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.


  1. Thanks for sharing! This is cathartic, assertive and I am glad you know you can choose to be whatever size you want. Keep rockin'!

  2. Very well done and really gets at concept of self compassion and the dialectic of self acceptance not preventing what you view as self improvement. As usually, keen insight from a wise, wise student of life.

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