Tuesday, December 8, 2009

If We are First Taught to Mistrust Ourselves...

Nearly a month ago there was an article in the Straits Times about a woman who was literally set on fire at a slimming centre as part of a procedure. As in she was told to lie on a table, a towel soaked in rubbing alcohol was draped over her stomach and the beautician whipped out a lighter and set fire to the towel.

From the article:
Once the towel was set ablaze, Madam Lee felt a sharp pain around her abdomen.

"I can't remember much of the incident. But I was in so much pain, I couldn't even talk," she said.

Staff at the centre managed to put out the fire, and she was sent to a nearby clinic where she was given medication.

"One employee even asked me, 'Really that pain?'" Madam Lee said.

Her medical bill of $40 was paid by Geneva. She was given another $150 for follow-up medical treatment. When contacted, the owner of Geneva said the centre no longer performed the treatment.
So they set someone on fire, express disbelief that it had been an "uncomfortable" experience and give her a little less than $200 for her trouble.

A proprietor of another slimming centre, when asked for comment had this to say:
Ms Catherine Koh, the owner of Beauty Forever Sal0on, said: "Now that the market is bad, the centres will try to think of all kinds of ways to get customers, so customers have to judge for themselves what is safe."
In other words, we will continue to expose you to hazardous situations because you are willing to pay for it. The harm that befalls you can only be the fault of your poor judgement.

How did an adult woman allow herself to be set on fire? In her own words:
'They didn't really explain the procedure in much detail,' Madam Lee said. She did not probe further.

It was only when the therapist whipped out a lighter that she felt slightly alarmed. 'But the employee kept telling me that she was here with me, so I shouldn't be scared,' she added.
Why didn't she ask for the procedure to be stopped? Why didn't a grown woman, "judge for [herself] what is safe"?

How could she?

How could she when as a fat person she is told that she is unhealthy and at risk for all kinds of debilitating and life-threatening diseases even though she is able to walk long distances carrying heavy groceries? How could she when as a fat person she is told that she is smelly and takes up too much room even though she practices excellent personal hygiene and smells better than the skinny bloke on the MRT who is, incidently, using two seats? How could she when as a fat person she is told she is unattractive and unlovable even though she has a (presumably) loving husband and family? (I must add that it was her children's cruel comments that pushed her to seek slimming treatments, so I do wonder about how loving the enviroment is - that being said, friends and family of the fat get messages daily about how loving a fat person means encouraging them to lose weight...just 5% makes a difference!)

As fat people we are taught to mistrust our own experiences and subsitute it for all the negative narratives we are fed daily in many small ways about our personalities, habits and loved ones. As fat people we are told that by virtue of what we look like we are all manner of disgusting and abhorrent and that to earn, to deserve the space we take up in this world we have to prove that we're trying to be good, that we recognize we are fat.

We are asked whether we're really hungry, to think about why we're eating, as though we cannot trust what our bodies have to tell us. We are told that all we need are 800-1200 calories a day to function even though when we adhere to these diets (it's a lifestyle change, y'know) all we can think about is food and all we do is feel guilty that we're still hungry and unable to gather enough energy to hit the gym (or walk home from the bus stop, for that matter). We never realise that the problem is with the diet and not with ourselves because we have been taught that as a fat person our lived experiences are a by-product of dysfunction and that we must be punished, punished, punished into submission, into that unsustainable smaller size and punished again when it all comes back.

We live in this miasma of fat shaming that discredits us and forces us to question our own judgements. How then are we supposed to "judge for themselves what is safe"? How then are we supposed to figure out that we don't all deserve to be set on fire afterall?


  1. I saw this slimming ad in the papers the other day: a woman playing with her kid with the caption "My son prefers his new slimmer mummy."

    SERIOUSLY!? What next?? Telling pregnant women that they're fat? *EXPLODESSS*

  2. I saw this slimming ad in the papers the other day: a woman playing with her kid with the caption "My son prefers his new slimmer mummy."

    That is so many levels of disgusting I can't even begin...

    Great post Cat.

  3. I was watching crappy ads on foreign tv while on holiday (as one does) and they were incessantly advertising some exercise machine thingum. They had 'real life users' test the machine for 6 weeks, at the start of which they were measured for their dress sizes. One of them said on camera: 'I thought I was a size 10. When I saw that I was a size 14, I wanted to cry, because that's not the real me.' So advertising explicitly works on self-loathing and telling people they *ought* to be disgusted with the way they look if they're above a certain dress size, and that your body is not to be respected as being *you*, just some vessel for the 'real' you. The whole ad campaign was disgusting, but this moment was just one where my disgust could be most easily articulated.


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