Today’s word prompt was “fish.” I thought I’d bite. Via Daily Post: Fish

The summer I was seven years old is the last happy one I remember of my childhood.

My family spent two weeks out at my father’s business partner’s “farm,” which was really just a house on some land about an hour’s drive from Houston, Texas where we lived. I insisted on wearing a burnt orange bikini that was a bit too small for me. I was still young enough to be un-self-conscious, and I just loved that suit. I didn’t see my belly protruding out as any problem. The rolls of baby fat still at my waist didn’t concern me at all. Nor did I care that my butt crack peeked out in the back.

I wore it loud and proud, much to my parents’ chagrin. My mother hated it because it was “too revealing” (translation: my body made her uncomfortable.) My father, because it was “too revealing” (translation: he wanted me to stay a little girl forever.)

Me and my two older brothers spent many hours swimming in the swimming hole, a small  manmade body of water that had an anemic dock and several leafy trees ringing it that offered shade and respite from the unremitting Texas sun. There was a raft or two, and we’d all end up out by the hole, floating or swimming about.

My mom, who never swam and stayed inside to read her beloved crime novels, insisted I wear a t-shirt, to save my pale white skin from the dangers of skin cancer. I begrudgingly wore one, hating the extra layer between my skin and the water and the hot-but-still-moving-air slow breezes that the Texas heat sometimes mustered up.

Our dog Ginger would leap off the dock onto the raft with us, then slide off into the water. She’d paddle to the side of the hole and hunt for a pile of cow dung and then roll ecstatically in it.

I, too, was ecstatic, despite the darned t-shirt. My brothers were both entering their teen years, so the times we were together had siphoned down to a trickle. Here at the “farm,” they seemed to shed the new attitudes they’d picked up from junior high school. I had my Bubbies back to myself, and they had me giddy with laughter.

The only damper on the occasion was that we shared the swimming hole with the dreaded catfish.

Catfish, put there for ambiance, I suppose. Catfish get their name from prominent barbels which appear to be like cat’s whiskers on either side of the fish’s head. I had gotten it into my mind that those whiskers would sting me. Not just sting, but actually slice any skin that they touched.

You might think that such a fear would have kept me out of the water. But my brothers went in, so I was going in. I was not going to be a baby about it. Not me. Plus, it was hot as Hades. The choice between staying hot and sticky and getting some relief was no choice at all.

So in I would go. But boy, was it scary. Any slight movement in the water around me, and I was shrieking and lurching to cling to one or the other of my brothers. They’d toss me back in the water, away from the safety of their older brother-ness, and surges of adrenaline would shoot through me as I scrambled to get back to their vicinities.

Those two weeks would eventually come to an end, as would the summer. My brothers would adorn their new attitudes again. We’d never play together like that again.

But I can still remember the feeling of being in that water, and the odd mix of love and fear and safety. I loved every minute of it. I loved my brothers. I loved my burnt orange bikini. But I hated those catfish.

Fat is Not Funny (to Me)

My whole life I’ve been confused as to why people laugh at fat people.

You see it everywhere. Greeting cards with pictures on the front of a fat lady in a bikini or some big man holding a sandwich or something.

Popular culture is flooded with fat jokes and humor.

Character actors and comedians have made careers out of making fun of their own fat: John Candy, Roseanne, Homer, Fred Flintstone, the King of Queens, to name just a few.

Some of these people lost weight at some point in their careers and actually had trouble finding their new audience dynamic because so much of their appeal centered around their being fat.

People love to laugh at fat people.

I never thought fat was very funny.

Maybe because I was a heavy kid who was teased and bullied mercilessly in elementary and junior high schools for being overweight.

If you were ever that kid, you know it’s not funny.

Maybe because I grew up loving one of the greatest men I’ll ever know, my brother, who also happened to be obese. I’ve always been incredibly sensitive to jokes made at the expense of the overweight.

If you have ever had an obese relative, and know the suffering it creates for the relative and for the family and friends who love them…if you’ve witnessed first-hand the looks, the comments and mean behaviors of strangers…you don’t think fat is funny.

Fat shaming is a thing now. It has a name. It has been debated heatedly as something good.  (Shame as a motivational tool? Really?) And as something bad. (Fat people say that they are being discriminated against and just want to be accepted as they are regardless of a physical attribute, such as color or size of body.)

That fat shaming exists as an issue at all to me illustrates the total lack of understanding around the issue of being overweight. The issue of fat.

There are no greeting cards with junkies on the front. Or anorexic women or men. Why do we laugh at fat people? Why is there so little empathy for people struggling to lose weight?

Is it because generally most people think being overweight is someone’s fault and so the person deserves to be laughed at? Whereas there’s more room for forgiveness for a drug addict or some other more acceptable person who is afflicted by disease?

Is is because it is tied into the idea of sin? Gluttony is one of the seven deadly sins, also known as capital vices or cardinal sins. That goes way, way back into our social and cultural psyche…maybe it is encoded into our DNA so deeply that it has created a blind spot in our ability to have empathy or even understand what fat is.

Someone carrying extra weight is seen as a lazy loser, lacking will power, with too much appetite. Gluttonous. Lacking character and immoral. Disgusting.

I posit that most people, despite the over-saturation of information on dieting and other weight loss products that is out there, still view the issue of extra weight as a pure willpower issue.

Overweight or fat people are not commonly seen as a person who suffers from a disease, a food disorder, a reflection of an emotional disorder. As someone who learned to use food as a way to cope with life, in the same way an alcoholic or a heroin addict or a debtor uses those substances to handle their lives, in a disordered way.

I have a theory. I think that when people laugh at fat people, it is because on some level they are so uncomfortable at the literal evidence of pain that fat people are wearing. It cannot be hidden, the way an alcoholic’s or a bulimic’s or anorexic can. It’s out in plain view for all to see, a suit of pain, and on some level it reminds us of things maybe we also do not want to look at in our own lives. Our own appetites that we’ve learned to suppress. Our own uncomfortable feelings that we have not yet found a healthy outlet for.

We laugh because we see someone who is living out some revolution against something or someone on their own body landscape, and on some level it pisses us off because the person is not “towing the line” and keeping those feelings and desires stuffed down where we, as a society, have agreed such things should go.

So we express a cruelty towards these people in ways that in any other situation would be totally unacceptable and perhaps even unthinkable to us.

Why don’t we see fat people as people in pain? People who need help dealing with life differently? As people with a chronic disease?

Why do we still watch shows like The Biggest Loser that only address and promote the cosmetic issues of weight loss and not the underlying causes of the eating disorder: the person’s disordered behavior with food, a reflection of a disordered relationship to being in the world?

Why do we only want to get Physical Education back into schools when we need more than just “better eating” and to get kids moving to deal with the ever-growing numbers of obese children in this country? Those things are needed too, yes. But those things alone are not solving the issue. So they appear to not be working.

(Of course, this lack of understanding, this mis-education, is great for the diet product industry. It makes people constantly in search of the next big fad, the magic pill, the quick fix. Google and explore how much people spend each year on diets and pills and fads and you will see who benefits from the results of this misunderstanding towards fat and overweight.)

When will fat be treated as an emotional, behavioral issue, not a purely biological one?

As a disease like any other. Not a party joke. Not a greeting card.

I don’t know what to do to help this situation, to help educate and inform and shift the attitude towards fat, but I know something needs to be done.

Fat is not funny to me. When my brother died at 47 from complications of his obesity, I promise you, nothing about it was funny. He was a brilliant man with a wicked sense of humor and a huge, sweet heart. I will never stop grieving his death, and I miss him every single day.