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body liberation Depression Living While Fat My Story

Self-Image

When you close your eyes, how do you see yourself? Like most properly acculturated fat people, for my entire life, when I have closed my eyes and visualized myself, I have seen a “normal girl,”* maybe a little curvy but basically thin and fit and pretty. I feel that I am a pretty typical fat person in having always thought I was “a thin person trapped in a fat body.” But you know what? I’m not. I’m fat. Fat is me. I’ve been fat my whole life–the first time I was openly called fat by others was in kindergarten–and my fatness is intimately tied up with my self identity, my life experience, and really everything about me. Isn’t it high time that my self-image matches reality?

Well, apparently, at long last and without fanfare, it does. Just about a week ago, for the first time, I happened to be thinking of myself with my eyes closed and I noticed that saw myself as I actually am. It was a surprisingly weird experience. I was confused. Who was this woman in my head? Turns out she was me. And she didn’t bother me. She didn’t offend me or gross me out or make me feel ashamed. She was just me how I was.

A couple of days later I had another related experience. I was lounging in bed in my sleep shirt and I happened to catch sight of myself in my tall mirror. And my first, instant thought before my frontal lobe kicked in was “I look cute!” I had a positive reaction to my belly!

I give credit to the fact that I have been regularly taking pictures of myself and posting them. Not only am I getting very used to looking at the shape of my body, but I am luckily getting used to positive feedback and positive, if sketchy, attention from men online. It’s actually very rare for me to get any negative responses. I realize that if I stay online long enough and get enough Instagram followers, trolling is inevitable, but in the meanwhile I have discovered that there is an entire community of fat-loving men out there and it is like a soothing bath on my skin to be admired.

I do realize that I need to be careful about such things–and to be clear, I am happily married and not looking for anything or anyone else–but the reality is that after 43 years of being embarrassed of my body and assuming no one would ever want me, this is huge. And yes I do also realize that I have been happily married for over 20 years to a man who manifestly does want me, but I always assumed that was just a fluke, that he loved me in spite of my body not because, and that he might veer off at any moment.

This business of knowing and accepting my body as me, and even enjoying how it looks and feels, and knowing and accepting my body as desirable, well, it’s a lot, in a good way. I don’t know how things will proceed from here, but it sure will be fun to find out.

*Notice the use of “girl” here, which is another whole story by itself; a story about sexism and our culture, lack of respect for myself as an adult, etc etc etc.

Categories
body liberation Living While Fat My Story

Body Image, Gender, and Sexuality

I’m learning to accept my body as it is. It’s not always easy–it comes and goes–because I am very, very fat. Somewhere on the edge between superfat and infinifat, depending who you ask. Some days I am completely at home in here, and other days I feel like a caricature of a human being.

The thing is, I have been married a very long time (20+ years) and before that I never had any serious sexual or romantic relationships. I would have told you back then that I was entirely unattractive and no one would ever want me. For the first three or five years of my relationship with my now husband, I held my breath–not knowing if he was with me in spite of me being fat, and would one day “wake up” to my hideousness and move on. Eventually it became clear that he truly loved me, but even now I don’t know whether his appreciation of my body falls into the category of a fetish.

Now that I am learning to normalize the diversity of shape in the human body, I have certainly accepted that many different body types can be attractive. I spend time on Instagram admiring selfies of all sorts of people. But am I attractive? If I were to put myself out there, would men be interested in me? If they were, would it be “real” or would it be a fetish? What does that even mean? Is it possible for a person as far out from the norm as I am to just be attractive, or must there always be a frisson of the weird and taboo about me?

A related question is that of gender identity. I am a cis woman, and always have been, but I won’t say I’ve never had trans thoughts. Being a woman in a man’s world (and my work world is even more of a man’s world than 2019 America is in general) is not easy. I am a strong, assertive, impulsive, conflict-accepting personality. Combine all that with my body image issues and consistent self-desexualization, and you have a recipe for a person who wishes they were a man. I have done so for many years. I like to lip sync to the radio, to songs with male vocalists. Sometimes, just at the peak of the song, just for a moment, I can believe his voice comes from my throat and I am truly a man. And then the image snaps and I am back to confusion.

I would have guessed that if I ever became free of my mental issues, I would become more, not less, trans. Trans is something our culture frowns on, so wouldn’t I be more willing to be openly trans if I were free?

Apparently not. The further I go in this body liberation dive, the less trans I am. I guess it’s not really odd. I’ve never been so at home in my own body. In all its plush, padded, feminine soft glory. I’ve started wearing makeup, jewelry, skirts and dresses. Even perfume sometimes. I primp before going out. I love being a girl, and I identify with women. I crave friendship with women. I read feminist writing and watch feminist works. Maleness has become so foreign to me that the idea of wanting to be a man is pretty much horrifying.

I no longer fantasize about being a man but instead think about smashing the patriarchy so that no one ever has to wish they were a man for purely political/social reasons ever again. So that true gender identity and expression, as well as sexual identity and expression, can win free and be based on what’s inside, not on the outside. And so that all bodies, no matter how far from the “normal” look, are free to be fully themselves, fully sexual, fully loved.

Categories
body liberation Living While Fat My Story

Weight Stigma Awareness Week

It is Weight Stigma Awareness Week, hosted by the National Eating Disorders Association. My recent experiences have made me particularly sensitive right now to issues of weight stigma. Normally, I think weight stigma is such a constant hum in my life that it often settles to the level of background noise.

  • Weight stigma is never being able to sit comfortably in your boss’s office because she doesn’t have any armless chairs. (And no, I’ve never had the guts to tell her even though I know she’d be chagrined and fix it immediately.)
  • Weight stigma is being afraid to order dessert at restaurants for fear of getting judgy looks or comments.
  • Weight stigma is having to allow extra time to get to meetings because the elevators are much further than the stairs. And, even more, weight stigma is never taking the stairs because no one likes the sight of a fat person sweaty and out-of-breath at a meeting.
  • Weight stigma is never, ever getting to try clothes on in stores because there are no brick-and-mortar stores which sell clothes in your size.

The constant burden of having to be aware that you are “too” big and that things you sit on might break, that people you talk to are probably already judging you before you open your mouth, that you are assumed to be lazy and not care about your health–it’s a lot.

I’ve been learning lately to advocate for myself and to handle situations that make me anxious or upset with directness–with forthright statements of what I need to be safe, mentally and physically. I’m proud of myself for that. I’m trying to also become more alert to issues others might have that limit them in other ways–so that I don’t become the person imposing stigma on someone else.

Too, I think weight stigma can be more subtle than people on Instagram say. It is actually more expensive to produce larger or sturdier items like chairs, clothes, and airplane seats. It can put a strain on a business to meet those needs consistently. I dislike that my clothes often cost more than those of a thin person, but I actually need significantly more fabric to cover my ass, and fabric costs time and resources to fabricate. So I don’t judge a company if they charge more for larger sizes.

I do judge large corporations and public venues if they don’t provide any options for fat people. I’m an outlier on the fatness scale. Most people can fit in normal chairs. But if you are going to build a 300 seat auditorium, why not make 5 of those chairs extra wide? Not only does that not cost very much extra or significantly reduce capacity, but it shows an awareness and sensitivity that has value to everyone. (And if you are sensitive enough to build your auditorium that way, why not go the extra step and put up a sign asking thin people to sit elsewhere?)

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where, even when being big created some inevitable frustrations due to actual physical difference, we could work together to find comfortable compromises for everyone?

NEDA has a lot of relevant resources and discussions on their site: nationaleatingdisorders.org.

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My Story

Love and Marriage

I met my husband when I was in college. At first, I was honestly just glad that anyone was interested in me and I wasn’t necessarily going to die alone. I am painfully aware from the experiences of others in my close family that this method of choosing men is fraught with peril. But I struck gold.

In the beginning, I encouraged the relationship more than I really wanted to out of fear and self-loathing. Both of us have suffered from chronic depression for as long as we have known each other, and our relationship hasn’t always gone smoothly. Due to school and job stuff, we spent several years apart, and those years were rough, as were the years afterwards when we were learning to be together again. He was good to me from the beginning, but these and other events were rough patches nonetheless, and I stuck them out, at least at first, mostly out of the same self-hatred.

Over time, though, the strangest thing happened. I fell truly, deeply, madly in love with the man. Recently we celebrated our twentieth wedding anniversary. It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve spent well over half my life with him. It is not hard for me to believe that I will do the same for the rest of it.

When I was a kid I sort of had this idea that the way love went was that you fell in love, had a few wonderful years, got married, got bored, and just kind of drifted after that. That has not been my experience at all. Each passing year is better than the year before. As I’ve grown up, grown into myself, grown into more and more self-acceptance and confidence, our relationship has only gotten better.

As we have known each other more, our conversations have become complex, subtle, and wide-ranging. I don’t know what it means to “run out of things to talk about.” Our many shared experiences and past conversations have only led to a joint language and perspective. We have arguments about Soviet space missions, the proper usage of common household items, and what our 14-year-old dog’s name actually is. (And no, she isn’t recently adopted.)

What, you may ask, does this have to do with body liberation? This: In the six months or so since I woke up to the crappiness of diet culture and decided to actually care for my body, our relationship has bloomed. Apparently, it is actually true that if you love yourself, it is easier to be loved by others.

It turns out that my husband has been holding back in his appreciation of me, body and soul, for years–because I was so negative and dismissive.

Why was I dismissive? Somehow I imagined that if I didn’t draw his attention to my hugeness, he might not notice it as much. Somehow I imagined that he had been with me for 23 years in spite of my body, not because of, or at least in happiness with it. Somehow I imagined that if I let my only intimate partner actually interact openly with me about my body, that would make things worse.

Now that I wear clothes with pleasure and gladly show them off, enjoy his touch fully without demure, and let him say what he will without rejection, everything has changed. We are basking in the glow of love like newlyweds. People tell us we’re adorable on the street. We are both noticeably happier in all we do. It’s disgusting. It’s wonderful.

Also, the sex is stunning and about triple in frequency. So, yeah, there’s that.

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My Story

A whole new world

About six months ago, I started to work with a new nutritionist. I’ve been dieting, weight cycling, and bingeing since I was about 10 or 12 years old, so I’m an old hand with nutritionists. I had a psychologist who specialized in eating issues, and she suddenly left private practice, and I had no one to talk to anymore, and I panicked. I told my regular psychologist about this and, a week later, she had a name.

With apprehension, I went to meet this new nutritionist. Every nutritionist is different but they always have charts and lists and forms and numbers. This one didn’t. She wanted to know about my dieting life, how I felt about myself–my body and my size and my weight and my eating. And she asked me what was wrong with me as I was.

Why was I at war with myself? Was I a lesser person because my body was bigger than almost everyone else’s? Did I somehow “deserve” to suffer shame, stigma, self-hatred?

I had no answer to those things. So I started to think. I thunk. It made no sense–if I was, as I clearly was, unhealthy as I was, then surely the right thing was to fight my body, hate my body, attempt to forcibly shrink my body. Surely I simply hadn’t yet–in 30 years of dieting–found the right path to force myself to finally give up eating? That’s how I thought about it–give up eating.

She pushed. She got me reading–Intuitive Eating first, then, when she felt I was ready, Body Positive Power. She got me talking to others who had similarly disordered eating. She more-or-less forced me to go on Instagram and look at some of the amazing people who share of themselves in that forum.

It worked, all of a sudden, like an earthquake. One morning I woke up and I was there. I spent an entire day and night looking at fat women and plus size clothing options on the internet. With my husband, who was not unappreciative of the new visuals.

Of course, I’m still fighting. Forty years of mental habits don’t vanish overnight. There are many bad hours and bad days. But the future is now and I am in it. My nutritionist has told me again and again that I need to tell my story.

Very few of the fat-positive, body-liberation folks on Insta are nearly as old as I am. Aging sucks sometimes, and pairing it with being an “infinifat” (a new term I learned today and find charming) is fraught with peril. I brushed her off, because, frankly, I have a life. I have an excellent job in a conservative industry. I have a wonderful marriage. I have hobbies and a social life. I don’t need, or have time for, a blogging habit. It could even hurt my career.

So why am I here? I’m here because every single goddamned time I tell a woman friend about my new perspective, they are blown away and desperate for help, advice, sympathy, you name it. Today a friend I hadn’t seen in a while started weeping when I spoke to her about body positivity and self acceptance. Last week an acquaintance with whom I went for drinks for the first time spent an hour interrogating me about the changes in me and who/what/when/where/how.

Maybe no one will ever read this story, and that’s fine. It’s helpful for me to put things down while they are fresh even if I am the only audience. But if even one person gets something from hearing about my journey, it will have been worth it. So here we go.