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Lonie McMichael: The Sisyphean Bind

Background:
• Post 5: Lonie McMichael: Medical Rhetoric and Fat
• Post 4: Lonie McMichael: Love
• Post 3: Lonie McMichael: Resistance
• Post 2: Lonie McMichael: Internalization
• Post 1: Lonie McMichael: Intro & hook's ideology of domination
• BFB introduction and dissertation abstract.

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Whether it be Jenny Craig’s assertion that “we change lives,” the Mayo Clinic’s claim to provide “reliable information to achieve weight loss and maintain a healthy weight,” or the Ad Council’s campaign showing disembodied fat body parts as the reason for taking “small steps to get healthy,” the American public is inundated with the message that weight loss is possible and necessary to obtain health. Fat individuals can often become temporarily thinner, leading the majority of persons, including fat individuals themselves, within the dominant U.S. culture to believe that fat people can become slim with the application of enough will power and effort.

When we look closely at this idea that fat is permanently changeable we can see that fat prejudice deviates from some other forms of oppression. hooks noted that “Exploited and oppressed groups … are usually encouraged by those in power to feel that their situation is hopeless, that they can do nothing to break the pattern of domination.” Fat individuals, on the other hand, are expected by the oppressors to change their status, to lose weight in order to gain the rights and privileges afforded other individuals. However, no effective solutions for losing weight have been found, say Gaesser and Gard. This situation leaves fat individuals in an untenable situation: they are expected to do the near impossible in order to be treated like normal human beings.

As of yet, we do not have a word for this bind in which fat individuals find themselves. I choose to call the situation a Sisyphean bind: a demand that the individual succeed at a futile task, one that must be performed over and over again, before being considered worthy to receive what others are granted automatically. The OED says we can consider a task Sisyphean when it is “endless and ineffective,” based on the story of Sisyphus and his rock. The god Zeus bound Sisyphus, because of the human’s hubris, to the eternal task of rolling a rock up a hill only to watch it roll back down again. Dieting is often a Sisyphean task. Traci Mann says that dieting usually creates more fat than it eliminates. Therefore, the concept of a Sisyphean bind is particularly applicable to intentional weight loss when considering weight cycling: the endless losing and regaining of weight – many times causing eventual weight gain. Fat individuals can often lose weight, at times through almost Herculean efforts, only to see the pounds come back, even when they maintain weight-loss behaviors, says W.C. Miller. So, by its very nature dieting is a fruitless task that demands a great deal of energy with little, and even negative, results. And yet society expects the fat individual to succeed at this futile task rather than itself change to accommodate fat individuals.

This bind is exacerbated by the medical community through rhetoric touting the expectation of weight loss. This bind that fat individuals find themselves in – a bind created when society promises acceptance and respect if they will only become “normal” – leads the fat individual internalize fat hatred, believing themselves that they should be other than they are. The overwhelming rhetoric argues that fat individuals should change to be more acceptable rather than society changing to be more accepting. On the surface, this pressure to lose weight is seeking to normalize the fat individual, but, in reality given that weight is seldom changeable, sets them apart as deviant; as the “Other.” To eliminate this bind, as a society we must eliminate the expectation of weight loss by fat individuals and, instead, embrace human diversity.
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Thank you for letting me share a bit of my research results with you all. I am currently in negotiations with a publisher on the possibility of two books: one on medical rhetoric and fat and one on social justice issues surrounding fat. I hope to have the first one out within the year.

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worrier March 10th, 2011 | Link | You put things so well and

You put things so well and clearly. I am very eager to read the books you plan to put out, especially the one on social justice issues. Is that going to be the first one out?

richie79's picture
richie79
March 11th, 2011 | Link | What Worrier said. You have

What Worrier said. You have a real gift for explaining some of these really quite difficult sociological concepts in an accessible (yet not by any means simplistic) manner. Looking forward to seeing your work published to a much wider audience.

"What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right" - Albert Einstein

loniemc March 13th, 2011 | Link | Thanks for the support!! The

Thanks for the support!!

The first book will probably be the medical rhetoric one, since it will appeal to a bigger audience -- more empirical (research based). Hopefully, I'll have them both out in a year or two. I'll let you know if I get the contract.

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