Just like Sallie Tisdale, I’ve spent most of my life combating fat. Since starting my first diet at the age of twelve, I’ve come to understand what it means to count calories subconsciously; weighing input and output like it were simple math. I didn’t start out thinking that I was too heavy, I just wanted to support my mother who was joining her friend in an endeavor to lose weight. It seemed like a game, seeing what combinations of healthy food I could come up with each day, giving myself points for what I could leave out and adding points for exercise. It wasn’t until I noticed cues from my environment that I began to consider the benefits of becoming slimmer. Specifically I remember changes in the way I was received by my peers.
I wasn’t extremely overweight in middle school, a bit chunky at worst, tall with a muscular and somewhat athletic build. I wore sweatshirts and jeans most of the time because they suited my activity level better than tight shirts and skirts. My fashion was simply utilitarian. It never occurred to me that such a wardrobe also did an excellent job disguising my true figure. I steadily lost about twenty pounds over the course of my sixth grade year and no one noticed a thing. My weight stayed the same during the summer but my sense of style changed dramatically. I began to wear more dresses and bright colors and my interest in clothing increased, perhaps a reaction to the onset of puberty. When I returned to school the following fall everyone took the opportunity to comment positively on how much weight I had lost, completely oblivious to the fact that my manner of dress was the only real change in my appearance. They each took turns gushing about how good I looked and how pretty I had become. Their compliments planted the first seeds of doubt in my head.
All of a sudden I was faced with uncomfortable questions surrounding my weight. Was I really any prettier than I had been before? If so, did that mean that I was ugly before I lost weight? Never mind that I knew the number on the scale hadn’t changed from spring to fall, this made no difference whatsoever. I was quickly caught up in the pervasive theology that these friends took as doctrine. I came to believe that skinny was good and represented physical beauty and that fat was the enemy that reduced one to an undesirable social pariah.
No matter how my mother (by then no longer dieting) and sister tried to convince me that I was perfect without any modification, I became obsessed with keeping off the weight I’d already lost and losing even more. This obsessive behavior, just like Tisdale’s, continued throughout high school and part of my first year of college. I yo-you dieted until it became a lifestyle and my weight was always fluctuating between dangerous extremes. I constantly felt terrible about my appearance and spent lots of energy convincing myself that I didn’t measure up.
When I found that fat acceptance movement in early 2010, I was amazed. By accessing information through the internet I was able to read testimonies and see pictures of beautiful, truly gorgeous, fat women who radiated confidence as I result of accepting their size. This concept of loving a fat body seemed radical but I was automatically drawn to the social movement because it sought to promote fat as an identity rather than a symbol of cultural shame and oppression. Fat is the one of the last frontiers to be conquered in the fight to obtain equality for all. Fat women are dehumanized by virtue of their size, put on display by the medical community and the media as prime examples of the dangers of excess and the sins of the flesh. To stop this cruel “othering” the reclamation of a positive, embodied fat identity is crucial and can only come to pass as the payoff of an organized resistance.
To do my part I’ve decided to embrace my body instead of rejecting it in favor of hegemonic cultural standards. I’m really starting to love everything; wobbly bits and all.