26 May 2011

What would it be like to wake up thin?

One of the questions that I was asked last week at King's College London was about how I might handle waking up thin one day (my answer: "That's never going to happen").

I gave a quick answer but this question deserves deeper thought because I think it is a product of various ideas about fatness, including:
  • Fat people would rather be thin because obviously it's better to be thin
  • There is nothing of value in being fat
  • Bodies are choices therefore transformation is desirable and possible
  • The fantasy of transformation from an unbearable present to a beautiful future is preferable to the struggle to make the present liveable now
  • Disbelief that embodied self-acceptance is possible
These ideas bring with them a lot of heartache, frustration, stigma, discrimination and hatred. They support the concept that Hannele Harjunen writes about so well, of fat liminality, the idea that fat people's lives are in this holding space, a purgatory, until they become thinner/normative and can properly enter into human life.

It won't come as a surprise, but I don't subscribe to these ideas in relation to my own body. However, I do fantasise a lot about things. Often these are impossible supernatural things, like waking up and all the dead people I love are alive again; or about a more prosaic sadness, like waking up to find that I am adored and worshipped by someone who plainly doesn't adore or worship me in real life. Sometimes I dream about things that appear impossible but become more feasible when I pick them apart; waking up with unimaginable wealth is actually the desire to be able to do what I want with my life, to be able to help other people whenever I like, and not having to worry about paying for something, rather than sitting on a yacht with a bunch of supermodels. I think dreaming and imagining are crucial for anyone with an interest in social change; fantasy and desire, an imagining of something different, they are the first unformed, free-flowing steps to taking action.

Occasionally I harbour fantasies of having a different kind of body. Having a tail, a penis, the ability to project my thoughts out of my eyeballs like a film, or type anything just by tapping my fingers on a surface, being able to fly, to breathe underwater, to teleport, to grow or miniaturise myself, this is what I think about. I also wonder what it might feel like to have different impairments like some of the people I know. The fantasy of waking up thin is not really there, it's too boring, I just don't value slenderness in that way.

When I return to the original question I think I am being asked about the circumstances under which I would want to be thin. It boils down to this: it would be interesting to take advantage of the capital and privilege that comes with being normatively embodied for a couple of days, though I think this would enrage me to a level where I would struggle to function. I think Linda Bacon's 2009 NAAFA keynote, Reflections on Fat Acceptance: Lessons Learned from Privilege (.pdf, 128kb) is really central to the reasons why fat people might fantasise about becoming thin, it's about acessing power and privilege. This explains why people would risk the drastic and uncertain steps to realise normatively thin embodiment, and why this is problematic for anyone who cares about embodied diversity and the unequal distribution of power.

The question about waking up thin comes from a series of common values and beliefs that have become very alien to me and it's fun to take them apart and answer the question from my current standpoint. I'm intrigued, for example, by the way that very thin people can scooch up into tiny spaces, so I'd like to try that for, I dunno, 20 minutes or so before I returned home to my own body. It's a funny reversal of the fantasy, being thin is the temporary state in my mind's eye because when I think about it, who would I be without my body and my own history of fat embodiment? There's no way I would ever want to deny that precious stuff.


Lillian said...

Waking up thin is too damn boring as a dream. I dream being other people, having a completely different body, living in a different world. Having problems that I don't have or not having the problems that I do.

Anonymous said...

This is a really excellent post. I too have found the "Waking up thin" fantasy really alien to me now. Imagining about being thin is boring.

I would prefer to imagine i'm a superhero, or I live in the future, or that I have a harem made up of clones.

So, far, thinking about it has only heralded one thing: I could buy more clothes. Aside from that, my life would pretty much be exactly the same.

I'm not one of the people who says "I'll do this when I'm thin." I'd rather do it now.

meerkat said...

I agree, I'd rather wake up with a superpower or decorative appendage than wake up thin. (Although it would be nice if I could either hide the tail or everyone else also had tails.) The problem with waking up thin is that no one would know who you were and none of your clothes would fit. So I have never fantasized that. But when I imagine what I would do if I were a shapeshifter (which is a great power, because if you can be a bird you get flying too) I think I would gradually alter my appearance to conform to all kinds of oppressive patriarchal beauty standards, because hey, less oppression. (Of course that doesn't mean anything except that I prefer not to be oppressed and have been raised in a culture saturated with prejudice.)

Emerald said...

Most of my fantasies are geek stuff - other worlds, alternative histories, time travel - I suppose waking up in a parallel universe where everyone's respected for who they are is a bit too out there? But waking up thin...naah. Personally, waking up and finding the Tardis parked in my back garden would be much cooler (and I doubt if the Doctor's really bothered what his companions look like anyway).

Sleepydumpling said...

Snap! I actually wrote on this question about a week ago, after an anon bombed most of my social media sites with the question, and then even answered it for me with "Of course you would!" (Clearly my actual answer was of no consequence to them.)

It's such a redundant question - because it's no more going to happen than my waking up a unicorn, or married to Hugh Jackman.

What I do wish for is to be treated with respect and dignity, to be allowed to live my life without discrimination and being vilified for my body.