Got another example for my crusade against single-valued logic while I was out sick, by way of the only fat-acceptance blog I read, body_impolitic. But first, let's review. Anorexia, contrary to what the pro-ana people claim, can and eventually will kill you. Anorexia comes from fear of being fat, of being perceived as fat. Therefore, to someone who thinks in single-valued terms, fear of being fat is bad, all bad, always bad. There is no such thing as a time you should ever be afraid of being fat, no such thing as too fat. The only way to avoid the evils of anorexia, and the other negative health effects of such things as yo-yo dieting and so forth, is to conclude that being fat is good. Because, after all, the "obvious" only alternative is to say that being fat is bad, and if fat is bad, then any amount of fat is bad, and therefore since any amount of fat is bad you have to become anorexic. It regularly appalls me to notice that the pro-ana people and the fat-acceptance people agree on this much. And, of course, to anybody capable of actual thinking, it's not hard to imagine that they're both wrong, that there is such a thing as unhealthily thin and such a thing as unhealthily fat, that there is such a thing as starving yourself to death and there is such a thing as being just plain too fat.
That this isn't obvious is why longtime fat-acceptance activist "Shapely Prose" is hating herself, and shaming herself in public, over the fact that after years of preaching the "fat is good" gospel, she's going in for weight reduction surgery. And as part of her public shaming of herself, she's apologizing to everybody for being ashamed of the fact that she has gotten too fat to wipe herself after using the toilet. (See Debbie of Body Impolitic, "Speaking the Unspeakable," 9/23/07.) Her argument for why she thinks it's wrong of herself to hate herself for this is not entirely bogus. There's a reason why disability-accommodation activists refer to those of us who aren't disabled as the "temporarily abled;" should you live so long, some day you, too will be sick with something that requires you to ask another person to clean you after you urinate or defecate. OK. But who would argue that "acceptance" of such a condition means that you have to turn down medical treatment that offers some hope of recovery?
Almost nobody talks about this. Dan Savage brought it up in his mostly excellent book Skipping Towards Gomorrah as one of the two things that startled and vaguely disgusted him about the fat acceptance convention he attended as research for his book, that there are enough people in America who are so fat that they cannot wipe themselves after using the toilet that there is a whole subsidiary industry of companies providing various remote scrubbers, long-handled brushes, and other tools for cleaning yourself when you can't reach that part of your body. (The other thing, the one that really creeped him out far beyond the effect that this revelation had, is off topic, controversial, and I'll leave it up to you to find in the book for yourself.) So that I'd seen it there meant that I wasn't startled by it when Body Impolitic brought it up. But yeah, I don't have any problem in drawing the line somewhere far short of the point where you can't wipe yourself; if you can't wipe yourself, you are too damned fat, fat enough to risk doing something drastic about it.
But that's not the thing that's got my attention about this subject right now. The thing that's got my attention is this: how did we get to this point? When I was very young, in the 1960s, when there were still people in America going hungry (but not many), men and women this fat did exist. Perhaps as many as four or five of them out of a country of 100 million, all of them employed as circus freaks. A decade later, outside of a few pockets of severe poverty like eastern Kentucky or rural Louisiana, hunger had been eradicated. By the mid 1970s, America was producing so much food that we were already in the situation we're in now: trying to figure out how to destroy it fast enough that the over-supply doesn't wreck prices any worse than it has. So why didn't we have at least dozens of these people back then, even hundreds? I hear a long list of suggestions, but none of them hold up upon investigation. Change in diet? Less than you'd think; I remember mid 1970s food as being even more full of empty calories than now, what with the fact that virtually everything was rolled in flour and then fried in fat, and high-sugar deserts being a routine part of one to two meals a day, and cereals being eaten with even more sugar heaped on them than is cooked in now. I saw a guy blaming cheap gasoline, that we drive everywhere rather than walk, but no, the highway system and the family where everybody aged 16 and up has their own car were the norm even in my fairly poor neighborhood in 1976, and gasoline was even cheaper then than now.
I do suspect we snack more between meals than we did back then; there almost certainly are a wider variety of shelf-stable single-serving prepared foods available now, and available in more places. And one thing that is a constant in the lives of people who've gotten so fat they can't wipe themselves is that you find out that they eat nearly all the time, from morning till night, that they can't go an hour or more without being agonizingly hungry. But what did people who felt like that do differently back in 1977 from what they're doing in 2007? If someone who was hungry all the time back in 1977 had wanted to eat something every hour of the day, it wouldn't have been that much harder for them to do so than it is now. Was there something stopping people from eating all day then that we're missing now?
I do know this: the solution is not, gods help us, the one that Bill Richardson is campaigning on: further stigmatize fat people, further reward skinny people, offer more incentives for fat people to become skinny. That's madness. Does anybody think that there isn't already a massive stigma against being fat? Does anybody really think that the only thing stopping fat people from getting skinny is that we don't reward skinny people enough? For crying out loud. No, trust me, long before someone gets so fat they can't wipe themselves, they're already as stigmatized as a human being can possibly be, they've lost enough of the rewards we give to skinnier people that there's no lack of incentive for them to get skinny, if it were just as simple as that. No, contrary to anybody who thinks they have a simple answer (and almost always one that involves stigmatizing something as always bad, yet more single valued logic), people who don't know how they got the way they are and don't want to blame themselves for it when it's obviously something that's happening to an awful lot of us despite our best efforts are resorting to very expensive and insanely dangerous surgery already, and hating themselves both for needing it and for being willing to consider it.
We really don't understand why there are so many of them when there didn't used to be. And that's a limit on our knowledge that should vaguely worry, and perhaps even humble, us all.