Sunday, November 14, 2010

On Being Fat and Happy

While I have been fat for as long as I can remember – I was blessed to grow up mostly free of comments about my weight or appearance in both my home and my larger community.  I never was popular, had boyfriends or dates, or was picked anywhere close to first on the playground. However, I think that had more to do with my shyness and uncertainty as a child rather than my fatness – as in retrospect I can remember a number of other fat kids during my school years that were popular/had boyfriends/were active in sports.  At home I was never made to feel shamed for my weight – neither by my parents or my brothers.  I can count on one hand the number of memories I have during my childhood of being ridiculed for my weight or appearance by anyone - and many of those times - there was someone else who came to my defense. I realize that is not the norm and I am so thankful to have not had the damaging influences of bullying or shaming present in my childhood. 

I didn’t grow up watching many modern movies or television shows. There were no celebrity magazines in our house. So that unachievable idea of a body type was not always present in front of me. I, of course, recognized that my body was bigger and different than most of my peers – and at times wished it would be skinnier – but I never really struggled with self-image to the degree that you'd mark it down as a life struggle. Although - I do remember being a young high schooler and thinking, "It's like I have the opposite of anorexia. They look in the mirror and see fat and ugly even though they're skinny and I see pretty even though I'm fat." I look back on the memory and can't believe that I thought it was WRONG for me to be happy with myself because obviously I had some mental illness to think I was pretty when I was fat. I remember being happy to see fat people who were married or who had kids as they were proof that a body of my size could be loved. 
When I had my first boyfriend in college I remember once asking him if the fat bothered him, he immediately answered that it didn’t. He was always willing to display simple signs of affection in public – and while I’m not very comfortable with PDA in general – to have someone’s romantic interest in me and my plus-size body publicly validated in that way was life affirming.  When we were hanging out just the two of watching movies of whatever – it was nice to have someone who wanted to cuddle up next to my body – who was not repelled by rolls of fat.  While the relationship eventually ended, the years I spent with him were life-changing in how I viewed myself and what I thought of other people’s perceptions of me.  While I had not struggled on great levels with my body-image before that relationship – afterwards I had an even stronger body-image and idea of who I was as a woman simply from the simple affirmation of being treated as someone who was desirable. 

It wasn’t until a couple of years after that relationship ended that I started learning about Health At Every Size (HAES) and Fat Acceptance (FA). Two of my longtime friends both began to post about the ideas in their blogs around the same time. (Lauren and Katie– though they don’t know each other as far as I know.)  At first I resisted – thinking, “Nice idea. But I know I’m unhealthy and lazy and would be better if I were thin.”  But as I read more and really thought about it I began to ask, “Wait, why do I think I’m unhealthy?”  I was active, energetic.  My blood pressure was great. I slept normal hours. I could climb stairs. I ate more healthy than a lot of skinny people I knew. I didn’t have any complaints. The only reason I thought I was unhealthy was because I was fat. So, I started researching more into HAES and FA and slowly embraced the philosophy. (And discovered Fatshionista land - - and developped an expensive love of clothing - but that's another post!)

As I guess is the norm, where I didn’t use to see the oppression and marginalization of fat people – once I became more aware of the social cause surrounding it I couldn’t stop seeing it. Everyone from the first lady to TV chefs are fighting obesity like it is the end of civilization in and of itself. I’m all for eating healthy and being active – it’s part of HAES – but sometimes when you eat healthy and are active – your body stays big and sometimes it gets super skinny. (For what it’s worth – I’m as against people commenting on skinny bodies as I am people commenting on fat bodies.)   That’s where FA comes in – regardless of health – people have a right to live in this world in their bodies. When you start paying attention to what people say about fat people – especially when they are cloaked with the anonymity of the internet – it is astounding the type of hate people spew against people with fat bodies.  

On a more subtle level – fat-hatred pervades our society. Just try and go out to lunch with a group of women and not have the subjects of diets or hating certain parts of your body come up. It’s part of the rights of bonding in our culture – to participate in the public shaming of our bodies.  If it’s coming from someone I know well I’ll try to respond with a body-affirming statement – if I’m in a group that is relatively new to me – I usually just stay quiet. 

Capturing memories at my brother's wedding. November 2009
It was around this time last year when I knew I had really become HAES/FA.  A photo of me was tagged on facebook from my brother’s wedding. It’s a picture of me standing in a line of photographers taking pictures of the bride and groom.  My first thought on seeing it, “What a cool picture!” as I don’t have many candid shots of myself just living life – I’m almost always posing or goofing off. Only later did I notice my back roll and my large arm in full display in the picture. My arms have always been the least favorite part of my body – and the part that I still struggle to accept. But there it was – my arm with its full and droopy flab- front and center – and it didn’t make me cringe. It’s my arm. It lifted a camera and held it while I captured memories on my brother’s wedding day. I love the picture. 

This is a subject that I’d like to become more open with and talk about more both in my blog world and in real life – so if you have any questions  about HAES/FA or my own personal journey being the fat girl and how that’s impacted my life – I’d love to answer them.  I’m also preparing a post on Fat Acceptance within Christianity. I fully believe that the Christian culture is one of the worst at shaming people with large bodies. Just this morning a guest preacher said from the pulpit, “maybe as part of your Christian life you need to commit to joining a gym or hiring a trainer” – and while I recognize where that idea comes from I think it’s a tragedy and is mostly the result of our society and not the study of scripture. So if you have something to say/ask in conjunction with being a fat Christian – that would be great as I prepare that post.


  1. As someone who has struggled with the whole "hating my body" issue, I envy ppl their confidence in their body no matter what their size. For me, that's why FA or HAES appeal to me. Over the years I have seen your self-confidence and wanted to be more like you in that respect so I'm so happy for you that you have such a rare gift of acceptance of yourself. A lot of ppl don't have that. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on Christianity and body image.

    And for what it's worth I love that picture of you too. I don't think I've ever looked at a picture of you and thought "fat". You're just Nicole to me. :) now if I'm in the picture I might think "fat" but those are my own issues to deal with.

  2. I admire your self-confidence. It has been eye-opening to follow your journey towards HAES. I've learned so much. Thank you.

    I personally feel that the rejection of "fat people" in the Christian church is just one more sign of the focus on the external over the internal. As long as your life (or body) appears "perfect", it really doesn't matter what's going on inside.

  3. Thank you for sharing this, it's fascinating to me (esp as one who has struggled with body image issues all my life). I would like to learn more about the HAES; I think it would be wonderful to see you write about what it is and what it is not. It is embarrassing to admit it now, but know when I first heard the term a couple years back that I figured it was trying to glamorize eating whatever one pleased, no matter how bad or in what quantities, and living an extremely sedentary lifestyle. But the more I have gleaned, the more I realize that my initial perceptions way off base and many people who embrace the HAES philosophy are healthy individuals who eat sensibly and are as active as anyone else.

    Thank you for modeling that for me personally!

    I love that you are going to tie this in with modern Christianity. I think the message varies widely among different groups, but in my experience in my former church the message that "skinniness is next to godliness" was heavily touted. You were expected to be skinny and beautiful because that's what made Christianity appealing to people (isn't that sick?). Of course the message seemed to be most strongly directed at wives. Wives were expected to be skinny for their husbands because if they weren't, they were "asking for" an affair.

  4. Excellent! I'm looking forward to your posts on this, especially from the Christian perspective.

  5. Mindy and I have been more health/weight conscious lately. We enjoyed your reading your post.

    Mindy and I love that picture of you, and had never noticed the fatness until this post. It's one of our favorites from our wedding, as well. Becky did a great job capturing those kinds of moments. We're glad you like it!

    As your brother, we never talked about your weight much. I suppose the only thing in my mind was your health. You mentioned your blood pressure is good and your energy level high, and you eat healthy.

    I was just curious if you've ever asked a [trusted] physician their opinion about it? What do they say about the obesity?

  6. I'm glad you are documenting this time in your life. I too look forward to reading your posts about HAES from a Christian perspective. I was listening just yesterday to a sermon where the pastor referenced the importance of weight loss a few times. While I do value health and taking care of one's self, I believe that as a whole the Christian community has went completely secular in their viewpoints of body image. It brings to mind the scripture in 1 Samuel 16:7.

  7. Really great post Nicole. Thank you for writing it. I was always skinny,it was just how I was. After having kids I am not considered skinny,but I am learning it's okay. You are right, being skinny is not always healthy. Looking forward to more posts.

  8. Awesome post! I've learned so much about HAES and FA over the past couple years. I think they are both excellent and it's sad more people aren't aware of them.I think it's especially bad in Christian circles. It's sad how shallow the church has become in many ways.