Tuesday, October 11, 2016

My Fat is Not a Virus

I saw an article shared on social media recently about 15 couples who "lost the weight together." At first I scrolled past it, but then my curiosity got the better of me and I did something that I try never to do... I ventured into the comments section of the Facebook post.

After reading a bit of the back and forth vitriol between the 1% of the Fat Acceptance (FA)/Health at Every Size (HAES) readers futilely arguing their side against 9% "concerned for your health" and 90% outright disgust and hostility, I wanted to read the article. I wanted to give it a chance to show me it had more substance than the fat hatred in so many of the comments.

I'm not going to link to it here, I don't want to give it any more traffic than it's already getting. I'm sure you'd have no trouble finding one of its many iterations if you really want to. It's really more of a slide show than an article. The lead-in is a short but scathing warning about the issue of "contagious obesity." This was a new term to me, this "contagious obesity." With no scientific evidence cited (are there ever in these types of articles?), these two paragraphs "confirm" a fatphobe's worst fear: being fat is contagious. What was masked as weight loss "success stories" was nothing more than a platform to extend another kick in the teeth to fat people. Isn't that so often the underlying (or sometimes in-your-face) intent with articles featuring stories of weight loss? To make those who are fat feel small and unwanted, while inflating and bolstering the confidence of those who fit the slim societal ideal of beauty? Oh, the irony. I was overwhelmed by feelings of anger, upset, and sadness. I wanted to cry and hit something all at once.

A closed Facebook group I belong to recently had a great discussion about "before and after" photos and the grossly disproportionate heroism and accolades granted to people who lose weight (and fat people who are "at least trying" to lose weight, a.k.a., the "good fatty"). How weight loss is seen as the pinnacle of success and life achievements. Like being fat is the epitome of personal failure. After reading this "15 couples" article, I just felt utterly defeated. Maybe it's because I'm still in the beginnings of my HAES and FA journey. There is so much resistance against and hate toward fat bodies that I can't help feeling like I'm trying to put out a forest fire with a toy water pistol. To feel like I have to constantly justify my right to exist as I am, sometimes even to myself, is exhausting.

Between the constant barrage of media like that article, medical prejudice and mistreatment, ill-conceived and intrusive comments and advice from friends, family, and even strangers... how do you rise above it all? How does a fat person (or someone who is in recovery from an eating disorder) keep fighting against all this? How do we defend ourselves against internalizing all that hate when it constantly threatens to seep in like deadly gas through a poorly sealed window, so we can be mentally healthy and not fall back into diet culture and/or disordered eating and behavior?

After 27 years of trying to lose weight and change my body, at the age of 39 I found some great women on Twitter who showed me that there was an alternative. Through reading blogs like Fat Heffalump, The Militant Baker, and Dances with Fat and articles and books written by Lindy West, Linda Bacon, Virgie Tovar, Lesley Kinzel, Lucy Aphramor, Evelyn Tribole, Hanne Blank, and more, I learned so much. Like being happy and being fat aren't mutually exclusive and that being fat doesn't mean that you're a walking death trap of sickness. They taught me that I don't have to sit by and silently accept the discrimination and hatred directed at me and those with a body like mine. It was a novel idea for me that I can eat a salad because I love the taste of the fucking salad and not because it's a "clean" or "good" meal, and that it doesn't make me a bad person or weak-willed if I have dessert. Tweets by Fat Girl Flow, Artist Ali (and her Ok 2 Be Fat account), Your Fat Friend, and so many others have been like my lifeline, women who know me without knowing me. Instagram accounts like She Might Be, Kobi Jae, Suma Jane Dark, The Chza, Heffalumpish, A Beard Named Troy, Eff Your Beauty Standards, and The Every Body Project show me that every body is unique and beautiful in its own right, and I don’t have to make myself smaller or dress to blend into the background.

It's been two years since I started adopting the FA and HAES philosophies. I try not to look backward, but that can be just as challenging as moving forward. Throughout this still relatively new period of personal growth and acceptance, I can't help feeling isolated. Despite a stellar online community of support among people who are fiercely passionate advocates for FA and HAES, I grow apart from my family and friends in the offline world ('IRL' as the kids call it). My friends and family who are fat don't seem to grasp what HAES is or how to reconcile it against decades of being told that being fat is bad and is never ok. Many of them misunderstand intuitive eating as my "new diet plan," or insist that it "won't work" (as they are assuming I'm doing it as a means to lose weight). Even my friends who aren't fat seem to perpetually deny themselves certain foods, assign a moral value to what they eat (or don't eat), restrict their meals to rigidly dictated portion sizes rather than trust their body's own cues of hunger and satisfaction, or exercise out of a perceived necessity rather than enjoyment, all because they fear being or becoming fat. I love my friends and family very much, and it hurts that I no longer connect with them on that deep level. When you find that the strongest link in your bond with someone was your mutual desire to become (or stay) physically small, how do you segue your relationship beyond that? I don't want to talk about what I eat (unless it's to share a really delicious recipe or restaurant dish). I don't want to admonish myself for not exercising. And hearing others do that, all the time, hinders my blossoming ability to leave diet culture and years of disordered eating and skewed body image in the past. I've stopped hating myself, and I'd like to keep it that way.

Ideas like "contagious obesity" are dangerous and detrimental to everyone. They further marginalize, stigmatize, and exile fat people in an already fatphobic society. It gives fatphobes another reason to hate fats. It doesn't matter how long I've been fat or what circumstances brought me to my current weight. It doesn't even matter if I'm "fat and healthy" or if I'm fat and have a chronic illness. You can't "catch" fat like you can catch the flu virus. My body is not your concern. My body is not your business. My body is not a disease to be cured.

1 comment:

  1. Eat what you want, you only have one life!!!
    Some people in this world are just asses and don't care about our feelings.
    As they say karma is a bitch!


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