I’m a fat activist. That is, I’m fat and I am an activist. Or, at least, I’m as much of an activist as I can be between teaching five classes, running an online writing academy, donating my time to sit on the board of directors for the Golden Crown Literary Society, marketing my novels, finishing my second master’s degree, trying to find a publisher for my women’s fiction book, and dealing with immigration with my Canadian wife. I’m not glorifying busy here, it’s just the state of my life right now.
When I *am* focusing my attention on the fat-phobia that permeates our nation, I generally do so by pointing out the wage gap often seen between fat people and non-fat people, the way folks seem to think it’s okay to yell insults at me when I’m outside exercising, and the way seemingly well-meaning people like to say, “I have this new diet you should try.”
Mostly, my activism comes in the form of gently correcting people who mean well and raising my middle finger to people who don’t. Sometimes it comes in the form of reposting quotes from people who step outside of the patriarchal idea of womanhood in one way or another. Do I shave my legs? Nope. Do I care what you think about that fact? Nope.
Most days, however, my activism just comes in the form of living my life as a large woman and dealing with the bigotry and hatred that is often directed at people, especially women, of size by this world that has somehow made it clear that being skinny is preferable to being fat, even if that comes at the cost of one’s health.
On a related topic – my sister has always been unhappy with her weight. Like me, she yo-yo dieted for much of her life. Like me, she grew up in a household where our weight was a main topic of mockery and discussion. Our father used to have a saying, “There’s large, there’s extra-large and then there’s you – Whoa, my god, it’s coming toward me.” Like me, she got into relationships with people who didn’t value her body the way it was. Like me, she suffered insults and jabs and substandard medical care. Like me, she felt out of place almost all the time. Like me, she learned from our mother that dieting and self-deprivation is the only way to be a good person. Like me, she hated her body and everything else about herself. Like me, she lived with abusive people far longer than she should have because she didn’t think she had any other choices. And like me, she ultimately came to fall in love with someone who loved and accepted her just the way she was.
This is where our stories diverged. I threw myself into my life and, with the help of my wife, decided to stop dieting ever again. We’re vegan, we eat mostly whole food, plant based. We sometimes have cake. We’ve been known to order a vegan pizza here and there and eat the whole thing while watching Doctor Who episodes. We go for walks, we go for bikes rides, we sleep in and drink coffee in bed. We eat the same things, same portions, same snacks. The difference is that my wife is tiny and I’m fat. (And she also travels so she sometimes [often] gets bags of M&Ms on the road. I see you, babe. Love you.) I didn’t spend my time losing weight, but I spent my time getting happy with my body, luxuriating in how it feels to be intimate with someone who adores the feel and look of my body. I focused on self-care, self-advocacy, and self-love. I learned to stand up to doctors who, when I walk in to talk about a sore throat, say, “Let’s talk about weight loss.” I’m fat and I’m healthy. My blood pressure is normal, my blood sugars are normal, and I have an incredible life in every way. In essence, I became a fat activist simply by existing.
My sister, on the other hand, decided she wanted to lose the weight. She wasn’t happy with her body, she didn’t feel comfortable moving, and she wasn’t healthy. She started Brightline Eating and she lost a lot of weight and she has kept it off. If anyone here has ever lost a significant amount of weight and kept it off, you know what an incredible feat that is. I liken it to being harder than quitting smoking, because when you quit smoking, you can just be done with cigarettes for life, but you always have to come back to food. She put a ton of work into it – skipping parties or taking her own food to restaurants, weighing and measuring everything she ate. And she is happy with her accomplishment. She’s happy that she can move her body in ways that feel good to her. She’s happy that she succeeded at something so hard.
And she got to be on a magazine cover! I mean if that isn’t a super-incredible reward for a ton of hard work, what is? My sister worked hard and she’s proud of herself. And she should be.
Fast forward to people sharing the picture from the magazine above and inevitably, someone has to say, “You’re harming fat women by celebrating your weight loss.” My sister calmly responded that this was a personal achievement that she needed to do for her own health and happiness. And at least one person came back with the idea that my sister was parading and flaunting herself and putting it on magazines which perpetuates the idea that thin = healthy.
Folks. this entire culture is designed to make women feel bad about their bodies. Everything in the media, in commercials, in movies, in music videos is designed to make women hate their bodies.
For us to turn around and shame a woman who has moved out of the cycle of self-hatred is also participating in that culture. My sister is a rock star and I celebrate her hard work. When she posts a picture of herself celebrating having lost the weight, the person who shames her for that is just as bad as the culture that created a need for women to hate their bodies. It isn’t right. And it isn’t fair. How dare you blame my sister for perpetuating something we are steeped in 24/7 from the moment we are born? How dare you slam her for finding her own way to deal with a culture that tells her (us) that she is wrong no matter what she does? How dare you?
Women, the only way to truly lift ourselves and each other out of this lifetime of oppression is to support and nurture each other. That means accepting each other’s choices. It’s why my sister doesn’t try to force her lifestyle on me and it’s why I don’t get to force mine on her. It’s no different than accepting that some women will color their hair and some will go naturally grey. Some will be bald. Some shave their legs. Some have armpit hair. We don’t get to tell another woman what she should do with her body and we don’t get to decide for another woman how to survive in a culture designed to bring us down.