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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