men_in_full: (opera goers)
“If you want to change your body, does it mean that you hate yourself? If you want to change the world, does it mean that you hate the world?” That's the fundamental question posed in Glenn Gers' film, Disfigured, in which women question what they've been taught about their bodies, and how they live in them in a world that expects and rewards thinness.

The film opens in “documentary style” with a fat acceptance group, where the large-bodied Lydia (Deidra Edwards) struggles for recognition. Every group is in some small way a microcosm of society, of what the participants bring to it, and this mostly-female group is no different. And this one is based on conformity – only in this case, the body to which one conforms is a fat one. When recovering anorexic Darcy (Staci Lawrence) asks to join because she thinks she's “fat” and wants to learn to “accept” that, the atmosphere at once takes on the quality of middle school. It's as if the unpopular kid had the gall to walk up to the popular kids' lunch table, and the emotional temperature in the room drops precipitously. To this group, at least, fat isn't “just a construct.” They know what fat is, and Darcy isn't it.

Both Darcy and Lydia are rejected in their own way, and thus their friendship grows. It's rare in film to see women intensely interact; form friendships; suffer; work things out. The relationship between the two women emotionally resonates because the issues with which they struggle are fundamental to not only their identities, but to their very lives.

Lots more ...  )

(Many thanks go to Glenn Gers for kindly providing a copy of Disfigured for this commentary.)

ETA: Disfigured is not, to my knowledge, going to have a wide theatrical release. It is available on DVD for rent in the USA here and at other rental outlets; for USA purchase here, and for UK purchase here (PAL format.)
men_in_full: (red sumotori)
Someone called my attention to a New York Times Magazine photo spread called Bodies of Work, showing the various body types of athletes who practice different sports. Interestingly, both the male shot putter (height 6'5", weight 335 lbs) and the female weight lifter (height 5'9", weight 300 lbs) with their respective BMIs of 40 and 44 would probably both be considered "morbidly obese." "Sneer quotes" around the BMI categorizations are fully justified.

But if the late psychologist William Sheldon (1898-1977) was right, this variety of body types in athletes and everyone else shouldn't surprise us at all.

Somatotypes and bodies, with some SFW pictures )

men_in_full: (daniel lambert)
I'm pretty flattered - The Rotund invited me to write a guest column on "The Invisible Fat Man," and so I did. (Thanks so much for the opportunity!) In it I made some mention of Glenn Gers' film Disfigured, which just had its New York opening. From what I have seen of stills and the trailer, Ryan Benson's character Bob is just too cute for words; the kind of sweet, rounded man with a gentle face and chest that just demand cuddling.

I was talking about why fat men don't get to take their shirts off very often in movies, and speculated that some of it was that creators don't want to subject a sympathetic or favorable character to mockery or cruel laughter (as is so often the case when a fat man is shown unclothed in the mainstream.) In Disfigured, fat heroine Lydia (Deidra Edwards) forms a friendship with recovering anorexic Darcy (Staci Lawrence.) After starting a relationship with the well-padded Bob (Ryan Benson), Lydia makes the unusual request of Darcy for “anorexia lessons.” I wrote:
What I found interesting re: fat male invisibility is that in the trailer for Disfigured, the fat heroine and her fat boyfriend are shown in an erotic moment, but she is shirtless and he is not. Perhaps he disrobes later in the film. But trailers are marketing tools, and scenes for them are picked accordingly. It may be that we’re seeing a “LOST effect” here. To wit, if the boyfriend is intended to be shown as cute and sympathetic, it’s not possible to show him shirtless in the film marketing. In other words, if the fat male lead is seen by the audience as “gross” or funny, the audience will have already turned away from whatever (hopefully) open-minded or new things which the film possibly has to say about fatness. So while it remains to be seen how Disfigured handles its fat male romantic interest, at least in the trailer the fat man’s body invisibility is maintained.

Well, knock me over with a feather, but the director/writer left a comment in the combox. Ulp! Now I have to gather my wits to answer. ; ) Seriously, this to me is the best part of writing this blog - communicating with those actually creating the art which interests me.

Gers sounds pretty sensitive to what it means for fat men to be sexually "revealed" in the mainstream media. Rachel at The F-Word interviewed Gers here, where she put to him ten questions about his film. This one is worth repeating:
Sexual scenes involving one or more fat partners are unheard of in Hollywood. And yet Disfigured features a beautifully-crafted and graphic sexual scene shot between Lydia and Bob. What did you hope to accomplish or show with this scene?

First off, I wanted the audience to be increasingly aware that they were going someplace they hadn’t been before in a movie. I knew it would provoke a lot of things, and the only one I feared was laughter - so the scene calls attention to itself through technique and makes the audience self-conscious, thoughtful about their response. We also used all the classic aesthetic tricks of movie love scenes, to declare uniquivocally: this is beautiful. Plus, it actually is beautiful and Deidra and Ryan are beautiful people.

I wanted the audience to become aware of their own awareness - their discomfort and curiosity and pleasure, and all the countless personal thoughts that they came into the movie with, but hadn’t really faced. It was my hope that when the audience was that self-aware, they would be forced to ask a simple question: why? Why is this not shown? Why are these bodies objects of ridicule or contempt?

My answer - the movie’s answer - is pretty simple: it should be shown. We’re all ugly, and we’re all beautiful. Let’s not hide so much, and let’s not look away. I think the sex scene affects people so strongly because it’s not just about “them,” it’s about us.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Gers treats this - well-done sex scenes in recent movies are rare, and I don't think I've ever seen one with a fat man, outside of a German porno flick which I saw in college.

Finally, a parenthetical note on heroic fat male characters. I just watched the Babylon 5 episode "Racing Mars" (Season 4, Episode 10.) In it we meet Mars resistance fighter and smuggler Captain Jack (Donovan Scott), the bewhiskered and quite round older man familiar with "pleasures of the mind and pleasures of the body." In a rare display of heroism involving a fat man, Jack sacrifices himself to avoid betraying the resistance movement. And we know Jack at one time was a lover as well, as he talks of his daughter. Just another little grain of sand, but put enough of them together, and you have a whole beach ...
men_in_full: (bacchus de vos)
While the culinary rodent Remy might have been the furry star of the Oscar's Best Animation pick Ratatouille, the presiding "genius" of the film is his wonderfully floaty fat mentor, master chef Auguste Gusteau. Rarely has a fat man in animation been so suffused with artistic power, energy, creativity, an air of subtle sexuality, but Pixar brings him to life in Brad Bird's film. And best of all, it's done with no fat jokes, no deprecation, no snark.

Ratatouille remarks, with spoilers )

From what I read, Pixar's next film WALL-E apparently portrays pretty negative images of fat people, as Disney watch blogger Jim Hill reports:
The first act of this film is set on Earth 700 years from now, where -- thanks to humanity's wasteful ways -- our planet is now basically one big trash heap floating in space) ... In the future, mankind has grown so slothful that everyone weighs 500 pounds and has lost the ability to walk on their own.
Shall we leave aside how people so immobile are able to build space stations, the rockets to get there, and the barcaloungers to loll around on? It's a shame Pixar has to tread this path, especially after delivering such a delightful fat character as Ratatouille's Gusteau.
men_in_full: (Default)

One of my favorite paintings of a fat and imposing man is the Italian Baroque portrait of the Tuscan nobleman and soldier Alessandro del Borro. Some think Velasquez was the painter; others attribute it to Bernardo Strozzi, probably because of its more naturalistic style.

Del Borro studied mathematics and mechanics, but got drawn into the mid-seventeenth century wars against the Ottoman Empire. His command earned him the title "The Terror of the Turks," and ultimately led to his death in a naval battle against the Ottomans off the coast of Corfu in 1656.

In this painting, you really feel del Borro's size. Monroe Beardsley in Aesthetics: Problems in the Philosophy of Criticism (pg. 300) points out that by bringing del Borro right up to the front of the visual space, the figure doesn't just "tell" of his overwhelming size, but in a way "shows" it:
... Suppose we want to represent a bulky, massive man. We can do so by drawing a small figure at some distance, and setting up the perspective and other objects nearby in such a way that we can read him as a big man, though the shape that represents him is small. But if we bring him up close to the picture-plane, as a portraitist would do, and make him crowd the available picture-space, then the area that represents him will itself be bulky and, if we wish it, massive; here the bulkiness of the man is represented by the bulkiness of the design area. See, for example, Goya's Colossus, Plate VII. We say, colloquially, that we "feel" his bulkiness; we don't merely infer it. [An example is found in] such a painting as the unflattering portrait of Field Captain Alessandro del Borro (date unknown, Kaiser Friedrich Museum, Berlin) attributed, probably incorrectly, to Velasquez. Here the impression of bulk is further increased by placing the Captain between pillars and setting the spectator's eye level at his feet."
Unlike Beardsley, I don't think the portrait of del Borro is "unflattering" at all. As I see it, he stands as sturdy as the column next to him. He's not an epicene dandy, or some symbol of self-indulgence. He peers out from behind his small eyes with a beady stare, daring the viewer to challenge him.

The close proximity, and our lowered vantage point, makes him look especially tall. Also, the vantage point adds to the imposing physicality of his size. (ETA:) David Addison Small does the same thing here with the enormous angelic figure. Seattle artist Brian Murphy, whom I wrote about earlier, uses the same perspective in image #12 in his gallery. In both paintings, the belly bears down on the viewer with an almost overpowering weight. Murphy's #13, #15, #16, #18 and #19 also emphasize the size and breadth of the foreshortened face in the same way. (/ETA)

True, del Borro is not "beautiful" in a classical sense. But while fat women in older paintings may often be idealized, the fat man seldom is. We see him "as he is," and are invited to take him on his own terms.
men_in_full: (Default)
Most of what I know about the Leicester fat man Daniel Lambert comes from Dr. Jan Bondeson's The Two-Headed Boy and Other Medical Marvels. This article synopsizes his life.

He was born in Leicester in 1770, and while large, didn't grow exceptionally fat until he reached adulthood. He was known overall as having a generally kind and generous nature. As a youth, he taught other boys to swim in the local river, being especially buoyant. He apprenticed to an engraver and then took over his father's position as keeper of the Leicester "bridewell," or private prison. While a large young man, it wasn't until he adopted the sedentary life of a warder that he began to grow exceptionally large.

The two events might have been coincidental, though, because Lambert continued to ride, hunt, and swim until five or so years before his death. Contrary to the common wisdom, he neither drank ale nor was thought to "over-eat."

As prison-keeper, he was renowned for his kindness. Prisoners were given cots instead of being made to sleep in straw and filth; the prison was whitewashed regularly, and the prisoners respected him. When the local prison was merged with the county one in 1804, Lambert was pensioned off, and a year later he began to exhibit himself in London. He weighed about 330 kg, or about 725 lbs.

Lambert didn't like putting himself up for exhibition. He charged a fair amount to keep away the idle curiosity seekers, and received people in his own London home. He managed his own money and didn't use a handler or manager.

While it's true that in the late 18th/early 19th century, a "stout" man was considered handsome and healthy, Lambert's unusual size did engender some impertinence and rude remarks. A Swedish officer referred to him as "this hideous mass of flesh." One woman asked him rudely how much his capacious coat had cost, and he answered, "If you think if proper to make me a present of a new coat, you will then know exactly what it costs."

Lambert never married, but according to Bondeson, when he was on exhibit he had many women visitors, who spoke approvingly of him.

Without any previous illness, he died suddenly at the relatively young age (even for that day) of 39. Apparently he got up to shave, complained to a servant of shortness of breath, and collapsed.

Bondeson spends too much time wondering what made Daniel Lambert such a man of size, and assuring us that he could have been "helped" by gastic bypass surgery. No doubt Lambert's life as an extremely fat man was far different in an era where his size was not yet "medicalized." He was treated as a wonder, a marvel of nature, and sometimes an object of ridicule or smart remarks, but not in general an object of pity or revulsion.
men_in_full: (Default)
While I have never read Helen Dunmore's short story collection, Love of Fat Men, I've always been haunted by this evocative quote, "There is nothing as sleep-giving as the shoulder and breast of a fat man."

But many fat men don't see their breasts as "sleep-giving," or sexual - instead, they're a source of shame, a problem requiring surgical solution. Of course, men don't have to be fat to have larger breasts (gynecomastia, as it's called, can be caused by hormones, medications, or probably just genetics.) Larger breasts, though, seem to be almost universal in fat men, at least from my casual swimming-pool and art viewing.

Personally, I think it's time to take people's tender breasts away from the coarse manipulation of gender categorization ("Big = feminine," "Small/flat = masculine"), and treat them with a little more consideration. Outside of nursing a baby, which is exclusively a female feat, breasts pretty much serve the same function in men and women - to provide intimacy, comfort, and pleasure. The question Why Do Men Have Nipples? seems to reveal a certain lack of worldly experience. ;)

Just as each person has his or her own individual face and body, so will he or she have his or her own breasts. Women shouldn't be made to feel "wrong" if their breasts don't match certain socially-defined shapes - and neither should men.

Even though "More men busting out with 'man boobs'" is an insulting title, this interview with Los Angeles specialist Dr. Glenn Braunstein actually ends on an up beat:
Fortunately, except in patients with a rare genetic abnormality called Klinefelter's syndrome, there doesn't appear to be an association between gynecomastia and breast cancer, Braunstein says. ....

Braunstein says many men are embarrassed. Others, he says, just don't care.

"They're either in no relationship or stable relationships and this is where they are, and as long as they don't have breast cancer and as long as I can tell them they don't have anything serious going on, they'll just forget about it."

The Yahoo group Male-breasts doesn't think it's abnormal, and the information website www.gynecomastia.org has an Acceptance section.

I think it's good to see men not worried about something which, Braunstein says, can affect over a half of all men. This makes me wonder, though, if larger breasts are that common in men of a wide range of body types, why is it given a medicalized name and even considered an "abnormality" at all?

(Thanks, [livejournal.com profile] shryve, for the idea.)
men_in_full: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] shryve made a comment in the 9/17/07 entry, about how the nude model in the second photograph under discussion was "hiding little skin/fat in a world where Fat Bodies “have to be” covered."

That's an excellent point, because in this world of increasing media exposure of skin, fat bodies still "have to be covered." One of the biggest problems we have as fat people is that we are "expected" to be invisible. Those who push the envelope of invisibility often experience shame, or are "supposed to." So men are ashamed to go to the pool; women won't wear a two-piece bathing suit; neither men nor women will allow their pictures to be taken, etc. This "invisibility" is made worse by the constant media barrage of thin or "ripped" images, almost to the point that when you *do* see a large person in a neutral or even positive light, it gives you a jolt.






Here's an example. I was recently watching the 1978 remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers. There's a scene in a mud bath salon where spa owner Nancy Bellicec (Veronica Cartwright) attends to a large man taking a treatment. She helps him out of the tub and into the shower, then is in the process of giving him a massage, right before she finds the alien copy of her husband, upon which of course all hell breaks loose.

As she was rubbing his back, and then his stomach, I found myself clenching up - waiting for the smart remark, the not-so-humorous pratfall, the subtle mockery which directors can easily introduce into a scene. But there was none. He was an incidental character, presented as just another physical type of man, without remark.

Now perhaps this seems like settling for a few crumbs, when we should get the whole cake, and I would agree. A lack of mockery isn't enough; for instance, I would like to see fat men at least once in awhile as romantic leads. But we won't get there until the large man is able to simply show himself and be seen. How many times have you seen a film where the "hot" guys take off their shirts, and the fat guy keeps his on? This won't change until fat men seize glad exposure without shame, and those who love them who are unashamed to support them in it.



ETA: moviechubs on tumblr found a pic!




Bearmythology also has a .gif of the scene (scroll down.)

men_in_full: (de vos bacchus)
[livejournal.com profile] jennie_jay has managed to combine my two loves in one, as she introduced me to Bryn Terfel as "that huge hill of flesh" Falstaff in Verdi's eponymous opera. She also passed on a blog entry from The Anchoress (who also shares the Bryn love.) In this production, Terfel wears a fat suit to show Sir John's impressive girth.

I understand that most bass-baritones aren't as massively fat as Verdi's Falstaff is meant to be. This might be one of the few instances where a fat suit really is dramatically "necessary." Also, people come to hear a "superstar" like Terfel, not see an "accurate" portrayal of the character. It's opera, after all - very little is "real" or "accurate." However, opera singers aren't immune from the pressure to be slender either - soprano Deborah Voight was fired from a 2004 Covent Garden performance of Ariadne auf Naxos for being "too fat," and has since had gastric bypass surgery. But Sir John's rubber bulk got me thinking once again about the fat suit in general.

One consequence of an ubiquity of fat suits is that if a fat suit is all people ever see, then they won't be able to tell the difference. It white people who'd never seen African-Americans thought they all looked like the old stereotyped 'blackface' portrayals. At least one person actually got confused. The Anchoress mentions:
The NY Times posted a glowing review of Terfel’s performance in Falstaff and then found itself being accused by one letter-writer of lacking respect and decency toward Bryn by “displaying his deplorable physical condition” or somesuch (I’m paraphrasing). The Times then pointed out that the picture is of Terfel in a wonderfully realistic prosthetic “fat suit.”

To me, Terfel's fat suit isn't all that "wonderfully realistic," especially if it's the same as the one shown this video.

I'd be curious to know what the opera audience's reaction was, when they first saw Terfel in his suit. Did they gasp, laugh, feel shock? Would a genuinely fat body have shocked them more, and perhaps this was a way to "distance" themselves from such a thing? It's possible to imagine that in some parts of the country that outside of doctors, there are people who genuinely have never really looked at someone that fat and that undressed up close - or perhaps have never really "seen" them - in the sense of genuinely looking, or perhaps looked at them only with horror.

We used to have the same idea with regard to black people in the USA. Before the Civil War (1861-1865), black performers almost never appeared before white audiences. Instead, white male troupes dressed up as blacks, usually acting out skits and songs that presented a grossly caricatured, distorted view of slave life. The graphic images that accompanied the advertisements, song books, and joke books (with regrettable names like the "Al-Ma-Nig" book of jokes) formed the basis for what the Wikipedia Blackface article calls "darky iconography," the stereotyped image of African-Americans that persisted into the 1970s.

Like the antics of "Jim Crow" (shown at left) or his eye-rolling, lip-smacking successors, the sudden appearance of a nearly-naked fat-suited body on screen or stage has the same aim: to get a laugh at the sight of someone perceived as ridiculous, grotesque, and thus amusing.

As if they understand the physical unreality of most fat suits, movie directors have taken them high-tech, as in Click. Adam Sandler (with the aid of a magical remote) fast-forwards himself into the future, and "wakes up" to find himself extremely large - goes to the mirror, screams in horror, etc. In this film, his face is "morphed" onto the genuinely fat body of a body double. In a sense that's even more insulting, because the fat actor is robbed of his own face, his own identity, to serve as a "living fat suit" for the star.

I haven't seen Norbit, where Eddie Murphy dons a female "fat-face" made of a latex suit enhanced with computer special effects. Even with the most realistic computerized rendition, though, the principle is still the same. Fat suits keep us from "seeing" fat bodies, by implying that the real thing is too horrific to really see. And if the "real thing" is too awful to even look at, then don't even think about an embrace. Or living in one.
men_in_full: (daniel lambert)
The incomparable fantasist John Crowley in the short story "Novelty" (in this collection) has a character say, in essence, there are two kinds of poems - the kind you talk about in bars, and the kind you write.

Stories come that way too - there are the kind you talk about on your LJ, and those you actually write. A modern retelling of Phantom of the Opera with a fat Phantom keeps tugging at my skirts for attention. It might be the first kind of story, but I hope not, because it's a pretty compelling idea - and one which I think could preserve the themes of POTO as laid out by its original creator.

I think I could even write it with an Erik/Christine pairing outcome. But one critical theme from Leroux would have to be preserved - and I think it would translate well - the "Raoul" character still has to suspect that "Christine" hides a love in her heart for "Erik" that's "like sins" - he has to experience that cold creeping dread up his back that she may actually *love* this man, and even on some level find him sexually attractive. Because the reader is (probably) going to be creeping out right along with him.

It puts "Raoul" back in the driver's seat of the narrative, as Leroux intended, too - because we see Erik through "Raoul's" eyes - that is, the condemning eyes of "society" as well as the eyes of an almost-jilted lover who really doesn't understand or sympathize with what the "Christine" character is experiencing. This does NOT make him the "bad guy" in any sense, but it does make him as baffled as the reader - who (as in Leroux's day) really should be shocked at "Christine's" gestures of generosity at the end.

There simply is no way to do it with a facial deformity, which has totally been evacuated of its symbolic meaning - especially not since movies like Mask and Man Without a Face. But just as skeletal men in evening dress were sometimes used in 19th century French magazine illustrations to symbolize evil and decadence, so do we use the image of the fat man as representative of our own ideas of self-indulgent evil (Baron Harkonnen in Dune, or the fat programmer Dennis Nedry in the film Jurassic Park) or absurdity (www.dumpcupid.com, anyone?)

Parenthetically, I think one reason Erik is so loved w/in the fandom (especially Kay!Erik) is *because* he's thin and looks fashionably lean in basic black. This is a reversal of the 19th century ideal, which favored the bigger and broader man as the ideal.
men_in_full: (daniel lambert)
While I don't intend to focus heavily on the "obesity epidemic" controversy which has been swirling in the media for the past few years, occasionally someone asks, "What about the health question?"

Read more... )
men_in_full: (de vos bacchus)
Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] inlaterdays, who pointed out this 1999 article from Salon Magazine by writer Steven A. Shaw, a "fat guy living in New York."

A few comments: To me, this article is another example of how much we've "medicalized" the nonstandard body over the past 7-8 years. I can't imagine most articles today saying anything positive about fat people, men *or* women - instead of mostly serving as free advertisement for gastric bypass surgery.

Shaw's right about fat guys having the potential to be very strong, and mentions sumo wrestlers. While powerlifters in the 125 kg+ weight class would probably rip your head off if you called them "fat," they generally do have muscular but rounder body types that aren't "defined" or "cut." Take for instance Gene Rychlak, the first man to bench press over 1000 lbs.

I'm not sure that Jesus was skinny, though. Yes, he's portrayed that way in Western art, but that's after centuries of making ascetic starvation the sine qua non of spirituality. In reality, the "historical Jesus" was most likely a pretty strong guy, if he did the "typical" carpentry work of the day, which included hoisting ceiling beams and framing houses as well as wood carving or furniture construction. But you don't often see artistic images of a Middle-Eastern looking, well-tanned Jesus with burly shoulders.

I laughed with delighted recognition at the "fat guys are better in bed" section. I don't know if I'd go so far as to say "better for everyone," because each has her own preference. However, for those who like it, even a little extra flesh can be a feast for the senses.

The part at the end about the conspiracy of fat guys for world peace amused me, but in a way chilled me too, because unlike in 1999, we *are* in the middle of a war. It's an interesting question - how related are tendencies towards being warlike and towards self-punishing asceticism?
men_in_full: (pensive)
From a 2/1/94 New York Times article called "The Glamour of Girth" by Amy Spindler (registration required):

The 90's seem destined to be defined as the era of the backlash. The latest manifestation is an embrace of fat men by the fashion community. Both Esquire Gentleman and L'Uomo Vogue are planning feature stories about attractive corpulence. And at the shows of Comme des Garcons and So, there were more bulging stomachs than chiseled cheekbones.

While Esquire is taking a historical look, L'Uomo Vogue has induced its beefy subjects to pose for photographs. Among those who have accepted are Fabien Baron and Gianfranco Ferre. "I think that a fat man has two incredible appeals," said Aldo Pramoli, editor in chief of L'Uomo Vogue, after issuing the disclaimer "I'm not fat."

He ticked off the virtues: "A fat man has, at the same time, a touch of humor and power. In Indian and Arabic movies the gods and goddesses are fat. In that culture and economy, fat is beautiful and powerful. The shape of the person communicates that this person lives well and is comfortable with himself."

Mr. Promoli said that the February issue of L'Uomo Vogue has a story about Julian Schnabel, with photos by Michel Comte. "The idea is his strength," Mr. Promoli said. "He is fat and his painting is strong because he's fat." Alexandre van Slobbe said that he wanted to show all forms of masculinity. Contrasting drugs and drink with "an attraction to food," he said, "I always found it funny that some habits were seen as glamorous, exciting and masculine, while others defined a man as a sissy."


The NY Times had it archived under "Health-->Diseases-->Obesity," not fashion.

(pic: artist and filmmaker Julian Schnabel at Venice Film Festival, 2000, accepting the Grand Jury award for Before Night Falls.)
men_in_full: (Default)

In A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, the Ghost of Christmas Present appears in Scrooge's room and transforms it:

The walls and ceiling were so hung with living green, that it looked a perfect grove; from every part of which, bright gleaming berries glistened. The crisp leaves of holly, mistletoe, and ivy reflected back the light, as if so many little mirrors had been scattered there; and such a mighty blaze went roaring up the chimney ...

Heaped up on the floor, to form a kind of throne, were turkeys, geese, game, poultry, brawn, great joints of meat, sucking-pigs, long wreaths of sausages, mince-pies, plum-puddings, barrels of oysters, red-hot chestnuts, cherry-cheeked apples, juicy oranges, luscious pears, immense twelfth-cakes, and seething bowls of punch, that made the chamber dim with their delicious steam.

In easy state upon this couch, there sat a jolly Giant, glorious to see:, who bore a glowing torch, in shape not unlike Plenty's horn, and held it up, high up, to shed its light on Scrooge, as he came peeping round the door.

'Come in.' exclaimed the Ghost. 'Come in and know me better, man.'"


The image on the right is from the rare 1971 Oscar-winning animated version directed by Richard Williams (of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? fame.) In Williams' interpretation, Christmas Present's generosity of form also reflects the expansiveness and charity of the season that gets left out in so many adaptations, for this Christmas Present takes Scrooge not just to Bob Cratchit's and Fezziwig's homes, but to the home of the miners, the lighthouse keepers, and the ship at sea as well. So his fullness of body (rather than reflecting gluttony) serves as an emblem of the generosity, openness, and hospitality Dickens wishes us to associate with the season for those in all walks of life and circumstances. And he uses a "jolly giant, glorious to see," full in body and spirit, to do so.

The Ghost of Christmas Present wasn't cut from whole cloth by Dickens. Before there was the commercialized "Santa Claus" as we know him, there was "Father Christmas," whom Dickens appropriated for his Spirit. He's middle-aged, not old, with the wideness and solidity that some men grow into with time. With his green fur-trimmed robe, his crown of holly, his "capacious breast" that disdained "to be warded or concealed by any artifice," his hint of wildness and phallic torch, he perhaps hails from the Green Man of pre-Christian England.

Today we are cautioned against the season as a mortal threat to diets. That sounds similar to the Puritan disdain for Christmas, where fear and suspicion of the twelve-day long season peaked during the ascendancy of Oliver Cromwell. The 17th century Puritan parliament's "Godly Party" embarked on a twenty-some year attempt to snuff out the celebration, seen as sinful, luxurious, wasteful, and a harbinger of pre-Puritan days. But in older Catholic and Anglican celebrations,

... there was also the concept of a ‘Father Christmas’, more as a figure that oversaw the community celebrations than as someone who gave presents to children. ... It was a period of leisure, of eating and drinking to excess, of dancing and singing, gambling, gaming and stage plays (though modern-style pantomimes did not emerge until the eighteenth century), of drunkenness and sexual immorality, a period when normal rules and self-control did not apply, a period of deliberate inversion and ‘misrule’. (Ref.)

C.S. Lewis had his Cromwellian White Witch in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe enchant Narnia so that it was "always winter and never Christmas," and it's the coming of Father Christmas that signals the end of her ascetic and bitter reign.

The Spirit stood beside sickbeds, and they were cheerful; on foreign lands, and they were close at home; by sruggling men, and they were patient in their greater hope; by poverty, and it was rich. In almshouse, hospital, and jail, in misery's every refuge, where vain man in his little brief authority had not made fast the door, and barred the Spirit out, he left his blessing, and taught Scrooge his precepts.

As he might us. God bless us, every one, and hold us fast in the embrace of Christmas Present in this upcoming season.
men_in_full: (de vos bacchus)
Jennie in the comments below brought up the following:
People who are extremely fat frighten me. When their obesity is so great that they cannot get around on their own, and their health is seriously endangered... that worries me. It's so tragic to hear of a young man of 38 dying because of respiratory problems that were probably due to his size. So while I don't agree with the obsession that you can never be too thin, I don't agree with the opposite either. ... I feel that if someone cannot move around freely on their own because of their weight, then that doesn't feel very healthy.


I think any kind of limitation is frightening when one is healthy and mobile. Things like paraplegia, paralysis from strokes, head injuries are frightening to a lot of people too. Years ago I remember seeing in a bookstore some drawings by a quadriplegic woman named Joni Eareckson Tada. All I could see was her paralysis, and all I could imagine was how "I couldn't live like that." And there really even wasn't the same social stigma about paralysis as there is about large body size.

Many years ago I saw a Vietnam War-era movie called Coming Home, about a paralyzed veteran who falls in love with a woman whose husband is away at war. What was singular about the film was how the paraplegic Luke (Jon Voigt) wasn't treated in the story as a medical case, or worse, as a "saintly cripple," but as a man, with faults, anger, failings, and also as a lover.

Someone who is very large should be offered appropriate and compassionate medical care to avoid losing their mobility and dying early. But the key words are "appropriate" and "compassionate." The key concept is "first, do no harm" - the fundamental principle of Western medicine from the Greeks onward. It may be that our whole conception of fatness and health issues is totally "off." It's conceivable that a century from now, people will look at our medical ideas in this area and shake their heads, wondering how we could have gotten it all so wrong. So there's always room for medical humility.

I take a very holistic approach to health and thus wonder if some of the moral stigma surrounding fatness works against very large people keeping their health. We have wheelchair curb cuts on the sidewalks and handicapped parking spaces, but as long as even the slightest degree of overweight is considered "disgusting," the very large person with limited mobility *is* going to appear frightening at first - or some kind of symbol for "sloth," "gluttony," etc., rather than even minimally as a person, much less someone with dignity, beauty, desirability, a lover or spouse.

There's more to an extremely large person than the limitation, though, and that's why I love the photograph of IZ with his wife's hand on his hair.
men_in_full: (pensive)
I didn't want to write immediately about the November 7, 2006 House, MD episode Que Será Será, where 600 lb. George Hagel (Pruitt Taylor Vince in a fat suit) is admitted in a coma, and ultimately diagnosed with a terminal cancer that has nothing to do with his weight. It needed to sink in for awhile first.

What Will Be, Will Be... )
men_in_full: (love)
Recently I've been listening to a lot of Israel Kamakawiwo'ole's music, and I'm entranced.

"Braddah IZ" (as he was known) was a Hawai'ian native, a singer and ukelele player who died in 1997 of respiratory failure at the young age of 38. At the time of his death he weighed about 700 lbs. His coffin sat in state in the Hawai'ian capital, where thousands came by to pay their respects to the "gentle giant."

He had a fine tenor, tender and smooth as cream. IZ's lyrics ranged from Hawai'ian liberation and restoration of the monarchy, through covers of popular tunes like "Over the Rainbow" and "Wind Beneath My Wings," original material, to traditional Hawai'ian songs. He was firm and committed without being shrill or preachy.


I love this photograph, from his biography IZ: Voice of the People by Rick Carroll and IZ's widow Marlene. It's probably his wife's hand, brushing or stroking his hair. Looking at it, you're reminded how rare it is to see a sensual, affectionate photograph of a fat man being loved.

He also had a sensual side. In "Ahi Wela" (from Alone in IZ World), the translation offered here goes like this:

Ahi wela mai nei loko (Fire (is) hot hither here inside)
I ka hana a ke aloha (In the act of love)
E lalawe nei ku'u kino (Overwhelms here my body)
Konikoni lua i ka pu'uwai (Throbbing doubly much in the heart)


Or take "Kamalani," from the album E Ale E. Kamalani roughly means "princess," and the translator tells us that literally, pûkani nui means a "large sounding horn," but figuratively signifies "large fine soft sleeping mats made of fine white leaves in the center of a cluster of pandanus leaves." In other words, on one level it means perhaps a love call, one beloved calling to another, and on another level it means the soft bed in which the lovers nestle.
Where is my love, Kamalani?
Please answer me, Kamalani
Pûkani Nui, Pûkani Nui.

Oh here I am, Kamalani,
Here in this paradise
Kamalani, Kamalani
Is this the fullness of heaven,
Here in this paradise?


He wrote an almost-wistful song called "Thunder of Heaven" (on the E Ale E album), honoring the Hawaiian sumitori who attained fame in Japan, Hawai'ian men whose size was not seen as a disability, but as a source of strength and pride.

Later, while re-reading James Michener's Hawai'i, I learned that traditionally to die was to set one's foot on the rainbow. It makes this image even more poignant, as well as his signature cover of "Over the Rainbow." IZ - husband, father, lover, man with a mountainous heart.

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