Although there will certainly be loads more on the subject in the future, here’s the last official Fat Week post. As promised, a list of a dozen key experiences in my journey toward fat positivity (not including yoga, which was definitely one of the most important but has already been discussed):
1. (1996-97) Staying on a diet for several months, losing about 35% of my body weight, and keeping it off for a couple of years. Knowing what I know now, I hate that that falls into this category, but if I’m being honest, it was absolutely the first step. It showed me that I did have the self-discipline fat people supposedly don’t, and it allowed me to walk around as a thin person for a while, so I actually had some basis for comparison with walking around as a fat person, or an in-between person. Most importantly, it allowed me to learn what it was like not to hate myself because I was fat, and what it was like to feel attractive and be identified as such by people who didn’t already love me.
These days, I far prefer not hating myself for being fat even while I am, but I honestly don’t think I ever would have gotten here (certainly not so fast, in any case) without the experience of exerting strict control over my body and living as a thin person–the two goals that had dominated my life since adolescence set in. Having achieved those, I could start to look at what being thin really meant. Shopping was easier in general, but still frustrating, because most clothes aren’t cut for a short hourglass in ANY size. Finding people who wanted to date me was easier in general, but still frustrating, because I didn’t want to be with a guy who wouldn’t have liked me fat, or who was grossed out by my family. Liking myself was easier in general, but still frustrating, because I still couldn’t stand the shape of my thighs, and I still worried about my skin and hair and fashion choices and breath and high forehead and big nostrils and weak chin and light eyelashes and how well my deodorant was working at any given moment and how I wasn’t 6 feet tall and coltish and how a lot of my friends were even skinnier and how I still couldn’t pull off a bikini and still didn’t know how to do eyeshadow without looking like a clown and still couldn’t regain a man’s interest once he’d moved on. I still suffered from depression. I still didn’t get along with my family. I still felt completely overwhelmed by the business of being an adult. AND I didn’t get to eat french fries. On balance, it simply wasn’t worth it. But I needed to go through all that to find out what it was really like, and to develop the first stirrings of self-confidence.
2. (1997) Reading No Fat Chicks.
3. (2000) My mother’s death. First, nothing clarifies your priorities like grief. As I’ve said before, when your entire world is reduced to this tiny, irreducible atom of desire–I want her back–you don’t care so much about how clean your bathroom is, or whether your clients are satisfied, or what size jeans your thighs fit into. Almost instantly, you become wholly baffled by the knowledge that there are people out there–and not long ago, their number included you–who think anything on earth qualifies as “important” other than the question of whether everyone they love is currently breathing. It’s perversely liberating.
Second, it put paid to my cherished belief that the body and mind are nowhere near equal in importance. As I’ve also said here before, soon after my mom died, my then-boyfriend’s mother went into a nursing home and began a long, excruciating (for her loved ones far more than her) death from Alzheimer’s. At one point, he tried to tell me how horrendously difficult it was to see her there, still alive but simply not his mother anymore. It was a totally valid and heartbreaking point, of course. And the only thing I could think to say in response was, “FUCK YOU! YOU CAN STILL HUG YOUR MOM!”
My mom’s essential momness did leave her body before her heart stopped beating. But when that happened, it didn’t even occur to me to give up on the whole idea of “Mom.” I just instinctively hugged her and fussed over her hair and touched her face and clung to her arm all night. I felt her warmth and the shape of her and the way her flesh responded to mine, and I thought, “She’s still here.” She simply wasn’t gone until all that was. And whatever anyone believes about souls and the afterlife, the reality is, the only mom I knew how to interact with was placed in an oven and incinerated. The human body is not fucking meaningless.
4. (1999-2003) Gaining all the weight back and more, and dieting again, and this time plateauing at a weight very close to what I’d weighed, without much fluctuation, for many years before the first diet. (I went on the first one after having gained about 30 lbs. from that point.) Lessons learned: A) Holy shit, I’m not the exception to the rule. I am indeed one of the 95% who can’t keep it off for 5 years! WHO COULD HAVE SEEN THAT COMING? B) It is incredibly easy for me to lose weight down to this one particular range, and incredibly easy to gain up to it. Getting my body to budge from that range, in either direction, requires effort tantamount to either dieting or eating as a part-time job. One might just surmise that this is the most appropriate weight range for my body.
5. (2002 or 2003) Watching Margaret Cho’s The Notorious C.H.O. Her phrase I took myself out of the game echoed in my head for months afterwards, even while I still couldn’t fathom how one takes oneself out of the game. You can just decide it doesn’t matter what other people think of your body? You can just decide to be who you are? You can just decide not to be ashamed or constantly apologize for what you look like? WTF? But I couldn’t stop thinking about it. Eventually, much later, I figured out how, and did it.
6. (2003ish) Starting to make a conscious effort to find things I liked about the way other women looked, and never to compare myself to them. This? Was fucking hard. But once I got in the habit of looking at fat women and just thinking, “I love her outfit,” or “Her hair is awesome,” and looking at thin women and thinking the same sort of things–without also thinking, “I could never look like her, and that is a TRAVESTY”–it also became a squillion times easier to think nice things about myself. The paradigm had shifted. All the magazines, in between trying to sell you diet products, tell you you have to love yourself before you can love anyone else–but my experience was the exact opposite. I had to learn to love other people, to go actively looking for beauty and kindness and intelligence in the world, instead of for any fault that might reassuringly exceed one of my own, before I could start to love myself.
7. (2004) Reading The Obesity Myth.
8. (2004) Reading the NAAFA website with an open mind, instead of secretly thinking, “Excuses, excuses, excuses” the whole time.
9. (2005) Putting up an online dating profile that included full body shots, said in so many words that I will never be thin, and made it clear that I think I’m fucking awesome anyway, with very good reason, and those who disagree can feel free to suck it.
10. (2006) Finding fatshionista. At times, it’s full of bullshit drama, and it’s always full of things I don’t agree with, but it’s also full of A) pictures of fat women looking cute and happy in awesome clothes, and B) resources for locating those awesome clothes. Those two things make a huge difference.
11. (2007) Vowing to myself that I will only buy clothes that look fabulous on me, and if something doesn’t look fabulous, I will blame the item of clothing instead of my body. This completely transformed my last shopping experience. I tried on about 20 tops, only 3 of which looked good, with no drama whatsoever. It doesn’t look good on? NEXT. It was that freakin’ simple. And then I bought those three tops without beating myself up for paying full price–instead of compromising on adequate but non-fabulous sale clothes, my usual m.o.–because I know I’ll feel good every time I wear them, and that’s absolutely worth paying a premium for, when I can afford it. Best shopping day ever, entirely based on that one decision: if it doesn’t fit, I will not fucking blame myself, and I will not fucking buy it.
12. (ongoing) Separating my identity from my family’s impression of both me and themselves. Hands down the hardest thing to do on this whole list, and possibly the most crucial. I’ll let you know if it’s ever complete.