Welcome to The Baffler’s agony corner, YOUR SORRY ASS, where Amber A’Lee Frost dispenses bossy, judgmental advice on how to live your life fairly, kindly, and with good humor. Send us your rants and pleas, please: [email protected]
Dear Your Sorry Ass,
I’m a cis man in my early thirties, a Leftist, and have been obese my whole life. For a whole host of reasons, food is a drug for me, and fast food and other Very Poor Choices (candy, snacks, etc.) have a hold on me that has never been surpassed by alcohol, sex, or any drug. I have tried many times, but I lack the ability to maintain any healthy eating regimen, and find comfort in eating poorly.
That being said, I have a family, including a toddler, and I don’t want to die early (except of course in the cause of glorious revolution). As I’ve grown further and further to the Left, I have (perversely?) taken a lot of shame in my weight and lack of self-control, seeing my consumption as a serious ideological flaw. Thanks in part to reading some of your (and Mark Fisher’s) writing, I recognize that while the physiological effects of food may be internal, the causation (or at least the facilitation) of my condition has its roots in commodification and capitalism.
I recently have gained the opportunity to have bariatric surgery, which should (if effective) cause me to become non-obese for the first time ever. Again, I want to make clear I’m not doing this primarily for vanity, but primarily to live for my kid(s), and to enjoy life more.
I feel guilty even about that. I feel guilty because bariatric surgery is so deeply commodified and slickly marketed today that going through the process makes me feel like I’m giving in to the capitalist system in the same way that a plastic surgery patient may be. The introductory meeting alone was like a time share presentation, except I walked out of it without any free hotel nights or rounds of golf. I try to tell myself that in an ideal world, this type of surgery would be available to every fat person (if they wanted it), but that does little to soothe my guilt.
So, tell me, am I being a class traitor, or otherwise contributing to the capitalist shame lumped on Plus-Size Proletarians everywhere by having this surgery?
Dear Fat Trotskyite,
Food addiction or compulsive eating, or whatever your preferred terminology, is an absolute bitch, and I’m sorry you’ve had to deal with it. Unfortunately, eating is universally quotidian, so your habit will never not be a habit. It can only be reshaped into a healthier one; there is no way to go cold turkey when it comes to food. And of course people in general and the culture at large tend to be even less sympathetic toward food addiction than they are toward other addictions. This is mainly because they, too, eat every day, and most people are able to make healthy choices and stop when they’re full. When someone can’t, the assumption is that they’re simply gluttons. This adds to the shame and guilt already tied up with eating to excess, and these two emotions are, as it happens, very efficiently soothed by—you guessed it—food. You’re aware of all of this I’m sure, but the question is what to do.
You’ve read Fisher, so you know the social factor of your addiction that can’t be ignored. Weight loss surgery works, but it requires lifestyle changes. You can overeat with a lap band and gain back all the weight, or just get incredibly sick. The behavioral component of your weight loss requires some mental health work, and while most people can’t afford a therapist specializing in addiction, there are support groups for food addiction specifically geared toward people going through (or who have gone through) the lap band procedure. Find the people who are enduring the same trials you are, and find people who have done so successfully, because you’re going to have to change the way you live, and surgery won’t do all of that for you.
That said, if you’re a good candidate, get the fucking surgery.
My general rule is, if something is going to save your life, do that particular thing.
By all means, get a second opinion. It’s a major procedure and it’s not for everyone. But my general rule is, if something is going to save your life, do that particular thing. Call me libertine, but that’s just how I choose to live.
People write to me a lot because they’re harboring guilt that they hope I can alleviate, and I do my best, but ultimately a lot of guilt is fundamentally irrational, and supportive words (even from a brilliant professional such as myself) cannot always quiet the hateful little voices in our heads. You know logically that you deserve to live, and that your family deserves it too, but for some reason you feel bad about it? It’s true, the tap-dancing salesmanship of commodified health care can really turn one’s stomach (no pun intended) but you actually feel bad for seeking a necessary medical procedure; that means you feel guilty for staying alive. This is what capitalism does to your psyche, which is so often overshadowed by what it does to your body.
But mind and body cannot be divided (until we’re all uploaded to the cloud or transplanted into sexy robot bodies, of course). So while your guilt is an understandable result of our terrible atomized neoliberal society, it is ultimately a malfunction, and you have to devise a way out of its clutches, because it is literally deadly. You have the opportunity for a much longer, much easier life. Take it! For yourself, for your family, and because we need our comrades to be jubilant and strong.