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.