I was dancing in a queer club the other weekend, in a little shorts playsuit. As the night wore on, more and more people were embracing the gleeful spirit of the occasion and taking their tops off. So I did too, and I danced half-naked, visibly fat, obviously sweating PROFUSELY, wearing only short shorts and sandals, and I thought, to quote one of my favourite songs ever, ‘Well… how did I get here?’
I listen to people talking shit about fat people all day. How they can’t eat that because they’ll get fat, how they can’t take that birth control pill because they’ll get fat, how they want to get ‘thin and hot’ as revenge on their ex who dumped them, how they would essentially rather be dead than fat. There is no secret that in the society I operate in, fat is a four-letter word. Even fat people hate fat people. And I’m proud of myself, and grateful to myself, too, that I’m capable of being the person I am, and simply being able to get on with everything I want to do, in spite of that. I don’t look at clothes and think ‘I would wear that if I was thin’ anymore. I look at them and think ‘I would wear that if the retailer thought I was valuable enough to make clothes for. And they’re losing out on my money.’ I don’t see these things as ‘my fault’ these days. It’s not only me, it’s them too. There are two forces contributing to the absence.
The thing is, when I was growing up, I never imagined I would be fat as an adult. It just wasn’t an option, it wasn’t going to happen. I would magically, one day, wake up and I would be Grown-Up Bethany: thin, palatable, lovable and conventionally attractive. I had a vision that was roughly like the Special K lady: long brown hair, pretty, permanently dressed in red. I don’t know why, but that’s what I thought I would end up being.
Once I got my head around the fact that whatever I was like in the future, I was fat then, I thought I was only ‘allowed’ to exist as a fat woman if I observed all the other aesthetic codes of respectability. Like I could wear a swimsuit in public, as long as it was a one-piece. And I could only be fat and wear a one-piece if I shaved my legs and armpits and didn’t have cellulite and my skin was tanned rather than radioactively pale.
If you’d shown preteen/early teen me a photo of 24-year-old me, the disappointment would be not just crushing, but confusing. The fact that I hadn’t had a lightbulb moment, a moment where I flicked the switch and became that fictional vision of myself, would have blown my mind. I never realised there was another option: that my body would stay the same but my mind would change. The idea that one day I would choose to leave the house in a revealing playsuit and sandals, where you could tell that I was fat, where you could tell that I hadn’t shaved, would be truly unthinkable to me. That I would feel good about that, even more so.
With hindsight, one thing is clear: the Bethany of the olden days wanted was to have the kind of body that meant I could wear tight, short, revealing clothes. I wanted a body that meant people I fancied found me attractive. I didn’t want to feel like I’d been left out of the loop, somehow- that my body was denying me experiences other (thinner) girls could have, and I knew that the only way to have this would be by losing weight as soon as possible. But I have all that right now. I’m the fattest I’ve ever been, and my personal grooming has never been more minimal, and yet I’ve never felt more comfortable in myself or less inhibited by my appearance.
I think that might be what fatphobes object to the most about fat people. It’s like we’ve used a cheat code and skipped the steps that someone told them was important. They’ve bought into the same myths I had as a child, but they’ve never grown out of them. They think you only deserve good clothes and hot partners and happiness and success and sex and romance and self-confidence if you’re thin, because you have to work to be thin, and we’re a culture obsessed with work. How galling, then, that someone as undeserving as me has all the same stuff as them (and, in some cases, better) without working for it.
The only thing that can stop me is everyone else. I’m on top of my shit as much as is humanly possible, and beyond that it’s other people’s responsibility to fix up and sort out their frankly bigoted views about fat people. I’ve stopped stopping myself, and that feels good. It’s everyone else’s responsibility to treat me well, not mine to behave in a way that suits their views and panders to their prejudices.
This is most evident in a shift I implemented a couple of years ago: I *love* online dating, and have been a happy user of OkCupid for nearly 4 years. For the first 18 months, I had a lot of dates, and met a lot of people who were really taken with me. What never happened, though, was that I was interested in them. I realised I was consciously choosing to message and meet people who I thought would find me attractive. Then, 18 months down the line, after a particularly bleak date with someone I should never have met, I made a snap decision. I would message and meet only the people that I found attractive, with little regard for whether I thought they would deign to date me, as a fat woman. What do I know about them? About their psychology, their desires, what they want? All I know is that I’m attractive, valid and worth dating, so I might as well be the mistress of my own destiny. (I have a lot more to say about how being fat interacts with dating, and specifically online dating, but I’ll save that for another day!)
And that, I suppose, is just how I’m trying to live in all ways. Going through life trying to take everything I want from it, because I deserve it, because I’m human. It’s easy to miss those facts when you’re fat, because you’re so often viewed as being unworthy of love and respect, and I’m thankful every day that I somehow found a way to push through that and found a way to be the girl with the most cake – literally and metaphorically.