This is gonna sound pretty strange, but: I realized I have no idea what I look like to other people. This all came about because I was talking to a friend about how I might categorize myself in the way they ask you to on online dating sites. The options are things like curvy, big and beautiful, heavyset, a few extra pounds. I am completely stumped as to which of these best fits me – mostly because I don’t think any of these fit me. What’s wrong with me, that I don’t feel I fit into any of those categories? Which category does society think I fall into? Why don’t I know?!
And this discussion reminded me that a friend at the gym commented that the camera seems to take ten pounds OFF me, instead of putting ten pounds on me the way it does for most people (actually, I think she said twenty). That seems like a flattering compliment, but it froze me in my tracks. Maybe I’m just really good at taking selfies? Or maybe I’m just super disproportionate in the head and face? Maybe I’m so focused on my small head that I ignore my giant (and thus unacceptable and unlovable) body?
This, ladies and gentlemen, is the edge of the precipice. One small step and the ground gives way. Let the shame spiral begin!
What if I look way worse than I think I do? What if I’m unappealing and unattractive to people who don’t know me? What if I think I’m smaller than I really am? What if I’m enormous and gross and everyone sees it but me? What if I’ve been deluding myself for years? What if what if what if what if……
I had a long talk last week with a friend who is struggling with the idea of trying weight loss again – even considering weight loss surgery. One of the reasons she has considered hopping back on the diet train is because she struggles to find flattering clothes (she is a fabulous dresser!). She wants to be able to waltz into any store in the mall and buy whatever cute thing strikes her fancy. Boy, do I get that! It sure would be nice.
But what I told her, and it’s something that I like to remind people of (including myself) all the time, is if something doesn’t fit, it’s not your body’s fault, it’s the clothes. And then I thought, well, isn’t the same thing true for those words meant to categorize my body? Maybe it doesn’t have to fit any of those descriptions. Maybe my body is what it is, and it’s the descriptions that need to change. Maybe I get to choose the words that define my body.
I get that on an intellectual level, but on an emotional one, I still feel pretty lousy about myself.
I could talk to you all day about how health is possible for people of all sizes, how you can’t judge someone’s health (or health habits) just by looking at them, how the sixty billion dollar diet industry wants you to hate yourself so you’ll give them your money, and on and on. But when it comes to love – because that’s what this all really boils down to, me finding someone to love me – I fall flat on my blogging face.
So, at the end of it all, this is one of those “I have no answers” posts. It’s one of those “Should I even be writing this blog if I feel this way?” posts. This is not a “Please post compliments about me in the comments” post, though. It’s more of a “Have you ever felt this way?” and “How did you get past it?” posts.
So the other day we were talking about how sometimes we can be our own worst critics. I read a quote the other day about how we are so used to the face staring back at us in the mirror, we don’t realize how beautiful we might look to a stranger. I think it’s probably true, too, that we are so used to believing certain things about ourselves, that we would be astonished to know what other people believe about us. When we might be feeling not good enough, someone else might see beauty, strength, grace, power.
Last weekend, Gilda’s Gang did a six mile training session. I’ve done so many of these, I’ve lost count. But this one was tough. My hamstrings were tight, my calves hurt, my bad foot was acting up, and I was favoring the knee that I injured years ago (see photo above). It wasn’t a good morning. At one point, I said to my walking partner, “I want to slow down.” And she said, “So let’s slow down.” And we did.
You know what? The world didn’t end. We went slower, and gradually I started to feel better. Stronger. I thought, I could walk a really long time at this pace. This is challenging but not uncomfortable. This works.
And yet I also felt like I wasn’t trying hard enough, wasn’t doing enough. I ought to be faster. I need to be able to finish the half marathon on September 21st by a certain time or else… Or else what? I’ve failed? That’s silly, because as long as I cross that finish line before the course closes, I’m still going to get handed a medal to add to my collection. If the clock says 3:30 or 3:45 instead of 3:15 or 3;00, the only person who’s truly going to care about that is me.
My doctor said to me: “Don’t be your own critic… that takes the joy out of life.”
He’s totally right. One thing that I’ve lost (and found and lost again) during my seven years as a half marathon walker is the joy of it. It’s hard work, don’t get me wrong. The hardest thing I’ve ever done – repeatedly! But there also used to be joy in it. I think I can get that back, if I take it easy, if I take care of myself.
I say to my first-time Gang members all the time that their goal should be just to finish. And this year, that needs to be my goal, too. Maybe every time I step up to the start line from now on, my goal will only to be finish. At whatever pace, at whatever time. My Personal Record (2:59:41, for those keeping track at home) will probably stand forever. And that’s not the end of the world. I’m not the same person I was in 2008.
I have believed for many years that I am only a good endurance walker if I walk fast enough, if I see a certain time on the clock. If I can’t manage that, then I’m a failure. I don’t think other people believe that about me. I think they see someone who has struggled with injury and pain, who is still out there doing it, who is still walking those 13.1 miles.
Sorry to be the one to break this to you, but slow and steady doesn’t win the race. It does finish the race, though. And that’s more than good enough.
If you had the ability to provide me with a product or service, and in exchange I would give you lots of money, that would be great, right? Now, what if you had the ability to provide me and millions of my friends with a product or service, and we would all give you lots of money? Even better, right? Apparently not. Let me explain.
I went to the mall over the weekend, because I needed to get some new trainers. I usually get my marathoning shoes online, but I really needed a new pair fast, so I went over to Dick’s Sporting Goods. And while I was there, I decided to take a stroll through the clothing department. I am always on the lookout for workout clothes, especially pants. While I’m marathon training, I like capri-length fitted pants with a zipper pocket that will hold my cell phone. This combination of features is way more difficult to find than you would probably believe… if you’re fat.
Because Nike had some super cute capri-length fitted pants with a zippered pocket that totally held my cell phone – I know, because I put my little iPhone in there and zipped it up. So why didn’t I get them? Not because they were expensive (they were, but I’m willing to pay for quality, style, and the features I want), but because they only went up to XL. A lot of times, XL is exactly my size, but that is almost never true when it comes to workout clothes.
As I was leaving the store, a employee asked me if she could help me find something. I explained that they didn’t have anything that fit me, and she proceeded to tell me that even she can’t fit in Nike’s pants – and she was a lot smaller than me (I’m guessing maybe a 10 or 12?). And then she goes on to tell me that Nike sales rep for that store is my size and she is required to wear Nike clothes when she’s on the job. Well, of course she can’t just pick up a pair of pants in the store, because they won’t fit her. So she has to special order them.
As you can see from the images throughout this post, Nike provides a really excellent selection of capri pants to people with small bodies. But if you aren’t small and want color, pattern, and style choices? Tough luck. I guess that fat Nike sales rep must wear a lot of gray and black, eh?
Why doesn’t Nike want my money? Why doesn’t any athletic clothing company want my money? Why are plus-size workout clothes either super tight, or super boxy and giant? Why can’t any company just take what they make for small people, and make those clothes available in bigger sizes? I just cannot for the life of me understand why Nike, or Under Armour, or Reebok, or Athleta, or any of the others don’t want my money and the money of other fat people who work out and need to wear something while they’re doing it.
I’ve had a bunch of people tell me I should start my own workout apparel line. And that’s a brilliant idea, except I have no idea how to go about that. And while I love the thought of a fat person creating a line like that for other fat people, I just can’t shake the idea that these companies that already exist ought to give me what I want. But apparently they just don’t want my money. Weird.
I’ve said it before, but apparently it bears repeating over and over and over:
Each of us is our own worst critic, right? Unless we’ve gotten a really horrendous haircut, the chances of someone else noticing our bad hair day is pretty slim. But when we look in the mirror? Mane disaster!
Here’s another example: If I wear a top or a dress that is even the littlest bit form fitting, I am convinced that people three states over can see my belly rolls. And while maybe they can see them, I am pretty sure they don’t see them the way I do. (Yeah, I know that feeling negatively about my belly rolls is antithetical to the spirit of BFD, but you already knew body acceptance was a journey – this is a common rest stop along the way for me.)
I read a lot of blogs and articles about fat people – those written by fat people, those written for fat people, and those written about fat people. And there is a lot of stuff out there that angers me. It makes me mad when people assume they know the health habits of fat people. It makes me mad when people make generalizations about fat people – that we are lazy, and gluttonous, and stupid, and unworthy.
There’s stuff that disappoints me, too. Like when people base their self worth on the number on the scale or the size of their pants. Like when people become obsessed with dieting and weight loss. Like when people see physical movement as a form of punishment for their dietary sins.
But the hardest part about all that reading I do? It’s the sad stuff. Story after story about the fat shaming, ridicule, and bullying that so many fat people suffer at the hands of people who are supposed to love them. It’s unbelievable, the kind of heart-breaking things that parents, spouses, family members, and lovers have said to fat people. It’s one thing for fat shaming and hatred to come from strangers (especially those who get to hide behind the powerful anonymity of the internet). But for it to come from the people who should love you the most?
It’s almost mind-boggling to me to know that this happens. I have been lucky – blessed, even – to be surrounded by friends and family who treat me with respect, dignity, and love. My parents never hinged their love on my body size. My best friends never shamed me for not being able to wear something, or for what I put in my mouth. So to all of you who have treated me decently and well, I thank you. And I hope that you extend that same courtesy and respect to all people, not just the ones you happen to love.
Okay, so tell me: Who’s your worst critic? Who has hurt your heart, your mind, your spirit, with cruel words about your appearance? Who’s opinion most affects your feelings of worth? Take this quick poll, and then share in the comments!
If I wrote in the style of those click-bait headlines, today’s post would say something like, “You won’t believe what she dared to say that no one else has the nerve to. I’m speechless!” (Have you noticed how many of those writers are ‘speechless,’ and yet have plenty to say on whatever subject they’re writing about?) Instead, I think I’ll stick with something less sensational and more accurate and tell you: A terrible woman wrote a terrible article and a UK tabloid published it because of course it was going to garner a ton of clicks. And it did not leave me speechless, because I’m going to talk to you about it right now.
Here’s the gist: A thin woman named Linda Kelsey is grossed out by fat people. That’s really the entire point. She thinks fat people, especially women, and especially young women, need to cover up their disgusting bodies because she hates looking at them. Here she is in her own lovely words:
I am unapologetically fattist. It’s unattractive, it’s unhealthy and, given the problems that being fat can cause, it should be as unacceptable as smoking.
There is so much to say about just these two sentences. First of all, I didn’t know ‘fattist’ was a word, but I’m totally gonna start using it. Second, how telling that she put the word ‘unattractive’ before ‘unhealthy.’ Because, let’s be honest, most fattists (!) don’t care about the health of fat people – they just don’t like looking at them. And third, I love that she equates a body type with a habit. My body is unacceptable to her. I should stop this disgusting habit of being fat. Wow, I wish someone had told me this before. I’m gonna stop being fat right away!
I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that she believes fat people are fat because we eat too much and move too little. Are you wondering, perhaps, if Linda Kelsey was once fat herself, and is in the 5% of people who lost a large amount of weight and has kept it off? Well, she’s not.
I don’t have a daughter, nor do I have a weight problem. I’ve always felt it was unattractive and unhealthy to be fat and I’ve always been disciplined about what I eat without ever starving myself. I love food, but even today, at 62, I am still very careful to cut back if I feel my jeans getting too tight. While I have sympathy for those with genuine metabolic conditions, the majority of today’s fatties seem simply too greedy, ill-disciplined and or ignorant to do the same.
Yep, Linda Kelsey is one of those never-been-fat people who feels justified and righteous shaming, bullying, and judging fat people. Excellent! The world definitely doesn’t have enough people like that.
You know what? I know a lot of people who feel this way, even if they aren’t brazen enough to write an article about it. They truly believe that they are thin because they are disciplined and I am fat because I’m not. They believe that I would still be at my lowest weight if I wasn’t so greedy, ill-disciplined, and ignorant. Even some people who know me very well and love me believe this, deep down. They think that if I had just been stronger, better, more focused, I wouldn’t have regained any of the weight I’d lost.
Here are some things to consider:
- No matter why someone is fat, they still deserve kindness and respect as human beings.
- You cannot suppose the health habits of anyone just by looking at their body.
- Other people do not exist to be pleasing for you to look at.
- Having a small body does not make you morally superior to people with larger bodies.
- When you make assumptions about fat people – including those in your life, including those you love, including me – you are really no better than Linda Kelsey.
The Daily Mail only published this article because they knew it would drive a ton of traffic to their site. They knew it would get people fired up (you’re probably not surprised to hear that the majority of the commentors on this article agreed with Linda and admonished fatties for just laying on the couch eating junk food all day). At first glance, it doesn’t seem to do anything other than raise the profile and profit margins of The Daily Mail.
But if talking about this nasty bit of news makes even one person stop and consider the ways in which they have judged and shamed someone for their body, then it has actually done some good. If reading this article makes you pause and consider the assumptions you make about fat people, then it has done a lot of good. If Linda’s words make you never, ever want to be like Linda, then I’ll call that a win.
No, it’s not my birthday (that’d be December 2nd, if you’re keeping track). But it’s the birthday of Big Fit Deal! I started this little experiment two years ago. I published my first post on July 5, 2012. I can’t believe it’s been two years already!
In the past two years, I’ve written 292 posts.
In the past two years, we have collectively posted 1,139 comments.
In the past two years, the site has garnered over 29,000 views.
Those are pretty impressive numbers! But I want to do more. I want to reach more people, talk to more people. I want more people to realize that fat shaming and hate are not acceptable. I want more people to start on the journey to body acceptance and love. I want more people to just flat-out start treating everyone with respect, no matter what they look like, what their health status is, or how they choose to live their lives.
Look, I know BFD is a very small fish in a very, very big pond. But I believe in the message as much today as I did two years ago. And with your help and support, I know that over the next two years, we can spread that message further and farther. Together we can make the world a happier, healthier, nicer place to live in.
Thanks for joining me on this journey!
What do you do when things aren’t going the way you want them to? If you’re feeling blue, furious, hopeless, enraged, how do you handle those emotions? Do you curl up in bed with the covers over your head? Eat a pint of mint chocolate chip? Practice deep breathing? There are probably as many ways to deal with negative feelings as there are people on this planet.
Me? I like to sweat, sing, and vent to friends. And while those things help, I have also tried to find some kind of motto, maxim, or mantra (why do all those words start with M?!) that I can repeat to myself to help focus my thinking and calm my mind and heart.
I’ve used a few over the years, but they’ve never seemed quite right. As an example, I like the idea of “go with God,” but what if you’re an atheist? “Go with the universe” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it. “One day at a time” is another good one, but still not quite what I need.
My friend Tanya started a website, Zen of Tanya. (She even interviewed me!) And last week, she posted something that really struck a chord in me. In honor of our recent American holiday, she wrote about freedom. And in that post she talked about the Zen concept of Mind Like Water. I’ll let her explain it to you:
Water is the ultimate representation of zen – put something in the way and water will simply flow around it. Contain it and it will either continue to fill that container until it overflows, or slowly escape by evaporating and rejoining the waters of the world through the cycle that governs all water – regardless of form.
I love this! This is motto/maxim/mantra I’ve been waiting for! I want to have a Mind Like Water, to have something put in my way and let my mind and heart simply flow around it. And this isn’t just about the minor, everyday annoyances of life, like that person driving slow in the passing lane or no open swim lanes in the pool at the gym.
This is about the big stuff, and how I deal with it. Stuff like dealing with fat shaming and hatred and having the energy to fight it, worrying about the health and happiness of my loved ones, fretting that my future husband has completely lost his way and will never find his way to my doorstep. (All of which I have dealt with over the past few days, and, in fact, deal with on most days of my life.)
Fear, shame, loneliness. Those are big rocks. But if I make my mind like water, it flows around them. It even has the power to change those rocks, to smooth their rough edges. Mind Like Water. I even love the sound of it.
How do you handle the big rocks in your path? Share in the comments!
I want you to pretend you’re hearing me say this with one of those rich, resonant movie trailer voiceover voices: Would you give up everything you have… for everything you’ve ever wanted? Yeah, that’s a tagline from a 90s comedy that I am pretty sure I never saw, but for some reason it’s stuck with me.
I was reminded of it the other day when I read a post where a fat woman said that, given the choice, she would choose her same body.
I’m a 300 pound woman with rights, talents, aspirations, guts and an outspoken mind. If I had the choice, I would pick this body again and again. This body is resilient and soft. It is radical and political in a world that has made it that way.
And that got me to thinking: If I could be thin, would I choose to?
Sounds crazy, right? I mean, who wouldn’t want to be permanently thin if given the option? (No, I’m not going to get into a discussion about how it is possible, if fat people would just try hard enough. Trust me, I’ve tried hard enough.)
The truth is, I would choose it. If a genie popped out of a bottle right now and granted me three wishes, one of them would be to have a thin, healthy body for the rest of my life. (Can I just tell you, the idea of genie-granted wishes kind of freaks me out, because I imagine you really ought to write them down so you can include all the caveats by which the genie might try to screw up your wish – hence my including that important little bit about my thin body also being healthy.)
Do I think all of my struggles would end if I was skinny? Of course not. Do I think I’d have better clothing options, more possible-future-husband options, better healthcare, more respect? You betcha. I guess it might sound contrary to the theme of Big Fit Deal, but as I’ve told you before, I’m nothing if not contrary.
Now, if I had to give up something important – loved ones, talent, intelligence, kindness, generosity, loyalty, humor – in exchange for a permanently thin body? Then I would tell the genie to be on his way (after he granted me some money, health and happiness for my loved ones, and a loving husband, of course. Ha!). Because the fundamental ways in which I am me are more important than the size of my body any day.
Which begs the question: Would I still be who I am if I didn’t have this body?
Okay, your turn. If you could wake up tomorrow and have your ideal body, would you? What if it meant giving up something fundamental that makes you who you are? Would you still be you if you had a different body?
Some people have told me that they don’t like it when I talk about negative things here at BFD. They like the happy posts, the ones where I share inspiring stories or talk about something good that happened. I think that we have a fundamental disagreement about what inspiring means. Because when I get fired up, worked up, and outraged by something, I find that inspiring in a very important way. Here’s an example.
Last week, The New York Times ran an opinion letter from advice columnist and author who is upset about fat people – young girls in particular. She says things like “I wish we could change the depressing fact that one of three kids is overweight or obese” and “Our world is not one-size-fits-all, and yes, XL is O.K. But when a girl is XXXL (or, for that matter, emaciated), I don’t think: Let’s not talk about it.”
First of all, what world is Carol Weston living in where we aren’t constantly talking about body size? You can’t turn on a talk show or open a magazine or click on a news site without seeing something about how people’s bodies are wrong and we really need to do something about it. And second of all, why is it that so many thin people think that fat people don’t know they are fat? I am quite aware of the size of my body, and I don’t need a thin person to remind me. Pretty sure that “emaciated” people feel the same.
So anyway, The New York Times asked people to respond to Ms. Weston. Great! An open dialogue! I submitted a response, as did several fat- and body-positive writers whom I admire and follow. Do you want to guess how many of our letters were chosen for publication? Did you guess zero? You win a prize!
There were a few okay comments, about genetics and biology and how shaming is wrong. One writer even attempted to mention Health At Every Size (but got the name wrong). But most of it was stuff like this:
- Better advice would have focused on seeking expert help from a health care professional trained in obesity.
- The hard truth is that a healthy meal is more expensive than a double cheeseburger at McDonald’s.
- I’m one of those old-fashioned women who refuses to believe that, given the choice, a woman wouldn’t rather wear a size 10 than a size 16.
- Obesity is a public health problem, and it will take a committed approach involving many sectors.
- It is up to pediatricians and family doctors to recommend more exercise, smaller portions and less processed food to overweight children.
It’s the same garbage over and over: Fat people need to be told they are fat. All fat people overeat unhealthy foods and don’t exercise, and we need to make them stop doing that. We need to band together to make fat people skinny. Not one mention of the fact that it’s nearly impossible to do that. No mention of the fact that there are plenty of thin people who overeat unhealthy foods and don’t exercise. Just the usual hand wringing, misinformation, and worry that does nothing to make the lives of fat people any better.
The New York Times proclaimed to want to have a discussion about “obesity,” which to me meant hearing many voices – including and especially fat voices (and not just fat voices who support the diet industry and fear fat). But by the responses they chose to publish, it’s clear that they never intended to have a true discussion. Carol Weston is really worried about fat teenagers, and while the Times published a response from a teenager, she began her reply, “I’m 16 years old and not obese.” Where are the fat teenager voices?
Fat voices are silenced in so many ways. There was an “obesity” conference in Canada a couple of weeks ago. Want to see what one of the panels of experts looks like? And here are some “warriors” in the fight against obesity. Here’s what I said to the doctor who posted those pictures, and his response.
They don’t want us to speak. If we don’t speak, then concerned thin people and thin “obesity” experts can continue to insist that we don’t know we’re fat, can continue to assume they know what we eat and how we move, can continue to wring their hands about how wrong we are. If we don’t speak, billions of dollars can continue to be made from people hating their bodies.
I don’t know about you, but I’m going to continue to write, talk, speak, shout. I will make my voice heard. I will not be ignored, and I will not be silenced. This discussion is about me, and you can be I’m going to be part of it.
What do you do when someone who loves you says something that really hurts you? Let’s say you’re in a relationship, and suddenly your partner confesses they aren’t attracted to you any more because you’ve gotten fat. Ah, the dreaded F word! While I hope that we are moving toward a world where the word ‘fat’ is just a neutral adjective used to describe a body type, it’s currently still loaded with negative connotation and emotion. So, what do you do when your loved one wounds you with this word and these feelings?
Now, going on a diet might seem like a logical solution. Your partner thinks you’re too big, so you should make an attempt to get small, right? You could certainly try that. If you restrict your food intake and increase your exercise, you’ll almost certainly get smaller… for awhile. As we’ve discussed time and time again, weight loss is only sustainable in the long run for a small portion of people. (See here for a great discussion about this.) So, you can punish your body for its supposed failures, but that’s probably not a permanent solution. And, honestly, when’s the last time trying to change something because you hated it led to a positive result?
You know that old nugget about “you can never really love someone until you love yourself”? That is totally true about your body, too. You can’t force someone to find you attractive, but if you are projecting body hate and shame, you can bet your partner (or your potential partner) senses that. Why should they accept, appreciate, and love your body if you don’t? You can’t control someone else’s feelings, but you can control your own – so start thinking about how you can learn to first accept and hopefully one day love your body. It starts with you.
Hard truth? It’s not easy. Even if your loved one is sitting right next to you on the body acceptance bandwagon, learning to be okay with your body can be really tough. Body acceptance is definitely a marathon, and not a sprint. And during a long race you need support, you need encouragement, you need the right fuel to keep you going. Some of that fuel can come from outside sources (check out the body positive links on the left!), but getting support from those closest to you can be crucial.
But what if your partner is not sitting right next to you on the body acceptance bandwagon? What if your loved one is the one doing the shaming, spreading the hate, using the F word? Start with trying to explain to them just how much their words hurt. Conversations like that can be really hard, but they are so important. You aren’t going to get anywhere – in your relationship with your body or with that other person – if you just stay silent. To the other person, silence usually means acceptance and agreement.
And if your partner continues to be mean and cruel? Well, then it might be time to evaluate if they are the right person to share your life with. Here’s the thing: There is only one person who is going to be with you for your entire life, and that’s you. Even if you’re married for 75 years, your relationship with yourself is the first and last you will ever have. So, you have to choose: Is it worth it to spend your time with someone who doesn’t love you as you are? That question applies to yourself, too! You can always find another partner, but you will never have another you.
There is absolutely nothing easy about any of this. Breaking out of the mindset that fat makes you unworthy and unlovable, makes you not good enough, is a very difficult thing. Couple that with hearing those messages from the person you love most, and you’ve got a recipe for self-loathing and shame. Try to be kind and patient – with your partner, but mostly with yourself. You are worthy, and you are lovable. Learn it, believe it… and hopefully, your loved one will learn it and believe it, too.