Fat Farm #3 (2019)

Title: Fat Farm: Memories of 6 East, Episode 3, Panopticon Edition
Creator: Max Airborne
Year: 2019
Physical Description: Quarter-page sized zine with 20 pages of comic drawings
Source: Max Airborne
Reference#: FatFarm-3
Links: [ PDF ] [ Buy Paper Copies ]

Fat Farm: Memories of 6 East (Episode 3, Panopticon Edition)

By Max Airborne, 2019

“This is the third in a series of mini comics about my experiences as a fat, white, queer young person living in a psychiatric institution.

Content note: this comic portrays violence against fat children, psychiatric abuse of children, forced starvation dieting and internalized fat hatred.”

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This is a multi-page comic that was hand drawn in black ink on white paper, on wide rectangular pages. Image descriptions are below. In some descriptions I use the pronouns ki and kin, gender-neutral pronouns offered by Potawatomi ecologist Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Front Cover. [An ink drawing shows an octopus in black and white, containing the words “FAT FARM” and “2019” and “Max Airborne” in ki’s legs. Typed words “panopticon edition” appear in ki’s head.]

Page 1. I have always preferred men’s pants. Better pockets. But they’re not shaped right for my body. Waist smaller than hips means if the pants are gonna stay up, I need a belt. [Current-day (2019) Max, a 50-something fat white queer person with shaved head and a beanie, wearing a t-shirt and trying to pull up jeans that are falling down. The jeans have rolled cuffs, as does the beanie. Surrounding Max is a giant loop made by a black leather belt, bearing the words “Memories of 6 East.” The belt buckle is oval and contains an eyeball. The words “panopticon edition” appear in the white of the eyeball. Below the belt are the words “by Max Airborne, 2019.”]

Page 2. Frame 1: The unfortunate thing about a belt? The numbers. Frame 2: [A cat with a speech bubble: “Mrao?” A speech bubble from the narrator follows: “Yes, kitty. The numbers.”] Frame 3. [Close-up of Max’s torso area. Max is fastening a black belt around ki’s waist. A thought bubble says “3? No, 4?”] Frame 4: No matter what else my mind is doing, every time I fasten my belt, I start counting. Which hole this time? (How fat am I?)

Page 3. Frame 1: I’m 53. Fat liberation and I got introduced when I was a teenager, soon after I was discharged from 6 East. [Drawing shows balloons and a cake with lit candles shaped in the numbers 5 & 3.] Frame 2: 6 East is the psych ward I lived on for more than a year. [A set of wide, oval, pane-less windows. The small despondent face of a fat child looks out.] Frame 3: [A timeline of the years 1979–1983. 1979–80 shows a slightly more zoomed out view of the building with oval windows, where 6 East was. 1981 shows a 15-year-old Max with shaggy hair and a scrub shirt ki stole from juvie, middle finger in the air. 1982 shows a 16-year-old Max with a fauxhawk haircut, a point-down black triangle on ki’s t-shirt, and holding a sign that says “No Nukes.” 1983 shows 17-year-old Max in a checked flannel shirt, shaved head and round glasses, smiling while holding a book: “Shadow on a Tightrope.” Through the timeline are musical notes and lyrics: “O Superman…O John” and “Sweet dreams are made of th…”]

Page 4. My time on 6 East was the climax of my childhood of forced weight-loss dieting: a prescribed regimen for my happiness (the word “happiness” is crossed out) conformity. Since then I’ve spent almost 40 years embracing my fat body, and fighting fat hatred and diet culture. WHY AM I STILL COUNTING BELT HOLES? [A fat fist in a circle, with the word FAT on the wrist.]

Page 5. Frame 1: [Disembodied eyeballs of different sizes fix their gaze on a small chubby Max.] There has always been an eye on my body. SO MANY EYES. Frame 2: Let’s take a tour! [In 70’s-stylized letters: “Max Airborne’s Eyes of the 70’s!” Image shows a tricked-out 1970’s van from the back right side, and lots of floating eyeballs.]

Page 6. Frame 1: 1970: Max, age 4, arms reaching up to Dad, a chubby man in a suit & tie and a giant eyeball for a head. with a suitcase getting ready to leave. Max says “Daddy, I promise I’ll be skinny when you get home.” Frame 2: 1972: Didn’t fit in school uniform. [Scene shows Max in first grade wearing pants and shirt, standing in a classroom, head hanging down. Standing apart from kin are the other students wearing plaid uniform dresses, and the teacher. All except Max have big single eyeballs for heads. Behind Max is a chalkboard and on the wall is a campaign sign that says “Nixon Now.”] Frame 3: 1974: [Mom, with big eyeball for a head, is in the bathroom looking down at 8-year old Max on a bathroom scale that reads 120. Mom says “Oh dear. You’ll be a perfect adult if you never gain a pound.”]

Page 7. Frame 1: 1976: Max at 10, refusing to wear a swimsuit. [Scene shows kids with eyeball heads swimming in a lake. A kid on the pier fixes ki’s eye on Max, sitting alone on the grass, fully clothed.] Frame 2: 1977: Weight Watchers meeting. [Max has left ki’s shoes next to ki’s folding chair and approaches an upright scale, while other (adult) fat meeting participants huddle together and stare with their eyeball heads. A person sits in a folding chair next to the scale, looking authoritative with a paper and pen, ready to record Max’s weight.] Frame 3: [A prescription bottle on its side with pills spilling out.] With so many eyes on my body, it’s kind of amazing that during 1977, I attempted suicide for the first time, and nobody knew. I was so angry when, after I told a friend, she told. School. Parents…

Page 8. Frame 1: The things I did after that got me kicked out [drawing of mom’s kicking foot clad in a Dr. Scholl’s sandal] …of school [drawing of school building]… from mom’s to dad’s house… [drawing of mom’s suburban house and dad’s high-rise apartment building] …sent away to school, and then to 6 East [drawings of mountains and tall round building with oval windows.] Frame 2: Oops, got ahead of myself… 1978: [Max at 12 and stepmother with giant eyeball head seated at a round table. On the table is a book: The Scarsdale Diet. Stepmother is pointing to something on the table, saying, “I found a crumb of chocolate on the table. Is it YOURS?”] Frame 3: 1979. Me, starving myself. [A giant floating eyeball, mountains in the background, a box of laxatives and a pack of cigarettes in the foreground.] At boarding school, nobody else was really watching. So I took on the task myself.

Page 9. Frame 1: [Side view of an eyeball enters the frame from the left.] The 70s made it clear to me that there was no escape from the eye. I felt so… angry… sad… alone… DONE. Frame 2: I desperately wanted to disappear. [Drawing of a vortex, and a cat saying “Was that resistance? Or giving in?”] I don’t know. Frame 3: [Black background with white text in a spiral reads from outside to inside]: In a way, you could say the 1970s ended with me disappearing into 6 East. Frame 4: [A 1970’s van seen from the front driver’s side corner. Max smiles from the driver’s seat, arm resting outside the window.] That’s it for the tour. But hang out and let’s discuss!

Page 10. [Architectural drawings show the hospital that housed the psych ward known as 6 East. Seen from outside, 4 floors of a square building serve as a foundation for a tubular structure that’s 7 stories high, with pairs of wide, oval windows dotting each floor. The floors are labeled by purpose: 11F Research, 10F GYN, 9F O.B., 8F Bed, 7F Psych, 6F Psych, 5F Psych, 4B & 4A Mechanical, 4F Office, 3F Observation, 2F Office, 1 Plaza, B CSS Functions. In a floor-plan view from above, it becomes clear the building has 4 lobes, like a clover, with rooms on the outside of each semicircular lobe, and one nurses’ station in the center. Drawn over these diagrams are 2 big arrows pointing to 6 East. (drawings from MasContext).] 2019. I recently described 6 East — the building — to a group of friends. We pondered whether it was still there. Turns out it’s not. But we found photos and articles about it. Seeing its rounded, clover-like shape, and hearing me describe the inside, my smartypants girlfriend exclaimed, ‘It’s like a Panopticon!’” [Drawing of a cat sitting on its feet, tail in the air and speech bubble that says “Mrao?”]

Page 11. [An architectural sketch. From outside, a 5-story, round building with pairs of tall, rectangular windows. From above, a circular shaped floor with a row of rooms/cells lining the outside, and concentric circles of unknown purpose moving inward. Below is the hand-written label: “Ideal Panopticon Penitentiary, 1791.” (image from Wikipedia).] A panopticon is an 18th century architectural design for prisons, asylums, and hospitals. Cells or rooms face inward from an outer circle, toward a central watchtower. The inside of the watchtower is obscured, so the inmates assume they’re being watched at all times.

Page 12. A single frame with 3 typed quotations: “…the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action, that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers.” “He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribes in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection. By this very fact, the external Power may throw off its physical weight; it tends to the non-corporeal and, the more it approaches this limit, the more constant, profound and permanent are its effects: it is a perpetual victory that avoids any physical confrontation…” “…the Panopticon presents a cruel, ingenious cage… [It] must not be understood as a dream building: it is the diagram of a mechanism of power reduced to its ideal form; its functioning, abstracted from any obstacle, resistance or friction, must be represented as a pure architectural and optical system: it is in fact a figure of political technology that may and must be detached from any specific use.” — Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish

Page 13. It didn’t really matter that the building wasn’t a perfect Panopticon. Hearing Foucault’s description of ‘panopticism’ as a mechanism of power, a political technology, I understood. Each day, numbers and data were charted. Careful recording of food intake to total 500 calories per day. The numbers on the scale got me labeled good or bad, rewarded or punished. There was no escape from THE EYE. The Panoptic system of 6 East was a concentrated version of the diet-focused, fat-hating culture I’d spent the 1970’s getting indoctrinated into. A hazing into fully embodied self-hatred. [A giant eye reflects an image of teenage Max standing in a doorway with an oval window behind kin, indicating ki is in a room on 6 East, being seen from the center of the building. The eye is surrounded by circles framing images of oppression: a scale, a doctor, a stomach and a scalpel, pills, “wellness” remedies and money, a state capitol, a cop, a teacher, parents and kids.]

Pages 14 & 15. [A hand-drawn diagram illustrates the Panoptic System of Fat Hatred. The diagram shows how “The Watcher” and “The Watched” interact. The Watcher, represented on the left, is: The medical industrial complex (medical, insurance, pharmaceutical), Family & community (parents, friends, neighbors, church), Healthism under capitalism (industries of diet, “wellness,” spirituality, Employment, and the State (carceral system, social services, education, policing). The Watched, represented on the right, is both fat people and thin people (everyone). In the center are the Panoptic Ideals of fat hatred: “Nobody should be fat. Fat people should be invisible and devoted to the pursuit of thinness.” The tools of the system used by The Watcher to enforce the fat-hating ideals: Surveillance culture, laws and rules, measurements, bogus “research,” discrimination, money, media, shame. Arrows show that The Watcher uses these tools more intensely on fat people (thick arrow) than thin people (thin arrow). Arrows show that both fat people and thin people can either be devoted to the pursuit of thinness, or be rebels. Thicker arrows show that most fat people and most thin people are devoted to the pursuit of thinness. A thin arrow shows that some fat people become rebels , and a dotted arrow shows that a few thin people become rebels. Thin arrows show that thin people can become fat, and fat people can become thin. Other thin arrows show that people devoted to thinness can defect and become rebels, and rebels can shift to being devoted to thinness. Thick arrows show where each group goes: People devoted to the pursuit of thinness are soldiers of The Watcher. Rebels smash the system. There is a small drawing of a cat next to “rebel tools,” a wrench and sledge hammer.]

Page 16. Frame 1: It should be noted that 6 EAST was a psych ward IN AN ACTUAL HOSPITAL, yet no attention was paid to my health or nutrition. Only calories, body weight, and medication levels were measured. Frame 2: [A can of Tab diet cola and a jar of pickles. Underneath: “Main food groups. No calories!” ] Frame 3. [Max is shown in an “actual lipsynch reenactment,” swaying and singing along with Pink Floyd’s lyrics: “I… have become… comfortably numb.”] Frame 4. Oh, and lithium for ‘manic depression,’ and an appetite suppressant, so I wouldn’t feel the hunger.

Page 17. Frame 1: [A human skeleton crawls across a barren desert in the blazing sun.] Frame 2: Despite daily 6 am blood draws, I became deathly ill with “lithium toxicity,” due to dehydration. {A can of Tab lies tipped over on the floor.] Frame 3: Clearly this medically supervised pursuit of thinness was not about my health. The panoptic mechanism and its soldiers did not care about my health. Only conformity. Be the right:”Frame 4: SIZE. SEXUALITY. GENDER. These are what they were watching, trying to control. [Text surrounds a giant eyeball.]

Page 18. Frame 1: [An Amtrak train bound for Chicago pulling into a station labeled “WEIGH STATION.” On the platform is a cop and an upright medical scale.] Frame 2: My eventual release was conditional, on the numbers. For many months I was ‘on probation’ and had to travel twice a week 90 miles to Chicago (and then back) to “weigh in.” To make sure THE EYE had been fully internalized. [15-year old Max in jeans, t-shirt and high-top sneakers, bent over ki’s open backpack, putting on a face mask of a giant eyeball.]

Page 19. Frame 1: [A triangular sign with a skull and crossbones, and the word “DANGER.”] Frame 2: It’s 2019. I’m reading about a study they’re doing in Australia. Starving 186 teenagers on 600 calories per day. Activists protested. Experts warned of the dangers of starving kids: eating disorders, malnourishment, metabolic harm, long term weight gain. Frame 3: Reading it I feel simultaneously horrified and numb. …those kids… Did those deadly dangers get me? Was my development affected? Did it damage my metabolism? Do I have an eating disorder? Frame 4: [White text small on black: “I don’t know.”]

Page 20. Frame 1: The fat-hatred panopticon is alive and well, infecting us, living through us, thriving both because of us and despite us. Frame 2: I imagine those kids 40 years from now. Obsessing about their belt holes. I hope they make it. Frame 3: [Two fat kids under a big lovely tree fruiting wrenches, sledgehammers, hearts and apples. One kid sits under the tree, resting peaceful against the sturdy, curved trunk. Another reaches up to pick a wrench being offered by a tree branch. To one side is a garbage can with a sign saying “FREE EYE DISPOSAL.” It contains eyeballs, and a cat is on ki’s hind legs, reaching into the can and knocking eyeballs out. Another cat under the tree playfully bats an eyeball around on the ground.]

Back Cover. [Two fat hands tie knots in a string, working a spell.]

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