Don’t All Fat People Want to Be Thin?

Splits on WallstreetLast year when I was training for the marathon I would often see a woman in my neighborhood walking her adorable dog.  I would pet the dog and we would chat, it was always lovely. For the first time since the marathon I saw her again last night on my run/walk and we had this conversation:

Her:  How did your marathon go?

Me:  I finished it!  It took me almost 13 hours! (I almost always round up my age, weight, and marathon time.)

Her:  How much weight did you lose?
Me (in my head):  WTF?
Me (outloud):  None.
Her:  Oh, I’m sorry.
Me:  Why?
Her:  Well, you did all that walking…
Me:  Yes, to finish the marathon.  I have no interest in losing weight, I wanted to finish a marathon and I did.
Her:  [looks really confused]  Well, congratulations on your marathon…
Me:  Thanks!

The idea that all fat people want to/are actively trying to lose weight is extremely common.  You may remember that in my debate with Dr. Howard Shapiro he became downright aggressive about it. While I understand how the deluge of advertising that we get from the diet industry could certainly give people this idea, and I understand people’s kneejerk reaction that I should try to solve the stigma, bullying, and oppression that comes at me as a fat person by changing myself and I try to take that into account when I deal with this because I understand that this is the product of a messed up society, the truth is that the cure for stigma, bullying and oppression is ending stigma, bullying and oppression – the solution for me is not to try to change myself and hope that the bullies will stop taking my lunch money.

I despise the assumption that I 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 completely reject the idea 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 so many things that I do ask it to –  from giving hugs to doing the splits.  My body deserves nothing less than my love and full-throated support. I am fiercely protective of my body.

Me and my fat body live an amazing life full of great friends and fabulous 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, whether ill-intentioned or not.

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.”

Our fat bodies are fine, the world is seriously screwed up.  It’s not our fault but it becomes our problem.  For me that’s where fat activism comes in – to me a big part of my 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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29 thoughts on “Don’t All Fat People Want to Be Thin?

  1. I had a really unpleasant exchange like this at a gym. My husband had joined this place and liked it, and I was walking by there one day while a guy was outside trolling for new members, so I agreed to come in and take the tour — and then got the pitch. They always ask you what your fitness goals are, and when I said I wanted to get in better shape and feel good, he said, “What about losing weight?” I said, “I’m not interested in losing weight.” He gave me a skeptical look and said, “What does your doctor say?” I said, “A doctor has never told me to lose weight.” This young guy just couldn’t get his head around the fact that a solid-looking middle-aged woman wouldn’t aspire to become a sylph. (For stats, I’m 5’7″ tall and about 180 pounds.) At that point, the interview was over as far as I was concerned, so I declined to sign up and I left. (And the guy seemed oblivious — he actually called me a few times after that to see if I wanted to join.) But I have to admit, this upset me and made me doubt myself, despite everything I know and believe.

    1. I don’t know if there is a civil rights issue in that, but you can talk to his boss and get him reported for customer harrassment. I don’t know if that actually works. If they harrass one customer, they’ll tell their friends, friends will tell friends, etc, and their reputation is busted, now nobody will go to them.

      1. Eh, I think this is just SOP at gyms — part of the hard sell to sign up so they get their commission. It might be harassment if I were an employee, but as a potential customer I can just vote with my $$. Which I did. Not a very effective sales technique, at least in this case!

  2. I am reminded that this is always about the person speaking. How sad that there are so many people for whom weight loss would be the only goal–and that it is so pervasive that they can’t conceive that anyone would not want to lose weight. And that is very sad.

  3. This reminds me of an exchange I had with the nurse practitioner at my pulmonologist’s office last week..

    NP: So I see you’ve lost some weight. Are you doing anything specific to work on that?

    Me: I’ve been walking. But I’m focusing on my health and not the number on the scale.

    NP: Well do you have any goals set?

    Me: Yes, I want to be able to walk three miles.

    NP: *blank stare*

    It took her a bit to understand that I wasn’t actually trying to lose weight, and was just focusing on fitness exclusively. The good thing is that once she managed to wrap her brain around it, she was totally ok with it and didn’t give me a “well you need to lose more weight” speech.

  4. I had to wave a “back OFF” flag to my counselor a few weeks ago. Condensed version: Anxiety/unhappiness over long-term underemployment and ensuing financial stuff. She said it would be good for me to set a goal, and immediately went to exercise for suggestions. Because exercise has been a major shame-trigger for me, and the last thing I need right now is to fail at that (failure is a common self-loathing theme running through my head lately), I had to put the kibosh on that idea. I steered the ideas towards things not related to weight, exercise, or diet (she’s a WW lifetime member so I wanted to get away from all that before she went there). To her credit, she realized it and apologized in the next session

  5. Of course I would enjoy being thin. Finding clothes that fit in my price range would be a breeze. My doctors would get off my ass about my ass. I wouldn’t dread flying coach (if I could get a bulkhead seat to accommodate my legs, which will persist in being inconveniently long no matter what size I am). But that doesn’t have anything to do with actual fitness! And it should go without saying that I will not subject myself ever again to the loaded crapshoot of dieting, or worse, surgery.

    I want strength, flexibility, and endurance. That’s why I dug out my old Weight Watchers pedometer and put in a new battery. Points schmoints; I need to become more active in order to help my body, not other people’s perception of my body, and a pedometer is a good tool for my current circumstances.

    1. I agree. I would enjoy being thin, too. I would also enjoy being 25 years younger, and I would enjoy having my legs and arms 3 inches longer and my torso 3 inches shorter (buying clothes would be much easier and my elbows would reach the armrests for a change). And I’d like much thicker hair, too, while we’re at it. Oh, and could my eyes have 20-20 vision, too?

      In other words, it strikes me that “if you could walk through a door and become thin, would you?” is one of the world’s all-time great inane and pointless questions. If I could walk through a door and drop 25 years off my age, would I? Sure!! But so what? The fact is, I can’t.

      1. Ooh, ooh, where’s that door? I want sleek yet wavy fiery red hair that goes down to my heels. Just for an afternoon. And a whole box of stuff I could braid into it.

  6. I think it’s more than just people thinking fat people are trying to lose weight. I think many people think EVERYONE is trying to lose weight, fat or thin, athlete or couch potato, everyone must be trying to lose at least some weight.

  7. I get this all the time. I bike, roller skate, garden, hike, and run silly 5ks because they are super fun activities! I do not do these thing to lose weight. Maybe if we encouraged people to engage in activity they like because it’s fun, rather than expect people to do things they don’t like out of self loathing, we ‘d be a more active nation as a whole.

    1. Yeah, funny how when people tack a bunch of shame and guilt onto something that’s actually kind of awesome, it takes the fun right out of it. Are people ever going to get over Puritanism? What’s so virtuous about stripping the fun off everything?

  8. Reminds me of something I faced last year. I was going swimming about twice a week because I liked it, it relieved back pain and tensioned muscles I had. I never did it to lose weight.
    One day a woman approached me in the shower as I stood there with closed eyes, shampoo in my hair.
    “Excuse me, we have a dieting group for women and I wanted to ask if you would like to join us.”
    I was so perplex I didn’t really know what to say. I did not even occur to her that I was swimming because I liked to and because it made me feel better and not to lose weight. There’s so much I would like to add, and I even wished I would see her again to tell her…

  9. If ONLY my mother could read, comprehend, and accept this! She’s been nagging me to lose weight since I was FOURTEEN… 46 years in all, and she’s still at it. Still, in her world, and with her upbringing where it was absolutely essential for a woman to nab a husband by being dutiful, pleasing, and attractive, fat wasn’t just a choice or a health risk – it was a real threat to a woman’s future in society.

    1. I get that a lot and I’m 25. My response was “Ok and there were a lot of single women who did just fine back then and this single woman will do just fine by herself right now!” truth be told I have a boyfriend but with the whole fat shaming thing I do not want to do the whole ‘meet my family’ thing. I would rather he has as little contact as possible with them.

  10. I agree with all of this! I just *know* that people watch me walking and assume that I’m trying to lose weight, because, you know, that’s the American dream, no matter what your size is. So I have to just make myself not think about it. I’m working on strength and mobility, not size. I’m working for ME, not them. And I am AWESOME just the way I am. (Note: I don’t even own a scale)

  11. I actually was one of those fat girls who did want to be thin – and everything I tried inevitably failed. I only ended up losing weight due to chronic illness, and I was over 30 when that struck. I feel bad, not only for my younger self and all the crap I put myself through, but also for how I played into the idea that fat people need to change. The only regret I have about fat acceptance is that I didn’t find it earlier in my life.

    I now have some loose skin in a few areas which I refuse to have removed or tucked. Instead, I put a huge tattoo over it, because I am PROUD of how I look, damn it!

  12. People who are obsessed with the fatness or thinness of others tend NEVER to be satisfied no matter what. Or so I’ve noticed. I’m scrawny enough that I can wear kid’s size clothes. In fact the large kid sizes often fit just a bit better than the smallest adult sizes. I’m a haircut and a boob reduction away from having a high fever and not a body weight. Even so, I’ve had people try to tell me I should lose Ridonkulous. Apparently I should be wearing a Child’s Size 8 or 10. Except that then I’m sure that Those Obsessed With The Body Weight Of Others would only then condemn me for being too thin. They are like Goldilocks without Baby Bear’s belongings and food, it’s never just right. Either it’s too much or not enough.

  13. I clicked on the link to read about Shapiro. Something I find quite bizarre about some of the people who oppose the size acceptance movement is their mistaken belief that people who support the movement are trying to say being fat is better than being thin. It’s like they don’t have any concept of discussing body types without asserting that one is superior to another. Or as though they think the only way someone could speak out against a thin-obsessed culture is by bashing anyone who’s thin.
    I’m a brunette. I love having dark brown hair and if you asked me if I could wave a wand to be naturally blond, would I, I would say no. Does that mean I think darker hair is “better” than lighter hair? No. It just means that I happen to be happy and comfortable with my own natural hair colour.
    Being thin is usually easier than being fat. I know this because I am thin, and while I have had to contend with unwelcome comments about my body size throughout my life, it is not nearly to the same extent as large people, and often not coming from a source of maliciousness. The comments also are not backed or reinforced by the media or by a war against people of my body type. On a slightly different note, being a man is often easier than being a woman. I know this because I am a woman, and while I don’t think being a man automatically means everything comes to you or you don’t suffer or you don’t have to contend with harmful gendered assumptions, I do know that as women we are surrounded by a culture that constantly teaches us that our bodies are not really our own. Does that mean if I could suddenly be a man, I would? No. I love being who and what I am. The problems are with society, with the culture, not with the people being victimized by the culture. So why would we assume that people seeking equal rights simply want to change to fit the cultural mould?
    This is not to say there’s anything wrong with fitting the cultural mould. We all have the right to be who and what we are, regardless of how much of that is purely circumstantial and how much of that is by choice.

  14. I really needed to read this today. Over the past week, I’ve had this conversation with 2 colleagues and later my therapist. One of my clueless thin colleagues who has no filter was trying to talk to me about my weight and I kept turning the conversation to be about my health. She was so shocked that I wasn’t interested in getting weight loss surgery (which is now more readily available on the NHS). As a thin person, she said “If I had the opportunity to do that I would! Why wouldn’t you?” And I got upset and told her I didn’t want to talk about it. She told my other colleague (who happens to be my size and actively trying to lose weight) about our conversation (did I mention she’s clueless) and my other colleague came over and invited me to come to Slimming World with her! Just so so inappropriate.

    When I got to my meeting with my therapist and she tried to talk about it for the billionth time in a row I finally got angry. She kept saying I was stubborn when people told me what was best for my health, like losing weight. She said I was resistant to lose weight because I wanted to keep people away. And I kind of lost it. I screamed and told her that I didn’t understand why she was fighting me when I say I wanted to get healthier and that I had accepted that it may not lead to weight loss. I tried to channel you, Ragen, but I ended up falling apart and sobbing asking her why being me wasn’t enough. Why I had to change my body right this second and why I didn’t deserve happiness right now?

    I’m trying to set boundaries with the people I love, but they make it so difficult because they can’t understand why I don’t want to be thinner. They think it’s because I’m scared of failing, well guess what? 36 years of hating myself hasn’t worked, so why are they fighting me trying something else?

    I’m still feeling really discouraged and triggered by all of that. It’s been a lifetime of being told that who I am is not good enough and that I should spend all my time and energy trying to be thinner and “better”. I’ve spent 36 years wishing I could wake up and magically be socially acceptable. And now that I want to get off that, it’s like people are fighting me at every turn. It’s really hard and I wish I had more strength to keep fighting it.

    But thank you for leading by example, Ragen. I can turn to your words as comfort in that I’m not in this alone and I’m not crazy and it’s ok to be enough and be a person of worth even if I may always be my size.

    1. That sounds very upsetting. I know it’s hard to do, but I think we all need to try to educate people as much as possible. When they push diets and weight loss surgery, throw a few facts at them — like that those methods and treatments do not work long term and are in fact harmful. A lot of the stigma seems to come from the misinformation that one’s weight is completely malleable with the right amount of effort and discipline; the more people who at least become acquainted with the concept that that is not true, the better.

      (Can you find another therapist? She sounds pretty bad if she’s saying stuff like that.)

    2. Your therapist sounds like she’s so far out of line she couldn’t see it with a telescope. Talk to whoever you need to to find a therapist that is a better fit for you. I’d also suggest trying to find voluntary organisations that offer befriending or something similar if you are feeling isolated.

      You are an awesome, generous person who deserves the best treatment available to you.

  15. Reblogged this on BraveGirl Coaching and commented:
    Sharing this amazing woman’s journey. It’s important to understand different perspectives and realize that what we are fed everyday by the media is not reality. Many people are ok with their bodies and the only problem is other people’s problems with that radical idea!

  16. I remember being asked by colleagues (not friends) and complete strangers what I did to loose weight. When I answered that I did not do anything (sorry, but I had other things on my mind), all I got were blank stares.

  17. I am so very sorry. This really almost made me cry. It’s true that we of a size are facing all these terrible things everyday, without any meaningful reason. Sometimes I feel we’re treated worse than some merciless murderers. I’ve got the same issue with my family. My sweet-hearted grandfather often says : dearie, the way you’re getting is stopping to be attractive anymore, you know. And what am I meant to say? What am I meant to do? He thinks that I can pretty easily lose weight and be happy forever (man, who knew that weight loss is so easy and brings ever-happiness? Ha!). He is trying to motivate me, when, in fact, all he is unknowingly telling me that I am getting uglier in his opinion, and that there is no escaping it. You know, I love my body. But this really hurts me, when I am a ‘topic’ for everybody. Becausec, well, she obviously doesn’t know that she gained weight, like if she did not look in mirror everyday. We gotta tell her, she’s gonna be so grateful! I can so empathize.

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