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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

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.