06 April 2010

Early fat lib and bad sex advice from the archive

I'm pretty obsessed with early fat liberation writing and activism, especially stuff that was published in the early 1970s. It's amazing how prescient this work is, and how it is both relevant to debates going on about fat today, and also brilliantly weird and dated.

I recently got my paws on a copy of Abraham Friedman's book Fat Can Be Beautiful: Stop Dieting, Start Living, from 1974. The tentativeness of the 'can be' in the title cracks me up.

According to the dust jacket, the author is a doctor who specialises in "the treatment of obesity and metabolic disorders". It's not surprising then that this is a book that offers self-acceptance as a means to losing weight. It's actually not a million miles from Susie Orbach. So the emphasis is on an idea of 'natural weight', which is thin, of course, although the author has a category of people he calls 'True-obese'. Don't get me started on the unquestioned assumptions about fat people that underscore these ideas, I'm just not going to go there today.

Friedman is also the author of "the bestselling How Sex Can Keep You Slim," haha! Perhaps consequently, Fat Can Be Beautiful has some quite racy passages in it. I was drawn to 'Chapter XVI For Men Only,' but this is about Type II Diabetes, rather than a discussion of secret facts available only to fat men.

Chapter XVII is better, it's called 'Sex For The Obese' and I have to say that the linguistic certainty in that medicalised language of expertise is already getting me a bit hot under the collar. Let's dig in!

The chapter starts by commiserating that fat women often struggle to get any sex and turn to food even though there are men 'out there' who prefer a 'buxom figure.' Facts such as these are obviously why feminism happened. Friedman suggests that sex is a good way of burning calories, which is tragic, and opines with carefree expert ignorance that fat women are into more sex than thinner women because of: "their desire to prove to themselves and their mates that they are just as sensuous as the thinner women. Or else they have a deep-seated hunger for food and sex simultaneously". This sounds a lot like the expert statements in The Owl Was A Baker's Daughter that I posted a while back.

The main part of this chapter consists of an annotated list of positions for cock-cunt fucking, divided into three categories:

A. If the woman is obese and the man is not
B. If the man is obese and the woman is not
C. If both partners are obese

If you get off on strangely impassive and authoritarian descriptions of joyless, mechanical, heteronormative sex, then this is truly the one-handed read you've been looking for. Friedman calls one move the "Gynaecological position" – eurgh! Another position, "Sims," is "named after a famous surgeon" and "makes the vagina readily accessible from slightly above and behind". Is this supposed to get you in the mood? I'm grossed out by the brisk, no-nonsense descriptions of sex, in a puerile daze, and yet completely enthralled. The advice is pretty crap, but also without fat-shame, which is not bad, it's just the language and approach that is all wrong. How about: "If there is much abdominal fat, he can lift it up with both hands, as the woman straddles over him with her knees bent, facing him. She can thus easily slide his erect penis into her vagina and start her pelvic thrusts either alone or in conjunction with his." Or " The woman then stands astride him close to the edge of the bed, and thus is able to make contact with his erect penis." Make contact! Finally, there's a position in which "the partner's abdomens are not in juxtaposition, but sufficiently removed from each other to permit proper sexual thrusting and satisfactory consummation of the sex act." What can I say? It's dizzyingly dirty.

PS. If you're looking for information about sex and fat, you'd be much better off with Hanne Blank's Big Big Love.

Blank, H. (2000) Big Big Love: A Sourcebook on Sex for People of Size, Emeryville, CA: The Greenery Press.

Friedman, A. I. (1974) Fat Can Be Beautiful: Stop Dieting, Start Living, Berekeley, CA: Berekeley Publishing Corporation.

No comments: