I am not fat. Never have been. I could be in the future I suppose, but there are many factors that keep me thin now that I don’t anticipate changing anytime soon. In the vast bulshittery that is western understandings of the female body, I think I categorize as slender-looking or at least “average.” I’ve certainly never been told by a doctor or my peers or strangers that I am overweight or at risk of becoming so.
I mention this not to make any statements or value judgements on my own body, but rather to educate and call out those who shame fat people out of “concern for their health.” First of all, while I do not deny that “excess” weight can be detrimental to one’s health, I object to the ideas that 1) all weight that has been gained is loseable 2) that the way to encourage people to lose weight is to exclude, objectify, or shame them and 3) that the weight loss itself is the key to achieving “better health.”
I was a lucky kid. My parent’s rarely engaged in negative body talk or shame and, quite frankly, I didn’t have a lot of female friends to scrutinize myself with a la Mean Girls. I have always had some level of understanding that all bodies are good bodies and that media ideals are toxic. I honestly spent much more time worrying that because what’s on the inside mattered, my insides might somehow turn out to be evil.
On top of this relative acceptance of my body (in size, at least) I still have always had food issues. I’m allergic to several foods, I keep kosher, have attempted vegetarianism several times, and I’ve recently realized that I basically suffer from clinical picky eating or food aversion. All these restrictions both ethical, biological, and psychological mean my weight has always been in flux, mostly dropping downward at certain periods before bouncing back. (Again, I have never had an unhealthily high or low weight, this is all within a “normal” BMI).
If I go to a restaurant or an event or even to a friend’s house for dinner, I have literally no guarantee that there will be a single thing for me to eat. Even if the food is kosher and free of allergens there are so, so many foods that I simply cannot put in my mouth (trust me, I’ve tried). And this, of course, is only the start of my issues.
While mental illness is not precisely a physical impairment, many of its side effects can be quite somatic. I have had many experiences (involuntarily) throwing up meals because I could not stop the fluttering in my stomach and pain in my chest from anxiety. I often get reflux or cramps or some other type of pain if I try to eat too much when I’m panicking.
I’ve also lost many valuable calories from depression. Again, I don’t not eat to punish or change myself but I often don’t eat very much when I’m deeply depressed. If you think about it, eating is a small act of expressing a will and desire to exist. I have never dangerously starved myself or even wanted to starve myself, but I certainly have denied myself basic needs out of feeling like I didn’t deserve them or want to keep going (the same logic applies to not showering, doing things I enjoy, etc). Sometimes it’s also just a matter of not having the energy to even get up and get something from the fridge/call for a pizza/ or go out to a restaurant, much less gather the materials to cook myself something healthful.
I say all of this because I am so sick of body politics. This past semester at school I lost about ten pounds because I couldn’t eat very much at the dining hall. When I got home certain extended family members said things along the lines of “you look so skinny, you look great.” Persisting to say this (in front of a ten year old female relative) even after I had told them the way I had lost the weight. And that’s fucked up.
Beyond that I know and know of so many people who have been taught that their worth is in a dress size when literally women’s clothing sizes are not standardized at all. I own things from a size extra small to a size 16, this shit is not objective. There is so much pain and fear around even saying the word “fat.” As if it’s not just an adjective. As if it can only be used as a weapon.
Many of the ideas I have written here I have gotten from various fat activists and any mistakes in the theory are my own. What I can say with certainty, though, is that I am a thin woman who rarely exercises and often eats like shit if she eats at all. There are so many people who are vastly larger than me that are in better shape than I ever will be. My main hope is that we can stop immediately assuming that weight gain is bad and weight loss is good. Some people gain weight during happy times in their lives (going out on a lot of dates, celebrating an occasion with food, etc) and many lose weight in their darkest moments (whether from eating disorders, physical ailments, or something else).
So please, don’t judge my health on how it physically manifests (or its lack of physical manifestations.). Instead, we should see our bodies as, yes, part of ourselves, but also somewhat arbitrary vessels for the things about us that really matter. I think gonna go have a snack now.
Some resources if you want to know more:
http://theadipositivityproject.zenfolio.com/about.html [warning: this one has some nudity in the name of body normalization]
http://www.espn.com/espn/feature/story/_/page/body/espn-magazine-body-issue [warning: nudity for body normalization purposes]