I am fat.
Fat I am.
And I’m kinda okay with that.
I’ve been reading posts from Your Fat Friend over at Medium – they’re not saying anything that’s new to me, but her voice is clever and sensitive and strong, and she’s worth reading. She’s got me thinking about our relationship with the word “fat,” and with actually being fat, and what it all means.
I spent my childhood feeling ugly and unlikeable. For being the girl with frizzy brown hair instead of straight blonde hair. For having no sense of fashion, fundamentally not comprehending the secret language of what fabrics and colors and styles work together and look good on a person. For being the smart one, the weird one, the one who reads books written a century ago and hasn’t even heard the popular songs. For being the one who sang the songs she DID know on the bus ride home, and tried so hard not to be hurt when people told me how much they hated hearing my voice. For my round face and crooked nose and thin lips. For being too intense, my inner life full of dramatic lighting and tense extremes, unable to master or even attempt the easy camaraderie that came so naturally to other little girls my age.
And, yes, for being fat. “Fat.” I wasn’t; that’s the funny part. I’ve seen pictures. As a kid, I wasn’t fat. I felt like I was. I felt overlarge and awkward, taking up too much space. I felt like I should always apologize for being in everyone’s way, for taking up room that by rights belonged to people who were thinner, blonder, more popular, happier. I dreaded going clothes shopping, feeling like every dress or outfit that didn’t look good on me or was uncomfortable or didn’t fit right was somehow a comment on my worth as a person.
To this day, I don’t like to shop for clothes with other people.
I do, however, like shopping for clothes alone!
When I was 19, I was wolf-whistled for the first time. I was standing by the side of the road in Daytona Beach, waiting to be picked up from my summer job after my first year of college. I had on jeans that fit like a glove with a little bit of shimmer in the fabric and a red frilly shirt that bared my midriff. They were the first clothes I had bought for myself, with my own money that I’d earned, and I’d bought them because I wanted them and they looked nice, not because I needed them. If I got wolf-whistles every day I know I would see them as the frightening, unpleasant harassment that they are, but I was 19 and it was the first time it had ever happened and for the first time in my life – yes, despite having a steady boyfriend at the time and another before him, yes, despite having loving parents who praised me every day – I felt pretty. Desired. Sexy.
I still have that shirt, by the way. It’s worn so thin it’s falling apart, but I can’t bear to throw it away.
The revelation that I could buy clothes for myself, that I could buy clothes JUST because I liked them and they looked good, that I was ALLOWED to spend a couple extra bucks for the jeans that looked nice rather than the jeans that were the absolute cheapest, was a game-changer. For all that clothing stores are designed to shame and exclude fat women, the thrill of finding the outfit that WORKS, without having anyone else there to make me feel self-conscious for all the ones that don’t, is still vibrant and alive in me.
Because today, unlike in my childhood, I really am fat. And – again, unlike in my childhood – I’m okay with that.
There’s a self-esteem ritual that I perform sometimes – I call it the Belly-Butt Dance. Here’s how you do it. First, find the biggest mirror you can. Stand in front of it naked. (Or wearing cute undies, if you prefer – you do you.) Stand in profile. (For me, I always look fattest in profile. Head-on I do have a decent hourglass figure, just large; from the side, you can see my pendulous belly, my oversize butt, my small breasts – and isn’t that a pisser? Aren’t big boobs supposed to be nature’s consolation prize for being a fat woman?) Arch your back so your belly sticks out, and start wiggling it.
Then, in a goofy voice – I like to stick my lips far out, it helps – recite: “Lookit mah belly!”
Change your stance so that your butt is sticking out far behind you, and wiggle that. Recite: “Lookit mah butt!”
Repeat several times, until you’re giggling too hard to continue.
It’s a silly, goofy ritual, but it works. It works by letting me look, actually LOOK, at parts of my body that I’m told I should be trying to hide. It works by letting me look at those areas and giggle instead of feeling shame. It works because I can incorporate feelings of playfulness, happiness, goofiness into my body. I can make my body a fun thing to appreciate.
It’s fat acceptance. It’s body positivity. It’s self-love. It’s all the things I wish my nine-year-old self had known about.
Here is what fat acceptance means to me:
It means loving how long colorful skirts hug my wide hips and swish around my ankles when I walk, loving how they make me feel bold and delicate, feminine and bohemian all at once.
It means deciding that if other people at the beach don’t want to see me in a bikini they can bloody well look at something else.
It means understanding that dancing is only fun if you stop giving a shit about whether you look good doing it and just let yourself get lost in the music.
It means deciding not to feel bad for having a bacon cheeseburger and a Diet Coke in public, because goddammit I like bacon cheeseburgers and I like Diet Cokes, and I don’t have to defend that to anyone.
It means letting myself focus on free weights rather than cardio or aerobics classes at the gym. It means allowing myself to care more about getting strong than about getting skinny.
It means understanding and dealing with the fact that yes, my body is larger than most. I am light on my feet; I am good at maneuvering through crowds. When my fat body presents an obstacle, I can and will handle the situation with grace and aplomb; if other people choose not to do the same, that is not my fault and it is not within my control.
It means getting rid of my “thinspiration” and “just in case” clothes.
It means flirting with (and getting flirted with by) guys who are objectively “out of my league,” and never for a moment thinking I don’t deserve it.
It means catching sight of myself topless in a changing room mirror, and grinning because hey, I look good. I look fat, and I look good.
It’s about the deep erotic thrill when a sexual partner brushes light fingers over my belly* – the physical sensation of touching a sensitive area, yes, but even more, the exquisite trust involved in baring a part of me the world says I should keep hidden, and having it cherished rather than reviled.
It means learning how to apply and wear makeup, because it looks fun and I’m allowed to have fun and feel pretty.
It means realizing that it would in fact be OKAY if I chopped all my hair off and dyed the rest bright pink. (…I probably won’t. But I COULD.)
It means loving and appreciating my body for what it IS – soft and huggable and comfortable and comforting, a cutely overstuffed pillow curled into the corner of the couch reading a book.
It means when my four-year-old pats my flab and says “Mommy, I love your belly,” I can look at her and solemnly reply, “Thank you, I made it myself.”
It’s hearing from the doctor when my child was only a year old that she was slightly short and slightly heavy for her age, and not seeing it as a crisis – being able, instead, to go “well, given her genetics, that’s normal.” It’s seeing her athletic little body as solid and strong, and helping her to see it the same way. It’s seeing and praising all the amazing things her body can DO – forward rolls! balance beam! skin-the-cat! pulling herself up on the uneven bars! – rather than focusing attention on what it looks like.
It’s never letting her hear me say I hate my body.
Because I don’t. Not anymore. I like my fat body, and that’s important.