The Gift of Our Stories

Published December 14, 2011 by Fat Heffalump

Up until a few years ago, I thought I was the most worthless creature on the planet.

I believed that I had no right to speak, have an opinion, share my beliefs, ask questions, or  talk to people without a being prompted directly.  Even then, I often held back, or made jokes about the situation, rather than actually sharing my thoughts or feelings.  I was full of guilt and shame.

But then I found fat acceptance.

I don’t remember exactly where I first encountered the concept, but I guess someone shared a link on Twitter or Facebook, and something piqued my interest, and I had a look.

Fat acceptance opened up a whole new world for me.  It changed my life so much that I can’t express fully just where I was and where I am now.

Where I am now, literally now, as I type this, is sitting in one of my favourite blogging spots, a little tabled area not far from my office, writing this blog post on a laptop as I’m photographed and filmed by a couple of academics as part of a documentation project about fat embodiment and activism.

When I look up, this is what I see. Lauren and Isaac.

Me.  Being photographed.  There are moments that I still can’t believe that I’m allowing the above to happen, not just allowing it but feel relaxed about it and even enjoying it.  I have a gap of about 20 – 25 years where there are only a handful photographs of me in existence.  More years I think, I’m not really sure.  I destroyed most of the photographs that were taken, simply out of self loathing.  I’ve had more photographs taken of me in the last 25 minutes than I did in that 25 years.  In the past few months, literally hundreds of photographs.

We found some photographs at work recently from 2003, and many people wouldn’t believe that the woman in those photos was me.  My self loathing is actually visible in most of them, even if I’m smiling on the surface.

It’s a massive shift in my paradigm.  To just allow someone to photograph me and relax (well mostly!) while they do so is so radically different to where I was years ago.

That’s fat acceptance and fat activism that has led me to that place.

An aside… it’s weird.  Every now and then a giant lens appears over my shoulder like a shark swimming into view.  I keep expecting to hear that music from Jaws, you know the bit with the cello?  It’s also kind of funny to have someone seeing my writing as I do it – normally it’s only seen by someone else when I have given it a tidy up and clicked on “publish”, not while it’s flowing out of my brain, through my fingers and onto the screen.  It’s a challenging exercise in the writing process.

Giving Isaac a taste of his own medicine!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand, fat activism has brought so much to my life and radically change how I think about myself.  From a girl/young woman who received the dual message of “It’s lucky you’re smart, cos you’re not much to look at.” and “You shouldn’t get too big for your boots girlie.” to a 39 year old woman who has the confidence to allow people to document her life, and to share it with the world.

Telling my story is really important to me.  I think the most powerful thing about fat activism is the empowerment it gives to people to tell their stories.  Not to mention to hear stories of other fat people, which we simply don’t get in the mainstream.  Fat people in the mainstream are  one dimensional parodies – the sassy fat sidekick, the angry fat bully, the sad fat loner sitting at home in front of the television shoving food in their face.  We’re not seen in the mainstream as everyday people, with multi-faceted personalities.  We’re not seen as having jobs and careers, families and friends, hobbies and interests, passions and convictions.  Part of the power of being a fat activist is putting a representation of a real person, with all of those things, out in the world for other people to witness.  Both our fellow fatties, who often feel alone and isolated by the mainstream representation of fatness, and to non-fat people, who are sold this view of us that is not real.

Storytelling is a powerful, powerful thing.  Religions grow from it.  History is determined by who gets to tell their story and which of those stories is documented – which is how privilege is born.  That’s what marginalisation is – the silencing of people’s stories.

Fat activism not only allows me to tell my story and document my own history, but it also allows me to create a place for you to tell your stories, and to encourage you to create your own spaces to tell your stories.

And sometimes, if you’re really, really lucky like I am, you get other people who want to tell your story as well.

I’m having a lot of lightbulb moments while I work on this project.  I’m thinking about a lot of new things and learning a lot about myself.  From personal stuff – my own identity and embodiment – to the broader perspective of what it means to be telling the stories of fat people in general.  It’s become this strange meta process – the more immersed I get into a project about fat embodiment, the more I find myself defining my own identity and what I embody.

As I just said to Lauren, one of the best things about the internet is that we all have the power to document our stories and share them with the world, and to possibly have those stories heard by others, who then weave them into their own stories.  My story becomes entangled with yours, which then becomes entangled with the people in your life, and so on.

So thank you, dear Heffalumpies, for entangling your stories with mine.  That enriches my life far more than you can know.

23 comments on “The Gift of Our Stories

  • It is an honour and a privilege to hear your story and to share the making of your story with you. This post makes me think of my presentation at the Fat Studies conference about Narrative Therapy and Fat Acceptance. Stories are why I became a social worker and then a counsellor – I love to hear other people’s stories and to help equip them to fashion their lives, their stories, in the way they want them to end up.

    • Bri I had your presentation in mind when I was writing this post. I was going somewhere else with the post in the beginning but it took a left turn and went where it did, and it was you and your presentation from the conference that was kind of fueling me as I went along.

      And the feeling is mutual hon!

  • I’m glad there are people like you that can illustrate this. I wish I could get to that point but kind of doubt I ever will. One of the problems is I hated myself before I was fat too so I don’t know if I can ever unlearn that. I’m glad you did, though!

    • Thank you Faycinacroud. I believe you will progress through to self acceptance. I didn’t believe I could, and here I am. Immerse yourself in fat acceptance and activism – it’s the best way to progress your story in that direction.

  • Beautiful, wonderful story. Love happy endings.
    I’ve never been fat so I never experienced what you did. THe only thing I can liken it to is getting older. I’m 62 and becoming invisible to many people younger than I. Clerks etc. don’t treat me they same way as they did when I was younger. My opinion doesn’t seem to hold as much value. It’s fascinating and upsetting.

    Thanks for sharing your story and I’m so grateful that you and others found fat acceptance.
    mwah, Cherry

    • Thanks Cherry, and I’ll be in touch with you shortly, it’s been a busy week!

      As someone who has been fat since childhood, I’ve always been either invisible or hyper-visible. And my whole life my opinion has been discounted because I’m fat. It’s interesting to se how many women who have thin privilege notice that as they age.

  • Oh sweetheart, I have to tell you, you and Regan Chastain have both helped me so much. In September my husband left me, one of his most glaring and repetitive reasons was my weight and how it affected his life, but the more he talked the more I realized he made a million and one assumptions about what I could not or would not do and basically bought into the stereotype while living in the same house as me while being one of the worlds laziest men. He would come home from work and play computer and not do a single thing…the lawn would get horrible, the few chores he did have would go undone, and yet I was the fat and lazy one when he was no string bean himself! I was so down, buying into so much of his bull crap and not seeing the value in what I was doing for a while until I started reading your blog and Dances with Fat and opened my eyes. I am a stay at home mom, or at least was, that will be changing as soon as I can find a job. Yes, I do sit around a lot, but I’ve been working on a writing career for the past few years. It’s hard to write a novel while exercising or marching around the house, but that doesn’t mean I’m completely inactive either. I knocked out two full length young adult fiction novels in a twelve month period and am currently working on the third. My kids are healthy, cared for, fed and clothed and get where they need to be when they need to be there. My house gets messy but it always gets straightened back up again and I play and do a lot with my kids, it was just usually when he wasn’t around to see it. And I’ve spent a long time putting everyone else before me. My kids and his needs always came first, so when the nicer clothes in my closet dwindled, I just made due. I had it in my head somewhere along the way that since I was doing the SAHM thing I shouldn’t spend money on myself and plus size clothes cost so much that it was hard to justify, especially when I hated how I looked in almost everything anyway. My attitude is slowly changing. I no longer look at what I do accomplish with contempt as not enough or doesn’t count, because every little bit counts, every little thing I do for my kids count, every word I write counts, and I’m slowly pulling back out of the cocoon I enclosed myself in and am starting to find my self respect and spunk again, and that is in no small part due to reading the words of you and Regan, who both inspire me daily to dust off my bruised backside and make the best of every day and be the best me I can be regardless of what the rest of the world might think or say. In the three months since my husband left, he’s also realized how unfair he was being and I think he’s starting to appreciate the re-emerging me. I haven’t lost a pound, but a big part of what was going on with me was on the inside, self loathing, a sense of unworthiness, and an overwhelming sense of ‘why bother.’ I hid in my writing for a long time during all of this, putting everything I wanted to do and be in the pages of my books, but now I’ve started giving myself permission to be the heroine in real life too, and it feels fantastic and it’s in no small part to you!

  • I had difficulty reading your post because of crying … the flood-gates opened and I couldn’t see the screen properly. But these weren’t tears of self-loathing but tears of joy. You give me hope that one day us fatties will be seen as real people and that I’ll be one of them standing proud of being who I am and not for what I look like. There are not many people in the world today who inspire me, who make me think and believe in myself. Happily I can say that you definitely do inspire me and I cannot thank you enough for all you have helped change in me since I discovered the Fat Acceptance movement. Thank you so much!

  • Fat activism not only allows me to tell my story and document my own history, but it also allows me to create a place for you to tell your stories, and to encourage you to create your own spaces to tell your stories.

    And this is totally why I blog, because people like you inspired me too! And even if I’m just posting pics of my work outfits and nail polish, it’s a little bit more out there in the world (and does wonders for my own self esteem, I have to say!)

    • Absolutely MsStephanieCatherine – just by existing, being visible and showing our own representations of ourselves, we’re telling our stories, rather than allowing others to write them for us.

  • [gushy] You deserve all the recognition and positive attention that you are getting, every ounce of it. You have a unique, strong, inspiring, and empowering voice and I am thrilled to bits for you. Rock the eff on. [/gushy]

  • I just want to say you’re one of my heroes! Thank you for telling your story and helping to create an environment in which fatties like us can feel like real, valuable people (which, of course, we are)! Don’t ever stop being awesome! ❤

  • God, something I hadn’t even thought of in years . . . I apologized to my firstborn when she was a day old, because her baby pictures would have me in them in all my ugliness. Even while I was flying on endorphins, I found time to hate myself for failing to have gotten skinny before my set date for getting pregnant. Because how could any child not loathe an ugly fat mother?

    Tomorrow I will be someone’s baptismal sponsor. I will stand up in front of an entire churchful of people in a red and black jersey dress and black heels and all of my fat. And I will not waste a second on shame.

  • I’m so happy for you!

    Not using this as an excuse, but sometimes depression and tragedy in a person’s life make just getting up in the morning and staying up a real success. At this kind of time, diet is pretty much the least of my concerns.

    Thanks for the inspiration.

    • Tovah, diet shouldn’t be something we’re ever concerned about, unless we’re unwell or not able to get the diet we need. Learning to eat intuitively, which includes through tough times and celebratory times, is one of the most valuable lessons we can ever learn. I can highly recommend for excellent help in learning that.

      And thank YOU.

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