(CN: fat shaming)
About a month and a half after Su was born, Spouse-Man and I went on a much-needed mini-vacation. After asking (read: allowing) the grandparents to watch the baby for a couple days, we spent our anniversareekend* at a nudist resort.
One of my mother’s co-workers expressed her admiration for my “bravery” – to go to a nudist resort so soon after giving birth! I must be so comfortable with my body!
I didn’t have the heart to set her straight.
See, that’s a sentiment often expressed by people who have never been to a nude beach or resort. They have this idea in their minds that it’s full of pretty naked people being pretty and naked at each other, and that is not the case. Oh, there are some – young women with small waists and pert breasts and long legs, muscled young men who look like chiseled onyx. For the most part, though – not so much. You have flabby bellies. Sagging breasts. Wrinkles. Scars. Women who are stick-thin with tiny breasts and hips. Women who’ve had mastectomies Men with hairy backs and oddly-shaped genitalia. Fat people, both men and women. Packs of roving feral naked children, running throughout the whole place. Ancient, shriveled couples leaning back and laughing as they bask in the sun.
Because, see, the whole point of a nude resort is to be naked. Not to look at naked people. Going because you want to look at naked people is doing it wrong. (In fact, looking too obviously at other people, in ways that make them feel uncomfortable, is actively discouraged.) And because everyone is revealed and vulnerable, there’s not a whole lot of judging or body-shaming going on. In fact, it almost feels like having everyone be naked gives people the freedom to not focus on what they look like, and instead just focus on the person inside the skin.
In other words, it’s pretty easy to be fat** and naked at a nude resort.
What’s harder is to be fat (and clothed!) out here in the Real World. Pretty much every aspect of our culture is dedicated to telling us that our bodies are just not acceptable and should not be seen. Period.
Fat girls can’t be pretty. We sure as hell can’t be sexy. Fashion is not made for us – if we can even find clothes that fit, they’re designed more to conceal our bodies than to show them off. At best, we can hope for “presentable” or inoffensive. And gods help us if we show a little skin or try to wear something attractive.
These are the messages I grew up with. These are the messages I’m pretty sure most of you grew up with. And they are messages that, as an adult, I find pretty hard to shake.
I’m an intelligent woman. I understand that beauty is not the end-all and be-all of a woman’s worth. I understand that I don’t owe it to anyone to be pretty or sexy for them. I understand that my friends, my family, my husband – the people whose opinions actually matter to me – like me just the way I am.
And yet it hurts, at the end of the day, to look in the mirror and not consider the person I see attractive. It hurts to see a photo of our group, smile at how nice everyone looks, and then wince because all I see when I look at myself is “the fat girl.”
Nevermind that I’m far from the only heavyset chick in my circle of friends, and I think everyone else looks fine. Nevermind that there are several overweight people, male and female, that I find very attractive.
It’s hard to convince myself that, when it comes to me, I can be fat AND pretty. Or fat AND sexy. It’s hard to look at my features and not go “Oh, I’m so close to looking pretty, if I could just lose 20 pounds…” It’s hard to stop buying clothes, or drooling over fashions, for the body I WANT rather than the body I HAVE.
Which is why I absolutely, absolutely love the two things I’m about to recommend to you.
1) The Fat People Art Tumblr. It’s an entire tumblr of pictures of fat people, portrayed positively. Some are beautiful, some are cute, some are sexy, some just seem friendly and likable.
Sometimes even looking at the pictures feels subversive – we’re trained to look away from fat, not celebrate it, not entertain the seemingly-contradictory ideas of “fat” and “gorgeous” in our heads at the same time. The first time I looked through it I found myself almost blushing, embarrassed to be looking at fat bodies portrayed so openly, so shamelessly.
And then something happened.
After awhile, I started realizing that yeah – these people really were beautiful. Not “despite” being fat, and not “because” of it, either – “fat” and “beautiful” were simply two coexisting facts about the people being portrayed.
And then… and then I went and looked at myself in the mirror.
And made myself really look at the parts of me I didn’t like and hadn’t liked for a while. Made myself think about whether they were actually ugly, or if I’d just assumed that, because they were fat, they had to be ugly. (Answer: the latter.) And started actually thinking about ways to look and feel pretty, without assuming that step one has to be “lose some weight.”
I’ve read a lot about Fat Acceptance and Health At Every Size and all of that, and none of it hit home in the same way that looking at lots and lots of pictures of attractive, happy fat people did. I’ve bookmarked that site now, and refer back to it occasionally – like whenever I need a self-esteem boost or a reminder.
2) The e-book Damn Girl That Style Is Fat!
Full disclosure: I haven’t read the whole thing yet, just the sample page. But I love the concept. Because, as I pointed out, mainstream fashion is not really designed around fat women. With so many messages about hiding our bodies, how on earth is a girl supposed to learn how best to show it off? So yeah, the idea of 36 pages worth of style advice for people who’re shaped like me makes me all warm and fuzzy inside 😀
So anyway, those are my Fat Acceptance thoughts and links for the day.
* For those keeping score at home, you may have noticed that our anniversary is not, in fact, the month after Su’s birthday. That’s because the wedding anniversary is relatively new – the anniversareekend, however, where we pick a weekend close to when we first met and started dating and go do something fun and relaxing as just the two of us, is a long and established tradition for over a decade now.
** For the record: I am NOT looking for anyone to try and reassure me in the comments that “Oh, you’re not fat!” or any other well-meant platitude. Fact of the matter is, I’m fat. I’m not saying I’m the fattest person who’s ever lived, and I do think I carry my weight reasonably well, but I am, in fact, a fat chick. That’s ok. It’s actually far better for my self-esteem to acknowledge this fact and decide to rock it anyway, than to have well-meaning people compliment me by telling me I don’t look fat. Which, in the end, reinforces the idea that only non-fat people are allowed to look good.