“Are you going to let the shame of imperfection keep you quiet or in your shoes?”
I had an interesting exchange with my godsister yesterday. I sent her a photo of an outfit I was wearing and she commented that she loved the outfit and that I was looking skinny. I told her no I wasn’t, it was a facade and she said “ugh okay whatever” obviously annoyed at my inability to “take the compliment.” Here’s the thing though, why is looking skinny a compliment?
Granted, my reaction was steeped in fat-positive and fat studies material swirling around in my head that has inherently made me question so much about internalized fat bias and thin-normative comments/microaggressions that my knee-jerk reaction was perhaps a bit unfair. Rather than jump on a soapbox, I ended up just saying thank you, but I took to social media to detail the exchange.
It was harmless, right? She was just trying to be nice? It was a compliment, right? But why was it a compliment, that is the bigger question. If, being a black woman someone saw a photo of me and said, “Wow you look so pretty and white in that photo.” Would it still feel harmless? Would it still be nice? Would it still be a compliment?
Some will argue saying that I cannot equate fat-ness with race or gender or sexuality. That one is a choice that you can change. Remember how once upon a time that was the exact same discourse we had for the gay lesbian bi- trans (gender/sexual) community? And I get it. People feel exhausted by social justice. People feel it stifles them and makes it hard to connect because we have to be so careful with our words, our thoughts, our language. We try so hard not to offend or isolate. I sincerely think that people in general are good. We want to do good and we have good intentions.
Social justice or the point of bringing attention to social injustices is not to overwhelm you or stifle or sever us. It is to say, hey we are all different in certain ways. Be sensitive to me and my differences and allow me to be sensitive to yours. Understand that though my physical attributes tell a cultural story that story is not the entirety of my being. Social justice says ask. Social justice says empathize. Social justice says think. Social justice asks for intention. Social justice champions difference, but let it be known that just because we are all different (and even our differences are different) that we all have access to the full range of human emotion, that we all have the capacity for compassion.
I hold all of that. I hold the piece of understanding the context my sister sits in: a society, a world, a time where thin is the given ideal. However, thin is not my chosen ideal. And in that moment the two were dissonant and caused a type of friction. And that is okay. Because social justice was the space I had to disagree and the mediums I am allowed to explain exactly why.
I love my sis and she loves me. I understand that. And I did explain to her where I was coming from with my “inability to take the compliment.” I don’t know if she heard me but she listened. That, I think, is the beginning. Listening to a story that is not your own as if it has value, because it does. The work or “the work” is iterative. It is never-ending and it is dubious that we ever really live in a world that is entirely socially just. However, that is not permission to stop the fight because 50% is more than 40 and both are better than 0.
Once upon a time arguably one of the worst yet socially acceptable things I could have been called was the nword. Then of course, if I were a lesbian I would have been a
dyke. That was the worst. But now that we’re an evolved, post-racial love is love America (tongue firmly in cheek), fat has become the new Black.
Jess sent me an article about the CEO of
Abercrombie & Fitch who said that his brand caters to the “All-American” cool and beautiful. After I read the article I was filled with a lot of emotions but mostly sadness. Sadness that this is in any way acceptable and honestly sad that someone hates themselves that much they’re emoting that much hate into the world. So after I sent him some love…I had my own epiphany. That I’m just like him.
One of my favorite quotes to re-tweet comes from my friend La. She’s such a feminist. And I never really considered myself to be, but this is one of those quotes that continually hits home. And while the A&F CEO said it very candidly, privately, I reserve “joy” and “love” and “happiness” and “beauty” to a specific demographic as well. But I don’t blame men. Or women. Or any One in particular, its shared. After reading the article I thought about La’s quote and then I thought about fat brides. Its no secret that I have this irrational contempt for so-called fat brides. I guess in my head for the most perfect day a woman should look her most dazzling and that includes being thin.
What I was failing to realize was that I was imposing unfair, unjust, and horribly judgmental expectations on other women and on myself. This dissonance in The Bride and the overweight woman sounded like an out of tune piano or an amateur cellist. I couldn’t reconcile the two ideals because I in my mind perfect never ever could be anything other than thin. Fit. “Healthy” whatever term most appropriate to describe this woman in my head.
In my defense of all those above a size 10 standing outside the A&F target demographic I found myself also in defense of me. I can’t quite explain it…but it was like I gave myself permission to change the rules and live my own way. I thought back on enduring (very minimal) teasing in middle school about my weight, yet still managing to persevere through it. Same for high school.
So I googled ‘plus size bridal’ and came across a photo. A photo of a woman I don’t think is fat at all. In a dress that flatters her figure. And I imagine women walking down the aisle towards the women or men they love in this dress and feeling love. Not fat. I decided then that these gross thoughts of body ideals were no longer welcome and that in life I would focus my attention to experience rather than how the snapshot of it looks. And I would examine my own insecurities before I jumped to judge anyone else. Its weird that such a lover of love would get caught up in the aesthetics of a “wedding day” over the emotional and spiritual significance. But I think for me so often feeling and being (physically) manifest in tandem. My issue was that the picture I had for happy, as in the type of overflowing happiness found within the container of a wedding dress on a wedding day, was trapped in a size 6.
What a shift. Subtle, but huge in me. And I apologize. To other women, to myself…for judging. For placing limits and conditions on beauty. For restricting joy. For filling the word ‘fat’ with my own loathing and discomfort and thinking it acceptable as a label whether I said it aloud or not.
I recognize that until we as a society turn inward and begin to sort through our own shit, someone is always going to be the nigger. The fag. The fat. There will always be a target whom we will aim our self-hatred at. I, personally want to break the cycle for me. And as always the work boils down to love, and forgiveness which I think is the act of truly loving.
I don’t know who she is but I’ve wanted to be her. I don’t know if her life is good. If she’s loved. If she’s funny. If she has a best friend who will rub her back when she cries. I don’t know if she has a gap in her front teeth or wirey hair. I don’t know if she looks up at the heavens and smiles knowingly. All I know is that she is bikini ready. That she can wear cute little outfits without exorbitant amounts of binding allegedly seamless undergarments. She can run and jump and swim and never will her thighs rub the material threadbare in her jeans.
I went to see the play The Bluest Eye today for a class. I watched as Pecola prayed to God, though she was very small, for the bluest blue eyes so she wouldn’t feel so invisible. Toni Morrison wrote of Pecola and her family, “You looked at them and wondered why they were so ugly; you looked closely and could not find the source. Then you realized that it came from conviction, their conviction. It was as though some mysterious all-knowing master had given each one a cloak of ugliness to wear, and they had each accepted it without question.” Somewhere a long the way I’d accepted my own cloak.
I asked myself where it began. This obsession with looking a certain way. Why did it mean somuch? Flashes of my past…encounters with every man (without exception) and their harsh criticisms of my body. Something was always wrong. I do not blame them, or anyone. Those instances…for someone who sought approval and validation…it is worth noting that tonight I heard Rev. Rick Warren say, “If you live for the approval of others, you will die by their rejection.” That hit home. As I just wrote on permission. I thought about how many deaths there have been, waiting, praying, holding my breath and making deals with God that maybe if my hair was better, my waist was smaller and my thighs didn’t touch, then maybe I’d be worth loving. Worth sticking around for.
That’s fucked up.
And I hate that working through stuff makes me feel all…open and woe is me. I don’t want that. But sometimes you have to call a thing a thing, and outloud. Call attention to it before it can slink away into your unconscious and make itself at home.
So I figure, keeping in my theme of surrender I would also like to surrender the prayer. The prayer for the body which serves as the trophy for the perfect life. I have to give it up. I can’t chase it…
Dear Fat Girls,
You are not, nor will you ever be Beyoncè. Stop torturing yourself with the unfair comparisons to her, or any other celebrity who’s body you covet. She is beautiful, but so are you.
Stop reading magazine after magazine, book after book, and blog after blog on How to Lose Weight. You know how, we all know how. But don’t beat yourself up because you haven’t made it work. Don’t think there must be something wrong with you since others can seem to lose, yet you continue to struggle. There is nothing wrong with you. Their journey is theirs and yours is yours.
There is much to be said about the industry dedicated to telling you how your wrongs can be righted. The pills that suppress hunger, the exercise machine that builds muscle, the pre-packed low fat vegan non-dairy dinners that promise a daily allotment of nutrients. But nothing for the heart.
Fat girls, I know you. I am you. We’re not stupid. We know it takes burning more calories than we consume to lose weight. We know that truly sustainable weight-loss happens from a lifestyle dedicated to health not just bikini daydreams and special K. We know. But we don’t know how to address the distorted relationship with food.
We don’t know how to say, food was my mother, father, best friend when I had no one else. Food never judged me. Food never scolded me. Food was never cruel, hurtful, or absent. Food never lied, broke promises, or disappointed. How do we begin to separate feelings of safety, comfort, and love–usually reserved for people–from food?
I don’t have an answer. Not a sure fire one. But I can say this, I know I am not, nor will I ever be Beyonce. I recognize that when I read book after book and blog after blog about weight loss that my story is just beginning, and there is nothing wrong with me that I look more before than after. I know that prepackaged promises are not for me, and that my journey begins with following my heart and not expecting a miracle or a quick fix. I recognize that food is food, and am working to reconcile the feelings I have about it at every single meal.
I read a lot of people’s stories. I hear people talk about a moment they had, an epiphany that woke them up and begged for change. I wanted, so desperately, for me (in those moments) to be reading the story that would illicit my own awakening. And each time that it didn’t happen I sunk deeper into a despair that maybe I would always be on the outside looking in at thin. I’ve chased it with such fervor and it has escaped me, true to form, like a thief being chased. Yet now I find myself exhausted by the entire race, I hung my “size 14 goal pants” in the back of my closet and thought gingerly of throwing them out all together.
And here in my exhaustion, I’ve found myself eating cleaner working out more regularly and being content with my reflection in the mirror. I have not looked at my thighs with disgust or disdain, and I’ve found them getting firmer. So, I say it has to be in the surrender. Fat girls, sometimes its about the fight. But othertimes its about the surrender. Giving in to the feelings we eat to escape. Giving in to being tired after running up 1 flight of stairs. Its important to know exactly where you are, I think. Because only when you sit and truly look at where you dwell can you make the decision to stay or to go.
Lastly, I have to say that it wasn’t the number on the scale. It wasn’t the rising jeans size or the new body discomforts. It wasn’t the 3rd strapless and unflattering bridesmaid dress, or the inability to fasten a seatbelt on a rollercoaster. It wasn’t the threat of diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease. It wasn’t even the growing chance of being sterile. It was the little voice inside of me that reminded me of who I am and what I could do.
No, fat girls, I am not Beyonce. I am Jessica. I am overweight, and haven’t even lost enough to be considered an authority on doing it right or well. My relationship with food is fucked up. I am trying to make peace with eating well and working out. I struggle, I fail, I hate admitting how hard this is. Fat girl, you might think I’m just talking…But I know you. I am you. And I love you.
It hit me last night that sometimes
we are I am afraid to say what I want out loud because once its out I am universally held accountable. Someone will inevitably hear me and remember when whatever I have claimed does not come to pass. Mags once told me that I have the craziest fortune of getting what I want and that things always workout for me. I believe it is due to wanting things I know I can have.
I talked to that old friend of mine from college. She told me her very intimate and personal journey through weight loss and we concluded our conversation with her telling me I could do it and saying she was there if I needed her. It was clear to me after our conversation 3 things:
1. I wanted to lose 100 lbs.
2. I was not going to be able to do it in the same way she did it.
3. This was going to be insanely hard for many different reasons.
I debated back and forth over making my goal public knowledge. BA asked me how I even had that much to lose. And I’ll admit, its a very ambitious goal. And I believe that losing that much weight on my 5’9″ frame will be highly significant but its what I want. I had been struggling to imagine myself that small; to see myself as long and lean rather than voluptuous and curvy. But, when I look at the things that appeal to me it is strength and flexibility. I want a body that can move. One with more freedoms. To make a very important distinction, I do not see more freedom in a new body…its not a dependency. Its a burning desire to feel congruent. A smolder that has lit into a small flame.
I will have to write my own way. Unlike me one year ago, being seen is not as big a burden to carry. I am seen here. And perhaps that is one of my intrinsic rewards of attending a school where 98% of the population (literally) doesn’t look like me. I can go to the gym. I know how to life, I know how to train. I have always known. That is not the struggle, which kind of makes me feel bad because I’ve squandered this knowledge. But its time to make use of it and not be afraid of failing.
Losing 100lbs will get me in touch with parts of myself I’ve yet to discover or fully explore. This coming from a person who knows herself insanely well. I know this because it already has. Just the decision. To voice it, to say it to claim that yes I actually have 100lbs to lose and yes, I am telling you making myself vulnerable to critics and those who do not understand what it means to have that particular problem. People can be very judgmental. And then I think of the one person who may benefit or be helped and its very clear to me that I can’t keep it a secret. I will have to blog about it. Because this is my space, my altar. Everything is laid out here.
I was telling BFFT’s fiancé, the future Mrs., that you just get to a point in life when you stop allowing yourself to be burdened with the possible judgment of others. Its not absolute, but the time between “what will they say” and “who cares, fuck it” gets shorter. It took me roughly a week to say fuck it. To say right now my life needs to change because I do not have diabetes, nor do I ever want it. I hate my arms but I love how they support me in downward facing dog. I love my legs even though they make it hard to buy jeans. My spirit is at peace, strong and quiet she can climb run jump and fly…and I want to be like her.
So some people catalogue weight loss by showing before and afters with #s in lbs and inches and such…but to me that isn’t the hard part. The hard part is the emotional work. How did I get to be as heavy as I am? And how can I learn a new way to cope? If I told you I wore a size 18 but want to wear a 6…you can’t understand that that means I want to know that I was burdened by gifts I couldn’t yet comprehend. That I just wanted to feel held, and so I built the comfort around my Self in the form of a body. That somehow standing out and being brilliant, funny, beautiful and alone is far more puzzling than being single and overweight. That it takes time to get (truly get) that people are responsive to the beauty that they see which is equal to the beauty that you are willing to show.
So the only # I am concerned about is 100. My work will reside in positive self work and making sure I am in tune with confronting fears. Making sure I do not bully myself in the gym or the mirror. Giving myself affirmations that I can do this, I deserve this, and I am fighting for resolution and self reconciliation. And as this decision is made and affirmed via this public forum, I am at peace.