About a year ago, I wrote an article I’m a little embarrassed about, criticising a certain aspect of the Fat Positivity movement.
While I guess I made a decent point, I think the subtext behind that article was that I felt a little uncomfortable with the movement and wanted to push back against it somehow. The specific criticism I made was an excuse for that.
I think this sort of thing is a common reaction when you first encounter something that challenges your subconscious oppressiveness. I remember I also reacted this way when I started to get more exposed to anti-racist ideas. To start with, I felt a mindless sense of resistance, which I found an excuse for by finding things in the movement to criticise. (Thankfully, I didn’t write a blog post about it). A little while later, seeing as I was ready to challenge myself, I got over my resistance and actually started to identify with this movement and these ideas.
I see this phenomenon as the privileged part of ourselves crying out, trying to cling to the previous, comfortable (oppressive) way of being. You can see this in the responses every time someone writes about feminism or veganism online. It’s SO COMFORTABLE for most people to be unconsciously oppressive, and hearing that you’re doing something wrong is like being shaken awake early on a Sunday morning. Naturally, the initial reaction is to resist.
Well, a year ago or so I was exposed to the Fat Positivity movement. As I said, I first went through a stage of initial resistance. However, I was willing to let go of that, and in the months following I experienced a slow, almost subconscious personal evolution.
I noticed recently how much I had changed when my mother came over for a visit after some time without us seeing each other. As we spent time together, she felt the need to point out that I was fat; several times in fact, over the course of a few days.
For most of my life, I had bought into my mother’s narrative on the subject of fat. It was just normal to dislike fat, and my mother’s words, if annoying, were justified. However, this time, I felt rather disassociated from her words, indignant even. My response came out instinctively: “You can say I’m fat, and that’s true, but only I get to decide if I am too fat!”
I have a very different idea of what is attractive than I used to. Once upon a time, I bought into society’s definition of what was attractive, including the concept that there is some kind of universal measure of attractiveness that everyone has to agree with.
Nowadays, when someone suggests that someone is “attractive” in some kind of universal way, it often confuses me for a moment until I realise what they are trying to say. I don’t believe any attractiveness or unattractiveness is objective.
It helped me a lot to look at the lovers I’ve been with. I’m blessed to have been with quite a few, and looking back I noticed that there wasn’t really any pattern to who I found attractive, at least not in physical terms. I’ve been with very skinny people and very fat people, with people who are considered “ugly” by social standards and those who are considered “beautiful” by the same standards.
My attraction to them had more to do with who they were than what body they were in, but even when I focused on physical things my attraction didn’t follow social standards. I enjoyed fat people for their extra softness, “ugly” faces for their uniqueness.
So by looking at who I personally was attracted to, and to the fact that my many partners never seemed to have a problem being attracted to my body, I came to the clear conclusion that being fat didn’t make me less attractive.
With that in mind, I challenged the dogma that being thin is always better than being fat, and that fat people should always want to lose weight.
I do see potential reasons to lose weight. For instance, I have a bit of a male “beer belly” and I wonder if slimming down wouldn’t help my body become more gender-concordant. (Note to new readers: I am a trans woman). I also wonder if having a lighter body would make it easier and more fun to do exercise.
However, I can also see good reasons to remain fat: my breasts and hips are bigger this way, accentuating my hard-won womanliness. Besides that, I have also more physical presence with which to command respect from disrespectful dudebros on the metro.
Trying to lose weight has, in the past, always made me unhappy. It was uncomfortable and unsuccessful and encouraged me to feel guilty and unworthy and incapable. I even think it was physically unhealthy. I tried the raw food diet once, for instance, and it was an exercise in ignoring the needs of my body to the point where I became slightly traumatised from long-term hunger. I was overeating for a long time after giving that diet up, just because I was so nervous about getting enough food to feel full.
The annoying thing was that even when I wasn’t dieting, I was living with the awareness somewhere at the back of my mind that I SHOULD be dieting. I was always doing something a little bit wrong, even when doing nothing.
Nowadays, however, I see losing weight as a CHOICE, not an obligation. I no longer see losing a few kilos as something I would be automatically happy about. I no longer feel happy if I skip a meal for whatever reason; it seems more like a lack of self care than a point I have scored. And if I lose weight because of sickness, I’m more likely to see it as something mildly disturbing than as something to celebrate.
I don’t know if I’ll never choose to lose weight. If I do, though, it will not be because being slimmer makes me more attractive. My instinctual answer to that idea is, “attractive to who?”. There is no universal measure of attractiveness.
And it won’t be because I finally give in to the built-up guilt that tells me I’m not allowed to be happy with my body as it is. If I lose weight, I will think of it in the same way as I think of my other body modifications: empowering, because I chose them myself and no-one else had a say.
Needless to say, not losing weight is also empowering. It is a statement that I own my body. Only me. No one else. I am the Queen of my domain. No one else gets a say. No one can tell me if it’s right or wrong. Only I can say what is right or wrong for me. For me, that is the lesson of Fat Positivity.