Image description: A fat woman’s shoulder, side rolls and hip are shown in a black-and-white photograph.
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During this pandemic, so many people are finding that their bodies, for the first time, are now in the “plus size” or “fatter than I wanted” categories, and are finding it a pretty scary place to be. It’s scary because, if you’ve been alive more than five minutes, you’ve seen the way that fat people are treated, and it’s perfectly reasonable to want no part of that.
(Psst — it’s also a wakeup call to change how you treat and value people in fat bodies. If you don’t want to be treated like us, treat us better and advocate for equity so that if and when your body changes, you’re not in for the same treatment.)
No matter what size and shape your body ends up, you have exactly the same worth and value that you’ve always had. You will deserve the same respect, good treatment and dignity that you always have.
There’s no particular moral good in exercise, or in eating (or not eating) certain things. Not exercising doesn’t make you a bad person, or a less good person than you used to be. Ditto for fast food, or chips, or candy, or whatever “bad” food(s) has been helping you feel a little better over the past year. It also doesn’t mean you’re weak, or any other negative thing, if you seek mental healthcare. Just the opposite — it takes a lot of strength to seek help!
For the folks who are afraid of binging during stressful times:
If you let yourself eat, and you binge, that’s okay. That’s your body reacting to the fear of not being allowed to eat enough. It doesn’t mean you’re a failure or a glutton. And it doesn’t mean you’ll binge forever. It’s okay to take it one day at a time.
(And as a person who is much fatter than you, let me reassure you that you can survive and thrive at larger sizes!)
If all you do through a global pandemic and, depending on where you live, a recession is survive, you are doing just fine.
I’m sending lots of ease and hope for you. Hang in there.
If you want to also be good to the fat people around you and who see your posts online, here’s what to do: Avoid talking publicly about your terror of existing in a body like those of your fat(ter) friends. It’s hard to also be trying to survive a global pandemic while constantly hearing and seeing that people are distressed because they now look slightly more like you.
That does not mean that you can’t talk about your struggles! It just means being a little more careful of how you share your body fears. Maybe instead of saying “I’m so afraid I’ll get fat” or “I’m now a size YY and I hate it,” reframe it as “my body is changing in ways I can’t control and that scares me.” No one wants to shut you up, or marginalize you, if you live in a smaller body and you’re talking about your body fears. We fat folks would just like to not hear for a few minutes about how terrified you are of our unruly bodies.
Because, after all, our fears really do come down to control. The culture we live in teaches us that we can control everything if we’re smart, strong and rich enough. If we could just control what our bodies do, if we just had enough discipline and willpower and determination and drive, we could mold and shrink our bodies so that they looked just like the bodies we’re told should be our #goals.
But we don’t have that control.
Our bodies have deep instincts and rhythms, anti-famine devices and intergenerational trauma, that are simply out of our conscious control. Not only have our routines and rhythms and, possibly, food intake changed recently, but we are quite literally in the kind of situation human bodies were built to withstand.
Your body is saying, “Oh, here’s the catastrophe I’ve been preparing for for a thousand years. Bring it on. We’ve got this. I’m here to support you.”
Our bodies aren’t into looking like the cultural standard of the moment. They’re into surviving. These are their glory days. These are their personal, private Olympics. This is when they feel they truly matter. And they’ve got this.
How tragic is it that we’ve been taught to feel like our life partners, our physical ties to this world, our unique earthly forms, are trying to betray us, when they’re giving their all to protect us?
Anyway, there’s no way to shrink our bodies that works for most people in the long term. And when we try to shrink, our bodies — just as in, say, a global pandemic and time of uncertainty — shriek “Famine! I must prepare and protect you!” and store additional weight to help us. That’s why many people who diet not only gain back their missing weight, but gain more. Because our bodies are loyal and devoted and they’ve just geared up to help us through the next famine.
Anyone who tells you otherwise needs to show you a peer-reviewed, reputable study that shows a majority of the participants losing more than 10% of body weight and keeping it off for at least five years. (Pro tip: That study doesn’t exist, because we don’t have evidence-based ways to shrink bodies and make them stay smaller.)
Those people who are set up as everything you should be? They don’t look like that, either. You’ve been lied to. Your parents were lied to. Their parents were lied to.
It’s important to understand that the reason you’re terrified of living in a larger body is because hundreds of years’ worth of white men have found power and profit in enforcing fatphobic and racist beauty standards on women. When you resist feeling bad about yourself and your body, you’re giving the finger to thousands of people who want to make money from your self-loathing, and that’s a pretty worthy #goal, too.