Does this Post Make Me Look Fat?

Here’s an experiment that’s almost certainly not going to go well: I shall attempt to write about fat without ranting.

I’ve been reading a lot about the fat acceptance movement recently, for reasons personal and potentially professional. And as inspiring as it is to see people who are extremely well educated about the OMG HEALTH RISKS!!! (real and imagined) parsing the intersection of medicine and discrimination, demanding cute clothes for all, and busting the myth that fat people are slothful, any slog through the information that’s out there also involves learning about a lot of truly heartbreaking shit. It’s emotionally tiring, and it makes me ranty.

So ranty, in fact, that I’m beyond the point of wanting to rant about it. What do I even say about a toddler taken from her parents because of a genetic disorder that causes her to gain weight? Or about a sexual assault victim afraid to go to the doctor because she is certain–not without some foundation–that she will be lectured on diet and exercise during a post-rape pelvic exam? Or about someone who seeks help for back pain because she fell on the ice and is told, “It’s normal for overweight people to have aches and pains”? Or about damn near any of the stories here? All stuff I’ve read in the last few days, and just the tip of the iceberg. I can’t even scream about it at this point, because that only reminds me of how few people are willing to listen, and that depresses the hell out of me.

But I have a few fat-related things I think I can write about more with healthy curiosity than anger. I was going to cram them all into one post, but after seeing how much I can ramble about just one thing (like we didn’t know that), I’ve decided to make it a series. (You know, if I ever get around to writing other entries.) I’ll give you a topic; discuss.

Here’s today’s.

I woke up thinking this morning about the positive aspects of having grown up in a home full of fat people. There are actually several of those, along with the numerous negatives (though the latter were really more about growing up with self-loathing, depressed people who happened to filter their self-loathing and depression through the subject of fat a lot). Maybe the biggest positive is, I’ve gotten to snuggle with a lot of fat people in my life. And you know, with all due respect to skinny people, I’ve snuggled with a lot of them, too, and it just ain’t the same.

I was thinking about this in the context of (and here, she works really hard not to rant) the fear and disgust that come up for many people when they think about touching a fat person. This group includes, sadly, a lot of medical professionals and fitness experts who claim to want to “help” the fatties. Even worse, it includes a lot of fat people themselves. I can’t tell you how many fat people I’ve encountered who are creeped out by physical affection. I’m still allowed to climb on top of my sister M. and drape my entire body over her, just as I did when we were kids, as long as it involves a lot of rib-poking, and the stated goal is to irritate the shit out of her. But if I try to simply hug her? Forget about it. THAT IS NOT OKAY. That would mean something silly, like she’s worth loving, or she’s a human being who needs affection, or touching her is not the most horrible, revolting action a person could ever, ever take. And if she let herself believe any one of those things for five minutes, her head might actually explode. Unfortunately, she’s not too unusual in that respect. More unfortunately, it’s not hard to see the reasons why.

I not only have no problem touching fat people, I actively enjoy it, in a variety of contexts. I’d like to congratulate myself on being all enlightened, but I got to wondering this morning if the reason for that is as simple as this: all the people I loved best as a kid were big and squishy. Before the culture–and those big, squishy people themselves, I should add–got to me with endless messages about how loathsome fat is, I learned it was pretty damned fun to curl up on.

But if I’d gotten those messages without the countervailing influence of awesome fat hugs, I could totally see being afraid to touch a fat person, or grossed out by it–sorta the same way sticking your hand in a bowl full of grapes is disgusting and creepy if somebody tells you they’re eyeballs. It’s all about the mental image that comes up, not how it actually feels. For a lot of people, seeing a fat person automatically evokes, “Yucky, out of control, slovenly, and probably smelly.” I could rant for a thousand years about how fucked-up that is, but let’s just acknowledge it as reality and move on. If that’s what your brain is telling you, of course you’re not going to want to touch a fat person.

I don’t really have any intelligent conclusion here–or at least no prescription for change. It’s probably not feasible to make sure every child gets fat hugs in the first three years of life. But I would be curious to see if my theory bears out. Any thin people who grew up in thin families want to cop to a fear of touching fat people, overcome or not? Or, perhaps more interestingly–if counter to the theory–fat people from fat families?

It’s times like these when I wish I had a broader and more anonymous readership. I bet there would be some fascinating answers from people who are not already my friends.

Okay, wait, I do have an intelligent conclusion: if you don’t have the opportunity to snuggle with fat people on a regular basis, you’re missing out. Trust me.

Posted in Fat

8 thoughts on “Does this Post Make Me Look Fat?

  1. This is way late to respond to this post, but I’ll cop to fearing people touching me. I’m overweight (Yes, I still sort of hate the word “fat”, sorry). I have been for most of my life, and I’ve never felt really comfortable with people touching me. I can totally relate to you and your sister. My sister is around a normal weight, and when she trys to be close to me, I feel weird, and sickened at even the thought. Heck, even when my mother tries to hold my hand, I feel weird, like, “Why would she want to do that?”..When I really think about it, it is because I actually think I’m repulsive in some way. Obviously this stuff is more than physical, but it has alot to do with how miserable I feel about my body.

    Over the years I’ve started to believe what people say about “fat people”: nasty, ugly, smelly, greedy..So when someone doesn’t want to talk to me, or sit next to me on the bus, or whatever, I have a moment of sadness, before I snap back to reality. Then I’m mad as hell. Even though I know it’s unavoidable, that people are going to feel this way until the end of time, it still makes me discouraged about putting myself out there.

    The thing is, I can get as angry as I want to about it, angry at other people, but it’s really me. I’m actually mad at myself, at my body because I feel like it cuts me off from contact with people. It’s hard to know when I’m the one at fault, or when “average size” people are just being assholes!

  2. Sorry, for the double comment, especially considering how long the last one was, but one more thing: There are some overweight/obese people who are just as bad, and even worse than thin ones. Just the other day I was on a work assignment with my aunt, and I was talking to her and minding my own business when some workers across from us started to make a ruckus (they were loud already) about my weight. These were just kids, but I saw a chubby girl in the midst of them. I felt I should stare at her until she broke down, but I didn’t want to give them reason to get more rude; I needed the job. Plus there were about 15 of them, and one of me (my aunt is a notorious coward, plus she’s embarrassed of my weight, too). I wasn’t really hurt by this, because it’s what happens to fat people (ugh..i said it, “fat”) all the time, and it hasn’t happened to me in awhile. I kept thinking to myself, “How is this girl going to feel when she goes home tonight?” Not that she would be actually hurt, but I know that she was playing a losing game: Trying to make people forget that she was fat just because she happened to be smaller than whoever their next target happened to be. Trying to make people forget that she is also “repulsive” in their eyes..

    Anyway, sorry, another long post. I just thought I’d mention that I’d seen the other side of it, too. It’s not just skinny people. Big people are brainwashed as well.

  3. Oh, danucal, what you’re saying breaks my heart, but also makes me nod my head. Thanks for articulating all that so well.

    Big people are absolutely brainwashed, too–and sometimes when you hate your own body, it can be sweet relief to externalize that feeling and make fun of another fat person. (Well, I may be fat, but at least I’m not HER!) I’ve done it myself in the past, more than I’d care to admit. And of course that just means we do the dirty work for the people who want us to keep believing that fat is disgusting and horrible. Fantastic.

    And you are so right on about that girl. I’ve had conversations with a lot of larger people about getting stuck in a situation where friends are making fun of a fat person, and it’s like, “Hello! I’m right here!” Inevitably the response is, “But you’re not like that!” or, ridiculously, “But you’re not fat!” They don’t even get that they’re making all these assumptions about a complete stranger, or that they’re denying a friggin’ fact–my friend is fat–because they cannot separate the concept of “fat” from “disgusting, unhealthy, smelly, lazy, etc.”

    This shit just runs so deep. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Crap! Danucal, I just wrote a really long response to this and lost it. Short version: I was nodding my head along with everything you said–and that breaks my heart.

    Thanks for these comments.

  5. Thank you, you helped so much by even giving a voice to my feelings, I was feeling so bad when I wrote that last night, but it made me realize their are a ton of issue I have to work out with my body image, and self image. Thanks for responding! You’re favorited! :~)

  6. My family wasn’t very physically affectionate, so I’m a little uncomfortable with getting hugs from people I barely know, but as I become closer to them, it’s fine.

    What weirds me out is the northeastern tendency to kiss everybody. I visited family last weekend, and every person (even some I hadn’t met before) kissed me, some even aiming for the lips. Yowza.

    I love cuddling with my husband, who’s thin, but I think my curves make us comfortable with each other. :)

  7. Wooooo commenting on posts two years later.

    Just thought I’d throw in, I’m a (sort of) thin person (I was skinnier before I hit puberty and developed an hourglass) with a mostly thin family, and as much as it disgusts me I have to a fairly large degree internalised fat=disgusting. Which bothers the shit out of me because I don’t LIKE being judgemental of people for stupid shallow reasons but I end up mentally completely picking apart everyone ever’s appearance anyway.

    Point being, I will cop to being mildly uncomfortable touching fat people, escalating proportionately with the level of fat, which I really, really wish I wasn’t.

    Oh, and I’m generally massively physically affectionate, making this even more silly.

  8. Okay, so I’m bored and combing the backlogs. I have to say that I’m fat, as a child I ranged from fluffy to full-on-tubby, and I’ve never had problems with physical intimacy. I am a hugger, and I always have been. I am a big squishy person who likes to give hugs- someone told me that I sounded like I was describing myself as an overstuffed chair, and the truth is more awesome. See, I have boobs!

    My brother, however, I know has issues surrounding larger girls. He won’t date larger girls because for some reason that breaks his incest barrier, and he does hug me but he gives me this one-armed hug that’s like the smallest body contact a hug could contain. He, btw, got the Greek God model of body while I got German Peasant Woman.

    So I dunno if it’s a cultural thing or not, but I know that I’ve had random frat boys give me hugs for bringing the gift of pizza and it doesn’t bother me. So… for something kinda related!

    http://a0.vox.com/6a00fa969ec3ae00020110162b6210860c-pi

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