Though there are some people who might like to deny it, most of us realize that in a world convinced being thin means being healthy and attractive, being fat is rather difficult. There are absolutely advantages – societal and political – to being thin. Just look at how Chris Christie, the governor of NJ, has been treated by the media because he’s fat. We also know that doctors will make rash judgments about patients’ health based on their weight. That, in fact, happened to Chris Christie with a physician he’d never even met. Medical students have been shown to hold unconscious biases against fat patients. There is a lot of hype about the “costs” of being fat on society, but what is too frequently considered is that a. stress is known to cause all sorts of medical conditions, including death, and b. medical care for overweight and obese patients is often substandard because of biases. And these biases work in reverse, too. Patients of fat doctors often hold the same sort of biases thin doctors have about fat patients. The reality is, being fat can cost you job opportunities, make your health insurance go up if your employer decides you’re non-cooperative with their “healthy workplace” programs, and may even compromise the quality of your mental health care! All this, solely based on HOW YOU LOOK. All this without any knowledge of your lifestyle, your overall health or you as a person.
This is not okay. This is not right. It reminds me of how, as a child, when we drove through minority neighborhoods my grandmother was always saying “hurry, lock the doors,” or “roll up the windows.”
Judging a person based on being fat is bigotry, pure and simple… and it’s dangerous. I almost died when an ER doctor decided my back pain wasn’t caused by the gallstones he KNEW I had, but rather by my weight. The next gallstone got stuck in my bile duct, and I wound up with pancreatitis. I was jaundiced. The whites of my eyes were bright yellow. I was too sick to give a rat’s ass if I died. When I was 15, I spent 7 weeks as an inpatient in an eating disorder clinic. I got out, and resumed therapy with the social worker I’d long despised. On my very first visit after being released, she said to me, and I quote, “so… when will we see some of the weight drop off you?” I was horribly humiliated and deeply and profoundly upset. Susan had always acted like she didn’t like me. I saw her with various family members I’d lived with over the course of several years, and no matter what the situation was – even when my father was debating putting me in foster care so his wife would stay – she never was on my side. It was always my fault. Now, in retrospect, I understand it better. She was a fat hater. I also really don’t think she liked kids much, but that’s another story. Once, in NYC, when I had strep throat I went to the doctor. I had to listen to a 10 minute spiel about how I should have weight loss surgery… from a doctor who had a referral business card handy. Can you say “referral fees?” I asked him how my strep throat was weight related and he shut up.
These are not things that happen to thin people. I was, for a few short years, thin. I can tell you right now that I never once knew I was thin. I thought and felt fat the entire time. Feeling fat and being fat are very, very different things.
There’s a Kacey Musgraves song called Follow Your Arrow. The following is part of the first verse of the song.
If you can’t lose the weight
Then you’re just fat
But if you lose too much
Then you’re on crack
You’re damned if you do
And you’re damned if you don’t
So you might as well just do
Whatever you want
This song immediately resonated with me. It’s incredibly true that, no matter what we do, there will people who have something nasty, spiteful and childish to say about it. Let’s think about celebrities for a minute. When they are fat, there’s lots of body shaming, unflattering, unedited pics taken of them. When they are thin, especially if they get what is deemed to be “too thin,” it’s all about… does she have a drug problem? Is it an eating disorder? Celebrities are, in my opinion, a bad overall example because they are prone to put their bodies through a lot. Whether it’s intentional weight gain (or loss) for movie roles, or substance abuse, or just what must be incredible stress living such high profile lifestyles, they hardly compare to us “normal” people. However, since we’re a world obsessed with celebs, they are frequently written about in print and online, and it’s easy to see the double standard. One minute so-and-so looks great because she “lost the baby weight” or “slimmed down” or “got toned.” The next minute the very same so-and-so is in the news and it’s “oh, is that a baby bump or is she gaining weight?” Even actresses who come out against body shaming and say they are happy with their curves often wind up back pedaling from that stance, and lose weight and it becomes a story of “I decided I needed to get healthy.” Which is 100% fine, if it’s true. People have the right to get healthy, not get healthy, try to lose weight or gain it… it’s a personal choice. But the key words are “personal” and “choice,” and when it seems as if everyone is in your business and putting pressure on you to do something, it no longer feels personal or like you have much choice.
I know a lot of people who are naturally thin. I went to high school with a girl who had hyperthyroidism. Ali was very, very thin. It wasn’t possible for her to gain weight. She tried. She didn’t hate her body, but she hated the medical condition. She was constantly freezing and constantly starving. She’d eat thousands and thousands of calories a day. She also had an incredibly unbalanced, and bragged about how being able to eat anything was the only “perk” of her condition. She ate a ton of fast food and junk food, and rarely ate actual, balanced meals. Her medical condition meant she was going to be very thin no matter what or how she ate. She’d tell us how her butt would hurt because it had no padding, and she laughed about it, but she also meant it. Overall, she was really comfortable in her own skin and people being mean didn’t bother her. She’d just shrug it off. Then a rumor was started that she was a heroin addict. Her mother (like mine) was a junkie, so this was a very, very painful subject area for her. It was also around the time the “heroin chic” look was taking off on runways, which didn’t help. This behavior is every bit as bad as fat shaming. It’s stereotyping someone’s body – and the person’s health and lifestyle choices – based solely on how they look. Discrimination is discrimination, and it comes in more flavors than Baskin’ Robbin’s ice cream.
Still, I don’t pretend I know what it’s like to have someone go, “oh, you really need to eat more.” Trust me, that’s never happened to me. I suspect that the reverse is true, however, and that most thin people haven’t had total strangers come up to them and say, “should you really be eating that?” If a thin person eats a brownie and drinks a Diet Coke, they are judged to be making balanced, healthy choices… it’s “eating sweets in moderation.” If a fat person does this, people laugh and go, “yeah, that’s how to lose weight,” never considering that maybe the person just prefers the taste of diet soda. Or that the person is on some type of diet plan and would rather use their calories on a brownie than a can of regular soda. Or that the person could give two shits about losing weight, and *gasp* that that’s allowed. There are absolutely differences between how a thin person is treated versus how a fat person is treated.
That being said, neither busybody is right. Going up to someone you don’t know and giving them unsolicited nutrition advice is absolutely and completely inappropriate. Who are you to judge what someone else should be eating? Who are you to decide what my body needs right now, or ever? I think I’m the best judge of what my body needs, and even if I am not, it’s still not up to you to police my food choices. That goes for the person who tells the thin person to eat more, too. A thin person gets to make his or her own choices, just as us fat people do. Would you like it if someone went up to you and said “hey, should you be doing X?” Probably not in most situations, and almost certainly not when it comes to food choices. So STFU. Mind your own business. Decide what’s right for your body, and let thin and fat people decide what is right for their bodies, too. I used to be guilty of this type of thinking (I never, ever said it to anyone, but I thought it), and I suspect that came from my time spent in the eating disorder hospital. I think that gave me the inaccurate notion that most people who are very thin, especially women, were suffering from an eating disorder. What I failed to realize, though, was that even if the person did have an eating disorder, it wasn’t my place to judge. I should’ve know better, having lived with one myself… and now I do. But the truth is, I suspect the real cause for judgment came from a place of jealousy.
I had a lot of friends in high school who believed they were fat. There were several who were all in the 5’4″ – 5’6″ height range and who weighed between 130 – 150 pounds. Not one of them was actually fat, even using the idiotic BMI charts, but at 5’7″ and 300 pounds, I sure was. I had to listen to these girls talk about how fat they were all the time. It made me really insecure at the time, but in retrospect, it just makes me sad. Unfortunately, I also listened to them bash people – including so-called friends of theirs – who were much smaller. There were girls we knew who were all over 5’1″ and 100 pounds (or less). Most of those girls were just naturally petite. Only one had an eating disorder (that we knew of), but even with her they’d make jokes. They were being “mean girls,” but it was born out of envy and petty jealousy. All of us knew they’d willingly give up teeth to be thin like the girls they made fun of, and the sad reality is, they mocked them because of that jealousy. I seriously doubt that anyone thin who makes fun of a fat person is secretly thinking, “damn, what I’d give to have her fat rolls.” I didn’t join the thin bashing, but I am ashamed of the teenage girl I was for not trying to stop it, either.
Being fat is a painful reality, especially in a world so damn convinced that people can change anything if only they try hard enough. Whether fat people are judged by naturally thin people who are utterly clueless as to how our lives play out, or whether we’re judged by former fat people who’ve lost weight (and maintained it long term), it sucks. I don’t care if you did something. It doesn’t mean I, or anyone else, automatically can. I wrote a novel. I don’t presume “anyone can” just because I did. I don’t think Michael Phelps would tell someone “if you just try hard enough, you can win all the medals like I did.” We’re all unique individuals, and our physiologies are as unique as our personalities. Don’t presume that someone can do something simply because you did, or because you’ve read articles or saw a news report that makes you think they can. Trust me… most fat people I know wouldn’t chose to live with such extreme persecution. Most fat people I know tried like hell, often for years, to not be fat. Many of them are still trying. I chose to stop because it was an unhealthy way for me to live. Just as it is their choice to continue trying to lose weight, it’s my choice to decide to focus instead on making changes that I can sustain. I have no business judging someone for wanting to lose weight, and that person has no business judging me for choosing to stop pursuing weight loss. You know what will make you happy, just as I know what makes me happy. But we’re judgmental by nature. It happens, and we all slip into the patterns. I’d argue that being able to accurately judge, both situations and people, is an important evolutionary tool. It’s what we do with that judgment that matters. Do you let it color your behavior? Or do you tell yourself you’re being unfair, that you don’t know the person’s backstory, or that no matter what you might THINK, it a. doesn’t mean it’s true, b. doesn’t mean it’s your business and c. sure as fuck doesn’t mean you need to say something nasty, snarky or even something you might think is well-meaning if it’s unsolicited advice.
This is true when you see a person you deem to be too fat, and it’s just as true when you see one you deem to be too thin.
My high school friend with the hyperthyroidism is an excellent example of how rushing to conclusions based on a person’s appearance is unfair and not going to give you accurate information. Ali tried everything to gain weight because she was actually so thin she was physically uncomfortable. Despite having fairly good self-esteem, and despite being a really, genuinely happy person, her thinness caused her problems she would’ve preferred to avoid, and not just the nasty comments from other people, but actual physical problems. The hyperthyroidism she lived with made her life very difficult.
I actually have the exact opposite problem of Ali. I have Hashimoto’s Disease, which is an autoimmune form of hypothyroidism. Just as her condition made it impossible for her to gain weight due to a hyper-fast metabolism, mine makes my metabolism sluggish. I also have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which is another endocrine disorder that affects metabolism, among other things, and it was when the PCOS symptoms first started when I was going through puberty that I first began to experience rapid weight gain. I didn’t lose weight when I was 25, doing all the “right things” and healthy other than having these conditions. It’s even harder now that I can’t exercise properly due to the fibromyalgia that went undiagnosed for so many years. It’s easy to sit back and judge someone when you know nothing about the person. People said Ali had an eating disorder, or was a junkie. People say I’m just lazy or making excuses or not trying hard enough. In either of our situations, it’s flat out wrong to express judgments. You don’t know what it’s like to live in someone else’s body, and you never can.
I write primarily about fat acceptance because there has been a “war” declared on people who look like me. There are no “wars” on thin people… but that doesn’t mean there isn’t still discrimination, and it doesn’t make hating thin people or judging them or presuming anyone thin will hate you because you’re not okay. We shouldn’t presume health by looking at a person, whether that’s good health or bad health. Your health is your business and no one else’s, unless you choose to invite someone into your life and choices. I also don’t write a lot about thin shaming because it’s not something I’ve ever experienced firsthand. Ironically, even when my BMI said I was underweight, I was told I was fat because I was so much taller and heavier than my classmates, and I still carried weight in my belly. So, I can’t relate to it, and I try to steer clear of things I can’t speak about on a personal level. But it’s something that comes up a lot, and it’s something I’ve been guilty of, at the very least, not trying to stop in the past (and I’ve had plenty of unspoken skinny-shaming thoughts, too).
Body acceptance is about accepting every body… not just thin ones and not just fat ones. We only get one body in our lifetimes, and life is far too short to spend so much time hating it. It’s about loving the body you have right now, today. It’s about not judging someone for how fat or how thin or even how “hot” you think they are. It’s about universal acceptance. Stop making judgments, and honestly I even mean judgments you think are positive. I try not to look at any pictures and think “oh, what a great body she has” now. It’s not easy, since, as I mentioned, we’re so conditioned to think this way, but it’s worth doing because you know what? Every body is great. Even my completely fucked up broken one. It’s MY body and I love it. I’m not asking you to love it. I’m simply asking for the same courtesy and respect (I hope) you’d want given to your body.