(à ma soeur Cécile, with thanks.)
A few days ago, after listening to the last episode of S-Town and enjoying it so much, I listened to an episode of This American Life, “Tell Me I’m Fat”. It is really really interesting, and you should listen to it, whether or not you are fat yourself. That’s where I heard this sentence: “Fat is all i ever think about and it’s exhausting” (Roxane Gay being interviewed about her life and her book Hunger). You, average-normal-weight person reading this, you have no idea how exhausting. Others, my fellow fat friends, I know you hear me.
I have stopped smoking 290 and some days ago. In the wake of that, I have put on about 7 kilos, bringing me to a whooping 130 kg, my heaviest ever. And ever since I’ve hit that 130 kg milestone, I realized that I think about being fat every day. Every. Day. Probably 50 times a day, actually. I think about it in the morning trying to fit in old summer clothes. I think about it at lunch time trying to think what I am going to eat. I think about it when one of my best friends, who weighs half my weight for about my size, tells me she is on a diet because she is “too fat”. I think about it when my daughter, who is 9, tells me that someone close to her has told her that she should “pay attention because you also err on the fat side, like your mother and your father, but I’m not allowed to tell them”. I think about it when I look at my husband and see his double chin. I think about it when I am on a plane and take so much space, or when the belt is too short (seriously). I thought about it all the time in Barcelona, because the freaking chairs all had armrests and my butt wouldn’t fit. I actually had bruises on my thighs from sitting in chairs too tight. I thought about it last week at the hospital when I saw the feeble chairs in the waiting room and was afraid they would break- actually, I think about chairs all the time, so imagine my relief realizing that I was not alone when in the podcast, Lindy West’s sighs about them. “Chairs. [SIGH]” . I think about it when I can’t find a ring for my finger size. I think about it when I sit on at the end of a Bier Garnitur kind of bench, and know I could lift people at the other end just by sitting. I think about it when I arrive at a friend’s house and need to assess how sturdy the bed is in the guest bedroom. Of course I think about it when I find myself in front of a mirror. All. The. Time.
“The way we are taught to think about fatness is that fat is not a permanent state. You’re just a thin person who’s failing constantly your whole life”.
— Lindy West
This is so true. And now I realize how unfair this is. Failing, constantly, your whole life. My neighbor, with whom I have a pretty superficial but very cordial relationship, noticed when I had lost weight 3 years ago (I was probably 15 kg lighter then). Today, she doesn’t say anything, but she gives me kuddos when she drives by my Nordic-walking-self sweating in the hot summer mornings. The first thing my parents often say to me when they see me after months is “Oh, you lost weight”. Or they shut up. Then I know I’ve gained weight. My husband never tells me I’m beautiful, the only remarks he makes are about my t-shirt being too short and my belly showing. To be fair, I don’t often tell him he’s beautiful either, so there’s that. Reflecting on all this today, I realize that every time I meet someone, I am thinking “I am fat, will they like me anyway?”. It’s never as crisp as that, never as clear as this in my mind, but it’s there, that “anyway”. Even worse if the people are beautiful. There’s this basic idea in my mind that beautiful people don’t love fat people. For what it’s worth, I know for a fact this is not true as I have an array of beautiful friends, but still, it’s a thing in my mind.
When I tell people I weigh 130 kg, they don’t believe me. According to world wide accepted health regulations , I am obese, Obesity Class III (there are only three classes, just sayin’). In some circles, it’s called morbid obesity — I love that passage in the podcast, when Ira Glass picks up on this.
Ira Glass: Is the official name of what you are morbidly obese? That’s the medical term?
Roxane Gay: No, the medical term is super morbidly obese.
Ira Glass: It’s so mean.
You know what morbid means? Let me refresh your memory:
1. suggesting an unhealthy mental state or attitude; unwholesomely gloomy, sensitive, extreme, etc.:
a morbid interest in death.
2. affected by, caused by, causing, or characteristic of disease.
3.pertaining to diseased parts:
Yep. So people look at me and don’t see me obese. The thing is, I can carry myself, I can out-swim pretty much anyone who swims decently at the pool on a breaststroke 1000 m race, I can actually Nordic-walk 5 km quite easily, I do pilates and although I’m not super good at it, I’m also not a flan; I can carry my 9-year old daughter in my arms, I can move boxes and unload IKEA furniture from the car, I can throw a ball and climb a mountain and when the long tail of jetlag hits me at 5.00 am in San Francisco I can go for a 40 minutes walk up and down the hill. I have legs that look like legs, and breasts that look like breasts, a body, in short, that looks like a body. I don’t “look” 130 kg. I don’t look morbid either. But don’t get me wrong, don’t try to make me feel better. I am fat. Very fat.
I went on my first diet at age 12. I remember it very well, it was Atkins I think, and I “loved” it because I got to eat emmental with mustard in the morning before going to school and frankly, if I can choose, I’d rather eat emmental than muesli in the morning. I am thinking to myself that I didn’t go on this diet at age 12 of my own will and I remember my father went on the diet with me. This was the beginning of a long life of “I did diets”. I did acupuncture (I seriously had mini needles in my ears that I needed to stimulate with a magnet every day). I tried the supplements, maybe Slim Fast, or other crazy things. I did more diets. Dissociated, home-made, summer-magazine diets, I did them all. I took nutrition classes (in which I realized that my eating habits were damn good, actually). I am even seeing a shrink (ok, for other things too, being 45 and all). I am saying this, people, to tell you that I have tried. I really have. So hard you wouldn’t imagine. And so far, it all failed. Or, and that is what is so new today, after listening to this podcast, maybe I didn’t. Maybe I am just fat. And that’s it. And maybe I shouldn’t care.
That’s the catch though, I do care. When my mother told my daughter she was fat, a few months ago, and made her stand on the scale, when my mother in law did the same a few days ago, I lost it. It’s one thing to have heard that all my life, it’s another that anyone should make my daughter go through the same thing I went through. She’s 9. Let’s get real. She’s not fat. She’s so not fat. And even if she were, well, leave her alone. I’ve talked about this with her. And the hardest thing to tell her was “I’m fat, you know.” She answered “no you’re not!” I had to insist. “I *am* fat”. And it’s ok to know this. And it’s ok to say it, as it is to say to someone that they have blue eyes, or that they’re tall, or that they’re wearing a green shirt.
Well, I know for a fact that it is not really socially accepted but I am working so hard to make it normal. I don’t want her to suffer, not from what people tell her about herself, and not from people tell her about me. But it’s so hard. It is so deeply ingrained in me even. I see her mini belly, the healthy belly of a 9 year old and I see all the cogs going off in my head…”She’s heading my way”. People tell me she looks just like me and it makes me both cry and laugh. Laugh because she is so beautiful, cry because I so don’t want her to grow up to be like me. Fat.
So I’ve tried to do with her what nobody did with me. I’ve tried to debunk the word fat, make it normal, and I’ve told her:
“When someone tells you you’re fat and you should go on a diet, thank them for looking out for you, but then, look them in the eye and tell them that this is your body, and that you are the best placed to take care of it. Thank-you-very-much.”
So. I guess now it’s my turn. Thank you for worrying that I am fat, looking out for me and finding me excuses, finding me healthy anyway (well, you’re mostly well educated adults reading this, so you’d probably not say it out loud, right?). The thing is, it’s my body, and it is absolutely none of your concern. I’m taking care of it. Thank-you-very-much.
And leave my daughter alone, she’s so beautiful.
 You can read the This American Life podcast transcript here, but if you can, take an hour and listen to it.