Note: I debated with myself whether to allow comments on this post or not. But frankly, I don’t care if you think I’m wrong. If you hate fat people, I don’t want you here. Anti-fat bigotry and pro-diet propaganda will be deleted. I can do that because this is my sandbox and I’ve got the bullshit shovel. If you want to talk about how fabulous weight loss is you’ve got a whole internet to do it in.
You may not know this if you’re new to my work, but: I wrote an entire book on body image and spirituality a few years ago. The whole subject is very important to me, but I haven’t written much about it lately because my focus has been on so many other things. But then I got cable TV, and the old anger came a-flaring back up.
You see, I’m fat. 300 pounds of awesome from my double chin to my adorable toes. There’s no concealing this fact. My fat is out there. It speaks. And it says “I am lovable and worthy just like I am, and fuck you if you disagree.” I’ve spent a lot of time and effort removing myself from body disparagement zones and have gotten comfortable with the idea that people can look like anything and it’s all good…but then I accidentally read the comments on someone’s blog, or I see some article that makes my blood boil, and I remember how many people out there live in a state of perpetual self-denial, self-denigration, and self-destruction just because of their fat.
It is to those fat girls, and to all of us who need a refresher course in body acceptance, that I offer these Ten Rules.
1. You are not obligated to be thin, healthy, or pretty.
It’s bad enough that our culture assigns moral value to foods: celery is “good,” donuts are “bad.” Now, being healthy is itself considered a sign of your moral fortitude. Never mind the gap between the wealthy and poor and how that affects access to unprocessed food and the time and resources to exercise; never mind genetics or mental illness or stuff like, you know, character and behavior toward others. Thin people equal healthy people and that means good people.
Here’s a thought I’m sure will shock people: You don’t owe anyone good health. You have sovereignty over your body and that means it is no one’s responsibility but your own.
Now, there are larger issues involved in our food supply such as workers’ rights, animal rights, and environmental devastation to be considered, but I can’t make other people’s food choices for them, and I wouldn’t allow anyone to make mine for me. Evangelizing about any kind of diet or “health plan” is presumptuous and unlikely to make you any friends; showing that the way you live makes you happy is a far more effective long-term persuasive technique.
Let’s assume that being fat is morally reprehensible. Okay, fine. Let’s assume it’s the worst thing ever and every time a fat girl eats cake God kills a kitten. Whatever. How are shame and hatred going to fix that? How is discrimination and making people loathe themselves going to make them healthier? Obviously this doesn’t work or the number of overweight people would be rapidly declining, wouldn’t it, given how we’re treated? Has hate ever made anyone a better person?
Besides, how exactly does looking at someone tell you their state of health? There are millions of unhealthy thin people, but the automatic assumption is that they’re healthier than I am just based on my size.
We also have this idea that our bodies are only worth their value to other people. Guess what? MY VALUE AS WOMAN IS NOT DEPENDENT ON WHETHER OR NOT MEN WANT TO FUCK ME.
Even in the Pagan community where you’d think body acceptance would be assumed, there’s been a rise in anti-fat prejudice lately with all these really weird “you’re using up too many resources! Mother Earth is sad that you’re fat!” ideas behind them. Of all the environmental issues that are mounting up today, that’s the one you have a conniption over? You really think my big ass is worse for the Earth than Big Oil? You need to sort out your priorities, Dances With Unicorns.
2. Don’t talk shit about your body.
Aside from the fact that it makes conversations awkward, would you let a friend – or anyone – verbally abuse you? Then why allow yourself to do it?
It’s hard to follow this rule given that body disparagement is not only the norm, it’s expected. A group of women is supposed to talk about diets and shoes and how much they freaking love yogurt. I’d rather listen to my relatives talk about Obama than my coworkers talk about calorie counts. In such a situation you can:
A. Change the subject
B. Try to change people’s minds by making body positive statements (only do this if you like to argue)
C. If you’re totally stuck, entertain yourself: mentally replace words like “carbs” with “balls.” It’s way more fun to listen to people discuss good balls versus bad balls and whether or not they’re getting enough balls.
Before making a statement about your body, ask yourself if you’d say the exact same thing to the kindest, gentlest friend you have. If the answer is yes, I’d be surprised if you had any friends at all; you’re certainly no friend to yourself.
3. Don’t talk shit about other people’s bodies.
If you want the world to learn to love all sizes and shapes of women, you have to start with you. It’s so much fun to gossip and snipe, isn’t it? It’s what women are supposed to do! We must tear each other down in order to eliminate competition for the oh-so-rare, elusive man-penis!
I’m not just talking about fat shaming, either. “Go eat a sandwich” is as mean a thing to say as “go on a diet, fatty!” Just like people don’t know anything about your health or history by the size of your body, you don’t know what a thin person has dealt with in her life either. Everyone’s got problems – beautiful people are just as screwed up as everyone else.
Rules 2 and 3 are doubly important in front of young people. Don’t let the cycle of shame continue with your daughter or niece or young friend. End it here and now.
4. Wear clothes that fit.
It doesn’t matter what your style is, what your budget is, or what you think of your fat; wearing too-tight or too-big clothes will make you uncomfortable, and that discomfort will show in how you carry yourself. It’s hard to be confident when you’re constantly yanking a wedgie.
Whatever you like to wear, find the size that fits you – you can move in it, sit down, bend over, walk, without having to stop and adjust every three steps. I’m not saying it’s easy to find attractive comfy clothes when you’re fat – it’s a nightmare. For all that fat people are supposedly taking over the world, we must all be walking around naked, because we can’t find crap for clothes. It’s part of that whole “we will make you thin by making your fat life miserable” thing, which is ridiculous (and doesn’t work). If you find an article of clothing that you love, get more than one if you can. I love v-neck black t-shirts, so when I found one in a nice Supima cotton on clearance I ordered five of them.
5. Demand better treatment from healthcare professionals.
Your doctor is prey to the same forces of fat-hatred that you are every single day. So it’s likely that regardless of your state of health at some point a doctor is going to recommend you lose weight. I’ve had some doctors who went about it in far more acceptable ways than others – really it’s more the attitude than anything else. Coming from a cardiologist, it’s less ridiculous than coming from an allergist. If your doctor is generally responsive to your needs and doesn’t force the issue it’s not as big a problem as, say, one refusing to treat you for anything until you’re thinner.
(Yes, this happens. If you don’t believe it, you’re probably not fat. The horror stories I’ve heard from fat people in the healthcare system are enough to make you sick.)
That claptrap about obese people being a strain on the economy is nonsense; cancer costs millions of dollars to research and treat but nobody’s suggesting we let cancer patients die to save money. Since a lot of fat folks are uninsured thanks to our crackerjack health care system, we don’t get adequate care anyway. It’s just another smokescreen to keep people fighting amongst themselves while the rich line their pockets with the profits of our self-loathing.
Remember this, though: your doctor works for you. He is performing a service. There are thousands of doctors out there, so if yours is a jerk to you or tries to pull that “all your problems would vanish if you lost weight” crap, fire his ass and go somewhere else.
Here’s a question to ask when your doctor tries to tell you your sore throat, aching back, or the axe sticking out of your skull are due to your weight. “If I were a thin person, what treatment would you prescribe?”
Seriously. Statistics show that weight loss fails over the long-term 95% of the time. How many conditions can doctors get away with prescribing something with only a 5% success rate? Yet dieting is considered a panacea. You know what else has a 5% success rate in treating disease? Bleeding someone to let the evil humours out.
You deserve respect and attention from your healthcare professionals regardless of your size. Don’t accept abuse and condescension. And certainly don’t pay for it.
6. Find a way to move.
Like I said, you’re not obligated to be healthy, but you probably want to be – there’s this weird thing we humans do where we don’t want to die or feel like crap if we don’t have to. While the evidence directly linking being fat with illness is sketchy at best (studies have shown that active overweight people actually live longer than thin sedentary people), you’d be hard pressed to find evidence that disagrees with the idea that regular movement is good for you. Our bodies weren’t designed for our modern lifestyle, and it shows in how we feel. Exercise benefits body, mind, and emotions – and it can be fun, if you find the right kind.
I’m not talking about torturing yourself with some “work out until you vomit” bullshit (people do know that throwing up is a symptom of illness, not a badge of honor, right?); I’m talking about getting up and moving around a little every day. Even supersized folk have options. Walk around your house a few times. Put on your favorite song and dance to it. I know it’s hard to leave the house and exercise when you’re fat – aside from any physical limitations you might have, people are assholes. Despite the fact that we’re supposed to lose weight to be acceptable, we’re mocked when we are seen sweating. But even if you don’t go to a gym (lord knows I don’t) or attend classes, try to move more. You’ll feel better.
Just don’t go into it expecting to lose weight. Move to enjoy life more. Move because dancing is fun or because you love playing touch football with your kids. Maybe you’ll lose weight by being more active, maybe not – but you’ll definitely feel better and have more fun.
7. Stand up for yourself.
Fat people are expected to just take whatever abuse is heaped on us because there’s something wrong with us that everyone – everyone – knows how to fix. It’s assumed that we’re stupid, as if our whole lives were lived in a cave full of cake and we’ve just been waiting for a random stranger to deliver the Skinny Gospel.
“Oh my God. Calories in and calories out – that’s it? THAT’S ALL THERE IS TO IT? OH MY SWEET JESUS I’M CURED! WHY HASN’T ANYONE EVER TOLD ME?”
You don’t have to take it. You don’t deserve it. You are a human being worthy of love and respect. I’ll keep saying that until you hear me.
Even if you’re not quick-witted enough to come up with a retort to every insult, you can get a lot of mileage out of making eye contact with an asshole and saying, “Excuse me?” Bullies of all kinds tend to wilt when challenged in front of others. Fix the spotlight on them and watch their power go poof. Powerful women scare the hell out of weak-minded dickweasels.
I’ve had more trouble with strangers than loved ones, but family and friends can be even harder to deal with because it’s assumed they mean well and want the best for you. It’s also assumed, as I’ve said, that everyone knows what’s best for you but you.
“Aunt Gertrude, I appreciate that you’re concerned about my health, but I am healthy and am happy with my appearance. Please respect that I don’t want to discuss my size.”
Often strangers will try to pass off their cruelty as concern. Don’t be fooled. What they’re saying isn’t “I care about your health, total stranger, for I am a concerned citizen.” it’s “I find your body unacceptable and you should feel ashamed because I am insecure.”
The popular idea in psychology is that fat people are “shielding themselves” from something using their bodies. We’re pushing away our emotions, stuffing our pain, et cetera. That may be true for some people, but assuming it’s true for every fat person is as irresponsible as assuming every physical ailment comes from fat.
Although in my case, my fat is a great insulator. It helps keep idiots out of my life.
8. Deal with your fat.
Don’t pretend to be skinny if you’re not. Take up space. It’s okay. You’re not fooling anyone by sucking in your gut anyway.
We tend to gloss over an important aspect of fatness: fat hygiene. That stupid stereotype about fat people being smelly comes from a few people who don’t pay attention to the needs of their fat. Don’t punish yourself for being fat by treating your body like garbage.
Wash your fat. More importantly, dry it. When you get out of the shower make sure you’re dry under your fat rolls and between your legs and breasts. Make sure you’re wiping your ass adequately. Do not fall victim to the perils of Swamp Ass. There are unhygienic people in every size, but if you’ve got more flesh you might need to spend more time attending to it. There’s nothing wrong with that. You’re saving yourself a lot of discomfort. If you get rashes from sweating in the heat, apply powder or try to find workout clothes designed to wick moisture. If I wear a skirt, which is rare, I put tights underneath it to avoid getting heat blisters on my thighs.
If your chair is too small, find a bigger one. If the seat at the movies is pinching you, put up the armrest and take up two spaces. Ask for a seatbelt extender on the plane. You can also get them for your car – they should be free from your dealership since they’re safety equipment.
Touch yourself. You’re not gross. If you’re doing yoga and your belly’s in your way, take hold of it and shift it. I’m serious. Most people don’t think about that, but it can really help – touch your flesh. It’s yours. You grew it; you own it. Don’t be afraid of your body. Often because we are heirs to such body shame, we avoid getting to know our flesh, so when something does go wrong we don’t realize it until it’s really serious.
9. There are worse things in the world than being fat.
I’ve heard quite a few thin women say things like, “Thank God I’m not fat. I’d kill myself.” Or “getting fat would be the worst thing.”
Oh? Worse than child abuse, genocide, homophobia, or being allergic to chocolate? Worse than being an asshole? Worse than treating people like crap because of how they look?
Is being fat worse than being an ignorant bigot? Worse than being a murderer? Worse than drowning kittens? Amebic dysentery? Losing a loved one? Losing a limb?
Hating yourself is pretty damn awful too. Trust me, it’s way worse than being fat.
10. Don’t expect to feel awesome about yourself every single day forever.
This one hit me hard after I had written an entire book on body image and, despite all my effort, still had periodic wars with the mirror. Even knowing every rule on this list, I still have days when I have a hard time loving myself.
Given the world we live in, it’s really quite a revolutionary act to love yourself at all, even for a single hour. With the constant bombardment of not-good-enough messages out there it’s bound to happen, so don’t judge yourself for occasional negative body thoughts. Just gently bring yourself out of it and remember you are more than a number on a scale, more than a body at all.
If you challenge your assumptions, day by day you silence your inner critics. This takes time and constant effort, but the reward is a happier life and often a healthier one. Every journey has its pitfalls, though, and sometimes you fall flat on your face. Even full grown adults can still be toddlers.
This is where affirmations can be really useful. Look yourself in the eye every day and tell yourself you refuse to measure your life by your BMI. Tell yourself you are loved – because you are, I promise – and accepted exactly as you are no matter what, and that even if you’re not strong enough to believe it every day, it’s still true, and that truth will be there when you can reach out and grasp it.
Remember you cannot leave a mark on the world without taking up space.
Next post I’ll share a list of body-positive blogs, books, and other resources that might help you find peace with your body, whether it’s fat or thin or short or purple or hairy or has an extra arm coming out the back.