Both Side of the Fat
I've had this post brewing in my head for some time now and I think it's super important to talk about. My intention is to get all my many thoughts into one post so that we can have a full discussion together, but we shall see.
I'm going to talk about being a cis-gendered woman today, because that is what I know about. I welcome the stories about trans women or queer cis men or whatever you may be! Please, message me if you have a story to tell and I'll post it.
My goal here is to be so extremely frank about myself and my body and the many ways I've felt and thought about this hunk of flesh I've inhabited for almost 37 years now. I promise not to hold back and to say the things I'm ashamed of feeling and I'm hoping that, by being totally honest and out there, many of you will relate and feel a bit freer in the process. I'm hoping that we can start talking more about the things we're not supposed to.
I think most women living in our society have an extremely complicated relationship with our bodies. We're raised in a world that tells us our bodies are not our own. We're told to have self-esteem, but not too much now, but that esteem is actually predicated on the male gaze. We're told to be pretty, but we're told we're distracting to boys. We're told to be pure while we're called frigid teases OR we're told to be sexual objects while we're called sluts. We're judged if we get pregnant too young or too old or not at all or we, the horror, terminate a pregnancy, and, while pregnant, we're judged for every drop or morsel that enters our mouths, for how little or how much we sleep or exercise or work or rest. I should talk about skin color too, but that's a post for another day.
And we're consistently told to fit into one perfect unattainable figure: Be thin, but not too thin. Have curves and asses and boobs, but not bellies or even lots of muscles, and, OF COURSE, don't be fat. Fat is the bad word. For fat is the aberration that society cannot seem to control. They can slut shame us and rape us into submission, but, despite the patriarchy's best efforts, women still have the audacity to be fat.
This is where I should do an anthropological study of controlling women and our bodies, but instead I want to do an anthropological study of myself and my own history of my body, of my mother's body, of the bodies of the women I've known in my life.
I've lived as an extremely skinny child and woman and I currently live as a fairly fat woman. I think it's important to note that, according to sizing standards (which are hopelessly arbitrary), I'm on the small side of plus size. I only say this to acknowledge that the bigger you are and the more space you inhabit, the more society disapproves and, thus, the more discrimination and struggles and frustrations you face. I recognize that, as a (roughly) size 16 woman, I still retain some privileges not afforded to women bigger than I. (And if such a women wants to tell her story here, please contact me - I'd be happy to post it)
My mother was a tiny person before I knew her. She wasn't just thin; she was very petite, maybe 5'2"? Minus the boobs, I fit into her wedding dress and her prom dress when I was 11. I may have been a thin teen, but I was always gangly, the makings of a tallish woman.
My mom was 31 when I was adopted, an age which seemed ancient to me as a kid and now seems SO young, but I digress.
|My first Christmas|
By the time I came along, she'd settled into the weight she'd be for most of my childhood and she blamed a lot of things for her weight gain, including birth control she took in the time between her wedding and when my dad shipped out to Vietnam and her miscarriages, but it could be as simple as family genetics and plain getting older (also remember I'm not physically related to her so my bodily experience was different). Who knows?
Her weight was a constant theme of my childhood. She hated her body and I constantly heard the message that she USED to be beautiful and thin. She always told me how fat she was and how lucky I was to be very thin (my perspective on that later). And she was always dieting and, honestly, despite the large coke she drank every day (this was the 80s after all), she barely ate anything, yet she never lost weight and I was left to watch and learn.
By contrast, I hated being little. I associated it with being weak and dorky. I was so behind the developmental curve that I had to sit in a car booster seat until I was 8 years old, something I was humiliated by. The activities I participated in were no problem for little me (dance classes, theater, swimming, etc), but I wanted to be like my older cousin and tried out for soccer in the 4th grade. EVERYONE told me I was too little. I was told I was too wimpy and, to add insult to injury, I was called WIMPY WIMPY WIMPY just like in those trash bag commercials (I LOATHE that they've revived those recently).
UGH just hearing that brings back the tears.
So, yeah, I hated being small, but, as they say, I persisted. I just prayed for the day that all the older women in my life told me would come: puberty. But that day came much later for me than the rest of my peers.
|Check out those knees and feet!|
The women in my adoptive family all developed early, got their periods at 10 and 11 years old. The girls around me were doing puberty at 12. And I kept waiting. I didn't get my period until I was nearly 14 and then, when one boob started developing, the skin hurt so bad that I convinced my hypochondriac mom I had a tumor and my pediatrician had a great big laugh.
And, despite the promises of older women, those boobs never really amounted to much. I think the promises of older women of how we'll all look after puberty is totally bullshit, BTW. Can we stop telling children just what they'll be one day? You don't fucking know. On one hand, maybe we'll grow up to be flat chested or fat and, on the other, maybe we're trans or queer or don't want children or WHATEVER it is that makes us feel like disappointments. Just stop with that shit.
Okay, sorry, tangent again.
So, as a young teen, where did that leave me? I hated being a skinny wimpy late bloomer (with bad skin and bad teeth too, btw), but I also grew up hearing how bad it was to be fat and I read the same beauty magazines my friends did which told us how to diet, but also how to be strong but curvy (it was the early 90s) and I just wanted to be Cindy Crawford, but I felt more like a child than ever, especially when my mom made me wear my Care Bear one-piece swim suit to the Jr High pool party.
Those were tough years in general.
I was a cheerleader, which meant I was a flyer when I was on the shorter side, but as I shot up a few inches, that meant I was too tall for that role. So I was made a base and a spotter, but, again, skinny me, with no muscles or fat, wasn't too suited for that either and so I was made to do weight training. Which, honestly, I kind of liked! I liked getting a little muscle and my body started looking like something other than skin and bones. Now, I was still a skinny little shit, but I started to feel a little more womanly, if just barely.
As I progressed through my teens, I was still that girl who would down a giant burrito in minutes and feel like I was "lucky" that I didn't really gain weight, but I still agonized over the skin rolls in my belly when I sat down. Skin. I agonized over having skin. How wrong is that? But then I prayed for the boobs and the butt that never seemed to come.
|Me and my gay bestie at the prom|
And then my mom started having concerns that I'd get fat. Just as I started to like my changes, she did not. Because she always projected herself on me (insert long story of her mental illness here), along with that came her own insecurities and self-loathing. I think she feared that if I gained any weight at all, I'd never stop (the horror, the horror). And she'd pinch the skin around my waist and say, "If I can pinch an inch, it's too much."
So, yes, my feelings about my body were complicated. Also, it's worth noting that some of my very closest friends struggled with their weight. Maybe today they'd call themselves fat, but that's not my label to give. But I never thought of them as less-than in any way. They were my friends. They were young women who I loved to spend my time with, who were there for me and me for them. I never thought of their bodies (though I know they did). And I'm sure my comments about the skin on my belly was hurtful to them. Isn't that what it's like to be a woman? You hurt yourself and love others, not realizing that your own self-harm is hurting those you love in the process? I'm sorry, sestras, for the dumb things I said when I was young.
I then spent most of my young adult years and 20s stressing about my body. I gained quite the booty, which I liked, but not boobs, which I disliked, and, while I was never much of a dieter, I abused my body with poor nutrition (as in, sometimes I only ate junk and sometimes I didn't eat at all) and partying and drinking too much. I had small yo-yos of weight (we're talking maybe 15-20 lbs up and down) and I went through phases of activity, back to the dance classes and swimming laps I loved so much, and then periods of partying and inactivity. And I started learning that you can feel thin, but you're supposed to call yourself fat. That was the currency of being a young woman.
|Thin does not equal healthy|
Back to my mother, who became physically disabled when I was a teen (another long story) and, thus, had gained significant weight in the meantime. She struggled to walk due to her disability and, in the early 2000s, my family found itself at Disneyland and on It's a Small World, my mom's favorite ride. It was a struggle just to get her into the boat for the ride, but getting her out was going to be close to impossible. And as I was literally underneath her, pushing up on her ass as the cast members pulled her up from above, I had a moment of deep shame. I'm not supposed to say how horrifyingly embarrassed I was. I'm not supposed to say that I swore to myself that that would never be me, that I would never find myself in that position. But I was so ashamed.
And, I do feel guilty for that. I don't feel guilty for having negative feelings about my mother per se. She was abusive in so many ways and so my sympathy for her is wafer-thin. But I do feel guilty for having those thoughts about disability and mental illness and fat. I feel guilty because those are not bad things to be. But nonetheless, I felt badly about them at the time.
I also want to talk about my relationship with food, which I was just discovering during my twenties. Turns out, I was a stress starver. Some people eat their feelings; I eat for pleasure and starve myself when I'm stressed or depressed. And this is when my relationship with my mother began bubbling up. I was having lots of insomnia and sleep paralysis due to repressed memories of my abuse. And I also tried to come out as bisexual and was dealing with leaving the repressive religion I was raised in. Talk about stress! My body followed suit. I'd have bursts of happiness and freedom and I'd eat and then I'd swing the other way and stop eating. I started to feel crazy (please excuse the ableist term, but this is the term I used at the time).
Then, in my late 20s, I got extremely thin. First, there was a short period after college (I graduated at 27) where I didn't have enough money to eat and literally just starved. Then I developed Celiac disease (which wouldn't be diagnosed for years) and so I was living pretty sick on a regular basis and not getting the nutrients I needed and the weight just dropped off (this is NOT a recommended diet, btw). Coincidentally, I also started therapy during that time to address how stressed out I felt all the time and I had this theory that my stress was what was making me feel physically sick all the time. Turns out I was stressed because I'd repressed years of abuse and I was sick all the time because I have an autoimmune disease.
|I was smiling, but sick all the time|
There is a point to all this I promise: and that is that sometimes getting physically and mentally healthy means being fat.
How did I get there? In short, my thirties have been the most growth of my life (pun intended). First I was finally diagnosed with Celiac Disease and I spent literal YEARS learning what that means and how to eat (and gaining the weight back). Second, I moved away from Southern California, aka the land of the perpetual diet. Moving away from the shackles of Hollywood meant just less scrutiny on my weight, no joke. All of society is affected by the pressures to be young and thin, but SoCal is like a microcosm of that. Third, YAY THERAPY! And because of therapy, I finally got out of the latest emotionally abusive relationship and met a decent man and began the first healthy romantic relationship I've ever had.
Remember when I said I'm a happy eater? Well not only did I finally eat food that my body can digest (and discovered really delicious and fatty GF desserts and breads, no shame), but the last 5+ years have been the happiest of my life, which means that I'm eating more and I'm eating for pleasure. My fiance (yes, 5 years later, we're engaged) loves to cook and I love nothing more than the mouth orgasms that come from the enjoyment of flavor and texture. If I didn't have a disease that prevents me from eating absolutely fucking everything, I'd be a food writer! Because I fucking love food.
|Credit: Coco McKown Photography|
In short, I've gained roughly 50 or 60 lbs in the last 5 years. I don't know the exact number because I stopped reading scales last year. Because fuck scales.
Is food why I am the weight I am? Maybe. Maybe I'm also less active than I used to be. Maybe I'm getting older and my metabolism is slowing. Maybe all the women in my biological family plump up as they age, only I don't know it because I've never met them. Maybe it's all of the above.
And, ya know? I'm 37 and this is my body. I exercise when I can and I don't when I don't want to. And I have an ass and a belly and cellulite and I finally have a 36C cup and sometimes I FUCKING HATE IT and sometimes I love it! It's often been a struggle. In the years where I found myself in a body I didn't recognize, I'd find myself in a sobbing puddle on my closet floor because none of my clothes fit anymore. Or I'd laugh at some old asshole who asked when my baby was due (my answer: not pregnant, JUST FAT!)
But most times, I feel mature and curvaceous and bootylicious and womanly. I like having what boobs I do have and I don't want to give them up if I don't have to. I like my plus size clothes and I don't want to buy all new ones. I like that I can have a waist and an ass and enjoy fashion and dress how I want.
And I do know that, even though I'm not always pleased with my body and I still have a lot of insecurities about my belly fat and some days I can't find an outfit that I feel good in, I am a happier person now!
Change is hard. It's hard to lose weight and it's hard to gain weight. It's hard to be a woman with a body. But I'm happier! I'm happier being fat. I am. I don't always love it, but I am always happier. I am literally fat and happy. While we're at it, can we decide that fat isn't a bad word? As long as fat is a bad thing to be, it will be an insult! Instead, I proudly say I'm fat. If you don't like it, go fuck yourselves. And isn't that audacious? Being unapologetically fat is a revolutionary act.
Being a woman with a body that doesn't exist for anyone but herself is a revolutionary act.
So, friends, take it from here. Tell me about your bodies. I don't care how big or little your body is! Let's just talk about it with NO JUDGMENT. The first comment that body shames will be deleted and the user banned.