I just watched the movie. Twice. In two days. I watched it first because I just love Brendan Fraser, and I was thrilled he won best actor, so I had to see it, even though I had no idea what it was about. I watched it a second time because, I had a lot to process. Well, it was indeed, an incredible film. Fraser deserves that Oscar without question. I was riveted by the movie and cried on and off throughout, but probably for reasons that differ from other people. This commentary focuses on the first reason.....the "fatphobia" controversy that has arisen around this movie.
Fraser plays Charlie, a 600 lb. man whose weight has ultimately confined him to the limited boundaries of his small apartment. Living room; kitchen; bedroom; bathroom. He is middle aged, and is a college teacher of writing, meeting with classes online. His mantra to his students is to write with unflinching honesty, while at the same time hiding himself from them by keeping his camera off, feigning it is broken. He is quite conscious of his weight and what his life has been reduced to, stating of himself in the movie, “Look at me. Who would want to have a relationship with me?” The viewer discovers early in the movie that Charlie is in the end stages of congestive heart failure. Knowing death is imminent, he embarks one last time on an effort to try to connect with his beloved, albeit estranged 18 yr. old daughter, played superlatively by actress Sadie Sink of Stranger Things fame.
Enter the controversy. Voices are swirling since Fraser’s Oscar win about how people should not go see this movie due to what they call “fat shaming”. That use of a “fat-suit” is considered unconscionable, even though the director and artists called it a prosthetic suit in practice. That the director should have found a plus-size actor. That the movie casts obese people in a pathetic and pitiful light that only leads to more “fatphobia” and adds to what some have called the “ick” factor. The ideal of “big girl beauty” that the singer Lizzo personifies teeters dangerously on the edge in comparison to the outsized attention seized by The Whale.
I say: bravo. It is time we cease this fairytale redesign of what boils down to being destructive health practices with deleterious impact. Believe it or not, I say this with love, and grief, and pain, having had a front row seat to the self-destructive traits of my father. In The Whale, you see Brendan Fraser in a prosthetic suit that gives only a hint of the toll of obesity on the body. In the above photo you see my father's legs, and the unflinchingly honest toll. I say this carefully, and protectively, because I loved my father, right down to his last codependent, food-addicted wheezing breath.
Unlike Charlie, my father was not 600 lbs. But he was an obese man. Like Charlie, as he aged, my father had a chair around which orbited his life. Tables were piled high with the things he would need. Medications. Magazines. Remotes. Blood monitors. Test strips. His walker was positioned arm’s reach away. Folding “grabbers” just like Charlie used lived in numerous locations around the house. Something that dropped on the floor would often stay where it fell until another human could retrieve it.
Dad’s relative struggle with food eventually led to diabetes in his forties. He never took the time to learn what foods would lead to a healthy body, so the diabetes progressed. Over the years he developed neuropathy in his hands and feet making it more difficult to walk and move. This led to becoming more sedentary, which led to more weight, less activity, less socialization. The television became his company and food was a ready friend. He refused to use his CPAP machine for sleep apnea, which then led to atrial fibrillation, more weakness and exhaustion. Then came heart issues, aortic valve replacement, open heart surgery, pitting edema, depression, anger, anxiety. Shoes couldn’t be tied so when he did walk he resorted to walking around stocking-footed. He couldn’t sleep well. His legs riddled with edema became too heavy to lift up into bed, so he slept in his recliner. He became a fall risk doing just about anything. Charlie at least got in the shower and was seen washing himself with a long-handled sponge. My father was terrified of the shower. Even though he had his home retrofitted with a walk-in shower, and eventually had a home health aide come daily throughout the week, he avoided stripping down to be cleaned. This only led to more humiliation. Soon diabetes effected my father’s eyesight and macular degeneration darkened his world even further. Like Charlie, my father would labor just to stand up to his walker in order to drag himself to the bathroom and back. Eventually, like Charlie, a wheelchair became the preferred form of locomotion.
I would fly back east as often as I could, as would various siblings. Only my brother lived in driving distance a half hour away. When I did visit, bathing my father’s swollen feet, crusted with dead skin overgrowth, became a welcome routine. I’d soak his feet in a warm foot bath and lather them with soap. Then I’d work and rub each toe one at a time, until little rolls of the dead skin loosened up under my fingers. I’d rinse away the rolls and dry off his feet with a soft towel. Then rub lotion into his toes, arches and heels until the skin became more supple. I'd squeeze more lotion onto his swollen fluid-filled legs, compress my fingers around them and slide my hands upward in an effort to propel the fluid in his tissues up his legs and into his torso where his heart could help circulate it into his system and he would pee it out. I'd then enfold one leg at a time into a synthetic sleeve that would inflate with the flick of a switch and continue to press the fluid upward in the fight against edema. But gravity would always win. This may sound like a repulsive task, but it wasn’t. He was my father. He hurt. He struggled. He was lonely. And who on earth was there to provide any form of skin-to-skin human touch? This small thing, I could provide.
In the end, my father’s final years were no kind of life. I would not wish them on anyone. I worried about him incessantly. He hid his pain from many people, but with me, he’d let down his guard sometimes and cry. “I’m tired, Susan. I’m so tired.”
I share these things not to castigate with shame. I was not ashamed of my father. But I wished a different life for him. Different knowledge that would have led to different decisions and different ways of being that could have led to a very different end. It is time we stop heroizing the epidemic of obesity in our country and get unflinchingly honest with ourselves.
I also took this movie as a stern admonishment to myself. I too, have struggled with weight in my life. At one time I had it under control. A year and a half ago, a doctor put me on an inhaler for an asthmatic episode. Over the next 10 months I experienced progressive myopathy, loss of muscle mass, weakness, and eventually drug-induced neuropathy. With the loss of activity came an increase in my weight. Once I realized the drug/pathology connection I weaned off the drug immediately. In 2 weeks the neuropathy had disappeared but the muscle weakness has been more tenacious. It has been 8 months and I am slowly regaining strength and stability, finally starting back to the gym. But watching The Whale, there was that small, disquieting voice in my head reminding me to keep going. Keep making good food choices. Keep pursuing physical activity. I mustn’t become complacent, or my father’s end could become my own. - Susan Parlato Revels
Well....Occupy Democrats.....my dad grew up at a time of pretty intense racial division between Italians (especially Sicilians) and Black Americans. I heard some of the Italian words he used to use. He was none too keen on me dating Black men. But when my future husband, Scott, asked my dad permission to marry me, my dad said yes, and embraced my husband as a son, and danced at my wedding. And when my babies were born, my dad was right there to play with them, help with them, feed them, hold them. And when I couldn't easily afford 3 tickets to fly across country to visit him in NY, my dad paid for the tickets for both my kids, EVERY time we flew out. And he helped me start college education funds for both of them. My daughter recently graduated with no college debt at all, and part of that was due to my dad. And when my dad heard Scott's cousin's name called out in a doctor's office, 2000 miles away from my home, my dad waited for that man to come out from his appointment, and inquired if there was a family connection. And there was. As they talked, my dad flipped open his wallet and flipped through photos of my kids, and this old White man and this old Black man who didn't know each other from Adam, stood together in that doctor's office and laughed together about the irony of meeting in that office, and smiled over photos of brown children they were both related to by blood. By blood. People can change. My father sure changed. And loved. This Occupy Democrats photo from 1960 is horrific.....but it is 62 years old, and it's sole purpose in the present AS IT IS USED HERE is to stir up strife and fear and hate and division based on assumption. I'm not going to give such messages an easy pass when I encounter them. I have seen change in my own life. And I love. My friends. My husband. My children. My family. THIS is my community of ALL ethnicities. Change is possible. Change, for many, has already happened. We can remain stuck, or we can help change happen.
At Greg's memorial service. Just a thought: Sure were a lot of White folks who turned out to celebrate Greg's life, reminisce, and send his ashes on his final kayak ride. (Yep....I'm goin' there.) Guess there's a lot more love goin' on in this country than people think.
Memorial for my friend Greg Green:
"Greg Green, a long-time Cheat and Yough river guide and a pioneering whitewater photographer, died on June 22nd. He was 76. He was the first African American paddler in the area; very skilled and likeable. Green’s Hole on the Old Cheat
(pre’85flood)was named for him."https://jeffmacklin.smugmug.com/Whitewater/2022/2022-07-14-Greg-Green-Memorial/
The first time I met Greg was in Pennsylvania, as the partner of my long-time friend, Becky Hilton. He had a photography business on the river, taking shots of people as they ran rapids on the New River in West Virginia. I was visiting for the weekend. I'd never been rafting.
"Hey Sue," he said. "Wanna run the river tomorrow?"
"REALLY??!! YES!!!!" I shouted.
The next day I went with Becky and two other women in a raft. Greg put on in his kayak. All were river runners, except me. One woman manned the center-mount oars. Thank God they knew what they were doing because I was clueless. But, I could follow directions.
We were on the river for hours, and it was one of the most spectacular experiences of my life up until then. I fell out of the raft in one gnarly rapid and they had to pull me back on board. We arrived back at Becky and Greg's house in the late afternoon, tired, hungry, smelling like river and sun.
"Greg," I said. "Thank you so much. That was sooo much fun!"
"Good," said Greg. "Wanna go again tomorrow?"
I thought he was kidding me.
"Are you kidding me??"
"YES I WANNA GO AGAIN!"
And so we did. That was my introduction to the sport, and to the man. Thank you, Greg Green.
by Susan Parlato Revels
I know there's controversy about it. Making Juneteenth a federal holiday. I've read the pros and cons all day today. So here's my "skin in the game"......
I remember the first Juneteenth celebration I went to 42 years ago. Barbara, Inez and Robin, my girlfriends (who were Black) said, "Come on, Susan, lets go to the Juneteenth celebration!" I didn't know what it was, but I said, "Okay!"
It was hot and the humidity index was sky high. We girls, young and beautiful, got all dressed up in our summer finery and walked down Fillmore Avenue in Buffalo, New York, laughing and dancing, music blasting from everywhere, and joining a whole community of people who were celebrating, having fun...joyous. And I learned what Juneteenth was about. There were hardly any other White people there, but I was HAPPY to be invited to join that observance . And I was HAPPY to celebrate - not that my fellow merrymakers themselves had been freed from slavery, but to commemorate the time in history where we as a nation took a step in the right direction away from oppression and toward something that could build inter-racial solidarity. There's that proverb that says, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." I was grateful we could all just "be" with each other and acknowledge that we were now many steps away from a very brutal period of our history. We "girls" could not have walked down the street together like that a century or so earlier. What would my innocent and winsome companions have been subjected to if we lived at another time? But there we were, we twenty-something dream girls, reveling in that freedom of youth and affection, afforded to us because of the time in which we were fortunate enough to be born.
I celebrate it for both Black and White people.....for us to recognize that we can overcome the phobias of the past and learn to appreciate each other as fellow humans and FRIENDS in this short stint of time where we happen to populate this earth and breathe the same air.
I celebrate it for others, AND I celebrate it for MYSELF.....that I don't have to live during that time in America where having my fellow humans in bondage was the law of the land, where my ability to do anything about it was dictated by the demands of others, where my own mind could have been seared, and I can now have completely free, intimate and loyal relationships with people who do not happen to share my skin color. I SHUDDER at the thought of what my husband, son and daughter would be experiencing right now if we lived 150 years ago. I know what racist components of my childhood used to influence my thinking, and what I had to do to overcome them. I know what it took to free my heart and mind from the influences of my past. I don't commemorate this day out of ANY sense of White guilt. I commemorate it, because I escaped, and just happened to enter this world at a time where my choices of friends and loved ones are influenced by.......knowing each other.
I....am free....TOO. So.....HAPPY JUNETEENTH. EVERYBODY.
Apparently Coca Cola had scheduled some mandatory training for it's employees. Called "Confronting Racism" and to be delivered via LinkedIn, it told their employees to try to be "less White". On Monday, LinkedIn said it had pulled the course in question — which included interviews with sociologist Robin DiAngelo, the author of “White Fragility.”
WAY TO GO, LinkedIn!
By the way, for all you naysayers out there I DID read the book, "White Fragility" by Robin DeAngelo. Well actually, I listened to the audio version. Twice. (And I recommend you read it too, so you can comment on it from a point of knowledge.) SOME points made in the book are worth considering....but to me....a LOT is cringe-worthy virtue signalling. I'm totally game for programs that work towards better inter-racial communication and interactions. But some of the so-called "journalism" out there these days and the unfettered demands of corporations is beyond reason.
The Sandia Mountains at the eastern edge of Albuquerque, New Mexico
by Susan Parlato Revels
My first visit "out west" was in the early spring of 1988 on a trip to Las Vegas, Nevada for a conference. I couldn't have cared less for the casinos. Instead, with friends, we rented a car on our downtime and explored the desert. The air was arid and crisp. It was March, before the onset of any significant heat. We rode horses and climbed rocks and walked what seemed a moonscape to my unseasoned eye. Not the wall of trees like my eastern life, where you could not see where the sky met the earth. But instead, endless miles of horizon, rock wilderness and red earth. I understood then why holy men went to the desert to “hear God”. I gathered some of that red dirt to take back to NYC with me, so I could remember this pristine, cleansing expanse. And I prayed, "Lord, bring me to a desert place."
I meant, bring me to such a place in my heart, enveloped in silence where my mind could be still. But God brought me to that place in reality, with an added bonus: mountains. Mountains that I live in, for my city is a mile high. Mountains that stand sentinel just to the east of home. Mountains that I can see every day, from anywhere I travel in town. Mountains that are a guidepost at any given moment and give me my bearings, for if I am ever lost, I just need to look up to see where they stand, and I know in which direction I am traveling, and how to get home.
When life has threatened to overwhelm, those mountains have been a bolster to my spirit, because just looking at them requires me to “look up”….and then I recall that God is the lifter of my head. They remind me that God is the rock on which I need to lean because he is ever-present, solid and enduring. They remind me that though my problems seem insurmountable to me, God is bigger. And He, will not be moved.
Today, the first morning of 2021, I am thankful for the sunrise on these mountains. It brings to mind the God of my past and the roads I traveled to arrive at this place today, led by His secure hand. It reassures me that going forward, God knows the road. As I gladly bid good-bye to 2020, and look ahead to the uncertain future of 2021, the mountains remind me that God is El Roi – The God Who Sees. No matter what struggles I will encounter, as God was in the past, He is already there in my future, waiting for me, and I can move forward, in peace.
I will lift up my eyes to the mountains--From whence comes my help? My help comes from the LORD, Who made heaven and earth. He will not allow your foot to be moved; He who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel
Shall neither slumber nor sleep. ....... The LORD shall preserve you from all evil;
He shall preserve your soul. The LORD shall preserve your going out and your coming in from this time forth, and even forevermore.
"COLE AND BEANA, COME AND PRAY!"
My husband's voice rings out through the house as part of our familiar bedtime routines. My college-age daughter and son drop what they're doing and schlep their way to our bedroom. When they were little, they used to run and jump onto our king-sized bed and snuggle between us in a big people-sandwich enveloped in our arms. Now that they're adult sized, one or the other still finds their way onto the bed. Entering their twenties, they still let us fold them into us and run our fingers through their curls as we each name two items for which we're thankful.
"I'm thankful I aced my test, and for the rain we had today," says Beana.
"I'm thankful for the Birkenstocks I got and how GOOD they make my feet feel!" says Cole.
"I'm thankful for getting all the bills paid, and still having money left over." said Scott. I'm very thankful for that too!
"I'm thankful for the overcast skies today. I'm thankful that my garden is coming up all over the place!" I say.
And then we pray.
I'm thankful, that in this society inundated by racial tension, colors blend in my home. Able to touch without reservation. Talk without hesitancy of difficult societal issues. And listen, laugh, get angry, speak loudly, safe in the understanding that race is not entwined with those emotions.
Can we ever get to that place in our society? Not color blind. Not negating what is clearly seen on the surface, but getting past it to the depth of engaging relationship anyway?
Long ago in college, I had to address head-on the racist undertones that had prevailed in my childhood home and how they impacted my thinking as a young woman. I had not been raised around Black families and had grown into an adult being uncomfortable with the unfamiliar, with all the expected trappings of biased assumptions towards the Black students I interfaced with. That included being a Resident Assistant in a very diverse dorm on the Buffalo State campus. Lots of kids from downstate near New York City were attending school there. I started to put myself into positions and places where I as a White person, was in the minority. It was very uncomfortable, but it forced me to think outside the box and to explore my perceptions of people. I recall once, making a mental parallel of viewing myself as a little white rat (pun intended), with my "human" self picking up my "rat" self by the scruff of the neck and lowering me into some complex maze saying, "Now let's watch how you'll handle this."
Eventually, I got comfortable, with being uncomfortable.
I think that's a thing for White people....the need to get comfortable with the uncomfortable.
So, perhaps the discomfort many people are feeling in our society right now serves a functional purpose? Perhaps it forces us to look at ourselves and internally grapple with our unexpressed assumptions. If that is an outcome for this national struggle, in a tentative sort of way, I'm thankful for that too.
I've been reading Up From Slavery, an autobiography of the life of Booker T. Washington and his journey from slave to student to university founder to sought-after national speaker.
In the late 1800s, Washington was asked to join a committee to appear before congress to procure government support for the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition. In the planning stages of the exposition, it was "decided that it would be a fitting recognition of the coloured race to erect a large and attractive building which should be devoted wholly to showing the progress of the Negro since freedom. It was further decided to have the building designed and erected wholly by Negro mechanics. This plan was carried out. In design, beauty, and general finish the Negro Building was equal to the others on the grounds."
Washington was asked to head up the project, but he declined in order to better devote time to his work at Tuskegee Institute. Then, after years of struggle and dedication to changing the plight of Black Americans a mere 30 years after the Civil War, Washington was asked to be an opening speaker at the Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, at Atlanta, Georgia, on September 18, 1895. He accepted. The whole speech, one of his most renowned, is worth the read. This one excerpt is a jewel in the crown.
"...... in your effort to work out the great and intricate problem which God has laid at the doors of the South.....let this be constantly in mind, that, while from representation in these buildings of the product of field, of forest, of mine, of factory, letters, and art, much good will come, yet far above and beyond material benefits will be that higher good, that, let us pray God, will come, in a blotting out of sectional differences and racial animosities and suspicions, in a determination to administer absolute justice, in a willing obedience among all classes to the mandates of law. This, this, coupled with our material prosperity, will bring into our beloved South a new heaven and a new earth." - Booker T. Washington, from The Atlanta Compromise Speech, his address at the opening of The Atlanta Cotton States and International Exposition, September 18, 1895.
One hundred and twenty-two years later, we have yet to see this hope fully realized. It is a dream no less worthy than that of Martin Luther King Jr. , and a goal still worth striving for, not just for the South, but our nation as a whole.
Mr. Washington, from your mouth, to God's ears.
By Jon Revels - Guest Blogger
Whatever decision is made in politics about more guns or less guns, restrictions or background checks, I think it needs to be made soon. There is something wrong with a country when it can’t make a decision on how to prevent something as horrible as this from happening, especially when it KEEPS happening. Columbine was almost twenty years ago. And it hasn't gotten much better since then. It’s disturbing that someone can walk into a school and just start shooting. I know that some schools have ways to deny entry, like a entry that requires an ID or a main desk attendant to unlock the door. Those are cool, and not enough schools have them. The fact that continued school shootings are an issue that very few steps have been made to amend is disappointing.
I also want to bring another idea to the table. There’s all this talk about “stricter gun policy” and “more in-depth background checks” which are all great things to be thinking about and need to be discussed. But I feel as though we are forgetting something. We talk about how to PREVENT this from happening before it happens, but what about protecting those in the thick of it WHEN it happens? It’s sad to say this, but it is going to happen again. Tomorrow, next week, in a month, or next year. Preventative measures are good, but what happens when they fail? The obvious answer would be the police, or the SWAT, or the FBI, or whatever. But in the five to ten minutes it can take for them to respond, people can and will die.
So, what I want to bring to the table is a defensive measure. I know this used to be a thing, and I think it still is in some places, but whatever happened to the campus police? Though I’m thinking something more along the lines of well equipped, trained, professional officers. Not your typical mall cop. Someone or a group of someones equipped with bullet proof vests, tasers, handcuffs, those cool paintball things that can shine under a black light in the chance that a shooter might escape, and a gun that can shoot both rubber bullets and, only in the event that nothing else can be done, lethal rounds. At least two in any school with more than a hundred students, and an additional one for every five hundred or so students there are in the school. This might help prevent a shooting, and if it doesn’t it could help stop it sooner. At the very least, it could help lessen the loss of lives until people can get away or the big guns can get there.
These officers would not need to check bags, or be scary and intimidating. That would just make people paranoid and could make it harder to focus in class. They would just need to be there to protect students. Friendly people who are there in the off chance that something goes wrong. Yeah, they could break up fights or watch out for that idiot smoking under the bleachers when he should be in class. But their main goal should be to help the students feel safe, and KEEP them safe when the shit hits the fan.
Whatever happens, whatever decision is made for gun control or background checks, and even if some sort of defensive measure is put into place, the reality is that this WILL happen again. And the fact that there are only a few ways to stop it once it starts is not a good thing.
Susan Parlato Revels
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