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01 May 2012 @ 01:25 am
FAT CRIP! Random Thoughts Where Fatness and Disability Intersect  
Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2012

One place my fatness and disability intersect is in other people’s perceptions and assumptions. People sometimes want me to rank the two categories, to choose between them, or to explain the dynamic between them. People yearn, especially, for causality.

Am I disabled because I am fat? Nope. We don’t know what causes CFIDS/ME, but it sure isn’t fatness.

Am I fat because I’m disabled? Oh, who knows. It’s possible, but, not being a character on Star Trek: The Next Generation, I’ll never know what other paths my life might have taken if x, if y. Most importantly, deeply and critically, I do not care.

Also, I’m unwilling to place “blame” for my fatness on CFIDS because my fatness is just fine. To blame it on something, on anything at all, frames fatness as not only cause-traceable but a problem. Society thinks it is, but they’re prejudiced. The medical establishment thinks it is, but they’re soaking in centuries-old scientific bias. As we say in fatpol communities, the only thing you can tell by looking at a fat person is your level of bias against fat people.

(ETA: If I did know, via timing or some other life detail, that CFIDS had caused my fatness, I wouldn't mind saying so if a situation required it. But I would call it a neutral result, not a negative one, and I would take care not to use it to distance myself from other fatties nor to strengthen the destructive good fatty / bad fatty binary that pops up in fatpol communities sometimes.)

Another way my fatness and disability intersect is in my presentation to the world on days I’m well enough to leave the house. I’m awfully sick. Daily actions that healthy folks take for granted are struggles. I need to rest between tooth brushing and face washing. That’s my reality. My hair is short because it requires less water to reach presentability. If I don’t shave my legs this summer, I might be having a butch (or butch/femme pastiche) mood, but more likely I can’t afford the spoons. Clothing hurts. I happen to possess an inborn shlumpiness, it’s in my soul or somewhere, meaning that for any degree to which I do not look shlumpy, active effort has been spent. But this is the belly of the beast of the fatness/disability intersection. On the Fat Studies list, a very smart person named Kristen Dunn said:
While thin folks can look cute or casual in old ratty clothes and mussed hair, fat folks of all gender expressions face a constant barrage of messages that our clothes, hair, makeup has to all be maintained all the time lest we meet the "slob" trope that is always ready to be slapped on us. And women of all sizes have more pressure and expectation about appearance.
Yes! And being sick makes it even harder, both because of the spoons required and because my body and face sometimes look sick anyway. When my face looks sick, and because makeup is not an option for me for physical reasons, I feel more pressure for my hair to be vaguely coiffed. (Even writing that, I fear people who know me reading it and laughing at me, laughing at the notion that I have ever coiffed anything.) Because I have to wear big stompy boots for my crippy feet, femme moods be damned, I feel more pressure to wear a good bra and a fitted top. Bras of all kinds hurt me, but leaving the house without one – even were I to wear a vest thick enough for modesty – wanders too close to compete shlump territory. My illness plays into how I look and what I (literally) can wear; my fatness, as Kristen observes, leaves me extra open to a slob label. Much of my chosen presentation (which is more femme than butch but some of each) is out of my hands. Fatphobia and disablism judge.

There’s a lesson somewhere in here about how butch fat women are considered less butch and more shlumpy than butch thin women, but that’s beyond me. Someone point me to a good critical post about that?

CFIDS is officially an invisible disability. In some ways that’s true. But sometimes it shows in my face and body; and sometimes it shows in my shlumpiness; and because CFIDS is invisible, when it shows, it looks like slobbery.

Imagine that your whole life takes place while you have the flu, and that this has been true for years, and that you fall all-the-way-asleep only twice per week. I live at the slob precipice. Fatties are pressured to look put together, yet we’re permitted far less clothing choice than thin folks. Fatphobic cultural asthetics judge us harshly even when we are supremely neat. A fat body can be labeled sloppy even when neat as a pin. Being sick on top of that? Well, if you see someone shuffling down the street to the mailbox in pajama bottoms, that might be me. I’m doing the best I can. To assume anything about me because of how I look is pure disablism and fatphobia.
(no subject) - shehasathree on May 1st, 2012 06:56 am (UTC) (Expand)
Rebecca Rabinowitzdiceytillerman on May 5th, 2012 03:59 am (UTC)
Maija HaavistoDiamonDie on May 1st, 2012 07:36 am (UTC)
I could really identify with this, especially the way CFS/ME isn't necessarily an invisible illness, people just don't connect the "presentation" with being ill. My illness isn't so severe that "making myself look presentable" takes an overwhelming amount effort (I couldn't bother wearing makeup anyway), but it has affected my looks in many ways.

I can say that I am fat because of CFS/ME - I used to be very thin, but then my pituitary and thyroid failed (a common complication of CFS/ME) and I gained like 20 kilos in a few months and put on severe edema, too. I don't think it's about blame, it's just a fact.

I have suffered severe hair loss, which has affected my self esteem a lot. It's very hard to make my hair look decent, as there is so little of it, it curls in random places (where the hair loss is worst) but not evenly and my head is full of shorter hairs that stick around and look very messy. Currently I also have skin problems stemming from the aforementioned hypopituitarism.

I wouldn't shave my legs anyway, but I did shave my armpits until I had to stop it a few years ago. Shaving gave me several dangerous lymph node infections thanks to the immune dysfunction I have. It wasn't worth it.

I've been given rather nasty commentary on how I look, including saying I look like I just got out of the dumpster. Go figure.
Rebecca Rabinowitz: Rodzinadiceytillerman on May 5th, 2012 04:00 am (UTC)
I've been given rather nasty commentary on how I look, including saying I look like I just got out of the dumpster. Go figure.

Oy, that's fierce. :(
Ruth MadisonRuthMadison82 on May 1st, 2012 12:31 pm (UTC)
I've just recently been becoming aware of the way that we, particularly as women, are expected to look good like it's our duty. As though looking good is part of our contribution to society and if we don't have that, we are useless. I hate that and I don't know how to fight it!
Rebecca Rabinowitz: Orphea Prouddiceytillerman on May 5th, 2012 04:02 am (UTC)
Have you read this oldish post called You Don't Have to be Pretty? It's wonderful.
deborah.dreamwidth.org on May 1st, 2012 04:16 pm (UTC)
I often wonder about how much I feed into this, not as a disability advocate, but as a female friend who is subject to all the prejudices of the larger culture both in myself and in the observations of my friends. You have managed to rock the limitations placed on you by spoon-shortages into an excellent personal style: stompy boots with tights and skirts, splash of color in the hair, nail polish, etc. Things that are your limitations combined with things that require infrequent maintenance (e.g. nail polish, hair color). But when I compliment you for the butch/femme punk rock aesthetic, I wonder how much I am playing into that requirement to look hot, you know?
Rebecca Rabinowitzdiceytillerman on May 5th, 2012 04:07 am (UTC)
Personally, I tend to appreciate and feel strengthened by all style or clothing-related compliments except the billions I received when I lost weight after throat surgery. Those were damaging to me (though not surprising). But I think this is a great and deep question, and the truth must be all full of layers, right? In some way, how could any compliment of anyone's asthetics not feed into values about asthetics? Yet we soldier on, and sometimes we still care about rocking things, and sometimes not. So complicated and interesting.
dolores_cranedolores_crane on May 2nd, 2012 03:04 am (UTC)
I really enjoyed this - can I link it from my wordpress blog? This in particular:

Much of my chosen presentation... is out of my hands

gets at something I'm trying to think through about the metaphor of 'reading' for gender and other forms of self-presentation, though I can't quite articulate it here.

I'm also intrigued by this -

butch fat women are considered less butch and more shlumpy than butch thin women

because it makes me realize that my own tendency is not to take thin butches seriously (they're the ones that get on TV, whereas real butches are fat). Hmm.
Rebecca Rabinowitzdiceytillerman on May 5th, 2012 04:07 am (UTC)
Link away, and thank you. It's all so complicated....
Steffirecat on May 2nd, 2012 04:14 pm (UTC)
Here via BAAD. Awesome post. I'm fat and more tired than other people, although I don't have an official diagnosis. I use a mobility scooter. Since it seems that fat people on mobility scooters are a symbol of what's wrong with Western civilization, whenever I go out a part of my brain is taken up by processing my thoughts about what I imagine other people's thoughts about me are. I don't really want to spend energy on that, but I haven't figured out a way to stop it.
Rebecca Rabinowitzdiceytillerman on May 5th, 2012 04:17 am (UTC)
I empathize with you. I've been noticing that my self esteem demons seem to fuel themselves on archetypes or icons, "the lazy fat crip" or "the type of fat crip who..." etc. When I catch my mind doing that, and make myself back up and remember that I'm not an archetype, I'm not a type, I am individual person, then I'm able to reign it in.

Funny, I would never slam anyone besides myself with archetypes like that; I would never use fatness or cripness (or undiagnosed fatigue) against anyone besides myself. And as a literary critic, I adore archetypal theory and find it useful and empowering! But those icons are dangerous to my self esteem sometimes. So I hear you. It's hard to fight those symbols, but we must. We're all humans doing the best we can. You are NOT what's wrong with western civilization -- or with anything.
abnormaldiversity.blogspot.com on May 3rd, 2012 05:02 pm (UTC)
"CFIDS is officially an invisible disability. In some ways that’s true. But sometimes it shows in my face and body; and sometimes it shows in my shlumpiness; and because CFIDS is invisible, when it shows, it looks like slobbery."

As an autistic person, I resonate with this. Most people don't know I'm autistic to look at me, but I do look different. Sometimes I look rude, sometimes I look like a slob, sometimes I look lazy, sometimes I look stupid, sometimes I look like an easy victim. Most people who have met me, even if they don't know my diagnosis, have probably noticed some characteristic of mine that is explained by autism.
Rebecca Rabinowitzdiceytillerman on May 5th, 2012 04:19 am (UTC)
Thank you for this comment. What an interesting thing we have in common. Invisibility turns out to have a lot more layers and complexity than I used to assume. I've only recently realized that it's not binary after all, invisible vs visible disability.
Sarah LevisGirlWithTheCane on May 7th, 2012 07:12 pm (UTC)
I used to have anorexia...I'm about as "recovered" as anyone gets, but there are still days that are defined by how "fat/thin" I feel. It sounds like you are miles past that, and I so admire you for it...and I wish that society wasn't so intent on taking it away from you. :(
Rebecca Rabinowitz: Hotter Than a Hot Dogdiceytillerman on May 12th, 2012 09:06 pm (UTC)
Aw, thank you so much for this comment. I lucked out in some ways: my librarian dad brought home Shadow on a Tightrope from his library many years ago, and through that early seed book I got exposure to fat politics as a kid, back before I was even fat. But there's no one, not even the big machas of fatpol, who doesn't struggle from time to time. I wish you the best in your continued recovery, and I encourage you to spend as much time as possible, both online and in meatspace, with people who believe in fat politics, fat acceptance, and HAES. (Or people who may not know about those things but are open to them.) Sometimes the work of persuading ourselves that fatness isn't horrible is active, deliberate work, and sometimes it can happen by osmosis, according to who you're hanging out with.

Have you read Two Whole Cakes? It's not ED-specific, it's fat politics (memoir plus manifesto), but it's super easy reading and the depth arrives gently. I recommend it with all my heart.
Ricky Buchananrickybuchanan on May 19th, 2012 10:23 am (UTC)
(here via Deborah, I think?)

I just wanted to say a huge thanks for this post ... I'm dealing with all these issues of weight and energy and disability and fatness and it's so damm HARD! It's really helpful to read other people's thoughts about it.
Rebecca Rabinowitz: Hotter Than a Hot Dogdiceytillerman on May 20th, 2012 02:56 am (UTC)
Thank you, Ricky! I have loved the writing of yours that I've seen.