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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

You're Fat! You're Fired!

As if the social pressure of being overweight wasn’t bad enough, it now appears that fat hatred has manifested economically in a very alarming way.

Check out the link above that one of my Facebook friends posted this week. Japan’s government has declared a war on fat. EVERYONE over the age of 40 will have their waistline monitored. Men are allowed waists of 33 ½ ”, women 35 ½ ”. Anything over that measurement is considered overweight, and corporations face huge fines if their employees do not weigh or measure into those guidelines.

Think about that for a moment. Imagine what it would be like if this kind of edict drifted overseas to North America … and I honestly believe it won’t be long before it does. Can you imagine being at work one day, and called into your boss’s office for a discussion about your weight? Can you imagine being told that if you don’t lose weight, you’re gone? That’s what would happen if your company was fined because of your weight. You would be given a few warnings, a few chances to comply, then given your walking papers.

Imagine being under that kind of pressure. Not only are most people under the gun these days as far as being able to pay their bills and pay off debts. Imagine having the added pressure of needing to lose weight SIMPLY TO KEEP YOUR JOB.

Imagine the added humiliation of having your thin co-workers who conveniently fit into the guidelines sit back and watch you struggle to meet this added pressure. Maybe they’d place bets on whether you’d be able to pull it off, or how long you’d last before you got turfed. Maybe they’d all laugh about you in the lunchroom, watching you go through this hell.

Medical talking heads and just plain idiots in general will undoubtedly defend this fascist practice by saying that it is in the interest of public health, and that it’s for everyone’s own good. God knows the average working stiff doesn’t have the ability or sense to take care of themselves, so the government has to step in and do it for them. I wonder if the same idiots applauding this measure would be as enthusiastic if it became mandatory company policy for them to quit smoking, drinking and doing drugs, and having illicit sex (all in the interests of their better health, of course). Nah, don't think so.

The only part of this dogma that I actually think is beneficial is the exercise breaks twice a day. Not only is it good for your health, but it would break up the monotony of any desk job. Nothing wrong with that. It’s getting your waistline measured and being pressured to get down to government-regulation size that I think is unconscionable.

Thank God I’m self-employed. When I ditched the corporate world and resolved to work for myself, I thought it was only my sanity and integrity that benefited. In Japan, quite a bit more is at stake now. This is a horror story. We can only pray that this fascism doesn’t invade our shores.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Fat on Film at TIFF

Emma Levie as "Lena",
directed by Christophe van Rompaey.

I’ve been busy attending TIFF for the past couple of weeks, and for those of us film lovers, it’s a cinematic feast. For fat film lovers like me, however, it’s a rare treat to find a film that deals with the subject of fat girls. So I was understandably excited when I read the description for “Lena”, and made sure it was one of my choices.

Lena” is a Dutch film starring Emma Levie in the title role. Lena is a 17-year-old girl with the pitifully low self-esteem characteristic of many fat girls. In the opening scene, the camera is fixed on her face in closeup as she is having sex with some anonymous young guy in a dark back room. When he finishes with her, she asks him if it was okay. He says yes, and she tries to kiss him, but he quickly pulls away. “Hey. Don’t go falling in love or anything,” he tells her. Then he zips up and leaves.

So far, a pretty accurate depiction of what it’s like to be a sexually active fat girl. Many of us know what it’s like to be treated like a sexual receptacle, and not the girlfriend. We see Lena go from day to day watching her skinny friends chase guys and be chased by them, doing most of the work at a daycare centre, and getting criticized by her mother for her weight. She feels like an outcast and she is one. But one night, after a particularly lonely party, she’s heading home on her motorcycle and sees a young guy running down the street with cop cars pursuing him. She drives up alongside him and he smiles and says hi, in mid-stride. Then he hops on her motorcycle and they speed away.

This is how she meets Daan, exactly the kind of goodlooking young guy her friends go through like different shades of nail polish. He turns out to be really nice, and not only that -- he genuinely likes her. He asks for her number and actually calls. They become a couple, and he asks her to move in. She jumps at the chance, not only as a way to develop the relationship, but to escape her critical, suffocating mother.

Daan’s father is an odd loner, spending most of his time in an upstairs room, listening to jazz music and repairing musical instruments. Daan treats him like shit, but Lena feels drawn to him and begins spending time with him, bringing him tea and keeping him company. Meanwhile, Lena discovers that Daan is lying to her, committing petty crimes. Although Lena is a downtrodden fat girl, she still has something of a backbone, and confronts Daan with his lies. They get into a big fight and she leaves, going back to her mother’s apartment. Unfortunately, mom won’t let her move back in, so she’s on the street. Daan’s father comes to her rescue and allows her to sleep in his room. For awhile, the three of them co-exist in the house, but she and Daan’s father become closer, and one night he tries to kiss her. He tells her he thinks she’s beautiful. At first, she pushes him away angrily. But then, inexplicably, the next day she goes up to his room and they fuck like gangbusters.

Unfortunately, this is where the film began to degenerate for me. Many women jump into relationships prematurely, either because they’re desperate to have someone, or because they’re trying to escape a bad situation (and usually end up getting into another). When I was Lena’s age, I made similarly bad decisions, and maybe that’s why I reacted so strongly to this film.

One of the things that irritated me was that Lena wasn’t even particularly large. She was merely pudgy, at most. I want to see a film about a genuinely large girl or woman – 200 pounds and up – coping with life and the way her weight affects her, and triumphing over her challenges. I want to see a film about a fat girl who loves herself and refuses to be treated like shit. This film wasn’t it. Lena just kind of coasts through life, not thinking about her actions or the consequences of her actions. Perhaps it was realistic in the sense that her character was only 17, and how many of us make the wisest decisions when we’re 17? But Lena wasn’t stupid. She was a keen observer of the people around her (as all fat girls are), and she’d already had enough hard knocks in life to know better … and that’s what irritated me.

This film did a very good job, however, of showing how even a few pounds can make a huge difference in both the way the world sees a fat girl, and in the way she sees herself. When you’re constantly ignored, devalued, and criticized, unless you have an extremely strong sense of self and supportive people around you, you’re not going to make good decisions.

At the end of the film, all hell breaks loose when Lena confesses to Daan that his father has been “touching her”, and chaos ensues, with Lena fleeing back to her mother’s house. When the police show up on her doorstep, we can see that her character hasn’t evolved at all. She’s merely traded one bad situation for another, yet again.

Lena” could have been so much better. I wish this film had more of an uplifting message for us fat girls, and not merely relegate us to hopelessness, yet again.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Kinda-Big Kinda-Sexy

Last week, the show “Big Sexy” premiered on TLC. It’s about five plus-sized women living and working in the fashion world of New York City. They are a working model, an aspiring model, a fashion designer, a makeup artist, and manager of a plus-sized clothing store.

It is definitely refreshing to see a show about plus-sized women that is not dedicated to their struggle to lose weight. All five women are very attractive. They believe in themselves and are determined to succeed in love and life no matter how challenging it is for us plus-sized girls. That is a great message that definitely that needs to be out there.

However, I couldn’t help but notice quite a few contradictions with the show. I titled this blog entry “Kinda-Big Kinda-Sexy”, because out of the five women on the show, only one of them struck me as being notably big. The other four could be described as pudgy, chubby, or plump, but definitely not obese. Not that I considered the largest one obese, either … but she was the only one who had a body type remotely close to mine.

The opening scene of the show was immediately contradictory, because it showed aspiring model, Tiffany, squeezing and struggling to get into not one, but TWO body shapers! She was on her way to a fashion show with her friends, and she was hoping to get some modeling gigs by meeting with the designer after the show. I can understand her wanting to look her best and minimize all the lumps and bumps that are anthrax to the fashion industry, but I couldn’t help but think about what a hypocritical message it sent. The show is supposedly about five confident plus-sized women who love themselves and their bodies, yet here was this beautiful young woman huffing and puffing to squeeze her body into this elastic sausage casing. (We all know that’s what they really are.)

Tiffany is also the needy one on the show, constantly needing to be reassured and reminded that she is beautiful and sexy, to the point of grilling her ex during a game of pool about why they broke up and what he didn’t like about her.

Another scene that annoyed and bemused me was when the working model, a beautiful girl named Nikki, refused to get into a bikini for a fashion show – and this was a fashion show featuring other plus-sized women! She isn’t even fat – she is a little on the big side, with no lumps and bumps that I saw. But she adamantly refused to wear her bikini without putting on a cover-up. So much for body confidence and self-love … and this woman is a frickin’ model. Why would anyone go into a modeling career if they weren’t 100% confident about their looks?

The makeup artist, Audrey, had conflicts about appearing in the fashion show because she was afraid her mother wouldn’t approve. Her mother was a stick-thin former fashion model who had always lectured her about her weight.

The only one of the five who genuinely seemed not to give a shit what anyone else thought of her was Leslie, the manager of the plus-sized clothing store. She was also the only one who got any action at a BBW party they attended, which just goes to show you … confidence is attractive.

Granted, the show does reveal the reality of life for plus-sized women. One scene showed them being denied entry to a nightclub (unless they paid $30, when all the skinny chicks were getting in for free). Another scene showed a fashion designer being unconvincingly polite to aspiring model Tiffany when she asked her if she’d ever hire her to do a show. (She said yes, but we all know she was full of shit.) One disturbing scene at a BBW party showed a contestant at a thunder thighs contest shake her body in a frantic quest for attention and acceptance that I thought was incredibly demeaning.

The show did do a good job of demonstrating how difficult it is to actually love yourself in this society, and the contradictions we sometimes feel. A lot of us waver back and forth in our self-esteem. How many of us can actually say that we feel great about ourselves 100% of the time? It’s just not possible, with all the criticism we hear about large bodies on a daily basis.

That’s why I can only say they were “kinda sexy” as opposed to Sexy. A lack of self-acceptance, self-esteem, and self-love is not sexy at all, no matter how good you look. Any faked confidence you exude is easily detectable. Fake-it-till-you-make-it may work well in theory, but in actual practice, it’s as solid as a house of cards.

That’s the challenge for all of us. To love ourselves ALL THE TIME … not just every now and then.

Big Sexy airs Tuesdays at 10:00 pm EST on TLC.