It’s About Human Decency

There are many things about the world I cannot understand and hate is one of them.

Over the past few weeks, report after report has rolled in of gay teens and young adults committing suicide due to bullying at school or in their community. It’s something that makes me so sad, so angry and upset, that it’s hard for me to write this post. How, tell me, can someone bully a person so persistently, so viciously, that that person feels they cannot live in this world any longer? How can someone commit themselves so fully to hating a person that it drives their target to take their own life? How could anyone ever think they have the right to treat another human being that way?

I don’t care what you believe. You could think that homosexuality is a choice, that the “gay lifestyle” will corrupt our world. You could think that all gay people are sinners, aliens, crazy people. I don’t care what you think or how crazy your opinions are.

Surely, we can all get behind human decency. I’m certain we all agree that treating people with respect, no matter what the situation, is important.

The problem is that I’m not seeing that. I don’t see that in the world, in the news media, in the way people treat others on TV, in classes, in their everyday interaction. Something has happened to our ability to be respectful. We have forgotten the golden rule: treat others as you want to be treated. We have forgotten it, and children are dying.

We’ve all been victims of taunting and name-calling. Whether it’s someone calling us fat, ugly, too tall, whether it’s someone deriding our religious beliefs or political affiliation, whether it’s someone bullying us for our race, gender, sexual preference, we’ve all dealt with it on some level. We all know how it feels. Most of us have probably participated in it at some point in our lives. It’s a part of life. One group gets picked on. That group picks on another group so they can feel superior. The chain continues down, trickles down the line, until someone gets told too many times they’re not worth it. They shouldn’t be alive. And so, they go home and hang themselves. They find a gun and shoot themselves. The taunting turns to something sinister. The taunting takes a life.

It’s easy to forget that pain. It’s easy for us to forget how our words can hurt others. It’s simple to think of it as “just a joke” or something that you “didn’t mean.” But we all have a breaking point. These people were broken one too many times.

It comes down to human decency. This should be our wake up call. Think about how we treat each other and how we treat ourselves. Every life is worth it.

I was teaching some sixth graders yesterday, and they were being particularly loud. I had to ask them numerous times to quiet down. I had just reached my breaking point when the program director walked in and started yelling at the kids.

“When the teacher is talking, you don’t talk! She has had to ask you so many times to be quiet! It takes one word for a human to understand! She should only have to say one word and you should be quiet. You’ve stopped being human right now. You’ve stopped being human!

It was a lesson in respect, and it struck a chord with me. We’ve stopped being human. It takes one word for a human to understand that they need to be respectful. It took us five lives.

Let this be our wake-up call.

Let us remember how to be decent.


Obese Star Loses Weight!!

"Obese Star" Real Headline

But not the kind of star you’re thinking. I was browsing articles over on HuffPost earlier today, and was shocked to run into an article with the headline: “Scientists Discover Obese Star…” It was somewhat shocking to me because I had no idea actual astronomical stars could be obese. Having taken an astronomy class in undergrad, I thought I knew all types of stars…red giants, white dwarfs, etc. But I’d never heard of an obese star.

What does this tell us, then, that journalists (or maybe even the astronomers?) are co-opting weightist language to describe phenomena? For me, it actually makes me wonder about how we use the word “obese.” I am a fat woman. That is how I describe myself. But, medically, I am obese. To many people, being “obese” means you’re ill. It means you’re too fat. Many people think it denotes laziness, overeating, inactivity. To many people, “obese” is a negative term.

How, then, does this translate to astronomy? It doesn’t. The star in question has a lot of mass. It’s 320 times larger than earth’s sun, and is quite a discovery. But calling it “obese” doesn’t add anything to the article. All it does is make you wonder, “How could a star be obese?”

It wasn’t until I read the article again (I had saved it because it bugged me so much) that it really hit me. The reason the astronomers and journalists are couching this star’s discovery in terms of obesity and weight is because it’s an analogy that most people will understand.

“Unlike humans, these stars are born heavy and lose weight as they age,” said Crowther, an astrophysicist at the University of Sheffield in northern England. “R136a1 is already middle-aged and has undergone an intense weight loss program.”

They’re trying to humanize it, and give it a defined relative mass. They’re trying to make it resonate with people through a metaphor that is obvious.

To me, it’s reminiscent of “ha ha, look at how funny we’re being by calling this thing fat.” They’re trying to be clever, but they don’t think about how they’re using the word. Does this stretch obesity too far? Are people now relating obesity to anything bigger than the sun? If this article were read by millions of people, would people call me a “big fat star” instead of a “big fat elephant?” When will the hyperbole end, and what damage will it do?

I’m a Chubby Ninja

After the somewhat downer tone of yesterday’s post, I’ll bring you something delightful.

There’s this wonderful website, Sleep Talkin’ Man, which is run by a woman whose husband talks in his sleep. Eventually, she got the idea to record his quotes (using a voice activated audio recorder) and post them daily on the web. Something that began as a blog for family and friends has now turned into a blog that delights hundreds.

One of yesterday’s quotes made me laugh out loud in glee. You can hear it Here. For those of you who can’t listen to the audio, here’s the transcription:

I’m just a chubby ninja. Able to move between skinny people. Tiptoeing elephant. No one can see me. And then I attack! With ice cream and jelly, with chocolate sprinkles on top. Mmmmm.

The idea of being a chubby ninja is so delightful to me, that I am going to make it my mission to use it in my everyday life. Bump into someone: “I’m a chubby ninja! Hiyah!” Clean my plate at dinner: “The chubby ninja strikes again!” Well, those are terrible examples. But there’s something appealing about being stealthy, graceful, and mysterious like a ninja. I think someone should write a series about the chubby ninja fighting crime. S(he) stops hate in its tracks and turns it all to double rainbows and ice cream sundaes with sprinkles.

Needless to say, this is one of the small things that brings me joy everyday. Thanks, Sleep Talkin’ Man!

Stephen Colbert talks Weightism

UPDATE: Here’s a link to the video, courtesy of Jamie. Now that I’ve watched it again, I find more things disgusting about it than I did before. I think what really bothers me is that I feel like the audience isn’t laughing at the satire of what he’s saying, but rather laughing AT fat people. That, I believe is why I’m so disturbed by this video which is fantastic otherwise…

Last night, I was lolly-gagging on the internet in my bedroom when my mother shouted to me, “Chrissy!” I went running upstairs. It turns out that she was watching the Colbert Report and Stephen Colbert had just said something about Weightism. That’s right, you heard it, a big TV show host says something about WEIGHTISM. I couldn’t believe it.

I can’t find the video at the moment, (see UPDATE above) but I spent a good amount of time being angry about his satirical commentary on America being the fattest nation. He always does his satirical read to introduce his topic, and this one fed right into the normal weghtist stereotypes: fat people eat whole pies, fat people eat a lot of cheese (?), fat people like to eat….a lot, etc. After hearing this monologue, I started to walk away, disgusted, when my mom called me back. “He’s bringing out a professor!”

Luckily, as usually happens on Colbert, he then proceeded to have a very rational and very HAES-filled discussion with Dickinson College’s Professor Amy Farrell. The very first point she made was that some people can eat junk food and be thin and others can eat junk food and be fat, and that BOTH of those groups are unhealthy. She continued with the wonderful HAES approach that by being physically active and eating right, you can be healthy without regard to your weight.

The interview continued for a while longer, and it was all very good: discussing weight-prejudice, how fat people have a harder time getting jobs, etc, and I was very pleased that this discussion was being had.

However, I still have major issues with Colbert’s topical introduction. I know it’s his gimmick to be satirical and present the opposite opinion of what he really believes, but I just can’t get over the fact that in order to introduce the topic of weightism, he had to crack jokes about fat people being x/y/z. Afterward, though I was pleased with the discussion, I still left feeling a little put out. I know that sometimes when I watch that show, I listen to his funny monologue, and then I switch channels when the experts come on (because often, I’m only watching for the jokes). If I had done that last night (and I almost did), I would’ve missed the real substantive part of the interview.

I’d love to hear what everyone else thinks about it. But I just feel kind of put off about the whole thing, even after seeing such a popular show have such an important discussion. I’ll try to post the video as soon as I find it so you can judge it for yourself.

The Other

I Stumbled across this image in a fit of boredom today. I didn’t run across it in any particular context (though the URL seems to indicate it was part of a news article), so just looking at it straight up, what do you think of it?

On the one hand, I think it’s a great idea to have bigger seats available, to accommodate a wide range of sizes. On the other hand, why have just one? Why not make ALL the seats bigger? Having just one like that is awful othering. Plus, what if you want to sit in a bigger seat, but the only one in the row is already taken? I also find it interesting that it seems to be set at a lower height than the other chairs. I am not sure what the logic behind that would be.

Do you see this as a sign of progress? Or do you think it’s more like a finger-shaking, shaming thing?

Update: Commenter BamaGal notes that the chair is probably blue and lower to the ground because it is meant to be a handicap chair. I apologize for not considering that possibility before – that would be my able-bodied privilege, there.

I have now done what I should have done in the first place and gone to the source URL and searched The Sun’s website for the article for which the image is an accompaniment. Here is the article:

SPECIAL chairs for obese passengers have been installed in Brazil’s trains and stations to cope with the country’s soaring obesity rate.

The seats are nearly twice as wide and can support passengers weighing up to 40 STONE without breaking.


Priority ... for larger passengers

But Metro bosses in Sao Paulo say the chairs are being ignored by bigger passengers, possibly because they are too ashamed to use them.

A sign above each seat shows a cartoon of a bulky passenger that reads: “Priority chair for obese people.”

One manager said: “It may be that they don’t want to think of themselves as fat or that they resent being put in with pensioners and the disabled.”

Does this added context change how you feel about the chairs?

Whip It

I went to see the new movie, Whip It yesterday, though I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. I knew going in that Drew Barrymore directed it, and that Ellen Page was the star, but other than that, I didn’t know much. The movie was actually  filmed in a city near my hometown, and my brother had the opportunity to be an extra in a few scenes. I was hoping to be able to see him in a few shots (if you know what he was wearing, you’d catch his shoulder a few times), but I didn’t really know if the movie would be any good.

I was definitely pleasantly surprised. Jos at Feministing reviewed it on Friday (an excellent review), and this is how they described the movie:

Bliss (Ellen Page) lives in Bodeen, Texas, a very small town where not much happens. Bliss’ mother (Marcia Gay Harden) wants her competing in beauty pageants, but when Bliss meets a roller derby team from Austin she finds a new passion.

Jos goes on to discuss the fact that the entire film has such strong female characters. To me, it was super impressive that the characters themselves were so vivid. Add in the fact that the women were such strong role models, and I fell in love with all of them. The male characters, as well, seemed to be respectful and supportive of the women characters. It was a very balanced dynamic.

I also really enjoyed the mother-daughter theme, and the empowerment that came with that relationship. The film really spins the classic mother-wants-girly-girl-daughter-while-daughter-rebels plot into something new and empowering. Even the seemingly least empowered woman in the film (Mom) turns out to be not as bad as we think.

I agree with Feminsting that the film lacks queer representation and people of color. But overall, I think it’s a step towards the type of films we need in our society.

In the end, I loved this film because it was a feel-good, wonderfully made, and overall delightful story that had feminist themes. It really did ask you to “Be Your Own Hero.” I commend Drew for making her directorial debut in this brilliant film.

WTF Thursday: WTF is Twitter?

Now, all of a sudden in my life, I’m finding Twitter popping up EVERYWHERE. News articles, blogs, friend’s websites, newspapers, tv shows, etc. And I have a question for everyone out there: WTF is Twitter?

Pretty much all I know about it is that there’s some sort of language to typing/referencing others, and basically, you’re answering the question “What are you doing?” (Because that is what the homepage of Twitter tells me.)

From what I actually understand of Twitter’s wikipedia page, you regularly update on what you’re doing, and people become your “followers.” Now this sounds like an interesting prospect for blogs/bloggers, but seems to be an increasingly creepy thing for individuals. I don’t think I want to be hoarded by “followers,” nor would I like to creepy-stalk someone else by becoming their follower. But the concept of “micro-blogging” intrigues me. It seems like it might be marginally useful, and at the same time be an interesting social experiment.

So, anyone want to fill me in on WTF is Twitter?

Becoming What We’re Called

Alice Walker
Alice Walker

I’m in a Creative Nonfiction writing class right now, and for yesterday’s class we read Alice Walker’s essay, “Becoming What We’re Called.” The essay is about Walker’s reaction to a friend saying, “I’ll see you later, you guys.” to a group including her. Walker’s reaction is to tell her that she doesn’t particularly like being class a “guy” Her essay evolves into an insightful piece about being woman, being black, and being proud of who one is.

She then moves to a powerful part of the piece where she describes finishing Warrior Marks a film about female genital mutilation that she made with a friend. She describes the premiers of the film in many European and American cities, and how many women would call them “you guys” each night, when asking questions about the fim.

The women asking us these questions seemed blind to us, and in their blindness we felt our uniqueness as female creators disappear. We had recently been in societies where some or all of a woman’s genitalia were forcibly cut from her by other women who collaborated–wholeheartedly, by now–with men. To us, the refusal to acknowledge us as women seemed a verbal expression of this same idea. It made us quite ill.

For me, this is where the essay hits its heart: the dissolution of femininity inherent in “you guys.” The removal of the female gender, or the debasing of it to something other; to the masculine. I find this bit of the essay particularly compelling.

She continues, ending with this bit, describing her friend:

When I look at her I see a black woman daily overcoming incredible odds to live a decent, honest, even merry life. Someone who actively nurtures community wherever she goes. […] I don’t respect “guys” enough to obliterate the woman that I see by calling her by their name.

I find this debate about the use of “you guys” to be particularly compelling. While in Ecuador and using Spanish, when I was in mixed company, we were called “chicos.” I have a particular memory of one of my male peers, an American, saying goodbye to a group of women at the table. He got up and said, “Chao….chicas.” with a long pause there in the middle. Then he turned to us and said, “but if I were still sitting with you, you’d all be chicos.”

We looked at him like he was about to get a beating, and he laughed it off. We often made fun of these language absurdities. But upon return, I found English similarly lacking. Now, I don’t know what to call people. I often say “you all” or use some sort of general term of endearment like, “hello, dears/lovelies/friends.” But I still don’t have the vocabulary for mixed groups. And it gets awkward. Especially when you recognize the fact that some people don’t even identify with male or female.

It makes me wonder, do we really become what we’re called? Or does it just make it that much harder to become who we really are, in the face of the normalization of gender?

The Obesity Epidemic: What Really Gets To Me

I am currently in a TV Production Studio class at my college, and yesterday we took a field trip to the local CBS affiliate to see their studio and how they run their 5:00 news. It was really really exciting for me. I just thought it was so cool–seeing how everything works, watching the reality of the show as it’s happening, and hearing the newscasters make snarky comments while a segment was rolling in. Very neat.

Unfortunately, one of the stories was a health story alleging that obesity is as likely to kill you as smoking. I don’t know what study they were citing, but apparently new research has concluded that you’re equally likely to die early if you’re fat as you are if you’re a smoker.

It was at this moment that it became perfectly clear to me what my major problem is with the “obesity epidemic.” What the news, society, doctors, medicine at large, etc. fail to acknowledge is that it’s not obesity that’s killing people; it’s the problems they associate with obesity. Under the title of obesity fall high blood pressure, immobility, heart disease, high cholesterol, etc. etc. etc. Obesity itself doesn’t kill people; all these other problems kill people. And whereas the scientific community would like to say that obesity=these problems, I think most of us in the fat-o-sphere are living proof that that is not true.

I also think that the large number of individuals who are thin and have these same issues are proving them wrong as well. My normal-weight (by BMI standards) friend has high cholesterol. Another of my friends (who is normal weight by BMI standards) has high blood pressure. The list goes on. How does the medical community reconcile that? They are just health issues. They aren’t caused by anything more than genetics, maybe an unhealthy diet. When they show up in fat people, it’s considered a result of their obesity.

I just will never understand it. It’s like obesity is a virus, like the flu, that’s going to kill you slowly. Or that your fat is just going to strangle you one day while you sleep. WTF is that? I’m never going to understand it.

On the other hand, I do have high cholesterol. I’m trying to get it under control with diet and exercise and medication. But it’s in my family history. My dad has high cholesterol, my mom has high cholesterol. Two of my grandparents (one from each side) have had bypass surgeries due to blocked arteries. It’s flippin’ genetic. But still, when I walk into a doctors office, the first thing I’m told is that I need to get my weight under control. Like weight will solve all of my issues.

It wasn’t until recently that I really figured out how to approach this whole deal (with HAES as my guidance): we, in our society, and me personally, need to shift our focus from WEIGHT to HEALTH. It’s one simple thing. We need to switch from treatments for OBESITY to treatments for particular HEALTH ISSUES. Although I’m sure losing weight will help my cholesterol, losing weight isn’t enough, nor is it likely to happen quickly. I can start right now to change my cholesterol by eating right, working out, etc. But if I were to focus on my weight, as the treatment for my disease is asking me to do, I doubt I would get healthier. In fact, I’d just have an unhealthy view of the world.

This all just really clicked in my head today, though I’ve been thinking of it (not in these terms) for a while. It’s all in how we think about things. Sadly, I think that in the case of most of our society’s health issues, it needs to start with mind over matter: get it right, then make it right.

Oscars 2009: Review from a Fat Girl who loves movies

Kate Winslet, Best Actress

Kate Winslet, Best Actress

I am an avid fan of the Academy Awards. The glamour, the glitz, and most importantly the recognition it provides for amazing artists attracts me every year to sit down on my couch and watch the event. This weekend, I spent a glorious few days at home partially so that I could watch the Oscars with my mother. Around 6:00PM yesterday, we sat down for the pre-show with popcorn and settled in for the night.

Now, there’s lots I could say about the fashion at the Oscars. Yes, there are the long and involved stories about women dieting for months just to look good in a dress. Yes, we see the scary-thinness of our unrealistic beauty standards for women. Yet still, I am drawn to watching the red carpet every single year. I’ve decided that what it comes down to is every woman’s desire to dress up, look good, feel good, and show off. It’s what draws me to Regency films–elaborate balls with fabulous ballgowns. Fancy dress at its best. And that’s what the red carpet is for me.

I did have to sit through a few comments from my mother about how thin/fat people looked. One particular moment was when she said that Angelina Jolie looked pretty bad when she won her Oscar all those years ago, and that her face looked much fatter. When they cut to Angelina arriving a few seconds later, I pointed out how sickly thin she looked in explaination: “That’s because she’s so sickly thin nowadays.”

My mom also claimed that Queen Latifah (who I squeeled over when she walked onto the carpet) looked particularly good. She quickly claified saying “trim” instead of “good” and I said, “She’s always looked great. She looks like Queen Latifah to me!”

Once we got to the show (after squeeling about Tim Gunn, from Project Runway, acting as one of the three hosts of the offical Red Carpet show), we were plesantly surprised by the changes to the ceremonies. First, we should start with Hugh Jackman’s opening number, which made us laugh so hard we were crying. Next moment, they started what I hope will be a tradition of announcing the actor/actress nominees by bringing out legends in their categories, and having each legend give a beautiful speech on the talent of each particular actor/actress. We were immediately sobbing. All the actresses started to cry. It was truly a celebration of the talents of the nominees. It shifted focus from the winner, and back to the celebration of these nominees’ achievements.

As the night progressed, I don’t think I really stopped crying. It was one of the beautiful, most poignant Academy Awards I’ve ever seen.

Dustin Lance Black, Screewriter, Milk

Dustin Lance Black, Screewriter, Milk

Highlights for me included: Heath Ledger winning for Supporting Actor (a point at which I sobbed as his family accepted the award), Kate Winslet winning Best Actress (I literally WHOOP-ed and jumped up and down ’cause Kate Winslet is my Homegirl), and finally when Sean Penn won for Best Actor for his portrayal of Harvey Milk(which was unexpected, but absolutely exactly what I wanted to happen). Sean proceeded to give a beautiful speech about how equal rights are needed for all, no matter what.

Similarly, when Dustin Lance Black won for Screenplay for Milk, I almost died of joy. If anyone deserved to win, it was him. He, too, gave a beautiful speech about how he hoped won day to be able to live his life with equal rights and spoke directly to all gay and lesbian children out there, telling them that God does love them, no matter what society, their churches, families, etc. say.

The only downside of the night for me were the various hints that Hollywood is still a Boy’s Club. Of the winners, only three were women (two of which were for the Actress categories). The only woman to win from outside of an all-female category was Megan Mylan for “Smile Pinki,” a documentary short. Penelope Cruz, and Kate Winslet were the other female winners.

One instance of this bias also showed itself on the Red Carpet. Zac Efron and Vanessa Hudgens were walking the Carpet separetly, and doing interviews one right after another. Ryan Seacrest interviewd  Zac first, asking him what he was doing in the show, and what his next project was. Five seconds later, he turned to Vanessa and started their interview by asking “Who are you wearing?” They then proceeded to discuss the dress, and what she was doing in the award show, before moving on. Ryan didn’t ask Vanessa what her next project was, or really any semi-relevant question. It was all fluff.

I’m trying not to let this stuff darken my impression of the whole show, but I think everyone needs to take note. It’s one of my most far out dreams to one day stand on that stage and accept an award for a film I’ve made. I can only hope that as a woman, I’ll be given that opportunity.

So, in sum, there were some incredibly beautiful and inspiring moments that restored some of my faith in humanity. Let’s hope next year, they can do it again.