Having launched The Fat Chronicles with my coming out statement, I guess now I need to tell you how I got to this point and give you an idea of what you can expect to find here.
I am a fat woman. I have been fat, more and less, since I was 5. In those days, I used to hide from my uncle who used to poke me and call me “Fatty” and laugh. Many times my mother told me that “I was as big as the side of a house”, which I wasn’t, of course, but I felt the sting and shame of being too big, too much. The humiliation of being weighed in gym class. The blind date who told his friend, within earshot, that I was a “dog”. The insults on the streets.
I have always been shy, always a bit ill at ease in large groups or with strangers. Being fat only magnified that shyness. In my thirties I worked hard to stop hating my body, to be able to look at and feel myself without cringing or lashing myself with insults and criticism. The work I did to learn not to hate my 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 the negative judgements about my body wouldn’t likely be voiced even if held. 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 was all right and I could be out and about and forget about the shame I wear in my body. It’s as if 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 body. I could imagine being Echo, the voice without a body. I could wrap myself in my invisibility cloak of charm and move through the world insulated from the judgments and scrutiny. In order to move around in the world, I have to insulate myself this way or be crushed by the weight and sharpness of looks and judgments I encounter and the shame I push down inside.
As I have struggled with my weight in my adult life, I have wanted desperately to find a reason for it, some explanation that I could rest on. At times I told myself it is all about biology and genetics, an inevitable outcome of being my father’s daughter, as the Fullers are a family replete with fat women who lived long lives. And there is comfort in that explanation because if the reason for my fat is biological, then it is not my fault any more than my eye color or height is my fault; it is just the way I was made.
Other times I would fall to the other side of the coin and believe the cause lay in my troubled relationship with my mother. I read Hilda Bruch, Irving Yalom, and Marion Woodman, Geneen Roth and all those others who led me to believe that if I could just work my way through those issues, then everything would change and I would be normal, I would become thin and stay that way. So I talked and wrote endlessly about my mother and my relationship with her. Told the stories of my childhood with her so many times that they almost seemed no longer mine.
Then I read Fat is a Feminist Issue and it all became muddled again, this time in feminist politics and the tyranny of the patriarchy. I began to consider again that maybe this fat body is my normal, maybe this is the body I am meant to have and that trying to beat it into submission, trying to make it smaller is to be in a state of war with myself. Without realizing it, I became part of the fat acceptance movement. Identity politics gave me a new way to experience my self and my fat. I could talk about this body, my fat body, being the right one for me. I could connect myself with a primal round earthy feminine, an earlier and more generous version of beauty and fertility and womanliness. Unless pressed too hard and if I didn’t look too deeply, I could see that. I wrote of and painted an inner fat woman with colored ribbons for hair who danced with delight in her own fleshy abundance. There were even moments when I felt her.
Twelve years ago I applied for admission to a Jungian analytic training program. Two analysts I knew and had worked with encouraged me to apply, but they also told me that I would likely be rejected because of my weight. They couldn’t give me a solid reason for what seemed to me to be simple prejudice. When I was interviewed, I was asked about my weight. I didn’t know how to respond without appearing defensive. I couldn’t speak my truth about my weight and my body with conviction, because that truth was still muddled with my own uncertainty, shame and self-hatred. Sure enough, I was rejected. Was my weight a factor in the rejection? If they had interviewed me by telephone, heard me without seeing my body, would I have been acceptable? I’ll never know.
Underneath it all, underneath the work I did to stop hating myself, underneath the pleasant persona, way down under there where I look at myself from outside and see myself with others’ eyes, in that place I judge myself as severely as they do. And feel furious with myself for being fat. And with them for their disgust. Furious for being furious. I am furious. Underneath all of that I am furious. Which I dare not show.
Those two analysts who told me I would be rejected for training because of my weight? I am furious. What assumptions about me were they revealing in what they told me? Would I be a better analyst were I thin? What is it about weight that is a disqualifier more than sexual orientation or skin color or gender or height? Why must I be called to account for my weight -- without being defensive or showing anger? Furious because I cannot account for my weight in a way that I fully embrace. One of those analysts told me that she had dreamed once that Jung told her that every extra ounce cost a pound of consciousness. She said she told me that because she cared about me. What would she have said if she hadn’t cared about me?
Fury. That I did not express. That I swallowed. Maybe my fat is made up of all my swallowed fury. Maybe if I let it all out, I would shrink, deflate like a punctured balloon.
Someone once said that the rage of all the fat women in the world is enough to destroy the world if let loose. I believe that.
I am a psychotherapist and a Jungian one to boot. 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. I am struggling before I begin. What is my fat a symptom of?
"To cast or project blame is to protect ourselves from our own shadow. We stand in the place of righteousness, and fail to acknowledge those aspects of ourselves hidden in our own shadow. The scapegoating of another person or group allows us to feel guiltless, atoned. It inoculates us against blame. Now unburdened, we can turn to our ego ideal and reestablish our place among the chosen. We are then free to place goodness in one corner (ours) and malevolence in another. Only when we catch ourselves stepping into a righteous, one-sided stance are we in a position to begin to observe our own shadow. This is a very painful thing to do. Why would we do this? Because what we keep in the shadows, in a place of forgetfulness, turns to symptom. 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." *
There is a very thin line in the space between “either” and “or”, a razor thin edge where both/and exists. In this narrow space, which is so very hard to hold on to, causation is not a settled matter. It is not a matter of either biological etiology or emotional but the place where biology meets emotion. And where there is no magical solution. In this place, I know I am fat because I came with a body which has instructions for being fat, for being really efficient about storing energy. And in this place, fat also has meaning in my life, exists meaningfully -- that is the Jungian voice in me that knows that there is a meaningful basis alongside the physical.
It is a very difficult space to hold. I find myself falling into very concrete and linear thinking and resisting looking at meaning because I cannot accept that my mother complex causes me to be fat. The evidence on the side of biology is too strong for me to accept that had I a different, less negative mother, I would have been thin. And yet, I cannot entirely escape the role fat plays in my life and the meaning it has for me and how it relates to my mother complex and so much else in my psyche. If I am to hold mind and body together, I cannot privilege body at the expense of mind, I cannot hold to a purely biological cause and reject any emotional one. Surely the shame that is there right under the surface is as much a part of fat as the genes which disposed me to be fat.
When I turn to the literature, I find the Jungian world is oddly silent about fat. Other than the early writings of Marion Woodman, there is nothing to be found in the Jungian literature about it, about what fat symbolizes. There are books and articles about anorexia but not about fat, not about obesity. Much is made of the need to connect with the body, of the body as storehouse of memory. Quadrant’s description says it is a journal of “essays grounded in personal and professional experience, which focus on issues of matter and body, psyche and spirit.” Yet there are no articles that I can find about fat, save for one a year ago, “The Epidemic of Obesity in Contemporary American Culture: A Jungian Reflection” which focuses on compulsive eating. Again an equation of fat with gluttony. There is nothing about fat in the fifty-plus year archives of the Journal of Analytical Psychology. In what used to be the San Francisco Library Journal, there are two interviews with Marion Woodman, in which some of her thoughts about fat are offered, and reviews of her two books which dealt with fat and anorexia. And that is it. No one, other than Marion Woodman to answer my question: what is my fat a symptom of?
The current attitude in American culture, in the public health community, is that obesity is the biggest threat to life and health today. There are more dire warnings and predictions about fat than about terrorism. Yet the Jungian world is silent. I don’t know what this means. And that is part of what I will be writing about here.
So I will use this space to tell about my own journey, reflect on thoughts I have about this issue of meaning, comment on issues relating to fat in the news. I will also argue here with Marion Woodman as I encountered her in The Owl Is a Baker's Daughter and Addiction to Perfection.
* Callan, George McGrath “The Scapegoat Complex: Archetypal Reflections on a Culture of Severance” http://www.midline.net/nfp/PDFs/Callan.pdf