11 Chapters
Medium 9781782204978

Chapter Eight: Memory, Shame, and the Fat Body—Pulling it all Together

Fuller, Cheryl Karnac Books ePub

Previously I wrote that I believe with all my Jungian heart that my fat is meaningful. It tells me that we develop symptoms when we are stuck in old patterns and fail to integrate creative potentials within our personality. Symptoms are not to be avoided or downplayed, but the meaning, which has often heretofore been missed, needs to be discovered in order for healing to take place. But that requires that my fat be a symptom of something, not a more basic state of being. The question remains—must it be a symptom in order to be meaningful, to have symbolic meaning for me?

Callan provocatively says:

A symptom is an untended memory. It is the voice of a forgotten or banished part of ourselves…Memory is the medicine of the psyche—even, and especially when the memories are dark. (Callan, 2004, p. 7)

I try this on. My fat is an untended memory. It is the voice of my negative relationship with my mother. Of my rage. My fears of dependency. Of abandonment. At least in part it is. Memory in the body. I recall master knitter Elizabeth Zimmerman said “One likes to believe that there is memory in the fingers; memory undeveloped, but still alive” (Zimmerman, 1981, p. 75). It is here that my delight in knitting, my foundation in analytical psychology and this work begin to meet in memory and the body. As Marie Louise Von Franz put it:

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Chapter Four: Dancing with Marion Woodman: Searching for Meaning

Fuller, Cheryl Karnac Books ePub

Jung's analytical psychology forms the foundation of my work and my thinking about the psyche, psychic life, dreams, therapy, symptoms. In my Jungian world, I accept that we develop symptoms when we are stuck in old patterns and fail to integrate creative potentials within our personality. Symptoms are not to be avoided or downplayed; their meaning needs to be discovered in order for healing to take place. In that way of understanding life, I accept that my fat is meaningful, but does that also mean that my fat is a symptom of something, that it is not merely one of several basic ways of being, of type of body? Perhaps being fat gives rise to a variety of symptoms? Or maybe it is the experience of being fat, of the daily trauma of membership in a stigmatized group that creates symptoms?

In general the fat acceptance community rejects any of what they see as pathologising psychological bases for being fat, but I believe it is a big mistake to entirely discard the reality that body is influenced by mind. I do agree that being fat is not in itself a mark of psychopathology, that neither physical nor mental health can be determined by a look at body size. So how do we explore and understand the meaning of fat without blaming or pathologising? How do we understand what fat and being fat symbolise without conflating that with cause or symptom?

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Chapter One: Life in the Panopticon

Fuller, Cheryl Karnac Books ePub

Panopticon:

1. An area where everything is visible.

2. A circular prison with cells distributed around a central surveillance station; proposed by Jeremy Bentham in 1791.

3. A prison so constructed that the inspector can see each of the prisoners at all times, without being seen.

I am a fat woman. I have been fat since I was five. As a young child, I used to hide from my uncle who would poke me and laugh and call me “Fatty” while singing “The Too Fat Polka”—how I hate that song. Too many times my mother told me I was “as big as the side of a house.” From early on I felt the sting and shame of being too big, too much. The humiliation of being weighed in gym class. The blind date that told his friend, within my earshot, that I was a “dog.” Knowing I was different and feeling shame for not being slender like other girls, like my mother. And being told too many times, “But you have such a pretty face” as if my body were an aesthetic crime.

An introvert, I am also shy, always a bit ill at ease in large groups or with strangers. Being fat only magnified that shyness. In my early thirties after years of dieting and battling against my weight, I tired of it all. I could not do one more diet, spend one more day obsessing about what I could and could not eat, one more night going to bed feeling an utter failure because I was hungry, because I was losing so slowly or not at all. Perpetually being on a diet meant that my days were filled with obsessing about what I could eat, what was forbidden, mentally calculating the calorie count of every food. And as I slept, dreaming of banquets I could never enjoy. There was only one thing left that I could do—the hard work to stop hating my body, to become able to look at and feel myself without cringing or eviscerating myself with insults and criticism. Simply put I had to give up the endless and fruitless effort to starve my wayward body into submission. The work I did to learn not to loathe my fat body enabled me to go places, to meet people without constantly worrying about how they saw me. I learned a cheery, warm, and pleasant persona for public spaces, because somewhere inside I believed that if I made myself pleasant and easy to be around then at least I could avoid hearing the negative judgments about my body. I was careful to dress nicely, to try to act like I felt pretty. And as long as I didn't think about it, didn't start looking at myself from outside myself, I believed in my own magical powers and I could be out and about and forget about the shame I wear in my flesh. I learned to pull myself way inside my body, away from my skin, away from the surface where I could be hurt, and I could become this sparkling personality and be unaware of my physical self. I could be like the nymph Echo, a voice without a body. The price? Become a body condemned to echo what she hears but not speak her own experience. I could wrap myself in my invisibility cloak of charm and move through the world insulated from the judgments and scrutiny of others. In order to move around in the world, I had to protect myself this way or risk being crushed by the weight and sharpness of looks and judgments I encountered and the shame I pushed down inside. I had to maintain silence.

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Chapter Two: The War on Obesity: a Cultural Complex at Work

Fuller, Cheryl Karnac Books ePub

From the late 70s through the 80s and into the 90s, though of course many women struggled with their weight, the overall climate was not as harsh and punitive about fat as it is today. Susie Orbach published Fat is a Feminist Issue in 1978. William Bennett and Joel Guerin published The Dieter's Dilemma, a book grounded in medical research, in 1983. Carol Shaw launched Big Beautiful Woman magazine in 1979. A flurry of books and pamphlets from what was called the Fat Liberation Movement began fat acceptance. All of these publications, and others, urged fat women to listen to their bodies, presented research showing that dieting is in fact a losing battle, one in which most will regain all weight lost and often more. The magazine gave fat women their first chance to see women like themselves modeling beautiful clothes, and even lingerie and bathing suits, images of women none of us ever saw in mainstream fashion magazines. It is no small matter to be able to see images in a glossy fashion magazine of fat women, women like me. By no means did these publications and others similar to them mean that there was no bias against fat or that it was a kind of Camelot for fat people, but there was nothing like a war being waged against fat and fat people like there is today. In the 90s something changed and any softening of the climate toward fat ended. By the beginning of this century war on fat was declared, a war that continues unabated. As Betty Meador tells us,

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Chapter Six: Woodman and Anger, Food, Eating, and Control

Fuller, Cheryl Karnac Books ePub

Woodman deals with issues around anger, food, and eating as complexes in themselves. I am not sure that I believe they are significantly different for fat people than for average or slender people. But I would be remiss if I did not also engage them as they are very much a part of beliefs in the larger culture about how fat comes about. It is in these areas that she is most a part of mainstream thinking about fat. I quote Woodman but her words could equally well have been written or said by many people writing about obesity and eating behavior.

Anger

Woodman: They [the obese] have no sense of everlasting arms to uphold them through the crises of life; the early matrix with the mother isn't there. That deprivation propels them to make violent attempts to hold onto life; momentarily they may do so, and then sink back into a lethargy of nonexistence. Their existence is precarious at best because they have no sense of a daily continuum. Such girls may seek husbands who will provide that loving day-to-day cherishing, and therefore in marriage they may lock themselves yet again into the mother they sought to escape. (Woodman, 1982, p. 21)

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