Family, Food and Fat: The Holiday Body by Ashley Gollmann

new-years-resolutionAs the first blogger of the new year, I offer this blog entry as a fresh start. What follows, can be read as a reflection on various concepts and techniques that I have been exposed to in my first year of grad school. In addition, this entry can, and should be seen as an expression of one writing practice the Physical Cultural Studies project aims to utilize. As such, this blog represents a slight departure from the previous blogs. This is an example of what Laurel Richardson (2000) would term, “creative analytical practices”. I hope to achieve such creative analysis through a detailed account of two very different experiences (a family dinner and the first workout of 2009) I had while spending my two-week break with my family.

The theoretical and political potential of these passages, is to be decided, debated and created through each reader and each reading. This blog is a critical personal narrative of the body: of my body, a body of difference, as it moves through time and space. This blog relies heavily on bodily awareness, positionality (Quiroga, 2000), and corporeality. However, I think that there is much more going on within these passages than language can depict.

The Family Dinner:

My mom graciously saves me from having to sit at the “kids table”. I slowly take my seat between my dad and one of my second-aunts. The dinner table seems to extend for miles, and is covered with an eye-catching array of Italian, American and Jordanian foods. I continually wonder why holiday dinners are always held so early in the day. I am not particularly famished, but hungry enough to try a little of everything, except the ham. I greatly dislike ham. The silence of people enjoying their food is occasionally interrupted by the clang of silverware against plates. Neli breaks the silence by asking if we are enjoying the food, and all at once, each person at the table interjects their own positive review.

Eventually, someone makes the obligatory comment about eating too much, and the subsequent weight gain. My aunt Nabilah voices her observation that everyone at the table is bigger than they were a year ago. Her definition of ‘bigger’ varies from person to person. Several of my family members start to describe how much weight they have gained over the past year. The phrase “nightmares of medicalization” flashes in my mind. My aunts and uncles burst into a heated discussion, in rapid Arabic, over what I assume is differing opinions about the body. Nabilah provides an authoritative conclusion to the discussion stating: “I gave up trying to lose weight. At my age, it is useless. It is much better to be bigger than skinny”. I wholly agree with and admire her bodily beliefs. I’d like to add my own analysis on the social construction of fat, and/or a feminist analysis of bigger (female) bodies, but I simply smile and laugh with the others.

I pick away at the delicious meat rice on my plate, but have decided to save room for dessert. I anxiously await diving into the tray of baklava made by my aunt FouFou. I have waited an entire year to indulge in this epicurean piece of heaven. FouFou is will aware of my craving and came well-prepared. My dad is chattering on and on about the yellow rice he is enjoying so much, to the point of annoying both myself, and my mother. He is finally so enamored with the rice that he must know the recipe (not that it much matters, my dad does not cook, or know anything about ingredients). He leans over and asks me the name of my aunt sitting at the very end of the table. He then admits, “I don’t know their names. They all look alike”, and lets out a nervous laugh. I quickly shoot him a look of mild disgust. My own father, an Argentine man, is asking his adopted Colombian daughter the name of one of her Jordanian aunts. I am immediately made aware of the hierarchies of race, gender and ethnicity through his performance. It is also in this moment that I acknowledge how comfortable I am within this environment, and how uncomfortable my parents and grandfather seem to be.

The First Workout of 2009

I am running late. Class began at 10:30 and it is 10:32. I manage to find one of maybe three available parking spaces. I speed walk into the Y, swipe my ID and get my towel. Now I will have to walk through a crowd of people who are warming up. Everyone will be watching me, as I transport my weights, barbell and mat to the last available spot.

Opening the gym doors, I see that the class is packed to the walls with over 50 people. This is a dramatic shift from the average class size of 15 to 20 people. I recognize a few regulars, but the vast majority are new faces. As I carefully yet quickly map my route to the equipment closet, I notice that these new participants are also those who have the most difficulty maintaining correct form while lifting. I weave my way through the maze of people, making sure to dodge the moving barbells, hop over mats and avoid any stacked weights that are on the gym floor. I finally reach the closet only to find four barbells remaining, along with three mats and a small selection of heavy plates. I am shocked to see such a dearth of equipment. It finally hits me. Today is the first true day of the fitness new year, and these people are likely embarking on their new year’s resolutions.

I spot a small corner at the front of the gym. The only space left for me to stand. As I follow along with Chris, the instructor, I am filled with conflict. In a way, I am upset with these new people for making the gym so crowded and taking all the medium plates. Then again, I am the one who walked in late. But I know very well that these crowded classes slowly dissipate by February, and many who start memberships for the new year, stop using them within a few months. However, I also think that it is good to see new faces at the Y, and for people to engage in physical activity. Does this mean I am internalizing and lending credibility to the so-called ‘obesity epidemic’? Have I encouraged the use of the rhetoric of medicalization, scientifically reductive analyses of the body, and the presentation of a middle-class bodily aesthetic? In any event, the presence of these new bodies has transformed this gym space and my lifting routine. They have forced me to engage in a very different and challenging workout, and for that I am grateful.

References:

Quiroga, J. (2000). Latino cultures, imperial sexualities. In Tropics of desire: Interventions from queer Latino America (pp. 191-226).

Richardson, L. (2000). New writing practices in qualitative research. Sociology of Sport Journal, 17, 5-20.

Further Reading:

Langellier, K. (1999). Personal narrative, performance, performativity: Two or three things I know for sure.Text and Performance Quarterly, 19, 125-144.

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