Archive for fatness

A post that never got posted, June 13, 2006: Fat

(I’ve been writing this entry, off and on, for most of a month now.)I have tried to rejoice in the body I had. I’ve tried very hard. But in the end I fell into the same trap, that of excusing my fatness by comparing it to the fatness of others. You know that one, the “I’m chubby, but I’m not as fat as/fat in the same way as so-and-so. And, you know, I exercise, and eat healthy… so…”All of which really means, “I’m fat, but I have a good attitude, and it’s not like I’m *trying* to be fat, so you should all forgive me and treat me in the privileged way you treat skinny people.”I’ve never dieted, officially. There are a lot of reasons why that’s pointless and punishing. I can honestly say that I have no real idea what I weigh right now. Something over 200 lbs, I think, but beyond that I don’t know.Of course, having said that, I’ve had days where I secretly rejoiced in the fact that I had eaten less, or nothing, or forgotten to eat until evening, as though that made me virtuous. Conversely, on days when I’ve been very snacky, I try to hide this fact from myself (and certainly from others), and felt ashamed, because if I say that I’m eating healthy I can’t possibly slip like that. Whenever I go to someone’s house with a scale, I do weigh myself, but then discount it as unimportant and pat myself on the back for not caring. The process leaves me feeling shaky and uncomfortable, but I do it anyway.

I equated “not dieting” with having a healthy attitude about my weight. I equated not obsessively weighing myself and worrying over any ounce gained or lost with having a healthy attitude about my weight. I equated being comfortable telling people my weight with having a healthy attitude about my weight.

But in revelling in the idea that I was being “good” (not dieting, not being obsessive), and of course revelling in the praise I did receive when I told people my weight (usually along the lines of “Wow! You’d never know you weight that much! You carry it so well!”) I forgot that I really was focusing a lot of energy and concern on exactly the issue I prided myself in not caring about.

And also, in so doing, I still managed to put myself in a place of judgment around other people and their fat. I was “good” because: I wasn’t as fat as they were (some kind of invisible line I always stayed just this side of); I didn’t care about being fat the way they did (not caring is “enlightened”); I wasn’t succumbing to some kind of brainwashing about needing to diet the way they were (I was smarter); etc.

Issues of weight and fat make me feel angry. There are days when I just wish that absolutely would just SHUT UP ABOUT IT ALL ALREADY. I don’t want to hear about your Atkins diet progress or the list of things you’re permitted to eat today. I don’t want to hear anyone say they just want to lose 10 pounds when they’re already beanpole skinny.

I especially don’t want you to tell me that you think I’ve lost weight, and so I look good (this happened just yesterday, actually). On the other hand, sometimes I do. And then I feel guilty for feeling good.

I moved past some of this, but some of it is still current. I’m more confident about my weight (right now probably a bit above 270, including those pounds put on for baby) , and my right to weigh what I weigh and be in the world and take up space. And I’m more and more convinced that our obsession with weight loss as a society has a lot to do with shutting women up (and down) and making sure their focus isn’t on anything important or radical. I still don’t always know how to talk to other people about weight, about their weight, about issues to do with weight, and I managed to get into a huge fight with my sister on the topic of weight over the summer – she was trying to play devil’s advocate to my HAES, who are we to judge, etc., screed. I really wanted to say, “Look, you *can’t* play devil’s advocate by parroting back everything that the mainstream says. I’m the bleedin’ devil’s advocate here!” but instead we just yelled at each other and cried a lot and I wish it hadn’t gone that way.

And I’m trying to find that balance between empathizing with folks re: their unhappiness about weight – “You’re right, it sucks when you don’t have clothes that fit. That feels very frustrating.” – so that they feel heard, and yet not compromising on the basics – “If your clothes don’t fit, it’s time to get clothes that do fit.” rather than “If your clothes don’t fit, it’s totally reasonable to try dieting until they do.” This stuff feels especially hard with family, because these are the folks who I love, and who I know love me and have actually never criticized me for being fat or encouraged me to diet except in the backhanded “You look great, have you lost weight?” way. So I can’t be quite as flippant as I am with some other folks: “I just want to lose 10 pounds.” “Really? *looks them up and down* Your leg below the knee should do it.”

And pregnancy, by heck, is a full-on adventure in body acceptance every day. As a pregnant fat person I’ve been struggling with finding comfortable clothes that fit, struggling with finding representations of my body in pregnancy illustrations (all pregnant women apparently start out slightly underweight and have no discernible fat layer, aside from breasts), and struggling with my own body image not quite being what my current reality is.

And every pregnancy site on the web is full of exhortations not to gain too much weight or it’ll be hard to drop those pounds later. I find myself completely unworried on the topic of the weight I’m gaining (it’s clearly going to a good purpose), almost completely unworried on the topic of my exciting new collection of stretch marks (a good purpose, again, has clearly been served, despite the actual physical discomfort of popping new stretch marks), and yet strangely weirded out and uncomfortable with my entirely benign and non-painful little wobbly belly underneath my firm pregnancy belly. It’s the same old wobbly belly pooch I had when I was just a non-pregnant fatty, and I was fine with it then, but somehow it’s different in its current position, and I’m not sure I could explain why. Ah well.

This post = much rambling, and I’m not sure if there’s a point. But does there really need to be?

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Big Fat Carnival # 6 is up

over at Seeworthy.org Birthcycle got a link, which is fab, but there’s lots more to read. Check it out!

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If you’re reading my blog, I’m assuming that I’m the fat person you like.

So apparently, some (incredibly insensitive and inhumane) folks out there just don’t like fat folks at all, as Anyone want a slightly used politician? over at Alas, a Blog illustrates. What kind of person would ever make that sort of comparison? Yeah, partway along the road to starving to death, even some fat folks will lose weight. This doesn’t illustrate anything useful about weight loss, or diet and exercise though. Colour me absolutely disgusted.

In other news (eventually related, actually, if you just keep reading), I had a houseguest over the weekend. My friend, D, from Portland. He’s a good guy, 58-ish years old, gay, an engineer. I like him lots. I somehow don’t think I like him as much as he likes me, but equity is not always guaranteed in relationships, so I guess that’s okay. The reason that I say that he likes me more than I like him is that, for some reason, he seems to openly idolize me. That’s very odd, and kind of uncomfortable to be on the receiving end of.

It gets played out in a number of ways, one of which is that I’m simply not allowed to say anything “bad” about myself in his presence. On Sunday night after doing social stuff with people all the time for the last three days I was just feeling peopled out. I was feeling crabby and easily annoyed by people, so after nearly chewing someone out at an over-stayed-at party I said, “Gah, I feel so crabby, I’m such a jerk sometimes.” or words to that effect, and he leapt to my defence and said, “No K! You are never a jerk! Don’t ever say that! You are the kindest and most compassionate person I’ve ever met! You’re not a jerk!”

To which my reply was, “Um, dude, sometimes I am, just like everybody else. And that’s okay. Nobody’s perfect.” But he wouldn’t hear of it.

It’s uncomfortable because I feel like I’m on a sort of pedestal for him, which actually makes me less real to him and less human. He has this idealized vision of who I am which bears, as time goes by, less and less resemblance to the person I actually am, both good and bad. I’m glad that most of my relationships aren’t like this.

As we were sitting in my kitchen drinking tea on Sunday evening I made the (jerky) mistake of criticizing one of the people he had travelled with. I probably wouldn’t have done it if I had been in a better mood. I knew he didn’t like her and I admit, in my crabbiness, that that’s part of why I criticized her. Bitching about a common “other” seemed easier in that moment than having further conversations about how I wasn’t a jerk (despite ironically being a real example of jerkiness, ho hum).

I said, “She is the dullest conversationalist ever.”

That’s all it took to start him up on a tirade. I just sort of let him go, but then suddenly he started talking tangentially and sneakily about her weight. Of course, he didn’t just say, “She’s so fat! And that inherently makes her bad! Because fat people are bad!” Instead, he snuck up on it the way people do.

“She eats like a pig. She has no table manners at all. Were you watching her at the potluck? She just kept eating and eating and eating! We had to keep stopping on the way up so she could eat. She claimed she was hungry, well, yeah, I can see you’re hungry, honey, just by looking at you, but that doesn’t mean…”

At which point I said, kinda startled and unprepared, “Hold up. Look. I shouldn’t have started this, that was dumb of me. Criticize her for being irritating, I guess, or for being ignorant or loud or rude, but don’t feel like you can criticize her about her weight, not to me. My mother was a big woman when I was growing up and I’ve heard enough of that crap.”

Not helping his cause of making me like him more he said, “My sister’s big too. My sister eats just like her, just like a pig. My mom was big, but she had health problems, so…”

Said I, “No. Just stop. Don’t talk to me about this. That’s it.” By this time I was actually shaking with anger and all I wanted was to get away. I felt exhausted and disappointed and like I just didn’t want to deal with this or him. I just wanted him gone and I wanted to collect my thoughts and then I wanted to throw things. But when you have your friend visiting you from Portland there’s nowhere for them to go and when you’re me, you’re just not the storming out and yelling type. I turned on the kettle so I could think about things. My hands were shaking and I couldn’t stop the tears from starting in my eyes.

Having a firm eventual grasp of the obvious he said, “You’re angry with me.”

“Yes, I’m angry with you. That’s okay, I can be angry with you.”

I looked at him, took a deep breath and made a choice.

I said, “D, you have no concept of what it’s like to live in this world as a person who isn’t the socially prescribed size. No concept. You complained to me that you’ve gained 20 pounds in the last year, but still, no one would ever look at you and say, ‘That D is SO FAT!’ and feel they had a right to make a moral judgment about you because of it. You have no idea what it’s like.

“People have often said to me, ‘K, you’re not *that* fat.’” He tried to interrupt me (probably to tell me that in fact, I wasn’t *that* fat) but I cut him off, “No, they do. Do you know what that means? That means they want to let me off the hook for being fat because they like me, so that they can continue to hold a moral judgment about other fat people without having to apply it to me too. But you know, I weigh 240 pounds. I’m fat, just like she is. In fact, she and I probably weigh about the same, we just don’t look the same because we’re built differently.

“And how do you know she *doesn’t* have a health problem, if that’s your criteria for acceptable fatness? Why in God’s name would she confide in you, you’re obviously not her friend. And why would she even know about it, considering the state of your health system?

“I outweigh you by what, 70 pounds?” he mumbled that he weighed 160 pounds, “Okay, so, 80 pounds. I outweigh you by a 10-year-old. But I’m the fat person you *like*, so you wouldn’t think of criticizing me the way you criticize her.

“When I was just out of high school and all muscle from skating without a bit of fat anywhere I went to buy pretty underwear and asked for a size 14. The tiny little woman in the store said, ‘We don’t sell plus sizes.’ and said it with disgust in her voice. Well, I’m a size 20 now, D, and it isn’t any easier. So I bet it isn’t easy for her either and you have no concept of what that’s like or what it’s like for her to be the person she is.

“I started it by criticizing her and I shouldn’t have done that, and I’m sorry I did it. And you’re right, I’m angry. I’m the fat person you like, D, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not fat. She’s the fat person you don’t like, but that doesn’t mean she’s not a person.”

There was a breathless silent portentous pause in the room. He was looking at me very intently so to avoid having to stare back at him I poured my tea and vigorously stirred in brown sugar and cream. I took a deep breath and drank a too-large swallow of too-hot tea, which, though painful, oddly calmed me down again and made my hands stop shaking.

I took another sip and another breath. Then I said, a little calmer, “To be clear, I like my body and I’m not interested in losing weight. But that’s not always easy either.”

Another silent pause filled with cautious tea-drinking, and then he said, “Thank you. Thank you for saying all of that.”

“Hmm.” said I, staring into my tea.

Said he, “I’m sorry. You’re right. It was wrong of me to say those things. I know it’s cliche to say ‘You’ve really changed my opinion’ right in the heat of the moment, so I won’t say that, but you’ve given me a lot to think about. It was mean.” Then after a pause, “Maybe that’s why I don’t have anybody.” which annoyed me a little because it sounded perilously close to self-pity and in the moment I didn’t have patience for that. I also wasn’t going to necessarily deny it, because maybe being a bit too judgmental and mean is a part of that reason.

And you know, if I’d thought it out more ahead of time I would have said more, or different, and perhaps I wouldn’t have made it so much about me. But in a way I’m amazed at how coherently and even articulately it all came out in the moment. So often when I’m upset I fumble with words and can’t say what I mean in the way I want, but for some reason this time it all tumbled out piece by coherent piece pulled along by my anger and frustration.

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Yesterday I felt entirely right in my body.

At first I described it as, “I just feel like I am incredibly slender today.” Later on I realized that it wasn’t so much slenderness as a feeling of “fitting”. My clothes fit well and didn’t feel restrictive and it felt like every part of my body had purpose and meaning. Slenderness is such an ideal in our society that I at first associated this feeling of ideal with slenderness, but that wasn’t the right description.

I’ve been experimenting lately with trying to move past a place of quiet acceptance of my body as it is, plumpness and all (but don’t talk about it too much), to a place of appreciating and perhaps celebrating the plumpness on its own merits. What if my body was not just attractive in spite of its faults, not just attractive because of its strength which somehow “makes up” for the plumpness, but attractive because of its strength and plumpness both? How would it feel to move all the things I have been taught to see as negatives in my body into the plus column?

Perhaps it would feel the way I felt yesterday.

This is a process I have probably already begun. There are many things about my body that I like that aren’t in the societal beauty mag standard of beauty and attractiveness. For instance, I love my breasts. As I move through my 20s they become less and less round, they ride flatter and closer to my chest, and they droop lower. Sometimes when my nipples are not erect my breasts actually cave in above them. When my nipples are erect they pull my breasts into a different and rounder shape, and this process amuses me. I love the way they look in the mirror and how it feels to touch them, squashy and soft. I can slide my fingers underneath them and warm them up.

Call me the last to really get the memo, but it hadn’t actually occurred to me that it was possible for others to love plump parts of the body other than the breasts or buttocks, just for the pleasure and attractiveness of that plumpness. I somehow didn’t get that people could find attractive a plump and roll-y belly for the same reasons that I love my breasts, because it is squashy and soft, yielding and full of inviting curves to slip fingers around and beneath.

Of course, I knew that I myself liked the feeling of my own and other plump people’s bodies, when I was permitted to touch them, and that it was as wonderful to curl up behind my girlfriend and cup her breast in my hand as it was to cup her round tummy, or to curl up behind my boyfriend and slide my palm down around the firm bottom curve of his belly. Somehow it was difficult to reconcile this tactile attractiveness with the visual for me.

Which actually leaves me thinking of my mother when I was young. She was always a larger person, close to six feet tall with entirely proportionately large hands and feet. After my sister was born she started to gain more and more weight. She hated to be looked at, or to have pictures taken of her, and she hated most of all to be touched. We weren’t allowed to touch her very often, and although she was very affectionate and loving with us in many ways, she was not very affectionate or loving with herself at all. I knew from an early age that she hated her body and that somehow we were supposed to hate it also. It was impossible and perverse in her mind that anyone could love her body as it was.

I think, in retrospect, that I, an entirely sensual and physical touch sort of person, wanted to love her body however it was, wanted to touch it and cuddle it the way a child does with her mother. Her body could have been just the body of my mother, but instead it was very much forbidden territory, so that even as a teenager, after my mother had lost a significant portion of her weight via gastric bypass surgery and intense daily exercise, I had to be very careful how I embraced my mother. If I touched her sides or belly she would break away, or protest that I was “jiggling the fat”. There was simply no room in there to explore the idea that perhaps she was a pleasurable person to touch. What an extraordinary idea!

My mother and sister both often say to me, “You’re looking good! Have you lost weight?” Of course, every time they’ve asked I haven’t, to the best of my knowledge, lost any weight at all, and sometimes have in fact gained. Then we all sort of awkwardly stand around engaging in a bizarre process that FEELS like we have to somehow find some reason why I “look good” to them but if I haven’t lost weight then it’s completely inexplicable why I would look good at all. I have felt entirely confused by these conversations before now, too caught up in their “weight loss = looking good” societal assumption to even challenge it properly.

In India a woman in a store said to me, “Oh! You are so fat!” and she said it in such an entirely pleased and complimentary way that it completely threw me for a loop. I almost burst into tears. She said it in almost the exact same way we would say, “You’ve lost weight!” in North America. I could tell she had no idea how this pronouncement could possibly be negative.

Perhaps there isn’t something glib I could toss off that would instantly educate and change other people’s perspectives, but I would like to move away from the “weight loss = looking good” assumption. Sometimes I’ve tried to just say, “Thank you! I feel good!” Sometimes I’ve said matter-of-factly that, in fact, I had gained weight, but thanks for the compliment.

I wonder if I could pull off rejoicing in gained weight in a convincing manner in our society? Would anyone ever believe it?

“Actually, I’ve gained 5 pounds! I’m very excited about it! I haven’t felt so sexy in months!”

(This post was cross-posted from my personal LJ at rainbowk.livejournal.com.)

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