Being Comfortable in Your Own Skin (but Sometimes It’s a Lot of Skin!)

As some of you know, I am a bona fide TLC addict, particularly the weight related shows like My 600 lb Life, Skin Tight and My Big Fat Fabulous Life.  One of the recurring themes in all of these shows is the idea of being comfortable with who you are, no matter what you look like.  (It’s actually a common theme in almost all the TLC shows.) Many of the shows’ stars battle with self-esteem issues and being accepted by the world in general. This is a fight many of us go through even if we don’t have body image issues.

Recently, I downloaded an audio book which also deals with body image: specifically what the author calls “body love,” and it caught my interest because it’s part of the “no body shame” movement which Whitney Way Thore (My Big Fat Fabulous Life) endorses.  The book is called Things No One Will Tell Fat Girls: A Handbook for Unapologetic Living by Jes Baker.  I admit, I have not finished the book, but I am already a little disappointed.  I was really interested in the premise of the book, which is (in a nutshell) “don’t apologize for being who you are, even if you’re fat,” but by Chapter 5, it’s devolved to attacking an alleged patriarchal society bent on keeping women (and also men) focused on fitting into unattainable archetypes of beauty/ body image and hating fat people.  It seems that Ms. Baker was one of those people who hated herself for being fat because society told her she was inadequate for being fat and now that she’s learned to love and accept herself for who she is, she is bent on attacking the society that made her feel bad and vilifies fat people.

I do not dispute that the media focuses on impossible beauty ideals for men and women.  I do not dispute that people who are fat are abused in the media and by society in general.  I have been fat since childhood, and I am still fatter now (after having lost 150+ lbs) than Ms. Baker is now.  What I found disheartening is Ms. Baker’s attitude towards the newest beauty ideal, which she says is the health and fitness movement.  The new ‘beautiful’ is being healthy and those of us (yes, us because I took this personally) who ‘buy into’ the new trend of ‘going Paleo and getting healthy’ do so in a vain attempt to live up to society’s broken view of who and what is beautiful.  While I applaud Ms. Baker’s message of “love yourself for who you are,” there is a distinct aroma of sour grapes attached to her attacks on society in general.  It seems that her message is only half “you are a great and marvelous person no matter your weight or body type” and half “society is stupid, backwards and bent on keeping others down, especially women and women of color.” I pretty much fit into her “brown fat woman” box: I’m a large Latina- always have been and probably always will be.  I am one of those people who has always been made fun of and been made to feel different, if not for being fat, for being Mexican, so yeah, I know a little about being marginalized.  (As a kid in grade school, my classmates asked me if Mexicans really do eat beans and tortillas at every meal, among other things!)

As I said, I haven’t finished her book yet, but so far, it seems like she is saying if you want to change your body and how you look, then you’ve been tricked and/ or bullied into buying into society’s flawed standard of beauty equals worth and you are either doomed, lying to and hating yourself  or both.  The fact that she specifically singled out ‘going Paleo’ (which is what I did) felt like a personal slap in the face. I did not decide to lose weight because I was told to by my doctor (my doctor has been telling me for years to lose weight!); I did not decide to lose weight because my mom and/ or family have been telling me to lose weight (been hearing that all my life- thank you!); nor did I decide to lose weight because my boss/ society/ media/ a guy wanted me to lose weight.  I decided to lose weight because I was feeling miserable physically.  I have been heavy all my life and until I reached 400+ lbs, my weight was not really interfering with my enjoyment of my life.  I could do pretty much whatever I wanted to do with few health problems (most of those hereditary).  When it began to be physically painful to walk or stand for any length of time, when it screwed up my trip to Disneyland, that is when I realized I needed to make a change! When my weight got in my way, it was time for a change.  It had nothing to do with what other people or society/ media was telling me about myself.  Many years ago, I had hair so long I could sit on it.  Truly, whenever I sat down, I had to lean forward to pull my hair out from under my butt or sweep it off to the side before I sat down.  It got caught on just about everything: power windows, seatbelts, chairs, etc.  I had to untuck it from my pants and it took almost half a bottle of shampoo each time I washed it.  People either loved it or hated it and it was getting to be a pain in the butt to me, but until I literally sprained my shoulder brushing it out, I didn’t get it cut any more than a couple inches at a time.  Once I had had enough, I went to a salon and had her cut off three feet. She verified three times that I really wanted that much cut off, and I did and I left her a nice tip once it was done.  End of story.  I had the same attitude towards my weight: once it got in the way, it’s time to take action!

I am not trying to be a size 2 or even a size 6.  If I never lose another pound (and I weigh 280 now), I am quite happy with myself.  I feel so much better physically and I love the way I eat now, because I feel it helps me so much better.  It’s nothing to do with achieving some mystical ideal of health or beauty: it’s about being comfortable in my own body.  I am much more comfortable being able to walk  and stand for long periods of time.  I like feeling physically stronger and I like having more energy.  My body is a happier place to be for me now, and I frankly resent Ms. Baker’s insinuation that I am changing my body in response to some outside impetus that somehow made me feel that being 438 lbs was “ugly.”  I don’t think I was ugly at 438 (there were certainly guys who didn’t think I was ugly).  I do know that my body hurt at that weight and I was feeling very limited physically with what I could do.  There were things that I wanted to do that I knew my body was incapable of doing because of its physical condition.

Some of you might have read my previous post about Whitney Thore entitled How Fabulous is Being Fat? Not Very in which I really did encourage her to lose some weight, and I do so not because she is “fat” or “ugly”; I do so because she was being limited physically by her poor health due to her weight.  I actually weighed what she weighs for most of my adult life and when you start passing out from moderate exertion or you are always hurting or if you throw your back out reaching for the shampoo, it’s pretty much your body’s way of telling you that something is really wrong here and you should probably make some changes. I know it really sucks to make those kinds of changes, because I had to make them.  I didn’t have an emotional or mental problem being that weight, by which I mean I didn’t look in the mirror and hate myself or my body because I was so big.  My problem was my physical health, and it was really getting in the way of my enjoyment of my life.  I can understand how Whitney and Jes Baker are happy being fat, because if it hadn’t been for things like constantly hurting and being physically unable to do the things I liked doing, I probably wouldn’t have made any changes either.  It’s about being comfortable in your own skin, and when you can’t be comfortable for whatever reason either mental, emotional or physical, then you need to fix the problem.  If that means accepting you’re big or getting in better shape physically, so be it. Only you can decide what’s best for you. I know that I am happier with the way I live now and how I feel physically because I can do the things I enjoy doing.  If I keep losing weight I will eventually have to deal with a lot of loose flabby skin, which I will probably handle the same way I handled my extra long hair: if it gets in my way, it needs to go, but until then, who cares? (I know a lot of people on Skin Tight get really concerned with how it looks and how it makes them feel “ugly.” I’ve been asked by some of my fitness friends how I deal with it, and frankly, it’s not a problem, although I will admit it looks pretty weird.  Weird doesn’t bother me.)

I admit I have reached the chapter where she is covering the philosophy of Linda Bacon, PhD, author of Health at Every Size.  (While I have not read her book, I have heard about her philosophy and I pretty much subscribe to it.) Dr. Bacon’s philosophy sounds pretty basic to me, but is rather shocking to some people: you don’t have to be thin to be healthy and just because you’re thin doesn’t mean that you are healthy.  It’s pretty much the philosophy I grew up with.  There are a lot of larger people in my family and I saw quite a few who were large and basically healthy and some that were thin who were always having health problems. Ms. Baker goes on to discuss things like ‘flexible eating,’ which sounds to me like a fancy way of saying ‘lifestyle change.’ She spends considerable time bashing diets and I agree with her when she says diets don’t work.  I believe they don’t because when you make temporary changes, you get temporary results.  If you want to go on a crash diet to lose 25 lbs so you can fit in an outfit for a wedding, reunion, holiday (whatever), then great! Go to it! But understand that once the diet is over and you go back to eating the way you normally do, you will gain the weight back (and maybe more) because you probably damaged your metabolism dieting.  As long as you know that, do whatever you want!  If you want to make permanent changes to your health and fitness, you need to make permanent changes to your lifestyle.  That’s just my opinion, but I think a lot of other people agree with me.

I have not finished Ms. Baker’s book and I’m frankly wondering if I really want to finish it, because to me, it sounds more and more like sour grapes on her part.  I hate to resort to ad hominem attacks, but it feels a lot like she is attacking society/ media out of anger and revenge for hating her body for so long.  She takes issue with terms like “stress eating,” “emotional eating” and “bingeing.”  I’m sorry but when you eat an entire bag of potato chips (and I mean the family size bag!) because you got some bad news or your boss screamed at you all day, and your emotions are running high, I think that qualifies as stress eating.  When you eat a whole carton of Ben & Jerry’s and a dozen oatmeal cookies when you have a fight with your boyfriend/ girlfriend, I think that qualifies as emotional eating, and when you just go through the pantry eating everything with sugar or starch in it until you feel like you’re going to vomit, I think that probably qualifies as a binge.  Facts are facts: you can call a tomato a love apple, but that doesn’t change what it is.

The rational part of me wants to hear her out and finish her book, but the emotional impatient part of me is really done with her.  She got hurt by what other people thought of her body because she internalized their judgments.  I’m going to let you in on a secret here that you might not have picked up on: I’m a real b*tch.  I’d like to say it’s something I grew into as an adult, but as a kid, I saw signs of it. (When I was in high school, I was the stage manager for our senior play because I got things done and kept everyone in line.  I was the only one who was not invited to the cast party because the rest of the cast thought I was a total b*tch, & frankly, it still makes me giggle, because the play went off fabulously and I still don’t care that I wasn’t invited!) I have not always been immune to others’ opinions of me and my weight and my body, but for the most part, unless they are someone whose opinion I value, I don’t give a damn what they think of me. I applaud Ms. Baker’s message to love and value who you are no matter what size (or any other descriptor) you happen to be.  That message definitely needs to be well broadcast to everyone! But the fact that she still seems to be bitter about not loving herself when she was younger is really getting in her way.  She spends a lot of time justifying why society/ media is wrong, what’s wrong with it, and why it’s not a crime to be fat and love yourself.  I think she also spends a lot of time attacking those who do want to be closer to society’s ideal body image as being gullible and wasting their time while she applauds people who dare to do what they want to do.  If you want to be closer to society’s ideal body image, isn’t that your choice?  Aren’t you doing what you want to do? Or are you not doing what she wants you to do?

Maybe it’s her youth and emotions that are getting in the way of her message.  Personally, I also think she swears too much.  She does warn you in her intro that she swears a lot and I think that also gets in the way of her message.  Seriously, she uses a sh*t-ton of f*cking four letter obscenities every other f*cking sentence- no sh*t, y’all! And that’s pretty much how she sounds.  I’m certainly no puritan, but I think the shock value of certain words wears off the more you hear/ see them.  I also think if you have to resort to obscenities repeatedly to get your point across, then maybe your point isn’t valid, no matter what it is.


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