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?
I have some things brewing in my head that I have not gotten a handle on. Things that are so emotional for me that I don’t want to write about them this week. Things around what it means to *choose* to lose weight in a fat phobic society. And how it reflects on fatness to love having lost weight. To have zero regrets about not just having my eating under control, but to also be in a smaller, easier, more comfortable, and more socially acceptable body.
But then this week, while I was trying to sort out these very personal feelings, about some very personal choices, I ended up hearing Joe Rogan and Michelle Wolf talk about Lizzo on his podcast and I was reminded again how being fat is vilified in this society. And how the argument for vilifying it is that it *isn’t* vilified, or at least not enough.
Lizzo, of course, is a fat, black rap artist who has had a year very much in the spotlight. She regularly dresses provocatively, dances in sexy and suggestive ways, and enjoys herself and her body. She has fat, black backup dancers who also dress and dance provocatively and enjoy themselves and their bodies. In other words, she is unapologetically fat and black and encourages fat blackness. And while this clearly speaks to a lot of people, as her popularity suggests, there is a lot of backlash.
On his podcast, Joe Rogan asks (in all seriousness, which would make me laugh if it weren’t so angering) why Lizzo is allowed to show her butt, while thin women (women *he* would actually want to see) are not allowed to. I would like to know where this magical land where Mr. Rogan resides is, that loves it when fat women show off their bodies and doesn’t like it when thin women do. Because I want to go there and be worshipped as the goddess that I am!
This idea that thin women are not loved and admired for being thin is ridiculous. It’s blatantly false. Look at any tv show, magazine ad, calendar, literally anything depicting women, and tell me that half-naked to naked thin women are looked at with scorn. How many people have been upset by Victoria’s Secret fashion shows with skinny women’s butts on display.
And then Joe Rogan made the comparison of Lizzo showing her butt to a baboon showing its butt. I wonder if he has ever made the same comparison when a thin woman has shown her butt. Is he comparing Victoria’s Secret models to animals? I’m going to guess not.
And the other thing that makes me angry is this idea of “confidence” as a code word when dealing with the discussion of fat bodies. Confidence, when used in this context, really means “nobody actually wants to see that so you must be confident if you’re going to show it anyway.”
And that seems to be the general through line. Certain groups (I’m looking at you straight men) have decided that what they want to see, or at least what they claim they want to see, is the most important thing. That they are the valid voice of truth and beauty. But the actual truth is that lots of people want to see that. All sorts of people.
So here is the thing for me. When I was fat, there were lots of straight men who were attracted to me. Lots of classically good looking, thin men. And they pretended they weren’t in public, and treated me like shit, because they were embarrassed to be attracted to me. So I am going to guess that there are a lot of straight men who are attracted to Lizzo. Not by her “confidence,” but by her actual body. The one she’s using to dance and sing and be joyful.
And here’s another thing. Straight men are not the only people whose attraction counts. Many of the people who are attracted to Lizzo are going to be women. Lesbians count. They have opinions and tastes. They have money to buy the things that are being sold. And many are going to be straight women who have been told that they are not sexy. But they look at Lizzo and they think she’s sexy. So they can maybe start to look at their own sexiness. They count too.
I am still unpacking a lot of thoughts and feelings about where I fit in a fat phobic society when I go to great lengths to both have my eating under control, and keep my weight at a place that is comfortable for me. But do not tell me that thin women have somehow gotten a raw deal because one fat black woman is unapologetically loving her fatness. I will not be buying what you are selling.
I am going to keep this kind of short again this week, because my husband and I have more shopping to do for our gorgeous home and we also need to stuff some Italian sausage before we leave.
When I got my eating under control 13+ years ago, I expected to find my husband right away. I thought that the only thing keeping him away was my being fat. Because even when I wasn’t fat while I was still eating compulsively, any hold I had on staying the size I was was tenuous at best. I could always feel it slipping away.
I consider myself to be lucky. I am very happy with the way I look. I don’t love the creases between my eyebrows, or my knock knees, or how big my belly is, but I also don’t hate them. And I feel like that is pretty good for a modern, Western woman, especially one who used to be morbidly obese. I think I am naturally beautiful.
And I think a lot of that peace and confidence in my physical self comes from taking care of myself.
There was this thing I learned years ago. When we wrong someone, we have to justify it to ourselves, or we have to own up and make amends. So if we are not willing to make amends, we have to make the person we harmed appear wrong to us in some way. For example, if I were a jerk to my husband and yelled at him about something, probably trivial, (not that I would ever do something so imperfect!) I would either have to make it right with him, or I would have to really dig my heels in about what a jerk he is. (My husband is most definitely not a jerk.) This is easy enough to see in a relationship like a marriage. (Well…Easy-ish to see. It’s not always easy for me to admit I have done something wrong.)
But what I learned since I got my eating under control is that it works the same in my relationship with myself. Only not so straightforwardly.
When I was eating compulsively, especially because I just couldn’t stop, I was forced to reinforce all of the negative talk about myself in my own head. I was fat, I was ugly, I was worthless. Because if I were beautiful and strong and capable, I would have to admit that I was abusing my body. I would have to admit that I was harming myself. And I would have to make amends to myself. And for most of my life, I wasn’t going to be able to do that. I really could not stop eating. I had no idea how.
When I was harming myself, I had to choose that I “deserved” to be harmed. My “just desserts” were literal desserts full of sugar and flour, that were making me fat, and crazy and miserable. I hated my body, because I fed it junk and poison, processed sugar and carbohydrates that got me high and made me lethargic. I abused it, which only made me hate it more, and made it justifiable to feed it more poison.
Now that I take care of my body, I love it. I love it even though it is not tiny and svelte and “flawless.” I love it with all of its rolls and sags. I love its 41-year-old’s share of wrinkles and moles. It never had to fit into society’s definition of perfect for me to love it. Really, I only needed to start treating it like it was lovable.
And when I started to love it and treat it as beautiful, the world around me started to agree. I don’t wear makeup. I don’t dye my grey hair. I don’t wear shape wear, and I rarely wear heels. But, for the most part, people like me. People are attracted to me. And I think it’s because I love me enough to treat me, my whole body, the way I deserve to be treated. With love and respect.
I am a food addict. But I can laugh about it. And that is a beautiful thing.
Yesterday I bought a cantaloupe and a honeydew, both of which smelled amazing, and I kind of agonized over which I was going to have for breakfast today. This is what is known as a “luxury problem.” I eventually went with the honeydew. It was incredible. I will get to eat the cantaloupe in due time. All of it is mine! (Luckily, neither of these things is a fruit my husband wants in the slightest, or there may have been trouble. And I take this stuff seriously, so in the event of, say, a fight to the death, I’d put my money on the food addict.)
I found these exquisite specimens because my husband took me to a different grocery store than my usual yesterday. It was a date. Because to a food addict, that’s some romantic stuff, right there. I found Italian sausage and Chicago-style giardiniera that I can eat! (Mom, you don’t have to drive it up from Chicago now!) And my favorite full fat Greek yogurt that I can usually only find in NYC or Florida! Plus all of the other things I need like sugar-free bacon, lots of salsas, and my Liquid Aminos! (Look at all of those exclamation points! That is how exciting that was!)
Food is still exciting to me. It is actually more exciting because I eat guilt-free. I love being in a comfortable body. I love being able to jog, and fit into my clothes, and I love not feeing like I don’t have the right to take up space. But I would do what I do, all the shopping, prepping, portion control, and food restrictions, just for the guilt-free eating.
I was always embarrassed and ashamed of my eating before my boundaries. Now I can eat without a thought to if I “should” eat something. I love my guilt-free full fat yogurt. I love making it into guilt-free “ice cream.” I love my guilt-free bacon and pork rinds. I love knowing that whatever it is that I am eating, I am doing the right thing.
The other day a friend told me she was going to eat a decadent breakfast that was totally within her boundaries and that she was going to love every last bite and I said “good job!” And I meant it. It was not sarcasm. There was no “but.” I was proud of her for loving her food. I think it’s important to love our food.
How can I love my body if I hate what I nourish it with? How can I love myself if I hate my body? I don’t think I can. At least I have never been able to. So I love my food, my body, and myself. And my husband who takes me on dates to fancy grocery stores. *Swoon* Maybe I would let him have one of my fruits if he wanted one. Maybe.
On Friday I celebrated my 2nd Wedding anniversary. I don’t really think about it on a day-to-day basis, but it’s a miracle. Certainly to my child self it’s a miracle. I felt shameful and unlovable for nearly all of my early life. I had resigned myself to being alone forever at a very early age. And to my early-teen self, it’s something more than just any miracle. Because I married the guy I had a huge crush on from about 12 to 14, until we lost touch. If you told 13-year-old Kate that she would marry him, she would have told you that you were crazy.
Of course, it took more than 20 years of separation, and a whole lot of personal change, physical, emotional, and spiritual, but it sure did happen.
And that is all thanks to keeping my eating boundaries. All of it. Period. Sometimes my husband says very sweet, romantic things about how he would still love me if I gained weight. And I believe him. Because I don’t think he understands what would actually come along with weight gain. I think he is thinking in terms of physical beauty. And I think he believes that I am just beautiful no matter what. Which I love! And I am grateful for.
But when I am eating compulsively, I am not beautiful for a few reasons that have nothing to do with size. I don’t like myself when I am eating compulsively. I get depressive and ashamed. I second guess myself. Also, I don’t have a whole lot of integrity when I am in the food. I lie, cheat, and steal. I hide truths and manipulate people. I am just generally difficult, angry, and unhappy. And I don’t think about anyone but myself. Everything is all about me.
When I started writing this blog over 6 years ago, it was to open myself to love. It was to stop thinking all of those thoughts I had about not being worthy. And there was something to do about it. I took an honest, searching look at myself, took stock of what about myself I wanted to change, and started working toward being the kind of person I wanted to be in a relationship with. There is a saying: Self-esteem comes from doing estimable acts.
But I could only do those estimable acts because I put sugar and carbs down. When I am eating sugar and carbs, I am only thinking about that. If something I want would impede my eating, I would let that thing, that wish, go. Because eating sugar is the most important thing in the world when I am eating sugar. When I am not eating sugar, my life and my relationships are the most important things.
So at this time of the anniversary of my marriage, I am so grateful for that 28-year-old Kate who decided that a life that revolved around sugar was not enough. That there was something better to be, and something better to be had. And that she was willing to go through the dark, scary world of withdrawal and uncertainty, to get to the other side. That’s where the love is.
I feel sort of silly writing today. I am not feeling particularly qualified to inspire lately. I’m feeling a bit like I have regressed into some behaviors that I don’t particularly love.
No, not with food. With food, I am as committed and vigilant as ever. Thank God. Frankly, that’s the reason I can tell that I’m not behaving my best.
I am probably not behaving as badly as I fear I am. I can be a little blind to the reality of things. Especially when I am observing myself. I would do well to keep in mind that I am growing. And that growing is not a straight line. That there will be some regression. Some circling back. That just because I can see the person I want to be doesn’t mean it’s possible to just be that person. It takes time. And work. And a whole bunch of failing at it. That’s the way of it. And it always has been. I am without a doubt a better person than I was. I have grown and changed for the better in huge and fantastic ways over the years. But it has always been by baby steps. Why would I expect it to be any different now?
So what I am going to focus on for now is minding my own business. That is where I want to grow today. One baby step at a time.
Yesterday I had some good friends come to visit. While I was doing something else, one was refilling the coffee pot with water. She didn’t know that the part that holds water is removable, and was using a cup to pour water into it. I said “Oh, that comes off so you can refill it in the sink…” And then I stopped and said, “But that works too. Never mind. You’re doing great.” Because she was. What she was doing was working perfectly well. She was getting the job done. I was trying to be helpful. But in that moment, I recognized that what would have been even more helpful was to keep my mouth shut.
I did the same thing to my boyfriend while we were trying to find the place we lost in our audio book. I insisted on “helping.” But all I succeeded in doing was expressing that I didn’t think he was capable. (Which isn’t true, sweetheart!) And it clearly offended him. (Sorry!)
There is a saying I learned when I first got my eating under control. “Keep your eyes on your own plate. And keep your eyes on your own life.” It doesn’t matter what anybody else is eating. I only have to be concerned with what I am eating. It doesn’t matter what anybody else is doing. I only have to be concerned with what I am doing. It doesn’t matter what anybody else thinks. Even about me.
And frankly, what a relief!
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. And it was my first ever Valentine’s Day where I had a valentine. Ever. And I am 36 years old.
I didn’t need this Valentine’s Day to be a special day. And it really wasn’t. My boyfriend and I both worked a full 10 hour day plus commute. We came home and had dinner. We watched an episode of Heroes on Netflix. It was no big deal. But Valentine’s Day being no big deal was a VERY BIG DEAL for me.
I have very much hated the day for as long as I can remember. I didn’t even want the chocolate, though I was a sugar addicted compulsive eater. Because it came in a heart-shaped box which I was sure was only going to make the contents taste bitter. Like my heart.
Because I was sure that not only was I not going to get any romantic gifts that year, but I was never going to get any romantic gifts any year ever. I was going to be alone for my whole life. I was positive that I was fundamentally unlovable. And VD (as I used to call it) was a day when everything seemed to revolve around being single or not being single. Being loved or not being loved. Being somebody’s chosen, or being alone and neglected. It was about measuring up. And I not only didn’t measure up this time, I was never going to measure up.
For the first time, because I am in a relationship, I can look at the day with some clarity. Because it was too loaded for me to ever see it properly before. And I have to say, it is an unkind holiday to the single. I can see that there is first a kind of shaming of people who don’t have “a valentine.” There is an expectation that you should at least have something. A date. An admirer. A booty call. There is this underlying idea that to be alone on the day is pathetic.
And then there is a shaming of single people who hate it because they are being shamed. There is a clearly stated reprimand if you don’t like it, and especially if you say so. You are ruining it for everybody with your bitterness.
Seriously? Bitter single people are ruining your Valentine’s Day? Are you joking? It was so hard to choke down your chocolate? It made your filet mignon with the person you love taste bad? You had to throw away your bouquet of roses because you couldn’t stand to look at it while Bob and Mary were hating February 14th?
I have compassion for those who suffer on that day. I’m serious. Not pity. Compassion. Because I suffered too. I hated the holiday. And I felt ashamed of myself for hating it. And for being bitter. And I am so grateful that I have a new context, and can see it from a new perspective.
No, I did not shun this Valentine’s Day. I have to admit that it felt amazing to have someone to give a gift to because I love him so much. My boyfriend did indeed get heart-shaped chocolate from me. And I am graciously (and very happily) accepting my gift of being whisked away to Florida for a long weekend at the end of the month. But it didn’t feel amazing because I “finally” got chosen. It felt amazing because it’s him. Because I have a relationship that has continued to exceed all of my expectations. Because it took 35 years, but I ended up with love that is better than a fairytale. Because it’s not “happily ever after.” It’s a day at a time of honor, and respect, and laughter, and music, and Netflix, and dinner together, and grocery shopping, and laundry, and cleaning the oven, and making the bed, and mundane life.
Getting my eating under control gave me a ridiculous amount of clarity in my life. Not being high on sugar, not being obsessed with eating, not being obsessed with my body and my weight opened up so much room in my head for understanding, and critical thinking, and hearing my intuition. But for the 7 years that I had clarity but no romance, I could not have been this clear about Valentine’s Day.
This has been a powerful reminder for me. That there are still things that exist in my blind spot. That there are still things I can’t see, for all of my heightened perception and lucidity. That my life will continue to change as long as I continue to grow. And it is my intention to grow. It is what I want and what I work for. So I’m looking forward to the next time I get taken out of my own context and watch the world shift.