Fat is Not the Worst Thing

I blog about body image and women’s health for NBC’s iVillage.  Recently that gave me the opportunity to interview the stars of the new Sundance reality series Push girls.   The series is about four women in LA who, due to accident or illness, use wheelchairs.

During the interview I asked Mia what she thought was the biggest myth/misconception that people have about those who use wheelchairs.  She said:

People feel like the chair is something that’s depressing to us or it’s our biggest hurdle or that we wish  we didn’t have to deal with. In fact it makes our lives a lot easier. and lets us be inspirational.  It allows you to connect with somebody – every single person has obstacles and they are all overcome-able.  If people saw that this is a positive thing that would be more accepting.

That really struck me, because – though I’m not comparing using a wheelchair to being fat – I feel the same way about my fat.

I despise the assumption that I must hate my body.  I am offended when people at the gym ask how much weight I’ve lost or what my weight loss goal is.  I become enraged when someone suggests that my body is something to be pitied or ashamed of.

First of all, my body is amazing.  Heartbeat, blinking, breathing, my body does a million things a day without me asking, and it does everything I ask it to from giving hugs to doing the splits.  My body deserves nothing less than my undying love and devotion. I am fiercely protective of my body.

Me and my fat body live an amazing life full of great friends and amazing experiences.  The only thing that interrupts my big fat fantastic life is the crap that comes at me from people who choose to give voice and form to their prejudices, preconceptions, stereotypes and bigotry about fat people.

When I do interviews I’m often asked “if you could be thin with no negative side effects, would you?”  My answer is always “No.  But if I had a wish, I would use it to end fat stigma and weight bullying – my body is fine, the world is messed up.”

Being fat is not the worst thing,  Being fat is not even close to the worst thing when you consider how awful it is to be a bully and a bigot, and that fat is just a body characteristic like being tall or short or brunette.

Our fat bodies are fine, the world is fucked up.  It’s not our fault but it becomes our problem.  That’s where fat activism comes in – to me fat activism is about sticking up for the body that I live in 100% of the time and that let’s me do every single thing that I can do. I don’t know about you, but I’m certain that my body deserves nothing less that my complete support.

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Fat: The Owner’s Manual – Navigating a Thin-Obsessed World with Your Health, Happiness, and Sense of Humor Intact, with foreword by Marilyn Wann is now available for pre-order.   This is a book about living life in the body that you have now, making decisions about what you want in the future, and how to get there.  Whether you want to change your body, fight for size acceptance, just live your life, or understand and support your fat friends and family, this book was written to provide the insights, aha moments, humor, and hard facts to help.

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I do HAES and SA activism, speaking and writing full time, and I don’t believe in putting corporate ads on my blog and making my readers a commodity. So if you find value in my work, want to support it, and you can afford it, you can  become a member (you get extra stuff, discounts, and you’re always the first to know about things) or a you can support my work with a  one-time contribution.  The regular e-mail blog subscription (available at the top right hand side of this page) is still completely free. If you’re curious about this, you might want to check out this post.  Thanks for reading! ~Ragen

15 thoughts on “Fat is Not the Worst Thing

  1. I am struggling with the “love your body because it is amazing” concept, since my body does not in fact do all that I ask. I am losing mobility due to a dysplastic and arthritic hip. How do you combat internalized fat stigma when it combines with internalized ablism? I worry that if I end up needing a scooter, I will confirm stereotypes about “lazy” fat people who eat until they can’t walk anymore.

    1. Bookeater- I don’t have answers for you, but I’m in a somewhat similar situation and (most of the time) appreciate my body more than I ever have.

      I had my left hip replaced a year ago when i was at the “fix it, give me a wheelchair, or kill me now–I don’t care which” stage of pain. My right hip is next. probably followed by work on a shoulder. I’ve been chronically ill since childhood (asthma, hypertension, now add diabetes, glaucoma and arthritis).

      Long ago I learned to adjust for good days and bad. I’ve never been able to run but, you know, I wouldn’t have liked it anyway. I prefer to swim. My glaucoma and presbyopia are more troubling since I love to read, sew, crochet and do home canning. I got great advice from a Multiple Sclerosis advocate on dealing with growing disability–don’t change what you do, change the way you do it so you can continue. So I find a way to make things work. One day that may mean learning Braille or to use DragonSpeak, but I’m a smart, persistent girl and I’ll figure it out!

      As to the scooters… I put off using a cane far past the time I needed it and *refused* to use scooters until just before my surgery. What I finally realized it that NOT using mobility aids did more to confirm the stereotypes (lazy, socially isolated) because I was simply too exhausted to do anything! Once I embraced these tools I was again able to shop without giving up before reaching the department I needed, or simply skipping the trip because I knew I would be in tears by the end of it. People NEED to see us out and about, doing ordinary things. That said, getting in a store scooter for the first time was one of the hardest things I’ve done. It helped to have my husband along–he made sure I didn’t run into things and I’m not sure but he probably glared at a few gawkers for me so I didn’t have to deal my first time out.

      You are entitled to a full life!!! If there is a technology that can help, use it. Anyone who has an issue with that can simply go to Hell.

    2. Bookeater,

      First I want to offer some big fat cyber-hugs! Dealing with physical difficulties at any size can be so very hard.

      Second I’d like to offer a personal experience. Four years ago I had to have spinal surgery to have a disc removed as well as hardware placed because my spine finally just said it had had enough after an injury almost 8 years before. I literally could not walk to my son’s bus stop without being in enough pain to make me cry, and I have a HUGE pain tolerance. There was some fat shaming done to me by one of my neurosurgeons, and, unfortunately, at the time I didn’t know any better because I was just starting my baby steps into the world of FA and HAES. I had a very difficult recovery, in part because the day after I was released from the hospital (and I still hold to the fact that they released me because of this) Hurricane Ike blew through the Houston area. Trying to recover from major surgery without electricity is pretty sucky. Anyway, one of the things we had to do several times was go to the grocery store because it’s so difficult to keep food cold so we had to buy fresh food almost every day. Most days I had to go with my Mom, husband and 5 year old son because they didn’t want to leave me at my mom’s house by myself in case I had a fall or something. Because I was recovering from major spinal surgery, walking was still pretty difficult, and while I tried to walk as much as I could to aid my recovery, there was more than once that I had to use one of those scooters. I nearly had a panic attack when I realized I would have to use one because I didn’t want people to think I was some “lazy fat person” even though I was wearing a brace as well as still almost constantly being in obvious pain.

      Now that I’ve rambled on and on about myself, the advice I would give you, having been somewhat in your place (and of course take it or leave it, they’re YOUR underpants) is that one of the best things you can do for yourself is to remember that “they” have NO IDEA what you’re going through. When we have internal issues that show no outward “symptoms” it can be so difficult. You know you. You know you’re an amazing person, and you know that you are doing the best you can with what you’re given. Just try to remind yourself every day that you are AWESOME and that, just like being fat, needing a scooter is NOT the worse possible fate. You have so much going for you, and I’m willing to bet people that are more than happy to support you. If you don’t have people willing to support you then come back and I’ll support you.

      Your body may not be doing things the way YOU once expected it to, but it is still amazing, and YOU are AMAZING!

    3. I’m losing hip mobility as well (due to nerve damage), and though I don’t usually use a mobility aid: a) there are days, and ; b) it’s likely a progressive thing, so I’m hyperaware of every time I can’t do something and coming up against the impending possibility of what happens when I can no longer do that thing at all. Ways of thinking that have helped me:

      1) Deciding it’s okay for me to feel disappointed or frustrated or angry when I cannot do a thing that I want to or feel like I should be able to do.

      2) Learning to separate out that disappointment or anger or whatever from blaming my body for not being able to do a Thing. This is easier for me to accept for some things versus others, but it’s important to me to separate out “I am sad because I cannot do this” from, “this discord makes my body less good or worthy.”

      3) Learning to separate out FEELING I’m having because I genuinely want to do the thing I cannot do from FEELING because I am concerned about societal (fat-hating, ableist) attitudes. (And recognizing that sometimes the answer is “both,” which is why this is such a tricky thing.) For example, I am sad about certain styles of yoga that I can’t do anymore because I genuinely enjoy doing them. However, when I worry about asking for a disabled seat on a city bus, I know the emotions tied up in that really have to do with concern about how people perceive me.

      4) When it comes to FEELING because of genuine want to do the thing, allowing myself to actually grieve for the loss of that activity/physical ability. It might sound a bit silly, and I don’t know that it will work for everyone, but for me, it’s a way to acknowledge that the loss as a significant event or process in my life, rather than just trying to “get over it” or accept it without enough processing.

      5) When it comes to worrying about people’s perceptions, consciously and continually reminding myself that not only am I not responsible for other people’s assumptions, but that in fact, any assumptions they make says more about their internal state of affairs than they ever could about me.

    4. It’s hard to get to that place when you’re fat and disabled. On top of congenital stuff, I have a broken L5 vertebra, a slipped vertebra, and a degenerating disc. It’s not easy to use adaptive aids. Depending on the day, I’m either using a cane, a walking stick (or Nordic walking poles), or a manual wheelchair. This obesipanic just makes ableism worse for those of us that use aids or require accomodations. It’s one of the reasons why I started my own blog, partially so I could sort out my own feelings about my body & how it interacts with society, and partially so folks could read about these experiences & know that they aren’t alone 🙂

      You aren’t alone!

  2. I would like to echo what Diane & Karen have written. Our bodies are remarkable & they do wonderful things for us, even if they are not able to do everything. NO ONE, even the most able-bodied & athletic people in the world, can do every single thing there is in the world which can be done by anyone. And it is not necessary to be able to do everything in order to have a full & satisfying life. We all can know ourselves, our lives, our bodies, our talents & passions & needs, & we can adapt. Most of all, if we are disabled, we need to stop fighting the disability & feeling shame, & embrace it, live with pride, & do whatever it takes to live well & make the world more accessible for us.

    I have cerebral palsy, have had it all my life, & have gradually been developing arthritis in more of my body since I smashed a kneecap over 32 years ago. I have always been active, & spent years pushing my body beyond its limits, beating up on it, hating & resenting it. My motor skills & my balance are deteriorating steadily as I age (I am now 62), I fall easily, I have a lot of pain & stiffness in my hands which makes things more difficult. I gave in 2 or 3 years ago & began using a cane. However, a cane is just not enough. I took a fall Sunday & was fortunate enough not to be injured, just scraped & bruised & very sore. But it made me realize that, especially since we have no car & walk pretty much everywhere, I need to move up, so in a couple of weeks, I will get myself a rollator, a 4-wheeled walker. I have always been fiercely independent & proud of doing everything I could for myself, but it is far more important to do what I need to keep myself as safe as I can be while living as fully as I am able to live. I don’t want to stay in the house all the time & give up on life, but I also don’t want to risk injury if it can be permitted, so I will do what I need to do is give my body the help it needs to move through the world.

    Good luck to you, Bookeater. And virtually NO ONE ‘eats until they cannot walk anymore.’ There is always a lot more at work. And strangely enough, no one seems to ever think that when it is a thin person using the scooter or wheelchair. We have as much right to be here as anyone does & as much right to full participation in life. And all of our bodies, whatever their limitations, do a lot of wonderful things for us every day. We need to show them more respect & appreciation. My body has worked extremely hard for me & taken a lot of abuse. It’s time now for me to repay that debt.

  3. Here’s the problem I’m having. I’ve been in a lot of doctor’s offices lately. Having some problems that will involve a lot more waiting rooms in my near future. They’ve ALL had on one talk show or another (blasted as loud it would go). The subject of the show is always “weight loss/ hate your body” followed by commercials of “do you feel bad enough about yourself yet to buy this thing you totally don’t need.” The one today I was subjected to was something on the lines of what I’ve heard “Biggest Loser” described as. I’ve struggled with bulimia & tuning the media out has helped immensely. What do I do when I’m forced to watch/ listen? I can’t use headphones or I won’t hear them call me. It’s always so freaking loud I can’t read & focus on anything else. This show I was subjected to had me wanting to retreat back to bulimia land in 5 minutes. Then I got called back and saved from the TV to only have to argue with a nurse about not wanting to know my weight (and no thanks we’re not talking about weight loss either.) They did need to weigh me but there was no need for me to know it and weight has absolutely nothing to do with what I was in for. When I said bulimia she shut up mostly. It helped to have a grumpy hubby with me. I realize I was already stressed to the max by the time I got there but the TV didn’t help per my blood pressure. What do I do?

    1. I’m so sorry that this happened to you, that sucks! When it happens to me I’ll often ask if anyone minds if I change the channel or turn it down. In a doctor’s office I might quietly go and let the receptionist know that I’ve recovered from an eating disorder, that the programming is triggering and as if she can change it. I also call ahead and let the doctor’s office know how I require being treated to avoid drama the day of. If doesn’t always work but it often does. Hope that helps!!



      1. Thanks Ragen! I guess I never thought about asking them to change it. How silly is that? If you feel comfortable making this request I should too! I should look at it as asking for something I really need & not just being a pain in the rear.

  4. I’m often asked “if you could be thin with no negative side effects, would you?”

    This made me realize I’m not quite there. This would be extremely tempting to me. I know I’d rather be fit and healthy than thin, and the reason my body feels slow sometimes is because of what I eat and how much rest I get, not how big it is, but still. I loved the way I looked when I was thin. I am beginning to see the beauty in larger bodies, but I find it hard to look at my own.

    But then, if I had a real wish for my body, it wouldn’t be to be thin. That seems like a waste. “To be fit and healthy to the end of my days.” seems more meaningful, so maybe I’m closer than I think.

    1. Of course it’s tempting. To be able to magically meet society’s expectations with no negatives, but to lose all the negative stereotypes, bullying and shaming; how could that be anything but tempting?

      The thing is, it’s a fantasy. There is no known way to make fat people thin with zero side effects. I can wish for a tree that has fruit made of gold, but practically it will never happen. And if we’re wishing for things, why not wish for something that might happen? I like Hobbes’ attitude in this comic: http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/1992/09/20

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