Let’s start with the obvious—as a whole we are all very unsympathetic to fat people. Okay—that’s not true enough. Sympathetic is far too nice of a word. As a whole our culture is grossed out by fatness, as a whole we are appalled by fatness. We are offended by fatness. We condemn fatness. When we see a fat individual cross our paths—we see a fat body before we see a person, if we see a person at all. We gag and stare at fat bodies as though they are spectacles in a Ripley’s ‘Believe It Or Not’ exhibition. We deny a fat person’s agency, integrity, inherent dignity—whenever we want to get a rise over our obesity epidemic—we don’t think twice before broadcasting images and videos of fat bodies from the neck down taken without their knowledge or consent. That, to me, is appalling and reprehensible. Far, far more so than a person having the gall to exist and dare to live her life in a fat body ever will be.
There are parallels in the attitudes nurtured by outsiders of both fat and mentally ill people— assumptions that their circumstances are the result of some kind of failure of character, and often that their cure resides simply in a determined exercise of determination and forceful willpower. Their situations are vastly over-simplified and generalized, not allowing for the nuance of every persons individual, unique circumstances to present themselves.
Though there are parallels, these subjects themselves are, of course different. Fatness, in and of itself, is not a illness, while major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety are. Excessive amounts of fat can be an indication that something is seriously amiss in a persons body, but it not always is. In the same way, excessive sadness can indicate that a person is tumbling into a depression, but it not always is. This is important to recognize. But most people insist on clinging to their ignorance with their reductive attitudes towards fat bodies.
There’s a visible hypocrisy on display whenever a person becomes aghast at the sight of a fat individual—claiming that the source of their horror is concern over that fat persons wellness. Well, what about thin people who are visibly unwell? What about all the thin people out there who stumble around in a state of physical disrepair, who complain and bemoan ailments that have been exacerbated by their own irresponsibility? Where’s the uptight, invasive aunt, clutching her pearls in horror at the family picnic at our (skinny) second cousin who’s lost half his teeth because he didn’t brush them for 15 years? Where is his constant bombardment of unsolicited advice, interventions, diagnoses, tough love? Who is obsessively trailing after him trying to inspire him with pictures of all the sexy clothing he can finally wear when he finally gets his shit together, goes to the Dentist and gets dentures? Whenever he is confronted how often is the person before him earnestly well-meaning and concerned? And not simply trying to conceal their visceral disgust at what he looks like?
Although I have all my teeth— I have been visibly in piss-poor physical and mental health for a good portion of my life—but because I’ve always been thin, no one has ever given me shit over it.
Whenever I fall into serious depression—my physical well-being and hygiene completely falls apart. I wear the same clothes for days on end. I brush my teeth maybe every third day. I stop washing my face and brushing my hair. I shower only when I feel that there may be fruit flies swirling around above my head. I am sleep deprived and I hardly eat—and when I do eat, I eat garbage. I am jittery, panicky, and lost whenever forced to have a conversation with someone. People tell me that I often look sickly—that the color has drained from my face, that my eyes are glazed over and unfocused, that I walk as though I am in pain, that I will wince and clench up my body for no apparent reason.
And I’ll go out in public like this. I’ll shuffle around grocery stores. I’ll stumble into coffee shops. I’ll wander after my family into restaurants. Many people, when seriously depressed, never leave their house at all. But I become antsy and terribly nervous and will flee my house, desperately hoping that it may life my mood. (It hardly ever does.)
And you know what? No one ever says shit to me about it. No one, as far as I can tell, has ever gagged when they looked at me. No one has taken pictures of me without my consent, or starred at me in unabashed horror, or noticeably looked me up and down with a repulsed look on their face.
I’ve never had to deal with the bombardment of ‘tough love’ interventions from tone-deaf acquaintances and distant relatives. No one has ever pulled me to the side and shown me an advertisement for a 3 day spiritual meditation retreat in the forest that will restore me to health. No one has ever made shady comments about my clothes and how I would look so nice in something if only I would actively deal with my condition. No one has ever looked at me funny or muttered disapproval when I gorged myself without restraint on a French silk pie.
I have never been misdiagnosed, dismissed, or brushed off whenever I went to a Doctor over some physical ailment or another. My skin problems, my digestive issues, my back pains, my menstrual disruptions—have never been disregarded as being some kind of side effect of my mental issues, the way fat peoples health complaints are overwhelming flippantly assumed to be simply complications of their weight. These ignorant medical assumptions on the part of health care professionals have cost fat individuals severely in their health through their negligence. In many cases, death has even occurred due to many a Doctor not bothering to investigate a fat patients health complaints seriously.
In the brilliantly articulated article, “The Hygiene Culture Wars That Started on Social Media,” by Nicole Froio (https://zora.medium.com/the-hygiene-culture-wars-that-started-on-social-media-3e5c0ac8be55) that it is not just my relative thinness, but also my whiteness that affords me the luxury of being able to be gross as dog shit in public without it causing a scandal. My hair, in it’s natural state—isn’t considered to be dirty and unprofessional. Even when I go days upon days upon days of not washing it and it’s a matted up, tangled rats nest. This piece made me realize just how much I take my own access to hygiene for granted—even when I find it insurmountably difficult to maintain it. We are quick to shame and judge people of color as ‘dirty,’ quick to call immigrants ‘smelly,’ particularly when they’re of a lower class. It’s instinctive because it’s a cultural assumption. Meanwhile, middle to upper class white people are given a pass when it comes to their cleanliness. Or lack thereof.
Moving right along—we cannot determine the state of someones physical health just by looking at them—of course there are times where we might see some tangible indication for those who require a physical aid, such as canes, hearing aids, dialysis, inhalers, wheelchairs, ect—but even these such things don’t paint a comprehensive picture of what someones health situation is. And further more, when it comes to a casual interaction with a stranger or someone we’re not particularly close to its also none of our goddamn business.
A person can be physically healthy or unhealthy, whether they are fat or thin. There are so, so many things that can go wrong in the human body—and what someones body physically looks like never tells the full story—and it sure as fuck isn’t enough information for some random asshole to make an informed (unasked for) diagnosis just by looking at someone. Logically, we all know this. But it is only fat people who we continually target and shame and pop off on regarding their health—regardless of whether they are actually sick or not. We just go right ahead and assume that they must be sick. How could they not be sick?? And if they are sick, then that sickness is a direct result of a lazy, indulgent, undisciplined temperament.
This can be true of course, but it is not always true, and that is relevant, but people hardly ever acknowledge that. A thin person who is in shit health can have greatly exacerbated her illness through laziness, indulgence, and a lack of discipline and willpower—as I have done, for many, many years, by passively neglecting to take care of myself. But that thin person doesn’t get constantly bombarded with ‘tough love,’ through fitness, health, and diet advise that she didn’t ask for. She isn’t constantly wading through a sea of disgust and insults and threats from strangers on the internet. Her body isn’t regarded as inferior, as offensive, as something to be ashamed of—regardless of her habits concerning her health and wellness.
So, here is where I stand—if you’re not prepared to go out and concern-troll everybody, regardless of size, who appears to you to be physically unhealthy and who looks like they don’t take care of themselves—then don’t fucking do it at all.
What do people mean when they say that someone has ‘let themselves go’? We have this cultural image of someone who has let themselves go in our minds—usually a grossly overweight loser parked on her couch in a dimly lit, messy living room, shoveling french fries and mozzarella sticks in her face. Wearing stinking pajamas at 3 in the afternoon. Slimy, unwashed hair up in a sideways messy bun. Radiating BO. Gaming for 14 hours a day or mindlessly watching tv, from the moment she wakes up till the moment she passes out.
I’ve been thinking about this for the past few days—what does it actually mean when a person has let themselves go? We have our images that come to mind—but how often does that image actually align with someone who we think looks the part? Not always. I know it just blows some peoples minds—but sometimes, fat people are just fine as they are. People can be fat and healthy. People can be fat and have meaningful relationships and awesome sex lives. People can be fat and ambitious and responsible and successful. People can be fat and *gasp* disciplined.
To say that a person has let themselves go, to me, implies that a person has lost or abandoned their self-respect. There is no direct correlation between letting ourselves go and fatness. A loss of self-respect can be expressed in a multitude of ways. Once again I am going to refer back to myself—there have been many episodes in which I have clearly, obviously let myself go. I demonstrated zero care or consideration for my body. I saw my body as nothing but a useless, purposeless sack of flesh, condemned to carrying around my sick, broken mind—until I decided it was time to kill it off. I was falling the fuck apart on the inside—I saw no use in caring for my body for my own or even for its own sake. I slept 10-12 hours a day. I didn’t wipe the eye boogers off my face before I left my house. No one has ever confronted me over this. I did gain weight too I should add—40lbs—but I still never exceeded a size 4 so once again, I was never an offensive sight to polite society.
And so, to flip this—what does it mean then when a person does respect herself? Again, we revert to images and assumptions—but these images are so limited and narrow they accomplish nothing when considered in general terms. A self-respecting person can be fit and thin and be committed to clean eating and all that. A person can also respect herself and not look like a model for Sports Illustrated. A person can respect herself without restricting herself to a diet of protein shakes, egg whites, and spinach. A person can do these things that we think looks like self-respect but in the end find that she is not actually motivated at all by self-respect—that a person is capable of throwing herself into a certain kind of respectable, healthy lifestyle out of shame and insecurity, out of desperation to feel lovable and acceptable to society. Things are not always what they seem. She may appear to us a beacon of discipline, willpower, and self-regard—but behind the scenes her lifestyle is a form of punishment and self-flagellation, motivated by self hatred and not by self respect. Most of us don’t give a shit about such nuances, she fits the bill of what we think #fitspiration and #selflove is supposed to look like, so that’s all we ever acknowledge.
Self-respect is a nuanced, sometimes subtle, but intensely personal relationship we nourish between us and ourselves. We show ourselves and our bodies respect when we consider the grand totality of our individual life experiences and circumstances, our personal values and desires—and then we do what is good for us. Not what we think everyone else wants. Not what we assume we’re supposed to do. Not what we think will make us acceptable to other people.
Self-respect is a dichotomy of accepting ourselves as we are and of pushing ourselves to aim higher, and move towards higher potential and meaning in our lives.
And for all of us—what that self-respect looks like in action will be unique and specific to ourselves and ourselves alone. To act in an informed way to show ourselves and our bodies respect requires that we embrace ownership and personal responsibility. It require that we excavate ourselves and be unflinchingly honest with regards to how our actions, attitudes and patterns have contributed to, exacerbated, or even fully created our problems. As it is often true, when it comes to our physical and mental health—that we have made our situations worse by neglecting to deal with things or by dealing with things in an unhelpful, even destructive, way. This does not makes us objects of derision and shame. This makes us human.
After that process of arduous self-reflection, then it comes time to problem solve and figure out how we are going to fix things and move forward. And though we will have a goal in mind—a vision of ourselves once we’ve made it there—we will not withhold self-respect until we’ve crossed the finish line. We will cultivate self-respect, bit by bit, self-love in action, though our dedication and hard work and through our continued devotion to ourselves and our betterment.
Our respect for ourselves will not be conditional on whether or not we achieve some sort of goal. Our failures can add richness and texture to our lives—experiences we can learn and grow from that can also help us more clearly define who we are, what we’re about, and what we want out of life.
At the end of the day, change—any kind of change—is painful and difficult. People tend to avoid the burden of change when they can.
But this is what my mental illnesses have taught me about change—people will exert their time, effort, blood, sweat and tears to change something only if they believe that thing they want to change is already worthwhile and of value to begin with.
To use an analogy—we will not commit to the demanding task of taking on a ‘fixer-upper’ house if we do not believe that that house already has some kind of potential. If they don’t believe that there is any hope for it they won’t bother with the effort. There being potential in that broken house leads one to realize that there is inherent value in that house as it currently stands, in its present form.
Now, to be clear, I am not suggesting that it is only someones potential that gives her inherent value—in an external sense. For a person struggling with her weight—it is not the thin, sauntering beauty buried beneath all her fat that makes her worthwhile—as Weight Watchers and other ridiculous diet programs would have her believe. That is a myth that predatory, exploitative, opportunistic people shove down the throats of fat people who have been indoctrinated to hate themselves because of their bodies.
Our ‘fixer-upper’ houses embody all the aims, desires, goals, and missions that we nurture for ourselves that flood our lives with meaning and purpose. They can be health-related, they can be physical, they can be career paths, creative ventures, meaningful relationships, family, adventuring, discovering, exploring, loving, working, developing, parenting, writing, traveling, beautifying, seeking, becoming, evolving, being. They can be anything. All and everything we have ever dreamt for or desired for ourselves, loved ones, and communities. No single person or group of people can decide what that should mean for you—what your house should look like— because of something as trivial as what you look like. It is one thing to want the best for someone you care about and to intervene if that person is being self destructive. But no one has the right to tell you that your life will not begin until your body doesn’t gross them out anymore. Fuck that. Your life belongs to you. Your body belongs to you. Your wishes and desires and ambitions belong to you and you alone.
You may protest and tell me—“But everything feels so meaningless. I have never felt that there is some kind of purpose in my life. That’s why I’m so goddamn miserable and can’t get myself to do anything!” I hear that. I’ve been there. When we embark on the adventure of turning our fixer-uppers into works of art—none of us have any idea going in what it’s going to eventually look like. We only gain answers and direction while in motion and while already in action—not through nervous pondering while we sit outside doing nothing. Some of us are lucky in that we have an idea of what we want and thus can go into it with some kind of game plan. But, unexpected things will happen that require us to change and adapt. Sudden revelations well into the game may change the whole direction of everything and create a whole new endgame for us. We may be blown away by where we eventually end up. I think that’s kind of exciting.
Dare to respect your body, as it is, as it currently is. It has value because you have value—whether you believe that or not. If you don’t believe you have value, it is because that belief has been imposed on you. And that’s a bunch of bullshit. You have value as you currently are, regardless of how disastrous your circumstances, regardless of whether or not you are sick, fat, disabled, broke, or not living up to someone else expectations. It is through the vehicle of your body that you are going to experience all that you experience, love who you love, become who you become. And that, I believe, makes your body worthy of your respect and kindness. Even gratitude.
You know—we don’t often think about this—but it’s not like we’re all just a bunch of brains floating around. Whatever it is that human beings are, whether the seat of the self is in our minds, or whether we are like, some combination of brain-consciousness-soul-divine force-whatever… whatever it is that we are—we will experience all that is, all that could be, all the amazing things that will come to us, as well as all the suffering we will endure, the grand totality of life—we will experience all this through our bodies. If our bodies weren’t there…. how would we experience anything? How would we see and smell and touch a flower? How would we hug our beautiful children, our nieces or nephews? How would we pursue our ambitions? How would we make love? How would we do any of the things we love doing?
Thin people still think they are the gatekeepers of beauty. And they fashion themselves immediate authorities on the subjects of health and wellness whenever they come across a fat person. It’s obnoxious. But I love watching the growing resistance and dismantling of these standards by people of all shapes and sizes, who’ve made the outrageously courageous decision to accept themselves as they are in their present moment, to respect themselves, and respect the journey they are on, and recognize their bodies to be just as deserving, just as worthy of the affection they desire, of the pampering they crave, the right to pleasure, as anyone else. Your body is worth whatever resources and time it takes to decorate, to ornament , to beautify, to make it a work of art. Your body is worth whatever commitment and dedication required to make it healthy, if or when that is necessary. Your body is worth whatever it takes to change it or modify it or contour it—if that is what you wish to do. And if you do so, do it withlove and appreciation, do it as a gift from you to yourself. Don’t do it to fit in someone else’s standard out of hope that that will make you lovable. You already are lovable. And your body is just as worth it as anyone else.
If you do decide to embark on some kind of journey to change the shape of your body or dramatically alter your appearance—know your intentions. I have been dying my hair black since I was 16. I change my hair not because I hate my natural hair color or have some kind of problem with it. I change my hair because I like black hair better, I like how it makes me look, it make me look more like me.
I should probably warn you all that I’m very blasé when it comes to body modification… everything all the way from exercising to lose weight or bulk up, all the way to piercings and tattoos and corsets and tongue splitting and plastic surgery and all the other ridiculous things people do to their bodies. I think it’s all wonderful when done from the mindset of a person pursing her own individualized version of beauty and self-enhancement.
It is my hope that more and more people will approach their body, and the decision of whether or not to change or alter their body—from the mindset of the love they already have for their bodies—not from a stance of shame and self hate.
For fucks sake. Stop terrorizing fat people. And for the love of god, STOP pretending that it’s because you care about their health when you do. If you got a problem with fat bodies, fucking admit that and move on. I have a problem with man-buns. And I have my ideas about what kind of man would actually think that man-buns look good on him. But you know what? Im not out there harassing and bothering dudes with man-buns all goddamn day on twitter! I’m not out there calling them names or making grossed-out faces at them when I see them milling around in public. I’m not taking it upon myself to lecture them and enlighten them over their questionable life choices!
At the end of the day, here is what’s true: We’re all sick. We’re all broken. We’re all navigating some kind of personal tragedy. We’re all enduring or climbing out of some unimaginable hell. We’re all out here trying to figure our shit out. We’re all tripping up and fucking up and course correcting as we go.
We’re all out here trying to figure out how we want to tell our own story.
How bout we all decide we’re going to stop being dicks to one another and making all this shit way harder than it needs to be.
Stop making outlandish assumptions and judgments about someones character because of her body. Stop acting like you know all this shit and that you know and you can tell her story.
You don’t get to tell her story.
Only she does.