This year is the 30th anniversary of the publishing of Shadow on a Tightrope by Aunt Lute Books, and there is a blog carnival this week for the book! I am so happy to be participating. I can’t think of a lot of books that have changed my life, but I would say that this one has. I was about 19 years old when I first picked up SOAT. I was bulimic and fat, and had always been told that being fat was the worst thing in the world to be. In high school I had starved myself down to a “normal” weight, but I gained back some of the weight by the time I was 19 when I was trying to starve myself again. I remember being in Seattle at Bailey Coy Books (now out of business) where I found the book, and later reading the book during my lunch break at the University Bookstore where I worked for a short time. I could not believe what I was reading! For one thing, there were these other fat people out there! Who knew?!? And some of them had endured horrendous surgeries that I didn’t know existed back then (which are all too common now). AND then they were saying that fatness wasn’t the horrid devil wrapped in bacon strips that I had always been told it was! WHAT?!? Did I read that correctly? I didn’t know it at the time, but the book forever changed my outlook on fat and fat activism. Maybe not all at once, but it all stayed with me. It found a little space in my brain, and when everyone else and all of society screamed at me to be thin I remembered the words in SOAT. I remembered (for once) that this experience of being fat was not something I had to do alone, and even though I didn’t stop the bulimia for years, and hated myself for being fat a lot, the messages from SOAT were there working their magic. And, I really think it was like magic that these words in a book could so profoundly alter my view of the world. Years later I stopped the bulimia, and I now consider myself to be a fat activist of sorts, and SOAT is still helping me to figure out how to live with my body and how to live with a world that hates my body. I am forever indebted to Aunt Lute and all of the people who put the book together. I hope that this book can get in the hands of more fat people just so they know that it doesn’t have to be like this, they don’t have to hate themselves, and they aren’t alone.
I’ve been reading a lot about identity lately. First I was reading about identity for an art history class and then just for fun. I just finished reading Revolting Bodies: The Struggle to Redefine Fat Identity by Kathleen LeBesco—great book by the way. Obviously from the title, the book was about identity. I’ve also been reading some bell hooks and some other stuff. And, what I’ve decided is that mostly I AM CONFUSED! I’m not confused in the way that someone can tell me who and what I am. I am confused in a way that I seem to have been confused all my life, but I don’t know, is it normal? For me it is.
What am I talking about? Well, okay, in talking about fat identity LeBesco actually discusses this kind of confusion. The confusion where I want to be all fat-positive all the time, but then there are times when I hate myself. There are times when I feel like I just*want*to*lose*weight, but I still want to be a fat activist! lol I want to be a fat activist as long as I can be a skinny fat activist—an ally and not a “victim.” I want to be out and proud about my mental illness, but then I feel like no one will ever want to date me, because they think I’m defective. But, who really thinks I’m defective? It seems like I do. Why do I feel like that? Am I defective? What would it even mean to be non-defective, because I’m not a machine! But then again, people DO think poorly of the mentally ill. It isn’t like most people would purposely pick a mentally ill person as a love interest, and WHAT IN THE WORLD would it mean for a non-mentally ill person to seek out a mentally ill person for a love interest?!?
I also wonder about the whole “health” aspect of being fat. Do I eat too much and the wrong things and not get enough exercise? Yes, yes, yes. So, it is my fault I’m fat. Why don’t I try to be healthier? Why would I reject wanting to be healthier? Because, obviously on some level I do reject it. Maybe not all of it is “my fault” of course. At least I don’t think so. Then I’m being too easy on myself. But why do I have to be perfect?
I’m similarly confused with my politics and my understanding of myself as female. I like being female and I hate it too. I want to be a feminist and at the same time I wonder how I can possibly be a feminist when I don’t support myself fully? Does being a feminist mean you pay for everything yourself? I used to think so, but it seems like I’m still mostly a feminist even though I live with my parents. Another thing is that I have doubts about going full throttle into things. Can I be a good feminist if I don’t go gung-ho? What if, god-forbid, I disagree with other feminists?!?
I’m like this in so many ways…one foot in the door the other out. I have this inner dialogue of contempt for the world and myself sometimes, but then I try to fight that a lot (other times not so much). I truly think that one of the reasons why I love Hello Kitty so much is that I can full-throttle love everything Hello Kitty without caring if it is right or wrong or true or false or up or down to love all things Hello Kitty. I know that sounds absurd, but I think it might be true. I don’t care if people think I’m weird or childish. I just love Hello Kitty! I don’t feel so free in other areas of my life. I try to be fat-positive, I try to stomp out mental illness stigma, I try to align my politics with things that I think are right, but it is mostly tempered. Even my educational goals are splintered. I can’t pick just one thing and get on with it, so I study as many things as I can.
What does this mean for my identity and how I construct it? It is kind of like I’m living in the margins of the margins. I’m marginalized by who I am, and then again I marginalize myself by thinking I’m not fully one thing or the other. I live in the ether, because I refuse or can’t choose to live on terra-firma. Is it easier to live in the ether? I suppose in ways it could be, but it really seems difficult at times. I sometimes desperately desire to say “I AM THIS!” and “THIS IS WHAT I’M ABOUT!” but I can never manage that. I want to know what I’m about. Don’t we all?