A friend of mine on MFP (My Fitness Pal) recently posted about “Plus Size Day.” Apparently it’s a day to celebrate being “plus-sized.” In his post, he mentioned a parade full of larger people and how the news snippets were full of larger women making nasty comments about skinny people. He concluded his post about how this day is to promote being the best You you can be, whatever your size, and he voiced his own concerns that maybe the best You doesn’t carry an extra 100 lbs.
While I realize he was just putting his opinion out there, this is the attitude I have lived with all my life. I’ve been overweight all my life and I’ve heard all the comments, from sad & pitying, to nasty & snide, to the passive aggressive- all of them. Most of them now I just ignore: ignorant people will continue to be ignorant no matter what I tell them, but occasionally, they still make me mad. I understand why some of those larger women are angry: like me, they’ve spent their entire lives being told there is something wrong with them; they are somehow broken/ substandard/ a failure; or they are just flat out ugly. They don’t meet some arbitrary social standard of what is ‘pretty’ or ‘acceptable.’
People might think that thin has always been pretty but there was a time when plump and curvy was the standard for pretty. Having curves, wide hips and an ample bosom meant you were prime for bearing children and survival. Thin meant poverty, possible miscarriage and malnutrition. When the most important thing a woman could bring to a marriage was her ability to produce offspring, choosing thin meant betting long odds, whereas plump was almost a sure thing. (For men, plump meant being a successful provider.)
Obviously those days are long past, but the idea of beauty being relative hasn’t changed. Every February, the media is full of biologists’ reports about the ‘biological recipe for attraction,’ and how some physical attributes or gestures cue us on a biological or subconscious level that someone is a potential mate or is attracted to us. Whatever science and biology may dictate, attractiveness is still defined by the individual. We still bring our own personal values to the table, and these include our values about ourselves.
In one respect those old platitudes are correct: if we don’t value and respect ourselves, no one else will either. When we look at ourselves and see someone who is disgusting, unworthy, ugly, stupid or hopeless, it shows. We communicate those ideas and attitudes to others, and worse yet, they are reflected back to us by them and over time, those beliefs become firmly entrenched in our psyche. We are unworthy and unlovable and we have nothing of value to offer anyone else. Whether those ideas start in ourselves and come back to us or come from outside and become part of us is irrelevant. If we believe it, it becomes our truth.
This is what I and almost every overweight person has been told for as long as they have been overweight. Most of you reading this have been on the receiving end of a lot of free advice about how to lose weight; unsolicited attempts at ‘motivating’ you to lose weight; plenty of incentives to be thinner; and more than a few nasty comments about being a glutton, including the not-so-subtle implications that gluttony is a mortal sin and my being fat is sending me to Hell (thank you, Catholic school!) As a kid, I got them all the free and supposedly helpful advice about how to ‘fix’ what’s wrong with me; what I didn’t get was the idea that I’m fine just the way I am. When I was a kid, I probably carried an extra 20 lbs through middle school but the more people tried to ‘fix’ me, the more weight I gained, so by the time I hit high school, I was probably close to 200 lbs if not there already, and I kept slowly gaining weight. By the time I hit college, I was definitely over 250 and heading towards 300.
And the bigger I got, the more I heard about how flawed and unacceptable I was. My mom (the chief proponent of this attitude) pretty much gave up on me at that point. Whatever was wrong with me, she wasn’t going to waste her time trying to fix me. But I still got lots of criticism from the rest of society, because by then, I wasn’t just ‘plump and curvy’; I was certifiably FAT! I was the definition of ugly; of lazy; of gluttony. I had no redeeming values at all, because I was defined by my weight. Whatever my mind or spirit might have to offer is completely negated by my fat body.
This idea that who I am is defined by how much weight I carry and what I look like eventually completely p*ssed me off. Someone else was determining my value based entirely on what he or she saw, rather than who I actually was. I was repeatedly being told by my professors and administrators and -yes, the same society that was condemning me- that it is flat out wrong to judge someone by their ethnicity, sexuality, religion, or physical capabilities, but it’s totally okay to call me a loser because of my weight! How stupid is that? Everyone is to be judged on the content of their character, except for that fat chick over there- she’s worthless because she weighs 300 lbs.
This is why I stopped listening to other people’s opinions of me and my weight. It’s why when my mom decided to try and ‘fix’ me again (after my sister stopped talking to her), I pretty much ignored her attempts. I would come home and find diet books left on my doorstep followed by a voicemail asking if I got the book she left: I just stacked them in a corner, and over the years, the stack got taller and taller, and dustier and dustier. While I realize that part of her motivation was my slowly declining health, her attempts at ‘fixing’ me were accompanied by more of the same dangling incentives: I’d have all the guys I wanted; she’d buy me a brand new wardrobe; I’d be ‘gorgeous.’ Because obviously, I wasn’t attractive to anyone at my weight! (FYI: I didn’t tell her about my boyfriends because they sure didn’t share her attitude!)
I can’t lie and say I didn’t want to lose weight despite ignoring my mom’s and everyone else’s criticisms. My desire to lose weight came not from thinking of myself as worthless, but instead came from my growing inability to do the things I wanted to do. It’s hard to walk around and be active when you’re carrying 400 lbs. The pain in my knees had more to do with my desire to be thinner than anything my mom had to tell me. I didn’t want to walk with a cane or end up diabetic or have to sleep with an oxygen mask because my independence was far more important to me than the opinions of strangers. While I wasn’t happy being 400 lbs, I did my best not to allow it to dictate my life any more than I allowed other’s opinions of me to do so either. I lived my life the way I wanted to live my life. I became the best Me I could be, whatever my size. For the most part, I am still that same person: I do what I want, say what I want and think what I want. The only difference is that now I weigh 185 lbs less. I am the best Me I can be, despite carrying that “extra 100 lbs” my friend mentioned in his post. Although I am still losing weight, it’s not so that I can hit my “ideal weight” or some arbitrary “goal weight” set by some doctor or BMI chart; it’s because I value my independence. I like being able to do all the things I want to do, and I like trying new things. Being thinner and healthier has added more valuable activities and abilities to my life, but at the same time, I also know that I am still obese. That “extra 100 lbs” is still there and strangers still judge me by my weight. And you know what? I still don’t care. Who I am is not what I weigh, nor am I defined by what other people think of me.