More Thoughts on Fat… and Writing

The NY Times has an article about two shows hitting Broadway that deal directly with body perception, desire, and yes, fat. Eve Ensler of The Vagina Monologues fame is doing a one-woman show that examines her hatred for and later, her acceptance of, her “imperfect” stomach – imperfect because it’s not flat as an adolescent’s. Imperfect because it swells like, say, a woman’s.

More interesting to me (because I’ve heard less of people dealing with this issue) is Neil LaBute’s show “Fat Pig” which is about a man going out with a fat woman and dealing with the jeers, sidelong looks, and complete bafflement of his friends and co-workers about his dating choice. It’s not OK to jeer at somebody for dating somebody who’s of a different race or the same sex anymore (though it’s still done, of course), but fat, being categorized as a disease, is still OK for jeering.

I remember being at a social gathering with some absolutely gorgeous, fashionably thin, intelligent women (I always felt out of place in these groups in South Africa), and one of them saying off hand, “That gorgeous guy at the party, was he dating that fat girl? How can he be so gorgeous and dating a fat girl?”

To which someone replied, his voice heavy with sarcasm, “Maybe she has a really nice personality.”

I wanted to find a very, very dark corner and hide in it. It’s funny, to find yourself in a group of people who don’t “think of you that way,” and then catch them out at saying something disparaging about “one of those people.” Like being a lesbian hanging out with hetero friends who whip off some derogatory comment, and don’t even think to make some sort of gesture toward you like, “you’re not one of those people of course.” You’re so *not* “one of those people” in their minds that they don’t even think of you that way.

But as my body gets stronger, my metabolism ramps up, my appetite starts to wane, and I start condensing back down to a reasonably “average” size again (by next year I don’t think I’ll be able to really identify as a “fat girl” anymore in public [at least until I go on the upswing again] – though I’ll always see myself this way), there was something playwright Neil LaBute said that struck me as really interesting:

Like Ms. Ensler, Mr. LaBute has struggled with his weight and body image. In a preface to “Fat Pig,” he notes that he recently lost 60 pounds. In the process, he writes, he “discovered the preening fool who was living just beneath the surface of my usual self. Suddenly, the mirror became my friend. How I loved to rush home from a walk or jump up in the morning and study myself, checking to see if I looked a bit thinner.” But, Mr. LaBute adds, “I also noticed that I was writing less and less.”

As the weight came off, he was “writing less and less.”

He gained most of the weight back.

The two times in my life when I’ve been the most prolific, I was also at my highest weight.

They were also the times in my life when I felt the most out of control, the most anxious, the most depressed, and in the most despair. That’s what binge eating is about – exerting control when you feel out of control. And writing, for me, is (among many things) also a release of pent-up emotions. It’s a place where I can channel all of the crap that I can’t talk about or face up to.

The swing part of this is that what I was writing during my Dark Teatimes of the Soul wasn’t necessarily very good. There was just a lot of it. What’s ended up happening is that I’ll write these 700-1000 pages of shit, and then rewrite all of them when I’m in an “up” period, like Alaska or here in Chicago (I love that I can track my moods/stages of my life by place).

“So,” Jenn said when I brought this up, “The ideal writing life would be full of up and down periods.”

“Like my life,” I said. Ha. “I wonder how many writers, instead of picking up and moving different places to mess with moods and poverty levels, are just bipolar.”

I’d guess there are quite a lot of them.

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