This week I was at a very cool conference at the University of Texas at Dallas on social relevant philosophy of science and values in medicine, science and technology. If you’re interested, the program is here. Conferences are fun for me, but also sometimes a little stressful, and the level of stress tends to depend on how prepared I am when I arrive there. This time I had not finished preparing my talk, called “The case against the term ‘obesity'”, so was worrying a bit and trying to squeeze in some time to finish it. Part of why I hadn’t finished the talk is that I had spent the previous week at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Wellness at a workshop on mindfulness and eating. It was an intense experience that involved sharing (sometimes painful) stories with 18 other people about our stormy relationships with food and our bodies. I blogged about it here.
We all have to manage separate parts of our lives– work, family, friends, sports, etc.– while incorporating those parts into some semblance of a coherent whole person. (Reading that sentence, I can’t help but think: philosophers spend a lot of time taking ordinary experience and turning it into something very complicated; why do they do that? Yeah, well…)
This week for me, the forces of compartmentalizing/incorporating came into conflict. I have two roles that I commonly play: 1) academic obesity researcher; 2) fat woman struggling with food and body image issues. Last week at Kripalu I spent a bunch of time identifying with 2), something I’m not comfortable doing with others. But it was very powerful– I was seen and heard and supported and cared for.
But this week (even now– I’m finishing the blog post and then running into a conference session today), I’ve shifted back to 1). And I was supposed to give a talk arguing against the use of the term “obesity”. I’ll post about the details of my arguments another time, but I was using lots of data from medical and epidemiological studies, and slinging around terms like “hazard ratio”. In effect, I could hide my more vulnerable self behind graphs with U-shaped curves and big error bars.
At this conference, I was talking with a good friend about feminism and philosophy and the idea of framing arguments in a context. She was pointing out that knowing about the ways issues come about, who is involved, how arguments affect people and environments, and what other uses arguments are for enriches us. This information does not make us less rigorous, less professional, less smart. Au contraire– it makes our arguments useful, and keeps us intellectually and morally honest.
So I decided to give my talk with that in mind. I said (in front of people) that I’m a woman who is hurt by the ways that medicine categorizes me. I also expressed anger during the talk about the ways media and research information outlets present data in (what I argue are) skewed ways that stigmatize people based on their body size. There was a little yelling, a little mocking, a lot of laughter, and also warmth in the room. Wow.
Does anyone remember the Hair Club for Men ads from the 80s? Sy Sperling (its president), did these now-kitschy-seeming ads about hair replacement. You can see it here.
The punch line of the ad (go to :50 in the clip) is where Sy Sperling says, “I’m not only the president of the Hair Club for Men. I’m also a client.”
I am Sy Sperling.
What about you, readers? Do you ever merge (or pry apart) some of these separate parts of yourselves? Does revealing the more soft parts help? Hurt?