***Warning: possibly triggering for those sensitive to body image, eating disorder or weight issues***
The last few days have been something of an emotional ‘perfect storm’ for me.
It all started with this brilliant, beautiful and perfectly judged blog post by Foz Meadows, followed by this poem and this .gif (both seen on Tumblr), and finally this podcast from the Australian actor Magda Szubanski, which was shared by the wonderful Kate Wally over on Twitter. After I listened to the last link – the podcast – I had a good cry, and it wasn’t simply because of the power and sorrow of Magda’s story, though powerful and sorrowful it undoubtedly is. I wept because her experience as a woman, a woman with the temerity to exist in an imperfect body, with the cheek to appear in public in leisure clothing while enjoying herself at the beach, shattered something deep inside me.
For, like Szubanski, I am a fat person.
I am a fat woman, which is immeasurably worse than simply being a fat ‘person.’
I am a fat woman who has hated herself all her life, and I am sick of it.
Paleolithic (c. 28,000 – 25,000 BCE) figurine of a woman, possibly a fertility idol, known as the Venus of Willendorf or the Woman of Willendorf.
I inhabit a body which is large, and misshapen, and unpleasing. I inhabit a body which some would say has no right to exist. I inhabit a body which I know would be sneered at, judged, condemned and – metaphorically or literally – spat upon by certain others in the society in which I live, and I have been aware of this for a very long time. I have learned to live with it, and I hate that I have had to.
Once, years ago, I lost a significant amount of weight by, essentially, subsisting on about 800 calories a day for the better part of twelve months; my body shrank, but my mind stayed the same. I carried my larger self around like a shell, my new body shrinking within it like a grub, or a soft underbelly. It felt vulnerable. The smaller I got, the more visible I became. As I grew thinner, I thought my life would start to make sense. I thought the world would open up to me. I thought my heart would heal and my mind would clear, and every day would be like a Disney cartoon.
But it wasn’t.
I was still me – just a smaller version.
The self-judgement, the self-hate, the ‘checking’ that had been part of my life as a larger person – all that stayed with me. It got worse, even. The thin me was ‘normal’ looking, and she had a new, unfamiliar set of rules to follow. I had to wear the ‘right’ clothes, do the ‘right’ job, be seen in the ‘right’ places. And I was never good enough.
And, over the years, the weight has come back – and I am still not good enough.
I am an intelligent and well-educated person. I know how bodies work, how nutrition works, how exercise works. I know my Vitamin A from my Vitamin K; I know my saturated from my unsaturated fats. I’ve been wailing on about the dangers of excess sugar consumption for ages, long before it ever became part of the global conversation on obesity. I know the dangers of carrying excess weight, particularly around the middle – where I carry it.
But I am a vegetarian. I eat plenty of wholegrains, pulses, legumes and salads. I get my protein from beans, eggs, and cheese carefully selected to be as low in calories as possible. I eat plain natural yogurt with a teaspoon of honey if I need a treat. Every morning I make porridge with skimmed milk and water. I eat three small meals a day.
And, very occasionally, when I’m out with family or friends, I will have a dessert – and I judge myself with every mouthful.
The last time I attended the doctor, it was for an issue entirely unrelated to my weight. The medical practitioner spoke to me briefly about the issue concerned, and then hopped straight onto the topic of my size. She insisted on weighing me, even though I told her I didn’t require her to. She gave me a condescending lecture about ‘letting ourselves get too big,’ and when I tried to explain that I eat mindfully and that exercise is not unknown to me, and that I was perfectly healthy, her response was:
I don’t care if you tell me you’re eating two lettuce leaves a day. Eat one lettuce leaf a day for three months, and then come back to me.
I am so tired of this.
I am so tired of trying to explain to doctors that perhaps my weight is a symptom of something else, and not a result of my lifestyle – which, no doubt, they imagine involves buckets of fried chicken, gallons of ice-cream and beer by the vatload. I am tired of not being believed. I am tired of being sent for blood tests to check for the diabetes they will not believe I don’t have, simply because I’m large. My blood sugar levels, for the curious, are on the low side of normal, by the way.
Often, in my hearing, people will comment on the weight of others, because it is simply something that we do, as a society, without even thinking about it. ‘My, hasn’t she put on stones since we saw her last?’ or ‘Look at Joe – obviously marriage suits him. He’s wearing his contentment around his waist!’ I hate this. Where possible, I refuse to take part in conversations like this, and I ask the commenter to stop. Not only is it cruel, and unnecessary, but I always feel that if people are saying these things about others, what are they saying about me? And, in my dark and private moments, it’s these words of judgement that I hear echoing around my own head, directed inwards.
Except, during my darkest times, they’re spoken in my own voice.
I have been hearing, and repeating, these words to myself since I was a child. I have ruined any joy I could have had in my body, my looks, my person, because I have absorbed the judgement of others, which has – over time – become self-judgement. I have a body that works – it runs when I tell it to, it walks for miles, it sings and laughs and shouts with joy; it jumps over puddles and climbs up hills and it danced up the aisle on my wedding day.
And yet I hate it because it is not small enough.
And I hate the voice in my head that reminds me, whenever I see my reflection, how far short I fall of perfection.
And I hate the world we’ve created, where little girls like I was are made to feel like objects – of scorn, of hatred, of scapegoating judgement.
And I hate that this voice – this eyebrow-raised, hand-on-hip, pursed-lip, can’t-you-just-control-yourself? voice, is with me every second of every day. I hate that no matter how much joy I try to take in all the things my body can do, and in all the boundless capability of my mind, this voice will never fade.
Fat people are not all slobs – but even if they were, so what?
Fat people are not all impulsive, uncontrolled, binge-eating, lazy good-for-nothings – but even if they were, so what?
Fat people – people like me – are not here to be anybody’s whipping boy, and we are not here to be made fun of or shamed or used as a spectacle, or as an example of what can happen when you ‘let yourself go,’ or as a thing to be laughed at. Because – and this is important – fat people are people, and they are as deserving of respect and equality and consideration as anyone else.
I inhabit a body. It might not be one that meets with societal approval, but it’s mine, and it’s one that I want people to judge – because judge they must – by the smile on my face, and the strength of my hug, and the width of my heart.
And the dark voice inside me will keep on murmuring, and I will keep on trying to silence it.