Thursday, February 9, 2012

Member of a New Club

There's an Eddie Murphy sketch in which he explores the world as a white man in order to see how things work when you're white in a Caucasian-dominated world. The comedy works in two directions, though I imagine most people miss the more subtle second side. First, Murphy makes fun of white people and the way they walk, talk, and dress. Second, he is sending up black perceptions that white people live in a privileged world in which people hand over free cash and goods merely because of skin color. The humor works because there is truth to both sides.

Recently, I had an experience which brought this sketch to mind because I felt as if I had crossed over into the "normal" world and was being treated as a member of a different club. As Murphy made himself white instead of black, I have made myself "normal" instead of "freakishly fat". While I'm still fat, I'm in the range of normal middle-aged spread now and people don't treat me as an object of unbridled disgust and incredulity. Those who never knew me at a higher weight just see me as if this were the way I have always been or if I'd just put on weight as I knock on the door of my 50's.

I had an experience with a client in the past week in which he was telling me about the women in his office which dredged up the memory of that SNL skit. He told me that one of the women reminded him of a boneless ham because her legs were very fat and she had a habit of wearing black fishnet stockings. He went on to talk about a woman who he called a "kabuki actor" because she wore so much make-up it practically blinded him with the white that was reflected. Finally, he talked about a woman who wore no make-up and had long nose hair. In summation, he said that all the married women in his office were beautiful and the unmarried ones were not.

As I sat there listening to him ridicule these women, I had to contain my sense of anger at the way he was objectifying them and judging them based on appearances. I am not in a position to confront him about his behavior as it is simply not appropriate in the work I do. I did not condone it, but simply said that I felt sorry for those women. I also, frankly, felt sorry for him as I'm sure he wasn't aware of just how ugly a side of himself he was displaying by speaking this way and I think his need to speak of these women in this fashion reflected his own insecurities and pain at being rejected romantically. 

During his continued discussion of these women, I wondered if I would have been hearing all of this had I not been much thinner now and perceived as normal, attractive, well-groomed and known to be married. Like Eddie Murphy in his white guy get-up, I felt like a super morbidly obese person in a normal person costume sitting in on an interaction that I would not have been a part of had I not been wearing a "disguise". This is how people talked about people like me when they didn't know that I was one of "those people". 

Before I lost weight, no one even talked about fatness in front of me. They wouldn't mention it because of fear of letting on that they recognized the elephant in the room or offending  me. Now, I'm not fat enough to be viewed as offend-able in this regard so people talk like they would to other "normal" folks. Since I got the part-time job at which this occurred last April, people there have never known me at a much larger size (though they knew me at a larger size than now as I've lost another 35 or so pounds over the 10 months) and don't know what I once was. 

The interesting thing about this experience was not only that I did find that the world is rather different on the non-morbidly-obese side of the fence, but also that the flip-side equation applies as well. That is, Murphy parodied the perception of whites, but also the fantasy benefits they received in the minds of blacks. The "thin fantasy" in which life is magically better and all problems are solved at lower weights is equivalent to the "white privilege" fantasy in the skit in which money and goods are given away freely. There is some truth that there is a different world for smaller, more socially acceptable bodies, but it isn't as great as those who want to lose weight think it is.  

I asked my husband if he felt that this man would have had such a conversation with me had I been at my much higher weight. He said that this client would not have chosen to deal with me at all had I been much fatter. Sadly, I'm sure he's correct, and that's just one of the reasons I decided I had to deal with my relationship with food in the summer of 2009. Much as I can sit and hope that the world will treat very obese people differently, there is still a reality in which people do judge you and reject you whether you feel it is unfair or "wrong" or not. You can change yourself, but you can't change the world. 


Human In Progress said...

This sounds like a devastating experience. I dread such things happening, should I ever pass as "normal."

I think it's really important to hear that it ain't all unicorns and roses over in the Land of the Newly Thin. Your blog is so rare and helpful in this regard. Why don't more people talk about this stuff?!

screaming fatgirl said...

Thank you Human in Progress for reading and for appreciating my voice. There is a post that is gestating in my mind for the future about how I was happier in many ways when I was much fatter. It's going to be hard to explain and emotionally difficult to say, but it needs to be said and understood properly. That means I have a responsibility to say it with care so it may take awhile to get together. It is very far from all unicorns and roses... very, very far. I'm not so sure that I can say that it really gets any better either given some recent experiences. Yes, many things are better, but some things are definitely worse. Overall, I am glad to have lost weight for many reasons (in part because the "happiness" I had before was not a sound one... but I will get into that later).

I think more people don't say it isn't all good losing weight because they buy into the thin fantasy and don't look any deeper. There are many voices telling them that the land of happiness at the end of the weight loss road and they get there and blame themselves when the destination isn't what they expected and then they regain.

My blog is all about figuring it all out as deeply as possible so that I won't regain and can "fix" myself with food for good, not just lose weight. I think most people regain not because "dieting fails", but because it isn't all it takes. There's a lot of psychology involved, but people don't want to even hear about that possibility because they see any psychological issues as being part of deep illness or trauma. They don't know that psychology is every thought every day, not simply big things or problems. They don't want to know either because changing your head is harder than changing what you put in your mouth, though I think doing the former makes the latter a lot easier.

Thank you again for reading and your supportive comments. I really appreciate it. :-)

Anonymous said...

I've been reading your blog and the archives for the past several weeks now. I'm going through the stages of self awareness that you have written about.

I wonder if I would've been motivated to stat this journey sooner if some of the people and family around me would've been less kind. Perhaps, but then again it may have devastated me to the extend that I just became even more of a recluse , whose whole world revolved around food and sweet relief it brought, followed by the self loathing.

I've lost 1/2 of myself, I hope the other half leaves without a fight.

Thanks for this blog, everything you say resonates with my own experiences.

screaming fatgirl said...

Allie Oop: Thank you for reading and for commenting.

I can't speak for anyone else, but, for me, being unsupportive and unkind has only made things harder. When I'm badly treated, I feel I am worthless and don't deserve to be any better off than I am. Yesterday I had an experience with a friend that made me feel really bad about myself and like I didn't matter to anyone. I decided that I would eat because of that. I did it consciously and I don't think it is a big deal, but it taught me that I will eat because I'm angry and full of a sense that I have no value.

I think that self-love is the key to self-improvement and it's a lot harder to love yourself when others are disapproving of you or unkind. In fact, I think people often try to "hate themselves thin" and that's a part of the high failure rate (along with many other factors), but, again, I can't speak for everyone. It just wouldn't work for me. I hated myself up to almost 400 lbs.