The Fortunate Ones

Published June 14, 2012 by Fat Heffalump

One of the corollaries of talking to the media repeatedly about the same concepts over and over again is that you do a lot of self reflection on topics, constantly honing and shaping how your activism works and how it applies to your life and your self perception.  Mostly, this is a good thing – evolution is a healthy process, though one does have to take care not to internalise and dwell on the negative.

The best part though, is that sometimes you have a real “Aha!” moment, where a light goes on in your mind and something is clarified for you.

I had one of those moments yesterday while talking to a journalist from the Sunday Mail (Brisbane).  She had asked me what I thought the difference was between how other people see me, and how I see myself.  My response was that it was twofold – people who know me, even through this blog or other social media have one perception of me, and then there is the average punter on the street, who sees me just as an anonymous fat woman somewhere in public.

What I really wanted to focus on is how fat people in general are perceived, rather than me personally, and I was talking about how culturally, fat people are either viewed with disgust, as lazy/dirty/gluttonous etc, or we’re viewed with pity, as though we’re sad/depressed/lonely and so on.  I was talking about how neither of those perceptions were valid for me personally, and for most fat people I know in fact, when a light went on in my head and I said “Really, what I am is lucky.”

I didn’t mean that I am lucky to be fat, but that I’m lucky in that I stumbled across fat acceptance, and that I have been able to take up fat activism myself.  On reflection, I believe that we are the lucky fatties, those of us who have found something outside of the dominant paradigm.  Not just the luck of stumbling across whatever blog or resource we did, but also we’re lucky in that we’ve found an alternative to the cycle of self loathing, punishment to our bodies with diets and other damaging weight loss schemes, emotional self-flagellation and general misery of hating our bodies for being something other than thin.  It’s not an easy process, but at least we have it, unlike those who still believe that their bodies are bad/failures/broken.

Of course, personally speaking I’m very fortunate.  One of the benefits of spending so much time doing this is that I get a lot of really awesome opportunities.  They don’t come without hard work and effort, but their value is not diminished by the work it takes for them to happen.

No matter how far down this road of self acceptance and fat positivity I get, I cannot forget what it felt like before I found my way to this road.  I cannot forget the crippling depression, the constant anxiety, the physical pain of torturing my body with ridiculous exercise regimes, starvation and purging.  I cannot forget how lonely and lost I felt.  Most of all I cannot forget the fear.  Fear that I would never be good enough.  Fear that I would never find happiness, love, joy… peace.  Even fear that I would die.  No matter how far away I get from those years, I still remember those feelings.  They are marked on me in indelible ink, as much a permanent part of me as the tattoos I have adorned myself with since.

To be honest, I don’t want to forget those feelings, because they remind me of just how lucky I am as a fat woman to have found an alternative, to be able to opt out of that paradigm.  They also remind me that these were not feelings I came to on my own – they were placed on my shoulders like a mantle by a culture that repeatedly berates fat people as being worthless, broken, bad.

But when you look at it, aren’t we the lucky ones?  Aren’t we the ones who have moved forward and started to reclaim our lives and our bodies?  Don’t we have to resources, skills and community to fill our lives with joy and positivity, instead of self-loathing and fear?  Aren’t we the lucky ones for finding this strength within ourselves, and I believe that fighting the cultural norm about fatness takes great strength of character, and building on it?

Have you thought of your life pre and post FA?  What are your thoughts on the subject?

19 comments on “The Fortunate Ones

  • In a weird way, I’ve always been into FA. I was bullied from such a young age, and so strongly internalised that narrative of “bullies are awful people, I am glad I am different to them”, that I was always kind of proud of my queer fat self.

    Sure, I had my attitudes to food screwed up by my parents putting me on diets (once, they tried to motivate me by “sponsoring” me for charity. Even then, they knew that it didn’t matter *to me* either way), and I have a lot of fucked-up attitudes to exercise that come from terrible PE experiences at school.. but I am getting better. The FA community is helping me with those things.

    I always kind of knew that you guys would be out here, even before I had the internet. It’s great to finally meet you all!

    • All I can say is THANK U for being on the front line of what we need to embrace as a true revolution. What you are doing is providing hope from this insanity of feminine persecution, which has lately taken form in an unreal standard of thinness. I am not a big girl right now, but, i have been heavy, and probably will always go back to a higher weight than tolerated by others. I want to learn to love myself like i see in this blog with you and your participants. I am so much more than a pant’s size, and almost hate it more when i am complimented on looking slimmer, than ignored. Why does that define me in other people’s eyes? It does not make me a better person, in fact, i’m probably less nice when panicked about eating a desert than when i enjoy life, food, friends and yet, society constrains my emotions with their hatred of my extra pounds.

      I want to be more than my hips, boobs and butt. I want to be free from the self hate instilled in me from childhood. I want to join this revolution so i can age with grace, not, hate and shame. I don’t want another generation of girls to suffer the way we have.

      You are my hero. Truly.

  • People ask me how I can be so happy all the time – it comes from self acceptance. We strive to “love” ourselves, well I found acceptance to be that love. I am me, I’m fat, I love my life, I love my husband and I love my bike. Can’t ask for much more 🙂

  • Such a good point! In fact, if things hadn’t gotten so bad, I probably wouldn’t have been so lucky as to find FA (I found it in a fit of desperate searching about eating disorders). Perhaps greater than average suffering was needed to find a way out of what for many people is a dull ache their whole lives.

  • I’ve thought the same kind of thing a number of times. At the dentist last year one of the nurses asked if they could weigh me due to the weight limit on some of their chairs. She was very nice about it, as was everyone else, but before fat acceptance something like that would have been soul-destroying for me. I can vividly imagine how I would have been shaking with shame and despair. It didn’t happen like that, but the phantom-feeling is so clear as to make it uncomfortable to think about.

    In that moment, one of the main things I thought was how lucky it was that I had FA. Without me really realising it beforehand, I suddenly found I had all these coping strategies ready at hand. I am still so, so grateful for that.

  • You’re right, Kath. We are so, so, SO lucky.

    There was a time when – despite the evidence of my fabulous, incredibly active and energetic fat mother – I bought into virtually every assumption about fat, fat people, and living as a fat person. I even believed it when someone told me my mother had basically eaten herself to death. No, she didn’t. She suffered a massive stroke. She had severe hypertension and lived a stressful life. But she lived that life fully. She did a lot of good while she was around, and to this day I do my best to live up to her legacy.

    My own brother informed me point blank about three years ago that I had: diabetes, hypertension, all kinds of heart and lung ailments and was severely constipated. Informed me! And he’s not a doctor. Funny thing, I had just recently been to a doctor checking up that the cough I’d had lingering for weeks wasn’t turning into something more(it wasn’t)… and she declared my blood pressure ‘textbook perfect.’ Being married to a man with diabetes, I know the sorts of signs to look for in that regard, and no, I don’t show any symptoms. My lungs do tend to hang onto coughs ever since the year I had bronchitis twice, but I’ve never had anything worse than that since, unless you count the time I had pertussis. Nothing systemic, certainly. Oh, and not ten minutes before this little diatribe, I had proved copiously that my intestines were not clogged.

    The thing is, if he had spouted all that obvious nonsense before I found FA, I would not only have assumed he was right about almost everything on that list, I would have gone into a depressive cycle and spent hours searching online medical sites to prove him right. How sick is that? As it was, I just rolled my eyes and told him to get back to me when he had a medical degree and had given me a complete physical.

    Because of FA, I not only know, but have internalized the fact that my health is my business and mine alone. I have internalized the fact that my body is not a pathology in and of itself.

    Lucky? Hell, yeah! And I want to make everyone else lucky, too.

  • I love those moments of revelation, when a weight is lifted off my back and the scales fall from my eyes. I remember having one of those a few years ago as I was driving home from a DBT group — that perhaps, just maybe, I was totally okay just as I am. As with most revelations, words alone can’t capture the aha moment. It’s easy to say that I’m okay just as I am, easy to say that I don’t need to lose any more weight or re-engage in the cycle of shame and deprivation and bingeing that characterized my eating disorder.

    I can’t say that I ever had an aha moment around my food or my body image. It was much more gradual, the product of months and months of working with a nutritionist who encouraged me to focus on nurturing myself — both with food and with other forms of self-care. Reading books on fat acceptance definitely helped, but the confusing thing for me is the way that my body continues to change. After reading “Nothing to Lose” back in the mid 90s, I joined a gym and eventually lost a great deal of weight. When people started giving me positive feedback as a result of the changes in my body, I was surprised at the heat of my own angry response. Now, more than 10 years later, I struggle to walk a path of self acceptance that avoids either extreme of the fatty-hating/fatty-accepting debate. I am all right no matter what size I am, and yet I am not defined by my size.

    • Sometimes it grows and evolves Okelle, sometimes it’s a light that switches on suddenly. Either way, getting to those enlightened stages is always a delight, and we are all so lucky to have been able to get there, through whatever method.

  • I think about it a lot in terms of the way I view exercise.

    As a child, physical activity was something I did because I genuinely enjoyed it. Aside from a few errors in judgment — miscalculating the intensity of an 8-mile hike through sand dunes, for instance — I pretty much only did things that were fun for me. (And in cases like that hike, I kept doing the general activity, just learned to recalibrate what was right for me.)

    As an adolescent and young adult — when my body was becoming rounder and wider in frame, in fat, and in muscle — I started seeing my size as something bad. So I started seeing exercise as something I did in order to burn calories, lose weight, drop clothing sizes, or — as a last resort — at least try to change fat into muscle, so I’d look “toned” and not “flabby.” So when I chose activity types, I chose based on how many calories they said they burned, what physical results they promised. And when they didn’t deliver those results at the recommended times — 30-90 minutes per day, depending on the type — I did them more. I did them even when parts of my body — wrists, shins, knees, back — hurt (at times, possibly with more than just standard muscle soreness) and should have been given more restorative care. It’s not quite the same as self-injury, but effectively, I was deliberately hurting myself because I believed the “thinner” results were more important than having my body happy and uninjured.

    Now I’m much more like I was as a kid. I still really like being active, and given a day without conflicting obligations, would probably choose to be doing at least moderate physical activity for at least 1-2 hours per day. But I’m much more careful about listening for and respecting my body’s response. For example, my hips were complaining after a couple of days of activity that was strengthening and tightening for them. I could have, probably, done more vigorous activity before they actually hurt, but since I knew where this was going, I chose to take 30 minutes of my “exercise time” to do some slow, gentle stretches to help them open up and relax. Effectively, I no longer work out because I’m trying to change my body; I work out because I want to enjoy the body I have.

    • I find myself in the same mindset about physical activity Tori. I enjoy the activities I now choose to do, and I choose to do them because I enjoy them. I refuse to “exercise” as punishment, penance or obligation. Needless to say, I engage in far more regular physical activity now than all the times I tried to exercise myself thin. Because I enjoy it, because I am not damaging myself trying to be something I’m not and because I am no longer constantly feeling a failure when it doesn’t result in thinness.

  • I gave up on diets years and years before I found the FA community. It’s made a big difference in how I see myself, and how I react to the fat shaming I encounter. And I have a lot more fun dressing myself now. 🙂

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