Flashback Friday: C’est pas la joie!

Without further ado, I give you a song that we sang in music class at my school in Switzerland, when I was nine years old. Translation below.

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Excuse my French, but what the fuck?

On the one hand, my illustrations suggest that my approach to this was fairly matter-of-fact - I’ve picked out words and phrases that I know (the bathtub, lemon juice, banned cake, tea, swimming, exercising) in a way that suggests that I am probably missing some of the larger conversation.

And yet, there’s that drawing at the top, not an illustration of a specific word or phrase, just a guy with a belly looking in a mirror. I do remember being this age and looking at my belly in the mirror, worrying that I was fat. I don’t actually remember this song from music class, but it is the only piece in my music folder that I illustrated, which suggests that I did spend some amount of time thinking about it. I wonder what I thought.

It’s tempting to be comforted by the ending: “J’ai décidé de rester gros,/Je suis bien dans ma peau.” It seems like a wholly inadequate answer to the much-longer portion of the song dedicated to self-destructive extremes of dieting and weight loss. To simply throw up one’s hands and say “I guess I’ll just stay fat” doesn’t really make the “I am well in my skin” sound terribly convincing. Remember that we start with “Chaque matin” - every morning! Every morning this guy (and the final adjective “gros” is a male adjective, to go with my male cartoon rendition) gets out of the bath and is disappointed in himself. Each new regime that he tries actually does make him lose weight: thanks to lemon juice I got my bathing suit back on! Counting calories (a phobia) is magic! Tea and broth forever. But four months later, we’re back to “chaque matin.” The construction of each revival and each backslide suggests that the problem here is the inability to stick with these regimes. The guy eventually decides to “end the war on [his] kilos” because he ends up depressed. Framing this decision as a loss, a surrender, implies that such a battle could have been winnable, which is I think what so many of us come to believe about our weight without even realizing it.

I happened upon this after having just read an article circulating at the moment called “Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong,” which condemns in no uncertain terms the idea that people can shame or abuse themselves into being thin. Unlearning the moral condemnation of fatness has taken me the better part of my life so far, and I am not there yet. Somehow, seeing this helped clarify why that process has been so hard. The fact that I do not remember this song at all suggests that I just internalized it, interpreting it as matter-of-factly as my drawings suggest: “this is how people feel about being fat, and this is what they do to get thinner (while we’re at it, here is a list of good and bad foods).” The halfhearted ending occupies so little space on the page compared to the weight-loss strategies in the prior verses, to say nothing of the disappointment of fatness that occupies the top, center position. What is “I weigh too many kilos and that disappoints me,” if not a refrain that we all learn too early?