Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Slutty Fatties: And What To Do With My Life

Last week, MSNBC ran an article, Heavy Girls Likelier To Have Sex Early. This is the kind of article that just makes my head want to explode because the reporting is just so terrible. You get references to a medical study boiled down into a couple of easily digestible talking points. Taking complex shit and making it somewhat understandable by spinning it into 2 or 3 key messages is what I do for a living, so I can't bitch about that too much. But medical research is complex and we all know the media is in love with finding NEW! and INTERESTING! ways to demonize fat, so this one just makes me bristle. It manages to combine fat hate and misogyny and victim blaming all in one. Nice.

Tiger Beatdown has probably the best analysis of this and why it's so incredibly fucked up, that I've ever read. Seriously, I know I am a little crazy with the link love, but this is one you should read.

Points that jumped out at me:

"When you are in the pre-teen era, you spend a lot of time looking to adults to figure out how you should behave, because you are just beginning to become aware of changes in your body that mean you will be an adult within a few years! And holy shit! And guess what — the adults around you are constantly obsessing about their own weight. And yours. Because, since it is the responsibility of parents to decide what their kids eat, and there are a million narratives about how if you don’t eat right you will get fat, parents are looking for your not-fatness as a way to verify that they haven’t completely fucked up as parents. "

When I write a memoir, that could be the inside jacket.

"2. Here is what you learn very early, as a young woman prone to fatness, even before puberty: My body is bad. My body is disgusting. My body is something for me to fight against. My body will not cooperate with my desire to be thin. My body is a disappointment to the people around me. I hate how all these studies and articles just assume as true that it is the natural order of things that fat girls will feel bad about themselves, as if this is, in fact, the proper way to view yourself when you are fat. No, this is not natural. This does not come from looking in the mirror. Girls are inculcated with messages that fatness is bad and that their bodies are their enemies. Loving your body is not option. That fatness-shame, combined with the puberty-shame of our puritanical, anti-woman, anti-sex culture, means that at the onset of puberty fat girls undergo deep, deep dissociation with their bodies. This happens to all kinds of girls, but especially fat girls.

3. On the other hand, you have all these anti-sex messages coming at you, hard and fast, which says, oh your body is a temple your body is special don’t just let anyone touch it, sex is only for true love blah blah blah. But those messages can’t take hold, because you’ve already been taught that your body is bad and disgusting and is your enemy because it does not conform to the beauty ideal (and, yes, I am sad to say, there is a beauty ideal even for twelve-year-old girls). And those message are working on the other girls, who think that they will devalue their bodies if they get intimate with boys. But for fat girls, your body is already devalued, and so, it’s kind of like: FUCK IT."

Wow. Just wow.

"5. Can we talk about how we automatically assume that having more than three partners as a teenage girl is automatically a bad thing? Because I don’t see why it has to be, except for in our narratives about how promiscuity is awful. It’s only awful because it’s supposed to be awful, and presto! You get slut-shamed out the wazoo for doing it. And then you do, in fact, feel awful, because slut-shaming sucks. But you also get slut-shamed for not doing it. As has been aptly covered by every feminist everywhere, you can end up a slut for completely perplexing reasons, like because you have a single mom, or because you have big breasts, or because of your race or ethnicity, or because of a rumor that might not even be close to true.

6. Fat girls are more likely to get labeled as sluts, because “slut” is a catch-all word for women and girls who do not conform to ladylike and womanly behavior, and being fat is definitely not lady-like or womanly behavior. And look, I can say from experience, if enough people are calling you a slut, you start to believe it. You’re 12! What do you know about what a slut is? And you are hitting puberty, and having all these sexual thoughts about boys, and thinking, okay, people are saying I am a slut so OBVIOUSLY this is not normal and there must be something deeply, deeply wrong with me. Perhaps after a while, you think, hey, if everyone is calling me a slut, I might as well go ahead and be one, because they sure as hell aren’t going to stop, are they?"

Also in my memoir: remember that time that the popular girls accused you of calling Queen Popular Bee Amy G. a slut, even though you had no clue what a slut actually was and you never actually spoke to Amy G because she was popular and you were not? And then they started calling you a slut even though you were in sixth grade and had never even held hands with a boy? Remember that? Good times.

"7. I really hate that female desire is just completely erased in that MSNBC article. It chaps my hide something fierce. Because if it is the case that fat girls go through puberty earlier, why do we say “they grow boobs, so boys pressure them to have sex” rather than “they go through puberty, so they have sexual desire earlier than other girls.” Why was that not even thought of as an explanation? No. NOT POSSIBLE! Teenage girls? Actually wanting sex or sexual activity? No, it must be the boys who are making them do it. Puberty happens because of a rapid hormonal shift in your body. Those hormones do all kinds of things: make you grow boobs, get your period, grow body hair, and START FEELING SEXUAL DESIRE. Yes, so the girls who go through puberty earlier will start feeling sexual desire earlier than other girls. But we couldn’t possibly advance that as an explanation because if girls engage in sexytime because they want to, rather than because boys force them to, it doesn’t fit into our nice little narrative about how girls are being ruined by sex, does it?"

Those crazy boys -- turning all us nice girls into whores.

I've been trying to read articles like this and others with a critical eye. I will give the MSNBC folks credit for actually interviewing the study author, as opposed to so-called experts who try and boil research down into talking points to advance their own agendas. I call this Meme Roth syndrome. Finding someone who was actually involved in the research is actually quite out of the ordinary.

And I'm also, like, trying to figure out something to do with my life (i.e. Operation: Please, for the love of God, let me get out of high tech). Given that I've never really come up with a plan beyond "be a writer," I am trying to find a way to pay the bills that doesn't make me want to feel all icky inside. I've been trying to find a way to combine what I know (corp comm) with shit I am interested in: clothes, feminism, religion, food, writing, babies, etc. I am a mile wide an an inch deep. In doing some research, i stumbled across this program at Tufts and perked up. According to the website, "Americans' top sources of nutrition information are magazines, television, newspapers, and the internet. The print, broadcast, and electronic media are constantly seeking professionally-trained nutritionists who can communicate effectively. The same is true of public relations agencies, the food industry, and health and fitness centers."

The cons first:
* I already have a Masters Degree.
* Did I mention I already have a Masters Degree?
* A second MA would cost a ton of money.
* Looking at the salaries of people who have graduated from this program, nearly half make between 50 and 71K a year.
* See above.
* Course titles include words like: Epidemiology, Biochemistry, Physiology. Words that I don't entirely understand. Words that sound like science. I always sucked at Science.
* Time.

The pros:
* It sounds interesting.
* Combines interesting with 'things I already know how to do.'
* School! Yay!

So, I sent an email and asked if I could come in for an info session. It may be cool, it may not be, but it may lead me on to something new, even if it's just a different type of extracurricular class. Based on the article above, there's clearly a need for critical thinking regarding how to report on nutrition research.

And then when I'm done and we have won the lotto again, I'm going to do this program.


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sarah caron said...

OMG!! kutos to u! im going on 13 soon and wow that is soo true i mean my mom my aunts my grandparents they ALL obsess over their and my weight even though i think im fine they are totally against it. thanx for the wake-up call check out my blog at