Fat Activism: A History By and For Fat People

New post over at rabble.ca! I wrote a review of Charlotte Cooper’s Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement. Go read the review and then buy the book!

This review has been up for a few days. I’ve been sick the past while and dragged my coughing, spluttering self to the desk in order to link it for y’all. Enjoy!

Fat Activism cover
Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement jacket
Advertisements

The Obesity Debate: What’s It Really About?

Having listened to yet another radio programme that brainstorms ways to tackle the ‘obesity epidemic’ I decided it was time for a little Fat Hatred 101. I argue that our ‘concern’ about fat on our own and other people’s bodies has nothing to do with caring for anyone’s health. It’s about a system that deliberately fosters self-hatred in women.

I just listened to a recent Freakonomics podcast, ‘100 Ways to Fight Obesity.’ Listeners eavesdrop on a think tank, made up of field ‘experts’ who take as a given that obesity is unhealthy and think up ways to discourage unhealthy eating.

I guess it will come as no surprise to regular readers that this really pissed me off. The participants of the think tank and the creators of the podcast were well-intentioned. But when discussion of obesity spends so much time discussing ways to prevent eating – such as bottling the smell of human vomit to sniff when you are hungry – and none discussing the meaning of cultural attitudes towards fat, it becomes problematic.

My own attitude towards obesity is complicated. I don’t believe our societal concern with obesity has anything to do with concern for the health of our fellow humans, but everything to do with trying to control the bodies of our renegade citizens. I believe that, as this study shows, obesity as a concept affects women more than men. When fat women are afraid to eat in public because we think we will be judged, we are being denied our right to pleasure and to public space. When fat women spend more energy on trying to control our rebellious bodies that we do on pursuing our dreams, we are living less full lives.

Me being fat and awesome with my zine and vulva cupcakes at Berlin Zinefest.
Me being fat and awesome with my zine and vulva cupcakes at Berlin Zinefest.

Obesity rhetoric and fat shaming are two of the most effective ways to control women’s mind and bodies. Get us to spend our energy chasing a skinny pot of gold (beauty) and we won’t have enough calories to work up the physical or mental energy to rebel. Diet not riot, baby.

My argument here is not so much whether or not the obesity epidemic exists, which I am sceptical about, or even if being fat is unhealthy. I argue that we, as a fat-fearing society, aren’t actually concerned with the health status of our fellow citizens. Our aversion to fat doesn’t come from a desire to be healthier. We don’t care if we are healthy. We care if we are pretty. That is, we care if we are thin.

Fear of being fat is misdirected self-hatred

Now, of course, I realise I am referring more to the reality of food- and fat- fearing women than the experiences of fat kids or fat men. While both children and men are undoubtedly concerned with how they look, fat hatred is targeted at and affects women more than men. It is fat hatred directed at and internalised by women that I want to think about here.

Now for the hard truth. When we say that we think we are unlovable because we are fat, we are deliberately misdirecting our energy. Let’s face it: this isn’t about being loved by others, this is about loving yourself. The reality of the world is that we are all beautiful and your boyfriend will love you if you are size 10 or size 24 because he loves you, as you are, in your body. It’s not your boyfriend who finds it hard to look square at your naked body. It’s you.

Quite frankly, I don’t think my boyfriend gives a fuck that I am a size 16-18. He thinks I’m hot and he loves me just as I am. This is about how hot I think I am and how much I love myself. He’s not the one who has a problem making love to me. I do. I’m the one who hides under the covers and imagines I have a thinner, more ‘Hollywood’ body when I jerk off.

This isn’t about being considered attractive, getting a lover or even getting laid. This is about low self-esteem. This is about not being able to love ourselves and blaming it on our fat. Fat women get laid less, not because we are less sexy, but because we think we are.

This is about a billion-pound dieting industry of slimline food, shakes, and ‘slimming medication’ that profits from your unhappiness. This is about you being able to live your life to its full potential without being haunted, every hour of every day, by eating or not eating food. This is about not feeling shame or guilt every time you eat something fatty and pride when you don’t. This is about breaking the cycle of public food denial and private bingeing that sustains the myth that not eating is virtuous and eating is bad and shameful.

Charlotte Cooper: swimming in activism
Charlotte Cooper: swimming in activism

Fat hatred isn’t actually about what we look like. Fat hatred doesn’t concern itself with our health. Fat hatred is about cultural attitudes. It is, simply, that we think the fat on women’s bodies is disgusting. When we see a fat person we don’t worry for their health, we react with disgust to their overflowing body. Fat hatred uses the idea of health to legitimise its hatred of women’s bodies and the consequent cruelty it enacts on us.

You don’t need to be a doctor or a health expert to see that fear of fat and its expression in dieting behaviour is the opposite of healthy. And even if you do believe that public health campaigns will affect the ‘obesity epidemic’ (which I don’t), you have to acknowledge that the perceived solution to obesity for many women and men – dieting – so often leads to more obesity. Dieting fucks the body up and makes you fatter.

So, whose fault is this epidemic of fat hatred? Who can we blame for the proliferation of eating disorders and low self-esteem and what can we do to stop it? Unfortunately, when a prejudice becomes so widespread that it’s part of our culture, we can’t blame it on one person. There’s no such thing as a point of patriarchal origin.

Luckily though grassroots activism and re-education works! Although I doubt I will ever have a 100% healthy relationship with eating, reading and learning from awesome fat activists has taught me how to deconstruct some of the self-hating bullshit I’ve learnt.

To that end, below I have compiled a list of fat resources I have come across doing my research for this article. Thank you so much to all my friends who have provided me with these links and the bloggers who put their kick-ass opinions out there. If you haven’t already, also click on the links in the post because they are the bestest. Lastly, you can also find more about my thoughts on fat by clicking on the ‘fat’ category in the toolbar.

FAT STUFF:

The. Best. Fat. Myth. Busting. Resource. List. Ever.

Blaming weight for differences in mortality isn’t scientifically supportable.

Being fat can have some health benefits

Unhealthy as well as healthy people deserve access to civil rights

Everyone deserves to be treated like a human and, yes, you can be healthy and fat!

Assigning blame and fault has no place in healthcare 

But you have such a pretty face!

Fat Myths – BUSTED!

(You have to say the above in the gravelly voice of a movie trailer voiceover man.)

Yesterday I got a very long comment on my ‘Too Fat for Fashion” post from last week. It pretty much showcases the kind of fat-hating ideas that are accepted by most and I wondered whether to publish it or not. Does a calm but very sexist and very wrong comment have a place on my blog? Although I would  usually say ‘NO!’ and instantly delete personal or aggressive comments, I didn’t delete this one. I disagree with its content but I didn’t want to give any ammunition to people who might accuse me of silencing different viewpoints. Some of my lovely friends suggested that this is an opportunity for me to bash some of the myths that women, fat and thin, face, every day. So this is what I decided to do. I approved the comment so it now shows below that post and, I have taken what I see as the main myths about fat from this comment and write my own response to them. Please be aware that this post really needs to be a book, and I’ll let you know when that’s done. In about a decade.

 Fat Myth #1: “Fat people are not sexy”

This is silly. In fact, it’s the easiest for me to refute. Fat people are sexy. I think fat people are sexy and I know lots of people, both men and women, who are both fat and sexy. I am hot and other people find me hot. I considered posting gratuitous pictures of me and friends on this blog, but decided you have already seen enough of me in the buff. And stealing pics of my hot friends off Facebook and posting them here probably wouldn’t be consensual (darn that consent!). I therefore kindly link you to this post, drawn to my attention by my friend Pearl. Although Kate could only be considered ‘fat’ in the crazy fashion industry, the rest of the women are fat (and hot, duh!).

 Fat Myth #2: “Fat is unhealthy”

This is a hard one to refute. After all, all health authorities tell us that fat is unhealthy and we will die earlier if we are obese. So, I am just going to go with my gut on this one.

It is possible to be fat and healthy. I was very unhealthy when I was skinny – I was depressed and mad and hungry all the time. Even though I looked conventionally beautiful I was miserable. Barely sleeping, barely eating, my intellectual capacities greatly dimmed, I know I was unhealthy.

Physical and mental health are connected. I think exercise is a good thing – I love endorphins – and I feel good in my body and mind when I exercise. I also know that exercise doesn’t make me lose much weight. In fact, I enjoy food more when I exercise and tend to eat more. I feel sexier because my body feels more fluid. I am more healthy.

My experiences with health authorities have led me to greatly distrust them. I have been lauded my doctors for being healthy when I felt really unfit. I have been told I was too fat by nurses who asked me nothing about my diet or exercise habits, at a time when I was cycling up to 14 miles a day and felt healthier than before. I have been given wrong information about both my sexual and general health owing to assumptions about my queerness and fatness and I know the health system is flawed. Of course there are great health professionals out there, but who gives them their information? How can they better assess my health in a 10-minute session when I live in my body every day? I trust some doctors to help me when I need them, and I grant that they know more about a lot of health issues than me. But I also use my own judgement when listening to their information and take some of it with a pinch of salt. I have already linked it, but in case you missed it, here is a great video about fatness and health from a health professional. 

Lastly and, perhaps, most importantly, I don’t believe that society’s aversion to fat people is really about our health. If society really cared about fat people, it wouldn’t laugh at us and characterize us as lazy, stupid and greedy. It’s very easy to laugh and point a finger. I think our collective hatred of fat people reflects our own insecurities. Most people are so miserable, we put other people down to make ourselves feel better. Maybe we’re just all so hungry from those superfood salads that we are secretly jealous of the food that fat people get to eat?!?!

Fat Myth #3: “Fat people are greedy”

From a feminist perspective, the idea of wanting too much fascinates me. For women, it totally makes sense to me that we want more than society tells us we are allowed. We want to be successful, to love and be loved, to have babies, a career, to travel, to be artists… In short, to fulfil our individual potential. We are constantly sidetracked from embracing our desires, of all kinds, by the pressure to fit sexist beauty ideals. We spend so much energy, time and money trying to fit this ideal, we forget our own paths. Unhappy and tired because we are undernourished, we try to achieve an ideal of thinness that by definition slips further and further away.

Some fat activists see the desire to eat and take up space with our fat as fat women’s refusal to be shrunk into the tiny box that society allows us. Told that we should disappear, we do the opposite. We want and so we take.

In terms of overeating as a disorder, which it is, it can also be seen as an expression of thwarted desire. I know I eat sugar when I get the anxiety in my stomach that means I actually want to write. Sugar come downs and the sleepiness of being too full combine with TV to dull my senses, lead me away from my creativity. I eat to dull my desires and in this way deliberately obscure my talents. I want to I hide from the world and live in my dreams rather than my reality. The big bad world is scary. Being miserable is seductive; it seems easier than being happy.

It would be easy for me to say being fat is a wholly positive thing. That I have a great relationship with food and that my fat is 100% good. But it’s not. I know that my fat is both a natural body shape and a symptom of my thwarted creativity. Nothing less than starving myself would make me thin, but there is a level of fatness at which I feel too fat. I know this might seem to undermine some of my fat-positive beliefs, but, like all realities, fat is complicated. Only you can know when you have a positive relationship with food, fat and your body. Only you know when you feel good in your body; when you are healthy. Everyone is different, and it is this individuality that both the cult of thinness and, in some cases, overeating, strives to obliterate.

My most personal response to the characterization of fat people as greedy, as wanting too much, as “incapable of restraint” is why should we restrain ourselves? Why should we downsize our dreams to fit into the tiny, awful mould that society allows us? If overeating is the desire for more, more than we are allowed as women and as human beings, then it is a truly rational response to the life of emotional and artistic subsistence that our capitalist and consumerist society allows.

All my childhood and early adult life I was told I was wrong: too fat, too clever, too different. I wanted too much. Now, I am trying to stop railing against myself. I think the world is a better place if I am who I am meant to be. I receive and give more love the happier I am, I put stuff out there into the world that is a force for good. Who is going to say the unsayable if not me? Who is going to be the crazy artist, if not me? We need our different and crazy people. The truth is, taking up space and acting out our desires, our personal truths, makes us happier and better people.

There you go! All done! Feel free to comment with your own responses to these common fat myths so we can build a fattie army of resistance. Hurrah!

But You Have Such A Pretty Face!

Ok, guys, it’s time for me to come out. I know, you’re going to be shocked. I tried to deny it, but I just can’t. Now, don’t tell any other fat activists, but I REALLY LIKE SALADS (hides fattie face behind cushions). DON’T JUDGE ME! In this post I bitch about shaming fat women when we eat in public and throw in a picture of me stuffing my face for, like, reference. Enjoy!

OMFG! Yup, I seem to be pretty obsessed with writing about fat at the moment. It’s really got my (baby) goat (casserole) going. How many times have us fatties heard such ridiculous comments? I still remember, from when I was an impressionable babe, how a relative once commented on how much fatter women are in America and how ‘they have such pretty, well taken care of, faces and nails.’ She implied that this was to compensate for the ugliness of their fat bodies. This comment has haunted me most of my life. It implies that fat people can never be beautiful and has struck the fear of fat into my plump heart.

Not too long ago a German friend of mine gave me this academic article on ‘The Experience of Eating Out for Fat Women.’ Reading the article I was, like, yes, I feel like that, yes, I do that, yes. It was painful to read, recognising my own pain in others’ experiences. The author, Dawn Zrodowski, collects stories about eating out from self-identified fat women. Unsurprisingly, many of these women choose to not eat out or modify how much or what type of food they eat when in company. Because as fat women what they eat (or don’t eat) is commented on by others, they find the whole business of eating out fraught with self-hatred.

I often question how other people will perceive me when I eat out. Especially if I am alone. I imagine that I will be seen as a sad case, both for being fat and for being alone. The shame I feel around eating is similar to the shame I feel about being single. Both are discourses that are framed with concern for the health or happiness of the (fat or single) person, but both are actually very effective ways of demeaning women, while pretending to be nice. It’s OK to abuse fat people – through ad campaigns, the tyranny of the fashion industry, advice not to eat that donut because it’s too fatty – because it’s common knowledge that you are ‘doing it for their own good.’ It’s also socially acceptable to undermine someone for being single. ‘You should bring a plus one, have you been seeing anyone lately, aren’t you afraid you’ll end up alone and eaten by Alsatians (Bridget Jones rip off)?’ This false concern masks a chance to get one-up on fatties and singletons.

Stuffing my face in the name of art. An anti-diet performance at The Berlin Femme Show 2012

But this constant social criticism has almost nothing to do with the health of the fat person concerned. As Jackie, an excellent vlogger I recently encountered, argues in her It Gets Fatter video, discourse about fat and health completely ignores mental health. If society were so concerned for the health of its fatties, she argues, it would recognise the damage such shaming causes. (Please go check the project out. It is unutterably amazing.) 

Like I’ve said before, such blatant shaming of fat people, fat women especially, has something to do with wanting to make us disappear. It’s, like, a universal truth that women’s bodies are naturally more fatty than men’s. Our curve-hating culture encourages us to spend our energy attacking our own female, fatty, bodies rather than taking our anger out on, like, the big evil patriarchy. Low self-esteem? Check. Anti-feminist? Check. Effective, huh?

Zrodowski concludes that a lot of fat women “choose to eat alone,” a choice that worsens their “problematic relationship to food” and also alienates them from the social act of eating with other people. Our fat hate causes fat women to hide their ‘problem’ away and we, as a society, collude in this hiding. I, for one, know that my impulse to hide the chocolate that I am eating from others only reinforces my own difficult relationship with food. Instead of enjoying something delicious, shame spoils the fun. It’s a vicious circle. Recently, I have decided to stop hiding how much I eat from the people around me, and this is leading, gradually, to a far more happy relationship with food. No longer denying myself a pudding at the end of a meal, I am less likely to go home and binge in anger and frustration.

Being the stubborn feminist that I am, I often respond to the pressure to ‘eat thin’ when out and about by deliberately choosing fatty foods, even when I don’t want them. Part subconscious conviction that this is a treat (because you shouldn’t eat fat, right?) and part middle-finger to the patriarchy, evil promoter of salads, this is my way of saying fuck you while enjoying a tasty treat. That said, I am recently discovering that I often don’t want the fattier food, but the more vegetable-y one, but refuse to order it because I imagine other people will think, ‘poor fattie on a diet’ or, ‘good, you’re trying to lose weight.’ I know not everyone thinks like this, but I also know some do. And I don’t want to give them the satisfaction of thinking they’re better than me.

I’m not sure I can offer many pearls of wisdom on strategies how to deal with eating out for fat folks right now, but I know that reading awesome fat positive zines and books like Fat?So! by Marilyn Wann and Fat is a Feminist Issue by Susie Orbach help to free my inner fattie. Any other suggestions for awesome fat-positive blogs or books to read? All together now, after me, “Free your mind and the rest will follow…”

Over and out from Lipstick Terrorist, secret lover of salads…

Too Fat for Fashion

Rant warning! My experiences of clothes shopping in Montreal. A city for thin fashionistas.

Here’s the thing. I love dressing up. I love make-up, skirts and skimpy clothes. I love looking sophisticated, punky and kinky. I love red shoes and lipstick. Short skirts and black lace tops. Beautiful French knickers, framed by a thick 1950s garter belt. But today stepping into a clothing store I was made to feel all wrong.

I am seriously depressed right now. Having gone into a four-storey shop with a good plus size section and tried on about 20 items of clothing all I managed to get was this shitty t-shirt. It’s ridiculous. I mean, what’s it going to take?! All I want are some pretty clothes goddammit so I look sexy and feel good in myself. Argh! As one friend said, I’m not even that big! But this seductive hierarchy of fat versus fatter is not even the point. No one – no matter their body shape – deserves to feel too big to be sexy.

This is what the clothes industry does. It tells fat people, sorry, you’re not meant to be in this store. You don’t have the right to wear these clothes. You’re not allowed to feel good about yourself. Please go to the one store in the city that has plus-size items and buy an overpriced flowery dress. For God’s sake, don’t come in here! You make us look bad.

I feel I have said this, like, a million times before, but the choices the fashion industry makes are not benign. They are carefully calculated to promote an ideal female body that is virtually impossible for the majority of women to emulate. Did you know that in the UK the average size of women is 16? This is my size, and today, in Canada (which is meant to be a fatter country forgodssake), I couldn’t find any skirts that fit me. On a good day I think that this collective exclusion of clothes for fat people is mostly unconscious. On a bad day, like today, I know it is deliberate. I know my thin friends find it hard to find clothes that fit them, often spending hours of their time and a lot of money to find outfits that they feel good in. But there is a difference between the shopping experience of fat and thin women. If a shop for doesn’t even stock your size, this absence suggests that young and fat women don’t exist. That you don’t exist. Thin people have a right to complain about the fashion industry too, but their experiences are just not comparable to ours. The fact that most high street (that’s main street for you North Americans) stores don’t even stock my size makes me one seriously pissed off shopper with damaged self-esteem.

Just: BLEURGH.

The fashion industry has given me this problem and now I have to deal with it. I have two options. One, I say fuck it and carry on my happy fat way, somehow dragging the dregs of my self-esteem with me into a far more expensive online shop. Or I capitulate to the system and lose some weight. I know that if I drop one size that I will just about fit into many stores’ ‘large’ and I will finally be able to find affordable and chic clothing. I’ll be happier because I’ll look prettier. Or will I?

I have always thought this: Just one size smaller, and I’ll be prettier, happier, more productive. I’ve always thought that the answer to my love-life, success and happiness lies in the elusive ‘one size smaller.’ Maybe to some extent it does. It takes a self-confident person to date a fattie and fat people are less likely to be chosen for the job than their thin colleagues. But, having been both a size 12 and a size 18, I know that my inner state of mind has always been the same. I have been a miserable size 12, a suicidal size 14 and happy somewhere else. Does the clue to my happiness lie in the size of my stomach? Despite all my logical arguments to the contrary I believe, that yes, it does. I know this is brainwashing. My acceptance of a self-hating lie. But faced with being fat and broke in bad clothes, or thinner and looking good in more affordable clothes, what am I going to choose? Do I even really have a choice?

It’s all very well for Forbes-listed Lady Gaga to proclaim she loves all her ‘Little Monsters’ fat, anorexic and gay, but how can I, as a fat person, keep my self-esteem intact in the face of a world that routinely makes me pay for it? Did you know that if you Google ‘fat people’ the first suggested search terms are ‘fat people jokes’ and ‘fat people falling’?

I am incapable of thinking I am pretty now. Looking at old photos I used to hate, I can see how beautiful I was. But looking at a photo taken recently, I can only think ‘fat, fat, fat.’

Luckily, I can change this self-hatred into anger into art through my writing here. This makes it useful, but it is pretty hard, and I can always use some help. How do you guys fight self-hatred? How do you teach yourself to be more comfortable in your body? I’ve found a couple of awesome articles about loving your body. But I’d love to hear your ideas.

Who Cares That Lady Gaga’s Fat? Apparently, we do.

Since the revelation that Lady Gaga has put on weight, it seems like everybody has had something to say about her body. From the Daily Mail calling her “meaty” to feminists’ response to this fat shaming. It seems that Lady Gaga’s body is not her own. She is either so skinny it’s worrying, or fat enough to be laughed at. The media has been called out for fat-shaming a woman who has a history of eating disorders and feminists have jumped up in defence of Gaga’s extra pounds. I agree wholeheartedly with Jezebel that we should not criticise Lady Gaga’s body. But what right do we have to talk about it at all?

It’s true that I have been critical of Lady Gaga’s weight in the past. I thought that, amazing as she is, her super skinniness was not a good role model for the women who admire her. If even Lady Gaga has to be emaciated to be successful, what hope is there for the rest of us? I agreed with some of my friends’ celebration of her new, fatter figure. It’s great to see a curvier woman out there, kicking pop butt. But now, I am wondering, what right do I have to criticise Lady Gaga’s body at all?

Lady Gaga’s response to fat shaming, posted on her website, Little Monsters

It’s a sad fact that a woman’s body is not her own. It is never just the body of an individual, it always means something else. We scrutinise women’s bodies and attach values to their every (fat and thin) part. A woman’s body always has social meaning.

A woman is not only judged when she puts on weight, but also when she loses it. It’s not only emotionally unhealthy to force women to meet a super skinny ideal of beauty, but also to comment on her fat, or lack of, or eating habits at all.

As Ilona Burton said in the Independent, who cares about Lady Gaga’s fat? But the problem is, we all care, of course we do. Fat is a feminist issue. (Damn right Susie Orbach.) And it’s not only fat, dear readers. That’s fat, lack of it and the arbitrary rules we use to categorise each other as ‘fat’ or ‘thin.’

Let’s face it, this whole Lady Gaga scandal has nothing to do with the shape of her thighs. It’s about a successful woman. It’s about a 26-year-old woman who is one of the richest and most influential people in the world. Fat and beauty shaming are the most effective controls we have to keep women down. How many of us wouldn’t cry if we were told we looked fat in that outfit?

I can’t help but admire Gaga’s response to this outcry. On Tuesday, she came out as a recovering bulimic and anorexic and posted pictures of her in bra and pants on her website.  She then started a page on her site called Body Revolution (you need to sign up) and encouraged her fans to “post a photo of you that shows your triumph over insecurities”.  Gaga is now, along with Ashley Judd, one of my fave female celebs. To use this criticism as an opportunity to encourage us all to celebrate our freaky, beautiful bodies is wonderful. (You’ll probably never read me being so mushy again.) It brings a tear to this fatty’s eye.

You Are NOT What You Eat

I long for the day, when I can say ‘I’m hungry’ and it doesn’t mean ‘I’m fat’ or ‘I’m ugly’ or ‘I’m a failure.’ I write about my personal relationship with food, mean girls, and how food is never just nutrition for any woman.

Wahoo! First post from the U of K, on my way to Canadia. I said I be back… Eat your heart out Arnold Schwarzenneger… Let me know what you think 🙂

A friend of mine said to me this Summer that women are constantly in competition with each another. This was a real penny drop moment for me. I was, like, wow that is so true! That’s the reason so many of my female friendships have hiccups! Because we are constantly trying to be better than each other!

I think this competition is especially noticeable around body image. I know, like, a million other people have said it before, but women are taught by the media and our culture that we are only valued in terms of our looks. It makes sense to me then that we try to gain power by being the prettiest girl out there.

I find it difficult to relate to other women because I am taught that my worth lies in my body. I am always trying to be prettier, thinner, hotter than the next girl. I find it deeply hurtful when someone I like fancies my thin friend and not me. I know intellectually that if someone fancies a thin person, it doesn’t mean they won’t like fat me. But, emotionally, it just doesn’t compute.

Women often put the next girl down in order to make ourselves feels better. ‘Oh my God, she’s so fat, she shouldn’t be wearing that mini skirt/vest/bikini!’ Of course, this really doesn’t work. This is mean, and being a mean girl doesn’t make you happy. But, more importantly, it also makes you feel bad about yourself. When I think Ew, that girl is so fat! I am also hating the fat parts of myself. And self-hating just isn’t fun.

Me aged 19. I thought I was fat. Also, witness the cool trousers. Later in the evening, I didn’t want them to get ruined in the rain so I took them off and ran half-naked with them stuffed under my vest.

Today I saw a girl I used to go on the school bus with, like, a million years ago. Like me, she has always been fat – most would say ‘chubby’ – but, unlike me, she was always very chatty and seemed more at home in herself. As a child I always wondered, how can she fat and happy? For me, it always felt that being fat was stopping me from being happy. Now, of course, I realise it’s not fat per se that makes me unhappy; it’s all the energy I devote to self-hating. I believe that if I am thin I will be more attractive, successful and loved. I have been spending a lot of my energy recently trying to deconstruct the idea that I am only worth something in so far as I am conventionally pretty. I am trying to embrace my fat.

Seeing this girl again today after so many years, I was struck by how thin she was. Her face seemed deflated, flat, pulled tight, and all the freckles had been pushed together into one solid colour. Normally jolly, she seemed kind of bitchy. Is that because she’s starving? I wondered. I know she’s getting married soon. Maybe it’s for the wedding.

I know so many women of my age (late twenties/early thirties) and class (middle) who starve themselves. Dieting seems to be the thing to do. I often say to friends when we talk about eating, or fat, that I don’t know one woman who doesn’t have a disordered relationship with eating. Sadly, I think this is true.

The unhealthiness of my own obsession with really hit home when another friend, bored in her last year of university, told me she was thinking about eating all the time. What was normal for me was new for her. The revelation that not everyone is as obsessed about food as I am cast some light on my own habits. I’ve recently realised that I use food as a block, either to stop myself from writing or to make myself feel better when I find writing emotionally hard. I have all these great ideas, but I can’t write now, I’m too full. Too jumped up on sugar to sit down and write.

Sometimes I think that I am trying to fill a hole with the wrong substance.Sometimes I think that if I write enough, I will forget to eat and then I will be thinner. I long to be thinner. Sometimes I think that my relationship with food is so fucked up, I despair of ever being healthy.

Food is never just food for me, or for any woman. Food is moral, food is ‘naughty.’ Food is fat and thin. Food is beauty, happiness and being loved. Food is everything.

Every time I eat I think about my body. Even when I am satisfied and it is delicious I think, great, now I won’t want to eat anything else today and I’ll lose weight. It’s compulsive. It’s really fucking sad. And you know what? Being obsessed with food is boring. It’s boring for me and it’s boring for the people who know me. As writer Laurie Penny’s sister said to her about Penny’s anorexia:

“You were no fun at all when you were ill. You were always talking about food, and even when you didn’t it was obvious you were thinking about it. It was just miserable to be in the same room as you, to be totally honest. You just weren’t you.”

Laurie Penny, ‘Life Tastes Better Than Skinny Feels’

You are grumpy and boring when you starve yourself. Julia Robert’s character in romcom Notting Hill says, ‘I’ve been on a diet every day since I was 19, which basically means I’ve been hungry for a decade.’ Sometimes I wonder if most women feel like this. When I was 18 and at my thinnest, all I thought about, every day was food. I would plan my food meticulously, down to the timing, the amount. A bowl of muesli for breakfast, an apple for a snack when I got really hungry. A bowl of pasta for dinner and – my daily tasteless treat – a mug of Cadbury’s Highlights before bed.

The association of eating with sin and not eating with virtue is such a well known truism that’s it feels trite to even write. But when are we women going to stop measuring our own worth in calories? I long for the day when I can just eat and not translate it into how much fat is going onto my body. I long for the day, when I can say ‘I’m hungry’ and it doesn’t mean ‘I’m fat’ or ‘I’m ugly’ or ‘I’m a failure’ but it just means I want something to eat.

Mmm, this sandwich tastes good!

Further reading:

A Timeline of One Girl’s Relationship with Fat

“I want to disappear”

Burlesque: Sexy or Sexist?

My Breasts and the Bras That Don’t Fit Them