onceafatgirl

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Archive for the tag “fat shaming”

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.

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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.

 

Somewhere between fat shaming and the feelings police

The other day I was talking to some women who, like me, keep boundaries around their eating, and also like me, happen to have had significant weight losses. And one of the things that came up was fat shaming. Not being fat shamed, but more specifically, the relatively new idea that not being fully supportive of an overweight person’s weight is necessarily fat shaming. 

I, personally, have so many conflicting feelings about this. I have so much personal experience around it. And I think that to a certain extent, we have gone too far.
First, I want to say I don’t care how fat or skinny you are if you are happy and comfortable. Frankly, I don’t even care if you’re healthy. We all make choices every day that affect our health. I am not going to shame you for smoking, or drinking alcohol. I’m not going to ask if you drink water or floss daily, or exercise. That’s all none of my business. So the idea that what you eat, or what you weigh is my business is ridiculous. 

But I was miserable when I was fat. Partially because I was an active sugar addict. But also, I hated my body. I was also especially ashamed because I felt like being fat meant that I was bad, and everyone could see it written all over my body. I hated myself. I hated myself so completely for so long that I didn’t know how much I hated myself until it stopped. And it didn’t stop for me until I quit sugar, put boundaries around my eating, and lost a significant amount of weight. 

Growing up fat, I did not believe I would ever live in a body that was easy to move around in, or easy to shop for, or that I could feel comfortable in public in. I believed that I was broken, that my body was shameful, and that I was born that way. But I was not born fat. I was born with a predisposition to be allergic (addicted) to sugar, grains, and starch. And I became an addict, and it was, indeed, written all over my body for everyone to see.

I am not interested in shaming anyone. I am not interested in fixing anyone who is clear that they are not broken. But I am more grateful than I can express that when I felt that I was broken, there was both a solution, and a person in my life who was politically incorrect enough to point me in the right direction. 

Sometimes people tell me that there was never anything wrong with me when I was fat. But I would like to respectfully say that they’re wrong. I was sick and suffering. I was crazy, and angry, and in unimaginable pain. 

I am not saying that fat shaming is ever OK. And I know from experience that loving and accepting yourself exactly the way you are is the first step to making real, lasting lifestyle changes. But I would like to make sure that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t want to be so interested in being the “feelings police” that we let people suffer and hate themselves because we are afraid to speak openly and plainly about sugar addiction, eating disorders, and self-care.

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