Posted by: Judy M. Goodman | November 23, 2010

It Made the News?

During its “hot topics” discussion of November 1, “The View” (10:00am Central on ABC) explored a news item concerning the “attitude” caring people received when they confronted people they suspected of eating disorders (anorexia and compulsive eating.) Currently on the happy side of the gastric band, I listened to the discussion with new ears. Labeled “obese” at four-years-old, I’ve been through many of such “interventions” for more than five decades. Though never by anyone with Whoopi Goldberg’s gentle touch. Her method of intervention mirrors Jane’s critique template and might have been received without rancor.

My experience was that “nasty” was expected and drove forward regardless of how it impacted. Yet, the “nicer” assailants tried to be, the lower the opinion they seemed to hold of me. Even s a child, I experienced the gamut of hard-line approaches from those (including a physician) who thought it acceptable to browbeat a seven-year-old –– or one of any age, even a stranger –– to the bright, young doctor who thought it appropriate to give diet pills to an eight-year-old.

From grade school on, human beings give themselves permission to confront/educate, implore, wheedle, and overtly harass fat people. Then, they wonder why the ones they love want to isolate themselves. They think it’s because we’re ashamed of what we do or what we look like; when, in fact, it’s that we are so often singled out for guidance or insult. I can’t speak for anorexics, but among eaters confrontation has always been an excuse to practice the unhealthy.

Becoming the majority has not ameliorated our minority status. We are still held up to ridicule with surprising regularity. I suppose it’s because most of us are easy targets. Not just from a visual perspective, but from the point of vulnerability. I’m told one of the notions explored in Fat is A Feminist Issue (Susie Orbach, Paddington Press, 1978) is that, Body Image is one of the weapons used in the war to hold women back. (Yes, I will now read the book I’ve been avoiding for decades.) As a member of the generation in which that observation could finally be made, I often felt I’d strangle the next person to say “you have such a pretty face –– it’s a shame [perceived as you’re a shame], but the rest of you . . . .” [Did they really say “looks like sh-t”?] However, it was a safe bet that I would never assert my distress over that or anything else.

After my recent sojourn among assertive co-dependents, I thought I’d risen a safe distance above the mute state. However, at the recent Jane event in St. Augustine, I was the one obsessed with my lack of negative space, taking not a posture of defense, but a vocal offense against myself. Though I feel certain I’d build obvious borders against verbal assault, however well-intended, I found with a shock that it’s a faux improvement at best. Previously, like everyone else, I read Jane’s commitment to diversity to be in the broadest terms: race, creed, origins, etc. Yet, I was, assuming what, for at least four decades, meant so much to my family, friends, and classmates –– and just not those meticulous about presenting themselves as my enemies –– was, if not the first thing on Jane’s mind, certainly a close second. It was just my mind set. I aggressed about it, with excuse after excuse for what I perceived as eating behaviors inappropriate to an adult. Of course, most adults –– scrawny, “normal,” hefty, or royal sized –– practice them.

“The View’s” discussion made it clear there will always be Evangelical health advisers. Fundamentalists who think their advice will help the poor and unfortunate followers of Death’s path. And maybe it can under the right circumstances. Still it should be noted that confrontation invites defense. Of course, whether that defense comes as “attitude” or mousy accession depends on the ego structures of the confrontee.

Through the many forms of mentoring for which Jane is legend, I have discovered what may be the nearest perfect method of affecting change: Acceptance. I can honestly say that I’ve never left a critique session with the feeling that Jane thought either my work or, worse, I were crap. Whether in creative or personal matters, taking someone seriously inspires and challenges in a way confrontation cannot even conceive of, breaking down barriers and making room for internal examination and correction.


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