onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “fat shaming”

PSA: Your Quarantine Fat Jokes Aren’t Funny

So, a little public service announcement to those of you making quarantine fat jokes:
The fat people in your life can see and hear you and it is most likely making them feel shamed, ugly, and judged.

Here’s the thing. I understand that some of us are not used to having this much time, plus this much stress, and many are stress eating and boredom eating. If that is how you are coping, I don’t have any judgment about that. Maybe you have, are, or will gain weight. It happens. Bodies change, and we change our bodies through what we put into them and what we use them for.

But if you are grossly exaggerating the amount of weight you have gained “as a joke,” please know that you are shaming someone that weight. If you went from a size 8 to a size 10 and you are taking about being 300 pounds, and talking about it like it’s an impossibility, because “who could let themselves go to that extent” please understand that I weighed 300 pounds. And not in a pandemic. That was just my life and my body. And I was just as valid and valuable a human as I am now.

Or if you are bemoaning the weight you have gained and are talking about how it has made you ugly, or shameful, or somehow unworthy, you are telling the fat people in your life that you have been seeing them that way this whole time.

Or if you are making or sharing pictures, gifs, and memes with unflattering and humiliating images of fat bodies, you are sending a clear message to the fat people in your life that you do not respect, honor, or appreciate them. You are telling them that you are willing to make jokes at their expense. And not particularly funny jokes at that.

And chances are they won’t say anything. I never would have when I was fat. I would have kept it to myself and it would have festered in me. Or it would have killed a little bit of my soul and my joy. But to bring it up would be to put a spotlight on my own fatness. A target. And I never ever wanted to do that because it had painful consequences.

I did not like being fat. It’s true. But to this day I have a hard time separating and differentiating between not liking being fat because of my own physical comfort, and not liking it because the world at large was so cruel to me for it. And the world was certainly cruel.

I will not lie to you about how grateful I am to not be eating compulsively right now. I am so grateful that my eating has had boundaries for a long time. It has made my life easier and better for the last 14 years, and it makes it better now. I have “built up that muscle” so that not stress eating or boredom eating is the norm. And that is a blessing to me. But that is about my eating, and my eating disorders. Not about my weight, or size, or fatness, or beauty.

If you are having trouble with your eating or your weight, I am sorry. And I wish you well. But please remember the people you love. They may not have the words or the willingness to tell you that you are hurting, humiliating, or shaming them. But they feel it. I promise.

What could be more feminist than doing what I want with my body?

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 don’t like Lizzo, don’t look.

One thing about writing a blog that is so personal is that sometimes I need to stew on things for a while. I need to sort my feelings and my thoughts. A lot of things, as they relate to fatness or society’s view of fatness, can be particularly loaded for me.

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. 

Here’s the deal. Everyone counts. And just like I do when I see underwear models that I find too skinny, too filled with silicone and botox, and too plastic, Joe Rogan, and all of the dudes who don’t want to see, and all of the women who are shocked and appalled, can turn it off, change the channel, not look.

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.  

The meaning of fat

I read something interesting on Twitter this week. It was a fat woman asking for thin women to stop saying they are fat when they have recently stopped their restrictive diets, when they have gained a few pounds, or when they feel ugly. This woman lamented the fact that we don’t use (or really have) different words for these things. 

And this was of particular note for me because I have been 300 lbs, I have been a size 28 (the largest size in the plus size stores at the time) and even after maintaining a weight-loss of over 100 lbs for over 10 years, I still talk about being and feeling fat all the time. Just like this person said, if I gain a few pounds I think of myself as fat. If I eat heavier than usual (let’s say I have pork rinds twice in one day or a few days in a row) I may say I feel fat. I may actually *feel* fat. It doesn’t matter if I know that I am not fat. That word, that concept, is ingrained in me. In many ways it haunts me.

Now some of that is because the experience of growing up fat in the US has shaped me. It has created the basis for how I see myself and how I see my culture and society. The name of this blog is a nod to the idea that “Once a fat girl, always a fat girl.” Having grown up fat is an irrevocable part of me. It cannot be taken away. I cannot unsee the ways that I was treated. I cannot forget that I was judged, and often humiliated, for the size of my body. 

I also cannot forget that as I grew up, I was inundated with images of thin women. And that over the past 35 years, those women became thinner and thinner and those images more and more impossible, and that inundation more and more inescapable. After all, I am writing this from a mini computer connected to the whole world, that fits in my hand and goes everywhere with me. 

But when I think about it, it seems a little obnoxious to me that I want to be able to use the word “fat” as I want just because I was fat in the past. And I know what actually fat Kate would think of me right now complaining about my weight or feeling fat. She would roll her eyes so hard she’d get a glimpse of her own brain. She would cheat, steal and kill for the opportunity to shop in regular stores, fit in a seat, not have strangers make remarks about her weight in public. So it seems a little cruel to her, and to fat people in general, to deny the fact that fat doesn’t mean “not skinny.” And fat doesn’t mean “bigger than before.” 

I don’t have an answer to this right now. I am just thinking about my language and how I want to think about and express my experiences. Because I may not be skinny but I am not fat. And it is worth it to find language that fits my personal situation as well as the situation of others. Society is not getting skinnier, for all of our glorification of it. And language creates our world as well as describing it.

Impossible is just another word for “don’t stop eating junk food.”

Of course. Another article on how it’s “nearly impossible” to lose weight. An article about how there are receptors that help/hider weight loss on a molecular level. It even brought up the contestants on The Biggest Loser. Again. 

There was at least one thing about the article that I wholeheartedly agree with. Calories are not the answer to weight. Losing weight is not about creating a “calorie deficit.” 
And as for the study of the participants of The Biggest Loser television show, who had their metabolisms shut down, causing them to gain back their weight, along with not being able to lose weight any more, can we please remember that those participants were exercising for 6 to 9 hours a day. Which is a great way to create a dramatic physical change in a body for a reality TV show. But is not a practical practice for people who have to, say, go to work, make dinner for their family, have a life. And it is not a lifestyle change that facilitates long-term maintenance.
I am not saying the science talked about in this article isn’t valid. (Though I do not know who funded it and that always makes a difference.) But I take issue with some of the things the article implies. 
The most important one, I think, is this quote from an endocrinologist at Columbia University:
“These data are quite interesting, and are consistent with the hypothesis that the obesity epidemic is in part due to evolutionary pressures to prevent starvation in stress,”
So we are just evolving to be fat?
Guess what was not mentioned. Food. Processed food. In the past 45 years, my lifetime, Americans (and people in general worldwide) have gotten bigger and bigger. Americans have stopped eating at home. We have stopped cooking fresh food for ourselves and our families. We have started buying and consuming packaged, processed and “ultra-processed” foods, most with added sugars, on a daily basis. We eat and snack all day, as opposed to having meal times. We have no concept of portions, and when eating at a restaurant, we feel cheated if we do not get a full plate. We eat the whole bag, the whole box, the whole pint. In the past 45 years, we have gone from a society that ate junk food as an occasional treat, to one that considers junk food a reasonable meal choice. And we’re talking about evolution to explain why so many more people are fat in that same 45 years? 
I feel like this is an example of Occam’s Razor. The simplest explanation is probably the valid one. We have told “Big Food” that it can get us addicted to its poison with impunity. We have agreed that rather than call out chips, and microwave snacks, and soft drinks, and granola bars made with “all natural” ingredients, as processed junk, we will say it’s evolution that is the problem. That it’s our bodies that are betraying us, as opposed to the food industry. 
I can’t say this enough. I do not care what you choose to eat! I do not care if you are fat! I do not care if you are fat and sick! I do not care if you are fat and sick and still want to eat ultra-processed foods all day every day! I do not care! You do you!
I care that seemingly everyone in the scientific and medical communities wants to talk about every effing thing except food. They want to talk about how close they are to creating the magic pill. Or the magic procedure. They want to say that it is either too hard, or too silly, or too strict, to give up processed foods and sugar. 
No doctor has ever told me to give up sugar and carbohydrates. They told me moderation. Because I wouldn’t be able to do something so extreme. That it was crazy. That it was impossible to give up cake on my birthday. 
Eat what you want. Whenever you want. But if you are miserable in your body, and you want to lose weight, for yourself – not a spouse/partner, or your parents, or society in general – don’t believe that it is evolutionarily impossible! Don’t believe that there is no hope. Maybe try not eating crap. Maybe try eating whole food that still looks recognizable as what it was in the wild…
My bottom line is this. Can we stop pretending not to see the problem with our food? Can we stop pretending that food we eat and serve is not addictive? Can we stop pretending that we can’t possibly imagine what has changed in the past 45 years to create what we are calling “an obesity epidemic?” 
We should really be calling it a “malnourishment epidemic” or a “toxic food epidemic.” We should not be vilifying the people who are reaping the consequences of a consumerist culture gone awry. An obesity epidemic seems to me to imply that fat people are to blame for not “putting the chips down” and “pushing away from the table.” But companies are making an awful lot of money on these same people. Food companies, and medical/drug companies. They sell us the ultra-processed microwave meal, with an “Organic/All Natural/No GMOs” label slapped across the front, and tell us it’s healthy. And then they get us under the knife for a procedure to “help us” out of the horrible bind we’ve gotten ourselves into by not having enough willpower. (I hope the eye roll implied there was not lost on you.) Those lap bands and gastric bypass surgeries aren’t free, you know. And we all know that insulin is so expensive some people are going bankrupt to stay alive. 
Do not believe them when they say it’s hopeless or impossible. Do not believe that evolution alone has made us fat. We have certainly evolved to have the bodies we have, but I firmly believe that evolution is not making us as fat as our addictive food choices are. 

And I say that as someone who has maintained over 100 lb weight loss for over 13 years. That is not a fluke. That is not an anomaly. That is over 13 years of not eating addictive foods. I *know* that it is not impossible. I am living proof.

I don’t want to feel broken even after the broken part got fixed

I have been struggling with how I feel about a recent(ish) weight again. I feel like this happens once a year or so, in the past 4 years. I gain weight. For no discernible reason. I do not change the way I eat, at least not it in any major way. I just gain weight. Eventually I lose it. (At least that has been the case so far.) And then I gain it back months later. And then lose it again. Back and forth, over and over.

When my gram was sick in the hospital before she died, I lost a lot of weight in a few months. I definitely was not trying. I just dropped weight. I got down to about 131-133 pounds. That’s skinny for me. I was still pretty curvy, but definitely skinny. And from about April of 2010 to about August of 2012 I stayed basically the same weight. I stayed skinny regardless of what I ate. I ate a lot of bacon. I ate a lot of fried foods. I had to add a second piece of fruit to my day to keep from losing even more weight. And I just stayed skinny. 
But ever since I quit smoking, my weight has fluctuated wildly. A huge gain in the months following the weight loss. 3 years of maintaining that higher weight. Then I lost it in just a couple of months. Never all the way back down to my skinniest, but back into my size 6 jeans. Then a gain and a loss and a gain and a loss. Again and again.
A friend who has thyroid problems recommended I get mine checked. It’s not a terrible idea. But living on the road makes it a bit of a pain. Though we have great insurance and I could find a doctor anywhere. 
But the problem is also that I don’t like doctors. Having grown up fat, I don’t trust them to listen to me, to respect me, to look at me with anything except what seems to be a disdain for my lack of willpower. I was told for a long time that everything that was wrong with me was that I was fat. And that I could do something about it if I would only pull myself up by my bootstraps, or whatever. 
It’s hard for me to take doctors seriously when they all had opinions about me, but none of them could actually help. They sent me to nutritionists who told me to eat in moderation. They didn’t understand why I couldn’t just stick to a diet. They were frustrated and angry with me. For not being good enough. It’s hard for me not to feel like they were the ones who weren’t good enough. That they were the ones who failed me. That they shamed me for my disease, when they didn’t actually understand the disease. And kept forcing on me a “cure” that wasn’t.
But that’s unfair. Kind of, anyway. Because I don’t know if I would have been able to give up sugar if that had been the recommended treatment. I don’t know if 12 or 16 or 23-year-old Kate would have been available for that. Thank God 28-year-old Kate was. That took care of the eating. And most of the weight.
I don’t want to worry about my weight. I don’t want to think about it. I don’t want to care about it. I don’t want to be ruled by how much gravity is exerted on my body. I want to take care of it to the best of my ability, and just have that be enough. I want to nourish it and hydrate it and move it with love.
I probably should find out if my thyroid is not working properly. I should probably brave the doctor and find out if there is something wrong with my hormones, something that could be corrected. For that love of my body. Not to squish it into a socially acceptable size and shape. 
But that said, even if I do get my thyroid checked and it turns out that I am not running at 100%, I don’t want to care about my size. I don’t want to judge myself for the size of my butt or my belly or my thighs. I don’t want to feel like I am sick or broken because I am not skinny anymore. Especially when the thing that was most sick and broken about myself, my eating, my addiction to sugar and carbohydrates , is taken care of, with commitment and honor and love, 3 times a day. No matter what.

I adjust for conflation

I was talking with a group of friends the other day about International Women’s Day, and someone mentioned movements like “fat is beautiful,” and “fat as a feminist issue.”

The truth is that I do think that fat is a feminist issue. I do think that being fat and being beautiful are not mutually exclusive. And at the same time, I absolutely hated being fat, and I never want to go back.

I think that part of the problem with these ideas is that we conflate them. Let me break it down for you. There is a difference between what you, as an individual with a body, want to believe about and do with your body, and what our society and culture tell you about what you *should* believe about and do with your body.

I have had to deal with this for myself. I had to do some serious and painful soul searching. Because I really hated being fat. I was miserable and I felt ashamed. I hated my body. I hated the way that I looked, and the way that I felt. I hated that I could not stop eating. I hated how hard it was to live in that body.

But separately, I also hated the way I was treated by others. I hated that people were given the “right” by our culture, to openly comment about my body. After all, this body is me and I am this body. Whatever its size and shape. If you shame my body, you shame me. If you disrespect my body, you disrespect me.

I have come to really understand, only after years of being in a comfortable body, a body that I am comfortable in, that just because I was unhappy with myself didn’t give anyone else the right to judge me. It was not ok that I was shamed and abused. It was not ok that I was humiliated by others. That I hated myself did not give friends, family, acquaintances, and strangers a pass for being jerks.

My food problem is a sickness. It is not cured by “pushing away from the table,” or “just not eating so much,” or “having willpower,” or “having some self-respect.” I don’t now, and never did, earn my place in the world by being beautiful, thin, accommodating, and feminine. I have always had a place in the world. I was born into it, by virtue of having a body.

And I will say that I consider myself to be incredibly beautiful (and my husband would add humble.) And I love it. And I don’t apologize for loving it. But it doesn’t define me. And I don’t owe it to others. Not to men on the street, not to my parents, not to friends, not to bosses. Not to my husband, either. I do not owe any particular body to anyone but myself.

So in honor of International Women’s Day, let me recommend to you that you love your body exactly as it is right now in this very moment. Remember that it *is* your place in the world. And if, like I once was, you are unhappy with the body you are in, love it anyway. I believe that it is only by loving ourselves first that we can make lasting change. If we are waiting to be “perfect” before we love ourselves, we will be waiting a very long time.

You have no power over me

The other day, for the at least second, or possibly 3rd time, I had a particular guy from junior high pop on my Facebook feed. Not by mutual junior high friends, but by people that I don’t think know him personally. He is the significant other of some social media personality that I don’t follow, and whom I am not interested in. And this woman sometimes tags this guy, and waxes poetic about how wonderful he is. But this guy stands out in my mind as the fat shaming bully of my junior high years.

So, when I was seeing friends of mine reacting with thumbs ups and hearts to some woman going on about this guy being the hero who changed her life, I wanted to write to my friends privately, tell them my story, stop them from liking and loving, and fawning over someone who humiliated and shamed me. I wanted to tell the world, or at least my small corner of it, that I hate that guy. That he is a bully and an arrogant jerk.

What? Am I twelve?

Well, actually, yes. The girl who wants to do that is absolutely twelve. And fat, and awkward, and bad at navigating the world. And she wants to shame and humiliate a forty-year-old man that she has had absolutely nothing to do with for the past 27+ years, just like he shamed and humiliated her.

I decided to take a step back and look at my part, my mess. Acknowledge my own dust and debris, and sweep around my own front door, before I go sweeping around this guy’s. (A shout out to the friend who posted that song this week.)

When I try to think back to specific incidents where this guy shamed and humiliated me, I can only think of one. And the truth is, in retrospect, it was not earth shattering. And it was not directed at my weight, but at my weirdness. Which is something I can’t deny. And which, at 12, in the company of other 12-year-olds in the homogenous south suburbs of Chicago, was not the cute, quirky asset that it would come to be in my adult years. Being a non-conformist didn’t make adolescence any easier, I’ll tell you that.

There is that quote that is attributed to many people, but as far as I can find was by a guy named Carl W. Buehner.

“They may forget what you said – but they will never forget how you made them feel.”

Did this guy make me feel ashamed of myself and my body? Absolutely. I still very clearly remember those feelings. Enough so that I wanted to rant about him at people who don’t even know the guy. Do I really think he was a jerk? I sure do. But he could not have affected me the way he had, if I had not already hated myself so much and been so ashamed of myself. Perhaps I projected my own fat shaming of myself onto him. I don’t believe so, but it’s a possibility. Or perhaps I remember the experience of his meanness clearly, and I have blocked out the more painful and humiliating particulars and incidents. (I have discovered over the years that I have blocked out many of the more traumatic parts of my childhood.) But either way, the only reason I was having such a strong emotional reaction was because I was not complete with myself, or him, in my own heart and mind. And I don’t need him to hear me or see me or acknowledge me in any way, in order to get complete. This is between me and me, and it always was. Especially since I have had zero to do with this guy at all for nearly 3 decades.

But it’s still hard. Because it still hurts a lot. So much that it has made me cry more than once in the past days. Less when I think about his cruelty, and more when I think about how scared and alone I felt those two years that I was in junior high. I think that those two years were the very worst, most miserable of my entire life. I would say that they were even worse than the years just before I got my eating under control, when I was in the throes of my most destructive eating disorders. Ok, maybe it’s a tie…

So I expect that my problem is not really this guy as a person at all.  It’s what he represents in my memory about those years: the loneliness, and fear, the feeling that nothing would ever work out, or be right. The fear that I was forever going to be shameful and ashamed. And that there would always be someone, like him, who was eager to point it out.

And I don’t know. Maybe he’s changed. I certainly did. I changed myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Maybe he really is an amazing partner and father. Maybe he is a good, kind man with a heart filled with love and honor. Or maybe he’s not. Maybe he’s still a jerk and a bully and this woman doesn’t know the difference. Maybe he’s just better than her last one. Maybe she posts only the good and never the bad. She’s a social media personality, after all. I already know not to compare my insides with other people’s outsides. I, too, made sure I looked like I had my shit together when I definitely did not.

In the movie, Labyrinth, there is a line from a book that the heroine can never seem to remember. It’s a declaration, the kind of thing that most of us forget, conveniently or inconveniently, all the time when we are dealing with difficult people or situations. It’s a line I also forget, yet would do well to remember.

You have no power over me.

If I end up in the political correctness slammer, please don’t sneak a file to me in a cake…

Perhaps you read the article in the New York Times this week called Losing It In the Anti-Diet Age. If not you can read it here

I found it interesting. Especially because the author is, herself, a fat person who can tell you first hand what it’s like to be a fat person in America. I too know what it’s like. I know how it feels to go on a diet, and lose weight, only to gain it all back, even though you don’t want to, don’t mean to, would literally do anything to not, from sticking things down your throat to make yourself throw up (something I did personally), to, say, getting your stomach removed (something I did not do, but know people who have). I know what it is like to be made fun of and have people talk about you as if you are a thing, with no feelings. To have them question your goodness, your honor, your worth; a fat person must be lazy, stupid, careless, and pathetic, or they would deal with their weight. I was struck hard by the author’s mention that a commenter on another article she wrote said, “Why doesn’t she stop eating so much?” As if we hadn’t effing thought of that ourselves already. There is talk of willpower. A doctor talked about getting an individual down to a goal weight with medication so that they could make a fresh start, but then they were going to have to get willpower. (Seriously? Screw you.)

All of this sounds to me like thin people who have no idea what it is like to be fat, trying to solve a problem they don’t even understand in the first place. Thin people don’t need to figure out how to stop eating. They already don’t overeat. That’s like having a person with a lot of hair try to cure baldness just because they have hair and bald people don’t.

But another issue in this article that I wanted to address is the change in the language of dieting in the culture. Words like “diet,” “dieting,” and “weight loss” are becoming taboo. We want to talk about “health,” and “strength.”

Except that we only want to talk about them. Ultimately, we want, as individuals, especially fat individuals, to not be obese. I didn’t want to be fat. I still wanted to be treated like a whole, worthwhile human being, fat or not, but I did not want to be fat.

Perhaps this is where the disconnect lies. See, I hate this new cultural phenomenon that I call “the feelings police.” We don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, so we don’t talk openly and honestly about difficult subjects, for fear of being branded politically incorrect, hence heartless and out of touch.

But not facing these things head on is not helping anyone. Strike that. It’s helping the sugar and junk food industries. And it’s helping companies like Weight Watchers. Who are still selling a diet, but are marketing it, in true politically correct fashion, as a program for getting healthy.

Here’s the problem: Weight Watchers never changed the barometer for how you would know it was working. It’s the same barometer. Did you lose weight? If we were truly having a conversation about health, we would have a different measuring stick. Stress test results, for example. Getting off your diabetes medication. Being able to run with your dog in the morning. If you are calling your program “Beyond the Scale,” perhaps you should measure success with something other than the number on the scale.

But I am not actually condoning that; I am merely pointing out the problem with consistency. If you want to be healthy, and you don’t care what your weight is, and you use some benchmark other than weight for your own happiness, good for you! You go! Do it! I am all for fat acceptance. I will not judge you for loving yourself at any and every size. In fact, I encourage it. I truly believe that it is in loving ourselves without caveats and conditions that we can begin to make changes that are both healthy and lasting. But I think that if you want to lose weight, really, you are going to have to look at it for what it is. You have to stop worrying about political correctness. You may have to deal with a late night knock on your door from the feelings police telling you that you have violated statute whatever-whatever stating that you will not say anything that could, intentionally or unintentionally, hurt the feelings of any person, or group. You are going to have to get real.

The author talks in the article about going back to Weight Watchers for a third time in her life. And perhaps you are asking why. She already knows from her own experience that it does not work, so why yet another attempt? I don’t have to ask why. I already know all too well why. Because if you hate being fat, you will do whatever you can, whenever you can to stop being fat. And you will hold out hope against hope that this time will be the special time where the thin “sticks.” And also, because, in my experience, programs like Weight Watchers tell people that if they are “good” they will get results. If they get some willpower, they will be thin. As if willpower is out there to be had, if you are lucky enough to run across some, like a perk in a video game. You have acquired willpower. Lose 100 pounds and level up.

But here’s the thing that I found lacking in the article, perhaps because the author doesn’t have a context for it: when she talks about going around the Obesity Week conference she says, “…it [made me sad] because if you have this many hundreds of smart and educated people trying to figure this out, and nobody has anything for me but superfood and behavior modification and an insertable balloon and the removal of an organ, it must be that there is no way to solve fatness.”

To this I say, abstinence from processed, and sugary foods. Or, perhaps it is better to say, abstinence from your personal binge/trigger foods. (I know a man who knows that his personal trigger foods are “the guy foods,” like barbecue ribs, as opposed to me and cake.) Total and complete abstinence. To my mind this is not behavior modification, because that term seems to imply that the problem is with my hand, rather than my brain. “Doctor, my hand just keeps grabbing donuts and shoving them into my mouth! What should I do?” This article in no way addresses food as an addictive substance, or mentions any modification in diet (specific foods as opposed to portions) as a lifestyle change. The author talks about Thanksgiving as a kind of food hell for dieters. But of course it is! It’s a room of foods that trigger our reward centers and create a craving for more. If you go to Thanksgiving and you eat the things you have not been eating for the past week/month/year, and they are back in your system, so are the cravings.

I cannot think of a person that I have met who has had long-term weight loss by “managing.” In fact, I believe it is exactly this “managing” that keeps us in the cycle of losing and gaining it all back, feeling like this time we can do it, and then feeling like failures. If you cannot or will not give up your binge foods, then I recommend that you either get comfortable with that cycle of yo-yoing, or you stop trying to lose weight in the first place.

I am not talking about thin people. We all know that thin people are not having these problems. They can, as the author ends the article noting, lovingly lick the icing off a cupcake with impunity. They already are managing without having to think about it. I am talking about people who are fat and don’t want to be. Eat whole foods, in moderation, and abstain from foods that make you want more of them.

Perhaps you are thinking, “But cupcakes are so good!” Or “I could never give up barbecue ribs!” Cool. Then get your fat acceptance on! Work that! Eat your cupcake and love your beautiful, fat self! But if you want to lose weight and keep it off, chances are you are going to have to give up certain foods forever.

That is an unpopular opinion. Feel free to call the feelings police. I may get sent to political correctness jail, but I’ll be there in a comfortable body with my dignity intact.

It may well be that “nobody wants to see that,” but they are going to have to take the initiative to stop looking for themselves.

I read something the other day that was rather interesting to me. It was an opinion about how fat shaming and skinny shaming are inherently different because of thin privilege. The gist of the article was basically that while it’s never OK to shame anyone, and certainly skinny people can, as individuals, be insecure about their bodies, being fat in modern western society is considered taboo, a sin, and in particular, everybody else’s business. That while individuals may shame a skinny individual, western society as a whole shames overweight people. As if there is a moral imperative to ostracize obese people.

If you have ever been fat, or even just chubby, you probably know that this is true. People will go out of their way to express their disgust for your body. They not only have opinions about your clothes, like how short, tight, or revealing they are, they feel at least entitled, and very often morally obligated, to make their disapproval clear.

Remember when Lady Gaga performed the Super Bowl halftime show? I don’t know about you, but there were a bunch of people on my social media feeds saying that she “looked fat” because her little belly occasionally hung over the top her glittery hot pants. Of course, in the following days, there were a bunch of articles and opinion pieces about how having skin that rolls and puckers is normal and natural. And rightfully so. And I would specifically like to point out that Lady Gaga is in no way, shape, or form fat. The idea that she did not look like airbrushed perfection while executing a spectacular stage show with costume changes, complicated choreography, and aerial stunts may be because she was not freakining airbrushed. She was working her ass off.

My point is that people that you know personally, and maybe you yourself, have almost no room for human bodies to deviate from the shape of “post-Photoshop underwear model.” And these people feel obliged to make sure that you know it, and Lady Gaga knows it, and everybody else knows it too.

Being bullied, tormented, humiliated, and generally made to feel ashamed of myself happened to me my whole life. I can still recall specific insults from people I knew and people I didn’t about my body at nearly every stage of my life: at 8, at 12, at 14, at 18, and all through my twenties. I can remember the way it was made abundantly clear to me that my body was disgusting. It was expressly said to me that looking at me made people sick. “Nobody wants to see that,” became something that I not only heard often, but eventually internalized and started to say about myself and my own body.

And I believed it. I did not believe any man would ever find me attractive. I did not believe that I would ever fall in love. I did not believe that I deserved to be respected. And it was strangers, friends, and even my family that instilled these beliefs in me.

I believe that thin privilege does exist. I am not saying that it’s kind, or friendly, or even acceptable to tell a skinny woman to “eat a cheeseburger.” It’s rude, and obnoxious, and quite frankly nobody else’s business. But I will say that whenever I have seen a picture of, or a story about a fat model in my social media feeds, there are pages and pages of comments about how fat models are setting a bad example, and companies that use them in their ads are sending a message that promotes unhealthy lifestyles. But there is not the same outcry when girls and women dying of anorexia are walking runways during fashion week. And that is not hyperbole, many of these girls are literally dying. Where is the outrage over the unhealthy lifestyles being promoted by every fashion house and magazine in the United States? (I mean besides my own outrage. Because yes, I am personally outraged.) We claim to be so worried about health (as opposed to aesthetics) unless the girl is skinny. Then we look the other way. Because we are not really worried about health. We are worried about how we can let the fat person know that we find them morally reprehensible, without looking like the assholes we’re being.

On a personal note, I would like to say that fat shaming and living in a world with thin privilege has done me a lot of psychological and emotional damage in my lifetime. And I have done a lot of work on myself, inside and out to deal with it. At 35 I first started to wear my bikini in public. And finally, at almost 40, I have started wearing shorts in public for the first time since I was probably 10 years old. I spent my whole life believing that my wearing shorts in public was an affront to “normal” people. And that belief was instilled in me by people who were eager to tell me that they disapproved of my body and that I should too. And even after losing an entire person worth of weight, it has still been a slow, years-long process that has brought me to the point where I feel like I deserve to be comfortable. Like I am allowed to show some portion of my thighs because I am a human with a body like any other body.

 

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