Saturday, 17 May 2008


I'm different to a lot of the fat acceptance bloggers I read, who seem to live healthy lifestyles, eat in a happy and sensible manner, enjoy exercise, all that palaver. I don't eat happily or sensibly. Sometimes I do, but mostly it's a constant tug-of-war between the part of my brain that thinks I should be on a strict diet and the part that knows that that would lead to bingeing at best, and I'm pretty consistent about eating more than I "should". Yes, "should" is problematic in and of itself. There are plenty of thin people who eat lots of crap and are still thin. But even if I was thin, the way I eat a lot of the time would not be healthy, because it isn't. (Though to be honest, the past couple of weeks have been okay. I actually attempted a binge today and completely failed because I was uncomfortably full. Which was kind of nifty.)

It's just that...for me to follow any kind of diet that puts a restriction on anything isn't psychologically healthy, and results in a diet that's way worse than the one I already have. But it makes me wonder if it's even possible for me to be "healthy at every size", because I've been consistently UNhealthy at every size. I suppose it's a question of whether that "health" includes mental health. I've been prioritising my mental health for some time now, and I'm sure that's come at a cost to my physical health; but on the other hand, if I hadn't made it my priority, I would probably be even worse off. So there's that.

I think this is what makes fat prejudice so complicated. I'm not going to get into whether it's harder or easier or more or less socially acceptable than any other form of prejudice, because that's an impossible discussion, and would no doubt leave me with my privilege showing. But prejudice against the fat is complicated, and the main reason it's complicated is this: most people believe that fat people can be thin people if only they would work harder.

Most people do not believe that women can be men (transgendered people facing a whole other set of prejudices), or that black people can be white. You can see class prejudice (or at least money prejudice) showing in the same way - there are a significant number of people who think that poor people wouldn't be poor if they weren't so darn lazy. And you can see it in some people who are homophobic - for some reason, they think that being gay is a choice, and that being the case, it's just weird or wrong or both that people would choose to be gay.

It is complicated to be part of a group of people whom the bulk of society, including ourselves, believes both can and should change. Twiggy recently said something along the lines that with all the medical knowledge about the disbenefits of being fat, there's no excuse for it. And a lot of people believe that.

So it's wrong to be fat, it's unhealthy to be fat, and yet millions upon millions of people, despite all the knowledge to the contrary, continue to be fat...apparently by choice. Because it's just so much fun to be fat.

I'm not particularly healthy in my habits, and I still don't choose to be fat. Certainly, when I was an unfat adolescent who was put on a diet, and who spent every day from that to this obsessed with her weight, I didn't choose to be fat. Even if I ate perfectly and got even more exercise than I do, I'd still probably be what society calls fat, and although I'm pretty comfortable with where I believe I'd end up (which is just as far away as actually being thin), given a choice, of course I'd still choose to be thinner, because it would just be easier.

The problem with fatness being perceived as a choice is that people assume that all it takes is making the "right" choice. They can't comprehend why anyone would make the "wrong" one, so it must be down to a moral flaw, laziness or greed, because clearly, when the choice is so easy, what else could it be?

But it's not a choice. It doesn't really matter whether you became fat like me because your relationship with food is fucked up beyond recognition, or whether your genes just say "look, we're going to have a lot of padding, I don't care what you say", or whether your means are limited so that you can't make some of the healthier choices Twiggy gives you no excuses for not making. It's a rare person who says "yep, fat is the look I'm going for". Why would we, in this fat-obsessed culture? We're not masochists. We're not stupid. We know it would be easier for us - people wouldn't call us particular kinds of names, or suggest we lose weight. And goodness knows, compared to some of the stories I read, I suffer very little at other people's hands as a result of my weight. Why would we ever make a choice to be fat if being thin was as easy as all that?

I have friends who have lost a lot of weight, who have worked very hard to do so, and are proud of themselves for doing so. And I'm proud of them too, in a sense, because I love them and I know how hard they have worked. But, damn, they've worked hard. They've worked harder on that than on anything else in their lives. They've restricted their food intake, they've worked out for hours daily. They've had to make being thinner the focus of most of their life. It's not easy, even for people who take the trip successfully.

And for me, and others like me, it comes, if it comes at all, at a huge and unacceptable price. My ability to function in a normal way, to focus on the things that are actually important to me, to not want to kill myself because I want to eat a block of chocolate, that's too high a price to pay. Part of me wants very much to be thinner, and maybe one day I will be, if I get this disorder under control. But only then, because I can't sacrifice my mind to create a thinner body.


Sharon said...

"healthy at every size" isn't a commandment, it's an approach to health care. It means stop focusing on weight and instead focusing on what can be achieved. And YES that so includes mental health! Body positivity is a big part of HAES, health is much better furthered by liking your own body, whatever size you are.

Maddie said...

Sharon - Yeah, I'm starting to learn that health is far more complicated than most people make it out to be. For example, while I haven't been living a perfectly healthy life physically and that's not without its consequences, for a long time I've made the choice that my mental health had to take priority. I think this post was a reaction to the fact that sometimes in the Fatosphere, the eating disordered represent an image that non-eating disordered fatties are trying to get away from, i.e. the fat person who eats too much and doesn't exercise, even if the reasons we do that aren't greed or sloth. I know there's no malicious intent there, but sometimes it's difficult to have a conversation of "Fat people don't eat more than thin people blah blah blah...except I totally do." I agree with all the premises of HAES, I just need to remind myself that it shouldn't be another way to beat myself up for failure.