Dear (Fellow) Fat People, You Are Not Alone
My planned post for today was a complete dissection of the Shatter Me Series by Tahereh Mafi (which I read over the long weekend and have many thoughts about) , but then I found out about Nicole Arbour’s Dear Fat People video and decided to put our regularly scheduled programming on hold. I don’t know how I managed to not hear about this until this morning, but alas I was somehow blissfully unaware of it’s existence. In fact I probably still wouldn’t know of Dear Fat People’s existence if it hadn’t been for a woman that I’ve known and admired for several years sharing a moving and passionate response about how fat-shaming has affected her in her life.
After forcing myself to watch her video I was so encouraged and happy to see that many people have taken a stance against Arbour’s words. Among these are Youtubers Stepanka, Meghan Tonjes, Whitney Way Thore, and Grace Helbig. I highly recommend that anyone feeling broken down or hurt by Arbour’s video take a moment to watch these Youtubers stand up against her hurtful words. A big part of me wanted to just let this be and not respond, but I can’t stay quiet. Not anymore. Not after years and years of thinking that I (and others who are overweight) deserve this kind of treatment simply because I am bigger than society thinks is reasonable or healthy.
A few weeks ago I shared about my struggles with Bulimia and my journey to recovery in a post called Body Positivity & My Big Fat Secret. The amount of positive responses that I got from strangers and those closest to me that did not know of my struggle was overwhelming, but I made the atrocious mistake of posting the article to a Eating Disorder Support Group on Reddit. I know, I asked for it, but one of the main reasons I wrote the post was in hopes that I could help someone else in a similar situation feel less alone and show them that there is hope. I figured that if my words were going to help anyone they would help someone frequenting an ED Support Thread. I don’t really know what I was expecting from the other members of the subreddit, but I definitely wasn’t expecting to be accused of “Fat Logic” and “Giving Up On Herself”.
The ironic thing about all of this is that until I wrote a post about overcoming an eating disorder I had never once been told that I was obese. These strangers that were commenting on my health and expressing “concern” for my well-being apparently saw something that no doctor in my entire life has ever seen. I was unhealthy, obese, and giving up. I’ve never had a doctor express concern about my weight. I have sat in doctors offices holding food and exercise journals begging the doctor to tell me why what I was doing wasn’t working. I have had doctors scratch their head after looking at said journals and not understanding why eating 1,000 calories a day and exercising or taking dance classes 4-5 days a week wasn’t resulting in any weight loss. I have had doctors tell me that if I don’t stop purging I could kill myself. And, I have had doctors tell me that my body may just be comfortable where it is and that I need to stop stressing about my weight and focus on eating healthy and being active. But, what I had not been told was that I was obese and at risk.
My story is not the same as anyone else’s. Not every person that struggles with weight ends up with an eating disorder. However, I guarantee you that every person who struggles with weight has punished themselves in one way or another for being fat. I mostly punished myself by purging, but I also punished myself be believing that all of the “helpful” things people said to me were true and that I wasn’t doing enough to be healthier, to look healthier, to be better. The biggest punishment I bestowed upon myself for being fat was letting myself believe that I deserved the fat-shaming.
Fun fact about me: I am a hyper visual person. If there isn’t a chart, image, or graph attached to something I probably am not going to fully understand it. I need visual aides. After reading and watching videos from people who believe that fat-shaming doesn’t exist I came to the conclusion that maybe all anyone needs are some visual aides. So, instead of just listing out examples of times I was on the receiving end of “helpful” fat-shaming I thought I would present this type of shaming in the same what that the internet presents other types of shaming.
7 Times I Experience “Helpful” Fat-Shaming & Then Thought I Deserved The “Help”
The time I got sick and didn’t go to the gym for a few weeks which resulted in someone close to me pointing out that I didn’t look “as toned” and that they were just worried about my heart.
The time I really enjoyed the homemade rolls at Thanksgiving, which more than a few of my family member’s noticed.
The many occasions I’ve been told by a well-meaning sales associate that I was not in the plus-sized section…BTW the clothes I find in the regular section usually fit.
The time I cried because the guy I had a crush on didn’t like me back and a friend said, “Well Michelle, you over shot your number. He was too attractive for you.”
All of the times family and friends have told me that maybe I wasn’t losing weight because I wasn’t really trying…in their defense they didn’t know I threw up everything I ate.
When I was fifteen and one of the younger girls at the dance studio asked me why I was fat.
And, the time I got really discouraged looking for bridesmaids dresses and my friend told me that she was really disappointed in me because she thought I had gotten over my body image issues.
I’m not so ‘blinded’ by the Body Positivity Movement to not notice that most of the examples above were well-meaning. I know that the people in my life care about me and that if they express concerns about my size it is most likely coming from a place of caring. However, I also know that these moments (many of which happened a long time ago) have continued to affect my ability to accept myself as a person who deserves to be happy. Even now (lest someone read this article and think ‘how dare she think that she looks okay’) I look at these pictures and feel a tinge of disgust for my appearance. In fact, I still have a commentary of my own self shaming constantly running through my head.
Thoughts of Self Fat-Shaming From a Fat Girls Head
I should apologize or make a joke out of how I’m getting bacon for breakfast this morning instead of turkey sausage
I really hope I don’t see anyone I know while I’m shopping, I hate people seeing me in the plus-sized section
Is my lunch too big?
Ugh that guy is so cute, waaaay too cute to ever be interested in me
Ahh, my arm just touched someone else’s arm I hope that didn’t bother them, I don’t want to invade their space
Okay, good, the arm rests on the movie theater seat aren’t touching my sides, maybe I’m not that fat after all
She’s a size two, if she thinks she is an elephant, what am I?
I’m kind of hungry but I ate an apple three hours ago, I shouldn’t be hungry
Oh people are talking about going to the gym, I should say something self-deprecating to point out that I know I’m gigantic
No I didn’t get diet coke with my tacos because I’m trying to lose weight, I got it because I don’t care for regular soda
I GAINED A POUND! I AM GOING TO BE TOO BIG TO FIT IN MY CAR SOON!
Everyone else is taking a break to get cookies, I really want a cookie, but I don’t really deserve a cookie
I have made huge strides by combating my eating disorder, but that doesn’t mean that I am one hunderd percent comfortable in my own skin. That doesn’t mean that I still don’t want to cry when I look in the mirror. That doesn’t mean that I dread walking into a store that sells clothing. That doesn’t mean that I am completely healed. I still look at pictures of myself and think, “God, why are you so fat?” I still stress out every time my clothes fit even the tiniest bit different. However, at least I don’t throw up everything I eat. At least I don’t stand on the scale every morning and cry. At least I don’t want to curl up in a ball and hide my ugliness from the world. At least I no longer think that I am less than because of my size.
It has taken me a long time to accept that I am a person worthy of happiness and love. I know that people are still going to express concern for my health and that I will be on the receiving end of fat-shaming (well-being or not), but I also now know that I have the right to stand up for myself. I know that I don’t deserve to have my feelings hurt or my appearance commented on anymore than anyone else, and that my voice matters. My hope is that other men and women who struggle with the same issues will one day know that as well. And, maybe one day people will realize that pointing out people’s flaws only contributes to the problem. Fat people aren’t asking for your sensitivity, we are asking for your respect. We are asking that instead of making us the brunt of your jokes, you stop to consider that we are human beings, just like you.
As I said at the end of my Body Positivity post, I am leaving this post open to comments, but I am going to ask that you follow the “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all” philosophy. I shared this very personal part of my life in hopes that maybe someone else struggling with the same or similar issues feels as if they are not alone.