body is inadequate and would be less so if they didn't eat. This is a message that goes beyond personal desire to be a different body type. It's something which is reinforced by family, media and society on the whole. If you're fat, you don't have the right to eat certain foods. In fact, they'd rather you simply fasted until you shed all of your unsightly weight. The people who glance with disgust into your shopping cart, the ones who snort with derision when you eat at a fast food place, and those who walk up to you when you're having an ice cream cone and tell you that you really shouldn't be eating that are letting you know in no uncertain terms that you don't have the basic right to eat whatever you want.

For fat people, this curtailing of rights expands through time. You not only don't have the right to eat what other people eat, but you also don't have the right to wear certain types of clothes. You should cover the shamefulness of your bulbous body with dark, billowy fabrics. Cover your batwings and rounded calves. Don't accentuate those chubby ankles, and, for God's sake, don't wear horizontal stripes.

You're also told that you don't have the right to be loved like people who are not fat, and that you only deserve lesser partners. The partners that choose you (because, you know, you certainly have no choice since you're fat and nobody wants you) must be lacking in some way themselves if they would "settle" for a fat partner.

We don't have the right to be lazy. This is something I have had an issue with all of my life. I'm "not allowed" to spend a day lazing around in front of the T.V. I have to prove I'm not your typical "lazy fat ass" by running myself ragged everyday. I only allow myself to rest when ill or injured, and even then I complain the entire time because I don't like being "down". I've completely forgotten how to enjoy doing nothing because I have no right to let go and do nothing.

Frankly, many people would like to deny you the right to even appear  in public. You are so abhorrent to their sensibilities, that they would prefer to deny you autonomy, if only they could. While they can't do it legally, they can shame and ridicule you to the point where you will choose to deny yourself the right to be in public and hide in your home to the extent humanly possible.

The worst part of all of this is that it is all too easy to internalize the idea that as a fat person you don't have the right to enjoy food, be loved, dress attractively, or to be in public. You deny yourself those rights and as you do so, you devalue yourself as a person. You accept that your size renders you sub-human and passively comply with the wishes of those who detest you.

I've been a victim of this all of my life, and sometimes had the strength to act in defiance of such notions, but often have felt beaten down by them. Only recently have I realized what rights I've denied myself because I've found myself in a position to grant them again to myself. I'm still fat, but not hugely so, and I'm starting to feel that I have the right to be seen, eat good food, and be loved. I have the right to eat when I'm hungry. The fact that I have to offer myself special dispensation for that says a lot about how the people around me have shaped my sense of self, and my sense of my rights and value as a human being.

The fact that people would reinforce the notion that I don't deserve these same rights as other human beings based merely on body size makes me angry, but that anger really has no place to go. I know that nothing is going to change and that I am powerless to do anything about the oppressive nature of people's views toward and actions against people who are overweight. The only thing I can do is remember, understand, and never deny myself these rights again.