Caught Between Fat and Thin: The Pounds Come Off, But the Label Stays
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I'm always going to be a fat woman. Don't get me wrong. At five foot three and 135 pounds, I am not, by any useful definition of the word, fat.
But I have been fat. I was fat for many, many years. And for years, I was an ardent advocate of the fat acceptance movement. I actively resisted the idea that there was any point whatsoever to losing weight. I believed that medical statistics on the health effects of obesity were exaggerated at best, part of the cultural conspiracy to make women hate their bodies at worst. I was convinced that I could be just as healthy at 200 pounds (and with the eating and exercise habits that kept me at 200 pounds) as I would be with less weight. And I was convinced that losing weight never, ever worked... or at least, that it worked so rarely it wasn't worth trying--if there was even any reason for trying.
It wasn't until my bad knee started getting worse that I saw the writing on the wall, and decided that, given a choice between losing mobility and losing weight, the weight would have to go.
You'd probably think that losing weight would make a person stop thinking of him or herself as fat. And you'd almost certainly think that making a concerted effort to not be fat would make someone abandon the whole idea of fat acceptance. I thought all that myself once... and I was wrong.
I still see the world as a fat person. My perceptions of myself, and of society, and of how society views fatness and bodies and health, have been profoundly shaped by my years of being fat in ways that are never going to change. And while I have huge disagreements with the fat acceptance movement -- especially with its more extreme denialist edges -- I still think many of its ideas are important, and perceptive, and entirely fair. I am still very much shaped by FA, and I would like to think of myself as an ally of the movement, and even as a member of it.
It's just that some of its members don't feel the same way about me, or about other fat people who choose to lose weight.
The Thinnest Fat Woman in the World
My years as a fat woman -- and as a fat acceptance advocate -- have made me hyper-conscious of anti-fat hostility, contempt, and discrimination. When I hear mocking or insulting comments about fat people, I stand up for them. When I see rigid, internally contradictory, impossible- to-attain standards of physical beauty promoted in pop culture, I rant about it ad nauseum. When I hear about fat people being discriminated against in employment and medicine and so on, I get seriously ticked off. When folks call fat people "lazy slobs" and say that "as a society we should not look up to successful people who are fat. We should tell them we admire their acting or philanthropy, but look down on them for being lazy" (direct quotes from comments on my Facebook page, btw), I smack them down with every weapon in my rhetorical arsenal.
And I still take it really, really personally. I don't hear anti-fat bigotry the way I hear, say, racial bigotry, as something to be passionately opposed but that isn't aimed at me personally. I hear it as being about me. When someone in a comment thread here on AlterNet linked to an older photo of me and mocked me for being fat, I felt the shame and the sting and the anger... before I remembered, "Wait a minute. I'm not fat." And was left with only the anger. On behalf of myself... and every other woman who's ever had her ideas irrelevantly dismissed because of her personal appearance.