255: A Weighty Discussion with April Herndon

This week’s guest is April Herndon, an English professor and author (and many other things). She joins Brett to talk about fat advocacy, her Appalachian roots, and the joys of punching bags.

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[00:00:00] April: [00:00:00] Okay,

[00:00:00] Brett: [00:00:00] Hi, I’m Brett Terpstra and you’re listening to systematic. My guest this week is April Herndon, a professor of English. How’s it going April?

[00:00:10] April: [00:00:10] good. I mean, as well as it can be in a pandemic. Thanks for asking.

[00:00:13] Brett: [00:00:13] I feel like there’s a lot more to your introduction. You are in my mind a lot more than just a professor of English, but I wasn’t sure where to go with it after that.

[00:00:22]April: [00:00:22] It could go a lot of different places. I appreciate you sort of letting me be all of the different. Things I am. You know, in addition to teaching English, I have an interdisciplinary degree. So I’ve taught science and technology studies. I was a director of a non-profit organization called the intersex society of North America, where I did medical advocacy.

[00:00:42] For children who are born with mixed reproductive and or sexual anatomy I’ve been on a steering committee, started a union at Michigan state, or help start that union. That certainly wasn’t a solo effort. So yeah, I’ve done a lot of different things and have finally settled here in Winona as a professor of English.

[00:01:00] [00:00:59] Brett: [00:00:59] Did you go to Michigan state?

[00:01:01] April: [00:01:01] I did.

[00:01:02] Brett: [00:01:02] And why did I assume you had gone to school in the South?

[00:01:05]April: [00:01:05] Well, because I’ve still got a really, really strong accent, even though I haven’t lived in Appalachia since I was 18. So I was a Michigan. Let’s see, how long was I in Michigan? I was in Michigan for seven years and then came to Minnesota and I’ve been at Winona state for 15 years and still the accent lingers.

[00:01:25] So yeah, you think if I’d gone to school in the Midwest a little bit more of this would have faded, but, uh, it’s got some pretty good sticking quality.

[00:01:31] Brett: [00:01:31] So you are, we’re going to talk a lot about how I know you through Facebook, because that is where I, I learned the most about you and you are a, you. Frequently use colloquialisms, but you never use the same one twice. Are the colloquialisms you use? Are they real or are you just really good at making up Southern sounding colloquialisms?

[00:01:56]April: [00:01:56] A mix of both. Um, I do have my own phone [00:02:00] for things. There’s no doubt about that. That’s a family inherited trait. My dad was incredibly quick with it, but a lot of them really are Appalachian sayings. And I think one of the things that people really forget about when they think about that part of the country and the poverty comes to mind, um, the coal mining industry comes to mind.

[00:02:20] But they forget that for a very long time, Appalachia has had an incredible oral tradition. These were people who, although they were not formally educated, love to tell stories, passed on all kinds of really important ideas and skills and all of that was done through language. And so from an Appalachian perspective, you know, why would you say that the road outside is slippery?

[00:02:43] When you could say it’s a slickest, greenhouse, not. Right. I mean, it’s waving more vivid people. Remember that, you know, that makes an impression. I mean, somebody says that to you. You think I better get my ice cleats on you? Don’t just go run out there, like to check it out. You already know it’s rough. [00:03:00] So yeah, I do have a lot of those.

[00:03:01] And like I said, that that’s part of the Appalachia that I wish people knew more about.

[00:03:06] Brett: [00:03:06] Did that kind of a fascination with the oral history play into your, uh, eventual education and English and professional life in English.

[00:03:18]April: [00:03:18] For sure. Um, one of the things that was really interesting to me is I didn’t really have an incredible appreciation for Appalachia when I was still in high school. Um, you know, for me it seemed like a place to get out of. I looked around. I saw people who were living in poverty and I loved my family, especially my maternal grandparents and my maternal grandmother, like huge influence on my life, taught me more stuff than I can even start to count up, but I wasn’t sure what I would do if I stayed there.

[00:03:50] And that was sort of my main impression was. Leave when I got to college and I started taking English classes and had professors who were teaching Appalachian literature. [00:04:00] And I really started to understand that we had our own culture. We had our own dialect. Um, we had this really rich tradition of telling stories.

[00:04:12] It really made me want to learn more about it. And I do think that’s one of the biggest reasons that. I went as far as I did in terms of my education. And in terms of studying English, is that for me, the literature was a window onto a place where I had actually lived and it still made me see a different, and that’s.

[00:04:33] That’s a really a powerful statement about the effect that words and storytelling can have on someone to take somebody that grew up there and show them a different set of stories and help them see that thing that they’re so familiar with in a different way. That’s amazing.

[00:04:50]Brett: [00:04:50] Yeah. That’s awesome. So one of the topics that, uh, that I know you post on frequently and have even written a [00:05:00] book about is fat advocacy. Is that the right word for it?

[00:05:04] April: [00:05:04] Yeah. That’s one way to say it. There’s a, if you want to think about it from a medical perspective, there’s a movement called health at every size. Um, and most of us who are in the health at every size movement and that’s more medical professionals. And then folks like me who publish in a field that we call fat studies.

[00:05:21] Um, we’re all people who are trying to help other folks understand that fatness very much like gender or race or class or disability that these are constructed social categories. And although there are things about people’s bodies that underlie all of those, the meanings that we attribute to those things, those are social constructions and we choose.

[00:05:44] How to construct those meanings. And so we’re all working for a world where, when we talk about fatness, we’re talking about it, not as a stigmatized trait, but more, just a neutral descriptor of how people’s bodies happened to be in the world.

[00:05:58] Brett: [00:05:58] Yeah. So [00:06:00] the, uh, the title of the book is fat blame. The war on obesity, victimizes women and children. Um, so first of all, let’s define, there’s been how, how long has this idea of, uh, the, um, PA UPenn and not pandemic

[00:06:17]Epidemic! I got pandemic on the brain.

[00:06:20] April: [00:06:20] We all do, which is an interesting thing to think about just that term. Right. Um, and maybe part of the reason, like it’s hard for you to recall it tied to obesity is that that’s normally a term that we use to refer to something that’s contagious. So rhetorically the war on obesity is a really interesting moment when we’ve taken language that we would normally only use.

[00:06:41] If we were talking about a virus or a bacterial infection and we’ve actually applied it. To the state of people’s body that is not contagious. So in and of itself rhetorically, you know, we can sort of see already that we’re stretching. A little bit, when we talk about, um, the [00:07:00] current rhetoric around obesity and referring to it as an epidemic, um, in terms of when people started talking about it as an epidemic, you can go all the way back to the seventies and find references to it.

[00:07:12] But really in the eighties and nineties, the concerns started kicking up. Um, much more. We had the presidential fitness test and all kinds of movements. And then we had several surgeon generals who were worried about it, and you can follow it all the way up into the Obama era. When Michelle Obama took up childhood obesity, um, as a cause and started her let’s move program, which interestingly enough, focused on kids having good food and having safe places to move.

[00:07:43] Which is actually not something that has to be tied to obesity. That just seems like a general sort of thing that we would want all children to have regardless of their body size. So I’m also always fascinated when people use obesity as a tool. And every time I say that, by the way, I’ve got scare [00:08:00] quotes around it because in fat studies, we sort of understand that as one of those terms, that’s really like a question.

[00:08:06] So when I say obesity, I’ve got my. My air quotes going here. Um, but that sort of drive to tie what could be really good social programs to people’s body size rather than just having those social programs is interesting too. Um, it, it sort of puts this burden on. You know, these kids who are fat, that they’re supposed to then lose weight.

[00:08:30] If we give them access to food and we give them, you know, good places where they can exercise and feel safe doing that. But the truth is some kids won’t, their bodies won’t change as a result of that. And so my concern is always, if the reason we tell people we’re doing these things is so people will lose weight.

[00:08:48] Does that mean when people don’t lose weight, that they become further stigmatized because that doesn’t seem worth it to me.

[00:08:54] Brett: [00:08:54] Or that they stopped doing the things that are honestly good for them.

[00:08:58]April: [00:08:58] yes. That’s another [00:09:00] huge concern and lots of folks in the health at every size movement, right? About that explicitly that when we make the goal of eating nutritious food and a variety of foods, and that doesn’t mean cutting out whole groups of things, unless you have an allergy or some sort of medical condition, that means you need to avoid it.

[00:09:18] But when we make the goal of nutritious food and food that tastes good and movement. Weight loss when people don’t see that weight loss, there’s a tendency to think there’s nothing beneficial coming from doing those activities. And that’s real danger that we face in this sort of moment when everything seems to be tied to weight, like everything about food and exercise and our culture is tied to weight.

[00:09:42] And the truth is there’s all kinds of benefits to exercise in or eating well that don’t involve in your body size.

[00:09:49] Brett: [00:09:49] Yeah. A lot of the articles that I’ve read, both that you’ve posted and that I’ve found elsewhere have talked about how, obesity is viewed in the medical community and [00:10:00] how difficult it can be for people who are overweight to get the same level of health care as skinny counterparts. How does the medical field get obesity wrong right now?

[00:10:13] April: [00:10:13] Yeah, well, there are a couple of things to think about. Um, one thing is that the recommendation to lose weight is in and of itself. Not something that we would normally, if we were. And about the success rates. We probably wouldn’t really recommend it. So for example, as you know, going as far back as 20 years ago, doctors were acknowledging that 95% of diets fail and by fail, I mean, people might lose weight, but most people.

[00:10:41] Gained back within the next five years, the weight they lost and for quite a few people, they gained back even a little bit more. And so if you think about, you know, if we had a medication that had a 95% failure rate, we probably wouldn’t recommend it to folks, but yet we go on recommending weight loss [00:11:00] to people and thinking back to like our previous.

[00:11:03] Discussion about what happens when people don’t lose weight. Um, some of what happens for fat people in the medical environment is that when they don’t lose weight, they’re really afraid to go back to doctors. We have lots of studies that suggest that for women in particular, that, that fear of that fat shaming speech that they’re going to get from a doctor for not losing weight actually keeps them away from wellness visits.

[00:11:28] So that women actually avoid a lot of what we would consider a really baseline screening, you know, things like pap smears, breast exams for fear. Of being fat shamed when they go into a medical environment. And so I think one of the things that I always try to get folks in the medical field to slow down and think about is would weight loss really fix this problem?

[00:11:53] Because some people’s knees hurt even when they’re thin. Right? So you really got to stop and slow down and ask yourself. [00:12:00] What’s the actual problem here. And does this address it? I think it’s really great for medical providers to ask themselves the question. If I had a VIN patient who presented with these symptoms, what would I suggest for them?

[00:12:13] Because that’s a really good, critical thinking exercise, you know, am I. Reacting to this patient’s body weight, or am I actually focused on the problem here? And then I think that issue of making people comfortable with medical care is really important. And this is everything from having gowns in your office that fits larger patients chairs without arms on them.

[00:12:36] So we’re not squeezing in between the arms using language that as much as you can manage is weight neutral. These are all things that will encourage anyone, um, to have a better relationship with their doctor. And that’s something that’s really important in terms of people’s long-term health and good outcomes.

[00:12:55] So, you know, I think that a lot of doctors, [00:13:00] you know, do a really good job with this. I think there are plenty of venues for doctors to get more education about this. And my hope is that. We can kind of slow things down and not always attribute everything to someone’s weight, but just asking those few critical questions about what am I really treating here?

[00:13:18] What’s the real problem.

[00:13:20] Brett: [00:13:20] All right. So I’ll get back to the book topic, which is less about, um, medicine. It’s about the effect of this war on obesity and, um, marginalization. That splits across gender and age lines.

[00:13:37] Uh, can you give me a 10,000 foot view of what that looks like?

[00:13:41]April: [00:13:41] Yeah. So the book really looks at the fact that as a culture, when we talk about the war against obesity, we often do now talk about social causes. So people will talk about things like food deserts, um, lack of sidewalks in neighborhoods, lack of, you know, safe places for people to [00:14:00] exercise, but. The interventions that we take in our society, you’re all at the individual body level.

[00:14:08] So most of the treatment, and again, I’ve got my scare quotes up there for obesity are not fixing sidewalks or putting in playgrounds or making certain that everybody has food. And again, we could do that without tying it to anyone’s body size. So many of the interventions are at the level of people’s bodies.

[00:14:26] So we have things like bariatric surgeries. Where literally, um, people’s stomachs are reduced. They hold a couple of tablespoons of food, food. Their intestines are for the most part bypass, so that what nutrition they do take in their body can’t fully process. So most of these surgeries, especially some of the more popular ones actually require that a person be on a really regimented set of vitamins and supplements for the entirety of their lives.

[00:14:54] We don’t always have the best outcomes studies. About these surgeries. [00:15:00] There are a lot of women who get them and we even performed them on children in the U S um, there have been surgeries performed on eight and nine year old kids. And thinking about, you know, whether or not. This will affect them on down the road.

[00:15:17] You know, we don’t really have the best outcomes studies in place for that in terms of thinking about how this also affects children. We have several cases in the U S and there was just another one in the, the news last week. And I haven’t read everything about that yet, but. Um, you know, kids are taken out of homes because their body size is construed as a sign of neglect.

[00:15:44] And, um, the one that I started doing some research about that happened last week, as far as what I could see from just the first glance. The authorities agreed that on every other front, this was a loving home. And that’s what I’ve found for the [00:16:00] US-based cases. When I was doing the research for the book is that these really seem to be loving homes and the parents fought to get their kids back.

[00:16:11] And in the cases where the kids were taken out of the homes, Most of them didn’t lose what anyone would consider a strong statistically significant amount of weight. So you’ve got a kid who’s been traumatized, taken out of their home and for what, in the end, when they don’t even lose weight. And I would argue, even if they do lose weight, that’s not a reason to pull a child.

[00:16:35] Out of what is an otherwise loving environment. And so out of that also comes this pressure on women who are mothers to have small children, because just imagine walking through the world and thinking that everyone looking at your child is thinking that you’re a bad mom, because they’re a heavy kid.

[00:16:53] And I was a heavy kid myself and. My mom didn’t have anything to do with that. I mean, she’s, you know, sticks in, [00:17:00] but I know she felt that that burden and it wasn’t until I started doing the research for the book that I really stopped and thought about that and what that must be alike as a mother to have all of this scrutiny about fat kids.

[00:17:14] And then you have a fat kid, and then of course there’s what that is. of just living in the world is like for that fat kid where you’re constantly hearing about childhood obesity, childhood obesity, childhood obesity, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be a kid in this environment. I didn’t have to listen to that all the time when I was a kid and I still felt it.

[00:17:33] So I can only imagine growing up with social media and television and all of the ads, now that it must be terrifying for kids.

[00:17:43] Brett: [00:17:43] So speaking of ads I’ve noticed, uh, I can’t remember exactly which one. Companies, but I have noticed several commercials that would normally be all skinny, white women with a token person of color are starting to include, uh, [00:18:00] fat models. Is that something you see as moving in the right direction, as far as the messages we’re sending to kids?

[00:18:09] Or is that a, is that just pandering?

[00:18:12]April: [00:18:12] It’s a good question. Um, I guess I would say those two things. When I think about it, maybe they’re not always mutually exclusive. Like sometimes I think what starts out as a kind of pandering can still have a positive effect. Um, of course, you know, these are corporations, right? So I’m always thinking, well, they’re trying to sell stuff.

[00:18:31] And then the other part of my brain kicks in and says, well, But if in they’re trying to sell stuff, they’re actually helping people see larger bodies and especially like larger bodies of color. Right. Cause this has been one of the things that communities of color have pointed out, um, is that they’re especially invisible when it comes to those kinds of representations.

[00:18:54] You know, one of the things that I think is really interesting is that we live in a culture where we don’t see [00:19:00] a lot of fat. Bodies. Um, most of our advertisements are not filled with them. We don’t see a lot of people who are large, like out on beaches and stuff, because a lot of people feel, um, like that they don’t belong there.

[00:19:13] They’re afraid that they’re going to be harassed. So part of me really does appreciate those moments. When there’s someone on a screen who looks more like me or looks more like other women that I know and. I hope that even if the corporations are doing that, to sell another bar of so that even if people don’t buy that bar of soap, it kind of opens their mind a little bit to the diversity of human bodies.

[00:19:38] And that body size in terms of weight is no different than height or hair color, or eye color. Any other of those traits

[00:19:47] Brett: [00:19:47] So you, you’ve dedicated a lot of time to advocating for that kind of acceptance both, uh, for people of them. Selves and for society of people. And then along comes a pandemic [00:20:00] and has, has the pandemic changed, our perception of obesity, the problem of obesity, medical treatment of obesity, have there been specific things that kind of the quarantine and lockdown has caused.

[00:20:14]April: [00:20:14] Well, I think one of the really interesting sort of conundrums with it right now is that obesity is listed as one of the conditions. One of the medical conditions. On the checklist. When you go to get your vaccine, they ask you, do you have, you know, even when you’re scheduling, do you have one of these underlying medical conditions?

[00:20:34] So for me, this has been a really interesting experience. I’m someone who identifies as fat with a capital F like I actually see it as a part of my identity in the same way. I see being a woman or being Appalachian or work in class. Um, but you know, obesity is not a label that I have applied to myself in forever.

[00:20:53] Like. As soon as my consciousness became, you know, heightened about, um, [00:21:00] trying to get people to think through body size as a piece of human diversity, rather than a stigmatized category, I dropped the O word as we often call it in fat studies. But you know, here I am looking at this form and I’m like, well, I guess I’m going to check.

[00:21:16] You know this box and I kind of made light of it and was like, Ooh, I got the obesity. You know? And when I went to get the, my first COVID vaccine and she was the gal that was like, you know, setting up my next appointment, asked me, you know, do you have any of these underlying conditions? And I was like, well, I got the obesity.

[00:21:33] Right. And I realized I’m making fun of it. But at the same time, it’s one of the only ways I can kind of get it right in my mind, because. I’m not quite certain why obesity is a risk factor for COVID. And we’ve had one sort of meta analysis that came out that kind of hypothesizes that, um, obesity is a medical condition that causes general inflammation.

[00:21:58] And that, because of that, [00:22:00] perhaps part of what happens when COVID enters that system is that the inflammation gets kicked up. But I had serious concerns about, you know, are the worst outcomes for people who are larger. Because we don’t have medical teams who are used to working with larger bodies, you know?

[00:22:17] So one of the things we found out early in the pandemic is that flipping people onto their stomach rather than lying, the prone makes a huge difference in terms of fluid, not gathering at the back of their lungs. Right. And so I kind of think about someone who lives in and with and through a larger body.

[00:22:34] And we all know that. There’s been a lot of studies done about discrimination in the medical field, around larger bodies. And I think, you know, is part of it that people weren’t turned over when they should have been is part of it that somebody thought, you know, we don’t have enough people here to turn this person over.

[00:22:51] Like how do we, how do we actually start to sort through at the end of all of this, whether or not obesity in and of itself. [00:23:00] Was the cause of this. We also know that obese people because they’re like subject to constant, um, harassment and that sort of stuff, that it actually, that social stress increases all kinds of other risk factors for things.

[00:23:13] And so, you know, if it’s the case that fat people had, you know, weaker cardiac systems and COVID was a problem. Well, is it the fatness that caused that weaker cardiac system or is it living under the daily stress? Of being in a fat phobic society. I’m never quite certain how we separate the threads of that blanket out, but I kind of feel like we need to

[00:23:34] Brett: [00:23:34] Yeah. Yeah. Well, I mean, so you are based on everything I know about you, you are probably the healthiest person. I know, uh, you exercise, you exercise more than I ever even aspire to you eat healthier than I can imagine. Eating. Like the, the vegan meals that you post pictures of are [00:24:00] fascinating. Like your diet is amazing, your everything that you do seems, um, like a doctor would give you a big Pat on the back and to then turn around and say, uh, that you are, uh, th that it’s a co-morbidity that anything about you is then.

[00:24:19] Uh, detrimental seems like a mis-characterization at least in a case like yours.

[00:24:26]April: [00:24:26] Yeah, it’s kind of fascinating. Like I do often think about that and I’ll tell you my first sort of experience with that was when I first moved to Minnesota. Um, I taught at another school and then I had a year when I worked for the non-profit. And during that year, um, the nonprofit was small enough that we didn’t have group insurance.

[00:24:46] So I had to apply for private insurance. And so I had to send, you know, my cholesterol readings and my blood pressure and all this stuff in and. One of the really fascinating things that happened was that I got turned [00:25:00] down based only on my weight and Minnesota at the time. Thankfully had a program in place where if you got declined by three insurance agencies, you went into a high risk pool and someone had to pick you up.

[00:25:13] And that’s the only reason that I could get health insurance. And every letter told me explicitly that I was turned down because of my weight, even though all of the other parameters for marking health, in terms of blood pressure, blood sugar, um, cholesterol readings were all fine. It was just that one thing.

[00:25:33] And it’s really fascinating to think that we’ve got one of the biggest medical, industrial complexes in the world. Sitting in the United States. And we think about multi-factoral, you know, analyses for all sorts of other things, but when it comes to body weight, when you look at one thing and we think that must be the only thing to look at, and that’s really fascinating to me, and I don’t understand why other people don’t immediately [00:26:00] think to themselves in what other incidents do.

[00:26:03] We only look at one thing as a determinant of health. I mean, even people who smoke, right. A doctor will be like, well, you seem to still eat your vegetables and you do this other stuff. It would be great if you quit smoking, but they still understand that there’s more to that person then the smoking. And I’m not sure that that happens with body weight.

[00:26:23] Um, so yeah, it is really kind of fascinating to be somebody who, you know, I don’t know if I exercise. Yeah, maybe I do exercise a lot. I don’t know. Um, I like it like that. It’s one of the funny things like that. Maybe it’s because sometimes it doesn’t feel like exercise to me cause I really dig it. Um, and that’s one of the things I’ve always been really grateful for is that, and I don’t know what this is and if I had a, if I had a wand and I could go around and I could give.

[00:26:51] Almost anything away. I’ve often said, the thing that I would give away would be for other people to feel as comfortable in their [00:27:00] skin, as I sometimes feel not all the time, cause I’m not made of stone and the world is a hard place for a bigger person, much less, a bigger woman, but. For the most part. And I, I honestly don’t understand why.

[00:27:12] I think some of it might’ve been my maternal grandmother who was just a really strong figure in my life. But for the most part, I just don’t really care very much. What other people think about my body? So movement is something that feels good to me and I am okay going to the gym or, you know, putting on a swimsuit and going and doing laps and.

[00:27:32]I’ve always been kind of thankful for that and I love food and I’ve never had any shame about telling people how much I love food or as, you know, posting pictures, you know, of the stuff I’m eating. And I just think there’s gotta be something healthy about that too. And that’s another part of this that we don’t talk about.

[00:27:50] Is that feeling bad about yourself all the time? Can’t possibly be good for anybody’s health mentally or physically. And I don’t think we take into account. How [00:28:00] all of that fat stigma harms people in those ways.

[00:28:03] Brett: [00:28:03] so I, uh, first, okay. I have a bunch of anecdotal things to add. Um, when I first tried, like I got out of, uh, I got into my adult life, started working and I needed to get insurance. Employer didn’t provide it. And I tried to get insurance, but because I had a rehab stint within the last, like four years, I couldn’t get insured by anyone.

[00:28:30] And I went into a high risk pool and ended up paying a thousand dollars a month for my health insurance,

[00:28:36] April: [00:28:36] Well, it isn’t that it, in that interesting Brett that you actually got penalized for having been someone who went to get help.

[00:28:43] Brett: [00:28:43] And all of my other health market, like I was in good shape. Like it, it wasn’t like my blood pressure was good. My cholesterol was good by weight was good. Like just that one black Mark was enough for them to say, Nope, we can’t do you. Um, I, as [00:29:00] far as exercise goes, I will from memory repeat a recent Facebook posts to you.

[00:29:05] Um, You decided to do your crunches with a 25 pound plate that day and your stomach was sore afterward. Just the fact that that was like I was doing, you know, my daily crunches and today I decided to do it with a 25 pound plate. That is what I’m talking about. When I say you exercise more than I aspire to.

[00:29:26]April: [00:29:26] That’s pretty funny. So let me tell you that hurt. I think what I actually said on Facebook is that my upper abs felt like somebody beat me with a pillowcase filled full of rolled nickels.

[00:29:34] Brett: [00:29:34] Yes. And this is the type of colloquialism that, that I wonder.

[00:29:39]April: [00:29:39] That one was totally just for me. Um, but yeah, that, it, it still hurt last night when I went to do them. And that is some of those deaths that I, I think is kind of funny sometimes. Like I said, on that Facebook post, I got ahead of myself and there are times when I think, Ooh, I feel good tonight. I’m going to see if I can do this with a 25 pound plate.

[00:29:58] And then, you know, a lot of times the next [00:30:00] day, I’m kind of laughing at myself. Um, and I guess that’s another, you know, sort of thing that keeps me going back to it is I do have a sense. Sense of humor about it. And I’ll try almost anything just to see if I can, you know, do it. And if I can’t do it, that’s fine.

[00:30:16] And if I still enjoy it, even if I’m not good at it, I’ll keep doing it. So I suspect, you know, sometime in the next few weeks I go back to the snake that bit, me and pick up that 25 pound plate again and see if it still hurts. And if it does, I probably won’t do it again. And if it does and I’ll be like, Oh, you know, I did something I didn’t think I could do.

[00:30:35] Brett: [00:30:35] All right. So, uh, I’ve read a couple of articles that talk about how, uh, since the pandemic started, men have been publishing, uh, in academia, they’ve been publishing 50% more. Than they were previously and women are, are publishing less. Uh, have you seen that type of in your own life since the [00:31:00] pandemic started?

[00:31:00] Has that affected you at all?

[00:31:02]April: [00:31:02] No, I’m a little bit unusual in that. And I think it’s because I don’t have kids. And so, whereas so many women have had to take on childcare duties because you know, childcare has been closed. School has been closed or in a hybrid model. Um, I’ve actually had the opposite. Happen. Um, I have a writing partner, Cassie Griff, who is out at Gonzaga now.

[00:31:25] She was here at Winona state for a year and she and I have written like themes, um, during the pandemic in part, because I think not having to go into an office, freed up. A lot of time for us and gave us like a really different kind of experience, um, in terms of our, our bodies. Like we’ve, we’ve got an article coming out in April about teaching on zoom and having like home offices and the way that it’s taken so much of the pressure off of us as teachers, but not [00:32:00] having to always present in the classroom as like, you know, a fat woman or that, you know, And I talk a lot in that article and it’s a back and forth, conversational piece.

[00:32:10] I talk a lot about, you know, somebody who’s got some chronic conditions to manage that. Being able to be in my own house and always have water and tea and a way to like take a nap for five minutes. If I need, it has actually meant that my energy has been increased and, um, you know, I wasn’t expecting any of that.

[00:32:34] And, and I have, you know, really terrible like clinical level anxiety. And my anxiety about catching COVID is through the roof, but there are other things about my publishing career, um, and my ability to produce writing that have actually been much better. This last year. And, um, I always hesitate a little bit to say that because I know so many people have suffered.

[00:32:58] And as I said, I [00:33:00] mean, I have to like, I mean, I go outside and at least scooting down the sidewalk makes me jump like six foot off the ground because I’m so panicked that somebody is close to me. But as long as I’m in my house, I’ve actually done quite a bit of writing. But again, I think that’s because I haven’t had kids to take care of.

[00:33:16] Brett: [00:33:16] Yeah, same. Um, do you, what do you hope that universities learn from, uh, from experiences like yours and others as we go through those?

[00:33:27]April: [00:33:27] Well, that’s a great question. Um, my fear is always that everybody wants to rush back to what they talked about as the normal, but I think one of the things that I’ve found in this is that. The normal wasn’t working for everybody. Like, I didn’t even realize it wasn’t working for me until all of this happened and it’s been really eye-opening, you know, how much more energy I’ve got and how much more focused I can be and what I can accomplish in a small window.

[00:33:54] Time. I also think I’ve seen some of that with my students. Um, I’m somebody who [00:34:00] really, I kinda like multitasking. I know that’s not a popular thing to say, but I do. And you know, when I’m on zoom with students, um, I’m totally comfortable if they’re. There’s one group of students talking and I’m typing notes.

[00:34:14] I share my screen cause I think they actually really liked to see their thoughts shared with the class on that screen. So I’m asking them questions and taking notes, their students using the chat. Um, I have students who have never turned on their mikes. Who’ve never turned on their cameras, but who. Put really amazing things in the chat box.

[00:34:35] I mean, they are thinking some seriously deep thoughts about literature and the issues that the books that we’re reading bring up. I don’t want to lose that. And I don’t, I don’t, I’m not sure that these are students who would ever speak in a brick and mortar classroom. And so I’m actually really dedicated now to spending my time looking for platforms that I can use in a brick and mortar classroom that let those students who liked to use that chat [00:35:00] on zoom, continue to participate because not every kid wants to use their voice.

[00:35:05] I shouldn’t say kids they’re young adults or university students, but not every student wants to use their voice. And I don’t, you know, I didn’t realize this until I talked on zoom and now I feel like I’ve seen this whole other side of our students. I don’t want to lose it.

[00:35:20] Brett: [00:35:20] Do you think there is a place for a hybrid approach moving forward, uh, with zoom and brick and mortar.

[00:35:28] April: [00:35:28] I really hope so. I mean, I also think for our students that went on a state, you know, we have so many first-generation students and so many students who have not one, but sometimes even two jobs. And so, you know, my class schedule is laid out for them. Completely from the beginning of the term. And I told them if you, you know, if you’re working and you’re trying to make your way through, you know, now which days we’re meeting on zoom and which days you can just do the work on your own and you get to determine those days, you can balance your [00:36:00] time, set your schedule work when you need to, on those days.

[00:36:04] I think that’s actually really important for students. I think we probably have. Um, and I don’t know if anybody’s collecting data or tracking this, but it’s hard for me to imagine that we don’t have some students who would prefer some more options like that because they are trying to work their way through.

[00:36:21] Um, or maybe you’re a student who needs an eight, eight, you know, you need a class, but the only time it’s offered is 8:00 AM. And you’re just not somebody that’s going to be able to get awake. At 8:00 AM, right? Like maybe there’s an online, an option that’s better for those kinds of students. Um, I hope that one of the things we can do is have that hybrid model, make things a little bit more personalized so that people can have a little bit more control over what their learning environment looks like because not everybody learns in the same way.

[00:36:51] Some folks are better at certain times, a days than others. We’ve got all this technology. Why not use it to individualize it a little bit more?

[00:36:59] Brett: [00:36:59] Yeah, [00:37:00] that all sounds great. I wish, uh, I had the option to attend, uh, two of the classes out of my four years of, well, five years of school, I had the option. Two of them were online and I jumped at that option. Uh, partly for scheduling reasons, partly because I. Right. Drugs were easier when you weren’t in a classroom.

[00:37:22] But, uh, but I did find that that kind of, um, separation for me as a person with ADHD and some anxiety, like being able to attend a class through a chat room, really worked well for me. And I, I think having that kind of having at least a channel for that kind of thing could be really beneficial too, to certain students.

[00:37:46] April: [00:37:46] Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. You know, there was a, um, an article that came out last week about kids with ADHD in particular, and that the online format had actually really worked well for a lot of them. And so, you know, [00:38:00] again, I think if we’ve got all of this technology, shouldn’t we take forward what we learned out of it.

[00:38:06] And I mean, I know zoom fatigue is real, and I know it doesn’t work for everybody, but there’s gotta be a way that we can get. All of those, you know, sort of platforms working in a classroom. I haven’t figured that out yet, but I’m committed to working on it.

[00:38:19] Brett: [00:38:19] Yeah. I worry that if things go back to quote unquote, normal, too fast, people won’t take the time to really. Consider what actually was better over, over the last year. What, what could, what lessons could we take with us before we all rushed back to the way things were?

[00:38:38] April: [00:38:38] I agree that that is my biggest fear because I. You know, I’m somebody that understands that bad things happen in life. But, um, I always try and I don’t always succeed, but I will always try to figure out, okay, this crappy thing happened. But given that it happened, is there anything I [00:39:00] can learn? From this and I’m with you, I’m actually really afraid that people rush back to what they knew before, because this was imposed upon them residents sort of taking that breath and saying, okay, we can go back, but we’ve also got a chance here at a do-over right.

[00:39:16] What can we do better this time around like, that’s where I really hope things go. What can we, how can we do this better?

[00:39:23]Brett: [00:39:23] All right. Well, I’m going to take a short sponsor break and then we’re going to get to our top three picks.

[00:39:29] April: [00:39:29] Sounds great.

[00:39:30] Brett: [00:39:30] I will actually edit this in later. So, all right. That brings us to the top three picks. Tell me what you got April.

[00:39:39] April: [00:39:39] All right. So you said I could do abstract concepts. I’ve got one of those which is thinking about, um, choice. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that question of choice lately. And some of this is tied to my work on obesity. Um, I also would like to say that one of my top three things right now is my punching bag.

[00:40:00] [00:40:00] I am really enjoying that punching bag in a way that I didn’t think I would. And then lipstick I’m really back into lipstick, which quite frankly is a little bit sad given that we’re all wearing masks. So that’s why you see a lot of pictures of me on Facebook with lipstick.

[00:40:17] Brett: [00:40:17] All right. So let’s break these down a little bit. Uh, let’s talk about choice first. Uh, what, what exactly? Explain to me what this means for you right now that makes it a top pick.

[00:40:30] April: [00:40:30] Yeah. So I think for a lot of people, when they talk about, well, that’s my choice or that’s that business is choice. They think that’s where the conversation ends. I’m actually the opposite. I actually think that’s where the conversation starts, because choice to me is really fascinating. Um, and it’s hard as a, as a person, you know, I often spend time literally sitting around thinking, you know, did I really [00:41:00] choose that?

[00:41:01] Like if we talk about choices, something where every option is absolutely open to you. If that’s how we think about choice, I’ve never actually made a choice. Right. And I know this is like an odd sort of philosophical thing, but for real Brett, this is the kind of stuff that at night I’m laying around thinking of right before I fall asleep.

[00:41:18] Right. Or, I mean, you know, or when people will say things like, and I think right now we’re in a political moment where this is a really interesting discussion. So people will say things like, well, you know, that business gets to choose. Um, you know, to give money to the Republican campaign and I’m like, you are absolutely right.

[00:41:36] They get to choose that. That also means I get to choose not to give that business, my business. And there seems to be this odd thing happening where when people say that like, well, that business gets to choose to do that. That somehow my choice goes away because the implication almost always is. And you now have to go do business with them.

[00:41:56] And, you know, I got like really riled about this a while back, [00:42:00] um, because of a Facebook conversation. And I thought, I mean, I literally was like reading this and thinking about Appalachia. And I was like, you know, my grandpa worked for the coal mines during a time when miners got paid in script, which meant the only place it could be spent was the company store.

[00:42:16] And you went to the company store and you paid the company prices and you had no choice of where to spend your dollar. I go back to those times. I absolutely get a choice of where to spend my money and to decide whether or not a business that I’m about to turn over cash to has values that echo my own.

[00:42:36] Or if they’re doing things that I think are unfair with workers, um, or the folks who produce the goods, like, so that. That idea of choice. I spend a lot of time thinking about, and I just think like I have a really different understanding of this than other people. And that’s part of the head scratching for me is, huh?

[00:42:54] How come the companies get a choice? But I, as an individual, don’t it doesn’t make any [00:43:00] sense.

[00:43:00] Brett: [00:43:00] there’s a flip side to this too. Uh, last week when Texas kind of decided to open up, uh, restaurants and bars, and they said that it was entirely up to. The store owners to then make a choice as to whether they would allow full capacity, whether they would open at all. And they put the choice onto individual businesses without it in a way that I think is very detrimental.

[00:43:31] Like I think that there are times when the choice is almost onerous, uh, and shouldn’t be given to the businesses.

[00:43:40] April: [00:43:40] I, I think you’re right about that. I mean, one of the really hard parts about that is that. You know, what do you, you know, do you choose if you’re a business owner between watching the place across the street, fill up every night and they’re making money, but you’re not able to pay your mortgage. Right. I mean, that’s a [00:44:00] really you’re right.

[00:44:00] I mean, that’s an unfair situation to plop someone down in and you know, you’re sitting there thinking, you know, if you’re somebody that takes the virus seriously, maybe you’re like, well, I can’t open up, like. You know, it’s people are going to get reinfected. If they come in here and we packed the restaurant full and they eat, but then on the other hand, you have your mortgage to pay.

[00:44:19] I mean, you’re right. Like who needs to make that decision? And I do worry about sort of the, you know, this kind of government, well, you know, let’s just let everybody make their own choice and. On one hand. I like the idea of autonomy, but on the other hand, I’m with you sometimes I think there’s a reason that we need leadership to make choices that, you know, sort of set up policies that everyone’s following so that people aren’t, you know, sort of forced into that rock and hard place position you’re describing.

[00:44:49] Brett: [00:44:49] Right. Well, and also being forced into being on their own too. It’s way easier for an employee at a hardware store to say, you have to wear [00:45:00] a mask to come in here. If there’s a government mandate that they can just say, sorry, all buildings in this state, we require a mask to enter, uh, as opposed to, Oh, we don’t allow people in this particular store without a mask.

[00:45:13] And then you have to defend that on your own. Like, that’s a really bad place to put somebody.

[00:45:19] April: [00:45:19] It’s terrible. Yeah. And if you think about most of the people who are left in that situation you’re right. That these are like minimum wage earners, right? These are folks at the opening, you know, of a store or, you know, the vegetable of a restaurant and you’re right. It’s one thing to say the governor says we have to do this.

[00:45:35] Or the president, you know, we have a federal mass mandate in place right than it is to say, You know, targets is you can’t come in without a mask. And I, you know, fill in the name tag and the person having to tell someone that. And I mean, we, we saw this, right. I mean, we actually saw minimum wage workers being physically assaulted and even shot for telling people [00:46:00] that they couldn’t enter stores with, uh, you know, without a mask.

[00:46:04] And the other thing that sort of fascinates me is that around this issue of choice is that. The, the weight that, you know, not wearing a mask has taken on as some kind of like a, a brave choice, right. Or, you know, I’m going out in the pandemic without a mask on and, you know, eating in a restaurant and, you know, looking all the gumball machines out in the waiting area, you know, on my way out and are not brave.

[00:46:34] And I’m like, Hmm, I don’t. That’s not how I would define that, but yet that idea of, you know, this is my, this is my right, not to do this. And I’m so intent on defending my right, not to wear a mask that I’m going to, you know, push this person at the front of the store. Who’s telling me, I need to, it’s just fascinating to me that that choice has taken on this much weight in this pandemic.

[00:46:59] Brett: [00:46:59] Man, we, we, [00:47:00] we took that. We took that, uh, abstract concept of choice. We kind of wrapped it around a bend and then you brought it back home.

[00:47:07]April: [00:47:07] Look at us, we should do this for a living.

[00:47:11]Brett: [00:47:11] All right. So now tell me about your punching bag. Is there a particular brand.

[00:47:16] April: [00:47:16] I haven’t Everlast one. I don’t know why. I think they, because they had free shipping to tell you the truth and it had decent reviews. Like people kind of said that they had really weld on it, you know, and it had held up and I, I kind of knew ahead of time. It was probably going to get a good beat down when it came to my house.

[00:47:32] So I didn’t want to buy anything that would. You know, like spreads sand or whatever they’re filled with these days all over the basement. Um, you know, I had ordered like at Christmas time, this thing where it’s like, and this sounds so goofy, it’s like the nerdiest thing. It’s literally a rubber ball. On an elastic string on a head band.

[00:47:52] Okay. And you put this on and you punch it and you build like your speed and you build your coordination. And I had really gotten into that. I [00:48:00] mean, like I do it for like 30 minutes and of course there’s no real weight to it. And I thought, well, maybe I, you know, maybe I want like a heavy bag. So on a whim, I ordered it.

[00:48:09] Um, I did not think that I would like it the way that I do, but man, do I really like it after a frustrating day, it’s amazing to go down to the basement. And just, you know, let, go on that saying, um, you know, oddly enough, maybe because I’m the kind of person that thinks about everything ahead, a few moments where I was like, is this training my body to deal with negative emotions through physical aggression, perhaps this is saying right.

[00:48:33] And then I was like, Oh, good Lord. Get out of your head. Like just go down there and beat on that thing. It’ll all be okay. But I really did have that moment, but no, I am loving the punching bag.

[00:48:43] Brett: [00:48:43] I don’t know the words for punching bags, but this is like a full-size like body bag. Like.

[00:48:48] April: [00:48:48] It is, although I only bought the one that’s like 60 pounds, I kind of wish I’d gotten a heavier one. Cause I didn’t actually think I’d be able to like really make this bag move the way that it moves when I punch it, [00:49:00] which probably says something about how hard I’m punching it. So I’m trying to back down from like, just, you know, Beaten it relentlessly to like, actually, you know, like I’ve been on YouTube, watching videos.

[00:49:11] I mean, that’s when you know, stuff has gotten serious and there’s this one fellow on YouTube. I can’t remember his name, but he’s like, he’s a quiet talker, which I like. Cause I don’t like people yelling at me during my exercise. Right. But he’s a quiet, tall green. It’s like, okay, so now we’re going to do a combo.

[00:49:25] You’re going to do two jabs with your lift, with your right. That’s right. That’s right now, we’re going to do two jabs and hook, and you’re going to duct. You’re going to duck and I’m actually doing this as I’m talking to you. That’s why my, my desk chair is squeaking. That’s how into it. I am even talking about it.

[00:49:40] You know, I’ve got my fist up, but yeah. I mean, I really love, but yeah, it’s like a, a legit heavy bag.

[00:49:47] Brett: [00:49:47] nice. I, I, I’ve never, I’ve never had a good expert. I’ve I’ve punched. I punched a punching bag and I’ve even done it with gloves on, so it, it hurt a lot less, but. Uh, [00:50:00] I, I do not think that I am physically, uh, fit enough to actually get exercise and not just pain out of punching a punching bag.

[00:50:10]April: [00:50:10] I had to work up to it. I will totally own that. That the first time I hung that thing up and put the gloves on in five minutes, you could have run my t-shirt out. I mean, I was just like, what, you know, and my hand hurt the next day, but this kind of like that 25 pound plate where like, You know, once my hand kind of quit hurting even a little bit, I was like, Oh, good.

[00:50:31] Enter, try that again. Maybe one of the best things and also worst things about me, because it also means like, I sometimes don’t quite understand when to be like, okay, that’s enough of that. You know, like that kind of stubbornness is like, it’s, it’s good. And it’s bad. Um, you know, one of my life mottoes is that strengths and weaknesses are the same qualities.

[00:50:52] It’s just when the context changes. That’s all. That’s the only thing that dictates whether they’re strength or weakness. So in some ways that stubbornness is good [00:51:00] and in other ways it’s not so great, but I haven’t hurt myself yet, but I worry about it sometimes, which is part of why I’ve decided not to whale on it quite as hard, and to try to work a little bit more on technique.

[00:51:11] Brett: [00:51:11] all right. Um, so I have to admit that I was surprised that you picked lipstick over tight, just because I, I do follow you on social media and I know how much you love. A well coordinated outfit with a bright pair of tights.

[00:51:30] April: [00:51:30] I almost did pick tides. I will tell you. And, and I really did, and I’m not sure why I went with lipstick, but the not, not that I can match it always, but I will say that sometimes I take a lipstick you from a tight, I think the thing that the two of them have in common is that. Colors make me happy and they always have, and it’s one of the reasons why Ellis Walker, the color purple is one of my favorite, like novels ever.

[00:51:57] Um, this, I, you know, the, the, the title of the [00:52:00] novel comes from this line when these two women who, you know, are talking about God. And one of them says that, you know, one of the ways you can tell that God wants us to have pleasure is because it made the color purple. And it actually gets upset with us if we walk by a field and don’t notice it.

[00:52:17] And that that’s the only thing that God gets upset with humans about is not taking pleasure. In their senses and not taking pleasure in the color purple and I have always like, loved that novel and I’ve always been somebody that was really drawn to color. It’s part of my daily sort of thinking through of.

[00:52:38] My outfits with the tights and the lipstick, and it actually has such an influence over my mood. I can not tell you to like, look down and see bright tights or turn on my zoom camera and see my favorite shade of red lipstick. And in, you know, in the pandemic world where our worlds have gotten so much smaller, [00:53:00] having those moments of joy have been.

[00:53:02] Really key. I think for me, maintaining what small bit of sort of mental health that I’ve managed to maintain, you know, like the rest of us it’s been a struggle, but something about those bright colors every day has really helped me.

[00:53:18] Brett: [00:53:18] So, do you have a favorite brand of lipstick? Yeah.

[00:53:22]April: [00:53:22] Tell you that right now, my favorite Rihanna has a brand called Fante F E N T Y. And she’s got this amazing liquid lipstick, um, called Stunna S T U N N a. I’m not cooling enough to say that. Yeah, but I saw, I spell it for ya. And she’s got a color called uncensored, which is what they call this universal red.

[00:53:44] And it really does look good on everybody and it’s amazing, but you put it on and you can like eat food and stuff. And it’s still there. Now this may be something that I should be worried about. We’ve been talking about health, right? Who knows? I don’t know. What’s in this stuff. But it, it goes on and it [00:54:00] stays and it looks like good, you know, through meals.

[00:54:04] And I don’t have to worry about it during the day when I’m like doing multiple zoom classes. And even some of my students, you know, will write things and say like, I really liked your lipstick today in the chat. And I think, well, it makes them happy to, you know, to see. And that’s one of the things I decided, you know, when I was doing the zoom stuff, I was like, I really want to, you know, Where, what I would wear if I was going into the office and I would have lipstick.

[00:54:32] And so I’ve done it on zoom too. And yeah, that, that, uh, that stun a lipstick from Rihanna has become my favorite of all time during the pandemic, which is kind of odd given that I also really am like grooving on a box and bag. Sometimes it’s still on my lips. When I go downstairs to hit the boxing bag, I will say, which is probably extra weird.

[00:54:52] Brett: [00:54:52] The lipstick and back in punching bags, uh, as far as product safety goes, I mean, if you can’t trust Rihanna, who can you [00:55:00] trust though?

[00:55:01] April: [00:55:01] I don’t know. I don’t know. I mean, I, I’m just going to assume that whatever’s in, that has been tested at some point, so that it’s safe, but you know, if I start having effects and we’ll come back and edit this right.

[00:55:13] Brett: [00:55:13] Yup. Um, all right. So if people want to learn more about you, where can they find you?

[00:55:19] April: [00:55:19] Well, they can always, um, give me a holler at when I going to stay, where I teach. Um, I’ve got my there’s a faculty profile there and my email address. That’s probably the best way. That’s probably the only public sort of existence I have left these days.

[00:55:36] Brett: [00:55:36] Really

[00:55:37] April: [00:55:37] blog, no web page. I should probably get on that.

[00:55:40] Shouldn’t I.

[00:55:40] Brett: [00:55:40] well, you know, to each their own,

[00:55:44] April: [00:55:44] Fair enough. Fair enough.

[00:55:46] Brett: [00:55:46] you don’t feel a need for it wa yeah. That feels like something. If you’re just doing it for other people, why bother.

[00:55:55] April: [00:55:55] That’s true. That’s true. You’re right. And at this point it would feel [00:56:00] like one more thing to, uh, have to be kept up in the world. Yeah. And I’m pretty much at my limit on that front. So I think you’re right. We’ll we’ll just, we’ll just let that go.

[00:56:10] Brett: [00:56:10] All right. Well, if, if you want to find April, you can also find her on Amazon. Uh, and I’m sure there are independent booksellers that carry fat blame, uh, and you have another book coming out, right?

[00:56:24] April: [00:56:24] I do. I’m working on a second one. Um, I’m in talks with a couple of publishers. Not sure who’ll take it on yet, but I’m working on a book specifically about fatness and pregnancy where I’m looking at in vitro fertilization and some other issues that, um, fat women face when they’re trying to get pregnant or become pregnant in us society.

[00:56:45] Brett: [00:56:45] All right. So, uh, I, when that becomes available, I will also add a link to this in post, but, uh, but yeah. Thanks for your time today, April.

[00:56:54] April: [00:56:54] Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.

[00:56:56] Brett: [00:56:56] And thanks everyone for tuning in. We’ll see you again in a week. [00:57:00] Excellent.