Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Preamble: Dr Phil Just did a Weight-Loss Episode and It Is Not Okay

In my academic life, there are certain things I go for. I like to be somewhat off the beaten path in my arguments, and I like to be at least somewhat subtle and open to the ambiguity of my subject. I like things that are transitional, ambivalent, doubting. I try to describe the complexity of something while still making a strong argument. This is not so easy but I think I do okay most of the time. And I feel at my most liberated and creative when I don't distinguish between high and low, when I take "Beavis and Butthead" or "The $64,000 Question" as seriously as I take (neo-)avant-garde artistic production from Rauschenberg and Whitman's contributions to "Nine Evenings in Art and Engineering" to Magritte paintings to performance and video art to Bresson films (a stark modernist pleasure of mine). I am not interested in condemning "crappy" TV for being TV, which is still a surprisingly popular thing to do academically, even though television studies is also a fairly big thing these days.

However, for this post, most of what I wrote is going out the window. My academic shoes are being replaced by activist shoes. (I don't wear hats but have loads of different colored sneakers, so I thought writing shoes would be more appropriate. I have an Adidas shoe addiction. I love those 3 stripes.) Even though I think it can get curmudgeonly, cultural critique is an incredibly important and powerful tool because our late capitalist culture does present a lot of bullshit in very convincing ways. To be thoughtful and free one needs to see through it.

Cultural critique at its best is like the sword of Manjushri, the bodhissatva of wisdom, as it cuts through elegantly presented delusion. As I discussed in a previous post, ideology tends to be presented as fact. It's naturalized. French theorists like Barthes, Althusser and Foucault (everybody's fave apparently, though I like Barthes better) point to the ways in which ideology masks itself as an apparent truth. Of course it's "bad" to be fat, right? (No!) Someone recently wrote sarcastically on my wall questioning why I would be critical of weight loss promotion and incredulously asked if fat could really be beautiful. The thought! This person has been unfriended and the comment has been deleted.

Hating the kind of body I have is absolutely not okay with me. There is no way for me to emphasize this enough but writing it in bold on my blog is a start. I don't permit fat hating on my Facebook wall or in my life. So it takes some work, often valuable and satisfying work, to see through that, to wield Manjushri's theory sword. And that is what I intend to do here.

For while I enjoy seeing issues from multiple angles, there are things I'm sure of. Weight-loss ideology is crap. It's about keeping people down, particularly women, and encouraging them to buy products they don't need. It is capitalism operating at the expense of happiness, which, sadly, is nothing new. Our culture is bigoted against fat people and this needs to end.

It is difficult to shift this tide, and so I don't think there is any need to be ambiguous here: all bodies are acceptable and wonderful as they are and weight-loss bullshit like diet books and TV shows should all end. There should be no reason to oppress yourself, to decide that you need to lose some weight to be acceptable, that you should work on being "moderate" or "good." The way to approach food "moderately" is to tune in to your body's intuition without judgment, and this is precisely what weight loss culture makes impossible. Having been through the diet racket, this is still hard for me. But there are amazing fat activist and fat acceptance communities out there that help make this possible. I am so privileged (in a good way!) to be part of these groups. I have amazing online conversations with fellow proud fatties all the time. It is really special and absolutely enriches my life. I also have a really sweet and wonderful husband who supports my fat activism.

What does not enrich my life, however, is Dr. Phil shilling his latest weight loss book. (How's that for a segue?) There is no doubt in my mind that this guy is full of shit and that he is an embodiment of patriarchy promoting not only its values but more insidiously, its penchant for shaming people into submission. I am fascinated by the bald mustachioed man I like to call Dr. Fuckface, but my fascination turns to indignation when he hops on the weight loss train. That is why I am devoting my next blog entry to tearing apart the weight loss episode that aired on television yesterday and is now on youtube. Diet culture is not okay with me. No promotion of it is okay with me. So I am going to go through the episode and write about everything I feel is wrong with it. I will also provide links to amazing fat activists who argue against weight loss in ways that are tougher for me. I am not science-minded. I'm a humanities brain. So if you want statistics and studies on why weight loss is shit and deconstructions of studies that supposedly support weight loss, there are other people to read. Like Ragen Chastain, Lucy Aphramor, Linda Bacon, and Angela Meadows. I'm doing links later but just look up these bold amazing women.

I have to go out now, but stay tuned. I'm hoping to deconstruct Dr. Fuckface later today when I get back.

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