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How do you reconcile being fat in a fat-phobic world?

· Fat-phobia,Body image,Body positivity

CN for fat antagonism/phobia, intentional weight loss, eating disorders. Note that I am NOT the person to talk to about body stuff. I am still sorting through a host of my own. I chose to write about this for a Telegram—rather than an article to put out in the world for pay—because I want to show how one works through oppressive behaviors and thoughts and how we can still be caught in them.

Using the suffix phobia to describe what is really antagonism hides the truth of the matter. When we say people are Islamophobic, we mean that they display aggressive behaviors towards Muslims. When we say someone is transphobic, we mean that they alienate and reject trans individuals.

If I say I'm ​fatphobic, that would mean, usually, that I find fat individuals disgusting, or believe their worth is tied to their weight, and pile on judgments because of their bodies. But I want to use fatphobia to mean what it actually says: fear of fat.

I am afraid of being fat.

I've been fat my whole life. Many people prefer the term "fat" to "overweight," because fat is a statement, while overweight is a judgment. Someone once made the comparison to saying "short" instead of "undertall." (I'm also on the short side of average in terms of height, and "undertall" makes me giggle.)
Like most of us, I have been conditioned to hate and fear the fat on my body. When I was eight, I struck the 98 pound mark, ready to break triple digits. When I was 12, I hit 136. By the time I graduated high school, when I was no longer on the crew time, I was 176. Before my eating disorder, when I was 18, I hit 183. In the first year of my MS program, I went up to 196.

I find it a bitter sort of irony that of all the memories I don't have—the childhood that comes to me in stories, the high school years I see in pictures, the times in college that my mind still represses—I remember these specific weights. I remember the ages where I stepped on the scale and was met with a sigh and head shake. I remember my pediatrician telling me over and over again that I had to lose weight, every year that I saw her.

The last time I saw her was a month before my 19th birthday. I was about a month into my eating disorder and was in deep denial. My weight had dropped—ironically, I can't remember to what at this point—and she praised me for it.

I am unsurprised. My psychiatrist told me, once, that he wasn't worried about my disordered eating because of my weight. Actually, the first psychiatrist I ever saw told me that I'd be anorexic if I weighed less. The people at the eating disorders clinic were surprised that I hit the criteria for binge eating disorder--but never binged. I was diagnosed with "Eating Disorder—Not Otherwise Specified" because the combination of my self-starvation, calorie counting, food guilt, subjective binges (meaning feeling like I had binged, even though calorie wise, I hadn't; e.g. feeling out of control eating a sandwich), constant weighing, and preoccupation with food such that I didn't eat (rather than overeat) didn't match my waistline.

To be fair, this isn't something restricted to just growing up in the US. My Persian grandmothers always commented on my weight; during my marriage reception (we didn't have a wedding; my parents threw us a luncheon), my grandmother told me that I'd gotten quite bad the last time she'd seen me, and now looked better. It's only recently that my mother has stopped, instead encouraging me to be active, but she talks constantly about food and exercise. Everywhere we turn, there's encouragements to diet, lose weight, shed those pounds, drop those inches, this shit will change your life, sign up now for our special New Years resolution package, because everywhere—everyone—is fatphobic. We are desperately afraid of being fat.

At the crux of it, a huge reason why the fat acceptance/positivity movement cropped up is to fight the stigmas associated with being fat. After all, we're taught that being fat will lead to diabetes, cancer, heart disease, and other medical maladies. We're told that no one will love us or find us attractive if we're fat, that being fat is a sign of being lazy, of not caring about ourselves. Being fat is synonymous with being worthless. And there are very real societal consequences to being fat: people are passed up for promotions or not hired because of their weight. I've done some research into this movement, but not nearly enough. I'm still going through my own complex feelings about being fat.

How do I reconcile things I know to be true for me—that exercising regularly makes my body feel good and strong; that the year or so that I worked out daily gave me energy, emotional and physical strength, and confidence; that I want to be able to do physical activities like hiking and gardening without my breath hitching; that I want to survive when the zombie apocalypse happens—with the knowledge that I have been fat my whole life? That I've been taught that fat necessarily precludes fitness?

The scientific literature is conflicting on this in many respects. High levels of body fat is linked to so many diseases. I'm careful not to say "being overweight," because the literature also shows that inactivity is more dangerous than fat levels. Inactivity is the true danger, but it's easy to forget that if someone is thin. Because, hell, they have the body we're all supposedly after. No one looks at a thin person and wonder if they're healthy, but to see a fat person is to assume they are not.

And there's some truth to the amount of weight your body can hold. People with knee or back problems are often told to lose weight to help. But one doctor told her patient instead that she didn't care what she weighed, and instead to work on strengthening her muscles to support the weight that was there. Reading that simple change—while doing research for this Telegram—stunned me into silence.

I am not fat positive because I have not yet learned to embrace my own fatness. I read somewhere that I can't hate my own fatness without necessarily hating other people's. Of course, this is how I'd been thinking about it; I don't care what other people look like, just me. But how can I hate my body and not project that hate onto someone else?

But we don't own a scale anymore, haven't since I moved here. I know that I spend too long on the couch--I work from home, after all--not because my clothes are getting tighter (well, that too), but because my body feels lethargic and weak. I keep daydreaming back to the days where I was going to the gym daily with my iPad, watching Netflix, loving my alone time. I keep thinking that will come back. Maybe, but it's not here right now.

I am trying to reconcile the lifelong truth of my body—I am fat—with my desire to feel good, so I go through the things I enjoy. I like eating things that are nutritious, like greens. I also like having dessert once a day and having white rice with my meals. I like going for walks. I like when I increase the weights that I do. I like going for hikes with Gabe and Terra. I also like playing video games. One should not preclude the other, in theory.

I remind myself that some of the things I enjoy are difficult for me not because of my weight, but because I don't move as much as I did six months ago. Being a student means walking to and from everywhere; even though I wasn't doing any other excretes, I was keeping somewhat active with that. But now, working from home in a city that isn't pedestrian-friendly or heavy on public transit, I am stationary for most of the day. I get up to refill my water bottle, sometimes stand while I have lunch or for several hours to bake something, but then I am back to sitting again for work. Now that I've put pitches to the side to finish up a proofreading course for more steady income, I can't even really stand at the kitchen island and type.

I remind myself, where I can, that I can incorporate new routines into my day slowly. It's difficult to remember that becoming healthy (I started writing "weight loss" at first, and corrected myself) is a process. During my eating disorder, I dropped weight quickly—but I wasn't healthy. My body was weak. My hair was falling out. I couldn't concentrate on anything but food and my depression.

I am fat. I tell myself this to remind myself that it doesn't have to be a bad thing anymore. That my lifetime of hating it doesn't have to continue. That I can be at peace with my curves (from a size perspective—gender is a whole nother matter) and also be healthy and strong. Because I like being strong. I like beating Gabe at arm wrestling, and lifting up things by myself, and feeling the muscles on my body. I like going for long hikes without getting tired. I like surprising myself with how far I can push myself.

I want to make peace with what seems to be—but is not—irreconcilable, being fat and being healthy. I'm not there yet. Some days, it feels like I'll never be there. But maybe I'll be a little closer tomorrow, or the next day.

This was originally featured as a Tuesday Telegram on April 25, 2017. Join us every Tuesday at Don't forget that I'm also on Facebook and Twitter, and if you've got a dollar a month to spare, please chip into my Patreon.