Dear Aunt Fattie;
I have a fat activism conundrum. I am (was?) a thin fat-acceptance ally, and a survivor of anorexia. Three weeks ago I gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl. I am euphoric over my baby, and determined to help her grow up to love her body.
Here is the thing, though – like many women, I’m bigger now than before I got pregnant. A fair bit bigger, though still in the non-plus range. I weighed about 120lbs before, and though I haven’t weighed myself, I would estimate that I weigh between 140-150lbs now.
Now, I think I look hot, and I feel great. I’m certainly no less attractive or healthy than I was before. However, none of my non-maternity clothes fit, and it’s driving me a bit nuts.
I know there’s a good chance that at three weeks postpartum, my body hasn’t settled on what size or shape post-baby me is going to be. And I keep catching myself hoping I will end up small enough to fit into my old clothes. I spent years building up an awesome wardrobe, and the idea of replacing it is overwhelming. I refuse to engage in weight-loss activity (for political reasons and for my own mental health), but does keeping my old clothes around count? Should I get rid of them all and start rebuilding my wardrobe? Or should I hold off on doing that because of the possibility I will end up the size I was before, even though that feels like an anti-FA thing to do?
A Stranger in a Strange New Body
First of all, congratulations! Aunt Fattie wishes you the best of luck in raising your child to be body-positive; you are working against remarkable odds, but your determination is an inspiration.
On to your question. Certainly it is a fat-acceptance chestnut to urge the discarding of “skinny clothes.” The size 18 woman with a closet full of 12s is devoting physical, and by extension probably mental, space to vestiges of her lost smaller body; cleaning out that space is both symbolically and practically useful. But is it really beneficial across the board, or are there important exceptions? Is the size 18 whose closet is peppered with 16s required to haul them out to Goodwill? Must those who were recently ill, medicated, pregnant, or simply snugged up in winter fat do a relentless closet purge?
Aunt Fattie thinks not. After all, though deliberate weight loss is almost never permanent, the same is generally true of weight gain beyond one’s natural range. It’s quite common to return to one’s usual body size, more or less, after unusual circumstances. If you are overzealous in ridding your closet of smaller clothes, you risk having to go naked once you rebound to your former size. At best, you are stuck buying two new wardrobes — one in your temporary larger size, and one when you bounce back. (It’s the same thing many of us have gone through after diets: we gleefully give away or donate our fat clothes, only to have to buy them anew when our metabolisms plateau.) And everyone has a certain amount of natural size variation; it’s nice to be able to dress ourselves no matter what season or time of the month it is, which can mean having different sizes around.
If those clothes are holding you back psychologically — if you are spending time standing in front of your closet pining for your old body, or resenting your child because your clothes don’t fit, or falling back into eating disordered habits, then by all means, sell them or give them away. This is a demanding time in your life, and the last thing you need is to be surrounded by clothes that you see as symbolic of pain or failure. And you must certainly be prepared to give up on them a few years down the road, if it seems that your body is settling into a larger size or a different shape, both of which are common after pregnancy.
In the meantime, though, Aunt Fattie sees no harm (if you see no harm) in putting your current beautiful wardrobe into boxes, buying yourself some clothes that fit right now, and waiting to see what your body will do. If you return to your usual weight naturally, you can give away the new clothes, or save them to be your post-baby clothes if you have a second sprog.
Dear Aunt Fattie,
Every single freakin’ month, when that time comes around, I get insanely depressed about my weight, appearance, and single status. Three weeks out of every month I am a happy, independent 18 year old girl but when that week comes around, I have such a hard time with accepting my weight.
I’m 5’8″ and a size 8ish, work out 6-12 hours a week, and yet somehow I feel so ugly, fat, and unwanted sometimes. Please, please help me out. How do I deal with this? It’s starting to impact my health very bad, as my eating disorders tend to flare up around these times.
Regardless of the impression one might get from TV and tasteless misogynist humor, premenstrual depression is not a joke. Many women experience premenstrual depression and anxiety, also known as Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (that’s the DSM-diagnosable version of PMS, the milder symptoms that most women get occasionally). This is a genuine mood disorder with a genetic component — it is not “all in your head.”
Aunt Fattie is not a doctor, and even a doctor would not be able to diagnose you through the internet. You must speak to your physician or gynecologist in order to get an official diagnosis and begin treatment (antidepressants are sometimes prescribed). But Aunt Fattie suspects that your monthly depression has nothing whatsoever to do with your body or your single status, both of which are worth celebrating, and everything to do with your hormones and your brain chemistry.
While you’re discussing PMDD with your doctor, you may also want to discuss options for therapy. PMDD has a clear physical component, in which hormone fluctuations affect neurotransmitters, but that doesn’t mean that you wouldn’t benefit from therapy. A competent therapist could help you find coping mechanisms to deal with disordered eating patterns, no matter what brings them on (because even if you have PMDD and it’s being treated, something else can trigger those habits if you don’t find a way to address them). And your mention of six to twelve hours a week of exercise makes Aunt Fattie rather suspicious about your claims that these disordered behaviors are limited to one week a month — unless you are a school athlete, this is a LOT of exercise. Of course, Aunt Fattie may be mistaken, and perhaps you do indeed feel energized and wonderful and healthy after 12 hours of weekly exercise, with no component of self-flagellation. In either case, please think of therapy along those same lines — nothing shameful, just something you do in pursuit of well-being.
If you’ve got your own questions on fat, fatshion, fatiquette, self-esteem, or body image, send them to email@example.com.