The People of Walmart

I’m not going to link to the site here, but I’m sure most of you are familiar with the meme The People Of Walmart. Basically, strangers take pictures of other strangers that they find, for some reason, odd or hilarious or whatever… and they post them online and make fun of them. TPOW is hardly the only such site that does this… there are many out there that do it. It happens on reddit, it happens in forums all over the net.

At first glance, it’s pretty easy (in most cases) to tilt your head and go WTF? to some of these pics. Like the infamous one of the woman wearing her nightgown, fur coat and vacuuming her front yard. It’s easy to judge that pic and go… well clearly she’s high. And maybe she was high.

Or maybe she’s mentally ill. Or maybe she has Alzheimer’s. We don’t know because we don’t her. We have no idea what led to her being outside, on what looks like a rainy day, wearing that fur coat and nightgown and vacuuming her yard (or trying to). But whatever the story is, it’s hers.

My grandfather has dementia. We don’t know what the cause of it is, but he often forgets to shave and his hair will be a mess. He used to be the sort of man who never, ever went outside unkempt. He was very neat and put great care into his appearance, at least outside of the house.

When my grandmother needed emergency surgery in November, and the doctors really didn’t know if she’d survive, he had to rush with my mom to the hospital. All he kept saying, while they were waiting in the family room for news, was that he hadn’t shaved. This upset him so much that when she wanted to say goodbye a few weeks down the road, he didn’t want to go because he hadn’t shaved. My mother, as gently as she could, told him it was going to be his last chance to see his wife.

So he went out, unkempt, disheveled…

A friend of mine went to the Walmart pharmacy late at night because her 2 month old had a fever. She was wearing pajamas, flip flops and realized after the fact that her top was inside out (and had spit up on it). Her hair hadn’t been washed in two days because, as a new mom, she just hadn’t gotten the chance to wash it. She told me later she worried about someone taking pics of her while she was in Walmart, since her pajamas were hot pink and had animal print. And it was December in New Jersey and rather cold for flip flops.

As a fat person in a digital age that so greatly enjoys mocking people for no reason other than they’re out in public and dare to look somehow different than other people think they should, I never shop without fear of winding up on some fat shaming site. It’s always in the back of my head. It doesn’t stop me from living my life, but the fact that I have to think about it at all is pretty fucked up, really.

I’m fortunate to live in a place where the majority of people aren’t assholes. No, really… I regularly have teenage boys hold the door for me. That doesn’t happen where I come from, not unless said teenage boy thinks the woman he’s holding the door open for is hot, anyway. And maybe not even then. But certainly no one ever held the door open for me where I grew up on the east coast.

But then hell, I saw a little old woman with a walker struggle to get into a bank in Manhattan that didn’t have automatic doors for 5 fucking minutes. I was prepared to help, but stuck on the other side of the street. People went into the bank, came out of the bank. No one helped her. It broke my heart. When I went and helped her, the look of gratitude in her eyes was just… overwhelming. It literally made me tear up because I could not imagine how anyone could be so oblivious, self-absorbed or cruel as to let this poor woman struggle that way.

So certainly, it wasn’t limited to fat people… which is the point. People here are, in general, just much kinder and nicer than the people where I used to live. So given that, I worry a LITTLE less. But I still worry.

I’ve had strangers (again, back east) come up to me in a store, look at me and give me their diet business cards. This is when I was dieting, btw, and nothing in my cart was even remotely “questionable.” I was once walking home from the deli, where I’d gone to get my husband and myself some ice cream on a hot summer day, after he’d had a rough day at work. The bag I was carrying was a brown paper bag… some asshole stopped at the red light where I was crossing shouted out, “hey fatty… what’s in the bag? Ice cream?”

Yes, because being fat means you can’t have ice cream. Or it means ice cream is all you eat. I’m never sure which one, tbh. But at the time, that comment destroyed me inside. It made me feel so much guilt and shame that I didn’t even eat the ice cream, despite the fact that, again I was dieting and had worked the ice cream into my daily diet allowance.

I was eating a fat free frozen fudge bar before class started on a warm May Saturday, when a classmate I barely knew came over and asked “should you be eating that?” I looked at her and said, “well since it’s 2 Points and I’m on Weight Watchers, yes, I should.” But I wish I’d said, “how the fuck is it any of your business what I’m eating?” Because that’s EXACTLY the sort of reply that question deserved. And today, after years of eating disorder therapy and time to learn to accept myself, that’s more or less the response I’d give. But I only was able to start this therapy after leaving the toxic fat bashing environment I grew up in and moved to Colorado, which ironically despite being repeatedly reported to have the lowest obesity rates also happens to be far more fat friendly. I’m sure people think things, but I’ve only once in almost 10 years of living here had anyone say something, and it was the second week after we moved here. And, not that it excuses it, because it doesn’t, the person in question thought I was out of earshot when he made the snarky comment. It was at the Wendy’s drive through, and the kid who took our payment said, “that dude’s wife was BIG.” But it was after we’d driven up… he just happened to have said it before the other kid had closed the window. Or I’d never have known.

This sort of shit was bad enough when it was limited to what happens in a store with one person coming up to you or shouting shit from a car at you or making the odd rude comment to you at a restaurant or anywhere else. But now? Now we’ve moved into an entire other realm, one where strangers can take your photos while you’re eating, and you never know it. And then they post said photos and judge you for daring to eat while fat. Sometimes the person in the question probably doesn’t even meet the BMI chart standard for “overweight (not that that’s anything other than money-making BS anyway),” but the photographer thinks she does…

Or the person is wearing a tank top in public, and she’s fat so of course she shouldn’t be daring to show her arms. Or he has chocolate in his cart, and he’s fat, so he deserves it, right? Uhm, no. Actually, he doesn’t.

You might think, “oh, this is ridiculous, she’s being dramatic or overly sensitive.” And perhaps I am, to some degree. My rant about this is inspired by two friends that I know love me and wouldn’t want to hurt me sharing pics from The People Of Walmart. But my grandmother just died, I’m in a fibro flare from hell, and every time I see pics like these I imagine how easily it could happen to me… because I’m both fat and disabled, but my disability is one that is an invisible illness. It’s fibromyalgia, and I have a handicapped placard so I can park closer to stores, and in doing so save myself some spoons. I won’t even use a scooter… because I know people will make snap judgments (another thing that does happen to thin people or young people) about why I’m in a scooter. That and, well… I’m kind of afraid I’d drive one into the display at the end of the aisle. But my husband (who is also fat) has multiple sclerosis and he’s had to use one before, too. Once when I was in Walmart, there was a young kid in a scooter… a teenage boy. With his mother and sisters. He was checking out at the aisle behind ours. My husband had his cane. The – also young – cashier we had went on a loud rant about how much it annoys him to see people using scooters who don’t need them. Well, guess what? When we got out to the parking lot that kid was handed his crutches by his mother to get from the scooter to the passenger door, and she then took the scooter back. So this doesn’t happen just to fat people, but having a fat body in a fat phobic, fat hating society certainly puts an extra target on your back to be the butt of someone’s joke.

When it comes to the internet, I think because they’re strangers in a picture we’re seeing it’s so easy to become desensitized to the fact that The People of Walmart are, in fact, PEOPLE. Real people. People who have jobs, feelings, families, children… etc, etc. People for whom your two minute laugh have to live, in some cases, a lifetime of ridicule and shame over something that you really, when it comes right down to it, don’t know anything about.

The man whose ass crack is out of his pants… maybe he’s undergoing chemo and has lost weight. The woman who has on jeans that are too tight (in your opinion). Maybe she’s gained weight and can’t afford to buy new clothes. The woman in the crazy platform shoes who gets a comment about being a stripper running errands might be a single mom who really IS a stripper, and that’s how she supports her kids. Or maybe she’s just a stripper because she wants to be. And guess what? She fucking allowed to be a stripper, and she’s allowed to wear those shoes to Walmart or anywhere else she wants.

Our bodies don’t belong to strangers in stores or online. They belong to us. We get to do with them whatever makes us happy, whether that means dyeing your hair fuchsia, shaving it all off, having 22 tattoos or 32 piercings. Or just something as simple as wearing shorts  This is true whether we’re a random unknown person or even a celebrity, although at least celebrities go into it knowing the cost. It is still fucked up, but it’s an unfortunate part of the job, and in many cases the publicity turns into profit, even if it’s unfair or undesired. For us just doing our regular grocery shopping, there’s no “perk”to being photographed by a stranger and turned into a joke.

This world we live in where it’s become not only okay, but often encouraged, to take photos of strangers for the sole purpose of mockery is shit. I think that any one of us could, for any number of reasons we can’t necessarily conceive of, wind up on one of these sites. Whether it’s because we’re shopping in our pajamas because we’re sick and don’t give a fuck and just wanna get what we need and get out, or because we want chocolate and don’t buy into the BS that a fat person isn’t allowed to eat chocolate, or we have crazy colored hair that someone thinks is “weird” or we have a lot of piercings or we have a tattoo that someone thinks is dumb or we’re mentally ill and have no idea where we are, let alone what we’re wearing… it could happen to any one of us.

You could very easily someday be the person being laughed at. So next time you mock someone try – just try – to put yourself in said person’s shoes. Because while some people manage to take their unintended internet fame (though these cases usually involve people who put themselves or a family member online in the first place, like David After Dentist or Charlie Bit Me) and turn it into something positive, others contemplate suicide or experience serious mental health struggles.

~JK

 

 

The one where I try to find a bathing suit

As I work up the courage to wear something vaguely bathing suit like for the first time in oh… over 2 decades, I appreciate this post from the fabulous Ragen Chastain, which she recently reposted via facebook. I’m also grateful for her follow up post, which can be read here.

It’s not easy for me to admit being intimidated by the idea of putting my fat body into a bathing suit of some sort. Body acceptance isn’t, at least for me, something that just magically happens overnight. It’s a process, and I still have issues to work through. Wearing a swimsuit of some kind in public happens to be one of those issues… and that’s something hard to explain, and a lot of the “concern trolls” or outright haters would point to it as proof that I’m not really happy with myself. But the truth is, I’ve always been my own worst hater. The people out there who think they can offend me by calling me ridiculous names like “hamplanet,” or who try to hurt me by claiming my husband must be gay, repulsed by me or otherwise somehow, in their viewpoint, “broken,” to want to be with me, have no idea that I’ve called myself far, far worse things over the years (they also, incidentally, have no idea how laughable it is to me when they try to attack my marriage… because I’ve never been more sure of anything than I am of my husband’s love for me). I’ve spent plenty of time beating myself down; engaging in an endless cycle of emotional (and sometimes physical) violence towards my body. As sure as I was of the love my husband and I shared, it didn’t mean there weren’t times when I wondered why he loved me, especially in the early days. A lot of therapy and hard work helped me get through that, but I still hated my body. Passionately.

And for what? For how it fucking LOOKED. It did all these unbelievable, amazing things for me. I could walk all over Manhattan. I could take care of a classroom with 14 toddlers, a job where you literally were not allowed to sit unless the children also were sitting (and anyone who’s spent time with a toddler knows “sitting” isn’t one of their favorite past times). and win the praise of parents and fellow staff members. I worked with infants, with constant up and down, lifting, diaper changes, etc, etc. I did all of this while “morbidly obese,” and I did it fabulously. My body allowed me to do it… and I was never grateful. I was never appreciative.

In no small part, my road to body acceptance was paved with an eight-years-in-the-making diagnosis of fibromyalgia (and yes, more therapy). In other words, I didn’t really begin to appreciate what my body had done for me until my body could no longer do those things. And at first, like the doctors and plenty of “concerned” friends and family members, I bought into the idea that my illness was just a symptom of my fat. It took eight incredibly frustrating years, a sleep study that proved I wasn’t suffering from sleep apnea (I wish I could’ve wiped the smirk off the face of the ENT back in Manhattan who assured me I did, because fat + snores has to = sleep apnea, despite a deviated septum), but rather a sleep disorder known to plague fibromyalgia patients, along with a lot of various tests (11 vials of blood in one session and an MRI) to finally realize what was actually wrong.

I don’t hate my body now. And I regret all the wasted years when I could’ve been doing more with it, when I was healthy enough to do more, but too fearful or too certain I had to wait until I was X number of pounds thinner before I dared try that particular thing. Now, even if something happened like some fairy godmother waved a wand and made me magically thin, it wouldn’t matter. I still have fibromyalgia. I still live with the fatigue, the brain fog, the constant feeling of battling a low grade flu… and those are the good days. On the bad days? Taking a shower makes me cry. Hating my body for how it looks? Seems pretty stupid to me now, considering what it’s going through every day. Considering the endless battles it faces. Considering I hated it for that one vain reason for so many damn years before I got sick, and what did that all that self hatred ever do for me? I can assure you, not one damn positive thing.

So, yes… I disagree with those who see my reticence to put on a swimsuit in public as “proof” I hate myself. I point to it as proof that I, like millions upon millions of others, have been brainwashed by a $60 billion dollar a year diet industry (not to mention the entertainment industry, the media in general, the beauty industry…etc), into thinking my body type isn’t attractive and, even worse, is downright repulsive. I’ve come a very, very long way in appreciating it as it is, right now, today. I’ve become far more comfortable in my skin than I ever imagined possible while still *gasp* fat. Part of that is because I realized that if I didn’t learn how to love myself right now, I’d always find something to hate. I could be that dream size (whatever it was at the particular period in my life) and find reasons to be unhappy… like so many women do, even women who perfectly fit into the stereotypical beauty paradigm.

I was tired of hating myself, and I don’t now. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to battle all those years of “I’m too fat to wear a bathing suit in public,” either. Beyond that, there’s a certain degree of personal comfort with exposing so much skin… it’s been so long, after all. It makes me feel raw, naked and unbelievably vulnerable.

So why do it? Why even bother, right? For years, I wouldn’t have dreamed of going public in a swimsuit. For years I couldn’t see a reason to endure the emotional angst that I’d heap upon myself, nevermind what others might think. And even when I got to a point where I could fairly honestly say, “fuck what others think, Jessica… this ain’t about their opinions,” I still had my own personal demons to battle. So why now?

Circle back to one evil, vicious word. Fibromyalgia. I have fibromyalgia. I have pain every.single.fucking.day. And anyone who lives with this illness knows damn well that it doesn’t tend to get better. One of the biggest challenges we face is trying to not lose the ability to move entirely… because when you’re left exhausted, shaking and in tears simply from showering, it’s pretty damn hard to even begin to consider anymore advanced exercise. When something as simple as using a treadmill leads to a major injury because your muscles are so tight they pull your knee cap out of place and cause a tear in your meniscus, it’s pretty hard to imagine wasting money on a gym membership, let alone doing something more advanced.

Over and over I’ve been told “water therapy.” I loved swimming as a kid. In fact, I lived in the pool in my grandparents’ yard for about 8 hours of every summer day that wasn’t rainy (and even some that were) when I was growing up. Yet, despite loving the water, I’ve avoided the “water therapy” idea for a few years now, partly because my local pool is known for being kept rather cold and because I have concerns over whether that will make my already tight muscles even tighter… but also, if I’m honest, because that meant putting on a swimsuit in a public place. Worse, the pool is located in the same complex as the local high school. I’d been working towards being a teacher, with the hopes of teaching at said high school. It shouldn’t matter how I look, but it does. I had legit concerns that putting on a swimsuit at that pool would risk my ability to be hired there in the future. Perhaps ironically, my illness progressed to the point where I realized I’m not going to be able to work full-time outside of the house, so that reason was eliminated. Which left me forced to accept my real, biggest fear about the entire thing.

Wearing a bathing suit – of some sort – in public. Not because I give a rat’s ass what anyone else thinks. But because I’m still battling my own inner demons. And that realization sucks.

But I’m human. I’m allowed to have these feelings, and these doubts or anxieties. If I choose to not do it, I’m allowed that choice, too. But then I let all those messages about not being worthy of wearing something revealing win. I let the diet industry win. I let the haters win. When it was a matter of swimming for pleasure, well… that was bad enough. But this is different. This is about my health, about my future. This is about wanting to be able to go on trips and walk around without hurting myself from my muscles being so damn tight.

This is about not letting fibromyalgia gain anymore ground.

So, I have to fight my own fears. I have to face them. I have to figure out what I can find to wear to be as comfortable as possible while doing this. I have the support of an amazing husband, who will go with me for moral support, even though he has no desire to swim (he was never a big fan of the water). I have a physical therapist that, despite some… differences of opinion… is willing to go to the public pool with me to show me the exercises I should do. I have a pool that, admittedly might prove to be too cold, but it’s only 30 min away (that’s close in my part of the world), and it’s really inexpensive to go to. I have everything I need, except the swimwear.

I think I finally even have the guts to find that swimwear… and to go, and give it a try. Because while it would suck to lose the $150 bucks or so it will cost me to buy said swimwear if that pool is too cold, what’s at stake here is far greater. What I’m risking losing instead is too big to ignore.

This is about my health, my body and my needs. And if my fat, wet, swimsuit body offends someone? Oh, well. They have the right to avert their eyes. And as for my own personal fears? Well, as Captain Janeway said, “you know as well as I do that fear only exists for one purpose: to be conquered.”

~JK

Body acceptance is about every body

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.

~JK

Stop Weighting…

I’ve been thinking about this post for a long time now. I’ve wanted to write it for a few weeks. Ironically, it hasn’t been written because I’ve been feeling too damn awful to focus on much of anything lately.

When I was 15, I had this idea about my 10 year high school reunion. Mind you, I was a freshman in high school at the time. I was going to be skinny. I was going to dye my hair blonde and let it grow really long. I was going to look so not like my 15 year-old self that people went “who is that!?!” I was going to enjoy the hell out of watching them all have their jaws drop.

Once I was thin, I’d find true love. I’d get married, have a couple of babies (without gaining any weight, of course). I’d be a famous Broadway actress. When I watch Glee, I can so relate to Rachel because that was my dream. Living in NYC, going to a performing arts college, and working towards getting on Broadway. Of course, I had to be thin, first.

“Once I lose the weight, I’ll do…” was my mantra. I spent so much time fantasizing about losing weight. I tried all the diets, though at 15, I was in the throes of my eating disorder. In fact, I’d spend over seven weeks hospitalized for it that year. The therapy at the eating disorder hospital was helpful, but only to a point… partly because I spent so much time envying the anorexic girls. Yep. You heard right… the most deadly mental illness to have, and I envied them. It’s funny in a very sad way, actually. Everyone looked at my weight and acted like, at 15, I was a ticking time bomb. But I know at least two of the girls I was in that hospital with died before they were 40, and it wasn’t because they were overweight. It was the anoerxia’s toll on their hearts. But I digress. Unfortunately, there were really no other girls like me in that program. Even the girls who were bulimic to start, and maybe 20 – 30 pounds “overweight (as defined by BMI charts, not me)” to start had tilted towards the “too thin to be healthy” side of things. The entire time I was there, there were two older women who battled bulimia and were what would be deemed “overweight,” but not one person was even close to my size. It made all my self-conscious issues a lot worse. There was also a heavy emphasis on me losing weight. My one friend, who was anorexic and at 5’6″ weighed 86 pounds, joked with me. We wished we could swap bodies for a while. I gained weight just looking at it, and she could lose weight easily. If only we could swap…

Fast forward a decade. I had found my true love, and GASP… I didn’t have to get skinny to do it. I wasn’t a Broadway actress, but I was living in NYC, on the Upper East Side, nonetheless. I was going to school, had chosen a major I loved. Life was good. We went to museums, we’d walk around the city. We did street fairs in the summer, and spent a long weekend in the Adirondacks each fall. We had a great dog, a beautiful apartment. Hell, we had a doorman. I grew up in poverty, the child of an addict… my life had changed so much, and it was so sweet and good. Except… I was still fat. And I was still trying desperately not to be fat. I tried all the trendy diets, and always wound up going back to Weight Watchers. I’d lose 25 pounds, and then it was like I hit a brick wall. I spent so much time thinking about what I didn’t have (a thin, socially acceptable body) I didn’t ever completely appreciate all that I did have.

At 26, I joined a gym. It took an enormous amount of guts for me to join a gym in my neighborhood where a size 8 was “fat.” But I did it. I went 3 – 4 times a week on average. Some weeks I went even more. It felt good. I didn’t know it yet, but I already had fibromyalgia. The symptoms were mild, and the main issue at that time was sleep disturbances. I associated it with the thyroid condition I discovered I had that year (and that, my friends, is why my weight loss journeys were so fraught). I followed WW’s plan. In the beginning, the gym was an awesome thing for me. I’d end it with a small drink from Jamba Juice… it was a ritual I enjoyed, even though it was hard. I couldn’t do anything but some weight training and the treadmill because everything else caused me pain. Which, of course, I blamed on being too fat. Turns out, that was the fibro. At any rate, the exercise boosted my mood, and in the first few weeks I loved it. Then I stopped losing weight. Again. The weighers and leaders at the WW meetings clearly didn’t believe me. I was cheating somehow, or not really working out. I tried all the “tricks.” I ate my extra workout earned Points. I didn’t eat them. I tried the Wendie Plan, where you eat under your Points some days and over on others (still balancing out to the actual total number for those days). I did everything right. Why wasn’t I losing weight? Didn’t my body know I had things to do??? Things I couldn’t do until I was thin???

I began to hate the gym. Oh, I still went. But instead of it being fun, instead of feeling exhilarated after the exercise, it became one more way I was a failure. Clearly, I wasn’t doing it “right.” I didn’t give up, though. I just hated every single minute of it. Even my post-workout Jamba Juice lost its sweetness. I became obsessive about the gym, but it didn’t matter. I wasn’t losing weight. Yet again, I barely managed to hit 25 pounds lost (I remember this so well because the 25 pound mark earns a special “award” at WW). Then I hit the wall. I’d gain weight doing “everything right.” Or I just wouldn’t lose. It would go on for a few weeks, and then my resolve would crack and I’d wind up bingeing. Ironically, I often lost a tiny bit of weight the weeks I binged. But I hated myself. I felt weak, and like a failure. I remembered my 15 year-old self when I was in the hospital envying the “willpower” of my anorexic friends (that “willpower,” btw, was a topic the bulimic girls and I used to discuss frequently). I felt like I just lacked willpower. The WW weighers and leaders must be right. Clearly, I was doing something wrong.

Meanwhile, I kept putting off things I wanted to do because they’d be easier, or because I wouldn’t look stupid (aka fat) doing them once I lost weight. After about 6 or 7 months of regular gym visits, I hurt my knee. I blamed it, of course, on my weight. So did my doctor, who, by NYC standards was fairly fat friendly (and that’s why I saw her). The physical therapist, however, who was not American (and I suspect therefore less predisposed to the “it’s your fat” argument), told me the problem was that the muscle in my thigh was so tight, it actually pulled the knee cap, causing an injury. I didn’t know it yet, and wouldn’t for five more years, but I’d just had my first fibromyalgia related injury. To this day, there are times when my thigh muscles (particularly the left one) get so tight they pull the knee cap. This meant no more gym. I could only do the treadmill, and suddenly that was taken away from me, too.

Fast forward another decade. I’m now 37. I dieted repeatedly until 2007, when, after having moved away from NYC (and away from so much fat hating), something in me finally “broke,” and I just knew I couldn’t do it anymore. I spent 18 months working with an eating disorder therapist on Intuitive Eating. It made so much sense. I stopped getting weighed. My weight stabilized. I didn’t really lose much weight, but I stopped the endless cycle of “lose 25, gain 35.” I felt so much better emotionally. I discovered I hated half the foods I binged on. I also hated half the foods I’d forced myself to eat when on Weight Watchers.

I stopped waiting to do things, but… unfortunately, I stopped waiting too late. The fibromyalgia had taken a strong hold on my body, and so many of the dreams I had were crushed. Not by being too fat, but by being too sick. When we first moved to Colorado, I had a dream of climbing a 14er (that’s a mountain over 14,000 feet). It turns out my body doesn’t do well over an elevation of 11k, so that dream would likely never have been realized anyway (and elevation sickness is irrelevant of physical fitness, for those uninitiated with life at high elevations). But I had the dream, and I tried to “train” for it, and realized… it would be too damn painful. I couldn’t do it. It’s not a matter of “suck it up.” It would mean risking injuries.

Today I am in the worst shape of my life. It has little to do with being fat, and much to do with being sick. It is endlessly frustrating to want to do things, to try to do things and to have it hurt so much I shake, and wind up near (or actually in) tears. I think back to the 26 year-old me… to the 15 year-old me… and I want to shake myself. I want to scream…

STOP WEIGHTING.

My body was strong. It did amazing things, and I beat it up over the ONE thing it didn’t want to do… lose weight. I wasted years of health on a fantasy of being thin.

So here is my message to all of you. Regardless of whether or not you still want to actively pursue weight loss, something that is a very personal choice, STOP WAITING TO LIVE. If you have a dream, go for it. Start trying today. You might lose the weight and find you can’t do it for some other reason. You might not lose the weight, and miss your chances… like me. I could’ve done so many things I was waiting to do, and now I’ll never get to do them because of the fibromyalgia. Even if I were to somehow magically lose weight today, my pain is not related to my weight. It wouldn’t make much, if any, difference.

I lost my chance. Don’t make my mistake. Stop weighting. Stop thinking of the things your body can’t do, or the things you think it shouldn’t do (like wearing a bathing suit). Go out there and celebrate all the things your body CAN do!

There are other dreams I have now, ones unrelated to my weight. I just hope the fibromyalgia will let me realize those dreams. I won’t stop fighting, though. I know all too well what happens when you don’t fight to make a dream reality. So, I keep trying. Whether or not I ever get there is irrelevant, really. At least I’ve stopped waiting to try. Finally.

~Jessica

Hi there.

Some years ago I blogged in my “real life,” but it’s been a while. I blogged as Maeander from The Pretty Face back in my Weight Watchers dieting days. Then later, when I first discovered Intuitive Eating I realized I needed an entirely fresh start with a more… positive blog url. Eating My Cake was born, where I blogged as Juliet. Now, with Weighing My Mind I am blogging as myself. Just me. Just Jessica. Oh, my real last name isn’t anywhere on this site, but the truth is I’m not hiding this blog. I’ll share it with people who really know me (or think they do), along with people who only know me online (and often better than those who know me in real life). Some people won’t like what I have to say. I can’t help that. I’m responsible for my feelings alone. I know I am opinionated. I’m also tired. Really, really tired… of what? Glad you asked, since it’s what this blog is all about, really.

I am tired of the feeling that being fat is some sort of crime against humanity. In 2007 I began to work with an eating disorder therapist. I’d battled my weight my entire life. I was put on my first diet at the oh-so-impressionable age of 8. My aunt, who was responsible for that diet, will tell you to this day that she never deprived me. I, as the person on the diet, have another take on that. But I’ll save that story for another time. I believe she meant well (which is progress for me, because for years and years I didn’t). She was misguided and her actions set me on a destructive path of disordered eating that would be a way of life for me for over two decades.

In 2006, I was doing Weight Watchers for probably the fourteenth time. This time, due to a recent move to a rural area, I was doing it entirely online. My body was tired. Years of yo-yo dieting had taken their toll. Add to that various medical issues that make weight gain easier and weight loss harder, and it was a recipe for disaster. I wasn’t losing much weight, even being “perfect.” And let’s face it, “perfection” in anything is fleeting, if even achievable at all. With dieting, “perfection” comes at a bitter price… you wind up crashing and burning, and in many cases – including mine – binges soon follow. Weight gain follows, often more than is lost in the first place. When I – yet again – failed at Weight Watchers I felt despondent. Why couldn’t I do it? I mean, Weight Watchers is the “non-diet” in the dieting industry. You can “eat anything” as long as you count your Points! I had WW leaders who would “tsk tsk” at me. Who didn’t believe I was truly trying, even when I was. Even when my feet ached from walking more miles than I should’ve been attempting. Even when my stomach rumbled because I denied it food when I was truly hungry. I told myself I didn’t know what “hungry” felt like. I told myself it was not true hunger. I failed to realize that my body believed itself to be starved. I failed to realize that it wasn’t my failure. Even WW, as wonderful as it declares itself to be, comes with the “results not typical” disclaimers. Even WW results in far more failures than success stories. So, really… who is failing? The dieters? Or the diet?

Frustrated, I talked to my doctor. She recommended I talk to the dietitian who worked in the same office. So, resolved to figure something new out and desperate for a new path, I went and talked to Kathleen. She put me on a diet. *facepalms* Oh, like most diets, it was masquerading as a “lifestyle choice.” In the end, however, the goal was weight loss. There were “exchanges” to track. There were “meal plans” to inspire me. It didn’t last long. Something inside of me, something deep within, was simply… broken.

In 2007, while researching symptoms my husband had, of what we’d ultimately discover were multiple sclerosis, I discovered a listing of fibromyalgia symptoms. I was stunned. I’d been living with nearly every symptom on the list since late 2001. Like most of the doctors I’d seen, I blamed my weight. I figured I was just “fat and lazy.” I’d heard it enough growing up, after all. Maybe it was true. I’d ignored the pain. The fatigue was harder to ignore, but in 2002 I’d been diagnosed with hypothyroidism (which turned out to be Hashimoto’s Disease). So, I had an explanation for the chronic exhaustion, but I was still ignoring the sleep disturbances. Why? Oh, because I’d been told by an ENT in New York City that I “likely” had sleep apnea. After all, I’m fat. I snore. Combine the two and it seems to be all many doctors require to assume it’s sleep apnea. Only a sleep study done in the summer of 2006 revealed that I had only ever-so-slightly more sleep apnea episodes than a “normal” person would have had. It wasn’t sleep apnea. They did notice some unusual activity in my sleep, though. I didn’t properly cycle in and out of the stages of sleep. This was barely mentioned, but I now believe it is alpha wave intrusion, which is quite common in patients with fibro. It explains why I dream nearly as soon as I fall asleep. It also explains why I’ve not had a single night of sleep where I don’t remember at least parts of my dreams in years. In fact, I usually remember my dreams in vivid, technicolor detail. I wake up feeling as though I’ve spent the night active. It’s a horrendous way to live. Sleep and I used to be good friends. Now we’re enemies.

I think that my diagnosis of fibromyalgia, along with my husband’s MS diagnosis, made me realize life is short and bittersweet. At the same time I was also undergoing fertility treatments in an attempt to live our dream of being parents. It would never happen. I have polycystic ovarian syndrome, which I knew when we began trying to conceive. What I wouldn’t figure out until nearly two years into the process is that I also have endometriosis. The combination pretty much damned me, and after over two years of heartbreak I couldn’t do it anymore. In the fall of 2007, desperate for some clarity and help coping with both the infertility, the fibro, my husband’s MS diagnosis and, maybe more than anything, my struggles with dieting, I found a therapist. Bonnie specialized in eating disorders. I was so nervous the day I went to meet her. I fully and completely expected her “treatment plan” to involve a weight loss program of some sort. I was wrong. She introduced me to Intuitive Eating instead.

Why am I here now? I had “retired” from my IE blogger days in 2009. I didn’t feel like I had anything more to say (ha, never trust a Jersey girl when she says that). Well, as it turns out, I do. I have a lot more to say.

This week I’ve been inspired by a telesummit hosted by Anne Cuthbert. In particular, Ragen Chastain’s talk really inspired me, as have the blog posts I’ve read from her since. It made me realize that I have more I need to work through, more to learn… and more to share.

I welcome you on my journey. I hope it helps you as you take your own journey. Just remember, each of us has to find our own path. My journey is not for you to take anymore than yours is for me to take. We can learn from each other along the way. We can share our stories and adventures. Ultimately, though, when the time comes to continue along the path… only we can take the next steps for ourselves.

~Jessica