Monday, March 15, 2010

Acceptance? Denial? It's a fine line.....

I've not seen the movie "Precious." But what I have seen is the storm of discussion it's started in online magazines and radio talk shows about the movie's star Gabourey Sidibe. She's a very heavy person. She's also African-American. Some have discussed whether or not an African-American actress (of any size) peaks after such a noted performance (they ask if Halle Berry was at the top of that mountain when she did "Monster's Ball" and it's been downhill from there?) A lot of the dialogue, however, deals with Gabourey's size and her seemingly profound sense of self-confidence in spite of that size. Consider this article:

She's apparently caught flack because her life and personality off screen are very different from the character she portrayed in the movie. I was surprised to find that some folks found it offensive that someone so happy played a character that was so sad. Huh? Was anyone offended by Anthony Hopkins' performance in "Silence of the Lambs" given the fact that he isn't actually a cannibal? What surprised me more, however, was that folks are amazed that someone who has such obvious physical issues can be that confident and apparently love themselves so much. It goes back to a very trendy catch-phrase in our "Starbuck's/send me a text and we'll do lunch/I'm going to tell everyone on Facebook how perfect my life is" world....that trendy phrase is "size-acceptance."
"Size acceptance" is a movement. "Size acceptance" is a mindset. "Size acceptance" is the basis on which social groups have been formed. "Size acceptance" has, for a long time, confused the hell out of me. I see every end of that spectrum. I've been on the inside of this issue but, though not at my ideal weight, I'm no longer considered morbidly obese. When I was morbidly obese, however, I had no desire to accept weighing as much as I did. I bemoaned every step I took that hurt my knees. I noticed every stare I got in public. I went years without attending a baseball game because it wasn't physically possible. I avoided contact with children because they were the worst about pointing and laughing. I slept terribly because huge amounts of weight damn near suffocated me if I was lying the wrong way. I sat in job interviews and knew that I didn't have a snowball's chance of getting the job because the person doing the interview was looking at me as if someone had just dumped a pile of garbage right in the middle of their office. I once had an oral surgeon (a really grumpy, older gentleman) tell me that the reason I was having such intense pain in the right side of my face was because of extra weight hanging off my neck. A week later I went to a different oral surgeon (who looked like he was about 15 years old...the ink wasn't yet dry on his diploma.) Without taking so much as an x-ray he looked in my mouth and saw a tooth that needed to come out. Pain gone. The old guy was one of several doctors I saw when I was that large who had no desire to find any reason for any symptom other than my size. That's but the tip of the proverbial iceberg of my life as an overweight individual. Why would I want to "accept" anything about any of that?
But it's complicated. I do think it's important to not let your weight define you. Self-confidence is important, no matter your size. However, I fear that a lot of this "size-acceptance" is an opportunity to deflect the matter at hand. Instead of admitting the problem and realizing that there's every good reason to do something about it, it's easier to say "I love myself this way! I'm big and beautiful! If you don't think so go screw yourself!!!" I didn't love anything about myself when I weighed over 500 pounds. My biggest motivator in having bariatric surgery and losing a lot of weight was the realization that my life was about to be drastically shorter. A doctor looked me in the eye and, with all sincerity, told me that I'd never see fifty years old. And, even though I didn't think enough of myself to change, I couldn't bear the thought of making my wife a widow in her forties when there was something I could do to keep that from happening.
I don't intend to come across as someone who's lost a lot of weight and is now overly-critical of those who still need to do the same. Truth be told, I still have HUGE confidence and self-esteem issues. The weight's gone but I've found new things to not like about myself ("my job sucks...I'm a bad wife married a loser.") I'm quite certain my attitude about size-acceptance would offend some folks. But it's not my intent to be judgemental nor demeaning. And why are size-acceptance groups always overweight folks? I would reckon the super model who eats an apple a week and makes herself vomit after every bite needs to take a timeout herself. Is she "accepting" of her ribs sticking out and her shallow face? Is acceptance actually acceptance or is it denial?

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