Saturday, September 08, 2007

Entering the dieting/FA fray

I'm going to tell you a story: I once had a friend named Mimi Orner who was a fat activist, woman of size, brilliant teacher, and all-around wonderful person. Here in Madison, Wis., where I live, she started a group that was anti-anorexia, anti-bulimia, and anti-dieting. This was about 15 years ago, mind, somewhat ahead of her time.

Mimi died seven years ago from ovarian cancer. Her appetite for food, like her appetite for life, lasted until pretty close to the very end. Her memorial service was attended by hundreds of people, many of whom got up to speak. All of these tributes were very moving, but the one I remember was a young woman who stood up, tears pouring down her face, and confessed that she and Mimi had once been close but of late had been a little bit estranged. "I found her so inspiring," she said through tears, "and I want to believe what she ways [about fat acceptance]. I'm not as smart or as good as Mimi. I just can't accept myself as a fat person, at least not yet. So we grew apart. And I've missed her so much. And now I'll never have the chance to make it right."

This young woman's words have stayed with me because they capture so vividly the dilemma of the individual and the political. Sometimes, you know, the emotions take a while to catch up with the intellect. Sometimes they never do. That's part of being human. We can't legislate our feelings.

Much as we might like to sometimes.

I miss Mimi too. I wished she was there two years ago when my daughter got sick. I wished she was there when I gained 50 pounds from a medication and struggled with that. I wish she were here now, so we could debate and argue and disagree and learn from each other.


Maggie Ginsberg-Schutz said...

As much as I admire your ability to write about complex subjects with exquisite simplicity, I value even more these occasional peeks into your private feelings. Seemingly off the cuff, less structured, more heartfelt -- this last post was not nearly as intimidating to this "lesser" writer. I feel compelled to comment, and I feel comfortable doing so. (Don't feel bad, I don't know how to say it any other way. You're a helluva writer, Harriet.)

Anyway, here it is: I don't know if I'll ever believe in people like Mimi. I've known heavy women who've embraced their girth, only to watch them denounce it later. Did Mimi pass before she had the chance to decide she liked being thin better?

These are the questions that haunt me, as un-politically correct as they may be.

I don't know how to shake them.

Still, I appreciate your candor. Not only does a post like this make me think (more so than traditional articles, studies, etc) it makes me feel I'm not alone. And to a person who's spent much of her life attempting to disappear, this is everything.

Harriet said...

Oh, Maggie, don't call yourself a lesser anything. You are who you are, talented, beautiful, and strong.

And just FYI, all my blog posts are pretty much off the cuff. :-)

For me this whole debate is really about the relationship between the personal and the political. And that's something I've struggled with my whole life, whether we're talking about fat, democracy, or language. I'm the baby boomer who never felt comfortable chanting with the crowd at an anti-war rally because, well, it just seemed silly. So I'm no political activist, at least not in that kind of overt way.

But we are human beings, and we have to follow our hearts as well as our heads. And it's that gray area that really interests me, from both side of the issue.

I am, after all, a Libra.

Carrie Arnold said...

Thank you, Harriet, for this. I definitely understand the intellect moving ahead of the emotions. That's been my entire life. Then the anorexia happened, and my emotional life has been going haywire and the rest can't catch up!

That's what I love about the blogosphere- we get to see these glimpses of each other, and then more and more. It's lovely. I'm thankful you're here with me. ;)

mary said...

Sometimes I think that the "love yourself no matter how large you are" can sound like it's coming from the enemy, someone who doesn't understand. Maybe even someone who wants to sabotage you. It's a hard truth to swallow in times when people can be so cruel, when TV and movies use fat suits as if it's funny. Ha ha ha, so funny.
We know what Mimi was saying was true.
I know she's with you always because you heard her. I have some friends whom I miss, who I sometimes think of and wonder what they'd do or say about something. They taught me to stay strong and use my voice and allow myself an opinion. It sounds like Mimi tried to tell people they had equal worth is this world and that's quite a legacy to leave behind. You were lucky to have known her. And she to know you.

edawne said...

"Sometimes, you know, the emotions take a while to catch up with the intellect."

Thanks for sharing this! I needed reminding. Just because I don't always feel what I know to be true doesn't make it any less true.

Harriet said...

"One made a decision with the mind--with the cool logic of a chess player--and thenit became necessary to grow to it, to curb the emotional protests, to resist the longing to flee. The real enemy was fear." -- Dorothy Gilman, The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax

Unknown said...

I learned about Mimi about the time she died, so I never got to meet her. I would have loved to. Madison needs vocal fat activists, and I've been looking for them, and finally, here you are. I'm so thrilled! Thank you for carrying on, and for honoring Mimi's legacy. I hope I get the chance to meet you someday.

Harriet said...

Hi Bear,
I'm in San Diego at the National Eating DIsorders Convention right now. Lots to talk about from here. I'd love to meet you in Madison when I get back. Any friend of Mimi's, potential or otherwise, is a friend of mine.