my response to the 2011 Quick Picks Committee

I always knew I was going to end up making this post, but I really didn’t think it was going to be within my first 10 entries.  Good to get it out of the way, I suppose.

Mainly, this post is a response to some comments from the 2011 Quick Picks committee that were made in my post about This is Why You’re Fat. I already gave a cursory response there, and I recommend that you read that and their original comments, because I made several points there which I won’t bring up again here, but there were some points that I felt deserved a rebuttal post of their own.  I will be quoting from the first comment left on behalf of the 2011 Quick Picks Committee, you may view the complete comment and our dialogue in the comment section.  I want to say I really do appreciate the Quick Picks Committee reading my post and responding and that I was especially glad for the expanded context of the purpose of Quick Picks for my readers who might not be as familiar with the list.

First: no where in my post did I make the ridiculous and specious comment that This is Why You’re Fat will “turn” teenagers anorexic or make them “become” anorexic.  This is a simplistic distortion of my argument.  What I did do was point out that the book deals with problematic imagery and messaging regarding food and body images and these problems overlap with a thriving subculture that harms teenagers. Moreover, the book doesn’t deal with these problems, it pretends they don’t exist, it pretends that this is just funny-ha-ha and not wrapped up in humiliation, not sending the not so subtle message that “food” is why you’re fat. (on the “This is Why You’re Fat” website there are actually several pictures of junk food in a single serving.  How, again, is a single serving of any “unhealthy” food why anyone, anywhere, ever is fat?)

I wanted to start a dialogue of what this book might mean for teenagers who struggled with disordered eating, I wanted to genuinely ask who the “extremes” in this book are speaking to.  Not, maybe, the 80% but the 20% instead.  They’re reluctant readers too, they’re our patron base too.  I asked you, as a committee, to consider if this book meets the selection criteria of “objectivity” and “accuracy.”   I wasn’t trying to sway your opinion, I wasn’t trying to dismiss what you work so hard to do.  All I was trying to get across was something I have tried to stress, repeatedly: none of these things happen in a vacuum.

As to some other points in the comments:

Again, I would like to point out that the book is subtitled, Where Dreams Become Heart Attacks. It does, in fact, address the blocked arteries of which you speak.

No, it doesn’t.  Including that in the title is not “addressing” anything.  The book (which I have seen) includes recipes and photos, there’s nothing addressing blocked arteries or eating healthy.  At ALA, I talked with Liz Burns about my post and she mentioned the Eat This, Not That series (a 2009 Quick Pick) actually does offer more healthy alternatives to food that is “bad” for you.  This book doesn’t, because it doesn’t care about your “heart attacks” and “blocked arteries” or about you, the reader, being healthy.  It just wants to gross you out.   And please bear in mind that “Ew, that’s so gross!” isn’t so very far away from “Ew, you’re so gross!”   Here’s where we start seeing overlap, again, between the pro-ana and pro-mia movements.  Why is the word “gross” even in the discussion?

Frankly, I liken the whole thing to “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” Yes, America, this IS why WE’RE fat. As a nation, we eat crap like this, and as a nation, we are obese. This is fact.

This is the moment where this comment begins derailing.  This is not “a fact.”  No, eating sandwiches with eighty slices of bacon and forty slices of cheese isn’t why I’m fat, but thanks for assuming as “fact” that all I do all day is sit around and stuff my face with food.  Right before this, the comment stated that the whole point of the book was that the items featured are “not foods that are intended to be eaten as part of a healthy diet.” But now this “crap” IS why we’re fat.  (and fat = obese and obese = death, naturally.) Here, the commenter is caught up in the inherent problem I tried to point out: either the book is all in good fun “we’d never really eat this every day, haha!” OR a legitimate commentary “you eat so much of this, this is why you’re obese and about to die!!!111”   So, which is it?  If it’s “just in good fun” we can’t criticize it, now can we?  But if it’s legitimate?  Then it better be able to stand up to an in-depth critical analysis.

(also, commenter, I am assuming that you are not familiar with the numerous studies that show “the obesity epidemic” is essentially exaggerated fear-mongering.  I recommend you read Rethinking Thin by Gina Kolata and these FAQ at Kate Harding’s Shapely Prose.)

As for Jamie Oliver?  He is a fat-hating-fat-shaming-self-promoting jerk.  I think he fits right in with the hateful message in This is Why You’re Fat. Please, take a moment to read Melissa McEwan’s thoughtful and incisive take-downs of  his mean-spirited show. (or to just see him in a fat suit because, lol, fat people!)

And this is where the comment gets personal and, in my opinion, insulting.

“Unfun” is a word that my best friend Elliot and I mostly made-up.  We use it for the moments when we feel like we’re “ruining” someone else’s fun by pointing out the problems within a text, a movie, or a commonly-held belief.  We use it for that feeling we get when we raise a legitimate objection to something problematic and are met with “why do you have to take everything so seriously/analyze everything to death/see the worst in everything/ruin everyone’s fun?!”  Unfun is the feeling for when you have to ask a friend to not say “bitch, please” or “that’s so lame.”  Unfun is the feeling that you’re just being a pedantic killjoy, hung up on semantics and nitpicking.  Unfun is going against the conventional wisdom that, gosh, all this is really harmless, all this is just a joke, just for a good time, why’s everything gotta mean something?  Unfun is also the embarrassment that goes along with this, when you know you should speak up, but part of you dreads doing so, because you don’t want to be that “unfun” spoilsport.

For instance, at Annual there was this super-cool event: the ALA 2010 Dance Party.  Everyone was invited!  There was a playlist and tweets and a hashtag and 100s of librarians showed up and hung out and danced and had a great time.  And there I was, being “unfun” about it, because of all the clubs they could have chosen to have it at, they chose a gay club.  I am super-uncomfortable with large groups of almost entirely straight people coming into gay spaces for their own “fun and leisure.”  Straight people, even allies like me, have the whole entire world.  What’s so wrong with the queer community having some spaces of their own where we straight people don’t come to get down and boogie for our own lolz?   There was no reason this event had to be held at a gay club and no organizers ever bothered to address my concerns about why it was.  (and why would they?  I’m a nobody.)   I wanted to go to the Dance Party.  I wanted to have fun and meet people and network and be all ironic about librarians being funky and stuff.  But my objections, the problematic location, it was all too much for me.  See, I’m unfun.

So, at this point the response written on behalf of the 2011 Quick Picks committee stops trying to engage me as a peer, as a fellow librarian, as a person with genuine, legitimate concerns.  At this point, the commenter just tries to tell me I’m unfun.

“I think you’re just reading too much into this!  …  Just be frivolous and stop trying to make everything AN ISSUE. Enjoy life…”

First, let me assure you: I enjoy life plenty.  In fact, being critical and analytical gives me a lot of enjoyment.  But this is a not so thinly veiled version of a common derailing technique: “Don’t You Have More Important Issues To Think About?” Why worry about this when there are real things I could be concerned about, when this is a nothing issue that I am reading too much into?  Heck, why make everything an issue at all?  This is also related to the derailing technique “don’t take this personally!”  But it is personal for me.  It’s personal to me as a librarian who doesn’t think my duty to teenagers is “frivolous” and it’s personal to me as a fat person.

You see, 2011 Quick Picks Committee, you are not breaking any news to me,  I already know I am unfun.  But I like to think that I am unfun for a reason.  I am unfun for all the times someone else has been unfun for me, for the moment when someone else has spoken up and said “Hey, this is problematic!” and made me feel less awkward and less alone.  As my friend Angelo said once about advocating and speaking up, “there are moments when others do this, and you feel like someone has just…rescued you in a way.”  Other people have rescued me.  I am unfun for the moments when I hope I might be able to rescue someone else.

It’s how I enjoy life.

4 Responses to “Unfun”

  1. TRMite

    As a lesbian I will tell you that I was pleased ALA had the dance party at a gay club. I see where you are coming from (I hate bachelorette parties at gay dance clubs!), and thank you for being a sensitive allie, but it’s actually quite a nice jester to all LGBT librarians, and we certainly want to dance the night a way with straight allies.

    hope they do it at a gay club again AND hope you come as well.

  2. Thayla

    Your reasoning on “This Is Why You’re Fat” is valid. If it was a book on gross menu items of the world, that would be entertaining and not necessarily a serious commentary (unless, of course, the books is aimed at overseas teens – and hey, they could put some gross American dishes on the menu). But fat is a huge issue in today’s society. It affects everyone from infants to the elderly. The health community is huge on weight loss for what ails you – and sometimes they are right. The entertainment community is huge on promoting movie stars with the bodies and the looks. The school systems are big on providing healthy snacks and removing vending machines with pop and candy. “Are you obese?” is everywhere. Pick a different book for entertainment value, if that’s what teens want. Can you recommend any?

  3. Liz B

    I get frustrated that often, in these conversations, “overweight”, “fat,” and “obese” are used interchangeably, and that they are also used as synonyms for “unhealthy.” A person’s weight may be under the medical definition of “obese” yet that person may be unhealthy. Thin is not de facto healthy. The issue is (IMHO) made worse by celebrity bodies that are held up as ideal, when to achieve that ideal the person needs a personal trainer, more time to exercise than a typical person has, and extreme dieting measures.

    What I liked about EAT THIS, NOT THAT is that it doesn’t say no junk food — it says, think about it, realize that, for example, a salad isn’t always lower in calories, etc., and yes, you can still “eat that” at Wendy’s.

    I think its valuable to know what is in food, in terms of processed food, etc. But that is about health. Not weight.

  4. Jennifer

    I’m a massage therapist and in school to be a holistic nutritionist, additionally my family has made the commitment over the last three years to eat organic food, and find as much locally as we can. We do yoga and get bodywork, do pool aerobics, and I for walks each evening. That being said, we are still gigantic buckets of cellulite.

    There are a myriad of health issues (some metabolism-related, some not) that can cause extra weight. Prolonged exposure to stress hormones can keep the weight on. One example could be hypothyroidsm, the metabolism killer that so many suffer from. And my biggest concern is from the US Food Pyramid itself – teaching families that a healthy diet begins with base of starch, has caused an epidemic of diabetes and related health problems.

    The issue is that, every single body is different and has different needs. There are people who can eat McDonald’s three times a day and never get “fat.” There are others that can look at a doughnut and gain weight. But for the majority of those with normal metabolisms, it is completely okay to have Wendy’s once in a while, and it’s okay to not feel guilty about it.

    “This is Why You’re Fat” is disinformation. The answer to the very complicated question, “why am I overweight?” should never be a picture of a cheeseburger. In my opinion, you’re setting a lot of young adults up for guilt and feelings of failure that way. See a nutritionist, she’ll tell you why. See a psychotherapist, she’ll tell you what kind of damage you’re causing.