I wrote previously about Katy St. Clair, a San Francisco writer who underwent gastric bypass surgery and told her story on the radio. St. Clair also wrote an article for her employer, SF Weekly, about her surgery experience, which I was less happy with than I was with the radio broadcast. Lisa Jervis of Bitch‘s commentary on the article touches on my first pet peeve. St. Clair, as Jervis puts it,

play[s] down the risks and side effects of weight-loss surgery—which she dismisses as “overblown” without any further information or comment; I know it’s a personal essay and not a news article, but it’s still on the cover of a newsweekly, so the omission seems pretty glaring.

Enough said, and this goes also for the unsupported statement in the article that “pregnancy isn’t safe if you’re obese.” Well, case closed, then!

The article also comes complete with the following features that I would have, probably naïvely, expected to be beneath a presumably progressive newsweekly: 1) A couple of really tired fat jokes that, as one commenter to the article said, should not have made the editor’s cut, not so much because they were offensive but just because they were stupid and a waste of word count; 2) A mystifying and apparently racist note that upon getting thinner, “white men begin to notice I exist” (I was really hoping that this particular stereotype was rightfully losing steam, thanks to writing like this and this–oh, and the fact that it is A STEREOTYPE); and 3) A fairly insulting aside on “chubby chasers” that I could really have done without.

On this one, I was to some extent willing to believe that St. Clair was distinguishing between fat admirers and “chubby chasers” by characterizing FAs as sane guys who just prefer larger women, but applying the “chubby chaser” label to men whose preference/fetish crosses the line into obsession and causes them to behave inappropriately, relate to women as piles of fat existing for their own sexual gratification rather than as human beings, etc. But in the broadcast St. Clair had responded to the question “What is a chubby chaser?” with “A chubby chaser is somebody who’s attracted to bigger women,” so I guess that’s out.

(A thread at Dimensions sparked by the article produced like 26 pages of comments on this topic, but commenters’ opinions played out somewhat differently than I thought they might, which I found interesting and will probably write more on later.)

Overall, anyway, I initially suspected the article came off much more one-dimensional than the broadcast because of the word limit, and indeed I eventually found St. Clair’s comment in the Dimensions thread explaining “There are a lot of things I would do differently if I had had more space.” She also has some kind words in her comment for the men who found her beautiful when she was fatter. So I have to cut her a little slack, not to mention I don’t want to invalidate an actual woman’s personal experience with creepy FAs in the name of fairness to FAs as a group, because the behavior she describes in the article is obviously not OK no matter how you slice it.

And the flaws in the article are almost made worth it by her stark observations on the last page:

I smoke and drink way more than I used to, which I’m sure is part of what they call a “transfer of addictions” that happens to many post-ops.

So, yeah. I’m still a mess, but a better-looking mess.

I love St. Clair for being honest enough to reject the “all about health” bullshit that veneers 99.999% of WLS stories.

I also love the way the article ends–go read at least the last few paragraphs because I can’t really do the timing justice. Essentially, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Of course I can’t just leave it at that, though, because after thinking so much about the nature of attraction/attractiveness lately and poking around on Dimensions some, I have some thoughts roiling around in my head that I wanted to try and articulate. My train of thought goes like this.

At 200 lbs. St. Clair certainly may be attracting more “normal” (defined as “attracted to thin women”) dates than before her surgery. Yet from her anecdote, it’s clear that, as you would expect, she’s still probably attracting mostly men who prefer at least a slightly fatter woman. If you have an ironclad need for someone to be thin in order to find them attractive, the fact that a prospective date went from 360 to 200 is still not going to help them make your “cut.”

So, this is fine if, as a 200-lb. woman, you don’t place a value judgment on which body type your prospective partner idealizes–if, basically, you figure “I find this dude hot and he finds me hot! Awesome!” and that’s the end of it. Or if you recognize your own body as attractive and are therefore not thrown for a loop by others finding it attractive. The only way in which it sucks is that it’s obviously harder to find men who view your body as the ideal than it would be if you looked a little more socially acceptable.

If, however, you hate your fat body and believe it to be ugly, unhealthy, and bad, this implies that only a freak would find you sexually attractive because something objectively hateful cannot at the same time be attractive. Therefore there must be something wrong with a man who does find your body attractive. Attracting men who are not “damaged” by this definition, then, necessarily requires changing your body.

But if the smallest package you can force your body into is a size 14 or 16, and you still believe fatness or not-thinness is objectively unattractive, aren’t the men who find you attractive now still somewhat “damaged”? And if the hallmark of a “normal” man is that he finds thinness attractive, you may be able to find a “normal” man who either a) is willing to tolerate your body; b) is “attracted enough” to you on a purely physical level that the relationship works; c) feels that your other attractive features mitigate your less-than-ideal body; or perhaps the odious d) finds the idea of taking you on as a “project” and “fixing” you by helping you get thin to be appealing, perhaps with a bonus side order of making you dependent on and grateful to him because you’re fat and not good enough so nobody else will ever want you. But by definition you can never be a “normal” man’s physical ideal unless you find some way to get truly thin and stay there. To me that’s pretty depressing.

Or is it just that we feel that men who idealize 360 lbs. are “broken” but men who idealize 200 lbs. are acceptably non-perverted? I don’t know. There is the fact that probably many more men are sexually attracted to 200-lb. bodies than are willing to cop to that fact publicly–and many more who are so ashamed by their attraction to larger women that they don’t even express it in terms of who they date, given the inflexible nature of our current beauty standards and the premium placed on winning and displaying a “trophy” partner. Plus the fact that for many people, body shape is not as inflexible a component of attractiveness as it is for others. So maybe on some level even women who buy into this “normal”/”abnormal” dichotomy and who want to lose weight themselves unconsciously believe that it is not actually “that abnormal” to be attracted to a 200-lb. woman. 360, though, that’s just weird. 😛

I should note that I don’t think St. Clair’s words imply everything I have said here–not by a long shot. Among other things, she did say that she was comfortable in her own skin now at 200 lbs., so I’m not suggesting that she personally considers her body hateful enough to project that belief onto her dates in the way I describe. I also realize that she is human, and expecting her to be completely logically consistent on such a personal matter as her body and how she relates to it would be unfair. Lord knows I am the opposite of consistent on the topic myself. But her dating anecdote got me thinking rather far afield of what is written in the actual article, hence these musings.

Anyway, even the article certainly beats, by a considerable margin, the usual “Yay WLS I’m totally a different person now and my life is perfect” bullshit. But I still much preferred the broadcast, because the time frame allowed St. Clair to avoid the shortcuts and generalizations of the article and because I actually got to hear her tell her story.