Something has changed within meSomething is not the sameI'm through with playing byThe rules of someone else's game
--Elphaba Thropp, "Defying Gravity," from the musical Wicked
If you've been following this blog for any length of time, a) thanks for sticking with it, and b) you may have noticed from a handful of pictures that Your Gracious Hostess is carrying some extra weight around. (Your Gracious Hostess has certainly noticed. Which is part of the reason why there's only a handful of pictures of her on this blog, and why she prefers to use a doodled cat avatar most of the time.)
But here's the thing: my thoughts about how and why I take care of myself, what I look like, and whether I'm comfortable with my external appearance are starting to evolve, to move in a very different direction. I'm beginning to realize that I've spent much of my adult life being duped into believing I was worthless. And I know I haven't been the only one so defrauded of self-worth.
Several years ago I was listening in on a conversation between two of my nieces, both of whom are very body-conscious. Just in passing, one of them mentioned something about how awful it would be to let yourself get fat.
"Well, wait a minute," I said mildly. "I'm fat."
Both girls turned to me in shock. "Oh, Aunt Sooz, you're not fat!" they chorused. And it was clear from their expressions that they meant it. Up to that moment it had never occurred to them that I was fat at all; they just saw me as their auntie. (For the sake of clarity: at the time, I was carrying close to 270 pounds on my 5'4" frame.)
I smiled a little. "Well, yes, actually, I am fat. But that doesn't make me a terrible person."
Undaunted, they continued to protest that, really, I wasn't fat. And as I listened, the grammar-pedant part of my brain began to realize where the problem lay. They weren't working with a proper definition of the word "fat." Even though I was fat -- manifestly so, to anyone with a working pair of eyes -- I didn't fit the template these girls had been given about what "fat" meant. They didn't want me to use "fat" to describe myself, because I was not irredeemably horrible in their eyes. They believed, because they had been taught to believe, that "fat" was one of the worst things you could say about someone.
So let's just get this out of the way: "Fat" is a descriptor. It means you have more adipose tissue on you than your body can easily use.
"Fat" is not a synonym for "ugly."
"Fat" is not a synonym for "stupid."
"Fat" is not a synonym for "lazy."
"Fat" is not a synonym for "evil."
If you've been using "fat" incorrectly -- that is, as a broad-ranging personal slur -- don't beat yourself up; it's not really your fault. Most of the First World is using the word improperly, because most of the First World has been taught that obesity is a moral failing worse than child molestation. (Think that's an overstatement? We'll talk later about a society that fat-shames actress Melissa McCarthy at every turn, after having awarded an Oscar to fugitive sex offender Roman Polanski.)
This is how pernicious the problem has gotten: I went through my teens and early twenties with some extra weight on me (though not nearly as much as I have now), and I made all my plans for adult life presupposing that I would be alone because I honestly believed that, at my weight, no one would ever love me. Which, if you give it even a morsel of thought, is patently absurd. The world isn't made up of people with monolithically homogenized preferences and dislikes; it's made up of individuals with all kinds of different interests. (And since I'm heterosexual, I shall now point out some of the traits men might find attractive in women, though the general concept applies equally to anyone looking for a mate.) There are guys who like blondes, brunettes, redheads, raven-black hair, colors not found in nature, even a few who have a thing for shaved heads. There are guys who love blue eyes, and guys who love green eyes, and guys who love brown eyes. There are guys who like shy, diminutive women, and guys who like power-lifter girls who could probably beat them up. There are guys who don't like their women to be overly bright, and guys who think smart is dead sexy. There are guys who swoon over specific ethnicities, guys looking for someone who shares their religious belief (or lack thereof), guys who seek out women with the same political leanings.
Naturally, there are also guys who like tiny emaciated girls, guys who enjoy girls of medium build, guys who rejoice at girls who are taller than they are -- and guys who are looking for girls like me, short and round and geeky and built primarily for comfort. No, I don't look like a twig. But not everyone is looking for Twiggy. And even if everyone were, that shouldn't determine my self-worth.
Why do we let people give fat girls and women that particular nasty backhanded compliment? You know the one: "Your face is so pretty... you could be beautiful if you just lost some weight." Imagine for a moment if they'd said, "You look lovely, but you could be gorgeous if your skin were just a little lighter." "You're really pretty, you know; it's a shame you're not five inches taller." Folks, this is my body type, just as much as this is my height and skin color. I may be able to change it a little, but not dramatically -- and who says I need to change it at all? Why would I want your conditional approval in the first place?
Here's the thing: I make geeky jewelry (earrings, pins, tie tacks, cufflinks, etc.) out of Lego minifigures, and when people see them, they generally respond in one of two ways:
1) "Who the hell thought that was a good idea?"
2) "OMG those are SO. CUTE. Where can I get them?"
I don't waste any time catering to the people in the first group. They don't get it, and they probably never will, so what's the point? The folks in the second group, on the other hand, become my clientele. Likewise, why should I spend loads of time and effort trying to convince people who have already judged me by my size (thanks, Master Yoda!) that I'm worth their while, when there are plenty of others who already like me without reservations? Right: I shouldn't.
You want to know some good things about being short and fat? Here you go: I love food and I'm not afraid of it; I can tell you where all the good ethnic restaurants, local chocolate shops, and boutique food markets are. I can walk under just about anything and I always have enough legroom. I look freaking awesome in a curvy princess-seamed dress. I get a kick out of shocking people who assume I can't swim competently (I was on the swim team in high school, and still do a mean butterfly stroke). I rarely worry about getting too cold. Other women generally see me as their friend, not as the competition. Since I know what it's like to be mocked for my appearance, I'm not quick to judge other people based on externalities. I can disappear into a crowd, at least in America. I've done what I can to cultivate personal depth, and have wide-ranging interests. I'd like to thank the Academy for my secret weapon of boobs. With the exception of Type 2 diabetes, my body is in relatively good working condition, and I'm actually likely to outlive most underweight people. Bands and singers such as Queen, the Commodores and Mika have composed songs praising the charms of women who look like me. Oh, and I give fantastic hugs.
Does this mean I've given up on losing weight? Nope. But my motivations have changed. These days I'm more concerned about dropping some weight so I can keep my diabetes under control, live a healthy life and take care of my family responsibly. I've also discovered that I feel better and have more energy when I'm not shlepping 270 pounds around. But I'm not losing weight so I can be all willowy and elven and such. (Let's face it, at 5 feet 4 inches tall, even if I starve myself to death I'm never gonna be willowy. It's not in my genes. But I've spent most of my adult life chasing after this will-o'-the-wisp, because the mass media dictated to me again and again that unless I radically changed my body, I would never be good enough for anyone. Well, bugger that.)
"All right, then, Sooz, if you're all for body acceptance, do you think it's possible to be too fat?" Yes, in fact, I do. If you are disabled-obese -- that is, if you have gained so much weight that you cannot move yourself from one side of a room to another under your own power -- then you have a medical problem that needs to be addressed. But you do not need to be fat-shamed. Fat-shaming doesn't work; if anything, it makes the problem worse. (I was only a few pounds overweight when I first heard from older relatives that I could be really lovely if I just, bla bla bla, and the feeling that I wasn't good enough even for my family to love unconditionally sent me into a depression where I just packed on more weight. So, all you well-meaning skinny people, stop doing this, OK?)