TRIGGER WARNING: This post discusses eating habits and eating disorders and their possible causes.
Just a heads up.
I’ve been fat my whole life. I don’t know how to be any other way. This doesn’t mean that I don’t know there’s another way to be, of course, because all I see and hear is how magical this other way to be is. Being thinner is supposed to make everything better! Or, something like that.
But in the past few years, there’s been more and more talk about “fat acceptance” and how horrible fat-shaming is. I’ve even written about it on this blog. And I LOVE IT. I love that we’re coming around the fact that a person’s weight doesn’t define their basic personhood, nor does it effectively demonstrate how well or not-well they take care of themselves. People are heavy for many reasons. Sometimes, it’s as simple as they don’t exercise and they eat a lot. But even that’s not simple. Because, just as someone might turn to alcohol, drugs, gambling, or self-harm when facing extreme emotions or problems, others turn to food, and so the problem goes deeper than just eating habits. Anyway, a person could be fat because of medication, hormones, a thyroid condition, or the simple fact that fast-food and unhealthy eating is pushed on us as a society by the media and Corporate America, selling us billions of Big Macs and frozen meals a year as we all die of heart disease; convincing us that we “deserve” Big Gulp-sized sodas so much so that we’re willing to fight for the “freedom” to be able to drink those drinks. We’ve all been brainwashed into wanting to fight for the right for Corporate America to sell us stuff that keeps us unhealthy so that they can then pass us along to their friends in the pharmaceutical industry so they can sell us drugs, or weight-loss supplements. So, for someone to look down on someone for being fat makes no sense, because you have no idea what their story is or who they are inside. (The moral here? Don’t judge people, People.)
And then there’s being on the receiving end of fat-shaming, and the fact that women and men get dealt those cards differently, and the fact that a movement of body-positivity has become necessary, because we all have the right to love who we are right now, not just in some hypothetical future when we’re skinny, but now. We all deserve to feel good about ourselves, and it benefits the world when we do. A person who feels good about him/herself is going to feel more confident about their place in the world, and is going to be more likely to interact with it and change it for the better, no matter what they do. You’ll get the most productivity, the most energy, and the most enthusiasm out of someone who feels like a million bucks rather than someone who feels like crap about themselves all the time. So, all this body-positivity stuff isn’t just shee-shee, frou-frou nonsense. It’s important, because it’s attempting to salvage a large portion of the population who don’t feel like they’re worth anything, or have anything to contribute. It’s not just about these individuals – who are each important enough – it’s about society.
This is all to say that I GET IT. I get why the Fat Acceptance movement and ideas like body-positivity are important.
But what I really want to talk about now is understanding the difference between Body Positivity and being Resigned to Be Fat, because that’s something I’ve dealt with, and I believe that not understanding the difference held me back in a number of ways.
Fat Acceptance is about a fat person’s interaction with The World At Large. It’s about The World treating fat people with respect, and providing for them the same way you would for anyone else. It means greater representation in media, because we exist in life so we should also exist in the media we consume (and not merely as the punchline to a joke, or the subject of an After-School Special-like lesson). It means clothing companies taking different body types into account, and creating clothes in a wider variety of sizes (which just seems like good business to me! Why wouldn’t you want more people to be able to spend money on your product?). It means employers not dismissing someone for a job because they’re “overweight” and so “wouldn’t represent the brand well” (’cause I hate to tell you this, but there are upscale fat people! There are attractive, competent, well-to-do fat people who would and could buy whatever you’re selling. There’s no brand that a fat person couldn’t represent). It means people not treating the adjective “fat” the same way they treat the word “cancer.” 🙂
I once had a well-meaning mother of a kid I babysat become SO apologetic when her son asked me “Why are you fat?” Thing is, there was no judgment in the word when he said “fat.” He was simply using the word “fat” as the opposite to the word “skinny,” so I wasn’t offended at all. But his mom felt SO BAD. I told her not to. I AM fat. It’s not something horrible. It’s not a death-sentence. It just is. So I told the boy, “I’m fat, because I eat a lot of food and don’t exercise.” He asked “Will I get fat?” And I said, “Not if you keep eating healthy food the way you do and keep running around the way you do!” And that was that.
Fat Acceptance is about fat being OK in the eyes of The World, and about society not treating fat people as inferior or unworthy, or patronizing them with pity.
However, I’ve known many people, male and female, who use Fat Acceptance to resign themselves to staying fat. They’ll say things like “I can be as fat as I want! People need to love me just as I am!”
That’s very true. People should love you just as you are. What’s more, despite what pop culture would have us believe, there are plenty of people who are actually attracted to fat people. *gasp* But I would ask someone who says that this: If you’re constantly doing something to your body that you know is bad for it, causing yourself pain, or ill health, or the inconvenience of only being able to shop in certain stores – if you’re limiting yourself in this way…are you loving yourself just as you are? Because while there are people who hold more weight because of genetics, or medication, or other medical factors, there are many more people who are fat because they eat unhealthily and don’t exercise. And while it’s every person’s choice to live the way they want, and while no one should ever think it’s OK to judge someone on their weight, I wonder if the fat person in question is actually in love with themselves? Do they love themselves if they continue to eat in a way that will lead to a heart condition? Do they love themselves if they put up with the lower-back pain involved in carrying a large amount of weight in their stomachs? Do they love themselves if they’re eating not by choice, but because they can’t control it; eating because they have to, not because they want to?
If you find that you eat differently around people than you do when you’re alone, or if you find yourself not fully engaging in conversations with your friends because you’re thinking about when your next meal is gonna be, or if you can’t get through watching something – anything – without having a snack, because you’re so hardwired to consume food while you’re consuming entertainment…I’m talking to you.
Fat Acceptance and body-positivity are important…but they’re not more important than YOU are. So if you’re fat, and it’s not because of some sort of medical condition, consider asking yourself these questions and answering them honestly:
1) Does my weight affect what I do? Ex: do I huff and puff going up and down stairs? Do I feel pain in my body, like my lower back, or my knees, or my feet, when I move for an extended period of time, because of the weight I carry? Can I keep up with friends when we all go out, or do I tend to lag behind?
2) Does my weight affect where I go? Ex: Am I too heavy to participate in exciting/fun activities in which my friends ask me to take part (like skydiving, or kayaking, or riding certain amusement park rides)? Does my weight keep me from doing things I would otherwise LOVE to do?
3) Do I continue eating long after my stomach is in pain?
4) If I’ve started losing weight before, do I always seem to stop right when I’m starting to make real progress? What would be the worst thing to happen to me if I continued?
5) How do the answers to the above questions make me feel?
6) If the answers to the above questions are negative, why do I continue to do these things?
The answers to all of these questions are going to be different for everyone. No two people are the same, nor are any two fat people. I bring these questions up, because I’ve come to realize that in my life, the choices I’ve made regarding food have rarely come from a powerful, positive place. I’m sure you’ve heard the Buddhist teaching that holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Well, eating in response to your negative feelings, rather than facing them head-on, is much the same. You might tell yourself that it’s a strong, defiant act – that “no one can tell you what to do or what to look like!” – but really, you’re trying to “show” others by hurting yourself. Over and over again. What sense does that make?
The more people told me how I “shouldn’t eat so much,” the more I ate in an attempt to “show them.” (this is a big reason why people need to mind they own damn biddness – but I digress) Overeating, much like anorexia, is at least in part related to control. While several recovered anorexics I know have told me that they didn’t eat because it was something in their lives they could control, I know that I’ve overeaten for the same reason. Because growing up in a home where my parents fought all the time and where there never seemed to be enough money, the one thing I had control over was what I put into my body. I sneaked food. I made sure to eat behind my parents’ backs when they’d reprimand me for eating so much. I was gonna “show them!” But what did I really show anybody other than my stomach’s capacity for food?
And in the end, my adventurous spirit has been hindered by my weight. I couldn’t go skydiving with friends, because I didn’t meet the weight requirement. I’ve gone on hikes with friends and been the one that they all have to stop and wait for, often choosing an easier trail for my benefit. I recently had an incident in an exit row seat. My life is full of incidents like this, and the worst part is that I’ve pretty much done it to myself by locking myself into my past and refusing to change my behavior, even though I know it was keeping me from living the life I want. This isn’t body-positivity. It’s body-negativity at its finest.
Everyone should love their body as it is right now. You are a good, kind, and beautiful person in this body. Right now. Not after losing five, ten, fifteen, a hundred pounds, but right now. You should know that you’re worth love, affection, attention, and respect no matter how much you weigh. The thing of it is, as you expect other people to love and respect you, you should love and respect yourself.
If you’ve read the above, and you don’t feel like your weight has caused you to miss anything, or has caused you pain, or hardship. OR if you are someone who, again, has genetic/medical reasons for being the size you are, and you eat like a normal human being and are in shape and exercise regularly – ROCK ON WITH YOUR BIG, BEAUTIFUL SELF. You are amazing and badass, and screw anyone who attempts to hold you back!
But if anything I’ve said resonates with you; if your eating isn’t a choice, but a compulsion; if you’re eating instead of doing other things you should be doing; if there are things that you’re missing, or that are less successful because of the extra weight you carry, love yourself enough to think about the reasons why you may be sabotaging yourself and DO something about it! You deserve to do the things you want to be doing in life! You deserve to be happy. No one should keep you from that, least of all you!
I’m not saying you can’t love food – food is amazing! I’m not saying you can’t love your plush, soft curves – they feel amazing! I’m saying that your life is more than just your body. Your life is what you DO. Don’t confuse the Fat Acceptance movement or body-positivity with resigning yourself to be fat. They are two different things.
It’s taken me 34 years to get to the place where I can say these things, and I’m STILL unraveling it for myself. Here’s hoping that my little ol’ blog post might save you some wasted time. 🙂 I’m taking this journey with you. Let’s be amazing together!