I was standing in the store a few days ago and became aware that the guy beside me was staring at my butt. In all fairness to him, I have no idea what thoughts were going through his head – “nice pants”, “did I get everything on my list?”, “man, she’s a porker”… At the same time that I turned slightly to the side, I realized that this man’s friend was also staring. Unlike the first gentleman, his expression was very easy to interpret. He made no attempt to hide the fact that he thought I was unattractive and overweight, and staring at me was like a bad car wreck he couldn’t look away from but desperately wanted to. In a few seconds time a bank of clouds skirted across the happiness of my day and I stood there stiffly while hearing his comment about me being fat.
This is my life since becoming a larger gal, and I’m here to sum it up pretty quickly: It sucks.
When I was younger I could not be pinned down long enough to do much that didn’t involve physical activity of some kind. Swimming, biking, dancing, gymnastics – you name it, I loved it, and was thrilled with my body and its strength and abilities. I never worried about whether I was physically capable of doing things, I just did them. Even then, however, my weight and self-image took up more of my time and attention than it should have. Schoolwork was pretty easy for me, but instead of being proud of my intelligence and creativity – participating in all advanced classes, sitting for the SAT in the 7th grade, etc – I mostly wanted to feel comfortable about the way I looked. I wish I could say I believe in all the positive things I put out into the world, but I’m as influenced by the media as most any other woman I know. There is an ongoing social argument about whether or not society teaches women (girls) that their looks are unacceptable at any size (it does), but I think the continued epidemic of eating disorders at ever younger ages speaks for itself. Something else that speaks for itself? The attitudes of others…
It would be disrespectful to single out the gentleman from three days ago as the only man who made me aware of my weight. I have plenty of ‘chubby’ stories and have even had the privilege of hearing warm, endearing past compliments such as, “You have a great personality, and I’d be more attracted to you if you’d only lose weight.” …… Sure thing! Maybe if these men had known me well enough “on the inside” it would cease to matter what I look like on the outside. Doubtful, but stranger things have happened, I suppose. The issue I have with that idea is that I don’t want people to accept me and find me attractive *in spite of* my weight. This is who I am.
In the last few years there has been a movement to end “fat shaming” and it has definite supporters and detractors. Speaking to the validity and influence of that movement is a post for another day and time, I think, but I will say I’m happy people are having conversations about it at all… Even when a vast majority of those conversations turn hurtful and antagonistic. For instance, while pondering this post I read several articles and blogs and discovered heartbreaking articles that have gained cult following status. One site, in particular, was so inflammatory as to discuss “fat girls” not being worthy of love, and offered advice on how to teach fatties their place by reinforcing their worthlessness, and pulling the twinkies out of their mouths while telling them they’re stupid. It also advises readers to stop “banging” cows because to do so was slumming and would ultimately damage men’s own self-worth… While the author hoped to be inflammatory and draw more traffic with as much shock and cringe-worthy language as possible (no I will not include the link and send more people to read that garbage), the comments section… well, let’s just say the true story of acceptance unfolds in the comments section. There readers are greeted with gems like “I won’t even talk to a chubby if I think she has her eye on me” and “You made yourself an undateable loser by sitting at home and stuffing food in your piggy face”.
I’m glad I put a little body armor on before waddling into those trenches. And, of course, by body armor I mean extra pounds.
People look at me and see what they want to see, I know. I have cellulite and stretch marks… places that round out where they should, at the very least, probably remain flat, and a face that I’m told often enough is ‘pretty’ while the person complimenting me ignores the other 5 feet of “train wreck” that occurs from the neck down. This is not new to me. I’m used to trying to stand in the back of a crowd so as not to block someone’s view, make sure any walkway is wide enough for my hips, and wear clothes that, at the very least, try to make the most of any positive physical traits. I could pretend that I am recklessly self-confident because I know my value is worth more than a number on a scale, but the truth is – I’m not. The idea of getting naked in front of another person is still sometimes terrifying.
And while most who judge me don’t know my story or my struggles, it is easy for them to assume I choose this life. The comments and insults I hear are because of my own poor choices, right? They think I choose this by refusing to get out and be active… eating my emotions while pining for the slimmer, more athletic build I used to have… finding other “pigs” and “slobs” to affirm and validate all those unhealthy decisions I must be making. There are neither enough hours in the day or compassion pills to pass around in order to change the minds of the masses. Even if I could, the effect would only be temporary… It would be easy to talk about my health and the impact it has on my weight, or the fact that I love being active and do as much as I can whenever I can. Still, no matter what I write or say, the sad truth is that behind every supportive person waiting to listen and care, there are two or three others waiting to tear people down. There are entire blogs written by men whose posts are full of rallying cries for males of the world to unite and “FAT SHAME – Save a Life!”
Would I like for someone to see every bumpy, imperfect inch of me, review it carefully and honestly say that they can love me just as I am? Touch my skin where it’s not young and smooth and tell me they know these scars are just badges of honor for difficult trials I made it through? Make me feel like I’m as beautiful as any beauty queen that ever accepted a crown and walked across a stage? Feel treasured and sexy even though I am not the ideal shape or in ideal shape? Of course!! What woman wouldn’t want those things?? Will that be factual and true of my life? Who knows. I deserve love, however, and joy, and for others to treat me with respect for the whole person I am, not the just the exterior package they quickly assess and dismiss as unworthy…
There’s a lot of talk about acceptance today. It’s a trending tagline attached to various topics and with good reason. Acceptance isn’t about agreeing with someone all the time. It isn’t about changing yourself to be more like them. It doesn’t usually require much change at all, come to that. In fact, if you look it up, one definition merely states that it has to do with positive welcome and belonging. Positive welcome. Belonging. How much better would the world be if we could each practice a bit more of that every day? I wonder how much differently I would’ve felt if the gentleman with the roving eye had merely smiled at me and went on about his day instead of making a disgusted face after sizing me up in all my curviness… Learning acceptance doesn’t require a realignment of our beliefs or values as some people seem to believe, it merely suggests we are all of us worthy and valued and deserve to be treated that way. Regardless of the weight of the baggage we’re hauling through life…
PLEASE feel free to comment!! But *note* that this is only a space for open, considerate conversation. Nastiness not tolerated. 🙂