Note: I'm calling people "fat" on purpose in this post. First of all, I want to own that word. It isn't a cuss word for God's sake. Secondly, I want to evoke an emotional response. Fat has been used as a hurtful word. It's a word that makes strong people cry. Cry if you need to, but it's time for the truth.
This same friend also revealed to me that Sarah Simpson was calling me "Weight Watchers Dancer" behind my back. At the time, there was a Weight Watchers commercial with a plus-sized dancer. I guess that was supposed to be me. I was afraid to ever be around her again. I was so embarrassed. She was stick thin, a dancer, and everything I would never be. The only thing that made me feel better was being mean. Granted, my form of meanness never involved lying. I only told people how much of a bitch she'd been. I was so embarrassed that I wouldn't even use her words, but I'd say she was skinny and not that good of a dancer. I'd say she was mean and I didn't understand why people liked her... and people agreed with me. When my weight loss became more visible, she and her friend cooked up a rumor that I was bulimic. It was as if they were trying to say that, yeah she can be skinny, but only if she cheats. Again I was miserable. I worked my ASS of to lose weight. I was running, lifting weights, dance class, dance team, stretching and doing situps in my front room while I watched criminal minds... and they were going to say I was cheating? I was so pissed. But horribly, more than truly recognizing her cruelty, I continued that thought process: this is what everyone thinks. She's the only one enough of a bitch to say it out loud. And I felt worthless.
By 8th grade I'd lost a lot of weight. I was around 40 lbs lighter with a lot more muscle gained. I felt healthy. I still wanted to lose weight, but I was really proud of where I'd gotten. One day I dropped a bunch of stuff after the last bell. As he was passing, Dylan Reed mumbled, "like a cow" under his breath. I was done. I kept working out and eating right out of habit. But when the time stopped being readily available to hit the gym and the food not quite as accessible, I stopped caring. I didn't make the time or choose to eat healthy. What did it matter? I was never going to be skinny, no matter how hard I worked. I was never going to be as skinny as Sarah Simpson. She could eat all the pizza she wanted and look that way forever. She had it easy. Slowly, the weight crept back on. Cruel passing comments remained. Finding dance clothes to fit was still an issue. Changing in PE was devastating... High school.
So that's a story of fat-shaming. It took a mental health diagnosis and 19 years of struggle, but I learned that my body did not define me. I am smart, I can write, I can sing and dance, and I love children and books and Doctor Who and Harry Potter and and and... my size has so little to do with me. Granted, with the danger of generalizing I will state, that oftentimes, MY (not true for everyone) weight is a sign of how I'm doing emotionally. If I'm heavier it means I'm eating emotionally and I don't have the energy to work out. This is depression, folks. That is bad. But now that I know myself better, I know I'm not depressed because I'm fat. I gain weight when I'm depressed. And right now, after a year of self-discovery, I finally feel ready to tackle my health. But that's what it took for me. If I'd started any sooner, I wouldn't have been ready, and I'd have wound back up right where I started. Everyone has to find their own individual journey.
With that said. Fat-shaming is never okay. Ever. It is a sensitive topic because of the way it's been handled in the past and therefore must be handled sensitively now. Otherwise it's simply pointless. America is fat. Okay. Instead of making that broad and obvious statement, do something to teach kids about eating healthy. Tell them that loving your body is the first step to taking care of it. Tell them that it doesn't matter what someone else thinks of their bodies--they have to be their own champions. Okay? So shut up about the problem and be a solution. The solution isn't a lecture circuit. It's about appealing to people's emotions. Making them feel worth the effort. It's hard to understand what it's like to be fat in our culture unless you've been there, but hopefully this will give you a better idea of what it's like, and hopefully that will allow you to support healthier messages and to smash what hurts the people already struggling so painfully with self-hatred.
Saturday, May 11, 2013
I've started running. I began because I wanted to challenge the myth that vegans are weak and unhealthy. I want to be a runner. I'm never going to be an olympic runner, or even the person who wins a race, but I want to run like I mean it. Running is a kind of freedom. I tell myself I can't do it, and when I run down my country road, I tell myself about three times I'm going to quit and I never do. It's so fucking inspiring to prove yourself wrong. I haven't really implemented any other workouts yet, but I'd like to do some yoga to improve my flexibility for dance and to practice meditation which I hope may help center me when I'm feeling manic. I also find a lot of satisfaction in work out classes. What classes will I take? Well. None this summer because I have zero opportunity between camp, Europe, and vacation to take any exercise classes. But it's good to remember for when I begin to struggle again in the winter. But for now, I will keep running. Every day I will at least run a mile and walk a mile. No exceptions. When I get my Vegetarian/Vegan Student Fellowship up and running, I want to enter races together to make a point. We are healthy. We are strong. And I can't promote that truth unless I'm living it.
But here's the kicker folks: You can't be healthy unless you love yourself. A lot of people lose a lot of weight driven by self-loathing. This is true. But being skinny won't make you love yourself forever. After a while that negativity will come back to haunt you. You have to love yourself (your body is a pretty important part of you, by the way) before you can try to make that body healthy. You can't look after something you hate. You have to nourish your body and work your body because you love it so much that you want it to be strong. Loving yourself is just as much a part of overall health as looking fit. You have to sort out what's inside first.
So I take some issue with before and after pictures. The before pictures are always heart-breaking. The faces on those people reflect the self-hate that has driven them to this transformation. The after pictures display skinny or muscular bodies and smiling faces. The women have put on makeup and fixed their hair. The men pose, proudly showing off their new built bodies. But I know that they aren't happy--not really. Because when the high of pride has settled, they will be left with the same person inside that they began with. Self-love isn't earned by being skinny. So. I decided to do a before and after picture. But I'm smiling in my picture. I love my body as it is, but I've decided to start taking care of it, and I want to record the progress, because I'm proud of myself, as I should be. So here I am, right now, as I truly stand. I have fat, but I'm not fat. My size does not define me.