accepting fat

I am fat.

Which means that I care a lot about how fat people are treated and what it means to be fat. But I don’t talk about it very much because I get so irritated by the online fat acceptance narratives. You’ve probably heard of some of them, the biggest one being, that you can have ‘health at any size.’ I don’t have a problem with the concept behind so many discussions on fat acceptance. I agree that you can have health at any size, body shaming is disgusting and harmful, and ‘concern trolling’ fat people (I’m just worried about you!) is being a condescending asshole at worst and very problematic at best.

But how so many of these critiques actually play out in the real world among fat acceptance folks…they bother me. One critique in particular.

But let me back up. In the past few months, I became aware of two things. The first is that after living my whole life thinking I was lazy, and thus fat (and in so much pain because I was lazy and thus fat), it turns out I have an autoimmune illness. In other words, my body is attacking itself. And because I’ve gone undiagnosed for so long, my body has been attacking itself for decades, leaving me very ill. It is this illness that has made me ‘lazy’ or: exhausted from living in a constant state of flare up and my body falling apart.

The second thing I became aware of is about sugar and the effects that sugar can have on the body. I came across this article, and then I started checking out books and researching other authors–and it all just sort of came together for me.

Sugar pushes the body into a state of inflammation. My autoimmune illness is exacerbated by chronic inflammation. And then to make things even worse, highly processed foods are filled with sugar that increases inflammation. I’ve been poor most of my life–my diet reflected that.

Finding out about how sugar and highly processed food interact with autoimmune illness (makes it way worse), brought up a lot of feelings in me. I’ve spent so long punishing myself. Self-medicating through flare ups by abusing myself, calling myself lazy, worthless, disgusting. Nobody ever told me that ‘self-medicating’ could be violent. In the justice communities I run with ‘self-medicating’ is taking your health into your own hands, learning about herbs to deal with stress, exercising to deal with depression, etc. It never crossed my mind that me treating myself the way I did was abuse or that it was what I did to function daily. To force myself up when I just couldn’t go anymore. It never occurred to me that self-abuse could be a way to survive.

So I talked a bit about what I was learning on twitter. And I realize that twitter isn’t often the best place to talk about stuff–but I didn’t really feel up to taking on an essay yet. And the response was largely positive. But eventually as my tweets started making their way out of my own circle–a handful of responses began trickling in. The kind from the fat acceptance crowd that makes me so angry. The kind where your own life experiences and theorizing about your fat body are taken as an ‘attack’ on their fat bodies, where you saying ‘acceptance’ isn’t enough, must mean that you’re actually filled with internalized self hatred rather than filled with a fierce desire to be visible in world that would rather see you dead.

For so many of us, our fat cannot be separated from our race, our class, our gender or sexuality. I accept my body at any size and I want a world that will accept me at any size. But at the same time, I am fat because of my race, because of my class. Because of my chronic illness.

Chicana scholars, Luz Calvo and Catriona Rueda Esquibel have long talked about the phenomenon of Mexican people having healthy body weight and no diabetes or heart issues when they live in Mexico eating traditional Mexican diets. And then they move to the US and they start eating highly processed food, or food that passes as Mexican in the United States; Deep fried food that’s saturated with high fat sour cream, heavy cheese and lots of meat. That’s when all those healthy Mexicans become obese. When all the food related illness take hold and don’t let go. And that’s when all the 45 Fans get pissed. Fat Mexicans choosing to be fat take resources that belong to Americans. Fat Mexican anchor babies stealing what belongs to real Americans. Fat Mexican bodies are a threat to US national security.

You cannot separate the fatness of a Mexican body from the Mexicanness.  And you cannot accept the fatness without understanding that the fatness is an act of violence against Mexican bodies. Fatness speaks to an active violence perpetrated against Mexican bodies by an unhealthy violent food system intent intent on profit over health on every single level. It speaks to 500 years of colonization. It speaks to criminalization. Cheap sugar, starvation.

It speaks to something that has been done to our bodies, collectively. And if the fat acceptance movement can’t find a way to except these complicated truths about the bodies of so many fat people, then it’s not a theory worth even holding onto.

One of the most compelling things I learned about how sugar affects our bodies is what happens to obese mothers and their starving children. The kids who are starving or food insecure are obviously food insecure. They are what we expect food insecure people to look like. They are thin, listless, their eyes are sunk their skulls.

Obese mothers, on the other hand, have people look at them like with all the shame and nastiness that we are used to looking at fat people with. Overweight mothers who have starving children are understood as selfish, out of control, lazy, disgusting. But these mothers are starving as well. They’re eating highly processed cheap food that they can afford or that they get through food pantries. The sugar makes their body hoard fat, even while it saves absolutely nothing nutritious. And it leaves them ravenous once the placeholder in their bellies moves out.

They’re starving. But we’ve never understood fatness to be starving. And culturally we’d rather understand mothers as selfish slobs than with compassion. We depend on having mother’s to blame for all the social ills out there so we never have to fund fixing those social ills.

I read about skinny children/fat mothers and I thought of my Mexican childhood and how hungry I always was. I thought of my Mexican teens and how much I loved the flour tortillas made fresh daily by adults. I had no idea that flour tortillas (made from cheap highly processed white flour) replaced the more nutritious corn tortillas my grandparents ate, their grandparents ate. I thought about my life as a Mexican mother. Not eating so my children could eat, eating off the dollar menu because it was the only thing I’d eat that day and I needed to feel full. I continued the traditions of my family, my culture. I bought flour tortillas because they were the cheapest. I ate processed foods because they were affordable. Food made ‘traditional’ through poverty.

I’ve hated myself from the time I understood the supposed link between ‘individual choice’ and ‘fatness.’ But now I look back and I understand what was going on. I was literally starving. I couldn’t stop eating because my body never got what it needed. Filling up your stomach isn’t the same thing as nourishing your body. Me being fat is the way violence enacted against me played out. The violence of starvation.

I need so much more to understand this violence than a lens of acceptance. Acceptance is the color blind way of explaining something we don’t really want to or think we don’t need to talk about. But really, there’s only a few groups of people that honestly don’t need to talk about it. It just so happens that those groups are given the biggest platforms to speak.

I want to talk about it. I want to talk about why I was the fat starving mother, and I want to talk about why I was abusing myself so I could live.

I don’t need fat acceptance.

I need a radical love which allows me to re-claim my body from a capitalistic system intent on destroying it by any means necessary. I need a radical way of loving my body even when I don’t accept it.  I need a radical way of understanding what has happened to me, whether it’s the violence of poverty, criminalization or starvation.

Reclaiming my body will look a lot different than self acceptance. It may start with self acceptance it may even end with self acceptance. But self acceptance isn’t all of it. When something has been done to our bodies, we have the right to question it. And we have the right to love our bodies, but not accept the violence that’s been done to them. And I don’t accept that violence. I don’t.

I am reminded of a rallying call during the Detroit water crisis; it’s not your fault but it is your fight. This makes more sense to me, feels like the right way to begin understanding my body. It’s not my fault but it is my fight. My body belongs to me. And I will fight for it.

and then it gets worse

I’ve tried think of a way to say this, eloquently, dignified. But then I break into the crying and it won’t stop, not even when my mouth stretches wide open, no sound coming out but ugly squeaking, saliva dripping out like thin strands of mucus.

My partner lost his job. He lost his job exactly one month before I am set to lose mine. My contract wraps up, and with the political climate being what it is, there’s next to nothing to move on to.

It was going to be hard for us to navigate living on just one income. I have been lining up part time work and side jobs. And we were going to be ok. It’d be hard, but we’d be ok.

Then the news came. We live in Michigan, and the news comes all the time for all people.

I’ve got a kid who just had major reconstructive surgery and is in physical therapy. I am being treated for auto-immune illness. We don’t have insurance anymore.  We live in Michigan, this happens all the time.

The day after we found out, I looked on the website of my kid’s school to find out about the free lunch program. We are a family that was living pay check to pay check. No more paycheck means no more food. Food insecurity is a fact of life in Michigan. Entire school districts are on free lunch programs because this is Michigan. Pink slips are a fact of life.

That very same day that I looked for information on the free lunch program, news that Betsy DeVos wants to get rid of the free lunch program dinged all over my social media. The level of vindictiveness. The level pure vile evilness. What kind of God allows it?

Politicians in Michigan implemented a drug testing policy for welfare recipients. Because they don’t want food money going to parents, who apparently use the money meant for food for children to buy drugs. They don’t. But politicians spend a lot of time trying to convince us they do.

But at the same time, the most direct way to feed hungry children without parent interference is through the free lunch program.

And they want to end it.

They want our children to go hungry.

The ugly cry, the ugly tears. They won’t stop.

We’ll be ok. We always are, someway, somehow. We don’t need health insurance to live, like some people do. We have degrees, we have work history.

But when you go off on how ‘glad’ you are that 45 is in charge, how pleased you are that he’s going to ‘shake things up,’ when you ask me to ‘give him a fair chance,’ please know that I’m fighting too hard for my own chance to survive to worry about giving him a chance. Please understand the bile I spit could’ve landed on you.

We’ve spent months since the election speculating on how to treat 45’s supporters. Nobody has bothered to ask those who will die without insurance how they’re doing or what they’re going to do. Nobody has asked about how the kids with no insurance to cover their therapy will manage. Nobody has explained how parents will feed their children.

Michigan is going to be the way of life for everybody now. And we’re so busy worrying about those who want it like that, we forgot to ask about how those who are busy trying to survive are doing. We forgot ask our neighbor’s what they need. If they’re ok. Or maybe we just don’t give a fuck anymore.

There’s nothing eloquent or dignified to say about being terrified of hunger. Of not surviving. Of seeing you’re kids suffer.

So I cry. Hot thick wide mouth ugly cry.




Surviving the war years 1

So how do you keep going when it’s the war years? I’m tired of the only answers that question being connected to organizing, so I decided to write up something that centers ‘taking care of yourself’ that doesn’t dare to presume what you’ll be doing once you’ve taken care of yourself.

    • One of the worst things that happened post-election was that there was just no escaping 45. No matter where I was at or what I was doing, the conversation inevitably flipped to 45, and either fighting or angry bitch sessions started. Don’t even get me started on social media. It’s hard to escape 45 for a few minutes and get yourself centered again when he’s tweeting ever 32 minutes. So what I’ve done is block his name on every social media site that I can. Trust, I still find out about what he’s doing anyway, but not having to deal with it every single time I breath has been helpful. What I do to ‘catch up’ is check the website, What the Fuck Just Happened, Today. There are daily wrap ups of what happened that day and even helpful links as to contextualize what the fuck just happened. I feel more in control of my space (no more 45 invasion!) and I only have to be officially pissed off once a day.
    • I’ve been going on walks. Lots of them. This clears my head and helps me to remember the universe is bigger than the mess we’re facing right now. And because we’re the universe, we are bigger than the mess too. It doesn’t help me to understand or figure out what the hell we’re going to do–but it calms me down. There are other people who don’t know what the hell we’re going to do either. I’m not alone. None of us are.
    • I have bitch sessions. I’ve learned that I can’t spend all my time doing this because then I just get mad and upset because it all feels circular and it reminds me that none of us know what the hell we’re going to do. But having a good clean bitch session with a friend that knows the right point to end it and knows the laughter is as much a part of a bitch session as being angry is–it’s pure relief.
    • I’ve meditated. A lot. Of course the fear of ‘omg what the hell are we going to do?’ is partially a fear because we’re trying to control the future, which is impossible. Even spending five minutes doing conscious breathing helps to bring you out of that impossible future space and into the present. Where we have enough to be getting on with. No use being anxious about the future when we need all of our strength for the now. Breath. Feel your lungs expand. Pay attention to your eyes as they open and close. End with a prayer. It helps. It really does.
    • I collect beautiful words. As a lover of words that can slip into you and stay there for a while, nourishing you right when you need it most–the ugliness, the ignorance steeped in ugliness, has been hard to bear. So the beautiful words I do find, I’ve been collecting, writing on paper, then posting the paper on my walls. Some of my current favorites:
      • “I felt like a blackberry in a pail of milk.” ~Harriet Tubman
      • “Every time I comb my hair
        Thoughts of you get in my eyes” ~Prince
      • “Day and night, she threw herself against the rock. The scales that were scraped from her body flew up into the air and danced in the wind like blood-stained cherry petals.” ~Yoko Tawada, Where Europe Begins
      • “There are things about you that you’ll want to change
        But these are all the little pieces of you that I love.” ~Ben Hartley, Little Pieces Of You
    • I read books about herbs. I am an herbalist. I don’t talk about it a lot online, as herbs are a very hands on thing–you experience herbs in your body and senses and because I still am a young herbalist, it’s really hard for me translate this into blog posts so far. But even if I don’t quite have the skill to do so yet, many others do–Matthew Wood is one of the best for a general practical overview of a plant. Rebecca Altman at King’s Road Apothocary has a lovely newsletter that she puts out every week that are helpful/practical but also beautiful and lovely to sit down with a cup of tea and read.
    • I listen to this song on rotation. :p

There are other things, but for now, the above has been what I’ve been relying on. If you feel like sharing what you do to survive, I’d love to hear from you in comments!

the war years

I’ve felt pretty guilty since the inauguration.

I’ve watched the crowds of people cheering for #45, I’ve felt their pleasure in my bones. I’ve listened to their incomprehensible belief that 45 is the best thing that has ever happened to the US. My stomach has twisted with growing apprehension as hard red faces get tighter and meaner. I know what those faces mean. I know what’s coming.

And I admit, I’ve spent more time since the election and especially since the inauguration feeling scared, overwhelmed, defeated. Even though I’ve been to multiple protests/rallies, and even for the very first time ever, I had my family ask to come with me (rather than what usually happens: me packing everything up and saying, get in the car, we’re all going to the march now. Cue groans and eye rolls.). Even though marches have been bigger than anything I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to marches on Washington and anti-war protests and anti-Patriot Act and pro-immigration and pro-choice marches for well over two decades. Even though the place I spent much of my childhood, Conservative Religious Evangelical USA, had thousands of anti-Betsy DeVos protestors out in the main square.

Even though.

There are people ‘resisting’ that I never expected and never would’ve imagined could. And I know I’m supposed to feel joy. But it’s been hard to even see these faces of ‘resistance.’ All I see is the sweaty red heat of anger and the squirming tension. I know what’s coming.

I know I’m supposed to feel joy–but I’ve spent most of my post-election time just being depressed. And for lack of better word, nihilistic. There’s nothing we can do to stop what’s coming. There’s nothing we can do to fix this. We’re all screwed.

And so the guilt swirls around me, picking at my depression, grinding it up and spitting it out. While so many inspirational amazing and frankly overwhelming actions and solidarity and love has sprung up around me, I’ve been chewing the ‘yeah, but…’ my tongue has been trying to fling all over the love. I keep eyeballing my Actually Pants I keep in the corner of my room, ready to pull them on once I just can’t take the determined hopefulness anymore.

Actually, this is all bullshit, actually, we’re all fucked, actually there’s nothing we can do I don’t know why you’re bothering, actually these white women are back stabbing assholes, actually nobody really wants change they just hate 45, actually actually actually actually actually.

I want to spit all over everything before it even gets started. I want to burn to ashes the trust required to even hope that any of this ‘resistance’ is real.

Because just as I know the sinewy tautness of those hard red faces, I know the bland dismissal of the hundreds of thousands now marching in the streets. I know their ferocious level of allegiance to keeping everything just as it is. Liberal reformist, they said with pride.

My body was one of those bodies thrown to the heap by the red faced bulldogs, with the apologetic help of those marching now. Violently attacked as ‘criminal’ by the bulldogs, blandly dismissed as ‘not practical’ by the reformists.

I know who these people are who write about ‘resistance.’ I know what the whiteness of their eyeballs when they roll up into the back of their heads, I know the maddening ‘patience’ that they used to type out their email defense of doing everything exactly as it’s always been done. I know the pride they wore ‘practical’ and ‘common sense’ in the face of my ‘rabid’ warnings about immigration regulations and DHS goals and Detroit and Michigan and emergency managers.

I’ve felt guilty, even as I get up and march, even as I keep talking talking talking with confused friends protesting for the first time, even as I sign my post cards and call my Congress people.

Guilty because I don’t trust any of this. And I know what’s coming. And we’re all fucked.

I ran away from the place I grew up in. Was (re)birthed by a new city into a new worldview. I ran away because I couldn’t take the abuse anymore. I couldn’t handle it. The new city that claimed me gave me love. Freedom. It didn’t pray over me or try to change me or love me and hate my sin. Acceptance. I ran away, as so many of us have done, to freedom.

Then that city that I grew up in got bigger and took over my state.  And then the election happened and 45 took over, and I figured out that there’s no place left to run. That I’ve been standing on the plank, the noose tightly wrapped around my neck all this time. And now that people are finally marching and protesting and ‘resisting,’ I don’t trust their ‘resistance’ anymore than I trust that the red faces will ever stop savoring my death.

And I feel guilty because what I have to offer to this ‘movement’ is not what’s needed right now.

So I decided to just rest. To just rest in all these feelings and feel them. Because they’re so overwhelming I can’t see anything else. I can’t even see a way out.

I rest in these feelings and admit that I can’t handle seeing even the names on tweets of some of those liberal reformist marchers any more than I can handle seeing or even saying 45’s name. I blame them as much as I blame 45. I don’t trust what’s going on and I don’t know if I ever will.

And that’s ok.

The basic rule of thumb for organizers is that you start where people are. You don’t ask anybody to be anything but what they are, and you go from there. But far too often organizers don’t give themselves that same acceptance, that same grace from the universe. Start with where you’re at. We’re the ones that are supposed to be the ‘leaders,’ the ‘experts’ at what we do now. We’re supposed to know what to do, where the resources are, how to move forward.

We’re not supposed to be so bitterly hatefully angry that all we can do is glare and try to not punch all the liberals who are all of a sudden embracing punching as an organizing strategy. Do they know how much I’d love to have punched them in the faces all these years? Do they know the urge was almost uncontrollable in me during the ‘punching nazi’ debate?

I feel guilty for even typing that. But I’m not going to delete it. I am going to instead just relax. And accept that this is where I am right now.

I didn’t punch a liberal reformist today. It is a good day.

And that’s all I can ask of myself.

A common mantra right now is that this isn’t a skirmish we’re dealing with, it’s a war. And to be prepared for war, you have to be prepared for the long haul. Eventually I may be more able to push and shove and meld all these conflicting issues in my body and mind into a new shape, and I’ll be ready to negotiate the world with that new body. There’s time, hopefully. But even during wars, sometimes the world stops and you just can’t move forward until you recognize all that’s been lost, all that will never be the same again.

And right now, I’m there. The world has stopped. I can’t run away–there’s no place left to run. Things will never be the same again. Which means we’ve already seen the first casualty of this war.

And I need some time before I can move on.