I’m a feminist, but I would like to be thin.
I’m a feminist and I want not to care what size my body is. I want to love my present fat, wobbly body, this body that I’ve had more or less for fifty years, but years of being
brainwashed ‘educated’ by the media, pop culture and society (including family and friends) has made me desire a slim waist, long slender legs and well-defined jaw bone.
My education has been so thorough that I look at myself in the mirror and immediately see my flaws (all connected to size). I dislike being photographed and dread the candid shots that capture me scowling, hunched over the spread of my stomach and sporting three chins, the last one melting into my neck – they pop up now and again, on Facebook and on blogs. Why would anyone post such pictures? They horrify me and I find it hard to believe that whoever posts them doesn’t realise how unflattering they are. (Why would you do that to someone unless you hated them?)
At the same time, I am fiercely indignant that I am seen as less attractive than slimmer women. I am angry when I hear women refer to food or the act of eating as ‘sinful’ (‘OMG I had two slices of cake – so sinful’ or ‘This is a sinful meal’). I feel like growling when I am told I’ve lost weight – as if it’s a compliment. I cringe when women talk about weight loss as if it’s the holy grail.
Women who diet in preparation for their weddings annoy me. But I am dieting before my wedding: I annoy myself and my duplicity shames me. I could say that I just want to be healthy, but I know I’d be lying.
Now, if you know me and you read this post, don’t respond by telling me, ‘You’re not fat!’
YOU ARE NOT FAT
I am fat. Believe me, I am under no illusions on that account.
But wait! When you say ‘You’re not fat!’ is it because …
- you feel that fat = bad or ugly and you wish to assure me that I am neither?
- you have miraculously escaped being conditioned by society/ the media to see anyone over British size 8 as fat?
- you are surrounded by women who are all at least a British size 16 and so I seem normal to you?
It bothers me that the word ‘fat’ is loaded with negativity. It’s actually just a word, an adjective like square or pale or crowded. It describes the state of the noun. A fat dog, a fat cat, a fat book, a fat baby. Hmm, so far, so good. It’s when ‘fat’ is used to describe an adult human being that it gets problematic. A ‘fat’ man is undesirable. A fat woman even more so. Why?
Some might say, that it’s obvious: Being fat is not attractive. Being fat is not sexy. Large thighs, flabby arms and a protruding stomach are unsightly. It’s natural to being turned off by an overweight, untoned body. But is it? What makes us feel that way? Why the revulsion?
Growing up, I very quickly got the sense that fat wasn’t good thing. Relatives pinched my cheeks and my stomach, and called me ‘Fat-fat’ and laughed in a way that didn’t seem terribly friendly.
I remember being about six and watching a commercial for chocolates with my older sister: A woman was holding a large box of sweets. ‘He loves me, he loves me not,’ she said as she popped one chocolate after another into her mouth. ‘If you eat all those chocs, you’ll go fat and he definitely won’t love you anymore,’ said my sister. What she said filled me with indignation, but I think I was already struggling between knowing that being fat wasn’t something anyone should feel bad about and wanting to be as slender as my sister.
A visiting aunt looked twelve-year-old me up and down and said, ‘I think she will grow up to have a really nice figure.’ I was filled with relief: ‘Oh, let it be true!’
I look at pictures of myself at that age and younger, and I was not a waif with twiggy arms and legs, but was I even over weight? I just wasn’t a skinny kid, which seemed to be the ‘norm’. So, I was led to believe I was fat (i.e. larger than average) and I was led to believe that being larger than average was a thing I should fight against and be sad about.
Every year in lower secondary school, I choreographed a dance for the Teacher’s Day concert and a close friend, part of the dance group, suggested I dance as well instead of just choreograph, and another friend said, ‘Oh no! Everyone would just laugh at her.’ This ‘friend’ would also tell me stuff like how her older sister thought I looked ‘worse than a dog with scabies’ and how she couldn’t understand why some of the guys we all knew actually fancied me.
When I think of all the time wasted feeling self-conscious and embarrassed and depressed over the shape of my body, my weight, my appearance, I am filled with rage. Why did the people in my life do that to me? I know (I hope) it wasn’t deliberate – they didn’t set out to hurt me, but then they did. Luckily, I didn’t end up with an eating disorder. But bloody hell, I remember wising I had the willpower to have an eating disorder. How sick is that?
I AM NOT ALONE
I know most women aren’t satisfied with the way they look. The beauty industry depends on this. The thing is, I’ve always quite liked me. I’d go so far to say that I actually think I’m good looking and I am taken aback when I realise that the world doesn’t agree with me. So, when it’s just me, in my bubble, I’m quite happy, but then, as I’m not a recluse, reality bites sooner or later – I see myself through other people’s eyes and it’s a bit of a shock. That’s really nasty – the fact that my self-worth is so linked to how others see me. I want to be the only one whose opinion matters when it comes to my body. That’s the way it should be. I’ll be fifty in April and it seems pathetic to be so affected by what others think about my looks.
I’m trying to address this problem and I realise that, for me, it’s a matter of exposing myself to other voices, other views. Rather than just listening to and reading about opinions that say that fat is unhealthy, unattractive and undesirable.
To this end I have been listening to body positive podcasts like The BodCast and Bad Fat Broads, and actively seeking out fat positive spokespeople like Jessamyn Stanley, Lottie Lamour, Ushshi, Stephanie Yeboah, Marie Southard-Ospina, Sarah Chiwaya, Virgie Tovar and Substantia Jones.
Because I really don’t need to hate my body anymore. I don’t want to be stressed and miserable over how I look, or think I look, or how others think I look. These women are large, they are fat and they are healthy – physically, emotionally and mentally. They love themselves and enjoy themselves. As they should. As I should enjoy and love myself.
Being around women who are always discussing their weight, always talking about diets, and their looks, and how they have aged badly, and need work on their eyebags or their crows feet or gray hair, and how so and so looks older than she is, or younger than she is, and how someone never seems to put on any weight (always said with peevish envy), or how someone else has put on so much weight (always said with secret glee) just does me no good at all. I can’t anymore and so I am going to withdraw from any situation that puts me in that presence of such people, such women.
It would be great to meet other Malaysian women who are want to change the way they see fatness and the way they respond to their own fat bodies, but I don’t know if they even exist. I mean, I know quite a few beautiful, confident-seeming women who are larger than what is considered conventionally attractive, but for all of them (as far as I can tell), weight loss is an issue, and it’s always linked to health. This kinda grates on me, because it seems to me that health is always an ‘excuse’ to fat-shame others and to be hard on ourselves.
I do want to be healthy and I know for certain that at my healthiest, when I was eating well, and exercising daily, I was still fat. So it’s bullshit that there is only one way for healthy to be and look.
So, it’s really about just wanting to be thin. And I think lots of people would be happy to be thin, never mind the state of their health. I mean, to be totally honest, there was a time when I would probably have chosen being thin and at my current crap fitness level, than being healthy and the weight/shape I am now. Why? Because of shallow stuff like it being so much easier to find clothes that fit; and not feeling self-conscious when I walk into a crowded room.
Lightbulb moment: I was writing the above paragraph when I realised that I’d no longer choose being thin and unhealthy over being fat and healthy. The next step is to be happy being fat and healthy. I’ve spent most of my life wanting to be lighter, a smaller size and a different shape, and I really should stop already. I’m going to be FIFTY. I need to stop wasting time wanting to not be me.
This is a rambly, rather incoherent post, but my feelings about being fat are still totally all over the place and not quite formed. All I know is I am done with being negative about it.