Ok. I think I am ready to do it. It has taken me some time to get my thoughts in order, but I am ready to talk about fat phobia and weight loss.
A little set up for this post. I follow a fair number of body positive, fat acceptance, pro fat, fat activist, fat model, and in general size-inclusive accounts on social media. I do it because I still feel very connected to this group. I did not lose over 100 pounds to feel like I am “better than” anyone. And I am not here to promote weight loss.
But there is an idea that gets floated around within these groups. That the personal desire to lose weight is inherently fat-phobic and therefore anti-feminist. That you can take actions to “be healthy” but actively trying to lose weight is against feminism.
Ok, so now you have pissed me off.
Let me lay out some things I believe are true.
• I believe that in the U.S. and Western Culture in general, we have been fed a narrow (and ever narrowing) definition of beauty through a bombardment of images and advertising, to control and make money off of women. This culture and the corporations driving it have tried to convince us to starve ourselves, exhaust ourselves, nip and tuck ourselves, and generally be disappointed in ourselves so that we are willing to pay for the next thing that will make us beautiful and worthy. (Worthy of male attention, primarily.)
• I believe that diets don’t work, and that decreasing calories and eating in moderation is impossible for the majority of people who are not just doing that naturally. I believe that the medical industry has never offered me anything in terms of advice, diets, surgery, or medication that in any way makes long-term weight loss attainable. That what they do have to offer, besides physical mutilation, is “willpower” and “moral fortitude,” which are both bullshit, decidedly not helpful, and only reinforce the messed up idea that being fat is a moral failing. My experience is that it takes a lifestyle overhaul around food and eating to change your weight in the long-term. And that if you won’t or can’t do that, that’s fine. And totally valid. And doesn’t mean anything about your heart, mind, or morality.
• I believe that being fat does not *necessarily* equate to being unhealthy. I know that there are plenty of healthy fat people. But having said that, I have met a great number of fat people with serious health and pain issues *directly related* to being fat. And for many of these folks, losing weight and maintaining that weight loss has made them measurably healthier, and has greatly increased their comfort.
• I believe that being fat is now, and has been for generations, an easy mark for cruelty and discrimination. Whenever I hear someone say that society has “accepted” fatness, it’s usually to also say, “and that’s a problem and is contributing to the breakdown of morality in our society,” or some such nonsense. And that is bullshit. Society has not embraced fatness. And when (if) it does, it will be an important step towards inclusion and equality. Not the slippery slope to moral decay.
• I understand that I, as a straight woman, have a different relationship to thinness than many women who are not straight. The widely accepted and agreed upon view of the kind of woman men are attracted to is that she is thin. The thinner the better. Skinny, sometimes to the point of death, is what the fashion industry has been selling as the height of beauty for at least the past 30 years. So yes, I wanted to lose weight in the first place to meet a bullshit beauty standard. But as I have pointed out before, there were many classically good looking men who were attracted to me when I was fat. But they were embarrassed by it. And I was shamed for it.
So I do understand how loaded weight loss talk is. And I do agree that fat *is* a feminist issue. But when you tell me that my weight loss is anti-feminist and upholds the patriarchy…well now we’re going to have words.
It reminds me of an argument I occasionally heard growing up, that women who chose to stay home with their children and work as stay-at-home moms rather than have some kind of career meant they could not be feminists.
But I thought feminism was about making our own choices, and doing what we chose for ourselves. I thought feminism was about agency and autonomy. I thought I got to choose what to do with my body. All of my body, in any way I wished.
When I was fat, I hated stairs. Sometimes, if I knew I was going to have to climb a lot of stairs at some point that day, it would haunt me until it was done. It would take up space in my head and create anxiety. I did not hate stairs because of internalized fat phobia. I hated stairs because that level of exertion caused so much pain that I lived in fear of stairs. When I lost my weight, that stopped. In fact, I started to love physical exertion. I started to love moving and walking and jumping. And yes, even stairs. OK, maybe I didn’t start to *love* stairs. But I most definitely stopped fearing them.
When I was fat, I loved to dance. I went out dancing several times a week. And there was always a point when my feet would ache so bad i couldn’t dance anymore. Even if I wanted to. Even if my favorite song came on. I wasn’t not dancing because of internalize fat phobia. I was not dancing because the weight of my body on my feet was more than I could bear. When I lost that weight, I could dance all night, and my feet never hurt. Or if they did, not enough to keep me from jumping up for my favorite song.
And here is another thing. (But it’s muddy. And I get that.) It was also a relief to be in a body that people didn’t feel entitled to shame.
I don’t think it was OK for people to shame me for being fat. And people did. Men and women. Family, friends, and strangers. People made me feel less than, and disgusting, and shameful. And I most certainly internalized that.
But when that stopped, there was a freedom for me. And I am not going to tell you that I don’t like it. I do. I like not having to worry about someone making an unsolicited, cruel comment. I like not thinking about my body almost ever. Especially when I thought about it, and lived in fear and anticipation of vocal judgment, constantly though my early life.
It is not the way the world should be. And I will fight against it with everything I have. It is not OK to shame and belittle fat people. But you don’t get to tell me what kind of body I have to have in order to do that. And this world, the world where fat people are shamed publicly and privately and in backhanded and overt ways, is the world I live in. And since I have to live in this world for now, I like living in this world much better in a body that is not continually scrutinized.
The last thing I will say about this is that I could not have had this conversation when I was still fat. Because I really had internalized fat phobia. I hated myself. I was embarrassed and ashamed. And I was also addicted to the foods making me fat. It turns out, I didn’t have a weight problem. I had an eating problem. I gave up man made sugars, grains, and starch because eating them caused cravings for more. They made me feel crazy and out of control. I started to control my portions, because part of my addiction was always wanting ”more.” My weight was the physical manifestation of my addiction. The physical addiction and the psychological addiction. And I didn’t know that until I gave up those addictive foods and put boundaries around my eating. I did it for vanity. But what I got was sanity. And the ability to look at fatness with love, and with compassion for the way fat people are treated.
I say it pretty often here. I am not skinny. I can shop in regular stores for straight sizes, but I am not lean. I have a big butt and hips and belly. I eat decadently. I am never hungry. I don’t deprive myself. I just have clear boundaries for how much food I will eat and stay away from foods that I am addicted to. And I don’t miss them. I don’t miss cake. I don’t miss French fries (which was a surprise to me. I thought I would miss them the most.) I feel great in my mind and my body.
So I am not advocating weight loss. But if you think you would rather be in a thinner body, I understand and appreciate that. It doesn’t make you less of a feminist. It doesn’t mean you have embraced the patriarchy. It just might mean you are tired of fearing stairs and missing out on dancing to your favorite song. It just might mean you want some control over your body. The one that is yours to do with whatever you want. And what could be more feminist than that?
If you have been following my blog for a while, you know that I am not huge fan of holidays. This year was the first time I have participated in Thanksgiving in about 10 or so years. Thanksgiving is a food holiday and I don’t eat like that anymore. Never. Not for holidays. Not for any reason. And it was fine. But I’m not itching to do it again any time soon.
I have some things brewing in my head that I have not gotten a handle on. Things that are so emotional for me that I don’t want to write about them this week. Things around what it means to *choose* to lose weight in a fat phobic society. And how it reflects on fatness to love having lost weight. To have zero regrets about not just having my eating under control, but to also be in a smaller, easier, more comfortable, and more socially acceptable body.
But then this week, while I was trying to sort out these very personal feelings, about some very personal choices, I ended up hearing Joe Rogan and Michelle Wolf talk about Lizzo on his podcast and I was reminded again how being fat is vilified in this society. And how the argument for vilifying it is that it *isn’t* vilified, or at least not enough.
Lizzo, of course, is a fat, black rap artist who has had a year very much in the spotlight. She regularly dresses provocatively, dances in sexy and suggestive ways, and enjoys herself and her body. She has fat, black backup dancers who also dress and dance provocatively and enjoy themselves and their bodies. In other words, she is unapologetically fat and black and encourages fat blackness. And while this clearly speaks to a lot of people, as her popularity suggests, there is a lot of backlash.
On his podcast, Joe Rogan asks (in all seriousness, which would make me laugh if it weren’t so angering) why Lizzo is allowed to show her butt, while thin women (women *he* would actually want to see) are not allowed to. I would like to know where this magical land where Mr. Rogan resides is, that loves it when fat women show off their bodies and doesn’t like it when thin women do. Because I want to go there and be worshipped as the goddess that I am!
This idea that thin women are not loved and admired for being thin is ridiculous. It’s blatantly false. Look at any tv show, magazine ad, calendar, literally anything depicting women, and tell me that half-naked to naked thin women are looked at with scorn. How many people have been upset by Victoria’s Secret fashion shows with skinny women’s butts on display.
And then Joe Rogan made the comparison of Lizzo showing her butt to a baboon showing its butt. I wonder if he has ever made the same comparison when a thin woman has shown her butt. Is he comparing Victoria’s Secret models to animals? I’m going to guess not.
And the other thing that makes me angry is this idea of “confidence” as a code word when dealing with the discussion of fat bodies. Confidence, when used in this context, really means “nobody actually wants to see that so you must be confident if you’re going to show it anyway.”
And that seems to be the general through line. Certain groups (I’m looking at you straight men) have decided that what they want to see, or at least what they claim they want to see, is the most important thing. That they are the valid voice of truth and beauty. But the actual truth is that lots of people want to see that. All sorts of people.
So here is the thing for me. When I was fat, there were lots of straight men who were attracted to me. Lots of classically good looking, thin men. And they pretended they weren’t in public, and treated me like shit, because they were embarrassed to be attracted to me. So I am going to guess that there are a lot of straight men who are attracted to Lizzo. Not by her “confidence,” but by her actual body. The one she’s using to dance and sing and be joyful.
And here’s another thing. Straight men are not the only people whose attraction counts. Many of the people who are attracted to Lizzo are going to be women. Lesbians count. They have opinions and tastes. They have money to buy the things that are being sold. And many are going to be straight women who have been told that they are not sexy. But they look at Lizzo and they think she’s sexy. So they can maybe start to look at their own sexiness. They count too.
I am still unpacking a lot of thoughts and feelings about where I fit in a fat phobic society when I go to great lengths to both have my eating under control, and keep my weight at a place that is comfortable for me. But do not tell me that thin women have somehow gotten a raw deal because one fat black woman is unapologetically loving her fatness. I will not be buying what you are selling.
Today is going to be quick because I was already supposed to be in Oklahoma yesterday, but we didn’t leave. Because we don’t really want to leave our beautiful house! So I am eating breakfast and prepping for a 10 hour drive. All of my food for the day (and tomorrow just in case) is cooked and in Tupperware. And I am enjoying one last meal (for now) at my dining room table that I love so much.
I am going to keep this kind of short again this week, because my husband and I have more shopping to do for our gorgeous home and we also need to stuff some Italian sausage before we leave.
Right now in NYC is a convention for people who do what I do with food. Last weekend was the premier of a documentary I am very proud to have been featured in. It’s called Follow Me, and you can find information about it at www.followmefilm.ca .
But I am not in NYC now, like I usually am when the convention comes around. And I did not make it to Toronto to see the film. Because the major renovation of my house in the Chicago suburbs is completed and I am currently in it, sitting on the floor eating my delicious breakfast before my husband and I go out and buy furniture.
There are two things I really want to note about this renovation experience, as it relates to how I have changed since my eating is under control.
The first is that I am happy. I love my new old house. It is exactly what I wanted. I love everything I picked. And I couldn’t be happier with the level of quality and professionalism we received from our contractor.
And the thing about that is that when I was eating compulsively, I was never satisfied with what anyone else had to offer me. I was constantly looking for flaws and the most minor problems could send me into a tailspin.
But right now, even the flaws I find I can take in stride. Obviously, I will bring things up with the contractor when we do a walk-through, but there is nothing about it that has me unhappy. And if some of the things I have found can’t be changed, I would still love it exactly as it is. I love it that much! And, as my husband points out, it is a 70 year-old house, and now it looks modern and beautiful, but it’s still old.
And the other thing is that nobody likes the bathroom we chose. The walls are burnt orange, the shower is black subway tile with white grout, and the fixtures are chrome. And they all tell us either how much they dislike it, or that we could change the color easily enough. As if we were unhappy with the color. But you guys, I love it! I really cannot get enough of it. I sometimes just walk in there to look at it.
And that is another gift I got from having my eating under control is that I do not care if anyone else likes what I like. And I do not feel the need to question my decisions because someone else feels differently. When I was eating compulsively, if someone didn’t like something I liked, I started to feel bad about my choices and question what I did wrong. Now I can love things because I love them. Not to impress anyone else. Or because I think it will be popular.
So if you visit my new, spectacular, gorgeous home, you are welcome to use my orange bathroom. But if you really don’t like it that much, feel free to hold it until you get home.
It’s Sunday, so of course I have all of my Sunday stuff to do, including cooking my meals for the week.
Yesterday my husband made dinner. It was a pork chop recipe. And it was delicious. But after I took a bite he sat up straight and said, “I used a new kind of canned tomatoes and I didn’t check the ingredients!”
So I stopped eating. He fished the can out of the garbage. I read the ingredients. Everything was fine and I got to finish my delicious dinner. But for a moment there, I had a spike of panic.
Look, there is nothing wrong with making a mistake. And if there had been something I don’t eat in the tomatoes, either sugar or starch, I would have made a phone call to tell someone what happened so that I could not have to think about it anymore, and I would have made myself something else for dinner. No big deal.
But if I didn’t check, and decided to eat it without knowing for certain, I would have stewed on it. For who knows how long. And if I had found out that it had something I don’t eat, and I had eaten it anyway, or even just not talked about the bite I had taken, that would have lived with me too.
My addiction certainly lives in my body. I have a physical reaction to sugar, grains, and starches. Putting them in my body sets up a cycle of craving. But my addiction lives in my head too. And for as much as I don’t miss sugar and carbohydrates, there is something deep down in me that is always looking for an out.
My addict is dormant almost all of the time. After all, it has been over 13 years since I gave up sugar and the longer it has been, the less of a hold sugar has on me. But every once in a while, when I am extremely emotional, or worried, or stressed, she comes out. She wants cake. She wants something. She often wants something someone else has. And some high fructose corn syrup in some tomatoes kept secret because “how big of a deal could it be anyway” is an excellent little crack in the door. Big enough for my addict to stick her fingers through and grab hold. Given time and energy, given the proper motivation, she could yank that door right open.
If you think a bite is no big deal, you probably don’t have the same experience that I do of food being your own personal hell. So I will fish a can out of the garbage to read the ingredients. I will throw away a whole meal if it comes to that. I don’t care how much that pork chop cost. It isn’t worth letting my addict in.
Also, I want to note what a hero my husband is for, not only cooking dinner, but when he realized his mistake, not hiding it from me. He knows what is important to me and he not only knows my rules, but he accepts them without question. That is incredibly important to me, and I am grateful for it. Plus, did I mention that dinner was delicious?
I seriously wonder how people function in the world sometimes. There are things that I am excellent at, some of them even crises. I can keep it together and not panic during some particularly difficult times. When things go wrong at work, I can handle it. When my father-in-law got sick, I was able to be calm and be of service. But sometimes, just regular life things can throw me for a real loop.