I know what you want from me is noisy confidence, but today I want to acknowledge that things aren’t always great if you’re fat.
At Hamburger Queen a couple of weeks ago, one of the contestants Holly Handfuls delivered some extremely moving spoken word about the various ways in which fatphobia ruins lives. Fat children being taken in to care. People dying after the highly dangerous gastric band surgery. Teenagers so beaten down by a society that hates their bodies that they want to kill themselves – and sometimes do.
I’m lucky that I’ve never been suicidal over my looks, or threatened with social services, and I will never have gastric band surgery. But a cultural hatred of fat does massively influence how I conduct my interpersonal relationships. Because I’m very happy with how I look, my size and shape, what I do with it, I can generally navigate the world with confidence and I-don’t-give-a-fuck. I am totally prepared to take my top off at a club and dance in my underwear. That doesn’t mean, however, that there wasn’t a good couple of decades during which I was susceptible to being wounded by fatphobia, and that the wounds aren’t still very much there.
I’m pretty sure I’m not alone as a fat girl – even as a confident fat girl – who isn’t still a little bit dragged down by the old voices, the old messages she couldn’t resist at the time. Don’t get a job? Probably because I’m fat. Sexual rejection? Undoubtedly because I’m fat. Bad clothes day? Course it is, I’m fat. Sales assistant in an expensive shop looks at me weird? Not allowed nice things because I’m fat. Have a good date with someone who doesn’t want to meet again? Cos I’m fat.
That’s a major one, actually: attraction.
Romance and dating is such a minefield when you’re a fat woman. If you’ve grown up fat, you’ve grown up knowing no one will ever want you, which means when you reach an age or find a social circle where people don’t make you feel completely shit for being fat, you’re still working on the assumption that you will be last on their list of people to date. If they do choose to date you, you’ll assume they’re ashamed of you. I was seeing someone for a few months a couple of years ago, and despite the fact we lived a mere four miles apart, I never met his friends or his family. I will forever work on the assumption it was because he didn’t want them to know he was dating a fat girl. Now, every time my lovely boyfriend publicly acknowledges me, I’m taken aback because I feel surprised he’s comfortable with people knowing he’s chosen to have a relationship with someone who’s fat. He is, by the way, very handsome, as is my ex-boyfriend; my ex-girlfriend is very beautiful. No matter how attractive I know I am, I can’t help feeling it’s some cosmic accident that’s led to me being allowed to have relationships with legitimately good looking people. That when I’m kind of drunk and naked and eating a kebab on my my boyfriend’s bed, and he says ‘you’re so beautiful’ and actually means it, it feels like I’ve tricked fate somehow and I don’t deserve it.
Just because I know I’m attractive, it doesn’t make me forget that I exist surrounded by messages that fat is bad and ugly and wrong and shameful, and why the hell would I not assume that pretty much everyone else is working on that basis? So when I explain that the reason I didn’t ask my current boyfriend out myself is because I assumed he would reject me (when really what he wanted was precisely for me to ask him out), don’t tell me I’m wrong for thinking that. A fat girl, no matter how attractive, asking someone out who’s generally perceived as Being A Handsome Man, is the kind of thing they make fun of in films, right? Fat girls so much as thinking someone good-looking could ever like them is something we see in sitcoms, isn’t it?
So essentially, it doesn’t matter how much work we do on ourselves, how high we drag ourselves up the ladder of self-love and confidence, we will always exist in this environment that hates our bodies. So handle us with care. Whether or not any of this is true or justified is irrelevant: it is the position we’re backed into when everything around us vilifies our fat bodies and the people who inhabit them. No amount of ~real women have curves~ bullshit can compensate for the cultural supremacy of thin, and the cultural hatred of fat.
Which is why if you’re a lover, a friend or a relative of someone who’s fat: remember this. Be gentle. Don’t be an agent of that hatred. Show us, and everyone else, that you’re not ashamed of us. That you don’t want to change us. That you’re not going to hide that shame behind the guise of ‘health’ without stopping to examine exactly what your ‘concern’ is doing for our mental health. If it looks like we’ve lost weight, don’t praise us. If it looks like we’ve gained weight, don’t comment. Don’t quiz me on whether I’m exercising now, based on the fact I used to exercise. Don’t assume we want to be thin. Don’t assume the state of our bodies is temporary. Don’t assume we’re embarrassed about it. Understand the ways in which years of internalised fatphobia may inform the way we respond to certain things.
Don’t be an asshole to fat folk.