Finding The Woman Within: Just Say No To Fat Shaming
Here's something I bet you "regular" sized people didn't know. If you ever order any type of plus sized clothing from one company, you will suddenly get catalogs from every other plus sized company.
Yesterday I got one titled the "Woman Within," as if there is some skinny woman hidden inside my plus sized body, just waiting to get out.
Not the most inspiring name ever.
Plus size women do not get a break. Ever. We are constantly being reminded that we are bigger. Different. Other.
We can't go to "regular" stores and buy clothes. We must find the "Woman's" stores. Woman being a euphemism for fat.
While sports stores may gladly carry larger sizes in men's workout gear, the women's stops at a size 10. Stubbornly, Defiantly. The message is clear: If you're over a size 10, don't even bother.
Weight Is Complicated
Even in light of more and more research that explains that weight is complicated, nuanced. That eating the same food can have vastly different effects on different people, we are still shamed. We still suck in our stomach, try to make ourselves smaller in those already too-small airline seats. We eat less and we still don't lose.
We might even gain.
We avoid doctors because the first thing they see is weight, before any tests are run. (Tests that show that...shock...We may actually pretty healthy.) We are peddled shakes and salads and when those don't work we are shamed more.
It must be our fault. No one is bigger unless they are neglectful and slovenly. No one is big unless they willfully choose to live an unhealthy lifestyle. It's just so easy if you'd just try.
We hear that message everywhere, every day, and it weighs on us. On our value. On our worth as women.
I recently had a conversation with a good friend who is far from plus size. But she has some interesting insights about weight.
She explained about her family, how she was raised to be conscious of every bite that went into her mouth. How a pound gained was a tragedy. She told me that as she got into adulthood she found herself echoing that philosophy by strictly choosing the food her family ate and obsessing over fat grams and calories. Until one day she'd had enough.
She decided to stop. She decided that it was making her life miserable. She described how she has discovered eating. How she is enjoying food. How she has gained weight and feels better. Her energy is there again. She feels better than she's ever felt.
Yet, in all that, she says that she knows as soon as she goes back to her doctor she'll be scolded for her weight gain, and she dreads it even as she is defying it.
Feeling good is less important than looking good. A message that's been handed to women for centuries and one that we have bought and embraced as our own.
Skinny Isn't Always Healthy. Fat Isn't Always Unhealthy.
Even as I write this I know there'll be the detractors. The ones with the firm tight abs, the strict workout regimens, and the healthy vegan diet. And there's nothing wrong with that path.
But what is wrong with a different path? What if I want to be able to eat regular portions of the food I like? What if my plus sized body is healthy? What if health is more complicated than a number on the scale?
What if I enjoy a nice walk in the evening but have no desire for a three hour workout.
And why must my worth as a woman be boxed into shame for my body if it falls outside your outward definition of beautiful?
What if I have energy, health and happiness despite my inability to get below a size 14? What if I eat regular portions, exercise, and still don't lose weight?
Anytime there is an attempt to begin to define beauty beyond weight, there is the detraction, the fake sympathy.
- "I just want you to be healthy and feel good."
- "I do feel good and I am healthy."
- "There is no way you can be at that size."
- "But I am!"
And there is always the subtle reminders, like catalogs that suggest there is a "woman within" that remind me that I am other. I am a woman but an offensive version of one.
I have to struggle with limited clothing choices. Overpriced options that are cheaply made just because I'm a captive audience.
I have to endure the scrutinizing of my food choices. Should you be eating that? Wouldn't a salad with no dressing be better?
I have to deal with the mental anguish of finally working up the guts to go to the doctor for routine care only to leave in disgust after being peddled an MLM weight loss shake.
No physical exam was made. Just a number and a judgement. Blood tests only after the fact. Those same tests that let you know that I actually have really good numbers and appear to be rather healthy.
Looks matter more than health. Always. Don't forget it!
The Fun of Fat Shaming.
Fat shaming is fun. It makes the shamers feel better about any of their own flaws whether those are internal or external.
Look at how they live. Look at those choices. We laugh at the "People of Walmart" photos because they are not us. We don't wear those too-tight clothes or have rolls of fat hanging over our pants as we putter around the store in scooters. Thank goodness I'm not those people.
But we are those people. Every one of those people has a story. Yes even fat people are people. Putting aside the link between poverty and obesity, our willingness as a society to dismiss someone's humanity based on their outward appearance is not only prevalent, it's encouraged.
Some Resources For Body Positive Attitude.
- The Body Is Not An Apology: This is a great website that fights discrimination of people for all kinds of reasons including weight and disability. It's about seeing people as people.
- The Fat Nutritionist: Her message is simple yet inspiring. Health at every size. Among other things she calls for doctors to start understanding the true health of patients and not just their weight.
How do we stop making people, women especially, apologize for their weight? How do we shift the focus from outward to inward? How do we see health as nuanced and subtle? How do we make plus sized women not feel like "other?"
So, as Shakespeare says, "there's the rub."
How Can We Fight It?
I fully realize that we live in society that is external, where appearance is everything. Where it's okay to have curves as long as they are exaggerated and sexualized (ala Kim Kardashian and Nicki Minaj).
But there are little things you can do to emphasize yourself as a person and not a number on a clothing tag or a scale.
For one, you can surround yourself with better people. People that may be skinny, fat, short, tall or in-between but who see you as someone of value no matter your size. Find people who worry less about what you are eating and more about who you truly are.
While it would be nice if we could change media and their air brushed depictions of women, that's not likely to happen. Instead we should celebrate that people, as humans, are very diverse.
I'm not saying that there is anything wrong or bad about being a smaller sized person either. There are beautiful people. Gorgeous. Wonderful to look at. Makes you wonder just how genetics could come together that perfectly. And many of them are smart and talented and truly wonderful people.
And some of those people are thin. And some are not.
And there are other people. People who are not meant to be gazed at as if they were some type of art. But rather they are interesting. They are funny and smart. They make the best lasagna anyone has ever tasted. They can knit the most wonderful creations. They can write. They can teach. They can inspire.
I want to live in a world that just stops for a moment and realizes that diversity applies to not only ethnicity but also to size.
You can perpetuate the problem or be part of the solution.
The choice is up to you.