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Why I Choose to be Fat

Doctors have bullied me about my weight for years, but obesity has given me the armor I needed to survive.

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Recently, I was outside walking sans dog and a woman in a hatchback rolled down her window to flash me a thumbs up and call out (quite sincerely): “Good for you, honey!” She assumed that, as a fat woman walking, I was trying to lose weight. I was, in fact, trying to puzzle out a particularly tricky section of the novel I’m writing.

If you don’t conform to the norm, you’re expected to sweat yourself into a headline: “How One Woman Went from Obesity to a Bikini Body.” As if the two are mutually exclusive. But if you choose, as I have chosen, to stop the presses, to throw out all the “inspirational” sizes in your closet, that your weekly meals don’t have to be more meticulously planned than the raid that killed Bin Laden, you aren’t just flipping off cultural expectations; you’re upending other people’s hopes for you.

I remember meeting with my thesis advisor in my final week of college. I was the thinnest I’d ever been, a size 12. Starvation shrank my stomach into a fist. I felt dizzy, but I felt light, and that was all that mattered. Still, I was quietly devastated when, instead of complimenting my research and writing, my advisor praised my weight loss. “You’ve really taken control,” he said, as if my weight were some Sasquatch I’d wrestled back to its cave.

I wonder what my advisor would think of me now that I’m fatter than I’ve ever been. Perhaps he’d say I was out of control, though I have a full-time gig and a robust byline. I contain multitudes (some might say literally). I eat grilled cheese and bacon sandwiches sometimes, and sometimes I eat kale. I walk my dog for a mile a day but I will never board a StairMaster again.

This is why the Dr. Oz-approved narrative on weight loss disturbs me. Every story is a straight line from Point I’m Such a Fat Failure to Point Look at Me Now! Given that an estimated 80-90 percent of people who lose weight will gain it back within five years that straight line is made of tinsel — shimmering and pretty, but easily severed.

In every special episode about weight loss, tearful brides lament how big they look in wedding photos, as if the 26-inch waist they have now negates the husbands who’ve always loved them. Fathers choke up remembering the day they knew they “had to make a change,” the day their toddlers randomly called them fat, as if that observational indictment means more than all those “I love you’s.” There’s always a former Miss Lonelyheart, a thirtysomething virgin who — after a gastric bypass or militant adherence to the Paleo diet — has shed half her body weight and is finally ready for Mr. Right. I’ve no doubt that they really do feel healthier and happier, and honestly (truly) good for them. I just wish that the entirety of their lives weren’t reduced to a single achievement.

Now, I’m more concerned with what my blood work reveals than what the number on the scale says. Any physician who partners with me must understand this; I want a doctor who sits across from me, not a squadron that blocks the door. And once I found a new therapist, I felt lighter than I had in years.

Some argue that classifying obesity as a disease — as the American Medical Association has recently done — destigmatizes it, but the language of disease is unremittingly aggressive: We say “Fuck Cancer” and “Beat Diabetes.” We speak of people in treatment as “fighting a battle.”

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