This is a confessional post (so I apologize in advance for the self-absorption that precedes my point). I am not proud at some of the thoughts and feelings I admit to in this post, but I wanted to be honest and own them because I don’t think I am alone.
This week I did something I had never done before. I hit a new number on the scale, which I realize is NOT a big deal, and that there are many beautiful women at every weight. However, when you’re pushing five foot nothin’ and have grown up in a fatphobic society, it can feel like it is.
The thing is, I never used to worry about how much I weighed. I knew the day was coming, ever since I left high school and my mother warned me about the “freshman fifteen” that never came. I never bothered to imagine how I would feel when it did. It was unimaginable. Growing up the ugly duckling that I was meant, I thought, that skinny was the only thing I had going for me. For years I took solace in my weight when I hated every single other thing about my body.
As I grew out of adolescence I continued to secretly feel that my effortless skinniness was meaningful somehow, even as I went to university and fell further into feminist theory and radical politics and learned about fat-shaming. I recognized, intellectually, that the way I felt was wrong (what I would now label thin privilege). Good feminist that I am, I began to support body positivity in all its shapes. I admired the daring of unabashedly fat and beautiful women. I began to envy their flamboyant acceptance and defiant sexuality in a world that tells us constantly that a woman’s worth depends on her weight. And yet, deep inside I clung to the comforting thought that I was not in danger of having to battle that same stigma. That it was not something I had to think about. I had to think about how my nose was too big and my eyebrows all wrong and legs too short and even how my thighs touched, but I never worried I was fat.
And then, today, folded over at yoga, I noticed it. Bulge I hadn’t had before. “It’s probably just the waistband of your leggings,” I told myself. Despite my own reassurances that the first thing I did when I came home was get on the scale. And there it was. A new number. One I had never seen before.
I spent the next few hours on the couch, depressed, pretending it wasn’t happening. And then I did something far worse.
After dinner I refused a second macaroon, even though they’re my favourite dessert and the first one was delicious. My partner locked his keys in the car and I jogged back to get the spare, thinking, “At least I’ll burn some fat.” I weighed myself again when I got home from dinner. As I got into bed I began to absent-mindedly calculate the restrictions I needed to put in place, the punishing exercise I had to schedule, to fix myself. In a few short hours I went from being unable to imagine a world where I no longer effortlessly maintained my weight, to performing a script I knew all too well. Without thinking I adopted the mannerisms that I have seen in my mother, in movies, in my friends all these years – my entire life. I knew exactly what to do. It was not strange at all. In fact, it was repulsively familiar.
I knew at that moment that I was in trouble. Not because I gained weight over the holidays – I am in trouble because the moment I stepped onto that scale I kicked into motion a quarter-century of training and a lifetime of fat-shaming. I have been unknowingly preparing for this moment my whole life. I know precisely how a woman “watching her weight” behaves. I intimately understand her disdain for herself and her desire to be thinner. I have seen it a million times.
The thing is, I thought it would take a long time for me to adjust, to go from being able to eat whatever and whenever I wanted, to “watching my weight.” The terrifying part is that it’s immediate. I was already trained, and I had no idea. I have been training for this moment since I was a very little girl, watching my mother on the bathroom scale. This is my inheritance. It has been living inside me waiting for this day. And now it is bursting out of my chest, like that scene from Alien.
And it scares me because eating disorders are so common in our culture not only because of the pressure to be thin but because we live in a society where we feel we are completely out of control, and the only thing we do have control over is what goes in our mouths, so we discipline our bodies that way. Because there are already so many reasons to fall into anorexia without ever being what society considers overweight. Because I finally felt that I was coming into a place where I was really learning to honour my body by going to yoga regularly for my health. Everything I thought I knew about myself and my relationship with my body has been shattered today, twice over.
And so, feeling drained, I went looking for inspiration, and was blessed to find many inspirational ladies who have shared their story to allow others to draw on their strength. My favourite find is a comic by artist Corinne Mucha entitled “Fat Is Not A Feeling.”
I found a quote by Laci Green which goes “You don’t encourage people to take care of their body by telling them to hate it” and this incredible post by Sarah Ogden Trotta on exercising out of self love and not body shaming.
And finally, this radical quote I found here by Naomi Wolf: “A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, [it is] an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population is a tractable one.”
I feel bolstered by these inspirational women and vow to work on my relationship with fatphobia (and with myself) in this new year.