Alternate title: Cats in a Basket on a Rainbow*
I found myself unexpectedly frustrated and sad this weekend when I was reading the comments on a blog post about cats**, of all things — I guess that’s what they mean by “triggering”: when you encounter something that sends you spiraling into reactions you can’t completely control, angry and hurt by something that isn’t about you at all, feeling misunderstood and guilty and isolated, sending you back to that place where food and your body were your enemies.
Jen wrote about taking her cat to the vet, and as an aside, mentioned that one of her cats is borderline too-skinny while the other is too fat, and did anyone have any feeding suggestions for this situation? The commenters — all of them trying to be helpful, concerned about the health and well-being of these two cats — replied with a range of creative solutions (“Put the food up high where the skinny cat can get to it but the fat cat can’t jump up” and “Put the food in a box with a hole big enough for the skinny cat to get in but too small for the fat cat” were typical) designed to encourage the skinny cat to eat more food, but keep the fat cat from eating more than a prescribed amount.
What was jarring to me was how reflective the comments were of the accepted beliefs about food and eating and size — the context of animals provides the distance necessary for people (actual well-meaning human people, not troll-people) to candidly say what they really think about bodies: that those with fat bodies need to have their food intake limited, and can’t be relied on to regulate their own food intake. As one commenter said: You really need to moderate -how much- the cat is eating, don’t just toss some in a bowl for them and leave it there all day (That would be like tossing us in a buffet with no time limit haha). Because it’s about health: The last thing you want is to end up with a cat who has diabetes and needs insulin shots every day, that’s hard enough on a human who understands the concept behind them, but to a cat you’re just poking them with a needle and they don’t know why.
As far as the situation with cats goes, here’s my experience: I have two cats — Orla, a chubby (not quite fat, but definitely big) cat, and Shrodinger, a skinny one. Both are happy kitties, both are active, and both see the vet regularly because they’re positive (but not yet symptomatic) for FeLV. They’re allowed free access to their food dish, and their food intake is not regulated or monitored in any way; but from observation, I can tell you that Shrodo spends much more time at the food dish, eats about twice as much as Orla, and is prone to stalk me around the house, nipping at my ankles, if the level of food in the dish drops below a certain point. Both cats are healthy, neither cat over- or under-eats, they just have very different body types, is what I’m saying.
But mostly, my reaction to the post was one of sadness and frustration, because my perspective on food and size issues has shifted irrevocably away from “normal.” Lately I make it a point to immerse myself in fat-acceptance blogs and minimize my exposure to pro-dieting, anti-fat sources, so when I’m unexpectedly confronted with so much “normal” about food, when I’m reminded of just how deeply enculturated these disordered eating habits really are, it makes me realize just how far from “normal” I’ve turned. I’ve taken several giant steps away from “normal.” I realize there’s no way I could comment on that post that (in the absence of other unhealthy factors) cats can be trusted to eat the right amount of food for their bodies, just like humans can, yes, even at an unlimited buffet — that’s so foreign, it would sound like nonsense. Saying that my two cats of wildly different sizes are both healthy would sound just as insane as saying that I don’t restrict my food intake in any way and yet most of the time I wind up eating mainly produce because that’s what my body is asking for, not because the food pyramid told me to (and sometimes I don’t, but that’s okay too).
And frankly, sometimes I miss being “normal.” When I started dipping my toes into fat acceptance and health at every size, I didn’t set out to create a schism between myself and “normal,” but it’s there now, and there’s a grief about realizing how far I am from everyone else. Yes, I used to hate my body, but at least I was on the same team as the rest of society, united in agreement that my big ol’ body was hateworthy and untrustable and wrong. Now that I’m on Team My Body Is Rad instead of Team “Normal”, I can see that my new normal is better, healthier, saner than the cultural “normal” — but it’s a little depressing, too, knowing that I’ll never again be on the same side as the majority, when it comes to bodies. Because the new normal is isolating, even while it’s healing.
I’m just glad my cats can’t read internet comments.
*Yes, this is a 900+ word post about cats. I’m feeling very Debbie Loves Cats as a result. I just — sorry, I’m getting emotional — I really love cats, is all.
**I think Jen is fabulous, by the way, and I totally recommend her blog for girl-geekery and gentle humor. I was just caught off guard by the comments on this particular post, which were in no way mean-spirited, just totally reflective of how society treats food and weight.