Friday, August 14, 2015

It's my body, and I'll diet if I want to

Body image is a HUGE discussion topic in the media (both mainstream and social) these days. Both women and men are judged against harsh, barely-attainable standards for their appearance, with their character being called into question if they fail to meet these lofty expectations. No one particularly criteria seems to be as derisive as body size, however - those who are larger than average are considered lazy, weak, incompetent, or undisciplined. Weight-loss is praised at every turn and everywhere you look, some new diet or pill or patch is promising extreme - even unhealthy - results. (This one simple trick!)

If you've seen me - in person or in photos posted online - it's pretty immediately apparent that I am fat. This isn't self-deprecation, it's merely a fact. I don't take insult to simply being called fat, because it is a factual statement about my physical appearance. Well-meaners who tell me "oh, you're not fat!" seem patronizing to me - I'm loath to call them out on it, because I know they are trying to make me feel better about myself. But I don't NEED to feel better about myself. Being fat is part of my identity. It doesn't define me as a person any more than my skin tone, hair color, or freckles do. Yet, I'm supposed to be ashamed of it. It's not like it's any great secret, so why all the taboo associated with owning up to it? When people tell me, "oh you're not fat," what it seems to mean is "I don't equate you with any other stereotypes associated with fat people - you don't smell, you aren't lazy, you don't walk around eating burgers all day, you work, etc." The problem with this, of course, is society has assigned a set of attributes to "fat people" based on one characteristic that may or may not occur as a result of these other habits. I may be fat, but I'm a "good" fat person. I don't wallow in it. I take care of myself. I try to lose weight. This is, apparently, commendable.

But here's the thing - I don't strive to be a "good" fat person. This is not my goal in life. And I don't owe it to ANYONE to lose weight. I love the fat pride movement for spreading this message, even in the face of harsh, often cruel, criticism. A fat person has not committed a sin against society. A fat person doesn't need to lose weight so they are more pleasant for everyone else to look at. A fat person has just as much control over their body as a thin person. It may be shocking to realize that some people WANT to be fat. There are happy fat people. There are successful fat people. Perhaps most shockingly, there are FIT and HEALTHY fat people.

The flip side of this - and the teeter-totter I currently live on - is that you can accept all the above as true and still be trying to lose weight. (This has the added benefit of being scrutinized by both sides - you believe being fat is okay, but you also think losing weight is okay. Clearly, you are a plant and cannot be trusted.) Depending who I'm talking to, I have to either sound ecstatic I've lost weight, or contrite and apologetic. While the vast majority of people I choose to associate with are super supportive, the rest of society seems to be firmly in one of two camps. The obvious, larger sect claims I haven't lost nearly enough weight yet and therefore none of my success matters (and I obviously do not understand eating well and exercising because I am still large - never mind the fact I was 25 pounds larger a few months ago). The second, smaller camp is the body size appreciation movement who treat me like a traitor if I decide I want to change my fatness.

My choice to lose weight is a personal choice. I have made it for a lot of reasons, none of which are related to society's opinion that larger people, especially larger women, are unworthy. I love who I am and I love my body. But I love my body BECAUSE it's my body - which it will still be 50, 100, or 150 pounds lighter than I am now. While there are plenty of perfectly healthy fat people, I have developed high blood pressure and I want to lose weight to try and bring that down. I also enjoy running (jogging... waddling...) and having less body to lug around when I do makes it more enjoyable. It irritates me when seats are too small for me, and I'd like to avoid that discomfort. It's harder to paint your own toenails when you are fat and I enjoy having nicely colored toenails. The list goes on and on, but the important thing is they are all for MY satisfaction.

I spent a lot of years buying into the nonsense that fat women were less desirable, less admirable, less worthy. I still live in a reality where that's the prevailing belief - I simply chose not to subscribe to it. It is a difficult path - getting to a place where you love your fat body in a world telling you you shouldn't. And I have complete respect for people who have gotten to that point and decided losing weight is not for them because it means they accept themselves as they are and have decided their personal happiness is more secure at this size. But I've decided I would like to. It's hard to balance the two mindsets, but the realization that I'm doing it for me, for things I want, and valuing the journey and myself and my body along the way has helped me reconcile the debate in my head. As a life-long geek, I've frequently said I won't change my personality or my passions just to fit in, that being true to myself was more important than conforming to the crowd. If I have no reservations holding that belief with my mind, why should I struggle to extend it to my body, as well? And being true to myself means doing what I want to best increase my happiness. Right now, that means losing some weight. But if I get rid of the things holding me back before I hit "thin," then I will stop at whatever point serves me best. If I am healthy and happy and able to do the things I love without discomfort, no one's opinion of my body or my appearance is relevant. End of story.

This doesn't mean stray insults never hurt. This doesn't mean I don't get frustrated when I'm shopping for clothes and nothing fits just right. This doesn't mean I don't struggle to run, even if I like doing it. It just means I am happy - both with where I am, and with the fact I'm trying to change that. It's a process. And I can love the process.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015


I had jury duty today.

This is not a particularly notable statement - under normal circumstances, it would garner no farther response than a distracted "ah" or maybe a grunt of commiseration.

My level of anxiety about "newness" tends to augment most "normal" circumstances into unabated nightmare scenarios in which anything can - and will - go wrong. I have been summoned for jury duty three times before, but one time I was living in a different county than my legal address, and the other two times my juror number did not have to report. So this was NEW. I hadn't been there. I didn't know what to expect.

Everyone has a comfort zone. Even people who thrive on adding new experiences on a regular basis have a trusted set of familiar locations, habits, and situations. I see every new opportunity, however, as a perfect storm of unanticipated circumstances. "Going with the flow" and "letting things roll off my back" has never been my style. (I've heard both of these phrases so many times throughout of my life, I should probably cross-stitch them onto throw pillows just so I can punch them as needed.) I'm a fast learner and I pick things up quickly, but every "first" is filled with anxiety, even when it's something I want very badly or have been looking forward to. When I start something new that I really enjoy, I yearn for a time when it will be comfortable so I can focus on enjoying what I'm doing instead of the stress bred by unfamiliarity.

I realize a lot of people will identify with all or part of this. I am not alone in preferring the comfortable, and even among that subset, I am not alone in having a strong adverse reaction to these sorts of situations, a bit above normal discomfort but still slightly below full-on panic. Still, a lot of people don't understand where this comes from - especially in a circumstance like today, where the source of my anxiety was a standard, commonly-disliked obligation everyone's been reluctant to participate in in the past. The irony here is that I was no more adverse to performing my civic duty than I am to any other "new" experience. It was precisely the newness of it I was opposed to.

I rationalized everything to myself repeatedly in the days leading up to my jury duty date - most jurors are serving for the first time, or have done it so infrequently in the past they won't know the procedure any more than I will. I am not on trial. I will not be scrutinized. I can't do anything so dumb that I will derail the entire legal system of Orange County, Florida. They'll just be glad I actually showed up instead of trying to duck out with any possible excuse. And all of these things were true, of course. This didn't stop me from worrying about a plethora of opposite situations - I would get lost on the way in and be late, I would be scheduled another day for some reason and not be able to get it off work, I would be put on a long trial despite the financial hardship it would cause me with no way out, a family member would have a terrible accident and I wouldn't be released to see them... and, well, they just got more irrational from there. It's pretty amazing what an anxious mind can completely justify as reasonable, actually. The possibility of some apocalyptic scenario causing the End of Times while I was sitting in the juror lounge was not beyond my fathoming.

But you know what? I DID get lost and was a few minutes late. And it was fine. Everyone was friendly. No harm befell me, no earthquakes tore the state off its continent, no loved ones met untimely demises. I just sat in a room for four hours on my phone and got sent home with a letter proving I was there. Done.

And next time, it won't be new.

This post isn't really about jury duty. It's about my apprehension in the days leading up to it and the feeling of dread I just can't shake before I partake in something NEW. It's about not being alone in that and speaking up in a way that's hopefully a bit more constructive than whining on Twitter about not wanting to do things I haven't done before. The fear I feel is real, but it doesn't need to control me and it certainly doesn't need to dictate how I handle a new situation once it arises. There's nothing logical about this sort of anxiety, but the more I can accept that it's there and feed it with evidence I've survived new things before instead of handcrafted recipes of utter disaster, the more I can truly convince myself it's going to be okay. Things don't have to be okay NOW, I've learned - but knowing they WILL be okay can bridge the gap between "I don't know how to handle this" and "wow, I DID handle that!"

And I did.