Recently I received an email from an anonymous reader of Fat Heffalump, that asked me how one could possibly engage in Fat Activism/Acceptance when they absolutely loathed everything about their body. They made it clear that it’s not that they thought that other people should loathe being fat, they just couldn’t find a single thing to like about their own body, they found themselves just that repulsive.
I think that is a bloody good question and one we should talk about.
Let me just say, there was once a time when I felt that way myself. Even after years of being steeped in fat acceptance, I still have times where I get caught up in that kind of thinking. I want to make it clear that there isn’t some kind of magical transformation that converts you to some kind of magnificent 100% self-loving fatty. It just doesn’t work that way. All of us have to work on it and practice and hone our skills. I think the difference is that once you’ve been practicing this stuff for awhile and get better at it, you’re conscious of what it really is. You’re aware that it’s not about your body being repulsive, but it’s about carrying the emotional baggage of a world that fears, loathes and stigmatises fat bodies.
We also have the benefit of community. If you have a shitty day and you feel bad, having the community of the fatosphere to turn to is definitely beneficial. When you have someone else to talk to, even online, who understands how you feel, and/or has had similar experiences, it is so much easier to deal with.
But also, it takes work. We don’t just miraculously start loving our bodies overnight. It takes work and practice. Things like doing lots of reading of fat positive material. Cutting out body snark of others. Critical thinking about popular media and culture. Surrounding yourself with fat positive people. And taking the time to work on seeing yourself from a different perspective.
The thing that I think started to tip my thinking out of constant self-loathing was learning to be gentle with myself and actually entertain the thought that it wasn’t always going to be that way. Just allowing yourself to think that there is an alternative way to feel is very powerful, even if you don’t feel that way right now.
So to start you all off, I’m going to share a little exercise that helped me to change my thinking about my body, and if you like you can share it in the comments below.
Think about your body and pick one thing that you like about yourself physically. It can be anything, from the colour of your eyes, to your hair, your boobs, your hands, your elbows, the backs of your knees… anything on your whole body. Just find ONE little thing that you like about your body, and think about it. Think about that body part, you might like to close your eyes for a minute if you can. Just think about it, the shape, the colour, the texture of the hair/skin/nails, all the different features of that one particular body part. The only rule is no negative thoughts – you have to let those go.
If you can, take a photograph of that body part, or find one you already have that you like. Think about what it is you like about that body part. Think about how that part of your body serves you in your life, in it’s function in your body.
Hold on to those thoughts. When you feel down about how you look, when you feel like you can’t love your body, go back to those thoughts and embrace them. Remind yourself over and over about that one feature that you really like. When you feel ready, have a go at finding another one. And over time, you will find it easier to find things that you like about your body, adding more and more to your arsenal against self-loathing.
It sounds kind of silly, but it has really helped me in those very tough times.
Just to quickly share mine, I have always loved my feet. They’re big but they’re a lovely shape. and they get me around everywhere I need to go. I have funny wee toenails that I can paint cute colours, and I LOVE shoes, so my feet get to be decorated with something I love. I also have both of my feet tattooed, which is another thing I love about them. They also served me for many years with my dancing and I’m still very light on them. Plus my feet never smell bad. I just don’t get stinky feet, no matter what kind of shoes or socks or tights I wear.
Here’s a photo of my left foot before I got a real tattoo on it, back when I first started doing this exercise:
I’ve almost forgotten what my feet looked like without tattoos! No matter how much I get caught up in the crappy messages society pushes at me about fat bodies, I only have to remember my feet, and how good they’ve been to me.