posted by meowser
Update from Meowser 02/19/2008: Bitch has now put the article up online; post re-edited to reflect that.
Note from Meowser: Post has been edited to correct spelling of Lily-Rygh Glen’s name.
As many of you are probably aware of by now, Bitch magazine has an article out in its current issue, by Lily-Rygh Glen, called “Big Trouble.” It’s about how people with binge-eating disorders allegedly are not welcome anywhere in the size-acceptance movement if they get help for their problem, because if those women get skinny by giving up their binges, they will make the rest of us look bad and we’d rather they ate themselves to death than actually got cured, because that’s the kind of cold mean douchenozzles we all are. (That’s honestly not too much of an exaggeration of how Glen portrays us.)
Probably the reason this
hasn’t hadn’t been blogged about before much in the Fatosphere is because the article is was until now print-only, no link is was available (update: Link is now posted here). I haven’t gotten to it until now myself for the same reason (Bitch is published quarterly). So I went out and purchased the magazine so I could write about the article in question.
I know there are some people who think articles like this that exist solely for the purpose of baiting should be left alone to die the quiet death they deserve, and I can sympathize with that. But frankly, by now it’s gotten to the point where fat people reading this have started thinking “the movement” (as though size/fat acceptance was a monolith!) will snub them unless they claim to have struck that mythical perfect balance of loving salad and going to the gym without ever weighing or measuring themselves, and influential feminists like Amanda Marcotte are telling people that we SA/FA people are not to be trusted (despite being “right about most things”) because of what’s written here. And that, as far as I am concerned, is when flat-out scurrilous distortionfests like this need to be taken on.
Now, before I jump into my analysis, let me just say that I’ve loved myself some Bitch over the years and found them to be one of the more fat-friendly publications out there that you can actually purchase on a newsstand. They had a booth at the last Fat Girl Speaks, in June 2007, and unless there’s been a dramatic change in editorial policy since then, I have to believe that their intention in publishing this story was not to do in the FA/SA movement. I also understand that this magazine is known for “think” or opinion pieces, not investigative reporting, and so they likely felt Glen had no obligation to explore all sides of the issue, only her own impressions and experiences. Fair enough.
And I have no problem with anyone doing an analysis of how the FA/SA movement treats fat people seeking help for binge-eating disorder. It’s not a “taboo” subject to me at all. In fact, over at Shapely Prose just this past October (quite likely after Glen put her story to bed), Kate Harding did her usual wonderful analysis of this, and much lively, substantial discussion about it ensued amongst Shapelings. A few weeks before that, Rachel of the F-Word also did a great piece on EDs and fat acceptance. Yeah, it can be a sticky subject, especially since fat people have been so thoroughly linked in most people’s minds with “pathological” eating habits that some defensiveness is bound to result. And sure, there are individuals within the movement, no doubt, who are dismissive of the idea that anyone could ever be made fat by a binge-eating disorder, or who even doubt that BED exists, and want to silence anyone who wants to talk about her BED.
But then, there are also feminists who hate all men and would like to see every one of them legally mandated to wear their own genitalia as headgear. Do they represent the desires and opinions of most feminists, let alone the entire movement? Need you even ask?
So it is with this story. A good article could have been written about this subject, but not by someone who cares only about money and publishing credit and does not care who she harms in the process of writing about this topic she not only knows precious little about, but doesn’t even want to know any more about, lest her opportunity for career advancement using our fat backs as a springboard be blown to greasy little bits.
Serious charges, I know. But consider the following.
Glen bases her “size acceptance people want to silence people with binge-eating disorders” thesis solely on this: The testimonials of two pseudonymous friends (who could just as well have been invented by Glen out of whole cloth) who say that speaking up about wanting treatment for their BED either would get them “kicked out of the movement” or already had; an article on the NAAFA Web site allegedly promoting intuitive eating as a cure-all for BED; and a quote from a “prominent radical fat activist” who “declined to be named or quoted” for the story, which blamed all eating disorders on dieting.
That’s it. That’s all she’s got. No one is interviewed by name; the only person in the story who is even quoted by name is eating-disorders therapist Deb Burgard, and those quotes are taken from promotional materials for a NAAFA conference, not an interview. Again, I know this is not meant to be an in-depth investigative piece, but for Mo’Nique’s sake, hasn’t Glen even heard of the Fatosphere (see sidebar, if you’re new here), or any of the dozens of individual blogs in it (including the Fatosphere’s godfather, Big Fat Blog, which has been around for almost eight years now)? Does she not know that just over the past year, an entire fat-acceptance subculture has sprung up on the Web and that even apart from the Kate Harding piece mentioned earlier, the subject of BED was tackled in detail (just for starters) here, here, and here, well in advance of when this story came out, and nobody — either in the posts themselves or in comments — was dismissed or made fun of or “kicked out of the movement.” (And need I mention I’d rather get my eyelids chewed off by jellyfish on the hot sand than ever see or hear that phrase or anything like it ever again?) Not in any way, shape, or form.
(And I’m sure my readers will be kind enough to let me know if I’ve overlooked any other relevant articles on the subject that came out before the Bitch piece figures to have been filed.)
And really, we all know that much of the material on NAAFA’s Web site (much of which consists of reproductions of old NAAFA pamphlets) hasn’t been updated practically since Bush’s dad was President, and even NAAFA knows that’s a problem (see discussion connected with linked post for input from members of NAAFA). They have the memo, Lily-Rygh. My question is, did you even try talking to anyone over there? I mean, a live person? They don’t bite, honest. They talk to everyone, they even participate in all those “fat people are all lazy gluttons, cue the headless fatty b-roll” stories that wallpaper the Paid Media, just to give an opposing viewpoint. So why would they consider this story, and only this story, off limits to participate in, especially since Bitch has a long-standing reputation for fat friendliness? It just doesn’t pass the smell test for me.
Anyway, what Glen is claiming about that NAAFA site article on eating disorders is that “NAAFA is willing to risk the physical and psychological well-being of individual fat people in order to protect fat people as a class from charges that they are unhealthy.” Gee, they sound like terrible people, all right, the worst ever. What did they say that was so outrageous? The offending sentences in this article, to Glen’s mind, are these:
“Compulsive overeating” is another term that has been used to denote binge-eating. It implies that the binge-eating has a psychological cause (i.e., compulsion); however, there is little evidence to support this notion for most fat people who binge-eat.
Leaving aside somewhat inelegant phrasing, what the NAAFA brochure is actually saying is what FA/SA people have been saying since time immemorial (or at least since the Fat Underground): Most fat people who binge do so because they are coming off a diet, not because they have an organic binge-eating disorder. That’s most, mind you — not all. What Glen doesn’t mention, because it would torpedo her entire argument, is that a few paragraphs down from there, it also says this:
If you suspect you have an eating disorder, and you have been on a weight reduction diet or have been maintaining a weight lower than that which is natural for you, you may [emphasis Meowser's] be able to recover from your eating disorder simply by stopping the weight-reduction efforts…Some people need additional help from professional therapists or support groups; it is important to select a treatment that does not encourage restrictive dieting.
I dunno, dude, if you read that passage as “if giving up dieting didn’t cure your bingeing, fuck you and the ice cream truck you rode in on, we’d rather see you choke to death on your 96th consecutive donut than get outside help for your BED because then you might lose weight and that would suck for us,” I think the priority purchase of a pair of non-shit-colored reading glasses might be in order.
And quite possibly this might provide some sort of clue as to why there is no fresh material from NAAFA here. As pleasant and accommodating as they might try to be over there, making your first approach to them with the fat-acceptance equivalent of, “Why do you hate America, newborn babies and cute little puppies?? Why?? WHYYYYY?” might, just might, tip them off that you are not very credible even as an informed adversary. Not that I know for sure that that’s what went down, of course. But Occam’s razor sure do slice in that direction, don’t it?
Oh, and that “radical fat acceptance activist” who was quoted as saying, “Not every diet turns into an eating disorder, but every eating disorder begins with a diet”? The activist is, of course, none other than Marilyn Wann; I recognized those words immediately from her book Fat!So?, a 1998 compilation of her zine pieces from the previous 5 years and of course, essential reading for every FA/SA person (or hell, maybe for everyone on the planet). Since this is a commercially published work, Glen had a perfect right to name Marilyn as being attached to this quote; why the coyness about Marilyn’s identity? My cat-nose strongly suspects the following: Lily-Rygh Glen, who thinks she knows everything there is to know about fat acceptance, did not know about Marilyn’s book or zine at all, and instead got the quote secondhand.
That Marilyn, according to Glen, “refused to be quoted” for this story (which apparently didn’t stop Glen from quoting her anyway, but never mind) makes my little pink nose twitch even more. Marilyn is, as most of you probably know, not exactly what you’d call microphone-shy. And I don’t know about you, but if someone wanted to write about something I said almost fifteen years ago and invited me to elaborate on it to see if I still felt that way, whether I’d learned anything new, etc., I’d be on it like a Persian on Kitty Hooch, especially for a magazine like Bitch. If Marilyn did decline this particular interview, I would think there would have to be a damn good reason for it — such as, perhaps, sensing early on that this particular author was out to perform a hatchet job and wasn’t interested in any new information that might interfere with that?
Anyway, “every eating disorder begins with a diet” may be a slight oversimplification, but it’s a lot less of one than the standard line we’re fed constantly by the Paid Media, which is that every single one of us fatasses binges like Eddie Murphy’s Nutty Professor and is lying through our fructose-atrophied choppers about it. Why is Glen not far more outraged by that meme, which stretches around the globe for miles over and over and over again, than by what Marilyn said, or what’s in the “offending” NAAFA brochure, which have been read by only a tiny number of people by comparison?
And no, intuitive eating is not, as Glen accuses the NAAFA flyer of saying, an “easy-peasy” cure-all for everyone who binges. Saying everyone who stops dieting will stop bingeing is just as simplistic as saying that everyone who uses the StairMaster will stop panting when they climb hills. Nothing works for everybody. But I can’t emphasize enough that many of us trot out the “demand feeding cured my bingeing” line because we don’t know what else to tell people who are suffering. It’s not that I don’t want to see people make peace with food. It’s not that I want them to stay out of control so they can stay as fat as possible. Of course not. But I also can’t in good conscience refer them to OA or to “traditional” ED therapies which emphasize weight loss as the ultimate trophy of recovery — not because it might work for them and make me look like an ugly loser while they pull out the waistbands of their old size 30 jeans to reveal the New Beautiful Them, but because I was there, I tried those things, and they only managed to trigger me even worse than when I came in. Intuitive eating is the only thing that ever worked to get me on a cycle of eat-when-hungry-stop-when-comfortably-full, so that’s usually what I talk about when someone brings up the subject.
But I also said on one of the comment threads at Kate’s place that I’d love to see people for whom IE was not an answer for their bingeing or compulsive overeating band together, perhaps on their own blog, to offer each other self-help from a Health at Every Size perspective — i.e. starting with the idea that BED or CED sucks because it makes you feel like crap, not because it makes you look like crap. In the absence of much in the way of real help being available for people who feel intractably “out of control” with food, self-help might actually be the only way for most of these folks to go unless they luck into a fantastic therapist or meatspace support group. While I certainly don’t think weight loss is something that needs preventing by any means necessary, I really feel that making significant weight loss the standard for whether or not you’ve “recovered” is a bad idea; I would hate to see a BED/CED sufferer decide she’s doing it “wrong” simply because the scale tells her so, even if she feels personally comfortable and at ease with her new way of eating. And many people with BED/CED have dieted so much over the course of their lifetimes and trashed their metabolisms so badly in the process that they might not experience much in the way of weight loss as a result of recovery.
That’s absolutely not the same thing as saying, “If you get thin as a result of your ED recovery, screw you and your little dog too.” And if you are reading this and you actually are the kind of person who would belittle someone’s ED, or tell someone they shouldn’t pursue recovery because it could lead to them getting thin(ner), kindly go get stuffed, because you are giving us all a bad name. (Not that I think any of FatFu’s regular readers are in this camp; I know y’all are smarter than that.) Only an idiot makes “getting and staying fat at all costs” the standard for whether someone is really a size/fat-acceptance person or not. (Besides, I know of quite a few “bona fide” fat-acceptance advocates who couldn’t get fat themselves if they tried.) I don’t expect anyone to KMOOTM if I eventually happen to return to my baseline weight following the discontinuation of antidepressants, and I wouldn’t let them KMO, anyway. There is no Supreme Arbiter of who is “in” and “out” anyway; if one SA group (or blog) is a poor fit for you, there are many others.
But much like our Vice President, Lily-Rygh Glen doesn’t do nuance, so there’s no reason she would feel the need to take in any of this even if the opportunity were offered her. After all, the author ID at the bottom of the story states, “As a result of the backlash to this article, she no longer considers herself part of the fat acceptance movement.” (Zuh? How could there have been “backlash” before the story was ever read by anyone?) Color me utterly unconvinced that she was ever really “one of us,” even peripherally.
Anyway, Bitch is sure to welcome LTEs on this story, so if the urge strikes, here’s where to send ‘em:
4930 NE 29th Ave.
Portland, OR 97211
Note: I plan to inform Marilyn Wann, Deb Burgard, and the folks at NAAFA about this blog post. I hope they will participate in the discussion here and give us further insight.