Monthly Archives: July 2014

Follow Up on Fat

Last week, I got over a blogging fear that had been holding me back for some time, and finally wrote about my experiences with fat – specifically my experience of changing body size, and with it, changing privileges. Writing it helped me a lot to sort out some of my feelings about the change, and I received some positive feedback, and you know, if reading my story helped just one person out a little, it’s worth it. I know that, for awhile, I was putting off blogging at all, because the thing I most urgently needed to talk about was FAT, and yet I didn’t feel ready to go there. So my hope is that with that out of the way, I can establish some kind of regular schedule, rather than letting months roll by where I am silent. There are a lot of other (complicated!) things that I’m anxious to talk about, and I’m excited about the idea of sharing more regularly.

But first! We really need to do a follow up. Just a couple of points I want to drive home:

1. Fat bodies are not worthwhile only if they are healthy. Thin bodies are not worthwhile only if they are healthy. My body is not worthwhile only if it is healthy.

In the original post, I touched briefly on my experiences with health, and how that relates (or seems to relate) to my experience with fat. As a thin person I was extremely unhealthy (for reasons I do not believe were at all related to my thinness) and as a fat person I am much more healthy (for reasons I do not believe are at all related to my fatness) although I still probably wouldn’t be considered “healthy” by many peoples’ standards. And that’s ok with me. I’ve had a lot of time in my life to get used to the idea of being sick. For one thing, I have a series of environmental and seasonal allergies that often bar me from certain spaces, and/or make me extremely ill when I cannot effectively avoid them.
Because of my experience with health, I found it exasperating that so many people assumed that I would try to lose weight “for my health.” When we assume that fat bodies are unhealthy bodies, we are playing into cultural prejudices that have been ingrained in us, and when we assume that we know what is best for the health of another person we’re just plain being jerks. When we decide to look down upon people because we perceive them as unhealthy, we’re being the biggest jerks.
But there is also this idea in our messed up world, that fat people are only acceptable/worthy/worthwhile if they are exceptional. It plays out something like this:
“I don’t like fat people! Let’s mock them!”
“Hey now, that isn’t nice, let’s not mock people for their bodies.”
“But fat people are unhealthy! They deserve it!”
“That’s not true, you can’t know someone’s health status based on size alone!”
“Ok, well, show me a healthy fatty and I will be nice to THEM, but all the unhealthy fatties are getting mocked!”I’ve seen this go down (ok, not this exact conversation). So I want to be super crystal clear. When I talk about my experiences with fat and health, and my exasperation that folks assume I’m suddenly unhealthy and that losing weight will improve my health, I am not condoning this kind of thinking. Everyone is worthwhile, whether or not their body is currently “healthy” (by whatever definition you are using of that word) and whether or not they are striving to make it “healthier.”

2. Fat bodies are not worthwhile only if they are capable. Thin bodies are not worthwhile only if they are capable. My body is not worthwhile only if it is capable.

“Earlier this summer my wife and I went on a belated honeymoon, and we spent most of it in the wilderness, away from the lights and the traffic and the sounds and smells of the city. One day we went on a hike that ended up being over twenty four miles long. Readers, it was hard. But I did it. That is what this fat body can do, and I am so proud of it I cannot even put it into words.”

So, the thing is, for me, that experience was huge, and it was a big part of coming to terms with my body and learning to love it again. But just like the point above, it worries me, because it plays into ideas that there are “good fatties” and “bad fatties” out there, and the good fatties can hike long distances and eat organic kale and the bad fatties get out of breath easily and eat icecream.
I have friends – of all different sizes – who probably couldn’t handle a 24 mile hike, for a wide variety of reasons. Our ability levels vary, and that is ok. That has to be ok! When we make being worthy contingent upon ability, we do a huge disservice to everyone.
I’m happy that that hike happened because I’m proud of what I accomplished. And I had been struggling so much with trying to love myself and failing, that that felt huge. I needed something to help me see that my body was, and is, still good. But I’m also troubled that that is what it took for me to get there. It makes me wonder how much harder it would be to love my body – to love myself – if I developed a disability tomorrow. And it makes me wonder what I am communicating to my friends who are disabled when I announce that my body is good because it can do X.
So no, successfully hiking 24 miles through the forest is NOT what makes my body worthy. It may be what helped me to realize its worth, in part due to the weight of cultural expectations, but my body is ok because it is mine, period. And your body is ok because it is yours.

3. If it happens that I lose weight, that doesn’t mean that loving my fat body was wrong.

I deal with things best by being open about them. So when I started gaining weight, one of the first things I thought was “I need to share this, maybe I should write about it.” But I stayed quiet for close to a year after having that impulse, why?
Part of the reason was me wondering if the weight gain was temporary or long-term. I felt like, if I announced myself as a fat woman, and then I lost the weight, I would somehow look silly. I felt like, if I didn’t write about it, if the weight happened to be temporary, I could slip back into my thin privilege and old clothes and not have to deal with it. I felt like, other people might assume that if I lost the weight that proved that fat was somehow bad afterall, and I would no longer be a fat activist. I don’t know if anyone would have actually assumed such a thing, but it was a fear I carried around, regardless.
But no. No no no. My body is good now and my body will be good in the future. Even if it changes again. Even if it gets smaller. Even if it gets bigger. Even if a thousand different things happen. Just like loving my fat body now doesn’t mean that loving my thin body in the past was somehow wrong, loving a hypothetical-future-body-that-is-different-than-now wouldn’t negate my love of this body, here, today.

Well, that’s really all I’ve got for the day. That and this: I’m thinking about adding some links somewhere in here, of introductory-level blog posts on fat activism and health at every size. I sometimes run into people (both on the internet and out in the REAL WORLD) who have never heard of these concepts, and it’d be great to be able to point them in the direction of some good reading on the subject. Do you have favorites? Stuff that helped you? Send em to me or leave em in the comments!

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Coming Out As Fat

I’m fat.

I haven’t always been fat. As a child, the word most commonly used to describe my size/shape was “skinny,” and as a pre-teen apparently my size caused at least one family member to worry that I might have an eating disorder. As a teenager I was somewhere in the “average” camp and in my early twenties I certainly gained a little weight (very few people stay the size they were at seventeen, and for good reason) but I certainly wasn’t FAT.

(Here is where I have to interrupt myself with a disclaimer. DISCLAIMER: I am not interested in debating or proving whether or not fat people can be healthy. Fat people can be healthy. Plenty of other people have articulated all the reasons that’s true way better than I can today, and there’s a whole wide internet of things you can read if you need info about that. Likewise, there is a whole wide internet of places where you can say horrible things about fat people if you are so inclined. This is not the place. What this is, this is me talking about my very personal and individual experience with identity and body politics, fatphobia, fat activism, and health at every size. Comments off topic, including personal attacks and attempts to shame, and attempts to turn this into a discussion about whether or not fat is healthy or ok or gross or whatever, will be deleted. I also reserve the right to delete any comment that makes me uncomfortable in any way, because that’s how having a blog works. Ok, onward.)

But I always had fat people in my life, fat friends and relatives, fat acquaintances and coworkers. Probably everyone does. And our society teaches us to look for differences in behavior, especially eating behavior, between fat people and non-fat people. As a non-fat person, I did that. I watched my fat friends to see what they did, how they ate, how they lived.  And as I searched for evidence of binge eating or junk food obsessions or anything else that might JUSTIFY why my fat friends were fat, there was only one difference to be found. My fat friends really did seem to be eating less. And when I saw them eat, they seemed to be terrible uncomfortable.

Years later, one of my very close friends would become involved in fat activism, and this kind soul somehow dredged up the patience to talk with me about it and answer my endless, sometimes not very kind, questions. As Lauren Zuniga says in what is probably my favorite poem about queer issues ever, oppression is a loud room. Even as I looked around me and supposed that some people were just fat and some people were just thin and different bodies had different natural states (and what does “natural” even mean anyways?) I still held fast to certain societal prejudices against fat people. That is one of the ways that privilege can work. My friend exhibited what was not an endless, but certainly an extraordinary, amount of patience with me. I tried to listen more than I talked (hard!) and I learned a lot.

One of the stranger affects of our culture’s excitement over the policing of female bodies is, as women are encouraged to conceal their weight, we stop knowing what the numbers actually look like (though of course, there’s a wide variance of what any given weight looks like on various bodies). When I weighed 130 lbs, and I was honest about it, people were constantly shocked. “Wow, you don’t look it!” Or “You carry it so well!” were common things for me to hear, as if this somehow meant I was doing a good job, I was winning.

And I was winning at body acceptance too! Still somewhat oblivious to my own Privilege, I walked around smug because unlike so many women I knew, I didn’t struggle with hating my body! How could I hate my body? My body was me, we were one, it was fine. Everything was fine.

Until one day, it wasn’t. Maybe, if you were also a thin teenager, you can remember eating an entire pizza by yourself on the living room floor and having someone, an older person, look at you sadly and say “you won’t always be able to eat like that!” And maybe, if you were anything like me, you thought “I’ll always BE ABLE to eat whatever the fuck I want, just because you choose not to because your afraid of getting fat, that doesn’t mean I have to be like you!”

It happened at maybe the least convenient time. It happened right after I got engaged. Nothing in my diet or lifestyle had changed much, as far as I could tell (adult me eats much better than teenage me, FYI) but suddenly my clothes weren’t fitting right. It was so unexpected and strange that at first I thought I had literally shrunk EVERYTHING I owned in the wash. Finally, I had to concede that my body was changing.

While intellectually I was fine with it, I was also raised in this messed up culture and stuff. seeps. in. I was also an engaged woman making her own wedding dress and dealing with the constant reminders that SOME women diet for their weddings. I looked hard at my life to discover what I was doing “wrong.” I took up jogging, and tried to hide it, and told those who I DID talk to about it that I was just “interested in trying new things.” It was a lie. I loathed jogging. I was punishing my body for getting fat. And then, because I knew what my fat activist friends would say, I also punished my mind for punishing my body. If I had just loved myself enough, this wouldn’t be a problem!

I kept gaining weight. At a certain point, the vast majority of my thin Privilege melted away. Suddenly I was a fat girl. People made rude comments when I ate donuts at work. Glares. Eyebrows raised. People who I had previous asked to stop telling fat jokes in my presence (“those are my friends you’re talking about!”) but hadn’t bothered to comply suddenly just stopped talking to me altogether.

When I was thin, I got to decide every day whether or not to be a fat activist that day. I got to let things slide. Sometimes I felt tortured about letting things slide, but I still did it. As a fat woman, that was no longer an option. I could no longer take a break from it.

I officially became “obese” according to the BMI the same week that the FDA officially declared “obesity” a disease. I tried to joke about it, saying “I’m so fat I’m fat-sick!” but then I went home and cried and cried and cried.

Throughout all of it, I was keenly aware of two facts.

1. All I had to do was announce “I am worried about my health!” And the majority of people would watch me starve myself (which is what I most wanted to do) no questions asked.
2. I was/am the healthiest I have ever been in my life.

I was a sickly kid. I was a sickly teenager. Also, I have never enjoyed the vast majority of the food my parents eat, so as a teenager, I subsisted mainly on junk food (sometimes in excessive quantities). As an adult, I may not be as healthy as all of my peers, but I don’t get at least two terrible sinus infections a year anymore, I eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and while I love icecream, I don’t eat it every day.

And yet, once I was visibly fat, people suddenly started doing something they had never done for me when I was sick all the time. They started asking about my health. It was maddening.

Well readers, the wedding came and went, and the dress fit (just barely, I don’t mind telling you). I continued to gain weight steadily for a few more months, and I continued to vacillate between being pretty ok with that and being sad and angry and just wanting my thin-Privilege back. Then, one day, as suddenly as it started, the weight gain stopped. After about a year and about fifty pounds, I weigh in at about 200 lbs. my body is shaped differently than I used to be, but it is still my body.

I read a lot of fat acceptance literature in the last few months, and while it helped in lots of ways (there’s lots of great stuff out there) there weren’t really any stories like mine. Almost every personal essay begins with the author announcing “I have always been fat” or “I was a fat kid.” And that’s ok, that’s even great, because those are their stories and they should be told. But I worry that, much like with queer identities, we might be legitimizing those with a static identity at the cost of delegitimizing those with change and flux in their stories. There’s an idea that if a fat person had always been fat, that’s just the way they are “built,” but if a thin person becomes a fat person, they somehow failed. I don’t think this is an idea anyone is trying to promote, exactly, but it is there, and it does affect us.

That’s why I wrote this. Bodies change, and with them identities can shift. It took me a long time to get comfortable identifying as a fat woman, to be ready to claim this body, the body I currently have, as completely my own.

Earlier this summer my wife and I went on a belated honeymoon, and we spent most of it in the wilderness, away from the lights and the traffic and the sounds and smells of the city. One day we went on a hike that ended up being over twenty four miles long. Readers, it was hard. But I did it. That is what this fat body can do, and I am so proud of it I cannot even put it into words.