It’s February, Black Heritage Month. The book that I want to share with you today is not directly related to the black heritage, but it’s relevant – I want to explore a stigma that we hope to break down in this society .
In my role as the Literacy and Readers Advisory Librarian, I have been trying to keep up with our Canadian literature, but sometimes I regrettably missed some really good titles. When I found Stranger by David Bergen, the 2005 Giller winner with many other subsequent awards, I was astonished by the profundity that his clean, short prose had offered.
The story started with a passionate love story between Dr. Eric Mann and Iso, the “keeper” of the same fertility clinic that the doctor worked for in Guatemala, with Iso thinking that Eric and his wife had been living separate lives. But one day, Eric’s wife, Susan, suddenly appeared at the clinic to take the fertility treatment. While Eric almost completely vanished from Iso during Susan’s presence, he continued to promise that he didn’t want Susan in town. When Susan left, Eric resumed his ritual with Iso, taking her on trips in his motorcycle, making love with her, enjoying the freedom without any need for responsibilities. Until one day, he hit a little boy on a country road, and at the same time, Iso found out she had had a baby growing inside her; you would think now there should be some consequence imposed on the doctor, but insanely, not quite …
I don’t want to spoil the rest of the intricate plot. But I suspect, at this point, part of the world might be questioning why Iso is so naïve, then the conversation might be steered into a very subtle and grey territory and put women in such situations at disadvantage.
I’d like to tell a few stories that come from a few library resources, and what they mean when you put them all together.
Story number one is from Oliver Sacks’ incredible book Seeing Voices. Seeing Voices is broken up into two parts—the first of which deals with the history of American Sign Language and the struggle for language acquisition among Deaf children before its inception. One part that stood out for me was the suppression of Sign and the locking out of Deaf persons from some (ergo catastrophic) decision making about Deaf education near to the end of the 19th century; “More and more, English became the language of instruction for Deaf students, taught by hearing teachers, fewer and fewer of whom knew any sign language at all.” The second half of the book is about the fight for a Deaf president at Gallaudet University. If you haven’t heard of it, Gallaudet was the first Deaf university in the world and it’s a pretty big deal. The first Deaf president of the school, I. King Jordan, came into power in 1988. But here’s the story I most wanted to share from this book, it’s about two prelingually Deaf boys: Joseph (age 11), and Manuel (age 9). Both boys had reached (what in context was) an advanced age to have reached without learning any language—they were preteens, and completely languageless. In the first case, Joseph was overlooked in his own family (regarded as unintelligent, with “no real attempt” ever taken to teach him language). In the second case, although there was still a hefty communication barrier, Manuel “was much loved by his parents and older siblings and trusted by them with all sorts of tasks.” When both of these boys were given the chance to enter the world of language via formal education, Manuel learned Sign rapidly; “there was doubt as to whether he would acquire language fluidly at his age, but he has done brilliantly, and in three months, has already acquired fair sign and fair Italian, loves both languages, loves communicating, and is full of questions, and curiosity, and intellectual vitality.” For Joseph, the going was slow, and language acquisition came more strenuously. Although he did develop some Sign and was good with visual problems, he was not able to formulate questions, let alone formulate responses to them (one couldn’t ask him what he had done over the weekend, for example):
There are just short of 128 pages of text that I’d like to quote in this post, but I’ll have to make do with a select few tidbits from the entire selection. It’s worth noting though, that in just over 100 small pages with You Have the Right to Remain Fat, Tovar has made what I felt to be quite a compelling argument against diet culture & fatphobia, arguing that its continued existence in the form of popular health guides (e.g. healthy is the new thin) seeps through every pore of our existence and submits every woman it touches to its unhealthy system of size discrimination, regardless of where along the spectrum you fit in (in fact every person, as it’s not just women participating in the propagation of and living with fatphobia). I would recommend You Have the Right to Remain Fat to any and everyone. Go read it. Now. We have two physical copies and one electronic book (available via hoopla), so there’s no excuse not to either borrow it or put yourself on hold immediately. So let’s get into some of what makes this slim volume such a pithy and convincing text on why we as a collective should stop judging people by the size of their bodies, including ourselves.
If I were to ask you whether you’ve been affected in any way throughout your life by fatphobia, what would your answer be? If you identify as, or have been categorized in some point in your life by other people as, belonging to the side of the spectrum that fatphobia puts down and shames – i.e. if you’re fat – you might have precious little difficulty coming up with instances when being anything more than what is deemed thin enough (is it ever enough?) has played a part in influencing your life in ways both obvious and more insidious. For those on the other side of the spectrum – thin or even just not-fat – would you say you’ve been touched by fatphobia? At first glance, it might not be immediately obvious, but the unfortunate fact of the matter is that body size monitoring, whether it’s becoming thin or staying thin, affects everyone, not just those on the fat side side. Unless you’ve gotten to this point completely unaware of body size discrimination and the values we as a society ascribe to different body sizes (in which case… I don’t know whether to be happy for you because you’ve been so fortunate/live somewhere where body size discrimination doesn’t exist (also where you at?) or to ask if you’ve buried your head in the sand), and even if you’re unaware of how body discrimination has affected you throughout your life thus far (and will probably continue to do so in the future), this is a bias that is as pervasive in popular media and in lived realities as it is damaging for everyone involved.
Timely in the wake of diet culture, You Have the Right to Remain Fat will incense you and give you some hefty chunks of food for thought that will make you re-evaluate your existing biases and our societal norms.