Posted by Pattie on 3/28/2002 06:38:00 PM

Well, the cold is better today. No sign of it going into my lungs and that is a major victory for me. Last year, I had the flu every month for five months in a row and ended up in emergency clinic once because I couldn't breath.

I'm so upset. I found a book (actually through one of your links) that I wanted to write: Fat History : Bodies and Beauty in the Modern West. I am upset because a. it got written by somebody else and b. now I have another book I want to buy and read. There are too many books and too little time.

I have heard it said that PTSD is a "normal reaction to abnormal circumstances." I can see a place for understanding that our reaction to traumas are normal and have long term effect. But I think another aspect of the psyche is missed in the discussions of PTSD. Some stress stays with you in the mundane. It remains extreme for a long period of time and becomes a part of the everyday fabric of your life. African-American Psychologist Chester Pierce coined a term in the 1970s called "Mundane Extreme Environmental Stress" in his discussion of the ways in which racism affected the lives of African-American Families. I think this concept is pertinent in the lives of fat people as well. We are bombarded with advertisements and images that tell us that our bodies are wrong. We endure people telling us about their latest diets, their efforts to lose the fat that we display. We even are told jokes about fat people that we are expected to laugh at without feeling offended. If we object, we are in denial about our health. If we assert our feelings, we are sensitive. Worse yet, we are ridiculed and teased. What is most amazing is that we are ridiculed and teased when we try to do the very behaviors that others are suggesting we need to do. Consider this quote from the literature review of a study on Body Image and Muscularity:

"A recent study by Pietrobelli and colleagues at the Obesity Research Center at St.
Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital (Columbia University) details the
detrimental role of receiving teasing during physical activities
(Pietrobelli, Leone, Heymsfield, & Faith, 1998). Subjects were 305
boys and 269 girls, grades 5-8, from a NY public middle school. The
findings indicated that receiving teasing was associated with
reduced participation in physical activities, reduced pleasure from
exercise, and a lowered sense of control (defined as control related
to the physical activity). There were no gender differences in the
findings. The authors concluded that efforts to promote physical
education in the school setting should contain a component related
to awareness of teasing as a problematic interpersonal issue and
strategies designed to help children cope with the teasing."

Of course, I notice that the problem is still being located in the victim ("help children cope with the teasing") and not in the victimizer. I'd like to see schools spend some time teaching some sort of sensitivity and personal responsibility for bullying and teasing. But, hey, I think I'm losing my point and I do want to make it. :)

Depression comes from a lot of places. But I think it is possible that often it is a normal reaction to the mundane extreme stress we live under when we are told we are not a good person, when we are told we are less than human. Marilyn Wann said something in the Gab Cafe once that I thought was profound. I paraphrase: Prejudice is not particularly inventive. At the base of it, it is an attempt to define a group of people as less than human. (She said a lot more than that and a lot more eloquently, but I believe I've captured the idea.)

The "victim role" like the "sick role" can be both assigned and rejected. It is a negotiation. It's an interesting parallel because under the dominant paradigms of psychological model of mental health and the biomedical model of physical health, both are regarded as temporary and the victim/sick role is to be shed as soon as possible. But the sick role can't be shed by people who have chronic illnesses easily because the nature of their illness is that they do not get well. The victim role can't be shed by people stigmatized easily because the nature of the stigmatization is the pervasiveness of the attitude against them in society. Where do you go to escape the belief that fat is ugly, lazy, unkempt, unfit and inhuman? Not many places exist. So it becomes a daily negotiation with new hurts and flare-ups along the way. We do not choose to be victims. We do not choose to be re-victimized, yet the messages that we are bad are everywhere.

I think it takes a radical psychology, a liberation psychology, to accomplish this. Starhawk in Truth or Dare talks about how we have five basic reactions available to us when someone exerts power over us: compliance, rebellion, withdrawal, manipulation and transformation. The first four of these choices are always available. The fifth one isn't always possible. The problem with the first four choices is that each of them ends up feeding into the existing system of power. We comply, the beat goes on. We rebel and we become the example of what is wrong with people (bad girls), we withdraw and we affect no lasting changes, we manipulate and we are in the middle of the game of exerting power over others. But when we resist and transform the world, we have a chance of making it something different or at least, helping it to be something different. But because that opportunity isn't always there, we often have to make one of the four choices. But knowing why we decide to do these things instead of simply reacting to the power structures is empowering. The key is that when we are mindful of our reaction, we assert some power within ourselves. We no longer feel paralized. That leaves us open to the next transformation opportunity.

So for today, I am mindful of my anger. I am mindful of my pain. I am mindful of my choice to live as a fat woman in a thin society.

Okay, so I managed to make myself feel better -- did I help you?