Yesterday I was thinking about the difficulties I have with having chosen to be a self-published writer: How hard it is for me to perform the tasks of marketing, branding, and promotion that are part and parcel of the path. How, even when I dedicate regular time to these things, it doesn’t seem to make any difference. How for some people these things seem to come so easily and how I feel so frustrated and helpless when friends and acquaintances talk about their hundreds of positive reviews when I can’t even seem to get anyone other than a few close friends to buy a single copy, much less review them.
I was going to blog about that.
But today is a different day with a different source of pain, so I’m blogging about something else. Something more raw and real. Something that tortures me every day, even the better days when I manage not to focus on it or to pretend that it doesn’t matter all that much.
I’m blogging about how I hate my fat body.
There, I’ve said it: I hate my fat body.
If you’ve read my blog before this, you’ve already heard about my struggles with body image and eating disorders and all that comes with the territory. But I don’t know if I’ve ever come out and said the words. I don’t know if I’ve ever expressed the depth of loathing I feel for the flesh that houses me.
[At this point in writing, I burst into tears and had to go lie down for an hour.]
In the circles I tend to run in, among the people I try to associate with, this isn’t a popular or correct way to feel. We all know it, in one intensity or another. All women know it. It doesn’t matter whether we’re fat or thin, old, young, or in between. It doesn’t matter the colour of your hair or the shape of your hips. Every day, I see some of the most beautiful women I know, women of every size, talk about hating their bodies. Hating their faces, their boobs, their legs. Saying, “Oh, it’s the photo filter” or “But you should see my [insert body part]! I just keep it covered” when you give them a compliment. Hating on their bodies. Our bodies. It’s something we’re taught every time we see a perfect, photo-shopped model in a magazine, every time some new advertising agency latches onto the “next big” body part that needs to be sculpted, shaved, enhanced to conform to a new unattainable ideal. It’s a constant onslaught from the time we’re aware of anything at all. We can never measure up. In fact, displaying pride in one’s body is a radical act. Gods forbid we be proud. Being proud–especially when you take pride in something that falls outside of acceptable norms–is the sign of ego, self-involvement, “having the Big Head.” We are meant to be self-effacing, invisible, silent. We are meant to hate our bodies, to spend incredible sums in both time and money beating them into submission. Never good enough.
I know all this. I know the narrative of body politics.
And I know that as a feminist, I am supposed to shake off the programming. I am supposed to be able to look it in the face and laugh, raise my middle finger and shout “FUCK THE SYSTEM!” I am supposed to refuse. I am supposed to love my body anyway.
I can’t do it. Though I’ve worked on it every day for the last thirty years, I can’t do it. I’ve learned the words. I police my tendency for negative self-talk. I read about the flaws in the obesity story and the problems with the diet industry. I know some bodies are fat and some are thin, and there’s really not a whole hell of a lot anyone can do to alter this circumstance for any sustainable length of time. I’ve taken in enough of this alternative view of body consciousness that my life is no longer in danger from my attempts to regulate my weight. (I’ve also taken in enough to understand that eating disorders are about so much more than weight and that, in fact, weight issues may comprise the smallest part of the problem.)
And still, every morning when I look at myself naked in the mirror, I hate my body. It disgusts me. And no amount of telling myself I have a good shape, or lovely curves, or beautiful shoulders, or whatever, changes this. No amount of focusing on the positive–that I’m healthy, that I’m flexible, that I don’t suffer the aches and pains other women of my age suffer, that I can bend from the hips and lay my hands flat on the floor–none of it helps me see this body as anything other than a mass of flesh I am trapped in, that doesn’t belong to me, that I can’t control. That I can’t change without inhuman effort. I see this body, not as myself, but as an obstacle to my most visible form of self-expression.
I’m sure there’s far more to all this than the reality of my body. There has to be, because no amount of weight loss has ever made my experience any different. This is a fact I cling to in the times when I relax and let my body be the body it is. Losing the weight or not, being thin or being fat, makes no change to the underlying loathing, so suffering through rigorous, hateful exercise programs and strict dietary regimens that make me unhappy is an exercise in futility. It’s piling pain on pain.
Yet, it’s also true that when my body is smaller, perhaps a size fourteen rather than a size twenty-two, I feel better in some respects. Because the constant battle of body-loathing is in a truce. In remission. It’s one less thing I have to deal with. One less whip with which to beat myself. I can put on skinny jeans and boots and pretend that I think I look okay. I am less afraid of the gaze of strangers.
Having a fat body that I loathe is no small part of my social anxiety, I know. This is a way, I believe, that my experience of hating my fat body differs from the experience less sizable women have hating their bodies. All women get judged for their bodies, but the flavour of the judgment fat women endure is different. Maybe more toxic. Maybe something else–I can’t put a finger on the idea just now. We absorb the narrative about fat bodies young: that fat bodies are lazy, smelly, undesirable, unbeautiful, morally corrupt. That being fat makes you public property in a similar way to that in which being pregnant makes you public property. Strangers are allowed to touch you. To comment about your clothes, about your lunch. Because you’re fat. You don’t deserve the same respect non-fat people do. You don’t deserve the same clothes, the same grace, the same medical care. You have no right to beauty.
Beauty is another dicey concept in some feminist circles, and another thing I feel like I do wrong. Sometimes we hear that beauty is in itself a bad construct. That women should reject beauty as we should reject so much that patriarchal culture demands of us. And yes, there is a huge premium put on women to be attractive, particularly to men. But women can be beautiful for themselves, can’t they? Maybe. It depends. Whose standard of beauty did you learn? How do you define it? If you want to be beautiful in a “typical” way, how do you know that’s what you want and not something damaging you’ve been taught? There are limits to what’s allowable.
Whatever. I desire beauty. I don’t know why. I don’t know if it’s a value I absorbed from the beautiful princesses in fairy tales, always sitting in their towers waiting for princes to rescue them, or if it’s something innate. I like beautiful things. I want to be a beautiful thing.
Or maybe I think that if I were beautiful, at least there would be something of value about me.
But when you’re fat, mostly, beauty isn’t a thing you can aspire to. No, it’s not a thing I know how to aspire to. I see many beautiful women who are fat. I don’t know how they do it. I don’t know where they find that power in the face of so many people of all sexes and genders telling them they have no right to it. Telling them there is only one right way to have a body. Telling them they’re promoting “unhealthy lifestyles” (as if some stranger has a single clue of a random fat person’s lifestyle). Telling them they’re a drain on resources, single-handedly raising everyone’s insurance rate. Because those are the things strangers tell you when you’re fat.
And it doesn’t matter what you say. It doesn’t matter if you eat healthy or if you run every day. It doesn’t matter if you’ve tried the weight loss drugs and they did nothing at all. It doesn’t matter if you take medications that maybe contribute to weight gain, or if you have another medical condition, like PCOS, that makes weight loss damn near impossible, or if your genetic heritage provided you with a certain kind of body. There’s always this judgment. If you go out in public while fat, people look at you and imagine you spend whole days consuming nothing but ice cream, chips, and boxes of chocolates while sitting in a filthy house watching Netflix on a TV you don’t deserve to own. If people see you walking or doing something energetic, you get some weird, backhanded approval because it’s assumed you’re doing something to make yourself less fat, maybe for the first time in your miserable life. The weight of the gaze of strangers is far, far heavier than what you carry in your body.
Some non-fat people, even well-meaning ones, would have you believe this is the price you pay for having the temerity and bad taste to exist in a fat body. I think some fat people, consciously or not, buy into this narrative as well. I know I have done, and still do when my mood is low. Activity, even activity you enjoy, is the punishment you endure for having a substandard body. There’s always some deeply concealed notion that maybe this activity will change things, maybe if you keep it up long enough or perform at enough intensity or frequency, your body will cooperate and transform into one that is no longer fat. After all, no one likes being punished. Why do you insist on continuing to have this body that needs to be moulded, compressed, beaten into shape? Or maybe this is something I alone experience. The daily battle between wanting to do the things that matter to me and forcing myself to be more active, less slothful and self-indulgent. The brutal hour. The time of sweat that makes no difference to reality, but becomes a punishment endured for its own sake. When every movement contains the question: “Am I doing this for myself, because it feels good? Or am I doing it because I’m trying to prove I care about being fat?”
There’s no answer. I think it wasn’t always like this for me. I think I was a normally active child, before I learned my fat body was a grave wrongness inflicted on others. I remember hanging out with the gym teacher after school, dancing, and swinging back and forth across the gym on the hanging rings like a monkey.
You know, I don’t want to hate my fat body. Partially I don’t want to hate it because fat people are supposed to hate their bodies, and I believe that’s damaging and wrong. And partly, mostly, it just feels terrible. I want to be able to love my body and think it’s beautiful. But no matter what I do, I can’t seem to achieve this.
Today I’m confused and in pain, feeling broken and powerless. I hate my fat body and there’s not a thing I can do about it. So I do what I always do: write about it. It doesn’t give me any answers. But at least I’m not carrying it around inside.