I listen to public radio almost all the time in my car, because I am boring and stodgy, but I rarely catch the more “eclectic” stuff that airs on Sunday night on my local station because I’m not usually out and about at that time. Two Sundays ago, I did happen to be out driving on Sunday evening and caught a very interesting episode of Studio 360. Most of the episode focused on so-called “girl culture,” and one of the featured segments about girls coming of age was recorded by Elna Baker, a Mormon woman living in New York City. You can listen to the segment here.

In the segment, Baker reveals the power she ascribed to a beautiful dress owned by her grandmother, the shame of being a fat child in general and not fitting into that dress as a young girl, and the “redemption” of wearing the dress on a date as a grown woman. The end of her story, however, doesn’t go exactly as you might expect, and it is definitely worth a listen.

I have some of the usual complaints about the segment, the first of which is that Baker’s journey toward self-acceptance as a fat child and young woman meets a predictable end–she decides that she needs to start “taking care of herself,” visits a nutritionist, goes on a diet, and loses 80 pounds. I wish that just once, “taking care of yourself” would take a form that did not include a calorie-restricted diet. If you take up healthy habits and lose weight, returning to your natural weight range, then fine. But as we know, I don’t believe that deliberately aiming to lose weight, especially through severely restricting calories, is very likely to end well.

Accordingly, Baker just plain doesn’t seem to eat very much, which always depresses me. She describes being in a panic at the thought of eating dessert on the date at the climax of her story until she spots her savior, a Tasti D-Lite outlet. Baker states that a serving of their “fro-yo” contains a depressing 40 calories, though it looks like it’s actually more like 70 or 80 unless there’s some kind of child-size serving that I’m not aware of, which given women’s pathological fear of calories and proclivity for consuming baby-sized portions is certainly possible. (Huge difference between 40 and 70, I know. The web site says it’s not technically frozen yogurt either. I’m just shattering illusions left and right here, eh?) Actually, the stuff looks pretty good, to the point that after looking at their web site, I kind of wish they had locations around here, mainly because of the huge range of flavors. (Don’t get me wrong, I’d most likely order the largest size they offered. It’d probably set me back a big 4 points or something.) But mostly it just struck me as profoundly sad that a person could not, on just ONE occasion–an occasion where she was finally good enough by her own high standards, finally wearing her grandmother’s magic dress, and finally on a date with the most desirable guy in the ward–consider ordering a real dessert. God knows I would have, but I guess that’s why I’m fat, eh? No, actually not, but anyway.

I don’t consider this any fault of Baker’s. It’s just infuriating the degree to which many nutritionists and dietitians prescribe very restrictive diets when to my mind they should be focusing on helping clients get optimal nutrition in a livable, practical way. If Westerners are fat because we down flocks of chickens and quarts of cream (via Shapely Prose) on a daily basis, as the popular perception goes, shouldn’t a “normal” healthy diet do the trick to slim us down? Yet 1,200-calorie and lower regimens are routinely recommended and most nutritionists, it seems, would sooner promote feederism than advocate a perfectly normal, say, 1,800-2,500-calorie daily intake. Even if you believed that people are likely to keep weight off by dieting, wouldn’t you prefer to give a client a fighting chance at a routine they could actually live with? No matter how “motivating” the initial weight loss, I think most of us get that it would be pretty hard to go the rest of your life eating like half of what everyone else is eating. (And more importantly, why should fat people actually have to eat less than thin people? You can’t have it both ways. You’d almost think that if someone has to subsist on a caloric intake well below the UN World Food Programme’s “food security” cutoff (also via Shapely Prose) to stay thin, maybe they aren’t supposed to be thin in the first place. ANYhoo.) Finally, in many cases, nutrition professionals seem to be unable to divorce their professional advice from their own wacky disordered eating issues. Granted, I’m projecting here because little to nothing is said about this specific nutritionist in the segment, but this is something that really bothers me in general. And a client losing 80 lbs. in 5 1/2 months, plus being petrified at the thought of anything more “decadent” than Tasti D-Lite, seems like a bad sign.

At least the “Tasti D” is sort-of natural and not sugar-free. I guess.

Then, of course there are a few of the commenters (though to be fair, only a few, which is kind of refreshing). The less said about this the better. You fucking typical obnoxious self-righteous concern-trolling dickwads.

But honestly, this is where my complaints end. I know–I only bitched for 103,948,710,329,487 words this time, which is at least a 50% reduction from the usual. But here is the stuff I really liked.

First of all, the fact that Studio 360 was sharp enough to include in its “girl culture” episode a segment about body image–and one deeper than “I lost a bunch of weight and now I’m a different person, yay”–and how our identities as women are so often inextricably linked with our weight impressed me.

Second, the story of Baker’s journey as a fat and later a thin person is, to say the least, bittersweet, and Baker is smart enough to know that, and to make sure we too end up understanding. The anecdote about a Moroccan man’s offer of 100 camels for her as a child, versus 1,000 camels for her thinner, more beautiful sister, is an unusually stark example of something that most of us already know–for women, our worth as human beings can be calculated using a formula that is based 100% on our appearance. Her grandparents’ out-of-proportion pride in her weight loss makes me sad, I suppose because it puts me in mind of my own experiences with my weight, and reminds me again how angry it makes me that weight loss or otherwise “becoming beautiful” is supposed to be the crowning achievement in the life of any woman, no matter how accomplished. Her dumbass date’s oblivion as to why in the world women might eat fake frozen yogurt instead of real ice cream, in the same breath as informing Baker that he can’t “tolerate” fat people, is darkly funny and infuriating at the same time. And Baker’s realization that her fat self deserves love and respect too, while not revolutionary in FA circles, is profound.

Ultimately, I hope that Baker’s well-crafted storytelling helped at least a few listeners to understand that fat truly is a deeply feminist issue (MeMe Roth’s incredulity at this cra-hay-zee possibility notwithstanding), deeply woven into women’s identities, and how fat people are people too–and, like thin people, are far more than their weight or BMI or perceived cost to the health insurance system. Unfortunately, the fact that Baker is currently thin, like Debra Sapp-Yarwood, might be the only factor that actually helps validate that message for many listeners. But I’ll take what I can get, and I appreciate Baker sharing her story.

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