Some of you will look at this picture of Beth Ditto and be, if not disgusted, then at least deeply uncomfortable with it. Some of you will openly ridicule or despise it. Other people, myself included, can look at her and yes, see a fat woman, but also see a beautiful woman, a sassy, feisty, foxy woman, because of her weight, not in spite of it. Sure, she doesn’t conform to our heavily airbrushed, impossible to achieve ideals of the perfect body, but she is undeniably beautiful. I think partly because of her ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude and partly because she is so obviously comfortable in her imperfect skin. Anyway, perfect bodies don’t exist anywhere but on a computer. And even ‘perfect’ bodies are in the eye of the beholder. Some people love a really skinny chick. Others prefer some meat on those bones. A little softness over the hips, some roundness to the tummy and boobs and a bottom. Yet others love a woman who is built like an Amazon or even like the Pillsbury Dough Boy, so fleshy that you could ladle her into bed. Look at our lovely Dawn French, she’s a bloody big lass but she’s so beautiful and not only because she is laugh out loud funny. Part of her beauty is that she has accepted who she is, excess baggage and all, and she loves and approves of herself. This is not an easy place to get to. Ask any overweight person.
So, allow me to introduce myself.
Hello. My name is Kat and I’m fat. I’m overweight. I’m possibly even obese given that I’m a minimal 5ft 4 inches.
There, I said it. Out loud and in (semi) public. Here, I’m even going to show you a picture.
Ok, so it’s only a picture of my face. I’m easing you in to this, OK? Hell, I’m easing myself into this. I am usually quite content to strap the rest of me into big pants and loose-fitting clothing and pretend it doesn’t exist. But you know what? It does. I do. I exist, right now, in this overweight, wobbly, uncomfortable, fat, congested, tired and unhealthy body. And I’m tired of being ashamed of it.
The problem with being fat is that overweight is such an issue to everyone else too. In the wider world, the magazines are full of celebrity bodies, what’s hot, what’s not, who has gained weight, who has lost it and, most excruciating of all, how quickly they have regained their post baby bodies. Don’t even get me started on all the ways in which this insidious thought sickness is wrongitty wrong wrong. I could write a book. I very well may. Then there’s your own, smaller and slightly less exposed, world of family and friends. In my world I have a sister with an overactive thyroid (meaning she can eat bags of sugar and rarely exercise but still remain the same weight), so that’s fun. Now I love the women in my family deeply but from as early as I can remember, weight has been an issue. Gaining it and losing it (very important this) and I watched my mum punish herself with diets on and off for her whole life. In fact, at the ripe old age of 82, this amazing woman announced to me on the phone the other day that she was again ‘slimming’. It’s scary just how not OK we are with ourselves.
Infuriatingly, it’s not as if you can just deal with your own problem privately, being overweight is so obvious. If you are visible, (and I’m fairly sure we all are), your issues are visible too. Everyone notices how fat you are, if you have stacked on a few or indeed lost a few, especially if you haven’t always been fat. And everyone has an opinion, or a comment, or an appraising look. They may take a little pop at you every now and then, in the name of ‘love’. That one is insidious. Like when I overheard my sister asking my mum (on the phone) if I had lost any weight and my mum diplomatically (because I was in the room), answering, “A little bit.” Because weight is THE issue in our family – and the only one that gets continuous attention. And it’s not just us. Forget immigration laws, carbon tax or crime – how fat (or not) Christina and Brittney are, is front page of the NW. It’s literally as if we have all taken a mental bypass and nothing else matters but how good we look in our skinny jeans (if we can even fit into them at all). I’ll tell you up front – I can’t. In fact, I can’t fit into any jeans, skinny or otherwise. I’m reduced to wearing leggings even in the summer because if I don’t, my thighs rub together and it bloody hurts. Because I’M FAT!
Honestly, most people don’t mean to make you feel bad about yourself, it’s just that we are all pre-programmed into thinking that slender is beautiful and healthy and overweight is ugly and unhealthy. Well, healthy bodies exist in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Being fat does NOT automatically mean you are unhealthy. I have friends that are larger and they are super healthy. They eat well, they exercises a lot, they are really fit, they just don’t conform to the stereotypical image of a fit person – all lean muscle mass and cycling shorts. I also have friends who are skinny but who eat like crap, don’t exercise and abuse their tight, tiny little bodies with alcohol and drugs. They don’t ‘appear’ to be unhealthy because they aren’t showing any obvious signs of their bad habits.
Obviously, I am making a point here that says don’t judge a book by its cover. I also want to make the point that just because a woman is larger, that this does not automatically means that they hate themselves for being this way. As I mentioned above, Beth Ditto (someone who is quite outspoken on these issues amongst others) and Dawn French are two very obvious exceptions to the fat is fugly rule. They have no body issues and in fact, Beth Ditto gets up on stage and performs wearing only big knickers and a bra and is quite unfazed by the fact that she literally has it all hanging out. Now, I’m not recommending that if you are carrying extra weight that you get about like Beth, but I think we could all stand to improve our attitudes about ourselves and the state of our bodies, no matter what that state might be.
I am sick of feeling bad about myself because I am nearly twice the woman I used to be. Literally. I have gone from being someone who weighed 55 kilos (8.5 stones/121 lbs) to a woman who weighs 91 kilos (14.33 stones/200 lbs). Am I happy about it? No. But I am sick of feeling like shit about myself because I don’t look the way I used to. I shouldn’t feel this bad about myself all the time. I don’t need to give myself a hard time about the fact that this is where I am right now. There are reasons for these changes. My babies are two wonderful reasons. Extreme sleep deprivation (leading to an extreme lack of interest in exercise), PND and the accompanying loss of motivation, excitement and energy that results, are other very good reasons for this kind of change. And Yes. I’m excusing myself for being unfit and getting fat. I’m not being lazy, I’m busy being exhausted by the rigors of motherhood and I’m too busy battling postnatal depression to get out to regular exercise. I didn’t sleep through the night until my daughter was nearly four and by then I was already pregnant with baby number two. There is nothing like the exhaustion caused by not sleeping to make you not want to strap on your running shoes and get outside. So – I didn’t get to it. I often still don’t. And now I am here. Uncomfortably squished into a larger than average body and not enjoying at all the accompanying side effects.
But that’s not the whole story is it? People don’t only get fat because they are lazy and eat badly, (though those things are obviously a very important part of gaining weight), this is just a convenient way of assuring insecure slim people that they are superior to you and that they would ‘never let it happen’ to them. A good proportion of fat people get here because something doesn’t feel good inside of them. We eat to cope with the sometimes endlessly long days – out of boredom or anxiety. We eat to fill an emptiness inside of us that is psychological or emotional. We eat to satisfy cravings set up by inadequate nourishment gained from our food. We eat to literally slow ourselves down in a world that is rushing through us at ever more alarming speeds. Don’t believe me? Ask yourself when you last felt it was OK to do nothing. To slow down and have a day of quiet inactivity. Even in retirement these days you are expected to be achieving something, even if its only the utter happiness that comes because you are retired. Truth is a lot of retired people go into decline upon retirement because they are no longer ‘doing’ and therefore feel as if they are not a functioning, worthwhile part of society any more. Society treats us, and we treat each other, as if we are human doings, instead of human beings. Yet, it’s not OK, to just BE, if you aren’t perfect is it? In fact, even if you look like a supermodel, there is still an expectation on you that you must be eating minimally and exercising fanatically. It is never acceptable to have stayed at home and done ‘nothing,’ because that smacks of slobbish laziness. We feel guilty over every moment that isn’t spent in achieving and this is doubly true for fatties. Every day that goes by that I don’t exercise, is a day squandered, isn’t that right? It’s another day where I can go to bed and enjoy the creeping guilt of not having gotten my lardy arse into some runners and sweated myself a new one. Heaven forbid you should be fat AND enjoy doing nothing. And I do mean – NOTHING. Sitting on a chaise in the Spring sunshine, NOT using the internet or playing games or tackling the many household tasks that await you, just sitting and enjoying the sunshine and the wind on your face and the blossoming trees and flowers. Somebody call the body police and have me arrested!
Having said all of this, am I saying I’m not going to try to make changes? No. That’s not what I’m saying at all. Whilst I am sick of beating myself up every time I add a tsp of sugar to my coffee, I am keen to lose some of this weight. I have reached a stage where I don’t want to feel horrible all the time. I have spent many, many years really hating my body and the way it looks and yet, not finding the energy or the enthusiasm to do anything about it. (It’s no secret that I am not predisposed to exercise. It’s a chore no more enjoyable than changing a shitty nappy and at least that’s over quickly!). I can spend hours lamenting my bulges and curves and wobbly bits. Never more so than now, when the bulges and curves and wobbly bits seem to have taken on a life of their own, are buying real estate and inviting their armies of relatives to join them in blubber town. I have bits that ‘hang’ – do you know how alarming that is? And I mean below the waist hangage, not boob hangage which is quite bad enough. I have a pouch that a leggy adolescent would fit nicely into and that won’t be wrestled into the waistband of my knickers, and that’s precisely the sort of thing that makes a girl feel bad about herself.
Sadly, we are all, to a greater or lesser extent, body bullies. Either to ourselves or to other people. Silently or not so silently. And it is slowly grinding us into the ground with the weight of the resulting shame and the pressure of expectations to change it. And it’s wrong. Truly. It is.
Being a body bully, your own or someone else’s isn’t motivating, it’s demoralising and demeaning. It takes one aspect of ourselves and makes it into the dominating factor of importance. We slowly rip ourselves to shreds under the glare of our own ruthless scrutiny and it has to stop. As many famous ‘motivational’ speakers remind us, “What you dwell upon grows.” and “What you resist, persists.” So the more you aim the hate at yourself, the more hate you will feel, the more reasons to hate yourself you will find. And sadly, the more you tell yourself you are fat, the fatter you will be. It’s that old self-fulfilling prophecy thing. So I want to say this to anyone who has self-esteem and body issues, Stop! Drop! And give me 20! 20 long, deep, full breaths. 20 minutes of self-appreciation where you tick off the boxes of all the things you HAVE done right today. 20 seconds break from the tirade of abuse you aim at yourself every time you pass a mirror, or can’t fit into a dress, or find yourself in a changing room, garishly reflected back at yourself from three different unflattering angles. I swear I am going to have ‘Let Go & Let God’ tattooed on my wrists, so that every time I look down at my hands I am reminded to stop giving myself a hard time because these habits are hard to break. They are reinforced everywhere you look, everywhere you go, every time you open a paper and magazine, and, it can seem, in every pair of eyes that unsympathetically watch you as you waddle and huff your weary way around.
The truth is, we have to be especially kind to ourselves when we are less than perfect in our own eyes. We have to be patient because changes don’t happen overnight. And we have to be realistic about how long it may take to get us to where we want to be. Me? I’m aiming for healthy. I know deep down inside me, I would like to look like Cordelia from Buffy (Charisma Carpenter) or, on my more realistic days, myself at 30, but I’m just going to keep heading for healthy because that way I know I won’t be punishing myself to look like anybody but the best me at this age. Why am I doing any of this? Because I want to live long enough to see my kids grow up and have kids of their own. I want to live long enough to enjoy my husband when he finally retires and we can go off on adventures together again. I want to be fit enough to enjoy sex the way I used to. I want to be able to dance without gasping for breath or looking like a 3 legged elephant. I want to live long enough to achieve some of the dreams that are still burbling away inside of me. I think that being healthy is what will get me there. Not killing myself after every piece of chocolate or allowing others to make me feel bad because I don’t look they way they think I should.
So – this is what I am asking of myself right now. To accept that the body I have, is the body I have, right now. To accept that things will change but that it probably won’t happen overnight. It will most likely be frustratingly slowly, but it will happen if I put in the time. To stop bullying myself with my words and actions and to stop letting other people make me feel bad about myself, directly or indirectly. To cultivate some sexy attitude about my excess of curves, after all, if my man still finds me alluring, then why shouldn’t I? He’s not blind and he is not above making gentle jokes at my expense. But then neither am I. I’m sure he wishes he had his hot 30-year-old wife back – I certainly do. But he still manages to look at me with lust and appreciation, so surely I could try seeing myself through his eyes? I’m not going to promise myself anything because I still have a lot of things to iron out in my psyche about my weight and the reasons for it. But while I’m sifting through all of that, I’m simply going to start by sending myself a little love. And I’m going to start showing my body a little respect by not constantly harping on about all of its imperfections and making funny self-deprecating jokes. Instead I’m focusing on nourishing it properly. NOT a diet. NO. NO. NO. I don’t believe in diets. If they worked, the world would be skinny and the diet industry would be no more. No. Nourishment – something of an ongoing theme in this blog – comes from eating well, even if you slip off the wagon into a vat of ice cream or dolly mixtures every so often. And it comes from not expecting too much of myself. Something I think that most of us find it difficult to stop doing. I have such a high bar for all things in my life and I’m tired of trying to pole vault over it. It’s exhausting. So, ‘Little by little, slowly, surely, steadily and with love’, is going to be the mantra of this feisty chubbster, because anything else isn’t love – it’s tyranny.
I hope that if you are fat, like me, and you want to find your balance, like me, and you want to find your way back to health, like me, you will visit often and leave comments and share your journey. If you don’t, that’s fine too but it’s nice to know that I’m not just talking to myself. And it’s nice to know that I am not alone in this.
Here’s to it. Chin Chin! (hahahahaha),