(Originally posted at riotsnotdiets)
Or, the Fat Manifesto
While I know the title of this post is a little silly—anyone who has eyes to see knows that I am fat—I chose the phrase “coming out” because it really gets at the heart of what I am trying to communicate. Most people who are fat—in fact most people, period—constantly view their bodies as sites of struggle, as a thing that must be controlled. Some people “get lucky” and are born thin; people don’t generally look at them and assume they are unhealthy. The rest of us? We are constantly at “war” with our bodies, yo-yo dieting, taking up new painstaking exercise routines, buying whatever we think we need to get thin and “healthy” (weird and costly exercise equipment, health supplements, diet pills, gym memberships, organic food, etc.). This is not to say that all of these things are inherently bad; I at least believe that organic foods can be very good for you and exercise is very important for your health.
But the facts are this: 95-99% of the people who diet (and this includes programs like Overeaters Anonymous and Weight Watchers, which are supposedly “lifestyle changes” and not diets) GAIN THE WEIGHT BACK within 5 years. Some people would have you believe that this is simply a matter of willpower. But I refuse to believe that almost all of the people who diet just DON’T have self-control. If most Americans diet, and most Americans fail at dieting, this does not mean that most Americans are lazy or weak-willed—I, for one, work really freaking hard at every aspect of my life. With all I’ve accomplished, I simply cannot come to the conclusion that I am fat because I am lazy or don’t work “hard enough,” or that I just haven’t found the “right diet” that will help me find the “thin me within.” My will is certainly not to blame for my inability to be a thin person.
The real “problem” is that there is no “thin me within”; I am just a fat person. I eat well (but I do NOT diet, meaning I don’t purposely consume less calories than I expend), I exercise, I work on my mental health, and yet—I am still a fat person. I used to think this meant something more than my just being fat. I used to think it meant that I wasn’t as pretty as my thin friends, that I wasn’t attractive to men, that my fatness was somehow evidence that I was imperfect. I struggled with feelings of wanting to make my family proud of me, and felt that if I lost weight, they would be happy. I know this is stupid, but every overachiever knows this kind of feeling. And probably every fat person knows this feeling, too.
Here’s what I’ve learned so far in my quest to accept my body: I love my family and friends very much, but I shouldn’t struggle to change the way my body naturally is so that I can make them “prouder”—my family and friends already love me very much, and if anyone is uncomfortable with my weight, that is their own damn problem. I’ve also learned that it’s actually healthier for my body to stay fat than it is for me to constantly yo-yo diet. When you yo-yo diet, you wreak havoc on your body—constantly gaining and losing the same 5, 10, or even 30 lbs. just can’t be good for your insides. AND you end up fatter—I can’t imagine what my body would be like if I had never started yo-yo dieting in the first place. Here’s the important part: studies show people who practice intuitive eating and exercise for pleasure—not to lose pounds—end up being healthier than those who go on a reduced calorie diet, even though they may end up losing weight. It’s not fat that makes you unhealthy, it’s an unhealthy lifestyle (which sometimes—and only sometimes—correlates with a fat body) that leads to health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, and other supposedly “obesity-related” diseases. There are plenty of fat people who are unhealthy because they are sedentary and eat crappy food, but there are ALSO plenty of skinny people who are just as unhealthy for the SAME REASONS. They just don’t “look” unhealthy, because we’re convinced that thin=good and fat=bad.
Another thing I’ve learned? It is absolutely toxic for me to think negative thoughts not only about my OWN body, but about other peoples’ bodies, as well. This is why I have made a concerted effort in the past year to NOT think or say things about other people that are demeaning or rude. I try to, in fact, think something or say something nice about every stranger I come into contact with. You know what I’ve found? It’s actually WORKING—I am no longer plagued with negative thoughts about other women when I’m in public, things like “oh God, what is she wearing?!” or “I hope I’m not as fat as her.” And I know it sounds silly and New Age-y, but when I think positively about other people, I think more positively about myself. And this is REALLY important because, let’s face it, we are taught to think AWFUL shit about ourselves. I still struggle with thoughts about my “jiggly” arms and my monster calves—but for what? What is the point of this negativity?
I should love my body because of what it allows me to do—because of it I can walk miles at a time, swim in the pool outside my apartment, navigate my way through San Diego’s crappy public transportation system, dance the night away with my friends at a club, and even—almost—beat my boyfriend Joe at arm wrestling (with two hands, but still!).
Anyway, all of this rambling is to say to you all—those of you whom I know and love, and those of you I will never meet—that I am fat. There’s no shame in it; it doesn’t detract from my other wonderful qualities (or add to some of my not-so-wonderful ones!). Fat is just… fat. An adjective, a physical attribute like blonde or blue-eyed. And really, when you live your entire life as a fat person who feels bad about being a fat person, this can be an incredibly revolutionary thing.
Now, since I’ve begun to start talking openly about fatness and identity and the work that I do in graduate school (I’m getting my PhD in communication, but what I’m really doing is called Fat Studies), I’ve had quite a few (loving, well-meaning) friends who have said “I love you no matter what, and I’m happy for you, but I’m just worried about your health.” I hope what I am about to say clears things up: correlation is not causation. Fatness does not equal unhealthy. Some kind of fat, the kind that is in between your organs, is apparently not so great for you—but you can’t even tell who HAS this kind of fat, because skinny people can have it, too! So really, BEING visually fat is not akin to being unhealthy. And, although it is really no one’s business but my own, a recent doctor’s appointment confirms it: I am perfectly healthy. My doctor, of course, was shocked—but that’s a conversation for a different time.
I don’t expect everyone to agree with me, and I certainly don’t expect everyone to jump on the “love your body” bandwagon, but I wouldn’t be lying if I told you that would make me incredibly happy. In a fat-hating culture, it can be so hard to love your body for what it is and all of its “imperfections”; it is a daily struggle in the beginning, but it does get easier. The stress of trying to love yourself in spite of a multi-billion dollar diet and exercise industry hell-bent on convincing you that you need to change your body—along with mainstream media representations of beauty that are absolutely unattainable for 95% of us—can be alleviated if you can manage to surround yourself with people who commit to body love instead of body hate.
For me, this means no weight-loss talk with my friends. This means not watching television shows that demean, humiliate, and harm fat people in an effort to “save” them (why I do not watch The Biggest Loser). This means not putting anything off until I lose “x” pounds. This means not talking—or thinking—negatively about other peoples’ bodies. It means loving FASHION, loving clothes and the way my body looks and feels in them (even if I will never enjoy wearing 4 inch heels). Being fat, for me, also means fighting against fat discrimination and hate. That’s why I’m in school—to make changes for other people who aren’t as lucky as I am to have such supportive family and friends, who don’t know about Health At Every Size or Fat Acceptance and who hate themselves because they are fat. I don’t want anyone to hate themselves because of their body, just as I wouldn’t want anyone to hate themselves because of any other aspect of their identity. My fight against fat oppression is also a fight against other oppressions—sexism, racism, heterosexism, classism, etc.—because no one should ever face shame, harm, or hate just because of who they are, and also because no one is ever just one identity, but actually a multiplicity of identities: I am fat, but I am also a woman, am also straight, am also white-looking but mixed race, am also from a poor, working-class family. All of these things have equally affected who I’ve become, and it’s important for me to acknowledge this when I think about my fight against fat hate… because when it comes down to it, for me, I am fighting hate, period.
I’m not exactly sure how people who know me will take this. Perhaps you will all totally agree, and we will all be happy body liberators together! Or perhaps you don’t agree with me, and question what I’m saying about health, or you just think fat is ugly and you know that can’t possibly ever change. Or maybe you just have questions. I’m not sure, but I welcome whatever thoughts or questions you’d like to share with me.
For those of you who are interested in what I have to say, and what to know more, there are two books I’d like to point you to for starters. They are both easy—and incredibly interesting—reads:
2. Lessons from the Fat-o-sphere: Quit Dieting and Declare a Truce with Your Body by Kate Harding & Marianne Kirby (which is only $4.21 on Amazon right now!)
I promise you that these are worth reading—Kolata’s book for its in-depth research that points to all the studies I indicated previously, and Harding & Kirby’s book because it explains so much more in-depth about all of the body-love I’ve been talking about (and I read it in a day, so I know y’all can get through it, too!).
My quest for self-love and body liberation is something that is very personal to me, although I am being public about it now—I’ve been working up the nerve to get this all out on paper, to tell you about this very important part of my life in no uncertain terms. Thanks for hearing me out.