Body Image: The Fat Girl Who Cheated The System
During a recent conversation with a co-worker about weight and body image, I recalled being overweight at 175 pounds. I remember running up on articles about Kate Winslete being an average size 12. I thought, “She’s beautiful at that size. Why don’t I feel beautiful?”
According to the BMI scale, I hovered in the dreaded “overweight” range. I struggled to find clothes that would make me look attractive, and I had the painful habit of “sucking it in” when sitting. Those unattractive pictures on Facebook were a constant reminder of how much my belly poked out.
Some of it, I discovered, was due to hormonal imbalance. There was a period when I was working out regularly and eating fairly well, but gained another few pounds instead of losing. I had been gaining weight steadily, on average five to ten pounds a year, since late high school. Seeing the scale after weeks of working out only added to the nightmare–no matter what I did, I kept gaining as each year. I went on birth control due to other health issues and found that I was one of the “lucky” few to lose weight. I dropped to about 135 pounds after only two to three months. For a while I never noticed.
Facebook, ever the reminder, displayed graduation pictures of a friend. I wore the one attractive outfit that fit my “bigger” figure. I posed, shrunken, like I still had the weight on me–stiffly, clumsily, and trying not to get too close. So I wouldn’t smother anyone. Finally I bought new clothes. It took about two hours of frustration to realize how much I’d dropped.
My reflection still looked the same to me, yet the shrinking pant sizes told me I was smaller. Still, I bought a few pairs of pants with “growing room” and kept a few old pairs. I could easily gain it all back.
Now when I’m working I get told by customers regularly how healthy I look. How lucky I am to be thin. I can’t afford to buy enough food at times, as I try to stretch my paycheck towards rent and other bills. I crave particular things that are indicative of missing or low nutrients. They don’t know this, but I smile and say thank you.
In our society, to be defined as “Fat” is almost the stamp of a fact that you are not “Beautiful.” It’s programmed into our language– two lines that are very closely paired: “No you’re not fat!” and “You’re beautiful!” Even though logic says that the two have no relation to one another, the response is almost always the same with the same two lines. The message is buried in our dialogue about how we should think of fat people: lazy, unhygienic, unhealthy, junk food… Ugly.
This dialogue is enforced over and over again through our media. Though I don’t watch the show, it was still hard to miss the articles all over Facebook and Tumblr about our latest “Biggest Loser” and how skinny she was at the grand finale.
I saw photos and footage of the winner, and it shocked me. The woman on stage was my height, but went to more extremes than I did.
The size that she had been reduced to was literally glamorized–glittering in a gold evening gown, tanned, and made-up. Her “before” picture showcased her face, full of misery and shame, pale, wearing only a sports bra and bike shorts.
One of the trainers was interviewed, and even admitted to the fact that several of their contestants have eating disorders–moving from one extreme to the other. He claimed no responsibility, even as he admitted using their mental disorder for the sake of entertainment. But this is not unusual.
Even the body and self-positive blogs that I follow still add a sharp dividing line between fatness and thinness. In a recent entry, a woman claimed that thin-shaming was nonexistent, saying, “when someone calls you too skinny, that hurts. It’s inappropriate, hurtful, and makes you self conscious,” and continues to say in an edit, “thin women have it hard too is a false equivalency and utterly derailing.”
Many in this small community claim that thin-shaming is just as false as reverse racism and heterophobia, without looking at historical context, or the background of the “other.”
Both racism and homophobia (like many of the other phobias and isms) are a constant–these isms have remained the same for centuries in most areas. Desirable size has changed frequently, depending on what was the least attainable.
Generally, you can tell who has suffered discrimination by the color of someone’s skin, or by who they happen to be pecking on the lips in the park. But simply by looking at a thin person, you can’t tell what they have suffered in the past.
Fat and skinny women get titled with negative descriptions based on their size—no matter what size they happen to be. Many from both groups suffer from unrealistic body image, and choosing sides does not solve the problem.
People that have shed the pounds still mentally carry the weight that they once held. As if once you had the weight, you never really lose it–because you remember the looks, the judgment, and the challenges of finding the “right” size.
Even though a thin person may have the “privileges” that a fat person does not, they know what will happen once you tread back over the line. It’s a privilege that can be taken away.
There are a few entries that I see on my dashboard, where fat women happily smile in photos, proud of their bodies. Here, these images show a millisecond of confidence and the ability to ignore the contradictions of society to be thin in order to be beautiful. These instances of confidence, if continued and enforced from people of all types, can help ensure that such worry will not even cross the minds of future generations. Taking care of yourself is the real message.
It has taken me a while to ignore the voice in my head that tells me to buy clothing a “little bit bigger.” As the conversation with my co-worker came to a close, I was accused of cheating my weight loss. I cheated by a medication side effect. Cheating.