I am clinically obese. With a BMI of 30.3, I just sneak into the ‘obese’ category. It’s an ugly word, an ugly label, but it is what it is. I would say i accept it and move on, but that would be untrue.
Truth is, I hate my body passionately. I hate being overweight. I fit into size 14 pants and 16-18 tops, which isn’t that far off the NZ average for women, but I feel like an absolute blimp. I feel bloated and unattractive, and I hate what I see in the mirror. As for what turns up in photos? Well, there’s a good reason that are not that many photos of me around. I see photos of me with my friends, and all I see is the vast amount of real estate I take up.
Today, a friend posted an image which said that the body acceptance movement was meant for people born without limbs, for victims of dread diseases and disfiguring crimes, but that it had been hijacked by fat people who “won’t stop eating”. This stung, because I am very aware of what I look like and it felt like the message of this was that if you’re overweight it’s because you’re a glutton, and that you don’t have a right to feel good about yourself. I commented, saying that I have been on a calorie-restricted diet for months now, and the weight isn’t moving despite eating 25% less than the average person. I’m not fat because I sit around all day gorging on chocolate, and I really resent that implication. I let a little of the pain bleed through, talking about how I feel like accepting my body feels like it’s not an option for people like me. I wondered if 1200, even 1000 calories a day would help. What I wrote was hurting, it was raw, and I probably shouldn’t have said anything. When did letting how you feel show on Facebook ever end well?
The response I got back cut deep. I was told that I must be doing something wrong, otherwise I would be losing weight.That I just needed to drop an extra 200-400 calories out of my diet. That she wanted her friends to be fit and healthy.
Well, I must be doing something wrong, because I’m still obese. Maybe I don’t have enough motivation. Maybe I don’t hate being fat enough. Or maybe I should be interrogating why I feel this level of self-loathing, why food and eating and weight make me cry so often. Why should it be so very bad?
I am not my culture’s ideal, and the cultural pressure to conform to the ideal is strong. It’s not really about being healthy, though. It’s about how you look. And when the way you look is culturally equivalent to ‘won’t stop eating’, ‘no self-control’, ‘fatty’, the pressure is awful. Walking out on the street is an exercise in faked self-confidence, only because there are no holes to crawl into. Conversations about weight become agony, as other people discuss the way they feel, and you keep quiet because there’s an elephant about you-sized and -shaped in the room.
The body acceptance movement has a powerful message for people like me. The message is that you don’t have to hate yourself because of how you look. Being in a mental space that is bathed in such self-loathing is toxic and tears down your resilience. It makes you more likely to pick up on negative messages in other areas and internalise them, because you’re feeling awful anyway. It destroys your self-confidence not just about how you look, but about how competent you are in other areas. It twists your thinking in harmful ways.
Accepting yourself doesn’t have to mean that you don’t want to change. It means that you can live without beating yourself up all the time. It means saying ‘what I am is ok. I am not inherently a failure or bad in some way because I’m fat/have a stutter/get panic attacks/whatever. I can work on the parts of me that I want to change, while still being ok with who I am’.
I am not ok with what I am. I feel it when people take a swipe at fat people. It eats away inside me knowing that I have friends who must look down on me for being fat. I live in hope that one day I can be more acceptable to society, because in my mind then I can be more acceptable to myself.
I know that these thoughts are unhelpful and unhealthy, and I want to try and change them. Building myself up is hard, though, when everything the world throws at me wants to tear me down.