Rambling about narratives
Both when this was primarily a blog devoted to fat-acceptance and now that it is a general weight-loss/fitness blog (although hopefully one not built on self-hate) I get emails from people absolutely incredulous with some of my stated positions. Generally, these people espouse some opposing viewpoint and their emails are/were full of links and anecdotes all brimming, they assure(d) me with information absolutely devastating to my assertions. From arguments invoking the laws of thermodynamics to endless links to the Keys’ Minnesota starvation experiment, these people seem convinced that there is just some particular argument or piece of information that I need to see in order to see the truth.
These people do not understand the narrative.
Most of us exist in a world of overlapping narratives. We filter our lives through these narratives. This isn’t totally bad. This world of ours is full of complexities and uncertainties and having a framework into which we can fit differing and opposing experiences is sometimes the only way to make sense of everything. For example, I’m a feminist and when confronted with, let’s say, a surrendered wife who tells me that obedience to her husband gives her ultimate happiness, I definitely filter that through what I believe of how patriarchy can colonize all of our brains. I don’t dismiss her experience, but I fit it into my existing narrative in a way she would probably not agree with. Likewise, I’m sure the way my life looks to a super conservative anti-gay rights type would probably not be something I recognized.
Those might be extreme examples, but the same principles apply when talking about issues around fat and health. I don’t see the personal change of opinion I went through on some issues as a change from falsehood to truth. Instead, I decided that one narrative was more satisfactory in explaining what was happening than the other. That doesn’t mean the weight-loss narrative is perfect or has all the answers or that the fat acceptance narrative is a lie. But it does mean that pointing to a single study or a single issue and expecting that to change my mind is silly. If any single instance of contradiction was enough to change most people’s minds, we would live in a constantly-shifting whirl of confusion.
It also means that I recognize the limitations of each narrative in explaining certain things. Why does dieting have such high failure rates (although not as high as 95%) in most studies? Why is obesity unevenly distributed among social classes? How do we explain away the hormonal effects of adipose tissue if we say that being fat doesn’t affect health? How do fit in the data on the genetics of obesity with the idea that size is at least partially under our control?
Where we go to answer these questions and which answers sound the most reasonable is largely a part of what kind of narrative we embrace.
I honestly don’t have anything particularly profound to say about it. I think though that recognizing how the narrative biases us is something that we have to do in order to be able to even have a conversation about these issues that isn’t just a giant echo-chamber. One thing I wanted to avoid was recreating this blog as a place where only ‘rah rah weight loss’ talk was happening. It’s one of the more frustrating things about this issue that just about any place where people write from a particular perspective, the conversation is almost totally saturated with agreement. Most unfortunate in my view is that conversations around science and research are so rarely anything but echo chambers for both sides – filled with anecdotes and heaps of scorn for the other side.
You would think after 13 years on the internet, that wouldn’t still frustrate me.