Control
by Barbara Altman Bruno, Ph.D.

When I first began writing this column, the news was full of reports about a downed 747 airplane, which exploded in midair. Bodies were being identified and communities mourning. The cause for the explosion had not and still has not been identified. Many people were fearful. One of the many fears we humans share is of loss of control. We are led to believe that much about life is or should be in our control. Most notable to Dimensions readers is probably the notion of weight control. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent by people trying fruitlessly to control their weight (i.e., lower it permanently). Fat people are blamed and shamed for "not controlling" their weight, for "letting themselves go," while it is assumed that thinner people are better able to control their impulses-regardless of what else is happening in their lives. Anorexics starve themselves to death in search of control. We have been drastically misled about weight; we have much less ability to regulate our weight than is popularly believed. And ironically, the very vehicle which we have been taught will lower our weight-dieting-is the one that seems to raise it. Countless fat people have experienced "dieting their weight up."

Many relationships have died over struggles for control. Perhaps one partner wishes to control the other's weight, for various reasons ( some include finding one body size sexier; wanting a dependent partner; wanting to show off a partner). Perhaps one partner wants to make all the major decisions about how money or time is spent or how children are reared. Or perhaps one partner fears that the other will leave unless they are dominated and insecure about their desirability to anyone else. Actually, the best way I know of to have a stable, committed relationship is to give one's partner the freedom to be as fully her/himself as s/he can be-to give one's partner space and acceptance to be who s/he is and who s/he is not. As the saying goes, '"If you love it, set it free. If it returns to you, it's yours.".

The plane crash brought up some of our worst demons. No matter how many sprouts we eat, miles we walk, and cigarettes we forego, we cannot be assured of living to a ripe old age. No matter how closely our weight matches Metropolitan Life's ideal weights, we are not guaranteed longevity. No matter how many security and mechanical checks airline personnel make, planes can blow up. No matter how many prayers we pray in our various religions, wishes we make, four-leaf clovers we pluck, we cannot control when life may be snatched from us or our dear ones. Medical anthropologist Margaret MacKenzie talks about Americans' demons of aging and death. We Americans seem particularly averse to considering ourselves mortal; we pay buckets of money to cosmetic surgeons so that we can appear to be in control both of our weight and our age. Woody Allen has spent many years psychoanalytically and cinematically struggling with fears about dying.

Ironically, it is by recognizing the limits to what we can control that we actually gain the most control over our lives. When dieters finally decide that dieting will not give them the permanently thinner bodies they have sought, they can begin to free themselves to enjoy life in the present moment, rather than waiting until they are thin enough before doing things like swimming, making love, or wearing new clothes. They can begin to enjoy food as one of life's many pleasures, and can begin to accept that the body they are in is the one they must make peace with-and even take care of. Some research has indicated a correlation between fat women giving up dieting and feeling less depressed and more in control of the quality of their lives.

When people in relationships stop trying to coerce those around them into staying connected, the people who are in their lives tend to be those who have chosen their company.

When we realize that any day might be our last, we can start to live our lives in the ways most meaningful to us. Perhaps, rather than working 16-hour days, we will choose to take a long walk in the woods, or a short walk across the living room. Perhaps we can decide that speaking out against fat oppression is a better way to live than cowering from fat bigotry-or perhaps we can decide to give up trying to fit in and start finding what fits us uniquely, regardless of majority opinions. Perhaps we can decide to come out of the closet about being or preferring fat people. We may decide that, if today were to be our last day, we would want to spend no more time around people who mistreat us, or clothing that pinches.

The more each of us can define what would make our own (perhaps brief) time on earth most worth living, and then spend as much of our time living in that way, the more control we can have over life.



Well Being