Recently I went to the doctor, and despite my protestations he spoke with me for a few minutes about a well-known healthy eating plan that could help me lose weight. Today, my thumb seems to have some sort of stress injury and my stomach is… well if the internet can be trusted, I have a bleeding stomach ulcer, but I haven’t been back to the doctor. I’m a grown woman (and kind of a badass) so when I tell you that it’s nearly impossible to overcome fat bias and fear to discuss my body with strangers, please take me at my word.
In 2013, I joined that very same well-known healthy eating program. I lost 83 lb of fat from my body, without starving or depriving myself, but eventually I gained it back. The ghost of that time lives in my bones now. It wraps itself around my ankles and tugs at me until it bruises my flesh. It’s on my mind every minute. I’m quick to anger when I can’t keep up or when my knees ache. I sweat profusely when others seem dewey and comfortable, and it makes me want to scream.
The size 10 version of me got to see the world as a “normal” person sees it, and I’m here to tell you, y’all are fucked up. The way we perceive fat bodies — and make fat bodies our business — is criminal.
Fat women are told what to do constantly. We are made to feel inconsequential and also too large to fit in the room. We are taught that we are disgusting, undesirable, and weak. We are reviled and ridiculed, often through third party sources like ad campaigns and “jokes.” We are told — if not every day then every week — that others are just concerned for us. They’re just worried about us and our unhealthy habits. They just want us to be happy, while wielding the weaponry of our unhappiness. If we were truly worried about fat women and our habits, we would react the same way when thin women eat french fries in public, dare to wear form-fitting clothing, or visit the doctor for any reason. I must say this, because somehow we still don’t believe fat women, and somehow this still needs to be said.
The most startling difference in my size 10 life was that men looked at me. On the street, in the workplace, and everywhere I went, men looked at me. It was like shedding an invisibility cloak and stepping out into the sunshine. It wasn’t always sexual, but it was this gift of notice that drew me in. I was also afraid. In every glance I felt a looming threat to my safety, because I was reminded of all of the times when men had encroached upon my body. I had less natural physical strength, and the spotlight of non-invisibility meant I could no longer hide in plain sight.
I won’t tell you that people stopped feeling emboldened to comment on my body. As men started to see me, women started to engage with me differently. Some women, especially queer women, automatically rejected me as other. I remember wondering about my place on the Kinsey scale (a solid 3 for a long time, I made the happy choice to own the term lesbian years ago, and now feel like more of a 5). The male gaze is intoxicating, even while it debases us. I was single at the time, and I found myself asking hairdressers to make me “look more gay” and wearing large rainbow accessories to try and fill the perception gap my traditional body shape caused.
Other women, especially straight women, reacted as if to a threat, responding to a primal drive that tells us the male gaze is a finite resource to be rationed. As I shed sizes 24, 22, 20, and 18, my acquaintances were proud of me. But when my body became smaller than theirs, they objected; they stopped me in my tracks to tell me now maybe I was too thin, I should quit losing weight, they’re just worried about me. To be clear, I wasn’t, I didn’t need to, and they thought they were.
Women’s bodily autonomy is not guaranteed. We have to fight for what is given to men. We do this every day and we do it whether we share my views or disagree with them. We do battle for the right to choose our food, our clothing, and of course, our reproductive futures. We attack the concept of beauty as pale, blonde, and thin, but with every blast, we only chip away at it. It’s worth noting that my struggle, which sometimes threatens to swallow me whole, is nothing compared to the challenges faced by People of Color, trans people, non-binary people, and people with disabilities.
I believe that the first step is to own my story. Everything I write has been written before, but today is my turn. When I put language to the crimes laid upon my bodily autonomy in the name of compassion, I take some power back from those who would rob me of mine.
I do what I want.