Yesterday I collapsed under the pressure and took my daughter to a movie. She really wanted to see Brave for the third time but settled for the new movie Paranorman (note: it was a bit scary for a six-year-old). While overall it was a great movie with some really nice moments (loved the casual gay reference at the end of the movie), there were several moments where I winced hard. Why? Because when it came to highlighting American excess, they did it by showing fat people eating. Over and over again.
I don’t remember when I decided I was fat, but it was long before I actually was. I went on a liquid diet (the 1978 version of today’s similar diets) at age 11. This launched a 25-year pattern of dieting, binging, purging, exercise, bulimia, and dieting again. I’ve done every single well-known diet more than once. I’ve taken drugs to lose weight. When I succumbed (not entirely separate issue) to drug addiction, one of the ways I excused myself was I knew I’d lose weight. Being smaller and taking up less space has been a lifelong obsession.
Unfortunately, the end result of all this food manipulation is three things: a permanently damaged metabolism (according to several endocrinologists), a fat body, and a completely disordered relationship with food. I’ve written extensively about this at my personal blog, so I won’t get into my journey about food and dieting here, but suffice it to say that although I’ve committed to something called Intuitive Eating rather than dieting, it’s still a daily struggle.
I’ve worked hard to love this body – this plus-sized body, this body that is not merely chubby but not-fucking-around fat. I try to feed it healthy food, to move it regularly, and to cope with the powerful compulsion to eat my problems. I fail more than I succeed at all of the above.
While watching Paranorman, I felt that unique combination of anger and shame that I always feel when fat people are the butt of the joke. I felt myself shrinking in the chair at the theater and I pulled my hand away from my daughter’s popcorn, ashamed that I’d indulged in a couple of handfuls. I came home feeling like, once again, it was time to go on a diet.
Except I know one thing for sure: dieting doesn’t work for me in the long-term. I ALWAYS gain the weight back, plus about 50 pounds. In the process of dieting I become impossible to live with, hateful and obsessed with food, unable to eat in a reasonable way. I stand at the edge of parties, rigidly resisting the birthday cake or chips and dip around which everyone has gathered.
If I feel hungry, I feel like a good girl, a success, and like I’m doing it right.
It absolutely fucking sucks, and I’m not willing to do it.
I cycle through this process whenever I see fat-shaming. Which means, since I enjoy pop culture and television, it happes about 18 times a day. Shame, anger, rage, resolve. Over and over and over.
I’m writing this today because right now I’m losing the battle. I feel angry at my body, and I daydream about having something happen that would mean I became thin – such as illness or an accident or something awful, something no reasonable person would ever wish on themselves. Self-hatred is like a comfortable pair of slippers that I love to wear, and feels far more natural than loving my body as it is, right this minute, and treating it like the precious entity it is.
It is the only body I have. But right now, I absolutely hate it. Despise it. I want to shuck it off like clothing that are too big for me.
The reason I work so hard at loving the body I have is not just because, well, it’s the body I have and if I don’t love it I don’t treat it well – it’s also because I have a daughter.
I do not want her to fight this battle, and I will do everything I can in my power to keep her from succumbing to the siren song of self-hatred that most American women already have. I know it’s a losing proposition; eventually, she will believe she is fat, regardless of what size her body actually is. It’s inevitable, really.
And isn’t that the saddest thing?
In the United States, fat people often brutalize their bodies. We go on 500-calorie-a-day diets, we undergo major abdominal surgeries that have an insane risk of awful complications, we pay billions each year to the dieting industry, and even when it doesn’t work we do it again and again and again.
The news talks about the obesity crisis nearly every night, and when they do, they accompany it with stock footage of “headless fatties,” usually while they are drinking large drinks or eating unhealthy foods. Websites like People of Walmart (no, I won’t link) showcase people that are, frankly, average Americans just trying to do their damn grocery shopping.
I haven’t shopped at Walmart in years because I don’t want to end up on that website. When I see the headless fatties, I scan the images, sure this time I will see MY body. It’s fucking exhausting, and I cannot describe to you the singular terror that it is your body that will there, and you will be the one that is wrong — bad — icky.
I am told hundreds of times a day that I should be ashamed of my body, that I should hide it, that I should do whatever it fucking takes to make it smaller – regardless of the impact on my health and happiness.
Instead, this post is my attempt to turn away. Today, instead of self-hatred, I will work to embrace self-love. I will feed this body delicious and healthy food. I will take this body out for a walk. I will treat it with the care and love that it deserves as the only body I have.
More importantly, I will put down the baseball bat I am beating myself with so that I can be the mother my daughter needs me to be, I will bring her on my walk, and I will talk to her about eating healthy food. Perhaps today is the day we’ll pull up the carrots we’ve been growing in our “garden” and cook them for dinner.
I will do my best, and I will forgive this body for being fat.