I originally wrote this post one year ago today, but not much has changed around me since then. I feel that I’ve got more firm in my views over the last year, so am re-posting this with edits and additions.
As a ‘big girl’ I go through phases of questioning, worrying about, agonising over this state, and very long periods of not thinking about it at all. Recently, I’ve found myself in a questioning phase; a problem of definition. I have no problem with calling myself ‘fat’. I simply am. To my ears, my own voice using this term isn’t hateful or self-loathing, it denotes nothing but the truth of my body. I have no problems self-defining as fat. Everyone else, however, seems reluctant to afford me the same luxury. I remember, maybe 5 years ago, referring to myself as fat in front of a friend. ‘But you’re not!’ he cried, ‘you’re not fat!’. He seemed to think he was reassuring me, appeasing me, whether or not he was telling the truth. What I couldn’t muster the energy to say to him then, and what I’ve since learnt to say succinctly and with dignity, is that denying my fatness is denying me the right to be attractive. When I say ‘I’m fat’, I’m making a pronouncement on my size and my body. The colour of my eyes, the way I look after my nails, the shape of my lips, the length of my eyelashes; none of this has anything to do with my size. And besides, what if I like my thighs, my chubby upper arms, my fleshy, surgery-scarred stomach? Denying that I’m fat is denying me the chance to find any beauty in it.
I feel uncomfortable when bigger girls talk about how they wouldn’t want to be skinny, how they would never want ‘hips like a 12-year-old boy’ or a flat chest or how much they like being ‘womanly’ because that’s just the same, confidence-crushing bullshit they’ve put up with all their lives but flipped over against some other girl. I don’t want to make anyone feel bad about their body, I don’t want to pronounce on what is, in general, an ‘acceptable’ size or shape. I want everyone and anyone and their aunt and their puppy to feel like it’s ok to be the way they are, and if they’re already happy with it, then that’s even more ok.
When magazines or, indeed, other humans talk about ‘real women’ and their ‘curves’ it makes my blood boil. Ok, so we’ve had years and years of one ‘heroin chic’ look, and now we’re trying to atone for it, but I don’t think that Kate Moss circa 1994 or Gwyneth Paltrow or Amy Winehouse are holograms… are they? I mean, they’re real in the sense that I haven’t just made them up for the purposes of this blog post. And they all define as women, as far as I know, so where’s the beef? Is it guilt and shame that makes magazines so keen to call Christina Hendricks ‘real’ because they know that until a couple of years ago, her and Adele and… well, that’s about it, would never have got a look in?
I don’t think I’m somehow superior because I’m fat. I just like being me. I find waking up in the morning and looking in the mirror satisfying. I enjoy my appearance, whether or not you do. And that’s priceless.
However: fashion magazines, the media, our global culture teach us that thin is preferable to fat, which is why it seems so much harder for fat girls to realise they even have the option to like themselves. And I mean girls like me or Beth Ditto, who are actually fat, not girls like Christina Hendricks or Lara Stone who seem to exist solely to make fash mags feel like they’re good people because they’re using pictures of someone above an A-cup. It is hard to be fat and to like yourself. Fatphobia, fat-shaming and plain old fat hate are so, so ingrained in our culture that people don’t even think twice about the fact they, instinctively, attach a lower value to ‘fat’ than ‘thin’. I’m speaking as someone with friends who think Keira Knightley has ‘big thighs’. I work in an environment where it’s assumed that fat people don’t wear high heels. Even plus-size retailers don’t have the respect or common sense to use appropriately sized models or mannequins to promote their clothes. To paraphrase, (I believe, correct me if my memory has failed me) Lionel Shriver in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, the greatest thing a Western woman can achieve is a protruding ribcage or a visible spine: she wears it as a badge of honour. We are trained to hate fat. By rights, even I should hate fat. I should hate looking at my fat legs, I should be ashamed of my fat arms, I should be wearing a tent-like apparatus to conceal my fat stomach, I should grow my nails long to elongate my fat fingers.
But that’s bullshit.
I live once. I am blessed with one body, and one mind and I’ve worked hard to reconcile the two. I’m 22. I wear what I want. I seek romance with people I find attractive. I got over my heel-dragging and nerves and took an internship at a women’s glossy fashion magazine where I looked like no-one on the staff, because I want to be a journalist and I want to be fearless. I stand up for myself. I stand up for others. I write my blog to help other people understand that you have a choice, that you only live once, that regret and resentment and denial are a life wasted. I have trained myself not to assume that the fat on my body means I am worth less, deserve less, that I appeal to no-one, that I shouldn’t wear what I want, that no one will want to date me or sleep with me or be my friend, that it will always be me who gets rejected, that as a fat girl, I can’t be fussy about who I’m kissing. As a wonderful man said to me over dinner in Montréal one night, ‘For some people it’s a deal-breaker; for others, it sweetens the deal’. It’s a sign of weakness on my part that I had ever assumed that potential partners would be deterred by my fat and that the same men or women would love me any more for weighing less. But the man was right; as well as doing myself a disservice, I’m doing a disservice to anyone that would potentially find me attractive.
Do people think I’ve never looked in the mirror? Do they think I’ve never seen a photo of myself, or bought clothes? Are they so keen to push their terror of fat onto me by denying me the right to be fat, and telling me I’m not? Are they conscious of the fact that by denying my fatness, they’re implicitly unpicking years and years of hard work, of hard knocks and of blows to my confidence to find the courage to enjoy being myself in the face of overwhelming opposition? Their cowardice in not being able to acknowledge that I am fat translates to disbelief that I am or could ever be attractive or beautiful or stylish or deserving of romance or a personal style. No one in the public eye that’s considered beautiful or a positive role model looks anything like me. At least slim girls know they’re doing ok because they see, every single day, photos of models and actresses and singers that basically look like a variation on their theme. Not me. I had to figure this all out for myself. Up against all this bullshit, it’d probably be easier to lose weight than to develop any kind of backbone or self-love.
It’s like the way I feel about my body hair: I have no respect for your comfort zone. I don’t accept a culture that wants to police my body, and that thinks that the price I have to pay for being a woman is being thin. I will continue to fight for the right to be a human on my own terms, not an object of derision nor an object of fetish.
Yes, health is nice, but I refuse to participate in any kind of body-policing, for aesthetics or health or politics. No one’s body should be held up as a source of shame, and health should not be a criterion for social acceptability. No body policing. None.
I refuse to be grateful if someone wants to date me, or take me home. I’d much rather someone didn’t want to date me because I was fat than because they thought I was a bad person, but equally if someone couldn’t bear the idea of dating me because I’m fat, then I would rather repeatedly bang my head against a wall than give them a second thought. I’m not exclusively quarantined in a life of singledom because I’m fat. Newsflash: some people want to date me sometimes. I take it for granted that I can participate in that because I’m an attractive human. Romantic attention is not something I’m grateful for.
Part of the problem is that so very often the people (women) who are perceived as, or self-style as mouthpieces for body-positivity are perfectly happy to be leader of the pack until they find a diet that works. People who are genuinely happy in themselves are so few and far between, but they do exist.
I will never talk about ‘punishing’ my body for any reason, especially not for its fatness. I will never proclaim that I’m ‘allowed’ chocolate because I ate a salad for lunch. Food has no moral value and I’m sure as hell not going to give it one.
If any of this sounds radical, then that’s just testament to how far we’ve gone as a society to make body-shaming and body-policing the norm.
I’m going to wear horizontal stripes, tight skirts, short dresses, weird textures, a blunt fringe, high heels, skinny jeans, small florals, and whatever else takes my fancy, even if a fashion editor would vomit with disgust on sight. I have the choice and I choose to be fat and fucking marvelous, not one or the other.
I am fat. That is fine.