onceafatgirl

Peace is better than chocolate

Archive for the tag “fat”

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.

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.

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