Rules & Regulations

Let me tell you a story.

As I have mentioned here before, I spent almost a whole decade thinking my physical symptoms were all psychosomatic because that was what everyone kept telling me. Doctors soon decided that all I needed was psychotherapy, and thus I got to meet many shrinks, saw the inside of a psychosomatic clinic and a regular psych ward, was put on several anti-depressants that failed to help, and went to a therapy group for roughly five years. At one point I even ended up in a supervised home for “troubled” teenagers and young adults, which is where our story begins.

You see, they had this crazy system. Looking back at it now, I can only describe it as a bizarre mix of the Weight Watchers “points” system, a classic MMORPG and so-called “rating communities” on LiveJournal. If you happen to be familiar with all three, you should be able to see why the idea of combining them does NOT sound like something to try at home. Not that there’s anything wrong with MMORPGs, mind you, it’s just that … they’re not real.

What led to the system’s creation was that some of the people who used to live there before me were upset about the many rules and regulations that they had to follow although many seemed so unnecessary. For example, you were not allowed to bring your own computer or television just because some people might sometimes neglect their social lives if they have access to those. Never mind that other people might use a computer for great hobbies such as creative writing or web design, and even watching tv or – shock and horror – playing video games can have benefits depending on the situation.

However, the people who worked in that place – I’ll call them “supervisors” since I am not sure which English term fits best – knew that if they allowed 7 out of 9 inhabitants to do something which the remaining two could not be trusted with, hell would break loose. So they formed a discussion group with the kids who had brought up the issue and together they conjured up a … great big real life role-playing game made of utter fail. I understand that they meant well, but as far as I’m concerned they could have just as well written the ultimate manual on how to delude unsuspecting victims into thinking they are being treated equally when they clearly aren’t.

Here’s how it worked: If the supervisors thought you were suddenly better at, say, handling money than two months ago, you moved up a rank on the “money” scale. If your social skills seemed to have improved, you moved up a rank on the “social” scale. There were several other categories beside these and the highest rank for each was 6. Now, certain combinations such as 4 “money” + 5 “social” or even 4 “hygiene” + 3 “social” + 5 “money” + 4 “school/work” would grant you access to extra privileges. (Getting your own computer was a giant chain of fours, fives and sixes that was nigh impossible for any average person to achieve, by the way. They didn’t tell me that when I moved in, so I practically had to relearn HTML, CSS and how to use Photoshop from scratch after more than a year of being unable to practise. Some of the things I forgot during that time seem to be lost forever. Yes, I’m still mad. *fumes*)

You may be wondering why they didn’t just assess everyone’s capabilities on an individual basis, but I guess they didn’t want to deal with being constantly told that they were treating someone unfairly. Once the system was in place, they could simply tell you that of course you could have a tv, you’d just have to meet the requirements first like everybody else!! Ah, the joys of equality.

One of the system’s major flaws was that in order to prevent recollection bias and huge differences between one supervisor’s assessment and another’s, they were given a “helpful” chart in which they could note down, daily, what everyone was doing. This happened in the form of points. Instead of having to actually talk to us and use their brains, they could look at a predefined list of activities which they deemed likely to indicate competence in one of their categories, and mark the ones that they had seen us do. Brilliant, just brilliant. In essence, if you forgot to mention that you had exercised, you didn’t get any exercise points. Obviously you could also easily fake having exercised, but I don’t even want to go into that. The mere thought hurts.

Aside from the technical inefficacy, there were at least two other aspects of the chart that I found deeply troubling: One, it didn’t take each individual’s motivation for doing said activities into account. What if someone was in the process of developing an eating disorder accompanied by compulsive exercising? What if someone desperately hated exercise and only did it for the points? (Mind you, I am only using exercise as an example because I don’t remember many of the other activities on the list or why they were on it.)

Two, how on earth are people supposed to learn that something is good for them if you present it to them like a tool to get a computer?? They’ll move out and never do it again. Good job.

I mean, all of the abilities that they were trying to teach us were useful. Being able to handle money is useful. Being able to make friends is useful. Taking showers on a regular basis and washing your clothes is, at the very least, recommended. But shouldn’t they have asked us what made those things hard to do and, depending on the answer, either explained the benefits to us or helped us practise? Instead they were like, “Do this and we’ll give you a reward.” Lessons learned: This ability has no merits of its own, so I’ll pretend to be interested as long as I’m here and forget about it as soon as possible once I can.

Me, I was different anyway. I never had to do anything to reach rank 5 or 6 in both “money” and “hygiene” almost immediately – but I couldn’t get past 3 or 4 in “health”, “social” and “work” no matter how hard I tried. And believe me, I did try – not because I believed in their stupid system, but simply because I actually wanted to get better for no other reason than that it would have been nice. Unfortunately I had little to no interest in the rewards I got for just being myself, and I could only roll my eyes whenever I received yet another one. No, thanks, I didn’t want to stay out past curfew! What I wanted was my computer, which I needed for my hobbies. But since I didn’t have many friends and couldn’t go to work everyday due to my illness, I was doomed to infinite boredom. None of this helped me get better at all, which if you’ll remember was the whole POINT.

Then, of course, you have to consider that one can be perfectly healthy and still not excel in any of those categories. In fact I would go so far as to say that not everyone needs all of the abilities mentioned above. A disabled person doesn’t need to keep up a job. A person who is happy working in a simple profession does not need a social network to build a career (I despise the notion of using “connections” this way in the first place). A hermit doesn’t need to be good with money. Are all of those people insane? Do they need to be fixed? You can’t help anyone by telling them what they’re supposed to need and want. That awful place allowed for no individuality whatsoever.

If anyone’s still reading, thank you. Now, what’s the morale of the story? Treating everyone the same does not create equality, I suppose. I just wanted to get this out.

Bonus story (this time, a short one): Back when I was taking piano lessons, I enjoyed them a lot at first and looked forward to them every week. However, one day I couldn’t go because I wasn’t feeling well. My mother thought I was just being lazy and got angry with me because she was the one paying the fee. The same thing happened again a while later and eventually I started to dread Fridays out of fear I might feel unwell again. Then I started to associate piano lessons with that feeling. I stopped enjoying them. I still liked playing, but not necessarily on Fridays. The hobby I had taken up out of my own accord had been turned into a job that needed to be done each week no matter if I wanted to or not. Pressure reduces fun. I never became a true musician and the sad part is, I have a feeling that many people never get their dream jobs for exactly the same reason. Who knows how many brilliant inventions we’ve missed this way?

I Caught Teh Fatz!

Dear Fat Acceptance Movement,

I hereby inform you that I am no longer a mere Thin Ally. From now on you can consider me to be, for all intents and purposes, Officially Fat. What does “official” mean, you may ask, since we all know that BMI = bullshit (and I don’t even own a scale)? Well, I went clothes shopping a while ago and discovered that I could suddenly extend my search to include the plus-size department.

There you have it, fat is contageous after all. 😉

Jokes aside, I suspect that either my meds are at fault or it’s the fact that I’ve been feeling good enough to actually eat on a regular basis for a few weeks now. Both are good things and so far the weight gain hasn’t had any negative effects on my life, either, so it doesn’t really bother me. However, I would be lying if I said it didn’t bother me at all.

I feel like anything I have to say about food and weight doesn’t matter anymore. I don’t even look all that different than before and yet I suddenly expect people to look at me and think, “Oh, she’s just making excuses.” It is ridiculous. I am reminded of volcanista’s guest post at Shapely Prose:

It makes me angry (at the world, not FJ) that because I’m not one of those fat fat fatties, I can bring some cred to this whole FA thing: look, a skinny girl who cares about fat people!! hey, what was this post about, again? Yeah, I have automatic credibility on the subject of fat prejudice, despite never having experienced it firsthand, while actual fat people are just wrong/deluded/lying. THAT makes sense.

That “automatic credibility” was just taken from me. Awesome. Just because I’m a little bit healthier than before.

On Giving Up

You know how people always say that accepting your body as it is equals giving up, slacking off, letting yourself go etc.? Well, let me tell you a story.

When I was eight or nine years old, I wanted to learn how to play the guitar and started to take lessons. However, those lessons were boring and I suspected that I would not be taught anything interesting until several months later, so I stopped going and occasionally practised by myself until I forgot about it. After a long time I eventually took up playing again, searched the internet for chords and tried to teach myself for a while. Then I suddenly wanted an electric guitar. To make a long story short, I somehow managed to acquire one and took lessons again, but in the end I decided that apparently the guitar was just not the right instrument for me.

Drumming seemed to be my thing instead. I tried it, loved it, got a drumset for Christmas, continued to use it on a regular basis, and I know I would still be doing it now if my living conditions weren’t preventing me from it.

Would you say I’m lazy because I gave up trying to turn myself into a guitarist? No? Then why do you think fat people are lazy if they give up trying to turn themselves into thin people?

It’s exactly the same concept. You may think that accepting one’s body is easier than learning how to drum because you don’t have to actively do anything, but any FA blogger would tell you that it is in fact much harder. For most people, accepting their bodies is by no means a piece of cake. Deciding to work on that instead of trying another diet can require lots of will power and courage. FA is not an excuse for laziness.

Fat Acceptance and I

As a matter of fact, I’ve been interested in Fat Acceptance for roughly six months now. Recent discussions have inspired me to think about the movement even more intensely than usual, leading to some great “light bulb” moments as well as moments of doubt. Once I ended up so confused that I had trouble speaking about the topic for two days, and in the midst of those I created this blog. Well, I’m glad that I did. The heated comment debates that I engaged in for a week or so were exhausting, but a whole lot of good came out of them, too.

When I first stumbled upon FA blogs, I was stunned by the endless accounts of unfair treatment that fat people had to suffer. I gasped. I actually cried a few times. I told my fiancé about it, who seemed to wonder what drugs I was on and yet shared my outrage. I had never done anything to become (or stay) thin, I was tired of being applauded for something I hadn’t done, and I knew from close observation of family and friends that those who gained weight at some point hadn’t suddenly turned into pigs at all.

From that standpoint, Fat Acceptance sounded like the Best Idea Ever to me. What I didn’t understand at the time was the scientific aspect: Hadn’t I read in a magazine that “excess” body fat was unhealthy? Apparently those people thought otherwise. Now, contrary to popular belief I did NOT have one look at Junkfood Science and was immediately converted to the Church of Fat or somesuch nonsense. In fact, it was not until a few days ago that I mananged to sort out my last remaining issue with a certain point that I’d previously had trouble understanding (I’ll make a separate post about that one later). Today I can finally say that it all makes sense in my head and you won’t find a single contradiction in my arguments, but it took me a long time to get there.

As a general rule, I try not to believe anything. If there is proof for something, or if a theory sounds logical, I’ll accept that as a temporary “truth” until you can give me a valid reason to reconsider. Nobody has provided me with such a valid reason yet, so I’ll continue supporting Health At Every Size and writing about Fat Acceptance on this blog.

Introduction

I’m not entirely certain where I’m going with this blog, but I can tell you that I spend a lot of time thinking about health for several reasons. It seems that I’ve been suffering from fibromyalgia or something like it for approximately 8 or 9 years, which I never noticed because I’d already had a little psychosomatic problem (headaches) for a while before the other symptoms started, and unfortunately I assumed that they were all part of the same thing. The headaches stopped eventually, but the rest only got worse.

I have been called a lazy, attention-seeking hypochondriac and an irresponsible liar, I was advised to just go to bed earlier and to exercise more, to get out more, to make more friends, to eat healthier, to drink more water, to think more positive thoughts and to stop thinking so much … among other things. To each suggestion that wasn’t completely ridiculous, I reacted with hope. Contrary to popular belief I am actually an optimist, so I tried everything enthusiastically. If I failed to keep up my new lifestyle, I would eventually have another go at it. And another. And another. If I kept it up and nothing changed, I figured that I must be cheating myself somehow or that I wasn’t doing enough yet.

I was not until two years ago that I began to consider the possibility that I might just be ill. However, I still wasn’t experiencing all the major symptoms of my disease – those appeared after my son’s birth in January 2008. So far I haven’t found a doctor who could diagnose me properly, but I’m working on it.

Another reason why I spend a lot of time thinking about health is that I stumbled into the Fat Acceptance movement by accident earlier this year. I am not fat myself, but I used to worry about what I eat a lot and I’m engaged to a very cuddly man. 😉

Well, that’s my story.

[This post has been edited a few times.]