April 14, 2012

Fat Talk

It began, like so many silly things do here in the heady days of The Future, with a comment I made on Facebook.

"I lost ten pounds in the week since I was at the doctor. No joke. Perhaps I should let this infection linger a little longer."

The short version of backstory is that for the past week and a half, I have been sick. REALLY sick, actually, with a one-two punch of what the doctor wanted to call pneumonia but which I weaseled her down to bronchitis (because I am so very very charming, no doubt) and a wicked sinus infection. The bronchitis was under control fairly quickly, but the sinus infection, my very first, lingered painfully and disgustingly. I'm going to skip the details, but suffice to say that due to a near-constant nausea, I had very little to eat that week. When I returned to the doctor for new, hopefully not-pretend antibiotics, the nurse weighed me, and yep. I had lost exactly ten pounds in the course of a week.

So I posted that fun little status update. There are two parts to it, which I believe can be identified as a) the "silver lining" part, and b) the "obviously a joke" part.

Well, maybe not entirely obviously. Someone left what I felt was a passive-aggressive response, linking (without comment) to "How To Spot Fat Talk So You Can Stop It". When I called her on it, she took the "oh, I'm just saying…" approach, and that pushed my button, I guess. Don't walk in the room, release a flatus and then pretend it wasn't you. She said she found "fat talk" to be toxic, and I guess it didn't matter that I was talking about myself, and that no, I wasn't actually advocating the use of illness for radical weight loss.

Because here's the thing: I didn't make a choice. Getting a nasty infection wasn't part of my plan. I didn't stop taking my antibiotics or stick Cheetos up my nose. I was sick, it sucked a very great deal, and I didn't eat much. I didn't really understand how much weight I was losing because I wasn't changing out of my pajamas much. I was a delightful treat; if you had knocked on my door this week, when I answered the door, you wouldn't have thought "Sexy MAN!" You might have phoned up the Centers for Disease Control after you finished spraying Lysol in your face.

I'm going to be blunt. She seemed like a perfectly nice person, but I found her point to be extremely unconvincing, as was another comment by someone else later. Because, again, it was a joke, and again, it wasn't a joke at someone else's expense. You can't just show up on someone else's Facebook page and take their self-referencing, self-deprecating humor and sanctimoniously apply it to yourself. Well, you can, but I'm not sure why you would want to.

Anyway, the whole thing got a little out of hand. (Trust me, you want to read that. I'll wait.)

Fun Internet kookery aside, weight is a tricky issue to discuss publicly. I know that in the "fat-o-sphere" (I really did just type that), there are a lot of specific rules for how these discussions are supposed to take place, with lots of trigger warnings and the like. I know none of these rules, and I'm not sure I care to learn them. Not because I'm a dick (or not JUST because, if you prefer), but because the weight issues I'm discussing are my own. I'm not sure I need a set of guidelines to talk about me.

I've always had issues with weight, ever since I was a kid. And while I've never been morbidly obese, I can't remember the last time I was exactly fit, either. I'm going to use some actual numbers today, since I'm sitting at the low end at the moment. For scale, I am six foot, two inches tall and possess all my limbs and parts in the usual proportions.

At my worst, during what might be termed my "County Fair" days, I weighed 280 pounds. No joke. I remember that day, when I stepped on the scale and saw that number. I was young, too, maybe twenty-six or so. I spent the prime of my youth eating and (more to the point) drinking as if an alien invasion were imminent. All I got for my troubles was about ten years of photos I will never show anyone, and well, yeah, perhaps a little type 2 diabetes. (That was a joke, too. I come from a long line of genetic diabetics, although I certainly tossed enough gasoline on the fire.)

By the time I met Julie, I was way down from that, maybe 250 pounds. I lost a bunch of weight when I was diagnosed with The Beedies at 37, but then I published a book and ate and drank a lot and gained pretty much all of it back. The last time I really remember weighing myself was about a year ago, and I was at an unpleasant 245.

Now here's where it gets fun. Last week, when I went to the doctor, I was surprised to find that I weighed 223 pounds. I knew I had lost some weight; my clothes told me that. But twenty pounds, for nothing? I was pleased.

When I went back to the doctor exactly one week later? 213 pounds. That's not all that far from my doctor's target weight for me. The last time I weighed this little, I think I was still receiving lunch money.

For those of you who also have had weight issues during your life, however, you understand a kind of universal truth. Numbers don't always mean a whole lot to a fat person. Not good ones, anyway. And when I say "fat person", I mean that in the same way that someone who has been clean and sober for twenty years still self-identifies as an alcoholic. Sometimes you can tell the formerly fat person by the clothes they wear, at least a size too large, as if they don't trust what their own senses tell them in the dressing room. I imagine sometimes you can identify the formerly fat in the ranks of the extremely fit and healthy. They watch those numbers closely, perhaps a little grimly. Their own silent exercise mantra might be "Never again."

You can be the obscenely rich CEO of a major corporation, but you can still probably list the names of the bullies who made fun of you when you were a little fat kid. You can have the most beautiful and successful man or woman on your arm at an elegant dinner party, but if you close your eyes, you can clearly see the faces of the pretty girl or the handsome boy who turned you down in school with a barely-concealed smirk on their face, the universal "As if!" sneer.

And if you were a fat kid who discovered early on that you could make people laugh at the jokes you made instead of the shape of your body, then you made sure to hone those skills. You learned to make jokes, and not just innocent ones, either. You learned that the easiest way to deflate a bully was to get the crowd to laugh at him instead, so you developed a sense of humor with an edge, and you never forgot how to use it. And you never ever forgot that if you really wanted to be funny and to keep yourself in the good graces of others, you saved the most biting jokes for yourself.

And when someone shows up on your Facebook page to tell you to use nice words when you talk about weight issues, even when you're talking about yourself, you push back. And you should. Because no matter what your size now, you're a fat person. And you're not about to let someone who (in your mind) apparently hasn't figured out How Things Work take away your own best defenses simply because when they see "fat talk", they take it to heart, as if every conversation about fat people is a conversation about them. As if the warm embrace of "The Fat-o-sphere" is the only place one can find relief, with words of acceptance and maybe some denial, but never anything harsh or sad.

Some of us, and I'm going to say that includes a lot of you reading right now, some of us learned a different way. And whether we hide our fat person past or joke about it or sweat and bleed it away at the gym, we at the very least own our fat person in our own way. If you're a fat person and you try to change that, you might be a well-intentioned person, but you really ought to know better.

Yours truly at 213. Don't get too accustomed to it...


Joy Rothke said...

Thanks Rob. The fat kid never really goes away.

Heather said...

You are so right. I knew I've been reading your stuff for a reason!

Heather said...

Ugh. I'd. Not I've.

Pia said...

Okay, I think the biggest thing that bothers me about this situation is that you got "lectured" about a comment about yourself on your own FB page.... one that WAS clearly satirical. Who exactly asked for this opinion? And the way it was presented was an "opinion bomb".... just throw it in there without any engagement or questioning or dialogue. And then get offended when you don't love it. Trolls.

Pia said...

Okay, I think the biggest thing that bothers me about this situation is that you got "lectured" about a comment about yourself on your own FB page.... one that WAS clearly satirical. Who exactly asked for this opinion? And the way it was presented was an "opinion bomb".... just throw it in there without any engagement or questioning or dialogue. And then get offended when you don't love it. Trolls.

The Paid Help said...

i'll probably get pilloried for this, but honestly i think you overreacted a bit, Rob. i read your status update before there were any comments and it pinged a bit for me, but not enough for me to say anything at the time. you have to know that when you put stuff out on Facebook, it is there to be commented on. i didn't sense a lecture from the woman who posted the link, but that's just my point of view.

but i totally get the whole fat kid thing you describe - having been one and continued to be a fat adult who has occasionally yo-yo'ed up and down a bit. it never really goes away, and everyone finds a way to cope with it. as an artist, i process it through the work i make.

Elizabeth said...

I missed the whole thing on Facebook and have now caught up and can only say "holy shit."

Now I'm going to figure out a way to pick my jaw up from the floor.

Who are these people?

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

A quick reminder, of the Two Rules for commenting on my blog:

1. Don't be an assmonkey.


2. I am the final arbiter of assmonkeyhood.

Let's add a Third Rule:

3. Don't be stupid. Seriously.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

Paid Help:

I don't think you'll get pilloried for your opinion. I disagree with you, but that's fine. The thing I disagree with the most, aside from the idea that the things I say about me have to be gentle enough for the whole world to read and self-apply, is that because I make my comments public, I therefore give away any right whatsoever to expect to be treated with any degree of respect. Passive-aggressively posting that link wasn't respectful; it was judgmental, and arrogant. It was rude to assume she knows better than I how to approach my own weight issues.

Anyway, agree to disagree, I guess. Thank you for leaving a comment without being a jerk about it.

Unknown said...

As an assmonkey, I find your shaming of assmonkeys shameful.

Unknown said...

You familiar with this guy?


Science reporter, he thinks it's not at all how many, but what type of calories.

His thesis very neatly tracks with my personal experience over the last ten years.

I'm 5'8" tall, and I currently weigh 155 lbs, with a 33" waist. (measured with a tape measure, not pants size. Measure sometime, your pants usually lie to you by at least 3-4 inches.)

3 years ago I weighed 185lbs, despite running 5 miles at a time 3 times a week. I thought that weight and my 40" waistline were "just the way life is". And 12 years ago, I weighted 205 lbs or so. I never measured my waist at that point. Would've just upset me.

I am not any "fitter" than I was 3 years ago, but I have gradually changed my eating habits. If anything I exercise less.. But I basically abstain from so-called "refined carbs", white bread, potatoes, white rice. I haven't had a beverage with HFCS in at least 2 years, and I might have a single beer once every 3 months. (I'm not a teetotaler, switched to drinking whiskey straight.)

That's it. Oh, and btw, my wife has been on basically the same diet, since I do 99% of the cooking. She's down 4 dress sizes. FWIW, YMMV, etc.

People criticize Taubes saying "isn't this just Atkins?" He says the question of carbs is like a $100 bill on the sidewalk, with people walking past it thinking "if it was a real $100 bill, someone would've already had picked it up. It must be fake."

OK, so what can I really say? I'm talking about "epidemiology with a sample set of 2 adults", total BS. But I don't know any "fat people" who don't have white bread in their house. They may exist, but there aren't enough of them in the whole country to crowd a phone booth.

Anyway, speaking as a former fat kid, former picked on kid, I feel your pain. But it's been made abundantly clear to me that "being fat", at least in my own experience, is not something that's "pre-destined" or beyond your control.

And this was a total surprise to me. What got me started down this road was a genetic test that suggested I'm at higher risk for diabetes, which scares me.

See Also:

This guy is an MD who talks about dietary ketosis, as opposed to the other, quite dangerous kind.

My sister is a personal trainer, and, I haven't seen this myself, but she claims she has clients who have not moderated or managed, but completely reversed type 2 diabetes with 12 weeks of dietary ketosis.

OK, that's really really hard. It means no sugar, full stop, not even fruit, for like 12 weeks. I'm not "man enough" for that kind of diet. But you know what else is really hard? Getting around after diabetes leads to a foot or a leg being amputated at age 60. Just saying.

Kathy W. said...

arrgh, I agree with you 1000% on this. Your body, your right to say whatever the fuck you want about it.

shifting gears a bit...if you've lost 31 pounds without trying (except for that last week of not eating) I'd be worried that a long-simmering infection may have raised your blood sugar enough to cause rapid weight loss. My Type 2 brother lost 30 lbs. when his blood sugar went totally out of control. Hope you haven't been experiencing any numbers in the 300-500 range.

so this is a "worried about you"-type comment.

(The best thing I ever did for my diabetes was to start testing a lot, buying the strips online from cheaper sources.)

Bev Sykes said...

Stuff like this drives me crazy. It's YOUR blog, they are YOUR thoughts and anyone offended is not being forced to read them. I am fat. I am fatter than you were at your heaviest. I have been fat in my head from birth, even when I was anorexic (briefly) I still felt fat. I know what it's like to be fat and feel fat; I know what it's like to be thin(ner) and still feel fat. I once lost 85 lbs and blogged my way thin (and then gained it all back again).

Bottom line is you do what works for YOU and the hell with anybody who has the efrontery to scold you for it.

(and BTW, congrats on the weight loss--however it happened, and glad to hear you are slowly coming back to normal)

Jenny said...

Nobody gives themselves diabetes. People who get it either have a) damaged mitochondrial genes that make it impossible to burn glucose correctly--which shows up when they are young and slim, and who have, like you, lots of relatives with Type 2, or b) gene defects that keep their beta cells from making normal amounts of insulin.

That's why though 2/3rds of middle Aged Americans are overweight or obese, only 9% get diabetes a figure that has barely changed over the decades despite the b-s you hear in the media.

Once people's blood sugars start to deteriorate--long before doctors tell them anything is wrong--they get very hungry--because that is what oscillating blood sugars do to us, so they do overeat. But the underlying problems with blood sugar come BEFORE the weight gain.

You can read research documenting this in great detail, with research cites on this page about what really causes diabetes HERE.

Once people stop thinking they caused their own diabetes many find it much easier to do what they need to do to keep it from ravaging their bodies, which is not lose weight. You can normalize your blood sugars without losing a single pound by cutting carbs and many people do.

Helena Sue said...

I have to admit: I truly appreciate the mental imagery of you jamming a Cheeto up your nose in a fit of desperate anorexia. Ohhh, the laugh that mental picture brought. Thanks.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

See? I'm a giver.

HelloKit said...

What the hell?

"I lost ten pounds in the week since I was at the doctor. No joke. Perhaps I should let this infection linger a little longer."

There is not a single derogatory word in that statement, toward yourself or anyone else. You didn't call yourself fat or any other names. You referenced a need to lose weight which you have previously recognized, and made a simple joke about illness being an effective way to do so (a joke which only a complete moron would have thought was serious, by the way).

How on earth is this considered "fat talk"? Is it now somehow derogatory even to acknowledge when our weight is unhealthy and needs to improve? That's going to do wonders for solving America's obesity problem. (For the complete morons, that last sentence was sarcasm.)

Julie said...

Obviously, you have the right to say whatever you want on your own FB and your own blog.

At the same time, I agree with the poster that how we talk about everything, including ourselves, creates the climate we all live in.

Just as you might wince to see someone calling themselves a retard, the poster apparently winced when you made a joke about how awesome it was that being sick made you lose weight, implication being that thin is more important than healthy.

You don't really think that. Other people in this culture do, and it harms people, potentially including you. And me. And the poster. And lots of other people.

Me said...

You are very lucky in how much your commenters care about your well-being! This includes the two detailed and I believe scientifically accurate comments about the positive effects of low carb on health. I'll simply add that the "Wheat Belly" book and the FatHead DVD are both excellent and enjoyable introductions to this topic.

robyncz said...

Two things. . .
Although I don't think your original comment would have riled me up if I had read it, I do see the objector's point. We are SO culturally opposed to fat that we tend conflate "fat" and "unhealthy" (or the converse "losing weight" and "healthy") in ways that don't make any sense. In fact, the very fact that you lost so much weight during a short illness might be more of a warning sign of a separate underlying problem than a "silver lining." Or not.
But that aside, I wonder if you have taken the time to think about the point those posters were trying to make--sort of like, for example, Andy Richter thought about what you had to say about his stupid joke last week. I'm not saying you have to come to the same conclusion that he did. I just wonder if you actually gave it any critical thought or just immediately fought back.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...


No offense, but I keep hearing this, over and over, the idea that if I don't agree with the points that were being made, then it must be because I refused to listen. It is the height of arrogance to assume that the only alternative to your position must be willful refusal to listen. I read the points made. I find them wrong-headed and dangerous.

Look. I stand to benefit as much as anyone from some level of "fat acceptance", but there is a LOT of borderline fetishization going on in that thread and the ideas behind it. I think it's fair to say that most of the people I know in my life have some degree of weight issues, past or present. But this idea that any mention of weight loss becomes shaming, or that any discussion of weight concerns (even in humor or in a legitimate health discussion) is derogatory, that strikes me as misguided and dangerous. The guy who posted that silly tumblr post about me said that "overweight" is a social construct. Well, no. it's a thing that concerns many of us (and our doctors), and not just whether or not we can walk through life cushioned by gentle language. It concerns us because of very real health concerns, as well as whatever social and personal issues we almost always struggle with as well. It is arrogant and incredibly self-possessed, as well as potentially dangerous to some, to insist that the discussion never even see the light of day, all for the Utopian faintheart dream where no one ever says anything, even in their own space, that you might ever feel uncomfortable with ever.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

Also, IT WAS A JOKE. Not a joke about anyone else, not about you, not about that silly tumblr clown, and not about anyone but my own fat self. No matter how hard anyone tries, it simply is not about anyone else. When you show up in someone else's space insisting that it's about you, THAT'S the most arrogant position of all. It really isn't.

robyncz said...

WHOA THERE, Rob. I absolutely didn't accuse you of refusing to listen or not thinking about it. I just wondered if you had (other than in terms of formulating your argument). It seems like many of the responses here are reminiscent of the responses you get to the "r-word" argument--where people simply refuse to see the point and insist that there's nothing wrong with what they said because they didn't mean it that way.

I don't know the right answer here. I just think the whole thing is really interesting because it's so similar to those other discussions.

robyncz said...

I totally get your point. But how is this different from Andy Richter's joke?

Again--this isn't a pointed question. Just one I'm wondering about, sort of academically.

Rob Rummel-Hudson said...

Are you really asking what's the difference between a self-directed, self-deprecating joke about WEIGHT LOSS and a joke making fun of children with a disability, FOR THE ACTUAL PHYSICAL MANIFESTATION OF THAT DISABILITY, a manifestation that is very likely to lead to that child's death?

Is that really what you're asking me? And while we're at it, do you hold the issues related to fat people feeling good about themselves at the same level as those of kids with microcephaly?

If Andy Richter actually had microcephaly and were joking about his own small head, and if it wasn't a condition with a ridiculously high mortality rate, then perhaps your comparison would make sense. As it stands, though, it's just sad. And creepy. Sorry, but it is.

Jenn Robinson said...

I always thought a lot of you, and held you in great respect, and today, that was surpassed. You are the kind of eloquent, truly awesome, brilliant, well-rounded and highly logical person we need around here. I love the post, and that thread made my evening. You are spot on as always. Stay awesome, stay brilliant, and stay Rob. I hope when I'm adult I can be half as bad-ass and cool as you.
Loving your posts and insight always.

robyncz said...

Yes, I asked the question, but I didn't *hold* anything--nor did I divulge any opinion about whether or not I thought one joke was more "offensive" or "worse" than the other. Lots of people use the "it was a joke" defense with no thought to why that makes it or doesn't make it "okay," but there's actually a pretty solid answer buried in your last response: The difference is the content of the joke. I would definitely agree with that.

Your responses to me seem to imply that I'm arguing with you. I'm not. I was asking what I thought were valid questions about your thought process. For me, it's an academic discussion about a style of discourse. But for you, right now, it's personal. You're fired up and primed for a fight and I get that.

Sorry to have pissed you off even more.

Miellyn said...

Fat is a very polarizing subject on the internet, almost as much as the ever raging war between stay-at-home mums and working mums.

I have the impression that the harder you defend your decision, the more wrong you feel yourself to be. And fat people (of which I am very much one, with a bmi above 35) tend to have a lot of self hate that they try to cushion with soft language. If they didn't hate their fat so much, they probably wouldn't have to pamper themselves to this degree.

I wish they would see that they display their insecurity in stead of getting fat people more acceptance.

Which I think is a dubious goal to start with. People should be respected no matter what they look like, that is a goal worth fighting for. But there should actually be some peer pressure for people to look after themselves and be as healthy as they can be.

I hate the raised finger of people telling others they should lose weight, and how easy that is. I hate prejudice and the real fat talk underlines prejudice in subtle ways.

Your comment wasn't fat talk, and even if it was, the reaction on your facebook was uncalled for. The comparison to microchepalis and the R-word is awful and sad, because it shows just how much people do not understand where fat people come from.

Being fat is NOT a disease. It is not something unavoidable and it doesn't need to be deadly. Things like microchephaly and down syndrome are not resversible by choice. Being fat is, however hard that choice may be. And I too am not making the choice to be slim. There's lots of reasons for that, but they are no ones business but mine. I expect everyone to treat me with respect regardless of the choices I make.

Emily said...

Lots of people use the "it was a joke" defense with no thought to why that makes it or doesn't make it "okay,"

And the fact that you asked him to answer the question about what the difference was, whether you are willing to acknowledge it or not, a suggestion that he has not given any thought to that.

You can't say "it's academic to me" as though that is somehow virtuous. Lacking passion and emotion in a conversation doesn't make you Spock, a far superior intelligence to the rest of us who just get riled up over anything.

jeesau said...

This (ironically) makes me think of how we learn about food that is bad for us. Little by little we learn "you can't eat anything." I think that "you can't say [write] anything" has become the mantra online. People scold and comment on harmless, personal comments like yours because they can now. Whereas before, you'd have to get out your stationery, write a letter to the newspaper you were reading but eventually get bored and go watch Three's Company instead.

Thanks for your sane words, Rob.

Miz Kizzle said...

It seems more and more that any comment about a person's physical or mental characteristics that can be construed as less than flattering is taken as a vicious attack that leads to affronted whining about "insensitivity" and "bullying."
A case in point is an online commenter who expressed the opinion that Michelle Obama was not physically attractive. He (I'm guessing it was a he) was roundly denounced as a vile racist. Never mind that people said the same thing about Hillary Clinton...

watchwhathappens said...

My opinion is that she was wholly in the wrong. Who thinks that a comment like that requires a "lesson"? But wouldn't it be easier/cleaner to just keep Facebook to friends you know, or close comments? If it were me, the first time anything like this happened, that'd be what I'd do, but I have zero interest in drama on Facebook.

In other news, I too had my first (and hopefully last) sinus infection about a year ago and it was horrendous. Aside from the incredible pain (which I originally was sure was a terrible dental problem), I experienced that same smell. It was *DISGUSTING*. I think that may have been even worse than the pain, and the pain was some of the worst I've experienced.

adequatemom said...

I've been thinking about fat issues a lot myself, lately. I haven't read the linked article yet but I can say that one of the things that would trigger ~me~ if I read a comment like yours on my FB feed, is the underlying assumption that skinny is better than fat, that losing ten pounds is always better than staying the same weight (or, Heaven forbid, gaining). Not only that skinny = healthy (which... it doesn't, always, but that's a whole 'nother can of worms), but that being skinny MAKES YOU A BETTER PERSON. Which is pretty much how our society operates, consciously or not. I'm making efforts to change my own thinking on that, and part of it is unpacking the shared and unspoken assumptions in fat or weight-based comments.