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?