It’s not a “lifestyle” choice

So today, I saw this:

Blah

It’s possible, though probably unlikely, that it was directed at me. I say possible because a lot of people misunderstand what it means to promote fat acceptance, or Health At Every Size or Intuitive Eating. I say unlikely because anyone who thinks this about me has a fundamental misunderstanding of who I am and what I stand for, yet I know that my message is one that is easily misunderstood or misconstrued, too. Some people assume that promoting “fat acceptance” means I am anti-thin people. That couldn’t be further from the truth. I’m for body acceptance in general. That being said, there is a reality in our society that thin bodies are considered healthy, desirable bodies and that fat bodies are considered ugly, unhealthy bodies. This is just a simple fact. So, it is absolutely true that I tend to be more proactive about promoting images, articles, websites, etc. that focus on viewing fat bodies in a more positive light.

I am the proud owner of a body that happens to be fat. I’m not proud of my body because its fat. I’m proud of my body because it’s my body. It’s the only one I have. It’s broken, in many ways that have nothing to do with it being fat, but it’s still the only body I have. Like your body, or anyone else’s body, my body is amazing. It does all the remarkable, incredible things bodies do. Admittedly, mine has some… quirks (like an autoimmune disease). But, still. I’m here because of my body. Like your body, my body is beautiful.

But I’ve been told my entire life my body is ugly. I’ve been force fed the message repeatedly that my fat body isn’t good enough, isn’t worthy of love, isn’t amazing and isn’t sexy. I’ve been given the same message millions of girls all over the world have been given. Thin bodies are the only acceptable bodies. Thin bodies are the only healthy bodies. Thin bodies are the only attractive bodies. For years and years, like so many other girls, teens and women, I fed into that myth. I believed my body to be ugly and unacceptable. I did everything in my power to try to make it not be what it was… to make it not be a fat body. Each attempt at being thinner made me a bit thinner, for a little while. Ultimately, though, even when I did everything “right,” the weight would come back. Sometimes it would bring friends with it, which was just salt poured into the wound that was failure. Except this is actually a studied phenomenon and it doesn’t even relate to genetics. Dieting is probably partly to blame for the so-called obesity epidemic. Worse, dieting contributes to the development of eating disorders, and that was very much the case for me. I was put on my first diet at the age of 8. I spent the next 2+ decades yo-yo dieting.

My fat body is not a lifestyle choice. I didn’t choose to be fat anymore than the thin person chooses to be thin. Some of us are able to manipulate our bodies into being what they aren’t, from a weight perspective. If not long term, at least short term, many of us can either lose or gain weight to try to be the size we want to be, or the size we’re told we should be, but for the vast majority of us, this change is not permanent. Have you ever wondered why celebrities who gain weight for movie roles are able to lose it so easily? Or if they lose weight (and muscle mass), they’re back to their more typical weight/body type quickly? It’s because these are generally people who are starting from somewhere near their body’s set point.

I couldn’t even begin to guess what my body’s set point actually is, and I’m not even sure my body knows at this time. I spent way too many years yo-yo dieting, losing 25 pounds, gaining 30… overexercising, restricting food intake, binge eating. On top of that, I have Hashimoto’s Disease, PCOS and fibromyalgia. I’ve had 3 surgeries in just over 3 years. My body has been through hell and back, and my ability to exercise was impacted by that. It’s sad, really. When I was able to exercise, and did so regularly, I hated it passionately. I hated it despite the fact that it made me feel good mentally, that it helped me sleep better, that I was proud of myself for being brave enough to exercise in a gym in notoriously fat-phobic NYC (in a very pretentious area, nonetheless). Why? I hated it because I was doing it to lose weight. It was supposed to make me thinner. It never did, but I kept doing it right up until the fibromyalgia caused my first exercise related injury and I was forced to stop. I wish I hadn’t wasted time making it about weight loss. I wish I’d realized then that, even without losing a single pound, exercise would make me healthier. I wish my focus had actually been on health, but despite what I’d have insisted to be the case at the time, it had little to nothing to do with being healthier, and nearly everything to do with being more socially acceptable. Which is sort of odd for me because I’ve always been a rebel and I’ve never much cared what people thought about me. However, where my weight was concerned, a lot of my issues came from my family. I know this is true for a lot of people who have struggled with their weight, or even with just their perceived body image. It’s sad that families don’t recognize the critical role they play in the building of our confidence, or that, even worse, in some cases, they simply don’t give a damn.

The point is this… my body size isn’t a “lifestyle choice.” Not dieting, and trying to adopt a Health At Every Size approach? Now, that IS a lifestyle choice. It’s one that has revolutionized my life, and one I don’t regret for even a minute. And if that message was directed at me, I have to laugh at the “get help,” because I did get help. I worked with an eating disorder therapist on adopting an Intuitive Eating based approach to life for eighteen months. I did a phone session with one of the co-authors of the book. Help is how I got here, and I am so incredibly grateful for it because to think of what I’d still be doing to myself otherwise? That’s horrible. It was hell. That endless roller coaster of dieting. The emotional turmoil. The self-hatred it so frequently inspired. The competition amongst other dieting friends, or for a while, even my husband. Not for me. No thanks.

Does that mean you shouldn’t diet? Of course not. You get to make your own choices, just as I have. You have to find your own path to happiness and inner peace.

As for thin-shaming, it’s never okay. It’s not anymore okay than fat-shaming. I do want to make a point, though. This may not be something easily understood, and I’m sure it will be controversial, but as a fat person who once bought into the whole “real women have curves” mentality, I want to try to explain why. When you grow up being told over and over your body type is ugly, you can become desperate to latch onto any seemingly positive message that is directed at your body type. When I used to like such things on facebook, or wherever, I didn’t realize the flip side of that message. I honestly didn’t realize that the message was one that put down a different body type. I only saw it from the “holy shit, that’s a fat chick in a bikini and she looks happy and awesome” perspective. It didn’t dawn on me, ironically until I began my IE journey with the eating disorder specialist, that by liking images like that I was actually implying women who didn’t look like me were somehow less than. I never meant to do that, and I ultimately realized I was guilty of doing what had been done to me. Someone who is new to the process of accepting their body may be in that same boat. They may not realize that something they think is body positive is really only promoting a positive message for one type of body, not an inclusive message. Of course, the alternative is also possible. It may be that the person actually feels that way. I’m not one to dictate how anyone should feel, or what another person should find appealing or attractive. We’re all entitled to our own feelings and opinions. However, we’re not entitled to be assholes about them. That’s when it crosses the line from a feeling, belief or opinion and becomes bullying, oppression or bigotry. That’s not okay.

So many of us have our own battles with how we look, or how we feel we are perceived by others. I have naturally petite relatives who are given stupid advice like “oh, you’re so thin… maybe you should eat more.” And of course, most of my life I’ve been asked, even by complete strangers, “do you really need to eat that?” My body is not yours to police, just as yours is not mine to police. You get to eat what you want. I get to eat what I want. End of story. But please, to those of you reading this who are thin, ask yourselves this question… have you ever heard a little girl say she wants to grow up to be fat? My guess is you haven’t. People have said they’d rather lose limbs than be fat, or give up their marriages or a year of their lives. The vast majority would rather give up $1,000 than gain 20 pounds. In fact, there have been studies to demonstrate that little girls as young as 3 years-old prefer thin over fat. So what is my point? My point is this… no one has the right to shame you for being thin. Ever. It’s wrong, it sucks and it’s just as bad as shaming a fat person. However, it’s very likely that the person thin-shaming is envious – maybe not even consciously – of a body she can’t have herself. Whereas, I am pretty damn sure that not one person who has every body shamed me wanted to be my size. This is part of why my focus tends to be on promoting body positive things related to fat people… but it doesn’t mean, for even one minute, that I think it’s okay to thin shame. It doesn’t mean I won’t call thin shaming out if I see it. I have and I will.

Why is this worth mentioning? Well, because I’d like to live in a world where no body is shamed, because we don’t look at each other and think, gee, I wish I looked like that instead of like this. I wish we lived in a world where it was as okay to have a thigh gap as it is not have one. Or vice versa. I want to live in a world where people wouldn’t dream, for even one minute, of giving up a marriage rather than being fat, or of choosing to be blind or lose limbs over having a body type that is that vilified and hated by so many. I’d like to live in a world where someone who loses weight isn’t automatically presumed to be sick, or a drug addict… or dieting. I’d like our world to be one where we don’t feel the need to say to someone, “oh hey, you look great… you’ve lost weight,” implying that the person didn’t look great to begin with, or assuming that the weight loss was intentional, and not the result of emotional trauma (like the death of a loved one, or a divorce) or a horrible illness (like cancer). We don’t live in that world, and I am not idealistic enough to believe it will ever be quite that perfect or simple, but I am a fighter and I will do all that I can to help make that world a reality. Some things, no matter how unlikely, are worth fighting for… and to me, this is one of those things.

~JK

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