As some defence of what I write, I admit I did not hear Mia Freedman’s podcast interview with Roxanne Gay nor have I ever heard Roxanne speak about her complex issues involving being gang raped, black, a lesbian and fat. I have not read any of her books; not her essays about being a Bad Feminist or her personal account in Hunger. What I have achieved, however dubiously, is to form my own opinion about the controversy, based on reading Roxanne’s own words in newspaper interviews relating to her experience.
There can be no doubt she has suffered countless indignities, pain, psychological as well as physical, and severe trauma in her life. Taking profound offence at Freedman’s treatment as “cruel and humiliating” as she tweeted after Freedman asserted she was “super-morbidly obese” and that “planning’ was needed to accommodate her for the interview, suggests a more psychic problem than the superficial one of fat shaming as others have penned about Freedman’s comments.
I too could be perceived as a member of the privileged class; I am white, heterosexual and slim, even thin, standing 166 cm and weighing just 51 kgs, under the 18 BMI demanded for good health. However, I live strictly on a pension, am 67 years old, never married, currently unpartnered and childless. I am it could be claimed, middle-class, though I’ve had long hard years of unemployment, living in poverty, and copped heaps of abuse for my sexual behaviour over my life. Indeed, I have been raped too, albeit by a boyfriend at the time who couldn’t tolerate my sexual infidelity. Moreover, I have been fat too, though not as obese as Gay; it’s all relative.
While I accept Gay’s right absolutely to scribe her experiences as devastating and debilitating as they must have been, contemplating her comments in a newspaper interview where she defended getting fat as a “fortress” of protection against further assault seems sadly symptomatic of a victim mentality; one that afflicts too many women as reward for their revolt. At the same time, while I do not agree necessarily with Freedman, she too has the absolute right to call Gay as she sees her; she is indeed super-morbidly obese. Understanding why Gay chooses and I do believe it is her choice to remain obese, is an issue no one has addressed, at least not in what I’ve read. Freedman has of course apologised, but what of the underlying import about her obesity and furthermore, the gang rape? Freedman’s comments may have been cruel and humiliating, but if Gay felt more content with herself with due self-respect and self-esteem, I contend she could have dismissed Freedman not as a privileged member of a white middle-class, but as an ignorant, arrogant and stupid woman wanting to power it over her by affirming her own appearance as superior. Gay and the reaction from many so-called feminists attacking Freedman misses the salient point that Gay seems a tragic female unable to transcend her oppressive experiences to achieve serenity with self.
Being obese is but one manifestation of that tragedy. I say that as I stacked on the kilos too in my 20s as some unconscious rebellion against male objectification of my sexuality, simultaneously loathing my body as I blew out to a size 16 and needed a new wardrobe to accommodate my size. I was never obese, but I was fat, and for me more significantly, I was unhealthy, constantly tired, lethargic too often and sluggish in my routines. Working out why I became so fat involved much psychological perception and understanding about self as I certainly did not enjoy the self-respect and self-esteem I needed to feel satisfied. But I eschewed playing the “victim”, it was my responsibility to choose the way I lived embracing not just my weight, but my appearance overall including the clothes I wore, the sexual adventures I indulged in and the jobs I wanted to work in. Being white and supposedly middle-class did not intrinsically translate into glamorous and glorified success.
Indeed, they counted for nothing in the big picture of doing what I wanted and needing to be myself. Quite frankly, I’m angry at the continual diatribes about fat as a feminist issue or appearance as a reflection of our status; too many people hoodwinked by what’s on the outside instead of appreciating what’s on the inside. For me, both Roxanne and Freedman share similar psychological problems; albeit coming from different perspectives but both seemingly victims in their own cause; Freedman celebrating being thin but abusing fat people while Roxanne celebrates being fat abusing thin people. The furore that’s followed is totally fucked; askew in its assumptions that weight is symbolic of self.
Personally, I do not enjoy being in the company of ‘fat’ people but I have never shamed anyone about their weight. They can be as they choose and my perspective, having experienced being fat, was that I not only looked unhealthy, I was unhealthy. My challenge was to regain my health and sense of well-being and for me, Gay’s choice to remain fat is risking her life unnecessarily, so too other fat and/or obese people. The cost to the economy in Australia is over $130 billion in our health expenditure and while I no longer have to pay tax, why should the burden of obesity be borne by the public purse? Freedman’s comment that Gay is super-morbidly obese is actually based on scientific fact; obesity can be fatal.
Furthermore, a few years ago I read an article about a grossly obese dance troupe visiting Melbourne and looking at the accompanying photo, I was horrified. I love dance, but seeing these women with massive, undulating rolls of flesh on their arms, arses and virtually all parts of their torso, was the pinnacle of sheer ugliness, a grotesque distortion of health. Maybe they were ‘healthy’ as the article proposed, but for me, I withdrew in distaste at their appearance. They were aesthetically antipathetic to the artistry of dance and suffice to say I have seen dancers who are not skeletal shams of skin. Indeed, I often danced being fat too, bemoaning my plodding pirouettes because my excess poundage interfered with my energy. Seeing this troupe only made me turn away in disgust.
So am I too, a victim of thin is beautiful? I don’t believe so as I may be thin, but I eat really healthily, exercise daily and still indulge in ‘fattening’ delicacies, albeit in moderation. I have never been anorexic and always enjoyed delicious taste sensations on a plate. Being thin is partly my physiology now as it may be with Freedman too, but as she slated Gay for being obese that’s a different spin. I do have a couple of ‘fat’ acquaintances who I see sporadically and sadly, one of them castigates me for being too thin. I only care she is healthy as she had a heart attack, albeit a mild one, about 10 months ago. Fully recovered she tells me, she is still fat but at least now exercising regularly and strenuously to keep healthy. I only hope it works for her. I have never indulged in shaming her yet she abused me. Me thinks the lady doth protest too much!
As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, my eye appreciates a reasonably trim torso as aesthetically pleasing as much as many other things including the clothes people wear, the decorative style of their homes and many other aspects of life. Indeed, studying art at school I was enraptured at the slim bodies of Greek and Roman sculptures 2000 years ago; simultaneously enthralled by the large torsos sculpted by Henry Moore and the fleshy bodies of Auguste Rodin, so too many paintings of women who were well-endowed by Rubens et al.
Nature heralds its own beauty too, it’s not just a man made construct. As nature can offer us a quiet serene tranquillity of beauty so too it can ravish and rape the countryside with floods and fire, instructing us that human beauty can be as vulnerable. There is no fantasy of fun about being fat, just a slow descent into an abyss of ugly discontent with ill-health the usual outcome. It’s a person’s choice ultimately but fat for me is an unappealing consequence of extreme self indulgence, accompanied too often by self-recrimination. I don’t know many really ‘happy’ fat people, but then, I choose not to mix with them. My choice!