The F Word

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I want to talk about the f-word again.

Fat.

Now, here’s the thing. I’ve been fat, and I’ve been thin. Believe me, people DO treat you differently when you’re heavy, unless you’re a very, very strong self-advocate, which I am not. There’s an assumption that you are not too smart, or you wouldn’t be overweight; that you’re unattractive, and unworthy of affection. There’s a distinct lack of respect, and it’s very wearing on one’s self-esteem. It’s a very unpleasant place to be, particularly for an introvert. After a while, you start to believe it.

I’m on the fence, however, about “fat activism”. I follow a lot of feminist blogs, health-at-every-size blogs, fat activism blogs, and fashion blogs.

I almost feel like I can’t talk about my health goals and still be a good feminist.

NO, we should not be judged on our bodies. However, is my goal to be fit, strong, and physically and emotionally healthy something I can’t talk about in a feminist environment?

I’m not judging anyone’s body. We’re all who we are, we’re all wonderful and worthy of love. I don’t know your life, and I don’t know your journey, and I have no right to judge anyone.

On the other hand, I don’t feel anyone has the right to judge me, either – not the patriarchy for being an atypical shape and size, nor feminists for taking charge of my health.

My goal has never been to be a supermodel. I have never had the least urge to change my body for anyone else’s benefit.

However, I have chosen to change it for myself. I have lowered my cholesterol and my blood pressure; quit smoking; upped the nutritional quality of the food I eat; increased my lean muscle mass; increased my cardiovascular health; increased my endorphins and lost my need for anti-depressant medication. As a result of all these changes, I am also thinner, and I find people treat me differently as a result, and not just men, either, but women too.

The health profession treated me differently too. I had unnecessary bladder surgery – it was assumed that my weight was the source of my problems. No one bothered to check to see if there was anything else going on, like, gee, huge fibroid tumours pressing on my bladder. When I finally had my hysterectomy as a result, the doctor provided inadequate followup care, and simply kept repeating “you are too fat”. I wound up with a massive infection, a ventral hernia, and horrible scars as a result, which further chipped away at my self-esteem.

Finally, the surgeon who did my hernia repair treated me like a person, not like a “fat person”. Instead of fat-shaming me, he offered me facts. He explained risks and outcomes. Most importantly, though, he said to me “you’re young and you’re motivated, and you can absolutely do this”. So I did.

So, I will probably live longer as a result. I am strong, and optimistic, and happy. I’m confident and in charge of my own life. I’m independant and opinionated, and it’s very hard to stare me down or shame me, now. I will fight back.

In conclusions – fat IS a feminist issue. But let’s not swing the pendulum back in the other direction. Being fit and strong does not make me a bad feminist, nor did being fat make me a bad feminist. We are what we are, and we all have the right to make our own health choices, and the right to be treated with dignity and respect at any size.

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5 responses »

  1. I’m really sorry if I’m one of the folks who has made you feel less-than. I have always appreciated how often you talk about this journey in terms of what you’ve gained (strength, stamina, overall health, all that stuff) rather than exclusively what you’ve lost. You’re a force to be reckoned with (the powers-that-be have good reason to fear a confident, strong you, with increased longevity).

  2. I started running in graduate school, the same era in which I read a ton of French feminism together with groups of people who drank a lot of red wine and smoked a lot. It was also the era I got married. I had certain feminist academic friends who looked at my fitness commitment with the same pity and misunderstanding with which they viewed my (conscious, deliberate) choice to take my husband’s last name. I think some of them thought I was not a very good feminist at all.
    Interestingly, though, in the last couple of years, academic feminists I know are coming out of the closet as runners, swimmers, gym rats. And they, too, explain their commitment to fitness in terms of the strength of their body (and of their resolve). I’ve seen a real shift from wine and cigarettes during conferences to “let’s meet before breakfast for a run to talk about that panel proposal.” It’s a welcome shift, as far as I’m concerned–but it doesn’t actually change the fact that, whether fit or not, feminists can’t escape from continually politicizing women’s bodies. If this politicizing happens in a conscious way, i.e. we can talk about it like you do above, then nifty. If, however, someone feels the need to deploy their feminist politics all over your body and its choices . . . grrrr. That is no progress at all.

  3. This entry defines a sad statement for our society, Overweight people are viewed through a particular colouration; tarnished by the distortion of a damaged, and maladaptive lense.
    In this example, though I did not know her then, people may not have seen the sparkling, intensely intelligent, empathetic, and strong woman which she surely was, and is. My admiration of her is beyond boundary. She is beautiful inside and out, and I am amazed daily that I have had the good fortune to know her as my Love, always.
    Den

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