Tonight in Dietland…

As I was driving home from a race this morning, licking my wounds after being beaten by one-tenth of a second by a guy in a hand-bike, I happened to hear an interview with Sarai Walker supporting her novel, Dietland. There aren’t a lot of novels that focus on militant fat people, but apparently Walker’s is just such a novel. And I hasten to add that I use the word “fat” because she used that word rather than “heavy” or “full-figured” or somesuch.

I’ve never been a fat (or heavy or full-figured) woman, so I’m not all that well equipped to comment in this area. For most of my life I was a fat man–not huge, but certainly carrying around sufficient weight that I would never make the cover of GQ. Does that count?

If Sarai walker is correct, then being a fat woman is a dreadful thing. She tells the interviewer as much on behalf of her main character.

You know, society hates fat people and she’s been stigmatized her whole life, so of course she hates herself and she wants to lose weight, which is of course understandable. But then when she meets the women of Calliope House, she begins to think about her relationship with her fat body in a different way. She begins to think, you know, maybe there’s nothing wrong with my body; maybe it’s the way that other people are treating me. And so I think that she comes to see it as a politicized issue, because it is. I mean, a fat body is always a politicized body.

I can’t argue that society has a dreadful bias against people who do not conform to expectations of appearance. I also can’t argue that this bias is more pronounced with regard to women than to men. Men, by and large, can get away with being fatter than women. That’s not fair.

My question, though, is whether unfair bias in one direction means that we should simply embrace fatness and dismiss it as irrelevant. Or do we shift the threshold for “fat” upward.

It’s important within the church that we look at people, as much as we are able, in the way that God sees us. In God’s eyes, minus the transformative power of Christ, we are all pitiful creatures swimming around in a cesspool. The “beautiful” people might only be 95% covered with sewage, while the outcasts–the fat, the skinny, the ugly, the scarred–are 98% covered. Would you really brag about that sort of difference? We also have to recognize that we have surfaces other than the exterior that can smeared with foulness. After all, didn’t Jesus say something about white-washed tombs?

At the same time that we attempt to look with eyes of love at others, regardless of their bodily defects, we all need to admit the 95% or 98% coverage of nastiness upon us and work toward cleaning ourselves up.

Sarai Walker seems to sympathize with her band of Fat Terrorists, as if being looked at in an unkind way justifies violent behavior. I’d have to disagree with her on that count. But I can’t ignore the fact that the fellow on the handbike is a bit “heavy.” If I had beaten him, who knows how he might have reacted.

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