In fourth grade I wrote my first petition, asking the principal for benches near the playground so kids could have a more comfortable place to read during recess. (I don’t know how I convinced other kids to sign it because there wasn’t exactly a recess book club, but the petition was successful, and I read on a blue bench for the rest of the year.)
As you can tell, I wasn’t what you would consider an athletic child. When I did exercise, it was in structured environments like gym class or cheerleading practice, and that’s the kind of exercise environment I still prefer. Put me in a class with a person telling me what to do and I’m happy. I don’t really care what the class is as long as I don’t have to figure out what to do by myself. It’s like, I like to move; I just don’t really know how.
Even though I enjoy them, I’m ambivalent about recommending exercise classes because there’s one part I hate and would never want other people to endure. It happens about halfway through class, and I think most instructors consider it a pep talk. I call it the Lalalala-I-can’t-hear-you portion because it is usually just fatphobia disguised as encouragement. Often it includes references to bikinis and summer and “working hard to look good!”
Once, during the most intense part of a class, the teacher broke with body-shaming tradition and asked, “Do you feel strong?”
Did I? No one had ever asked me before.
It made me think about all the ways I’ve been taught that as a woman, my most important job is to be pretty and how beauty is conflated with thinness in our society. What if I’d been taught to focus on how I felt rather than how I looked? What if I’d been praised for being strong instead of “cute”? How different would my life be?
The sad thing is, I can’t even imagine.
I’ve written before about deciding to love my body, resist negative messages, and challenge the underlying assumptions of fatphobia. It’s an ongoing process because I encounter countless messages designed to make me feel bad about my body or fear gaining weight, and I can’t just go through life yelling “Lalala, I can’t hear you!” Thankfully, there are lots of positive messages for people who want to question our fat=bad, diet=good culture. You just have to know where to look. Here are a few links to pieces I’ve found especially interesting.
Graphic found via Pinterest
Most of what I’ve read about fat positivity is written from the perspective of someone who has overcome insecurities, but Jo’s post about being fat and struggling to love your body is in the present tense, and her willingness to focus on process rather than triumph makes it not just inspiring but useful.
“it would be so great if naming this thing would make it go away, but it doesn’t. i’ve had it pinned down, i’ve had it named, for years now yet i still crumble under the weight of the gaze that is disgusted by me. as women, the gaze is rarely pleased with us for a million different reasons…but if you are woman who is fat, a woman like me, the gaze is actively DISGUSTED by you. you can’t imagine how much it fucks you up to know the gaze does not approve in such a fundamental way, unless you can imagine it. unless you are living it.”
This American Life did an episode about “rethink[ing] the way we see being fat.” The whole episode is excellent, but if you only have time for one act, I suggest Elna Baker’s story about her drastic weight loss, which demonstrates how harmful fatphobia can be––even when you “succeed” at becoming thin.
“Here’s something I never tell people. I still take phentermine. I take it for a few months at a time a year, or sometimes it feels like half of the year. I can’t get it prescribed anymore, so I buy it in Mexico or online, though the online stuff is fake and doesn’t work as well.
I have a shirt that says, ‘I’m allergic to mornings.’ Everyone who knows me knows I have problems sleeping at night. I am usually up until 4:00 AM. I say I have insomnia. Really, I am awake because I am on speed. And I am on speed, because I need to stay thin. I need to stay thin so I can get what I want.
I know how this sounds. I know exactly how messed up it is. But I also feel like…we won’t really get anywhere unless I admit it.”
GIVE (TO YOUR DOCTOR)
Annika Burnett’s “Doctors Don’t Like Fat People” has a depressing title that makes me want to burn everything down, but it’s an open letter from a med school student challenging anti-fat bias in her own training and in medicine in general. Take comfort in knowing that someday she’ll be an M.D. with patients of her own and that she’s not waiting until then to change things.
“All too frequently in medicine, the terms ‘fat’ and ‘unhealthy’ are mistakenly collapsed. In fact, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the relationship between body weight and overall health status is not so clear (to read more from folks beginning to challenge this paradigm, check out here and here). Yes, obesity is a risk factor for many diseases. So are age, race, gender and family history. It is unclear whether and to what extent we can choose our body size any more than we can choose those characteristics.
Still, even if being fat were entirely a matter of willpower and even if fat definitively meant unhealthy, would that give us an excuse to treat fat patients poorly? When has hostility ever been conducive to taking care of a patient? Creating a clinical environment so antagonistic that fat patients are afraid to access care is not helping anybody.”
AND MAYBE GET SOME NEW CLOTHES?
That’s what Arianna Rebolini did after she realized that she had a closet that was antithetical to the way she wanted to feel about–and in–her body.
“I was beginning every single day with a terrible task — facing a closet that told me my body wasn’t right, and choosing which way I’d like to be made physically uncomfortable that day. My clothes were undoing years of work toward accepting my body as-is, coaxing me into old beliefs. Like: Discomfort was what I deserved for having gained weight. Like: Anger and unhappiness would motivate me to lose weight. Like: Happiness and nice things and self-esteem were for people who haven’t gained weight. I’d decided years ago those beliefs were empty; it was time to ditch the last thing pulling me toward them.”