I'm FAT! she yelled
This morning, while out for my morning walk, I strolled by your house, just as you were getting into your jeep. The person who I assume is your housecleaner was schlepping a bucket and a vacuum up your sidewalk. She greeted me. I kept walking my fat body on, as I heard you, behind me, greet her as well.
She said to you, "You look so thin," and without missing a beat, you replied loudly, "I'm FAT!"
At first, I was startled. Here is a fat person not more than 10 feet in front of you. Initially, I thought you were speaking in a disparaging way about your body, in that way white women are trained to. There's even a name for it: "Fat Chat."
I thought you were speaking negatively about fatness, and the soft warm blubber your body carries. I stopped in my tracks, and looked at you. You don't read as fat. There is nothing I would look at and say "that person is fat."
I wondered if I should call you out on your unexamined fatphobia. I was bummed because all I was doing was taking a lovely stroll in my neighborhood. Then I heard what I've heard ten thousand times before: my body is wrong for being the way it is, which is fat. Ugh, it's so painful. My entire life people have made nasty comments.
According to the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, one-third of the world’s population is fat, yet fat people are discriminated against in all aspects of daily life; from employment to education.
Fat people face more than discrimination, though. They face death, but not in the way the medical-industrial complex who loves to use the word "obesity" and "BMI" (which are b.s. standards, BTW, look up the research) would have you think.
From bullying, to suicide, to medical bias resulting in deadly treatment mistakes to eating disorders as we try to fit our body into what society says we 'should' be… make no mistake, fat people are under unrelenting, merciless attack.
In 2010, researchers at the University of Michigan released disturbing statistics about how size intersects with childhood bullying. They found that fat kids were 65 percent more likely to be bullied than their peers. As a former fat kid, I can attest to this. Called "Russia" because of my size in 6th grade, the bullying made me not want to be here anymore. As in, at 11 I had a plan to take myself out. When I look back at my pictures from that time, I cannot see the "morbidly obese" child everyone assured me I was. I see a slightly thick, healthy kid who roller-skated everywhere. Weird, huh?
So I hope you understand why I was taken aback by your comment. It felt like a threat.
My healing has been about unapologetically taking up the full space of my body every day. It's been a struggle, and tens of thousands of dollars spent on therapies of all kinds later, I finally feel like I deserve to breathe.
So I do breathe, and fully. Taking a deep breath into my gorgeous fat body, I feel into my right to be here, walking in my neighborhood on this delightful sunny morning. I consider what to do about you.
I get curious. I think about the tools I have at my disposal. If I were to confront you now, it might come out all wonky. You would surely get defensive, and say you meant YOU, not ME, was fat. And looking at your straight-sized body, I would stumble over my words, and not be able to communicate what I want you to hear.
Which is this.
Yes, you are fat.
I believe in a world where people are what they say they are. I believe trans kids when they say who they are. I believe queer people when they say who they love. The ability to self-determine matters. You believe you are fat, so I believe you. You are fat.
Now, fat activists with bodies larger than yours may surely have some feelings about you claiming the word fat to describe yourself, but don't worry. I'll be right here to help you. We're neighbors, and that's what neighbors should do: be kind to each other. Be respectful of each other's bodies, and definitely not throw shame.
As I thought about it some more, I realized that perhaps you were more culturally sensitive than I gave you credit for. If so, I am sorry. I am still learning. I had noticed your housecleaner's accent, and that English was not her first language. From her melanated skin, I assumed she was Latina.
Perhaps you heard the concern in your housecleaners voice when she said, "You're so thin." Because I did. It wasn't a compliment she was paying you, but a worry for your health. I'm not Latinx, and I can't presume to speak from that cultural perspective, but I do know that different cultures have different interpretations of 'thin' and it isn't always considered a good thing. This is to say, your context of fat as unhealthy is not the global context.
If you were pissed about your housekeeper policing your health, I get it. As a fat person, I am used to people concern-trolling me. Being worried about my heart, my health, and my weight. I'm used to doctors telling me that if I just lost some weight, then my sore throat would resolve. If I could cut back on carbs, my shoulder sprained from weight lifting would improve. And losing a few pounds would do wonders for my mental health.
Medical stigma against fat bodies can have a deadly impact on us, as in the case of my fat friend JB who was disbelieved when she went to the hospital in agony with a ruptured appendix. She was told the cause of her pain was her weight, and she was exaggerating the pain. She almost died.
So perhaps you heard your housekeeper's concern, and being more culturally sensitive than me, decided to respond with a comment that would set her at ease. In that context, "I'm FAT" translates to "Don't worry about me! I am well-off, and I've got plenty to eat. Whole Foods is right down the street, and my pantry is full of high-caloric expensive organic foods. I'm cool."
I'll tell you what is really medically concerning: eating disorders.
At 16, I watched my friend Colleen die of anorexia, her frame wasting away to nothing. Colleen was 78 pounds at her death. My friend was murdered by fat-phobia, the belief that fat is evil, and that fat people are bad and deserve to die. Even as a teenager, I knew I had to heal my stuff around toxic diet culture. I had an eating disorder to heal, and so much body shame to work through.
Perhaps you saying, "I'm FAT" is a way to confront your own eating disorder. To work through your own pain of being told your body isn't good enough, either because it's too thin, too fat, too this, or too that. But I do want you to know that one symptom of an eating disorder is body dysmorphia, perseverating on a perceived physical defect like a fat belly, that others cannot observe. So your housekeeper says you are thin and you respond with "I'm FAT," well, this is actually concerning.
Other signs of eating disorders include
It took a lot of work to heal my eating disorder. I had great support, and now enjoy the pleasure of eating and nourishing my body. I'm still fat, and I eat better than most people I know. I'm also wayyy healthier now as a fat and juicy human than I ever was when I was a dry husk, starving myself with diet after diet. I hope my story helps you realize that body size is not an accurate measure of health.
As I walked on, I stopped several times to ponder your two words, and the impact they had on my body and heart. After I got over the hurt, I realized we likely live in two separate paradigms. While we are both victims of body shame and a culture that wants to kill us, the difference is what we choose to believe.
You live in a world that tells you that in order to be loved, you have to change who and how you are. You have to restrict your food, exercise excessively, earn your right to be here. You may have never touched your curves and rolls with pleasure and wonder, taking delight in your yummy fat.
This contrasts with the size-inclusive worldview I've worked to develop. A paradigm of body acceptance that welcomes people of all body shapes, sizes, genders, ages, skin tones, and abilities to unapologetically and joyfully exist!
While fat acceptance is a worthy goal, fat liberation is where I set my sights. I want to be a fat person who loves their fat body (Have you watched Lizzo's Big Grrrls yet? OMG so good). I want to feel free to eat, dance, fuck, move, work, travel, play and live exactly how I want. Not in spite of my size, but because of it. I am committed to doing the life-long work to unlearn the shame and hate that oppresses fat bodies, trying to keep us from living lives of beauty and justice.
If my assumption is correct, and you are still hating your body, I want to issue an invitation to come over to my side of things, which is superbly, gloriously, and fatly wonderful!
What would happen if "I'm FAT!" was your mantra of confidence? You, being proud of your body and all it has survived. The horror and the trauma and the shame that got thrown at you as a young woman. It is possible, You can shake it all off now, and live a life of fabulousness and taking up all the damn space you want.
Okay, here's the last part I want to write to you today.
I'm glad you're fat!
Coming out and naming your fatness is a courageous thing to do. Everyone knows you are fat already, so it is counter-intuitive that you must come out. But you do. Coming out as proudly fat, claiming your body as sacred, not something to be erased or dieted out of existence takes so much bravery.
When you say proudly, "I'm FAT" you are smashing an oppressive, murderous paradigm that tells young people of all genders in every way possible that their worth is their weight. Colleen believed it. You don't. Good job.
You announcing loudly to the block that you are willing to fight for fat people's right to take up space, to be complex humans, and not just the funny, loveable but lonely desexualized sidekicks… well, I commend you.
I'm happy to welcome you to the ranks of activists like Mikey Mercedes, Marilyn Wann, and Evette Dion, the fat and black editor of Bitch Media. Evette writes, "Fat-shaming is stitched into the fabric of American culture. In fact, it’s so embedded in our everyday lives that we don’t often recognize when we’re perpetuating fat-phobia or the act of discriminating against someone because of the size of their body."
Hearing you shout "I'm FAT" with so much vigor reminds me of the joy I feel when I accept myself as I am, without trying to whittle away my feelings, my experience, or my body. All bodies deserve respect.
I'm glad I made it, and I'm glad you made it too. Us fatties gotta stick together.
I want to thank you for your comment. While I have been practicing using the F word to name my body and experience for 20+ years, today you showed me I still have work to do. Fat is not a bad word. That I reacted that way when I heard you use it helps me realize I've got to keep fighting!
I'm glad to have a fat ally in the neighborhood. Let me know if you'd like to go for a stroll and discuss how we can make the neighborhood a safe place for all bodies to be.
Big fat love,
Oh, and here are some RESOURCES my friend Scarlet curated to help you on your journey of body liberation:
Sonya Renee Taylor’s book The Body is Not an Apology is a great primer re bodies and our shame oriented culture. She discusses fatness along with skin tone, disability and other body traits that get oppressed. This is a great podcast of Taylor and Brenee Brown talking about the book.
Christy Harrison is a great resource. While she is not a fatty, she is an amazing fat ally, anti-diet dietician, author, podcaster and all around good human. Her site is full of amazing things to read and listen to. Here is a short blog entry she wrote that goes over some of the basics of diet culture and what it means to be anti-diet oriented. Her book Anti-Diet is life changing and so is her podcast. I also get her weekly newsletter and it always teaches me new things. Here’s one of my favorite podcast episodes.
Maintenance Phase is an incredible podcast by fat queers who go into the dark histories of all sorts of things related to fat phobia. They are also hilarious.
Here’s a super informative episode on the “The Obesity Epidemic,” how it was manufactured and fucked up all our lives. Other episodes discuss things like the history of weight watchers (being owned by candy companies), the Keto Diets harmful backlashes, Oprah Winfrey and The Master Cleanse.
"Everything You know about Obesity is Wrong" is a groundbreaking article that was released about 4 years ago focusing on the medical industrial complex and its oppressive, harmful impact on fat folx.
Here’s a podcast from another fat activist, Virgie Tovar. In this episode they discuss how Anti-fatness is actually anti-blackness and vice versa, candy, pleasure, and living your best life. She also had a great book called “You Have the Right to Remain Fat."
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