So, today I went to a thing on my campus. It was a beauty contest of sorts, though there was no beauty aspect involved. There were four parts, an intro, a values, a talent and a Q&A. It was a heritage thing and the values and intro were about their countries of origin. It was also a small thing. All four contestants wore pretty dresses and high heels and had hair and makeup done up. There were skits in the middle done by people that seemed to be about feminism. Kind of. It was a little iffy, but hey, college kids in a cultural club get points for trying in my book. Oh, and full disclosure, I am not part of the club, I was working the event for another group. There were also dance groups that were pretty awesome. I’d love to be able to dance like that, and honestly, I wasn’t discouraged at all since these dance groups had dancers with a variety of body shapes. In fact, there was body diversity everywhere, dressed in cocktail dresses since it was some sort of banquet. And these women knew that they were beautiful. All the dresses* were as short and sparkly and strapless as the next woman’s. Getting to see that kind of confidence was really refreshing. Since offline in my daily life outside, I tend to start believing that body confidence doesn’t come in my size.
And then the Q&A happened.
And the last girl got asked about the obesity epidemic. And her answer was that people didn’t know that eating a lot of food was wrong and will give them diabetes. And that we should teach them that. And encourage people to exercise. And I don’t know why, but that question and that answer made me want to run out of the room and cry. Maybe it was because I was eating my first meal of the day** as she was answering that question and it made me want to stop. Maybe because I hadn’t eaten I wasn’t thinking as clearly. Maybe it was that question and that answer combined with all the women (and men) in that room who are obese and who were hearing that they could be “fixed” if they just ate right and exercised, and that they were too stupid or ignorant or whatever to know that. Or possibly because some dancers were on stage only minutes ago proving that health and size are different. Maybe it was just because I’m used to seeing questions framed like that on the internet and it was hard to see it spear its way into my outside world. I don’t know but it hurt.
And then they crowned the winner. She was the “fat chick” of the bunch and if I were to guess, she was probably obese. It wasn’t pity votes, she rocked that show. And I felt a lot better.
*There were also skirts and pants worn, but mostly sparkly, short, strapless cocktail dresses.
**I’m guilty of being a breakfast skipper.
Society views health as something visible. Anyone who has been “invisibly” sick and disbelieved knows this. Just as people have been “invisibly” (e.g. fat) and healthy and disbelieved know this. If you look good, then you must feel good, amirite? Everyone else is lying or faking or doesn’t know what’s good for them.
And that’s where all sorts of eating issues come in. I’ve mentioned before that I find emotional eating perfectly fine. There are two aspects of health. The physical and the mental, and we ignore the mental. It’s not uncommon for us to ignore the mental to the point of damaging it. It is not unhealthy to eat if eating helps. If eating something comforting on a bad day improves someone’s mental health, then actually, it’s healthy. Becoming dependant on it to feel better is not, but same goes for anything else.
I’m not saying that exercise can’t help someone’s mental state. But it doesn’t help everyone’s all the time. Sometimes, if there is an answer, food can be it. Or food can help be it. We look at cute videos of small animals to make us happy. We listen to up beat music to make us smile. We take a warm bath to relax. We step outside in the summer and take a whiff of freshly cut grass and feel at peace. We use all our other senses to aid ourselves in feeling positive. Only taste has this added layer of guilt or shame. And that’s not going to help anyone who wants to feel better. The shame about playing music too loud and damaging our ears or taking too hot showers can cause dry skin is barely there. But it is for taste because taste has to do with weight, and well, all that.
I was thinking about this yesterday. I woke up late and rushed through everything skipping breakfast and missing lunch. By the time dinner came around, I had zero interest in anything in the kitchen besides some ice cream. But I couldn’t just eat ice cream. So I left it alone and continued to be hungry. Until a few hours later, it hit me. Yes, I could just eat ice cream. Because, get this, eating ice cream was healthier than not eating it, in that context. It’s true that eating a lot of other things in my kitchen would have been healthier than the ice cream. Maybe a salad or some oatmeal or . . . really just about anything. But the thing is, those weren’t options because I wasn’t going to eat them. I just wasn’t. My relationship with food, my relationship with motivation eliminated these things as being options.
I think the point is kind of lost in there. My point is sometimes re-framing is in order. In that situation, I wasn’t choosing what to eat, I was choosing to eat. In a comfort eating situation, it isn’t choosing to indulge in something unhealthy, it’s improving one’s immediate well-being. The morality of food is another issue, but even saying “brownies are bad for your body” does not make eating one for comfort morally wrong or overall unhealthy. Because while bodies are awesome, we are more than our bodies. We are also more than our minds. We are a unit of both and that means understanding balancing the health of both is important.
Yeah. That. Mental health. It’s ignored. Combined with the Big Bad of eating for something other than sustenance makes people fail to see comfort eating as a tool rather than a Terrible Idea. I guess I could have just written that comment without the ramble. But it’s the journey and all that. . . I need to get used to this blogging thing again.
Dances with Fat is one of the many FA centred blogs I read. And her most recent entry (Do You Need to Eat That) reminded me of a story I want to tell. Which is good because I’ve been lacking in the update ideas department as of late.
I’ve mentioned my disordered eating before, and how sometimes it’s a response to stressors, but sometimes it isn’t. In the past, I experimented with eating as little as possible for no other reason than I thought it felt good and I wanted beyond any hope or reason to be skinny.
The first time I started doing this was in high school. Breakfast would be one packet of instant oatmeal, and lunch would be half an apple, dinner would sometimes be a binge, but also sometimes be a frozen Weight Watcher’s dinner (which, are pretty good as far as frozen dinners go, surprisingly). One of these nights, I was going to sleep early due to a new sleep schedule I had imposed on myself. My dinner was going to be guacamole and chips, since my father had made guacamole for the family dinner I would be skipping that night.
He saw me eating the chips with guac and on the third one, he asked “Do you really need to eat that?” Since the chip was already loaded, I ate it, but then said something like “I guess you’re right, I should stop now.” and did.
But the thing is, I did really need to eat that. And a lot more food, at that. But I knew and he knew he wasn’t asking that question, he was telling me to stop. I remember only one or two other instances of being asked that by someone. All I can remember about those times is being pissed off and ashamed. This culture sucks sometimes.
The other day I was in a class and we were discussing language. I said something about one of my hobbies and how my mother doesn’t approve as an example of how some word is used in an interesting context. Someone else took my example and expanded upon it. That my mother would rather rather I take an aerobics class. A few eyebrows were raised and a few looks were shot his way and a few “oh really?”s were said. The example giver figured out what happened and said something like “I didn’t mean anything by that, it was just the first kind of activity that came to mind.”
And I just kind of sat there trying my best to seem oblivious. But the questions were in my head already. If I were thin, would he have even thought of that example? If I were thin would the example have been as loaded? Was the example pointed out in order to covertly mock my weight? Should I say something to the guy and tell him I’m not offended?
Of course there was also the fact that exercise was being linked to weight loss. And then it occurred to me that even though I’ve been chubby or fat or whatever my whole life, I still don’t know how to deal with a conversation about my weight, whether covert or overt, when I’m not actually part of the conversation. Mostly because that’s a messed up situation that shouldn’t be happening anyway.
Before that class had started, I ran into a friend of mine. She has lost a lot of weight in the past two years. My mind keeps yelling at me to tell her she looks fantastic. And I keep feeling like a terrible person for failing to have mentioned it. There’s a voice in the back of my mind that keeps telling me that I’m not saying anything because I’m jealous and that she knows that I’m jealous because I haven’t said anything.
And yeah, I am jealous. I can continue to seep myself in FA and not diet and try really hard to think of my health in terms of my actual heath vs my weight, but no matter how much I push myself, I cannot push myself outside of society. I still want to be thinner. Maybe because I’ve only been actively working at this for a little less than a year. But this isn’t why I haven’t said anything. Honestly, I think not telling my friend she looks great is one of the hardest parts of FA.
Because saying she looks good now means that I’m putting what she looked like before in opposition. Because statistics say her keeping the weight low is going to be incredibly hard to impossible and if she does gain the weight back, every one of those “You look great”s could haunt her. Because I don’t know how or why she lost the weight, and what if it was because she fell ill or what if she developed an eating disorder? Because I don’t want it to even seem like I might measure her worth along with her weight.
There are lots of reasons, and when I look at it that way, I feel like I’m doing the right thing, but mostly I just feel like a bad friend.
I was going to start this entry by apologising to you, my (hypothetical?) reader(s) for disappearing. But I changed my mind. Instead I’m going to restate that my primary reason for doing this is for me. I hope this helps someone or gives someone something to think about, and I think I may have done that already, which makes this wonderful. I think part of accepting my body is accepting that I can do things for me and not feel guilty about it. I know this next sentence is going to take some of that power away. But, I do hope you don’t mind the lack of apology.
Today, I went pants shopping. It was more clothes shopping in general, but I have a lot of shirts I like, more skirts than I wear (since I generally don’t) and just don’t wear dresses. I am getting older, as people do, and I somehow got it into my head that in order to step toward being a proper adult, I have to start dressing like one. To an extent, this is true. At least if I plan on interviewing in person for white collar jobs and then actually working said job. Dressing like an adult, to me at least, means dressing in something socially acceptable. Something that at the very least doesn’t “highlight” the flaws society says my body has and something that conforms to my gender identity. It also seems to require muting one’s personality. At least, that’s how I see it. Perhaps if my personality were something that conformed more to standards of “acceptable” I wouldn’t think this, but they don’t and that’s okay. If they did, that’s okay too, though I hope that goes without saying.
My current wardrobe can conform. But I don’t wear those pieces together very often. However, I still have some time while my real occupation is student and so I can exist outside of the dress code What Not to Wear tells me about. Now, I’m not saying anything against WNtW; they’re certainly on to something. When I watch I generally do think the “after” looks better than the “before”. But as I’m reading more from the areas of the internet where FA and feminism hangs out, I’m starting to think that seeing these (generally) women the way I see them is problematic. I haven’t been able to look past the “Wow, she looks so much better!” but I see the uniformity all too clearly. Today I was watching the Style network (I think? Cable has too many channels) and it has a similar show. I don’t remember the title, but one of the hosts was reading a letter from the makeover candidate’s daughter that said something like “Mom, if you wear more dresses, I will want to too” as if this were heart breaking and a reason to change the makeover candidate’s wardrobe. I found this hugely problematic.
I won’t lie. This is partially because I have a good relationship with the “wrong” clothes and a pretty bad relationship with the “right” ones. Wrong being clothes intended for men, right being clothes intended for women. Clothes marketed to women don’t fit my body. I am biologically female and I identify as such. However, up until this (fairly) recent trend of longer shirts, shirts to fit women would turn into crop tops on me because they didn’t account for breasts my size. If they made a larger size it was often too boxy and still unflattering (in the traditional sense). Pants designed for women often seem to shout LOOK AT MY THIGHS, and more often than not manage to give me a muffin top even if they’re falling off my body. I (understandably, I hope) hate this. I mentioned my clothes a bit in Two Setbacks, a previous post on here. The pants I talked about being a setback were designed for women (but I didn’t hate them), the shorts I loved are designed for men. When I was 14 or 15 I finally asked my mother if I could try some men’s cargo shorts. I consider that one of the best sartorial decisions I ever made. I haven’t gone back to shorts designed for women. I think I may own a pair and I think they may fit, but I can’t remember wearing then. Pants have been more problematic. As I’ve mentioned in Two Setbacks, pants have to fit more of the body and therefore more can go wrong, so it is harder to find men’s pants that look good on me than it is to find shorts. Men’s and women’s pants are often more similar than men’s and women’s shorts are. And if the only difference is that women’s pants are cut for my body and men’s pants aren’t, then it would make sense for me to gravitate toward women’s pants (even if another difference is that pockets are just more useful on men’s pants).
So, today I went shopping for pants with a healthy FA influenced attitude. I think I did a pretty good job at “ignoring” the numbers. I chose the size I think I would fit best in and my second guess to try on, rather than the size I wanted/hoped I was. I tried on the larger size first. The trauma I saved was noticeable. It’s much easier to go down a size than go up one. Not because of the numbers, per se, but because I didn’t have to see my body in something that squished it into something it wasn’t supposed to look like. Also, pants that are too small are uncomfortable. Pants that are too big are not. I think this new approach saved me. I tried on a lot of pants. Even the ones that were falling off made me hate what I was seeing. I almost pouted my way to jewellery and shoes several times. But I was able to see that it wasn’t my body. It really was the pants. My body wearing shorts “I look good!”; My body wearing pants “I want to cry!”. But I saw that yes, my body is in both those statements so it could not be the cause of the wanting to cry. Thanks FA!
I finally gave up and walked over to the guys’ section. As I was doing so I felt a lot of relief. I also saw a hipster boy in skinny jeans walking over to the juniors’ (teen girls’) section to look at pants. Take that society! The first pair of jeans I picked out and tried on fit better and looked better than any of the pants I had tried on yet that day and quite a few of the pants I own. I also bought a really cute t-shirt from the same section because that’s how I roll.
I feel like there should be a lesson here. But there isn’t. This is just my experience. I am lucky that I’m both willing, wanting and able to shop outside of what’s expected of me because shopping sucks.
Or at least part of my family. I decided to watch Huge on the television this week. Since I’m home with my family, this means publicly viewing this show rather than hiding away in my room and waiting a few hours for it to appear on Hulu. I decided it shouldn’t be something I’m ashamed to watch, and not a bad thing to introduce to my mother if she were to watch some with me. It looked like I was going to have the TV room to myself as I was squatting the TV and watching the end of Cake Boss. Then my mother and brother pretty much both come in at the same time right for the beginning of the show. My mother to zone out and watch whatever I’m watching and my brother to be on his laptop.
Mother dearest asks what I’m watching when she sees a bunch of fat people on the TV and I tell her “Huge”. She asks if that’s really what it’s called and then says shows like this are what give people eating disorders. Last I checked, she still thought of “The Biggest Loser” as an inspiring watch, so I’m really not sure what she meant by that. My brother responds that eating disorders are caused by “dumb bitches”. I really want to tell my brother to shut up and start respecting people like a decent human being, but I don’t because we have an incredibly good sibling relationship and warring with someone in your own house never seemed like fun to me.
My brother continued to make fun of the fatness while my mother decided the show was “actually pretty good.” In fact, she asked if the previous episodes were on On Demand so she can catch up. Score one for team Huge. The show today was pretty awesome as always. I love how Poppy identifies as asexual. I do have a nitpick in that she’s also aromantic which isn’t always tied to asexualness but I still give major props to the show.
A little background on my family is that my brother grew up as a chubby kid and then turned around and now is just big as in muscular. My mother pointed out that she was about as fat as Becky until some random dude did a drive-by shout and called her a fat-ass and then she lost weight and is now one of the 5% of people who have managed to lose weight and keep it off. Not just for over five years but for over something like twenty. Maybe that means genetics should be in favour of me also having a transformation story like that, but I’ve yet to see any evidence. I also think it’s safe to say I’m no longer looking.
There are a lot of things I would like to write about right now, but I think the most prominent has to do with my identification as fat. Anyone who has been paying attention to FA or even just the obesity epidemic (the wording of which I’m going to ignore) is that fat is a class issue. Basically the argument is that poor people are fat because they do not have the time, money and/or access to gym memberships and fresh, healthy food. I’m not arguing that this isn’t true. It probably is, but I have no experience and haven’t done the research to really argue that.
See, there’s another side to this. I grew up in a pretty well-off area. While I was relatively poor compared to some of my classmates, they had the kind of houses that rival those on cribs and would be allowed to bring a few friends for a week in Paris for their birthday. So, relative is the key word there. I have access to good, fresh food. I have a gym membership (or maybe two). Thing is, I’m still fat. Or at least, I’m still what I would consider fat.
I’ve mentioned before, when I was in high school, playing fattest person in the room would generally mean me or a handful of other people. I went to a large high school. I can think of about four other fat girls out of my graduating class of hundreds. My idea of fat is different than a lot of people’s idea of fat. The problem is, all but a few media images reaffirmed the idea that the average woman was tall, blonde and thin. I had some sort of idea that the rest of the world wasn’t as blonde as I was experiencing but not about how they weren’t as tall or as thin.
When I got to college I noticed that while I did have a lot of friends who were taller and thinner than me and a few who were fairer there were large masses of short, dark, fat girls running around. I’d sit and people watch and marvel at the body type that represented the average sorority girl. Most were thinner than me, but I didn’t count a lot of them as thin. Maybe the freshman five/ten/fifteen (take your pick) played into this, but I think that wasn’t the case. I think I didn’t make the best social impression because the first two years were spent trying to figure out where my body fell on this spectrum. I’m still not sure, but I care less now.
When I hear things about my size being a small fat or an in-between, I don’t see it that way. I grew up being on the end of a spectrum, not the middle, and I don’t know if I will ever be able to deprogram myself from that. I was able to readjust my mental classification of others when I’m in that environment but put me back where I spent the first seventeen years of my life or ask me to evaluate myself and I’m still going to see things the way I was taught to see them by my environment that was then reinforced by the media. (The media is its whole separate rant.) Further when the idea of people getting fatter is framed in as a socio-economic argument, I’ve found that it is presented that the fat rich person is clearly an inferior human being because (s)he has no excuse.
This is a hard post to write because I do acknowledge that I have a privilege that comes with my family’s socio-economic status. Even in being fat. But the privilege doesn’t extend far enough to make me immune. I don’t want this to sound to FA like the “what about the menz” argument is to feminism. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded, but this is my experience.
So, I watched Huge I think this show is going to be good for me. It’s certainly a way to reflect on my transformation as an outsider. When I watched it, the smaller fat Amber* has a lot of problematic views and habits. Problematic as in indicative of an eating disorder. She chews her food 30 times, she has thinspiration. I’ve visited pro-anorexic communities in the past. I didn’t like their thinspiration, but I did pay attention to their advice. I followed some of their advice. I still want to try some of the things they suggested. So I found myself relating to Amber. A lot and not just with her potential eating disorder. But I also found myself rooting for Will. Even and especially when Will was facing off against Amber.
But that’s not the point of this ramble. The point of this is that I was listening to the latest Fatcast, a review of the show. Also, a review of the show’s reviews. I know words have power, but something they said really struck me. I’m down with fat acceptance and body acceptance and size acceptance and the word fat and the obesity! crisis!, but when they said reviewers were saying “This show is saying it’s okay to be fat!” as if it were a bad thing, I found myself agreeing with the reviewer and then going “Wait! No, no, it is okay to be fat!”
I can’t figure out why I am fine with someone calling me fat (as an insult) but not if they were to ask me “So you’re saying it’s okay to be fat?” (in disdain, not interest). I don’t know where this little voice comes from in my head saying “How could you possibly think it’s okay to be fat?” I’m not sure where that breakdown in logic is, but I want to find it.
*Go watch the show, this whole thing might not make that much sense if you don’t.
First of all, I would like to say that my normal computer is in the shop right now, and I’m on my backup (yes, I know I’m lucky and I’m grateful) but my backup is old for a computer and doesn’t do all the things I like computers to do, so I’ve been cutting down computer time in all areas of my internet life. Not just here, though if I keep composing these blog posts in my head, this place will be flooded when I finally get my beloved back.
Today, I was thinking about how awesome Huge might be. The new show on ABC Family about a fat camp. See, the one thing I always wanted as a kid was to go to a fat camp. I never expressed this desire because I thought it was a shameful one, though not for the reasons I can think of now.
This is tied in with my version of the FoBT because I don’t think I’ve limited my life because of my weight. I think the only notable exceptions would be clothing (even when things do fit, there’s the idea of “flattering” and “appropriate” that further limits selection, of course) and a few dance classes that just had very unwelcoming atmospheres. I’ve never really had a strong if/when I’m thin I can/will do X idea in my head. I think this is because the focus and goals in my life have been pretty strongly based in mental feats. Or possibly because (undiagnosed) depression has kept me from doing a lot of things and I have a much stronger Fantasy of Being Happy.
I have had one form of the FoBT that has had a pretty strong hold on me. The reason I wanted to go to fat camp was because when summer was over and I went back to school, I would be thin. And then, all those classmates who made fun of me would see. I still have that goal, except without a fat camp. The goal of losing weight while I’m invisible and then coming back as this new magical thin person. I’ve always had this idea that being thin would “show them”. But I’ve never really thought about what I would be showing them until today. And that is, apparently, my ability to conform to societal beauty standards.
And to me, this is kind of a really strange revelation. I was always the kind of person who wanted to stand out rather than conform, but at the same time, this idea makes so much sense to me. It feels really good to conform. When I was eleven, people started making fun of my eyebrow a lot. A year later, with a bit of hesitation, I agreed to let my mother make me an appointment to get it waxed. I still remember the day when someone shouted in the hall “HEY UNIBROW! UNIBROW, WHY AREN’T YOU ANSWERING?”. I turned around with my two freshly waxed brows and the look on his face was just so wonderful. I still relish that memory.
But I think the most shocking revelation this whole body acceptance thing has made me face is this. The fact that I want to become thin so that I can prove to a society I dislike (and find problematic at best) that I can conform to its standards.
Of course, even after figuring this out and writing it down I still want to show ‘em, but I also want to fix that.
By the way, in college, I met someone who was a vegan and studying for a health and nutrition degree. She worked at a fat camp over her summers and to hear what she had to say about the camp (especially the meals) made me realise that if I had ever gone to a fat camp (or at least that one) when I was younger I probably wouldn’t have lost weight anyway, or if I had, I would have just regained it.