Tag Archives: self-esteem

What is fat?

I have almost over-trained myself to not comment on people’s appearance. I hate it equally when an “average”-sized woman (or man) claims to be fat or needs to diet or when anyone tells a skinny woman that she needs a sandwich (and yes, I have been guilty of the latter). I don’t believe that someone’s body is a valid topic of conversation or criticism.

But sometimes, I find myself unwilling to state what seems obvious to others. She is fat. She is skinny. She is average. Our eyes can pick out of a crowd who is different and who is similar. But what does all that really mean? And what language should we use to describe ourselves and others in a casual, size-positive way?

If Kate Harding’s BMI project taught us anything, its that we can’t rely on this poor excuse for a medical tool to categorize weight. And our own experience shows us that what is considered “skinny” is a social construct that has changed drastically, even just in the course of our lifetimes. When I was shopping for clothes as a teenager, I had never heard of a size 0! Historically, harder times often meant that a person with a few extra pounds was seen as beautiful because they represented bounty, fullness and of all things, health!

But today, even though we have ample food, inequality keeps that food from getting to the places it should be. Fat, therefore, is seen as a symbol of excess, greed and injustice. The most nutritious foods are available only to those with the means, while those who are considered working poor or indigent can afford only the most processed, chemical-laden crap on the market.

Class, I believe plays a huge role in the social construct of weight. So, really when coming up with definitions, I think its important to note that anything I come up with are “middle-class” distinctions of weight. What is a fat or skinny person to me is based completely on the availability of food in my class or country and how I view others with similar socioeconomic and political circumstances.

So with those caveats in mind, what is fat? What is average? And what is skinny? And why do I think its important to even categorize people in this way?

Well, I don’t really. I don’t think we should need to categorize. But I have also read a lot in fat-forward blogs that people often feel they are either too fat or too skinny to participate in or be represented by this movement. So its got me thinking about what is too fat and what is too skinny?

There’s just too many variables to intelligently answer this question. How much do you weigh, how tall are you, where do you carry your fat, what’s your body shape, what’s your muscle mass? With all those factors, does average even really exist or is it just in our heads?

And isn’t there a difference between society telling you you’re fat and your body telling you that you’re fat? My body probably didn’t tell me I was fat until a year or so ago. My media-influenced mind, my insecurities and the people around me told me since I was in 5th grade. But my body didn’t speak up until quite recently. And Health at Every Size is about listening to your body, not the bias of other people.

I was hoping that writing this would lead me to a conclusion, but I don’t have one. Perhaps the answer is in discussion. Are you fat? What factors, social indicators or clues tell you that you are fat or not-fat?

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Filed under Feminism, Self Image, Size Acceptance

Corpulent Cogitation

The holidays are over and I have boxes of excess consumerism to deal with strewn all over my house. But with a quiet day at work, I’ve had some time to catch up on my Fatosphere reading.

I responded rather late to a post over at Shapely Prose and it got me thinking about how much time the average person, affected by the average (read: extreme) amount of media influence regarding food, diet and health, spends feeling guilty about the most common activity of our existence: eating.

So I decided to think back to a time when eating was a terrifying, guilt-ridden thing for me. A time when I bought into the near religious nature of food associations and the morality they attempted to apply to my choices: sinful, indulgent, divine.

Say, I ate an entire plate of spaghetti. I’d feel guilty for at least as long as I felt full, sometimes longer. So since the gastric phase of digestion takes at least 3-4 hours, let’s say I spent an average of 1-3 hours feeling guilty about my meal.

I eat three meals a day and rarely snack in between. But let’s go ahead and throw in the average two snacks per day and double the guilt there because snacking is evil in the dieting world.

So at the very minimum that’s 7 hours a day I would spend feeling guilty about my food and therefore negative towards my body and thus my entire self-image. At most, that’s 15 hours of guilt, stress, self-loathing and fear.

Think about that. In today’s stressful world of multi-tasking, helicopter parenting and financial rollercoasters, does anyone need 7-15 hours of feeling like shit about yourself for a task as simple as eating?

This is why I contend that dieting is so much LESS healthy than the industry would have you believe. When you pile all that stress and self-loathing wrapped around the basic need of eating, plus the stress on your body caused by yo-yo dieting, plus the general desire of the media to make you feel like crap about yourself without their product, I’D RATHER JUST BE FAT!

And realizing that is the most freeing feeling I’ve ever experienced. This doesn’t negate my responsibility to be a healthy person. In fact, this is me ACTING on my responsibility to be a healthy person.1

To me, getting back my 7-15 hours and spending it living is worth it. To paraphrase a beauty company’s motto, I’m worth it!


1Edited 12-27-07: I marked this out because I don’t believe that there is such a thing as a ‘responsibility to be healthy.’ That’s moralist talk creeping into my language. It sounded good when I wrote it but I wasn’t thinking about what it implied.

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Filed under Feminism, Health, Media Literacy, Self Image, Size Acceptance

First Fat Faux Pas

I remember the day that I learned it was not okay to hate your body.

I was new to the women’s center. It was probably before I got hired on, when I was a volunteer intern. I said something negative about my body in front of everyone there. It seemed so run-of-the-mill to put myself down that I never even paused to think about what I was saying.

So, I was shocked when I was first called out for it.

“Put a quarter in the jar,” K demanded.

I must have looked utterly dumbfounded. “Why?”

“In here, we don’t talk poorly about ourselves because of how it makes others feel,” K replied.

Who was this person to think that she could tell me what I could and could not say. Hadn’t she ever heard of free speech?

I have a right to criticize myself, don’t I? Sure. A right. But what about common courtesy? What I didn’t know then, but I know now, is that in American society, courtesy about our bodies was tossed out the window a long time ago.

My friend K showed me that for every wrinkle, every curve on my body that didn’t meet society’s expectations, there was someone in the room with more wrinkles, bigger curves or a funnier looking nose.

This memory came up while reading a recent Shapely Prose article in which Kate is dealing with a post that has garnered comments of the “I love my body, but…” variety. She has put succinctly why it is NOT okay to put yourself down or talk about your ‘diet’ in front of others. And I quote:

  • There is someone fatter than you. (Okay, technically, one person actually does have to be the official fattest Shapeling, but since we don’t know who that is, just go ahead and assume it’s not you.)
  • There is someone whose shape is less conventionally attractive than yours.
  • There is someone who has all the same problems as you but is also a member of other oppressed groups.
  • There is someone with one or more disabilities.
  • There is someone recovering from an eating disorder.
  • There is someone currently struggling with a full-blown eating disorder.
  • There are a couple thousand someones who are here because they’ve struggled with low self-esteem, body dysmorphia, and/or disordered eating patterns over the course of their lives.

So when you say, “But MY body is disgusting because of X” or “I still need to diet because of Y,” what you are saying is that X and Y are disgusting and unacceptable characteristics, full stop — and the problem is, you can bet someone here shares those characteristics, or is worse off than you are, by your standards.

This is the standard of self-love that Kate sets for her community. I have a confession to make. I have utterly failed to encourage the same self-loving, healthy environment for my friends and family that the Women’s Center offered me.

Around me, people constantly talk about how much weight they need to lose and how much dieting has helped them feel better about themselves. And it breaks my heart everyday. Not just because of what they are saying about their own self-image but what that translates into when they look at me. It pisses me off that the diet, medical and media industries have influenced others to look down on me. Because I’m way better than that.

Wake up people. What you say does matter to the people around you. Stop vocalizing your self-hatred. Its time to dump the calorie counting, ditch the diet books and stand naked in front of the mirror with glee. Its time to embrace every butt dimple, to love every chin we have and to exhault the joys of back fat at the top of our lungs. Its time to shake what God gave us and love ourselves because we are healthy, happy, smart, independent, fuckable, sassy, proud women.

Anybody who’s selling you something called “health” that doesn’t involve loving yourself and your body first, is a charlatan.

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Filed under Feminism, Health, Self Image, Size Acceptance