Christmas and the new year bring up so many unpleasant topics and emotions around being fat, gaining/losing weight, bodies and shame, so I figured it was the perfect time to dispense three pieces of practical advice on how I personally have dealt with the oppressive, insidious messages that are trying to stand between me and my glee as a fat woman.
Get to know yourself
All of those ‘miracle weight loss’ magazine articles generally begin the same way: [insert name here] lost [insert astronomical, medically unsound amount of weight here] after seeing a photo of herself where she looked like A HUGE HIDEOUS WHALE OF A SEMI-HUMAN. I can totally see how this happens.
If you sort of know you’re fat, but do a successful job of kidding yourself you’re an ‘ok kind of fat’ – the kind with ‘curves in all the right places’, feminine, not a fat face, graceful of movement, and you only see this when you look in the mirror because you’re careful to pose and to look at yourself in a certain way. If you only let photos be taken from certain angles, and you make sure any that don’t meet your approval are swiftly deleted, then I can see how you would be knocked back by a photo that shows you with a double chin or belly rolls.
The answer to this is to have a super frank relationship with your body. This is literally the only long-term answer. To know what your body looks like, to know all the possible combinations of what effect moving your body has on the way it looks, to observe yourself in motion, to observe yourself from different angles- all of this adds up to a more whole and realistic picture of you in your fat body. What I’m saying is to put yourself in a position where you cannot be surprised by your body. Get a good look at yourself naked, often. Know what you look like sitting down or from the back or next to your petite friend. Don’t shy away from those changing rooms with mirrors on all sides: this is essentially how people are seeing you all the time. And that’s because this is what you look like. You are not the heavily-contoured, meticulously-posed selfie headshot. You are your double-chin, your belly roll, your fat thighs spreading when you sit down, the hair in places you didn’t want to believe you had it, the colour of your face when you get really warm and sweaty. That is all you, and the sooner you get to believe it, the sooner you’ll be at peace with what you see. It’s all yours, and it’s no one else’s. You can’t learn to love something you don’t believe exists.
(To illustrate my point, here is a photo of me which I’m sure a lot of people would write off as ‘unflattering’ – look at my tummy! look at my fat arm! – and I’m standing next to a thin pal who looks tiny by comparison. I’m super happy with this photo because I know this is what I look like, so I can just enjoy an adorable photo with Cathy, who I love. There were dozens of ‘better’ photos taken of me on this particular day, FYI, but this one is memorably gleeful)
Look at photos of other fat people
You will probably not see beautiful photos of fat people if you consume mainstream media. Unless you’re lucky enough to be reading a magazine that’s condescended to running a one-off piece on fatshion blogging, or watching an interview with Rebel Wilson or Melissa McCarthy or Retta, then there will probably be no fat people in the media you consume. And if there is a fat person, she’s going to be on the receiving end of derision. This is why the internet has been so socially and psychologically vital for fats: it’s the only place where we can glorify our bodies and our images and have that consumed by willing participants who respond and engage and maybe sometimes we even change their minds about theirs.
So that’s why I think it’s super important to just look at positive images of other fat people. Follow fat babes on Twitter, trawl Tumblr tags, read blogs. Photos of confident, happy fats saying ‘I felt great today!’ Fats in bikinis where their cups runneth over. Fats in clothes like the clothes you wear. Fats in the clothes like you wish you wore. Fats just living their lives, having ups and downs and meaningful interpersonal relationships and promoting the badass work of other fats.
Look at photos of them, see them out in the world, existing. Just knowing you’re not the only fat person on earth can be so nourishing and therapeutic. Seeing yourself in the context of these others, as one of them, as just like them, can be exciting and empowering.
Say ‘fuck off’ to weight loss
If weight loss is not personally desirable to you, destabilise it as an inherently desirable process. I can’t tell you the last time I congratulated someone, even a close friend, on weight loss. This is because I don’t consider it a personal virtue, or something I want to give props to in people I love. Losing weight doesn’t make you a more interesting, attractive person. It just makes you thinner. And I don’t buy into thinness as the ultimate goal. Stop indulging weight-loss talk. Assert the fact that you have not bought into the fatphobic and ableist belief that weight loss is the social and ethical holy grail. Tell weight loss to fuck off. Sure, your pal might have ‘worked hard’ for it, it might be what they’ve wanted more than anything else, but the world loves weight loss.
Their family, their partner, their other friends, the woman who serves them in Sainsbury’s, the old colleague they meet up with for a drink (vodka slimline tonic) are going to congratulate them because weight loss is viewed as a universally and inherently good thing. I’m lucky in that even weight-losing friends know to take their chat elsewhere, that I’m not gonna be their girl to celebrate that 2lb loss or to tell them how PROUD I am that they eschewed a social engagement to hit the gym. The absolute best I can do is smile and nod then text them afterwards to say ‘please never talk to me about weight loss again.’ Basically: don’t feel obliged to put boosting the ego of someone whose ego is probably getting boosted pretty hard above your need for safe, comfortable, fat-positive spaces. I believe sometimes people can lose weight without having the underlying assumption that they’re better than you as a fat person, but those people are probably not gonna try to have conversations with you about it or ask for praise. So it’s pretty clear-cut.
I don’t care. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to encourage it. We are intelligent people and can be better and more challenging than upholding such ubiquitous and unquestioned wisdom as ‘weight loss is great.’ We can talk about literally countless other exciting, stimulating, expectation-busting topics. We can do better than calories. (Oh and same goes for putting on weight. I don’t want to hear you whine because your body now more closely resembles mine, thanks!)