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Racialicious posted a great piece, originally published on Guanabee, by Alex Alvarez called Body Language: How Nicknames Objectify Minority Women And Why I Don’t Care “How You Meant It.” It explores the relationship between culture, language, and women’s bodies, which is a complicated topic (like doctoral thesis complicated) that Alvarez does a nice job on, despite the small space:
“Gordo/a,” “gordito/a,” “flaco/a” and “flaquito/a” are also quite common. Quite literally, they mean “(little) fatty” or “(little) skinny.” Take the Univision TV series “El Gordo y La Flaca,” . . . starring Raul de Molina and Lily Estefan. . . . On a personal note, I cannot tell you how much I wished my parents would have called me “sweetie” or “pumpkin” instead of “my little fatty.” Kinda stings when you’re going through puberty. To have complained about this, of course, would make me seem like an “acomplejada,” or like I had a complex about my weight and appearance. Which would have been pretty much exactly on the money. Growing up, I had always noted the difference between my family’s lack of barriers and delineations when it came to discussing bodies, particularly women’s, and the unspoken barriers among Anglo families on TV. And perhaps the most frustrating aspect of all this is that my family member didn’t mean anything by it. They weren’t actively try to make me aware of my body. They loved their gordita, after all. But, growing up in an increasingly multi-cultural world, I was exposed to different ethnicities’ relationships to their and others’ bodies. And I would have really preferred that verbal distance between my body and the world around it. Acomplejada as that makes me.
Such physically-conscious nicknames reduce the object to nothing but a body and, while innocuous to some, they are wrought with (somewhat) unspoken criticism, even if only in the sense that it makes one aware of their weight and form each and every time one stops to think about their nickname. Particularly for females.
Now go read the whole thing and come back here so I can tell you something.
My coworker, who is South East Asian (I am being intentionally vague here again; I know that SE Asian is not a monolithic cultural entity), and I were talking about cultural approaches to women’s bodies yesterday. She told me that where she is from, it is perfectly acceptable for friends and family to approach women and remark about how much weight they’ve gained, the some way one might comment about a new hair style or a new pair of shoes. From my experience, although close interfamilial relationships are fraught with weight and body-related land mines, family friends and distant relatives generally have the tact to avoid inquiring about any recent weight gain.
The fact that I equate keeping a sock in it about my weight with tact is pretty telling, no?
I will be seeing a good chunk of my family, and probably a vast selection of my in laws, at some point this summer. While my small immediate family is fairly accustomed to their incredible shrinking and then growing and then shrinking and then growing again relative, I so rarely see my extended family that for all I know, they’ve only ever seen me fat. Or skinny.* While I feel fairly confident that my reserved (we’re Presbyterians, for shit’s sake) white upbringing will render weight-related comments verboten, I am nervous about incurring their unspoken judgment. In my “grass is greener” moments, I sort of wish that at the next massive extended family dinner, my relatives would just comment about my weight, and get the topic out there. I even have a response all worked out:
“Yes, I have gained weight! Quite a bit. My husband and I both have great jobs and are living comfortably, so we’re able to eat really, really well. Isn’t it wonderful?”
Then I would laugh all the way back through the buffet line.
*True story: I went back to my (rural, small) hometown area for my (step)grandmother’s funeral five or six years ago. I was thinner than usual (about an 8, I think) and was dying my hair dark brown at the time. I stood in the receiving line, and after the tenth or so bereaved individual walked past me in without so much as a word of condolence, I entreated my mother for explanation (or just the dispensation to get out of the damn line and go sit down) and she told me that this parade of great aunts and uncles, shirt-tail cousins, and lifelong community acquaintances did not recognize me as a granddaughter, and instead assumed I was my serial monogamist cousin’s most recent girlfriend. This realization that I was a stranger to my own people failed to spark any urge to “get to know my roots,” FYI. I also felt really badly for the cousin’s actual girlfriend, who was in attendance although not in the receiving line, and so was being roundly disregarded by an entire community while being allowed to remain in a seated position. They have since split up.
ETA some more links.
God DAMN it! I am angry, and ashamed, and so, so disappointed. And I would like to take this moment to echo Black Amazon and say: Fuck Seal Press.
Listen. I won’t give up on feminism. I can’t. Feminism, as a philosophy, as a focus, as a fundamental part of my identity, saved my life. Sometimes the passion I feel for feminism as a way of living burns so hot in me that I can’t sleep at night for the excitement. Sometimes I can’t sleep for the grief, or for the despair, but feminism as a philosophy, as a focus, as a fundamental part of my identity gives me hope to keep on trying.
But I won’t stand behind feminists like Amanda Marcotte and the folks at Seal Press. That is not the feminism that I want to be a part of.
Mo Pie’s post, Understanding Weight Loss, reminded me of something that has bothered me for a long time, even when I was an earnest and sincere advocate for WW instead of a bitter, jaded, angry person. It’s this whole magical “10% of your body weight” concept. There is this idea in dieting land that losing 10% of your body weight is a magical, wonderful goal that, if achieved, will result in lowered blood pressure, lower cholesterol, reduced risk of diabetes, smaller clothes, increased happiness, 15% more making out with hotties, your dream job, untold riches, never having anybody’s crotch pushed into your face during your rush hour public transit commute, and a spontaneous understanding of the inner most secrets of the universe. Weight Watchers even gives you a chintzy little key chain once you’ve lost the equivalent of 10% of your starting weight.
Mo touched on the bothersome nature of the 10% ideal when she said, “Of course, if someone is obese and does ‘lose 10-15% of body weight,’ they are still visibly obese. Just from looking at them, nobody can tell that they are actually following society’s dictates. This underscores yet again how counterproductive the culture of shaming and mockery is—what if you’re vilifying someone who’s already lost weight, hmm?”
But I think what really gets me is the underlying message of the 10% weight loss goal: no matter what you weight right now, it’s not right. Whatever your weight happens to be, it’s not healthy. You’re not really happy. You’re not really attractive. Whatever your weight is, you are not as healthy, happy, pretty, and perfect as you are supposed to be.
Because what you are supposed to be is always, always less.
I’m sick. Sick sick sick. I have a “cold,” which I put in quotes because the word “cold” does not do justice to my suffering, which is epic. Monumental. Exhausting. Phlegmy. My ears are clogged, so that the world takes on a distant, wrapped-in-cotton kind of feeling, like hangover fuzziness, but quieter. My nose is leaky. My chest is spasmodic. I sound like a drowning duck when I talk and an angry basset hound when I cough.
Eating is a chore, and not only because my clogged ears make chewing an unpleasant and deafening proposition, but because I am pretty sure I’m getting all of my daily caloric needs from the ever-present cough drop tucked between my cheek and gum. Eating food just doesn’t occur to me until some outside stimulus reminds me that, yeah, I should probably eat something. I guess. Let me finish my cough drop first.
The last time I was this sick was probably 2001 or 2002. The general symptomology was the same: onset with a ridiculous fever (this happened on Monday, and in my high-temperature state I got the idea that I really immediately needed to start live blogging Dancing with the Stars (which I had never even watched before Monday and only watched now because I couldn’t focus on anything else (as an aside: why is everybody on that show the same color orange?)), including the commercials. Lucky for us all, I loaned my laptop to a friend whose computer shit the bed a few months ago and we were all spared the feverish fruits of my delusional labor) followed by a week or so of incessant coughing and clogged up head and generally feeling like shit. I was also on Weight Watchers. And would you believe? I figured out the points for cough drops. And counted them.
You know what else? I got on the message boards at the Weight Watchers website to look for advice on how to stay on program when sick. Such tips included the points value for various cans of chicken soup and? Cough medicine.
Not a diet, you say? But a simple “lifestyle” change? Merely eat less, exercise more, and make sure that when you’re ill, you cut back on the food so you can make up for all the points your ingesting in medicine.
I still feel about as healthy as the floor of the Red Line at about 2 AM on a Friday night, but I could seriously give a rat’s ass how many points or carbs or calories or grams of fat my array of off brand cold remedies contain, and if I thought it would help me get through the day without coughing so hard I crack a vertebrae, I would eat a sugar-coated block of lard. Or, given how desperate I am to be over this nonsense, lick the floor of a 2 AM Red Line train (which would probably work to cure the cold because it would kill me outright). But even though I don’t feel good right now, I certainly feel better than I did when I was counting cough drop points.
UPDATE! I started experiencing stabbing head pain today before lunch and thought maybe I’d go visit my friendly neighborhood doctor. Wise decision, it turns out, as I have a fairly nasty ear infection. In both ears! I’m actually relieved, because it means there is something wrong with me and, being a veteran of adult ear infections, I know I’ll feel human in a couple of days once the antibiotics start doing their thang.
Speaking of, I’d better lay in a supply of yogurt. And since I’m not on WW, I’m totally getting the good stuff.
Because what gave you the idea this was a blog about fat and feminism and stuff and junk? It is now a blog about heart-stoppingly cute baby otters.
I sent the link to this video to my friend L who replied:
L: OTTER OTTER OTTER OTTER!!!!! I can’t go for a drink tonight because I am watching TINA FEY in the return of 30 Rock. TINA FEY TINA FEY TINA FEY TINA FEY!!!!!!!
OTM: Tina Fey should make a movie in which she plays a wise-cracking otter rehabilitator.
L: That I would have to watch in the privacy of my own home.
If only I had a dollar for every email exchange with L that turned into a conversation about otters, booze, and Tina Fey…
L: Haha – way to call me out! But I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve done that, too.
OTM: I was calling us both out, actually. If I had a dollar for every time, I’d buy us an otter, get the three of us drunk, and fly us all out to visit Tina Fey.
You tell me:
1. Friday night I dreamed that I went to a ball game at Wrigley Field but was unable to fit into the seats. Not only were my hips wider than the arms of the chair by about six inches, but they were made of some hard material so unyielding that I couldn’t even wiggle in on the diagonal.
2. Saturday night I dreamed that I was performing in a fat girl burlesque/fashion show with Jennifer Lopez (who, I must state for the record, I do not consider fat) who was wearing a sequined thong and riding a fully decked out circus horse. We were all wearing blue and silver and I most adamantly did not want to be there.
3. Last night I dreamed I went to the gynecologist to have my IUD removed only to be told that it had grown into my uterus and was thus unremovable. Ever.
Now I’m no dream interpreter, but I clearly have some body image stress kicking around that kooky brain of mine. Yeesh.
Peter Sagal is alright with me.
I’m a fan of Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! (although as I could not be sure that Peter, Carl, and the panelists would limit their interaction with Maureen Dowd to demanding that she STFU, I did skip her Not My Job segment a couple of weeks ago) even though sometimes I think they go for the cheap, and occasionally sexist, laugh. But after seeing a link on Feministe to Sagal’s All Thing’s Considered commentary Gender Inequity in ‘Whoville,’ I find that I love Peter Sagal almost as much as I hate Jim Carey.
Wait, that is impossible. My hatred of Jim Carey is unparalleled. But I do find myself feeling happier, warmer, fuzzier feelings towards Mr. Sagal than I ever have before. Read a wee bit for yourself:
In a new subplot added by the filmmakers, the mayor of Whoville has 96 daughters. He has one son. Guess who gets all his attention? Guess who saves the day? Go ahead, think about it, I’ll wait.
No I won’t. What’s so irritating about this casual slap at daughters is the sense that the makers of the film didn’t really mean it. They seemed mostly interested in riffs on pop culture and jokes about violating bodily integrity. But what writers are told, you see, in Hollywood notes meetings, is that every character has to make a journey, towards something he needs and ultimately gets, and what they decided the Mayor of Whoville needs was a better relationship with his son. Here is a father with 96 daughters — 96 amazing, beautiful, unpredictable, mysterious, distinct, glorious human beings — but gosh, what in the world is he going to care about? I know, let’s give him a moody silent uninteresting offspring, but this one’s got a Y chromosome… that’ll be boffo box office!