I’m honored to be included in a piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer called “Retool Weight Resolutions, Ditch the Shame.” The piece is written, bravely and candidly, by a therapist who specializes in eating disorders and is also a self-admitted former fat-shamer, and it reminds me that people can and do change when it comes to weight stigma.
The thing that really struck me about the piece was that a 13 year old client, speaking about her own body, told Diane “People aren’t meant to be this large.” How many of us have heard that message in some form or another? How many of us have internalized that message in some form or another – including as early as 13, or as early as five years old.
Our culture is obsessed with thinness – with a single ideal of “beauty” (which is then often confused with health.) Our culture also has the tendency to stick its fingers in its ears and scream LA LA LA LA anytime someone suggests that there may be a natural diversity of body sizes in the same way there’s a natural diversity of heights, feet, hands, noses etc. and that the research shows that trying to manipulate larger bodes into smaller ones typically results in the opposite of the intended effect.
This creates a situation where fat people are encouraged to see being thin as the ticket to entry to the rest of our lives. We are encouraged to dedicate our time, energy, and money to making our bodies thin (like they’re “supposed” to be) and then, at the end of this weight loss rainbow, we’ll supposedly find a pot of all the other stuff we want to do with our lives.
The problem with this is that it encourages us to put our lives on hold trying to achieve something that nobody has shown is possible for a reason that nobody has shown is valid – so it’s entirely possible that our lives will stay on hold until it’s too late to live them.
A friend of mine had relative in her nineties refuse to eat cake on her birthday because she hadn’t exercised that morning. I know for me that, when I was putting my life on hold until I was thin, the idea of “when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived” was a very real possibility.
When we’re stuck with our lives on hold until we reach some specific weight or size, one of the most liberating questions we can ask ourselves is “What would I do differently if this is the size I’m supposed to be?”
We can opt out of this mess. We can let go of the idea that there’s a size we’re “supposed” to be, or that our size dictates who we are allowed to be, or what we are allowed to do. We can stop waiting for a thinner body to show up and just take the bodies we have out for a spin.
We can go after the lives we want, in the bodies that we have, and we can remember that the world as it’s constructed (based on a thin ideal) doesn’t dictate the size that we are supposed to be, and that if things or places don’t accommodate us then we need to change those things and places, not our bodies.
And every time we do that, we show others that it’s possible – we help tear down the system that oppresses us and we help people take their lives off hold. And I know it happens because somewhere in Pennsylvania there’s one less fat-shamer, one more size-affirming, Health at Every Size practicing therapist and writer educating her clients and the public, and one fat 13 year old girl who knows that she can pursue her dreams in the body she has.
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