An interview excerpt, with Dan Oliverio, author of the new book, The Round World
Dan, please tell us about your background as a speaker and educator.
For the last eight years, I've been writing and speaking about the issues that come up for people when obesity intersects with sexuality. So, that includes dating, relationships, body image, self-empowerment, and sexual kink. I'm not a psychotherapist, but my clients and seminar participants tell me that I've been more helpful to them in one session than weeks of psychotherapy or couples counseling.
I've talked to hundreds of men and women over the years, and people tell me I have a unique insight into the challenges that fat people and their admirers face. And a lot of traditional therapy doesn't address our unique dating and relationship issues because most therapists know nothing of the round world, as I call it. Even many gay therapists have a blind spot when it comes to fat and certain sexual kinks.
Why did you write The Round World and what does the title signify?
The Round World is my name for the place where fat people and their admirers interact. As the subtitle explains, it's about Life at the Intersection of Love, Sex, and Fat. Many of us have a strong attraction to obese partners, but what's it like to have an attraction that the rest of the world finds disgusting, unhealthy, and quite literally unspeakable?
On the other hand, what's it like to be a fat person and be admired for a quality that you may not like about yourself and wish you could change? But in a greater sense, the book isn't just about being fat or having a sexual attraction to fat. The book is about loving yourself no matter what your size or sexual desires.
Do you see the struggles of Fat people as a Queer issue?
Historically, fat has been seen as mostly a woman's concern. In fact, one of the seminal books on the subject is titled Fat is a Feminist Issue. If a university teaches Fat Studies, it's usually part of the Department of Women's Studies. But if you were to judge by the few books and articles about fat men, you might conclude that either there are no fat men or that being fat is no big deal for men, which of course is far from true.
... I do think there is a historical parallel between being queer and being or liking fat. In the book, I make many comparisons between what we used to think about homosexuality and what we currently think about obesity. Fat people and chubby chasers often face the same social stigmas and scientific prejudices that gay people did in the 1950s and '60s.
For example, chubby chasers today often don't realize the depth and strength of their desires for a fat partner until they're already in a relationship with someone who isn't fat. What these couples go through--the language they use and the emotions they fee -- is exactly the same as a 1960s couple trying to understand how their spouse could be attracted to someone of the same gender. The guilt, longings, shame, confusion, and fears are the same.
Here's another parallel. In the 1950s, the medical profession used to consider homosexuality a mental illness to be cured or at least treated. Fifty years later, however, no credible doctor would diagnose a patient's illness as homosexuality.
I suggest that science is coming to look on obesity the same way -- less like a disease to be eradicated and more like a complex metabolic process that is poorly understood. Actually, I'd say the state of science with obesity today is where science was about homosexuality in about 1980 -- I don't mean in terms of social acceptance. I mean medically with respect to health and morbidity. People forget that we used to think of homosexuality as an unhealthy lifestyle that led only to an early and lonely death. At one time that was a well-documented medical fact.
Today, we have the same sort of medical facts about the supposed morbidity of obesity, despite a vast array of evidence to the contrary. It's something I call fat fundamentalism -- an unchanging dogma based on the exclusion of all other contrary evidence or arguments. But as with the medical view of homosexuality in 1980, the view of obesity today is evolving.
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