The Fat Woman breaking point

I got feedback from the article I wrote about my Fat Women study. In the study’s opening I wrote the following:
The current discourse around fat bodies is a simple one: it needs to change. While body-positive and fat-positive popular culture movements are beginning to gain momentum, much of the change is focused around shifting from “thin” as a goal to “healthy” as a goal often underestimating the fact that in our society the two are commonly synonymous.” To which my professor wrote “Any citations here?” To which I thought, “Um yeah ‘America, two-thousand and always'”. I understood what she meant but it irked me none the less.

Later on in the evening I’d find myself capitalizing on a living social deal for two months of free Audible book rentals. I’d recently purchased Andy Cohen’s audiobook and loved it so I wondered what other ear candy I might find. Wondering if I could capitalize on lazy learning I searched the word “fat” to see if perhaps any books I came across might help me in my research. Of course, diet book after diet book. How to lose weight. “French women don’t get fat.” “Japanese women don’t get fat.” “But just in case you’re French or Japanese and accidentally get fat, here’s how to fix it!” Almost 200 books of bullshit propaganda on how to surely feel worse about yourself and look at your body as infected with some disease in need of curing.

Also, for the personal memoirs I encountered many mentioned this a-ha moment of knowing they had to lose weight for their health. With my tongue pressed firmly against my cheek, I roll my eyes. Not because health concerns relating to weight are mythical or to be taken lightly, but because far too often people (fat and non-fat) use health as a guise for discrimination and prejudice against the fat body. It feels much like the good Christian praying for my damned homosexual soul, if you follow. A little too, “Bless your [fat] heart.”

If I continue with the parallel between fat and non-heterosexual ((because in my American life if you’re not straight up Hetero, no cherry Chapstick fantasies then during any given week you’re likely on the chopping block)) then it feels a bit like diets are conversion therapy. As if the only way we know how to react to fat (LGBTQ) body/being is to change it to what we DO know and accept, thin (Hetero). Far too often we dangle health (straightness/cis-gendered) in front of fat (LGBT) people as if it is the key to happiness and a get out of jail free card from discrimination and pain. WRONG! I’m tired of that discourse. I’m tired of the unquestioned associations between healthy and thin and happy. As if the only way to obtain one is to have the other two.

And I’m perhaps most upset because for so long I bought into it. And I buy into it. I have to consciously undo the associations in my head daily, multiple times daily, so that I do not continue to punish myself mistreat myself or deny myself access to joy because my thighs touch. It becomes particularly troublesome when it comes to dating. I turn from a strong capable fiercely independent woman into an unsure insecure frightened girl in desperate need of validation. I’ve gotten better, but the messages that men like a certain type of woman who does NOT look like me, they are there. And here, in Southern California, they are blatant. And repeated. Over. And over. And over again.

And I try to remind myself of who I am. Who I really am, beyond just my jeans size. What I have accomplished what I am destined for and what I have to offer. I also affirm myself. I take photos of myself looking my best. I dress well. I carry myself in a way that is the woman I want to be, not always the woman I am. I’m not ashamed to say much of it is armor. But I am proudest because I can take it all off too. The mascara the gloss the filters the heels and slimming jeans. I can sit with myself naked in all the ways and still I can find light in my smile.

I just wish it wasn’t so damned hard for the world to do the same. To look at a me and see all the things I know I am without wanting to change me. Without seeing me as a problem to be fixed or an enigma to be prayed over for health and healing. Stop worrying about my damn blood pressure and just See me! Stop averting your eyes or stealing uncomfortable glances. Don’t qualify my beauty with “…for a fat girl.” I am worthy simply because I am. Do not wonder the secrets behind my laughter, and companionship as if I’ve stolen them from you. Love is not in limited supply.

My wish is that one day all the fat girls (and boys) women and men feel safe enough to show up. Make them see us. Make them see themselves. And for us to stop retelling the story of body hatred and body wrong-ness. Stop building the fortress around ourselves and believe that we are more resilient than the pain of other people’s insecurities being hurled in our direction. That we are stronger than the pain that reverberates in the cavern of our own being. I want us to know that we matter, we are not mistakes, and we deserve every happiness available in this life. Just the way we are.

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17 thoughts on “The Fat Woman breaking point

  1. you stole my heart with the bottom paragraph—yes we must show up in our present and our ‘we’re enough selves.’ Thanks Jess!

  2. This resonates with me, so completely. Thank you for writing it – I’ve bookmarked it. It helps to know that other people are in the same place where I am!

  3. Jess, you know how much I agree with this. Having also researched weight bias in my dissertation work, I can tell you that this “you have such a pretty face” bias is present even in helping professions. So what do you do when no one actually has compassion with out condition. Recently I was talking with a friend about some difficulties that I am having with my boss. She said “do you think he has a problem with heavy women?” Uh no, he hired me, but what the hell was my friend implying? If that is the problem what exactly should I do about it? Loose weight, and then my boss won’t be irritated by my challenges to the status quo.That we fat women don’t even have each other to rely on as our LGBTQ friends have, because as much as we hate our fat selves, we hate that other fat person too. Not only do we not protect others fat persons, we revile them, as if associating with fat people makes us fatter and even more unacceptable. So I commend you, a community of understanding and acceptance must be present first, among ourselves.
    I have a supervisee who said to me, that she and I would never have true ability to help others until we loose weight. I’m still working on that f’d up thinking.

    Keep up the good fight. Lisa

    1. I adore you so much. You may never really ever understand how much, AND you’re so right. The community is not there. Again and again I asked my research participants if communities of fat women were supportive spaces, and again and again they said NO! Or “it never came up”. This has to change. And if I have to be the one to speak first, well then…I guess I’ll be that one.

  4. Oh also there is research out there about the false link between weight and health. I think that it is in some of the research done at the Rudd Center at Yale, also in “Weight Bias, tipping the Scales of Injustice” has some of material on this. You probably already know about both of these…

  5. Thank you so much for this. I am, at 31 a Doctor of Education that runs an organization with one of my best friends, making a difference every day (read: dream job). A wife, mother, activist, with lots of friends and am well-liked and respected in my field. AND yet this, so much this. Because I am not nor have I ever been nor will I ever be a single digit size. As a media literacy “expert” I know like the back of my hand the ways all of what I see every day about what is “supposed to be” is BS. And yet still so much this. Still, even knowing I am a badass there are days when in my head the only thing I am is too fat to be human.

    1. Constant reeducuation. Its what we have to do since our environment does not yet affirm our perspective as valid. Yet. I remain hopeful. Look at the strides other marginalized groups have made in recent years. Im hopeful.

  6. Thank you! I love seeing more and more people coming to this realization. It clicked for me the night a young coworker (about 10 years my junior) admitted to me that he was enormously physically attracted to me, but wasn’t sure how to deal with those feelings because – wait for it – he’d never been attracted to a fat woman before. At that point, instead of reflecting on a new realization – that there’s potentially far more to physical attraction than body shapes – he turned the conversation to what might be keeping me from losing weight and getting fit – to figuring out how to “fix” me so he could feel comfortable about his attraction. I was so taken aback that I didn’t say all the things to him that I’d say now, starting with, “Wow! Terrific! That’s a huge step toward maturity you just made right there! When you figure out how to deal with it, look me up. Maybe you’ll be grown enough for me to care.”

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