This blog is part of the Scáth na Feannóige/Shadow of the Hooded Crow project exploring fénnidecht as a practice to follow the War Goddessses, Badb, Macha and the Morrígan whose name is Anann. This is a less formal place for me to discuss various issues of interest to someone on a modern version of the Outlaw warrior path such as physical training, history, Old Irish literature, pop culture inspirations, werewolves, ecstatic trance (okay, I find that one tough to write about but I may try), gender issues the wilderness....


Thursday, July 19, 2012

Fat and the Pagan Community

The first real blog post I wrote here was The Abuse of Thin=Fat. Some readers may know I am again a Personal Fitness Trainer and I work from a Health At Every Size paradigm. My concern in fitness is about helping people find their strength, not reduce their size. This is in part because I don't like to lie to people and the idea of permanent weight loss is a total lie for 95% of all who lose weight. And this is when they are maintaining the actions that worked for them to lose weight, although everyone from fitness instructors to doctors love to make accusations of "cheating" or "being unable to comprehend how much they are eating." There is also, in fact, no actual evidence that being "obese" is itself a health hazard (there are just too many studies listed here for me to pick one). But another reason, coupled with these, is that I simply believe that being strong and powerful is more important than being tiny, and you really can not get smaller and not lose strength (without abusing dangerous drugs and totally screwing your health for life, so let's leave it at you can't do it).

This morning it came to my attention that much loved Pagan media personality (who I admit that I never heard of but there is a lot going on in Paganism I don't pay attention to and the whole podcast thing somehow I just don't get) David Grega died apparently from cardiac arrest at the young age of 27. Grega was also fat,* this prompted a blogger to write a post A Pagan Taboo, Obesity which gives a great deal of common misinformation regarding the correlation of fat and health. For every single one of his unsubstantiated claims at the end there are links disproving them at Truth Behind Fat: References.

This got a lot of other Pagans going, some of which is brought up in A Tragedy Creates Potential for a National Pagan Discussion on Health. This involves a lot more misinformation, a lot of "we should discuss other health matters but, of course, obesity is a major health issue" type of stuff. Well, no, not in the way they mean.

As is brought up at the beginning of Jane Raeburn's post Pagans Discover Fat Hate, she points out that we really do not know what caused Grega's heart failure. As far as I can tell we don't know. It is just assumed that it was because he was fat. However, the post on Patheos points out that Grega had started a group known as Pagans promoting Healthy Active Tendencies (PHAT) and there it appears that he had actually lost 100 lbs. It would be just as easy for me, as a HAES advocate, to say that his death was caused by that weight loss, by his dieting, by over exercising, by emotional distress from self-shaming. But I'm not actually saying that, because I don't know what caused his death and it would be just as wrong to assume that the weight loss had anything to do with it as it is for those claiming it was because he was fat. Either way, it's 1) victim blaming and 2) based on absolute ignorance of the facts.

Keep in mind that several years ago a guy only about 10 years older than Grega, which is still young for heart disease, who was a very physically active outdoorsman also died of cardiac arrest. This probably surprised everyone, due to the fact he wasn't fat. It turned out he had an undiagnosed heart defect. People of all sizes and all over the apparent health spectrum do, in fact, just drop dead from their heart stopping. A lot of things can stop the heart. It's consider shocking news when a marathon runner does so, although some will blame overexercising for that (the same overexercising the same might demand fat people do, btw), most are just shocked.


This is, like all victim blaming, in part because people want a magic formula to keep it from happening to them. "Well, she was just asking to be raped, look at that dress!" really means "I'll be safe, because I don't dress like that." "He died because he was fat" means "I won't die because I'm thin" or "I won't die because I"m going to lose the weight, I am."  It's not really an excuse for doing it, it's not the whole reason everyone does it, but it is a big part of why people think this way.

But it doesn't work. Remember one very important thing. We all die. And thin people get all the diseases that are considered "obesity related." I know this, I'm thin and I was pre-diabetic...and getting diagnosed was almost impossible. Lifestyle can affect health, but lifestyle does not always affect size. There are skinny people who eat crap and don't exercise, there are fat people who eat healthy food and exercise regularly. And even "lifestyle" related illnesses are not always linked to unhealthy lifestyles. Again, I ate what standard diet guidelines would claim was a healthy diet, but for my own needs it was too high in carbs and too low so it was spiking and dropping my blood sugar, I was not as active at the time this came up because of another illness which prevented me from exercising at the level I had been use to.

The truth is, we just never know. There are ways most of us can be healthy. However, this has to be separate from thoughts of weight.

Let me say that I do not believe anyone owes anyone to be healthy. If you do not want to eat a certain way or exercise or what ever, that's your right. You do not owe me, the Pagan community or society at large any commitment to change your health or fitness levels. And, as Jane said, the path to health is a personal choice. If you feel that involves dieting, then I'm probably not going to change your mind anyway, but it's also just your choice. Now, however, I'm going to talk as a HAES personal trainer. If you listen to me, it's your choice, but I am going to be opinionated here.

Fitness is not about size, it's about what you can do. We all differ in both size and capability, but except in extreme cases, most people can build their fitness levels up. They can become stronger, more flexible and gain more endurance than they had before exercising. They can improve their chances of getting certain diseases, through exercise and diet, although there are many illnesses that are not remotely affected. But all this comes regardless of weight loss.

In fact, striving to lose weight can be greatly detrimental to health for several reasons. Dieting can have adverse affects on health. Then there is simply the fact that self-hatred is just not healthy. And the weight-loss paradigm does not and cannot build self-esteem.

I believe in promoting health for those who want it. I want to see the Pagan community do more to promote real health. I do not want to see fat shaming and hatred and common lies to be a part of it. We should be healthy because, IMNSHO, it's funner to have our bodies at their best. Fitness should be fun , not punishment and not torture. And what is fun for one Pagan isn't going to be fun for another. The way I  train on the warrior path is likely going to seem horrible to someone who might be a priest/ess or a filidh. If health is the path we choose it should be a celebration without shame, without blame.

Here are some links for those interested in the HAES approach:
Health At Every Size Community
Dances with Fat so many great posts, you might want to start with 11 Reasons to Stop Focusing on Weight
The HAES Files
Big Liberty home of Truth Behind Fat: References

*note as a HAES trainer and Size Diversity advocate I use the preferred reclaiemd term "fat" rather than the misguided medical term "obese" or the common term "overweight" which falsely indicates that there is a particular weight one should be and to "over" that means something.

 copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert

Monday, July 9, 2012

Movie Review: Brave

While all around me went *squee* upon first hearing about this Pixar/Disney film set in Scotland with a feisty redheaded lead, I just sat back and waited. I try not to get my hopes up when it comes to movies with either strong female characters or set in Gaelic culture, let alone both. But all the hype had a certain charm.

There seem to be many feminists who take it to task for two things, often both. One the "why does the heroine have to be a princess?"  Of course, marketing is the answer, and culture programs the populace for certain marketing codes to work. And in our society "princess" is a strong marketing tool when aiming at young girls. Of course, Disney is largely responsible for the programming to begin with.

I have no problem with it though, largely because if you're going to subvert a concept you need to use the concept, and this does twist the concept quite impressively. In fact, even more than I had hoped. Certainly the concept of rebelling against social norms and gender expectations could be done in a story of a young peasant girl, these issues certainly bridged all classes, unfortunately. However, "princess" does sell and it allowed for certain story devices which would have been much different otherwise. We'll get to the peasant girls' stories at some point. (and I'm not talking the peasant girl who becomes a princess standard).  In fact, we have that this year as well in The Hunger Games.

This actually brings us to a second complaint I have seen made by other feminists: Why in order to be seen as strong must female characters have to just be rebelling against societal expectations of women?  To me this the answer is pretty self-evident ....because we do have to! Still, today.  So why should we have a story set in Medieval Scotland where it's not a problem. I've already discussed my belief that pretending that we had equality in the past that we, in fact, did not have such equality doesn't really do anything to move us forward.  I do believe that as girls growing up today are still getting horrible messages about their role in life, it helps for them to have heroines who actively fight such convention. This is not to say it doesn't also help to have role models who live in worlds where such conventions do not exist, but I do not believe we can set those in a past which, in fact, very much did. Again, this year we got another young archer (don't you wish you owned an archery shop right now?) who lived in such a world in The Hunger Games.

One of the things we need, in general, are more stories with strong young female warriors, that way all these issues can get covered. And stories with more strong female characters in them. But we can't complain when sometimes these things don't happen in all movies because we'll always find it falling short somewhere.

I think the important part is while we have a princess, she's not pining for her prince to come, in fact, that is exactly what she doesn't want to happen. When the princes to come-a-courting, none are anything to pine for (although one thinks he is and we'll come back to an issue with him and his father). But while the depiction adds humor, perhaps having one truly dashing who she still didn't want would have worked just a bit better for me. She wants her own freedom, she challenges for her own hand.

But the real story isn't about romance or denying romance, but rather on subversion of another Disney Princess story trope...the Mommy Issues. There is no Wicked Stepmother who must be thwarted here, there is a loving mother who is suffering in her own ways over the battle with her willful daughter. This isn't about a family torn asunder by the death of the loving parents, but rather by the issues at hand. And this is a story about healing those tears. With literal use of symbolism of it. I see this as a rather touching subversion.

And this too is another reason I see the rebelling against convention aspect important. Because this isn't just about giving a role model to girls but also I believe it speaks to parents. Because today many are still pushing unhealthy gender conventions. Conventions which are neither good for the future women girls are becoming but also often get in the way of them being the daughters they should be with the kind of parents they need. 

I have a couple of quibbles. Okay, there could probably be more, as any movie set in a culture I care about but really the ones that stuck out were the woad and the horse. I think I already say enough about The Question of the Woad already, but I have to say here, whether you believe it was ever used or not, it's just an annoying anachronistic Scottish trope now (thank you Mel Gibson).

Okay, so the horse, Angus, was cute. And I realize that Clydesdales are the most recognizable Scottish horse now. But it's a very modern breed, as Clydesdale originates only to the early 1800s. Yes, that source claims that they derived from knights' chargers, as this is a common myth that the film and so many others take to heart. The problem it, it's not remotely true.

"As for the large draft breeds. Most people who read this will know that the Belgians, Shires, Percherons and other really large draft breeds were bred as beasts of burden and not to be knight's great horses, but I'll repeat that fact anyway. The Great Horse of the middle ages was not a draft animal. Heavy draft horses are not intended to run fast, or carry big men in armor. They are bred to be steady and pull heavy objects such as a plow through thick clay to turn a field, or heavy dray wagons. They have a plodding gait and simply are not fast enough."  Medieval Horse Guild

The draft horse is derived from the Medieval rouncey type horse, the farm horse owned by farmers not nobles. A fine animal, smaller at that time (likely much like current draft ponies than the big guys) but not a charger. The charger was usually a clean legged horse, such as Andalusians, as can be seen in the art of the period. The exception is the feather-legged Friesian which is not a draft type at all despite the hairy feet. And there were a lot of different horses in Medieval Europe, including Scotland, most likely the type of horse ridden by Angus would have been different than he would have provided for Merida. Yes, Angus is cute. But so are Highland Ponies (which are, actually, probably also mostly from the rouncey) and the Icelandic which was possibly a very popular type throughout much of Europe before the gaited horse lost favor (and despite the link above, is actually the classic palfrey type). Or a fine charger if we wanted the horse to show her rebelling by riding one not deemed proper for a lady as a palfrey would have been (although "palfrey" does not mean "slow" or "unspirited").

So yeah, I went off on a tangent that most probably see as trivial because horses are kind of a big deal for me and I'm often annoyed. I managed to avoid going into it too much in the Centurion review because there was so many other things to complain about.

On the other hand, the hounds delighted me. I also loved seeing the Pictish stones this time around, as much as they annoyed me in Centurion. That is about anachronisms too, they wouldn't have existed in the time period of that movie, while some would have dotted the landscape in Merida's time (although others would already have been buried from sight). It just seemed touching to me.

The modern, but cute, draft horses and woaded MacIntoshes aside, I utterly loved this movie and if I had a daughter would be thrilled if she loved it. I think there's some reminders here for those who are raising daughters about control and conventions that still exist, as well. And it's fun, which is an important bit if it's going to convey all the lessons it strives to.

And, yeah, I really kinda wish I owned an archery shop right now. I hear there's a sales boom going on.

 copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert