Fat Prisoners of War

End the war on fat peopleSadly I hear stories all the time about a fat person who has put their life on hold – they skip events, they don’t do things that they want to do, they don’t hang out with friends,  they don’t even attempt to date, so crushed are they by self-hatred derived by bullying and stigma, that their life is a living hell.  We are told (often by someone trying to sell us weight loss) that this person is a prisoner of their fat, that the solution to all of these problems is weight loss.  That weight loss will somehow free them from their prison of fat and allow them to live a full life.

I would suggest that they are prisoners – but not of fat.  They are prisoners of war – the war on obesity.  A war waged on them by the government, which is actively encouraging people to stereotype fat people and make wild guesses about our “cost” to society, and blame us for anything bad in their lives.  They are actively recruiting our bosses, doctors, friends, family, and strangers who interact with us to join in the battle.  The war on obesity has casualties. It also has prisoners.

When there is a movement of public and private interests to stigmatize people for the way they look – for a physical characteristic that they can’t possibly hide, then some will choose to try to escape the incessant stigma, shame and bullying by doing the only thing they can – hiding themselves, withdrawing from life.

And then they get shamed for withdrawing and blamed for the poor treatment that they are receiving.  Surrender, they are told, act the way we want you to act and look the way we want you to look and all of this pain will go away.  Never mind that there’s no proof that it’s even possible for more than a tiny fraction of people to become thin.  Never mind that the cure for social stigma and bullying is for people to stop stigmatizing and bullying people – not weight loss. Surrender they are told.  Surrender and pay the piper – the diet industry can’t make 60 billion (and rising every year) dollars a year without your contribution.

I say enough is enough.  I say it’s time to call for an end to the ridiculous notion that there can be a war on obesity without having a war on obese people.  That war can be waged on our fat but not on the “thin people” they claim, without evidence, live underneath it. It’s time to call for an end to the assertion that the casualties and prisoners of this war are acceptable collateral damage, so important is the goal of a world where everyone has the same height/weight ratio. Well, maybe not so much important as… profitable.

I used to be a prisoner of the war on obesity – spending my time desperately hoping that I could change my body so that I could start living the life that I wanted to live.  Even after I learned that there were options to fight back, to escape, I remained casualty for a long time – deeply damaged by the stigma, shame and bullying that were heaped upon me by family, friends, doctors, strangers and the government the seems to think that ‘inalienable rights” actually means “rights you’ll get as soon as you’re thin.”

Things are different now.  There’s still plenty of stigma, shame, and bullying. There’s still a war being fought against me for how I look. People are still trying to leverage an inappropriate use of power to alienate me from my rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  I still have rough days.  But I’m no longer a prisoner, no longer a casualty.  I’m a combatant now. And If the government wants a war on obesity, I’ll damn well give them one. 

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18 thoughts on “Fat Prisoners of War

  1. You hit the nail on the head. It is good to hear that I am not the only tender hearted plump woman out there that avoids certain social situations because of the judgements and hate that I predict from past experiences will be directed at me JUST because of my size…thank you for this post…it was healing as I wept while reading it.

    1. {{{{ldfitzgerald}}}}!! I am really glad you found Ragen’s blog. You are CERTAINLY not alone in your feelings about negotiating the big wide world in a larger body. If you haven’t already, I hope you will check out other corners of the fatosphere, too! And I apologize if you are already fatosphere savvy and if I’m coming across as patronizing…. your post is sounding to me like you might be “new in these parts” so I just wanted to give you a warm welcome :))

      1. @ Lisa: Thank you for the warm welcome 🙂 I am new to all this. This new info has given me the freedom to stop hating my body, to stop chasing the diet and exercise myths and lies, to stop engaging in body judging talk. I am kinda going through a grieving process though because my eyes have been opened to how much hate and judging and discrimination is directed at me just because of the size of my body. I have silently lost some friends because I shared with them my new outlook. I have learned the hard way that not everyone ‘awakens’ to these truths. But none of the negative things touch the freedom I now have in loving and accepting all of me just the way I am! By the way, I love your name! My name is Lisa too 😉

    2. In spite of the help that size acceptance has given me, I still can’t bring myself to be seen in a swimsuit in public. I don’t really like working out with other people anyway, but I’m so phobic about this that I once waited 20 minutes in the bathroom stall at the health center in my place of employment until this woman finished putting on her makeup and went the hell away finally, thus missing 20 minutes of my workout (I do it in the therapy pool) because I couldn’t bear the idea of her seeing my fat body in a swimsuit and thinking herself superior to me.

      1. I feel your pain. I finally – FINALLY – decided that it was tough shit for anyone else. I’m going to do what’s best for me and if they can’t handle it, THEY can be damned, not me. I got into a swimsuit in California with a number of dear friends, a couple of whom can be somewhat judgmental. I was having a ball getting into the freezing cold water for the hell of it, and later, one of my dearest friends told me about one of the others who told him, “That is a beautiful woman. I only wish she knew how beautiful she is.” That one moment made up for even the possibility of anything ugly. Even without that, I wouldn’t have changed it. Most anyone who judges does so not because he thinks himself superior, but because he secretly fears himself inferior. My two cents.

        Next time you feel that urge, you remember that I’m standing right next to you in my own suit.

        1. I saw an extremely large lady at our pool with a small child recently. Her suit wasn’t technically a swim suit- I think she’d sort of made her own partly from a camisole- but it looked fine and I just thought- Good Girl! She was there to have fun with her grandchild and that was what mattered. The people in our town are horribly judgemental and stare at anyone who looks different. I could only imagine the potential abuse she might face there with all the young teens. But she was there. Doing her stuff. And it was an inspiring sight

          I won’t put my own smaller body in a regular suit due to ingrown hairs and stretch marks. I wear a leg suit to cover up. But no one’s figured out, or mentioned my yeti genes. Folks actually at the pool are too busy doing their own thing to notice other people. Do come on in, the water’s lovely!

  2. Solely because of your blog, I did something last week that I never would have a year ago. I stopped worrying about my weight holding me back and went for it – and I did a better job than someone who weighed less than me. Thank you for showing my cage door wasn’t actually locked.

  3. I was mentioning this very thought last night backstage at our Choral Concert to a gal who’s struggling with body acceptance. Like me, she’s heavy but has also had to deal with eczema her whole life which has left scars all over her body, like a double whammy. I told her it was a long, long process to reverse the damaging thoughts that we’re so used to having (because being fat is BAAAAAD, if you’re fat, you’re BAAAAAAAAAD, you’re just WROOOOOOONG…everyone knows that), and it brought tears to her eyes. I told her that personally, I find scars beautiful, that this was the only body she was going to get, so she may as well try loving it and seeing what happens.

    This is not even mentioning that she looks and sounds like Mahalia Jackson. Lawdy, this gal has some pipes. But when you’re a vocal performance major, sadly it really is about the looks most of the time. You can walk onto the stage and have a voice that will shatter the spotlights, but if you don’t LOOK the part, you’ll never even get a chance to open your mouth.

    I kind of like spitting in the eye of it all. I’m diving head-first into a field of study where you are scrutinised in every detail and found wanting no matter how perfect you are, and I’m laughing my head off at it all. Sorry, that poison won’t work on me because I KNOW I’m fat. I KNOW I’ll rolly. I KNOW my chin waggles when I sing, but if you look closely, you’ll see I don’t really care because at 42, I just don’t have the energy to get all worked up over OMG SHE CALLED ME FAT I’LL NEVER HAVE ANY FRIENDS I HATE MYSELF I’M SUCH A LOSER AHHHHHHHHHHH…

  4. The one thing I will never do is go to a class reunion, because I can’t stomach the idea of those ass clowns I went to school with feeling smug and superior to me because now I’m fat, and fat = failure. Of course these shitheads, while not entirely responsible for my bulimia (which was started by the images I saw in the media) certainly helped the situation snowball by calling me fat when I weighed all of 110 pounds in junior high and 130 pounds in high school. It would be highly unpleasant for me to go to a reunion, so just, no. Maybe when I’m dead, I’ll go poltergeist the school.

    1. You know what? I have never gone to a high school reunion, either. Okay, once I went to someone else’s because my friend and I were invited by a member of the band, but I’ve never been to one for my class and I never will. Why? Because the kind of people who’ve been showing up for the reunions are precisely the people I was relieved I’d never have to see again when I graduated. All the people I would have cared about seeing weren’t interested in high school reunions, either.

    2. I’m on the organizing committee for my 25-year reunion this summer. I have to say I felt much the same as you did in school, but then I went to my 10-year reunion and things were just … different. VERY different. Everyone had truly grown up. I realize that doesn’t always happen, so I was amazed. I can’t wait for this reunion.

      1. The one thing I can say is that I’m very fortunate about my high school situation. I was a military brat. I went to an international school in Holland, while living in Germany. 🙂 We didn’t have any real cliques and everyone just hung out with everyone. I don’t remember anyone making fun of anyone for being fat or anything. There were less than 100 people in my graduating class and I’m still friends with most of them on FB and many of us get together in person as often as we can and I graduated nearly 21 years ago, not to mention we are spread out all over the country. In fact, we’re such a tight bunch that we’ve formed bonds with people who graduated years earlier or even years after. I love that group of people.

        1. My son’s high school was a lot like yours. He went to a small, private, liberal arts high school because even though he was very smart he was in danger of failing out in public school, as he hated the assignments he was given and never did them.

  5. I have a favorite funny button, that paraphrases Nietsche. Feel free to use it for your counterwar. Source: nancybuttons.com.
    “Whatever does not kill me had better run damn fast.”

  6. This is such an important piece of writing for anyone who has suffered the social shame of being fat. Yesterday I did something that a year ago I would NEVER have done – I went to a bike shop and test rode a bike, and bought it! Last night I went for the funnest ride ever with my boyfriend, and I’m so gutted that we have been together for 4 years and I let my self-hate keep me from doing things like this with him for all of that time. Your blog has really helped me so much over the past year Ragen, I can’t wait for my ebook to come through because I know it will be wonderful! Also just wanted to say that every time I read one of your posts and comments section, I’m just blown away by the other readers and their thoughtful, intelligent comments.
    Loving life, just as I should. Happy to be me, in my body!
    xx Chelle

  7. I don’t believe that behaving out of a sense of self-preservation (or even just avoidance of hassle, let alone pain) necessarily denotes self-hate. There are times when I avoid situations in which I will feel invisible in a crowd, but that doesn’t mean that I hate myself, or my body, merely the stigma that society attaches to ir. Other than that, I think that this is (as usual) dead on.

    1. I also have a degree of social anxiety which is unrelated to my current size. I’ve had it all my life. When in a situation where I’m surrounded by a bunch of people that I really don’t know, (i.e. a staff party where people from all departments come together) my chest gets tight and I start getting really anxious. Luckily, working night shift gives me a good out for avoiding most such situations.

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