What if My Fat is My Fault?

Ragen Chastain 5’4, 280lbs Photo by Substantia Jones of adipositivity.com

One of the comments on my blog yesterday asked a really good question that I wanted to address as a full blog.  She asked:

Basically, even though I may be genetically predisposed to it based on my family’s size and the fact that I have PCOS, I feel that I am overweight because I spent 15+ years eating crap and not exercising. This leaves me vulnerable to the blame/shame messages that society sends me about my weight – I feel like I can’t defend myself because I did it to myself.

I understand the FA movement is in part a push back against mistreatment and oppression, but is there a difference between being fat-accepting and being pro-fat?… I don’t see my fat as a natural part of me, I see it as the consequences of mistakes that I am now stuck with.

We know that different bodies react to things in different ways.  Someone else could have engaged in the same behaviors and ended up thin while this person ended up fat, this person could have engaged in different behaviors but still ended up the same size, the truth is that we’ll never know.

Although I knew that, I’ve still been in that cycle of blame and shame.  When I learned that dieting causes weight gain I went through a period of “blaming myself” for my body size because of all the dieting that I had engaged in. I went through a time of alternating between feeling bad about myself, feeling sorry for myself, being mad at myself, and being mad at the people who encouraged me to diet.

The first conclusion that I came to was that even if I could have been thin, even if being fat was my fault, wondering how I got to be fat and who I should blame for it does not serve me in any way. This is the body that I have.  It is fat.  It is also scarred because of death-defying bike tricks as a kid and working with aggressive dogs as an adult.  I don’t begrudge my body those scars, why would I begrudge my body its size.  What difference does it make if things could have been different?  This is what’s happening.  I have a fat body and my choices at this moment are to love that body, or hate it.  I chose to love my body.  At the time I didn’t know how I was going to do it, the important thing was making the choice that I was going to figure out how to love my body no matter how long it takes.

It took a lot of work, and it took fighting to keep my focus on the goal.  This exercise did more to shift the way that I feel about my body than anything else.  I had to fight through a time when I could appreciate the beauty in every body but mine.

After time I realized something deeper – all of this angst about my body size is based on a social construct that a fat body is a bad body.  That’s just not true.  Every body is beautiful as it is right now, at every size.  I sometimes get stuck around the idea of “size acceptance” because I want better than just to “accept” my body, which often comes with a connotation of resignation.  I love my body, I appreciate my body.  I have a fat body and that body is what does everything for me – from breathing and blinking to walking and hugging.  That body deserves to be nurtured, loved, and defended from anyone who dares to say a negative word about it.

I owe this body my unconditional love and devotion. So I’m not just fat accepting, I’m a pro-fat fat-loving fat activist fatty. More importantly,  I am the only person who can decide how I feel about my body.  I can choose to accept other people’s opinions, I can choose not to do the work to make shifts if my current feelings aren’t the way I want to feel; but at the end of the day I have no idea why my body is the size it is, but I do know that the way I feel about my body is on me. I’m the only person in the world who can choose how I feel about my body.  I choose love.

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24 thoughts on “What if My Fat is My Fault?

  1. Brilliant, Ragen. I totally agree that we each have a *choice* about how we relate to our body. I make many choices in my life, including choosing to love, enjoy and celebrate my body, just as it is, on any given day. It’s tremendously freeing and I’m so grateful to have reached this place. Not many women, whatever their size or shape, seem to be able to say “I love my body”. Thanks for showing that it can be done!

  2. Great post, Ragen.

    I had to smile when I read “This is the body that I have.” That’s something I say to myself regularly when fat hate is being directed at me. Kind of like the LGTB movement’s “I’m here, I’m queer,” it’s the basis for standing one’s ground with pride.

  3. Great post. The reality is that wondering how your body might’ve looked had you made different choices is a game of shoulda coulda woulda, and it really is speculative. You summarize the right attitude about this so well. Life brings changes. We can’t necessarily control how things change or how other people view us, but we can and should try to guide the way we view ourselves.

  4. Amen. And I spent years passionately believing in fat liberation, reading every fat-positive bit of writing I could find, connecting with fat activists, all the while doing what you said, believing that every body was beautiful & worthy & acceptable…except mine. That is the biggest step of all, I believe.

  5. oooh Ragen, I am so glad you wrote this post today. I was hoping you would expand on the comment from yesterday’s blog. It was so evocative!!!
    Thanks as always!

  6. And we really don’t know how things might have been! Maybe you’d be exactly the same weight now if you’d been exercising faithfully and eating only “good” food this whole time.

  7. This blog is why I love Shirley Bassey’s version of “I Am What I Am”.

    “I am what I am. I am my own special creation.
    So come take a look. Give me the hook, or the ovation.
    It’s my world that I want to have a little pride in
    My world, but it’s not a place I have to hide in
    Life’s not worth a damn, til you can say
    Hey what I am’s what I am”.

    When I hear this song, it makes me think of years of hiding my fat body under baggy clothes. How I used to feel bad when I was still hungry after eating…all the things I beat myself up about.

    Even as I have made a change towards better eating and more activity, I remember that I am what I am. Whether this change results in dropping weight or being more graceful at my current weight, it doesn’t matter. The shame is gone, and I am happy.

  8. I’ve had similar moments with my chronic pain, which would be less disabling now if I had not [insert several different chosen activities or lack thereof here]. I still struggle with reminding myself that this is the body I have and it needs love as it is, just as it would if it were some other way.

    Also, I LOVE that photo. And envy your flexibility.

  9. This is my favorite part of this excellent piece:
    “The first conclusion that I came to was that even if I could have been thin, even if being fat was my fault, wondering how I got to be fat and who I should blame for it does not serve me in any way. This is the body that I have. It is fat. It is also scarred because of death-defying bike tricks as a kid and working with aggressive dogs as an adult. I don’t begrudge my body those scars, why would I begrudge my body its size. What difference does it make if things could have been different?”
    Nothing a person has done – or could have done – makes it okay to abuse her/him, and nothing good can be gained from beating ourselves or others up over things done and gone.
    The one thing I feel differently on is this: “Every body is beautiful as it is right now, at every size. I sometimes get stuck around the idea of “size acceptance” because I want better than just to “accept” my body, which often comes with a connotation of resignation.”
    For me, accepting my body was THE big achievement, and ‘loving’ or finding it beautiful is superfluous and unnecessary. Again, I’m only speaking for me. I understand and appreciate that lots of people feel differently and am not at all trying to suggest that they shouldn’t. It’s just that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by language that seems too effusive to reflect my own feelings or values. I don’t ‘love’ bodies in general, and learning to find all bodies beautiful is not on my list of goals. Part of my resistence here is, I think, a reaction to the mainstream world which seems to find beauty all important … and then to define it so narrowly. Whereas some people resist that by redefining beauty, I find myself questioning its importance.
    Some bodies I find attractive, others appealing artistically or just fun to watch, and others I can’t muster much interest in except as useful containers for living. Beauty? Meh. I view all bodies – including mine – as worthy of respect and care and decent treatment, ‘beautiful’ or not.
    I will and do defend myself and others against anyone who suggests otherwise. I try (sometimes harder than others) to take care of my body and the rest of myself. My body and I have reached an understanding. We are buds. Are we beautiful? I can’t say that I care. We’re still okay.

  10. Perfect post! I do encourage people to check out the pictures on the internet of fat people. They are gorgeous. That’s made a giant shift in the way I see my body. If I can look at a picture of another fat woman and see the beauty, suddenly I am not so frightening in the mirror anymore. I wish I could remember links…

  11. (Content alert: dieting, weight loss surgery, body shame)

    It was so good to read this – I am dealing with this like I haven’t in a long, long time. (long rant coming – feel free to skip!)

    I’ve been quite fat (level three super fat!), maintaining a steady weight for a very long time; three years ago I decided to lose some weight, to get to a more mobile, easier-to-get-clothes-and-fit-in-airplane-seats weight. (and I live in Hawaii, so planes are the only way to get anywhere, so…) I worked with a private therapist as well as a group dealing with intuitive eating and emotional issues, and with a nutritionist. Over 5-6 months I lost half of the weight I wanted, then stopped dieting, and…….yeah. Gained much of it back. Then over the last two years I’ve had three foot surgeries, so have spent much time on the couch. A year ago I was back at the weight where I had started, now I’m friggin’ 25 pounds higher than that. And now I’m experiencing physical issues – which are probably also related to my gait having changed and all that, but which I also believe are weight-related: leg/knee pain, and now lower back pain, and also greatly diminished stamina. I do not eat “well” much of the time, and while I have been swimming since late December, I’m not as consistent about it as I wish I were. For those reasons I do feel like this is “my fault” and I have so.much.shame. So much. (Tears are rolling down my face as I type this.)

    I’m so angry!!! At myself for dieting when I knew this might happen (but didn’t picture all of this), at my body for “failing” me, at the vague mass of people out there who I know look at me with disgust and distaste.

    I don’t know how to get past blaming myself and beating myself up. I don’t know how to get back to, while not loving every part of it, at least being generally satisfied with my body. I know that dieting is not the answer (not to mention I REALLY hate it, no matter whether you call it a “diet” or a “lifestyle change” – I told my therapist, “If I can’t have what I want when I want, it’s a diet” – yeah, I have some resistance!) but it’s tempting. It’s even more tempting to consider weight loss surgery, which I really really REALLY don’t want to do, as I consider it unhealthy and mutilation, and don’t want to deal with the nausea/vomiting/stinky diarrhea, even though the weight loss would be nice. One good thing: I know that they require the patient to be really on board for that surgery, as it should be, and I’m definitely not, so I couldn’t get the surgery even if I wanted to.

    So. I’m going to keep rereading this wonderful column, and hoping to get some of the love to soak in. Thanks so much for your words and your example. Hugs!

    1. Hi Kris! I wanted to address one particular part of your story: “And now I’m experiencing physical issues – which are probably also related to my gait having changed and all that, but which I also believe are weight-related: leg/knee pain, and now lower back pain, and also greatly diminished stamina.”
      I just wanted to share that one thing I learned in massage school is that joint stress/pain is more often caused by misalignment, not how much weight you actually carry. A thin person with structural issues is going to have just as much trouble carrying their weight as a fatter person with the same misalignment. Even “rapid” weight gain is not overnight – I believe our bodies can and do develop the muscle and stamina to handle the extra weight. Back problems occur in people of all sizes, often because of weak core/abdominal muscles – which you can strengthen without changing the layer of fat that is on top of them. 😉 I can say from personal experience that ever since I upped my physical activity my stamina has improved though my weight has not changed much. Stamina can be rebuilt. Muscles can be strengthened. Structural issues can be treated; joints can be realigned. I think there is a good chance that your weight is a scapegoat for other issues. Even if it IS contributing to your problems, I think you stand a better chance of alleviating your pain through other treatments besides trying to force weight loss. Please don’t let yourself get discouraged by thinking that weight loss is the only answer – and make sure the weight boogie man doesn’t distract you from other solutions to your symptoms. ((HUGS))

    2. I don’t know if it helps, but we pretty much all have damaged our bodies to some extent, completely aside from diet/weight stuff. I have carpal tunnel because of a combo of computer hobbies and computer work; then it got worse when I was pregnant (totally numb hands for months), which I didn’t know would happen but could have known if I’d looked it up. A friend has a gap in her stomach muscles from repeat pregnancies, that may never heal completely. My boyfriend killed his knees with an injury + years of running – you probably know a lot of former runners with bad knees, it’s pretty common. My dad lost most of the movement in his lower back driving OTR back when trucks didn’t have good springs in the seats – got back surgery, went right back to driving.

      There are things you can do, sometimes, to alleviate any damage…but none of us can go back in time and make different choices, and even if we could, they might not work out like we think they would (what if I had worked less in my 20s and didn’t have carpal tunnel now…but couldn’t afford my own apartment and stayed in my high-conflict, high-stress relationship?)

  12. Thank you for this post. I am still doing the “if only I had not . . . then I wouldn’t be this unhealthy”. But, you know, I don’t know that. Also, so what? I’m here where I am now, and if I want to be healthier then I need to start where I am now & do things to become healthier.

    I also do not accept or love my body yet – but I am working on it!

  13. Of course in many ways our bodies are our fault through the behaviours and choices we’ve made (knowingly or unknowingly), but as another commentator said if we graduate uni that’s our fault too, we just tend to be congratulated for that result. I think we focus on the result and not the journey. We focus on being a certain way rather than living in the meantime. People often use the phrase “Live with no regrets or if I have my life over I wouldn’t change a thing’ I think that is total bollocks. It’s unrealitic and basically just dumb limited thinking. I say if we don’t have regrets then we haven’t lived, we haven’t learned, we haven’t come to know ourselves. If I had my life over and could take the knowledge with me, I darnwell would do things differently because I’ve learned. Having said that, I am also content to realise that I’m on a journey and my ability to learn and integrate the learning won’t be the same as anyone else’s neither will my interpretation. So I am happy with my life and my body. I know that every day I breathe is another day I get to try new things and put into practice the things I learned from yesterday. This is what living with joy is about in my opinion. Thanks for this blog Ragen, as always it’s awesome!

  14. Thanks Ragen, I always love reading your writing, it makes me optimistic about how I could be, responsible and loving and self-confident. I clicked on the link about how to shift your thoughts about your body, and while doing the exercise realized that my body is the only home that my little girl ever knew. I’m crying right now but I’ve never appreciated my body so much before. We failed her in the end, my body and I, but we did our very best and I love us for that. Forgiveness is the name of the game for us all, I think.

  15. Bicycle adventures, aggressive dogs, CEO, competitive dancer, fat activist…you have led an interesting life!

  16. I never really did the what if I’d never, I tend to go down the what if people had never…

    What if people had never laughed at me for being a bookworm rather than an athlete, maybe I’d have been more inclined to stay active.

    What if people had never taken the piss when I was a bit over weight and went swimming, maybe I wouldn’t have stopped doing that.

    What if random guys in the street never harassed me for not being the kind of girl they want to screw, maybe I wouldn’t be so inclined to stay in the house.

    What if people decided that bullying and bigotry against those they don’t like was unacceptable, maybe I’d fit into the world better.

    So it’s not what if I had done things differently ’cause I tried that and it didn’t make a difference.

  17. *squeee* I inspired a DWF blog post! lol I was hoping for an answer but I got a whole awesome article! Yay! ;-D
    We all have those days where our reserves are low and we’re fighting the programming and the “shoulds”…

    I used to call my stretch marks my battle scars. You know in the right light they actually sparkle…

    I don’t regret my fat as much as I regret the other bad things that happened in my life as I was getting fat (and that may or may not have caused me to get fat).

    I did the best I could with what I had. I took care of myself the only way I knew how – with food. Now, what my therapist calls my “toolbox” is filled with more things to help me cope. So I keep doing the best I can with what I have – and I have a lot of me. XD

    Thank you Ragen!

  18. I’m reading the posts and I’m reading the comments and I’d like to throw something out there that might make people annoyed at me… *being the boss of my own fireproof 3X underpants*

    The issue here for me is the word fault.

    My body is my responsibility. The choices I have made have resulted in the body I have. I can choose deliberately, or I can choose by default, but at some level a choice was made.All I have is the ability to respond. Awareness increases the gap between stimulus and response, but that’s as far as I’m going to get.

    I can accept that I need to take more conscious responsibility for the choices I make about how I live in my body if I want it to function differently than it does now. (The colloquial definition of insanity being to do the same thing and to expect a different result.) My actions will have real world consequences that I have to live with.

    I can also accept that if I choose not to make those choices, there will be different consequences that I will have to live with. Neither is better or worse. There is no moral high ground here.

    Consequences are not fault. They are not blame. They are consequences. If “A” happens, “B” happens. They are not good or bad, they are simply the result of an action.

    The problem is that the word fault automatically presumes blame in common usage (as applied in these comments). Specifically, I’m referring to the definition: “To find error or defect in; criticize or blame.” or to be at fault “Deserving of blame; guilty”. Fault, like blame, is a concept applied externally. And both definitions talk about blame.

    Blame is what happens when an external force places responsibility for a consequence on a third party who has no part in the choice.

    Doesn’t society blame us for enough *&^% that we aren’t responsible for already? Why heap it on ourselves too?

    I was told by a wise woman that “you do the best you can with what you have and what you know right now”. You can’t change the choices you made. Responsibility means the ability to respond. You can’t respond to the future or the past, you can only respond to now (it is a present tense verb).

    I guess what I’m getting at here is that we’re not “at fault”. We made choices. They may have been good choices or poor choices or deliberate choices or unconscious choices. They got us where we’re at. I can’t unmake those choices. Beating myself up for them is about as logical as hating my parents for making me blonde. I can dye my hair, but I can’t make it not grow out blonde.

    I am willing to take more responsibility for my conscious decisions about how I live in my body if I want to reshape the reality of that body. I am willing to accept that I can also choose NOT to reshape that body, and it still has inherent value, whatever I pick. (Logically, anyhow. Emotionally, this is much harder to do than I’m making it out to be, at least on my own journey.) I can live with the idea of choice and consequence.

    I am NOT willing to accept the blame that someone else (and here I refer to society’s rules in general about how I should hate myself, which are so deeply ingrained as to often feel like my own voice), who was not in my shoes, and had no right to judge my ability to respond based on their own ability to respond, for being who I needed to be five, or ten, or fifteen years ago, and coping with the tools I had then.

    Words are such tricksy things, aren’t they? *smile*


  19. After reading this, I just had to contribute. I’m already a subscriber, but your ability to see and communicate so eloquently things I didn’t realize I already knew were true (if you can follow that), evoked me to support you further financially. I believe your views can change the world, not just for fat people, but for all people. Your activism is inspiring, and I want to be part of helping that continue.

    Thanks again

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