Dr. Pattie Thomas wrote a book called Taking Up Space: How Eating Well and Exercising Regularly Changed My Life that is just really awesome. If you haven’t read it, it’s well worth investing in.
The first chapter of the book has 10 fat myths. As I read them, I had so many ideas and thoughts and things I wanted to say about each one. I contacted Dr. Thomas and she said that it would be okay for me to use her list to talk about each of the myths here. So – welcome to a 10-week series.
Myth number three on Dr. Thomas’ list: Fat is unwanted.
I’ll be honest. As I thought about the wanted-ness of fat, I was startled to find that when I tried to analyze really wanting fat it was difficult.
Yep. This is one I really had to unpack and take a look at, if only so I could understand my own reaction to the idea.
Do I want my own fat? I am getting more comfortable in my own skin. I’m getting more comfortable with having a body that doesn’t conform to the beauty myth. And it doesn’t make sense to wonder what I’d do if given the choice to be thin, because I won’t ever be given that choice any more than I’ll ever have the choice to be short or have blue eyes.
In fact, every other part of my physical self, I’m capable of accepting fully the way it is. Curly hair, big feet, big boobs, my family’s notoriously large nose, a round face, being tall, having brown eyes—all of it. I don’t put moral judgments on any of it. I don’t try to pretend that I can change any of it. I don’t hate any of it. I don’t feel the need to embrace any of it. It just is.
So perhaps the idea of fat being unwanted has something to do with bubble of magical thinking that most of Western society is caught up in. The magical thinking that says that if we are good enough and diligent enough, and would just stop being lazy, slothful gluttons, then we can get rid of the fat we don’t want and that no one else wants for us.
Try this experiment. Next time someone you love talks about their most recent diet or how they need to do something about their thunder thighs, tell them that you aren’t trying to lose weight. Really watch what happens when you try to bounce your ideas off the walls of their magical thinking. Maybe they’ll miss every point you make so spectacularly that it seems willful (you: “I’m eating intuitively.” Them: “So, you’re saying you don’t care if you get diabetes?”). Maybe they’ll get angry, taking your decision very personally. They might just go quiet, like they aren’t sure what to say. Whatever happens, I think you’ll see how protective they are of their magical thinking.
Maybe the real myth here is that we can do anything about not wanting fat.
Or maybe the myth is that fat has to be unwanted.
I’m not breaking any cultural taboo if I say that I enjoy being tall. There isn’t any social pressure to go broke and be chronically unhappy trying to make my hair straight. There is no shame in thinking I have pretty brown eyes or liking the shape of my feet. But if I’m going to suggest publicly that I’m okay with being fat, I have to be willing to sift through a bunch of it from myself and from other people.
It isn’t in my make-up to shy away from standing up to social wrongs. But, I’m actually finding it hard, as I type this, to say “I want my fat.” It makes me uncomfortable. It pushes against the edges of my personal envelope. What I find myself wanting to say instead is “I want all the parts of my body,” which kind of mitigates the weirdness, the anti-socialness of “I want my fat,” doesn’t it?
Calling “fat is unwanted” a myth means that while many people believe it’s true that fat is unwanted, in reality it is wanted.
Is it? When people say they want to be thin, when they spend their money and their time and their physical and emotional energy on attempt after attempt to lose weight, is it really their fat they don’t want?
I mean, even people who have no ill effects as a result of their fat want to lose it. Lots of people who are in the elusive normal BMI range want to lose their fat. People who can pass for thin want to lose their fat (ever hear someone say that they’re fatter than they look?) In other words, wanting to lose fat is not reserve for fat people and it is certainly not reserved for sick fat people.
So are we really feeling something else, and just blaming it on our fat?
Maybe a desperate desire to fit in that never really stops after middle school?
Maybe we’re scared by all the booga-booga about fat trying kill us. Who wouldn’t want to lose a serial killer that’s wrapped around your abdomen?
Maybe we want to conform to the myth that only thin is beautiful, and if we could internalize the idea that we are already beautiful, our fat could become more welcomed and less unwanted.
I’m the fat one in a relatively slender family. I’m always slightly uncomfortable eating in front of them, always making sure to make a “healthy” choice and eat a little less than everyone else—and still I get accused of eating McDonald’s five times a week by my brother on my public Facebook page. I’m pretty sure that my dad believes his concern about my weight has to do with my health, but I know he thinks skinny girls are prettier. He left my mom for a skinny woman, didn’t he?
Being fat can be an emotionally exhausting experience, especially when you’re putting most of everything you have into trying desperately to be one of those very rare birds who can do something about not wanting their fat. Being ‘other’ in your own family is a whole lot less than fun.
In a fat-hating world, not being “other” isn’t so easy either. There are the people who aren’t fat, but spend so much of their resources on the desperate desire to keep it that way. Those who have managed to actually lose weight and then spend the rest of their lives in some kind of cat-and-mouse chase trying to keep it from finding them again.
Yeah, there is a lot of baggage that goes along with being fat or even just the idea of fat. Most of it isn’t rational, but that doesn’t make it any less real. And I think maybe in the end that’s what this myth is about. It isn’t the fat we don’t want. If we lived in a world where body types were morally neutral, most people wouldn’t spend any more time trying to get rid of horizontal inches than they do vertical inches.
Maybe, in the end, its the pain and humiliation and shame and rejection that we don’t want, and it’s just easier to say that we don’t want fat.
* * *
Shaunta Grimes blogs about body acceptance and athleticism at every size at Live Once, Juicy.