The Adversary

Between the Western separation of body and mind (and spirit,) the American fetish of thinness, and my own experiences with varied ailments and trauma, over my lifetime, my body became my adversary. When there was pain, or a new something to deal with, the thought “why is my body doing this to me?” was the automatic refrain.

I have been befriending my body slowly, carefully, steadily, deliberately, over the past several years. And although that process is far from complete, that refrain no longer has teeth. With this journey into this new territory called cancer, some clarity has come to me about how this journey is to be embarked on – how this new territory is meant to be discovered.

“Fighting” cancer, “beating” cancer, is the most common metaphor I’ve come across. “It’s me or the cancer” this metaphor seems to say. But, in reality, the cancer cells are mine – they are of my body. They are acting in ways that are consistent with their own instructions, even as they get in the way of other processes in my body.

I don’t want to take away the metaphor of the “fight” for others on this journey – we must all choose the metaphors that work best for each of us. But for me, this will not be a “fight.” There is no winner and loser. I will do what I can (including Western medical treatments) to heal, to diminish the cancer’s growth and effects, maximize my body’s vitality. But really, there is just me, the cells inside me, and death, which will come, sooner or later.  (By the way, it is unlikely this particular bout of cancer will cause my death – among cancers, it’s fairly low-risk.)

I had a conversation with a friend this morning about the healing available in being able to face the uncertainty of death, to embrace our fear, embrace how we wish to look away, to deny, to deflect its reality. That is also part of this journey into this territory called cancer. I will see how fear peeks out behind a bush as I round a corner, notice where it arises from the mists in front of me.

I happen to be reading a great book by Cynthia Bourgeault about the Gospel of Mary Magdelene. In that gospel, Jesus said:

Attachment to matter gives birth to passion without an Image of itself because it is drawn from that which is contrary to its higher nature. The result is that confusion and disturbance resonates throughout one’s whole being. It is for this reason I told you to find contentment at the level of the heart, and if you are discouraged, take heart in the presence of the Image of your true nature. Those with ears, let them hear this.

I’m sitting with the notion that attachment to matter is my true adversary. Attachment to matter brings judgement – judgement of my body, my condition, of myself, of others. Right now, I’m looking for contentment at the level of my heart.


“Food Babe” vs. “Science Babe”

lh6dpf6ihthiuqnlqogxThere was an article in Gawker, titled, “The Food Babe is Full of Shit,” written by The Science Babe. It brutally takes down Vani Hari as someone who peddles pseudo-science. The Food Babe responded.

So what to believe? What’s true? They are both right and wrong.

Yvette d’Entremont, aka “Science Babe” says, in reference to Hari’s suggestion that a certain Starbuck’s drink had a ‘toxic’ dose of sugar: “The word ‘toxic’ has a meaning, and that is “having the effect of a poison.” Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose.”

Then there is this quote:

According to Hari, the problem with most of them, including Girl Scout Cookies: GMOs and pesticides. She’s even alleged that an apple can be worse for you than a hot fudge sundae, if it’s not organic.

The basic problem with this whole debate is that it’s about acute (and sometimes carcinogenic) effects of certain chemical additives in food in individual people. Yvette focuses entirely on that aspect of this argument, and, frankly, that is Hari’s focus mostly as well. But the argument is much, much bigger.

First, there is the difference between acute toxicity – something that an amount of sugar in even the most sweet of drinks most certainly does not have, and chronic toxicity. Most scientists who study this stuff agree that excess sugar over time has very deleterious health effects, and is also addictive. And yes, Hari is wrong about the apple. A non-organic, GMO apple is a lot better for you than a hot fudge sundae.

But the real argument, the one we should be having, is about our food system – how food is grown, how large companies control it, how companies add ingredients (mostly sugar) to make processed food tasty and addictive. (As well as look  good and last long.)

Also very important are the ecosystem questions – d’Entremont doesn’t address the massive problems our modern food system (including GMOs.) In fact, although I try my best not to buy non-organic or GMO food if I can help it,  I don’t really worry so much about the effect of those foods food on me. I worry about the effect of those crops on the ecosystem.

I will not defend Vani Hari’s psuedo-science – there is plenty of it. That said, people that question the food system are needed, because the food system is broken, and d’Entremont’s takedown of Hari doesn’t really substantively help the debate.


To Vax or Not To Vax is NOT the Question

Screenshot 2015-02-03 15.43.40Scientific medicine (I mean of the particular western variety practiced in the US) has a short history, less than 150 years. Scientific medicine without the overwhelming influence of profit had an even shorter history, and it’s been over for a while now.

The reason that the now shown to be fraudulent study in 1998 still provokes enough concern among parents to prevent them from getting their children vaccinated, even in the face of massive evidence that there is no link between vaccines and autism, is because many people simply don’t trust medical science.

Why don’t people trust medical science? One basic reason: medical science is corrupted by the pursuit of profit, and people know it. One fascinating study showed a bias in the publication of research that put into question the efficacy of depression pharmaceuticals. Drug companies (and device manufacturers) are most often the sponsor of research, as our government and institutional research budgets dwindle. (But we get a lot of fighter planes and big university stadiums, instead.)

Things that happen when research is corrupted by the influence of profit: Diseases that don’t have treatments that can be profitable (mostly because not enough people have them) simply aren’t researched. Bias means the efficacy of a (sometimes expensive) treatment is overestimated, certainly in comparison to a treatment that is not profitable. Alternative treatment methodologies (chinese medicine and ayurveda, in particular, which have long histories) are not researched, and not covered by insurance.  Treatments, vaccines and devices get put together in the cheapest ways possible, which can lead to unintended consequences. Medical care becomes impersonal and prone to error.

Basically, we’ve broken health care because we’ve allowed profit-making entities to warp it. And nothing short of a 100% government funded research program, and a single-payer health care system is going to change it.

Based on evidence, if I were a parent, I would vaccinate my kids. And I do wish that more parents would talk to older people about what it was like before vaccines. But really, I don’t blame people who don’t trust medical science and/or our health care system. Because despite some true breakthroughs, they just aren’t trustworthy.





There and Back Again

UU Chalice

From UU Falmouth Mass.

In 2000, my first foray back into the organizations vaguely known as “church,” 20 years after leaving Christian fundamentalism behind, was the Unitarian Society of Northampton and Florence. It was enough of the familiar “churchy” stuff, but lacked the stuff that made me uncomfortable. I was a member for several years, and, interestingly enough, it was my membership and involvement in that community that stirred my call to ministry. Those years were deeply influential to me, and as I traveled my way across country to go to seminary at PSR in 2005, I fully expected to join the ranks of UU ministers.

Although ordained ministry in any denomination was not my path, I left the UU before I left the ministry path. Two different threads caused this. First, I re-discovered my attachment to Christianity, in particular, the teachings of Jesus, and I also discovered this enormous queer-friendly, progressive Christian community I had no idea existed. As well, during the summer of 2005, I spent several sessions on the phone with a great group of UU seminarians of color. And I heard their struggles and the realities facing prospective UU ministers of color. At one point, we had some number of folks on the phone – I don’t remember how many – all UU seminarians of color. And I learned that there were more of us on the phone at that moment as there had ever been ordained UU ministers of color. I saw the writing on the wall. Black, queer, Jesus-following, Buddha-professing theist wasn’t likely to get a job (actually, the Budda-professing theist wouldn’t have been a problem.) So I switched teams, and decided on the United Church of Christ (UCC.)

Interestingly enough, I have really always been a unitarian theologically, although while in seminary I didn’t want to answer that question definitively, but I have since. That is, I believe Jesus was a great, wise, compassionate and conscious teacher, inspired by the divine, but just a guy born out of wedlock, who died being a revolutionary. It was his followers that created a new religion, something he probably didn’t intend. That said, I felt a kinship to the Christian mystics, and I grew up Presbyterian, so Christianity had formative authority for me. So I decided to call myself a Christian, even though I could not recite the Nicene Creed with a straight face. There was, it seemed, room in the UCC for folks of this ilk, and I slipped in. I left seminary early, and the ministry track for varied reasons, my unitarianism among them.

I’ve belonged to two UCC congregations. New Spirit Community Church, which no longer exists, and was an interesting experiment in multi-denominational congregation (UCC/MCC/DOC,) and First Congregational Church of Oakland, which has been my home church since 2009 (I served as Moderator for a year.)  I spent a wonderful year at Haydenville Congregational Church in Haydenville, MA, when I went back to the East Coast for a bit in 2007-8.

Given that history, when I moved up here to Sonoma County, I church-shopped, expecting to land at the UCC church in Santa Rosa. I checked out the Quakers, the Episcopals, and went to the UCC church twice. But, in fact, the UU church in Santa Rosa is a much better fit. The minister of the UCC, to his credit, is a serious Buddhist (as is the minister of the UU, interestingly enough.) But the UCC church is small, extremely homogeneous, and, well, just not right for me. The UU church is large, vibrant, growing, and has more diversity (particularly age diversity, but there are a few people of color, and plenty of queer folk.) And, interestingly enough (and to my great relief) the congregation doesn’t seem to have the same allergy to language of reverence that the UU congregation in Northampton did when I was there.

Of course, living in Sonoma County, I will never find a community like my still-beloved First Congo. But the worship style at First Congo was always a big stretch for me, and when I returned for a visit last week, I was reminded of that stretch. I’ve always been one for quiet contemplation, for slow, easy, apophatic worship. Exuberant, expressive and loud worship is fun, but generally doesn’t feel like it brings me closer to God. Times of quiet, or low-key singing or music, especially in community, does that better for me.

I still don’t know if it’s right enough for me to get involved, and become a member. Time will only tell. But it’s kinda fun to be back again. I do rather like UUs–always have.




Reflections on the New Year

I was going to write one of those more personal blog entries about my year, and what I was looking forward to next year. But this morning, I have some different things on my mind.

I fully realized sometime early in 2014 that I didn’t identify as an activist anymore. It was sort of a rude awakening, as I have thought of myself as an activist since 1972, when I was 12. I’ve been involved in anti-war, reproductive justice, anti-apartheid, anti-death penalty, and environmental causes since I was young. There is a shaping of my life that activism made, a way of thinking about the world, and how the world can be changed.

But in the last few years, perhaps part of it is getting older, part just simply accepting what is, I’ve stopped all but the most trivial activist activities (I still sign a petition now and again, and I like/share/retweet things – those don’t really count.) What has struck me so forcefully lately is the juxtaposition of changes that have happened, steps that have been made forward, along with an incredible slide backwards. MLK did say the arc of history is long, and perhaps it does bend toward justice, but it can also be forceably shaped.

police-state-1We are, frankly, running headlong into two inexorable, and in my opinion, virtually unstoppable trends: 1) Police state oligarchy/fascism. 2) Environmental and economic collapse.

I was reading an article recently (worth watching the video – militarized police in action) where this random gamer dude (white) got “swatted” (which means some person maliciously called the police to suggest something horrible, like a hostage situation, was happening.) There are other instances when this has turned fatal. Then there’s the dude who got horribly harassed for simply dancing in the street.  And then there is what’s happening with the NYPD. I have fully realized that no one is safe. Black men are, by far, the least safe.  That said, I have no real assurance for myself, or for anyone I know, that any situation with the police will necessarily end well. And don’t get me started on the issue of asset seizures. And worse, police increasingly seem to act as if they are above the law, and the law has seemed to agree.  This is not to say that all police are bad – I know there are people who have chosen this profession with good intentions, and behave well, and in the real interest of the people. But the institution is the problem.

It’s already been proven that we are no longer a democracy. And for the most part, the mainstream press does the oligarchy’s bidding (because they are part of it.)  And one of the things the mainstream press does a terrible job of covering is what’s coming with climate change.

There are a lot of differing opinions about how fast changes will happen, and how bad the effects of climate change will be. But it is true that have been on track for the worst-case scenarios that more mainstream climate scientists have predicted. And renewable energy is not likely to be our savior.

The California drought, which I am witnessing first hand, is still dire, and there is no forecasts that suggest that it’s going to not stay that way. California produces an insane amount of food for US consumption. If things keep going the way they do, food is going to get more expensive. Getting good, healthy food is already a struggle for so many people. This will only make it worse.

So what does one do given all of this? The only answer to both of these trends is to radically change how we live our lives. But that is impossible to do alone, or even as couples or families. We are embedded in a system which requires our participation, and not participating is extremely difficult.

What am I doing in the face of it? I don’t have a good answer for myself. I do my best to remember that love is the most important thing, and that I need to keep treating everyone I meet with compassion and respect. I’m thinking about community a lot, and thinking about what it might be like to live in community again, somehow, somewhere. A community that is interested in grappling with how we live in the face of all of this.

For your nostalgia – “For What it’s Worth” by Buffalo Springfield, written in 1966. That’s right, 1966, when I was six years old. It’s just as salient now as it was then.

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking’ their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

What a field day for the heat
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly saying, “hooray for our side”

It’s time we stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away

We better stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

We better stop
Hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

We better stop
Now, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

We better stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?


Life in the slow lane


I’m on a news and social media fast for the month of December. I’d realized I’d gotten so despairing about the news, as well as just kind of full of useless stuff, so I decided a month off from the constant influx of information would be a good thing.

It’s day 2. This is the withdrawal phase. I open my browser out of habit, and then realize that I have nothing to do in it. (I email clients, and not the web interface for email, so I really have nothing to do on it.) OK, well, I’m writing this blog entry, and I’m looking at the weather for my trip down to Southern California. And I’ve read all my email (and deleted the many, many cyber Monday (extended sales!) and giving Tuesday emails.

I do have work I can do, and writing I can do, but it’s strange, not getting my standard social media injection. No community chatter, and no engagement in conversation. But my head is certainly quieter, and so far, I’ve gotten a lot more stuff done. I think I might actually even get to this after a while.

I’ll blog about this over the next month. Of course, since I’m not posting this on social media, I have no idea whether anyone will read it.


Hanging Out Here, On This Edge

Screenshot 2014-11-30 13.50.25

Ever hear of the Political Compass? It’s pretty cool. It basically suggests, based on good evidence, that simply left and right aren’t enough to really characterize political views. You have to include at least one more axis, and that is libertarian vs. authoritarian. It’s worth taking the test, just to see where you fall. I imagine many people I know will fall somewhere in the green left bottom square. But I’m quite the outlier. Ghandi and the Dalai Lama are less outliers than I am. And Obama is actually well up and right in the blue quadrant, kinda near Mitt Romney (that’s correct, we really didn’t get that much of a choice, now, did we? But we knew that.) Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate (president, 2012), is five little squares more authoritarian and 6 little squares more right than I am. (She’s kinda in the upper right of the lower left quadrant.) The governments of Scandanavia, the leftist poster children, are still in the blue quadrant.

So what does this mean? It means that I feel completely politically alienated, almost all of the time.

Let me give you a few examples:

Q. What can we do about police brutality?

A. Why are there police?

Q. What can we do about unemployment?

A. Why do people have to have jobs?

Q. Shouldn’t we tax the rich? 

A. Why are there people who hoard money?

Q. How’s that Obamacare doing?

A. Why are for-profit entities involved in healthcare?

Q. Should we regulate against GMOs?

A. Why should for-profit entities be growing our  food?

Q. Should there be a carbon tax to combat climate change?

A. What is all this shit we’re doing for, anyway? What’s the point?

Every single political question of our time leads me not to an answer or my opinion, but to another question about our fundamental assumptions about how to live our lives. Of course, if you constrain me, and force me to answer questions based on current assumptions, then I’m your standard, garden variety far-leftist. But I don’t like being constrained in that way. And I also am fully and completely aware of how I am constrained into living a life that isn’t actually the life I’d want to be able to lead, and some things I do go against my own ideals.

There’s another part of being alienated, for me. It has to do with my own identity. Because I’m black, queer, genderqueer and a woman in our white, heteropatriarchal society, I live on the edge of danger, of marginalization, of silences, of struggle. I don’t generally see myself reflected in society, and when I do, it’s usually distorted. And I also don’t always see myself reflected in queer of color spaces, either.  Often it’s because I don’t live an urban life. Sometimes it’s because I’m too much of a geek. Sometimes it’s because I’m too much of a weird spiritual mutt. Sometimes it’s because I just can’t sustain anger and outrage.

You might say, especially now, how can I say that? Oh, I’ve been angry and outraged. But I can’t hold onto the anger for more than a short while (like less than an hour). It’s not healthy for me. Feeling it is important, but so is letting it go. I have to let it go, or it will eat at my soul like battery acid. I don’t want an acid-eaten soul.

So here I sit, on this edge. This socialist/libertarian/queer/geeky/rural/mutt-spiritual/not-so-angry edge. And  this is  why I write novels. At least I can use this alienation to good ends.



Religion vs. Atheism

I read an interesting article the other day, in Salon. It includes quotations from Lawrence Krauss, suggesting that religion could be gone in a generation. One salient quote:

Change is always one generation away. So if we can plant the seeds of doubt in our children, religion will go away in a generation, or at least largely go away. And that’s what I think we have an obligation to do.

There is so much wrong in this one sentence, I can’t even… To start, change is sometimes a generation (or shorter) away, and often not. But what’s more important, I think, is the attitude that many atheists have (some, most? I don’t know how common this is, but it certainly is common among the “new atheists”) about religion. To them, religion at worst are these big, fundamentalist systems that deny science, and do horrible things in the name of God, and at best are some stupid fairy tales that people use as a crutch to give their lives meaning.

I want to start with the flaw in the fundamental premise that many (most?) atheists espouse: atheism as the rational, logical conclusion based on what we’ve learned about science. I have nothing against atheists, just like I have nothing against anyone who believes in anything else. That’s the key. Atheism is a belief, just like any other. The scientific method doesn’t have in its toolkit a way to investigate the divine (especially since there are gazillions of ways that people define  it.) The only logical, rational conclusion based on science is “who the frakk knows?” Anything else is belief.

Second, what is “religion” anyway? As you see above, there are a couple of definitions that apply here. First “the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods.” It’s funny, by this definition, I’m not actually  religious (I take issue with the phrase “controlling power”.) The second is “a particular system of faith and worship.” Ah, that’s pretty broad. I think in modern life, people who consider themselves religious are those that are part of big systems – the Catholic church, some form of protestantism, islam, etc. The rest, if they choose, often call themselves “spiritual” which has probably as many meanings as there are people who call themselves that. But it’s really important to say that not all religions deny scientific truth. Not all religions tell you exactly what to believe. Not all religions do horrible things in the name of their god/s. (And, of course, the “new atheists” hardly mention Stalin, Mao, and the Kmer Rouge.)

One of the things about being human is that it’s pretty frakking mysterious. How did we get here? Why are we here? What’s the point? What meaning does my life have? These are questions that can’t really be answered by science, probably because we as human beings aren’t really equipped to understand them (that’s my belief.) People will always be searching for an answer.

And what is planting “seeds of doubt” in children? Teaching them science? Again, the assumption is that all of the children of religious parents deny science. Nothing is further from the truth. Certainly, in some parts of the country, there are plenty of parents whose religion denies science (in odd ways: they will get a vaccination, but they believe the Earth is 6,000 years old. Go figure.)

For me, the fundamental issue with this article and the writings and attitudes of current “new atheists” is that it’s not a conversation among perceived equals. They think they are better/smarter/whatever than people who are “religious.” But in fact, there are plenty of religious people who are smart, open-minded, and fully and completely accept the findings of science. Just talk to some Jesuits or Sufis, would you? Or talk to me. :-)



Oh, #Gamergate

I’m a gamer. Yup. You got it. I’m a 55-year old black woman (er, well, genderqueer) gamer. I’ve been playing video games since PONG. Right. PONG. I don’t have a console now, but I’ve had 4 in my life. I have 144 games in my Steam Library, and I have downloaded probably hundreds of Android games. I play a game (or two) just about every day. Every once in a while I’ll even spend a good chunk of the day on an especially compelling game. I spend far more time gaming than I do watching TV and movies. I have been sitting on my hands, drooling, waiting for the release (tomorrow!!) of Sid Meyer’s Civilization Beyond Earth. And I will happily plunk down my $50 to get it and play it (tomorrow!!) And, my dream (really, my dream) is to write for games. I would love aspects of my novel “The Right Asteroid” to make it into a game. I love strategy, space, puzzle and sim games. Really, I love them.

OK, I’m done with the gamer creds. But truthfully, if you play Candy Crush Saga on Facebook, you’re a gamer. If you play Bejeweld on your phone, your a gamer. Most importantly, if you ever have spent a dime on a game, you’re a gamer. You might not resonate with that label, but as far as the game industry is concerned, they want to know who you are. And you know what? It turns out, that there are a lot more women and people of color gamers than anybody thinks. Well, not anybody. The industry knows. They have been slow to respond, but they are responding, and games are changing, and great diverse indie games are appearing. Hence, #gamergate.

So what is #gamergate, anyway? I don’t want to spend much time outlining it here. This is the best article summarizing the whole thing that I’ve read recently. Go read it. I’ll still be here. What is fundamental to #gamergate is that it is, as that article says, a symptom of a much bigger issue. Let’s be frank, here. It’s White Guy Fear Syndrome.

Maybe I’ll coin that term: WGFS. White Guy Fear Syndrome. Maybe it will make it into the DSM VI (that is, if there actually ever is a DSM VI.) Of course WGFS is everywhere. The backlash against women in technology is a symptom of WGFS. Ferguson was a symptom of WGFS. People like Mike Huckabee show the classic symptoms of WGFS. You can think of many, many others. The news is full of them. (Note: Luckily, WGFS is found in a minority of white men.)

The hallmark symptom of White Guy Fear Syndrome is the desire to cause fear in others. In some cases, this is creating fear in allies, so that they will act in certain ways. The other is to cause fear in enemies.

Actually, I don’t really want to pathologize these men (although some of them have done pathologically horrible things.) What I want to say is that the core of all of this is fear. Their fear of not having a place. Their fear of not having control. Their fear of losing what they have. They are afraid of change.

Sound familiar? Guess what, we all have those fears. They are deeply human, and normal.

What happens when a woman challenges the status quo in the gamer community? She gets threats, and she gets doxxed (which means her physical address is shared publicly.) This has been happening a lot, and most recently, Felicia Day, a well-known actress and fabulous geek, spoke out about #gamergate, and she got doxxed. Many men have also spoken out on #gamergate, including Will Wheaton and football star Chris Kluwe (read this article, it’s great.) Men don’t get doxxed. There is no question, that #gamergate is aimed squarely at scaring women. It is misogynistic at it’s core. And misogyny is fear of women. Yup, there’s fear again.

So what to do about #gamergate? I think the only answer is for all of us, especially on the female side of the spectrum (born or identified) to stand up and say: “Yes, I’m a gamer, I want a game industry that is diverse, and not misogynistic, and I’m not scared of you.”

Go ahead. Dox me. No, wait, I’ll dox myself. 2480 Rio Lindo Ave. Healdsburg, CA. 95448. I’m waiting for ya. You’ll get some tea.

Update: Upon posting this, getting some interesting responses on Twitter and other places, it appears this is getting pretty complicated.  It seems #gamergate proponents are a much more varied, diverse lot than the press is suggesting (even feminist/progressive press, which is where I’m getting most of my news on this – I don’t read about games and the game community much – I just play games.) Some are still very adamant about ethics in game journalism (ethics in journalism is always a good thing.) Also, apparently (although this is disputed) there is a pro-#gamergate group called #notyourshield, which is made up of women, trans and poc gamers. So I want to clarify one thing: I clearly can’t say #gamergate as a whole is a symptom of WGFS, but I will say that responses to women and others that were anti-#gamergate, where they were doxxed and/or threatened under the aegis of #gamergate is a symptom. And I stand by my statement about a game industry that is diverse, and truly represents the wide variety of people who play games. For me, that’s the bottom line, the crux of the matter, and any backlash against that is where the problem is.



Fat: Fear, Hate & Love

I just finished watching a documentary film called “Fed Up” about how totally screwed up our food system is, particularly when it comes to sugar. (I’ve also seen quite a number of documentaries on our food system, all of which are incredibly damning.) And I’ve read some blogs and such about the movie, and one of the primary critiques of the film is that it exploits fat hatred, and fat phobia. And then I came across this post, about a powerful art installation (the post does not include information about who the artist is – if you know, please let me know.) The post’s primary critique was this image, saying that among other things:

I call SUCH FUCKING BULLSHIT on the picture with the fat child. First, because being fat ISN’T A FUCKING CRUCIFIXION, ASSHOLE. It isn’t a damage or a blight or a sickness or a perversion or any kind of wrong. A kid being fat isn’t automatically a kid who’s got something wrong with them.

And what’s true is that statement above is very right, and very wrong. Across the spectrum, we have a set of truly problematic ways of thinking about and dealing with the issue of fat.

One one hand, we have a society which feeds us photoshopped pictures of models and stars that set completely unrealistic (CRAZY unrealistic) ideals for how women (particularly women) should look. We have objectified and fetishized thinness, to a degree that is, actually, crazy. It is simply not healthy to be as thin as women are “supposed” to be, and the amount of money that is spent on diet books, diet plans, surgery, gym memberships, etc. is, well, part of the reason I expect those ideals get perpetuated.

There is a lot of fat-phobia. It’s considered our fault if we don’t meet society’s standards. “You don’t work out enough, you eat too much, it’s all your fault.”  But there is evidence that diets actually harm people, instead of helping them (and cause people to gain even more weight.) Sugar substitutes are harmful (and can also cause weight gain, and increase likelyhood of diabetes.) And these standards have made their way into the medical community, which has affected how research is done, and what conclusions are drawn.  The whole “low fat” craze, which was based on faulty research, has probably harmed a lot more people than it benefited, since, it turns out fat isn’t the problem (except for transfats. They aren’t good). And doctors use the beauty standards instead of research when they talk to their patients (I’ve experienced this myself.)

But yet, there is a problem. Childhood obesity, which used to be rare, isn’t. And kids are getting Type II diabetes (it’s actually called “adult onset” for a reason.) Most of the food that is sold in most grocery stores is so processed, that it lacks much in the way of nutritional value, and totally screws with our metabolism. Industry leaders like McDonalds are a critical part of the picture. Food in our country has been designed to be addictive. It’s also designed to deliver the highest number of calories for the lowest cost. In many places in the US, obesity is a manifestation of lack of food security. And it turns out that the whole thing about “energy balance” (that is burning as many calories as you eat) is not so accurate. What kind of food you eat is at least as important as the number of calories you eat.

I was small (very small) for most of my early life. I didn’t get tall until college, and didn’t gain weight until I was in my 30s, when for a number of reasons, I stopped being so active. I would have gained some weight even if I’d kept active – because, genes. When I was growing up, there were varied pictures of thin women on the refrigerator. It embedded in me that standard that I know I can’t meet (and, at this point, have truly no interest in meeting.) I am learning to love this body, this big body. And part of learning to love this body is changing how I eat, and how active I am.

I don’t have a lot of money, but I do have enough privilege to make the choice to spend a much larger percentage of my money on food than most people. I eat as little processed food as I can, and I try to lessen it more and more (I’m down to brown rice pasta, gluten free bread, crackers, and organic tortilla chips – which I’m trying to eat somewhat sparingly, but it’s hard to give those things up.) and I have a new commitment to use sugar like I’d use cinnamon, or curry powder. It’s meant to be a seasoning. It’s actually pretty poisonous, and addictive. I’m working with a personal trainer (a trade, thankfully) and I’m focusing on flexibility, strength and endurance. Not losing weight. I don’t even have a scale.

We need both things. Proud fat/large/zaftig/big women and men proclaiming that there is nothing wrong with us. And the medical community needs to look at our actual health, not our weight.

And we need an honest discussion about our food system, and how it relates to our health (and the health of the planet, too.) We can’t let our responses to fat hatred and phobia blind us to the truth of how we have to change how we eat, and what food is available to whom.