men_in_full: (Default)
Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices. - Song of Songs, 8:14


Kate Harding has an interesting combox discussion going on in response to the question, "Do I Have to Find Fat People Attractive?"

Some people just aren't going to, period - just like some people don't find thin people attractive. That doesn't make them bad - doesn't make them "unaccepting." In the realm of the senses, in the realm of my senses, there is and will be discrimination in several different directions. In sexual love I prefer men to women; and I strongly prefer fat men to thinner ones. Even within the vast range of bodies subsumed under the umbrella of fat men, not all will strike within me the peculiar chord of desire. Should I "retrain" myself to respond to that which normally does not move me? I don't think so. It doesn't matter whether my desire is "natural" or not - but it is integral to me, and has been for some time.

At bottom, those first few moments of attraction which coalesce into desire are a mystery. I can't tell you why I find fat men aesthetically beautiful and erotically compelling. In some ways I don't want to know. Malcolm Gladwell in Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, talks about the "adaptive unconscious" - that part of the mind which we simply cannot know. We know it's there; it can be studied through psychological experiments, but to attempt to know our own through cognitive self-examination doesn't seem to be possible. There are whole vast reaches of ourselves that seem to be perpetually off limits to the conscious mind, and yet we seem to do much of our thinking and reacting there. While Gladwell doesn't talk about this much, I wonder if some of our aesthetic and emotional judgments also possibly are drawn from this unconscious well?

We rely heavily on visual images; visual processing takes up a substantial portion of the sighted person's brain. (I am not sure how it works in those who do not have sight.) One can focus too much on visual images, though, especially those with which we get saturated through the media. Sexual attraction and response aren't all visual. A lot of desire has to do with the other senses. Some people can seduce with only a few words, given in the right husky tones, close up against the ear. Some can seduce with a song, with the richness of their voice. Some, when you stand near them and breathe in deeply, fill your whole body with their scent. However, for many, it all begins with the eye.

The eye links to the thinking brain. In other creatures that is not necessarily so. When a frog sees a fly, for instance, the virtually instantaneous response of its tongue to catch its prey bypasses its tiny brain entirely. So does the escape response of the fly (which is why they are almost impossible to swat.) With people, though, we can learn to be inspired by images deemed "sexy" by society (or at least pretend to be inspired, even if our attractions lie elsewhere.) It's not clear when these associations are formed - some are probably genetic; others are formed in early childhood, perhaps others at puberty. But no matter what their origin, the skin probably plays a big part in desire, too, and perhaps the thinking brain isn't so much involved as we think. Perhaps the skin is the conduit or even the repository for at least some of the "adaptive unconscious," at least as far as desire is concerned.

A fat man's body especially appeals to me aesthetically because of the circular beauty of roundness - of the face, of the shoulders, especially of the belly. Visual appeal, though, isn't an end in itself - it points to the possibility of other sensual delights.

To paraphrase the French painter Henri Matisse, love may come in at the eye, but erotic love expresses itself through the skin. To lie up against the fat flesh of love is the fulfillment of that which the eye only suggests. The eye is a path which leads to the foot of a mountain, but to remain at the foot, staring up at the summit, is not to experience what that vast hill of love has to offer. We climb the "mountain of spices" not with eyes alone, but with skin alive with desire and heart inflamed with love.

For love, which comes in through the eye and is felt through the skin, is lived in the heart, in the mind, and in the will. It is a great gift to love someone so much that even if their body brutally, radically changes (think of the late Christopher Reeves before and after his accident which left him quadriplegic), the love is still there, even the sexual love. None of us knows if we have that gift, not until we are tried by fire.

This is not to slight the role of the eye, or the visual "decisions" we make every second of every day, without even knowing it. Some of our "gut responses" of what is desirable or attractive are no doubt conditioned by what we see in the media. But there are also deep reasons, too, for all these permutations of love and desire buried below the surface, the sum total of a whole personal history of thoughts, feelings, experiences. Some will love fat; some will not. It's just how the magic of desire works.
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: (pensive)
Jean-Michele Gregory's essay, Enormous, starts out, "I am in love with an enormous man." It's brief, but worth reading. Her imagery is lovely:

Enormous, NSFW image )

ETA: LJ cut added.
men_in_full: (Default)
Novelist and restaurant critic Ann Bauer has a novel in progress, about a love relationship between a food writer and a fat man. She says:
The plot of my novel hinges around the fact that in high-falutin' foodie circles, fat is simply not acceptable. Oh, the people who attend restaurant openings may talk about food constantly, describing as if it were sex, longingly and with hungry eyes. But they don't eat much. And they do not care, as a group, for people who do ...
Sounds intriguing. But when Bauer went to look for an illustration, she found:
... My new novel is absolutely chock-full of sex. Really good sex. Only the person who's having it happens to be an attractive but very, very large man — and I do mean that, in every way.

So you should know that I spent my entire morning searching for a photo of a sexy fat man for this blog. Finally, I gave up and e-mailed our web guru who spent her entire afternoon searching. And what did we find? Well, what's above is the best by far.
That illustration isn't much; I'll agree. (ETA: I'm not fond of headless torsos, personally - I would rather see the whole man. I didn't mean to imply that there was anything "unacceptable" about the model's body. -MIF)

She also remarks that women must not want to look at pictures of fat men. That's not entirely true - although many women don't have the same interest in visual sexuality as men. However, aesthetically pleasing and sensually appealing photos of fat men *are* out there; it just takes some digging. But I've tread the same weary path through the stock photo sites, and there's nothing there which isn't largely insulting, ugly, or both.
I sorted through photos of fat men wearing baseball caps and stuffing enormous hamburgers into their mouths; clinical shots of obese men with pendulous fins of flesh hanging off their 1,000-pound bodies; pictures of sumo wrestlers in diaper-like garb. The closest I could come to a stud with a little meat around the middle was a stock shot of John Goodman, back in the Roseanne years. Yet — and I find this interesting — when I looked for cheesecake photos of hefty women they were in large supply.
I've noticed the same, that whether it's fashion photography (like Torrid catalogs, or the discussions in the Judgment of Paris forum), softcore, or size acceptance sites, lush photographs of beautiful fat women seem to be flourishing. (I would especially love to see a male-oriented version of the Adipositivity project.) It's interesting to me that women find other women's fat - and often fashionably-clad - bodies to be more interesting than men's.

Bauer's as-yet-unnamed novel is slated to come out in 2009. I'll be watching for it. Meanwhile, I gave up on finding a suitable illustration for this post ...
men_in_full: (iz rainbow)
Junkfood Science describes how "shock chef" Jamie Oliver's latest stunt features the dissection of a fat man, soon to be telecast on British television. Oliver's not sharpening up his his cleavers for the fellow himself; that task falls to anatomist and dead-body-artist Dr. Gunther Von Hagens.

In his typical abusive style, Oliver claims the man "ate himself to death" by "shoveling shit into his mouth," and other charming opinions.

Interestingly, the report doesn't give the man's age. In life he suffered from diabetes and high blood pressure, and died of a heart attack. He weighed 350 lbs (159 kg.)

A panel of viewers watched the autopsy, and claimed to be "shocked" and "repelled" by what they saw. Well, no surprise there. An autopsy is going to shock most non-medical people; it matters not as to the condition of the deceased person's organs. Death is ugly - and even those most "perfect" in health will one day find themselves on that slab.

The point of the program is to twist viewers' sensibilities such that they see the man on the slab as grotesque. But Oliver is the grotesque one here, especially with his "shame and blame" tactics which don't even spare the dead.

(Sculpture: "Big Man" by Lucian Freud Ron Mueck.)
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?

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