One of the criticisms we frequently get from incredulous dieters runs like this: “You can’t possibly expect me to believe that fat acceptance activists never wish they were thinner.” The idea being, I guess, that fat acceptance means thinking that fat is better than thin, and that it therefore all collapses into hypocrisy if we spend so much as a minute wishing for a tinier waist. The tone is usually challenging: go on, you liar, tell me to my face that you don’t wish you were skinny sometimes!
Kittens, of COURSE I wish I were skinny sometimes. Have you seen Vintageous? I would be so broke if I had a 25-inch waist, not to mention I’d have gone through about 85 wedding dress options by now. It would be sartorially super to be skinny! When I went to New York, I could swan around Madison Avenue trying things on for fun. And it would be such a relief not to have to deal with fatphobia or think about the messages people are getting when I do outrageous stuff like eat, buy clothes, or exercise.
Sometimes I even page through the Victoria’s Secret catalog fantasizing about the barely legal bikinis I’d buy if I looked like one of their models. And you know, for that it would really help to be 18, so sometimes I fantasize about being 18. I sure didn’t appreciate that one when I had it! And then I get tired of imagining being objectified, so sometimes I fantasize about being male. Wouldn’t that be amazing to try for a while? What a load off, getting to relax into male privilege and stop worrying about misogyny for a while… I mean sure, I’d be one of those good guys who really gets it, but I’d still have the privilege to stop thinking about it when I couldn’t deal. And it would be crazy to have a penis! And to grow a beard! I hate them on other people, but it would be wild to have a body that could grow that much hair out of its face.
Also, did you ever go to the zoo on a hot day, and you couldn’t imagine anything better than being a sea lion? They’re ridiculous on land, and their brains are the size of an optimal diet meal, but it’s their job to swim around in the cool water in July, all pooping in public. They also have a level of muscular solidity I could never achieve — they’re basically one big bicep. And no legs! Imagine having no legs!
The point here is that there is nothing wrong with picturing what life might be like in a different body. Accepting the body you have doesn’t mean shutting off your ability to daydream about what it would be like to have a different one, or even to genuinely wish that you could try it out. We are pretty big-brained monkeys, and at least half that space is used for storing neuroses; the only way we could avoid sporadic dissatisfaction is if we stopped having a word for it. It’s normal to wish you could have what the other guy has, at least for half an hour so you can see if it’s really so great.
What acceptance does mean, though, is that you realize that wishing for something doesn’t make it possible. No matter how many hours I spend in contemplation of how great life would be as a thin teenage male sea lion, the necessary procedures to achieve even one of these objectives range from “dangerous and costly” right up through “good luck, bub.” And even more importantly, acceptance means you realize that wishing for something doesn’t make it an imperative. Nor does it make it an objective good. I can think wistfully about how great it would be to be able to see more than three inches in front of my face without optical assistance, and that doesn’t mean I’m honor-bound to get LASIK. And I can say “boy, I’d buy so many clothes if I were a size 4” and still be an FA activist, because I can plot my theoretical size 4 wardrobe without thinking that I have to make it a reality.
I recognize that in some ways it’s great to be thin in our society. I’d be an idiot not to, what with all the time I spend reading and talking about thin privilege. Few women in Western culture escape their upbringings without body issues, but if you’re on the thin side, it’s easier. It just is. But I also recognize that I am not thin, just as I’m not many things that it’s great to be — organized, for instance, or good at math, or impressively mustachioed. Hell, I’d rather be good at math than thin, because I think that’s objectively valuable, whereas what thinness has over fatness is social acceptability and social (and sartorial) ease. Better to compare it to things that I’m not that it’s socially easy to be — male, a WASP, an heiress. These things are valued in our culture. I am not these things. I’m other valuable things. It’s not that hard to come to terms with.
Maybe it’s a bitter truth of life, but just because something is accepted or admired or easy, that doesn’t mean you can or must be it. Even if you’re the one accepting and admiring it. The fact that I sometimes wish I were musically gifted doesn’t mean I’m a failure for being good with words instead. The fact that we deal with truly exhausting levels of misogyny every day doesn’t make it objectively better to be male. And the fact that I can look at a modelesque nymphet and say “god, can you imagine what it would be like to have gone through life with cheekbones like that?” doesn’t mean that Ms. Cheekbones is better than me, or that I am remiss if I don’t try to look just like her.
We’re not the Thought Police; even if we did say “don’t ever fantasize about being skinny,” you’d do it anyway, because a healthy human mind indulges in flights of fancy. That’s why instead we say “don’t let that fantasy take over your life.” Don’t imagine that being thin is the magic key that will unlock your other talents — they’re already here. Don’t convince yourself that weight loss is the prerequisite for being your best self. When you imagine being thin, you’re imagining borrowing someone else’s body, which is lots of fun but has nothing to do with who you really are. So daydream, but once you come back to earth, try picturing this: being strong; being nourished; being present and anchored; being aware of the abilities you have, serene about the ones you don’t, and energized to learn new ones. That’s a fantasy that will get you somewhere.