On bodies (mostly mine)
Today I told a friend that I used to attend a body positive yoga class and she asked me if I was into fat pride. I wasn’t sure how to answer at first. If “fat pride” means a love and appreciation for fat bodies (including mine), then I would say it’s something I constantly aspire to. However, I can’t say I have a particular preference for fat bodies or that I think fat bodies are somehow superior to thinner ones.
What I really try to be is body positive. Body positivity means a lot of different things. It means an acceptance of bodies for what they are and respect for owners of those bodies. This extends to race, size, color, health status, sexuality, gender, medical choices, physical ability, and anything there is to either accept or judge about bodies.
No body is inherently better than any other body.
No person is more or less valuable based on their body.
Last year I read Shrill by Lindy West. She states this in a very simple way, which I will now paraphrase. We are all the owners of our own bodies. It does not matter what anyone else thinks of the choices I make for my body. It doesn’t matter if anyone other than me (and perhaps my loved ones) have concerns about my choices vis-a-vis health. It doesn’t matter if they disapprove of my clothing choices or my haircut or my way of existing in the world. It doesn’t matter if they disagree with what I choose to put in my body, what medical procedures I choose to have done (or choose not to do), or who I choose to allow to touch me. I am the sole owner and operator of my body.
I believe that one of the most important things for people to do is to love themselves. I believe that is where everything else that we do as people begins. It’s how we find love for others, and how we serve each other, and how we find success in our work. It’s how we can be healthy and happy and it’s how we make room for others to enter our lives.
It’s hard. The past few days, for me, have been hard. I woke up with the internal narrative, “I am the worst.” I looked around at all of the things I didn’t accomplish yesterday. I looked in the mirror and was reminded of how I haven’t been treating myself kindly. I looked at the scale and sighed, remembering the gorgeous blue gown I need to fit into in December.
But also this week, I purchased several bikini tops and bottoms. I’ve long been envious of people who “can wear” bikinis. It only recently occurred to me that I can too. I started watching youtube videos of larger women wearing various swimsuit options and following body positive women on instagram.
I announced my intention to J: “I want to wear bikinis on our honeymoon cruise.” She looked at me with so many different feelings in her eyes. She was supportive. She thinks I am beautiful. But I could tell she was thinking of herself and how it would never be appropriate for her, as a fat woman, to wear a bikini.
I’m getting to a place of comfort with my body gradually. First I decided to stop shaving my legs. I have always hated shaving my legs. So a couple of years ago, I decided that I would treat my body the way that men have the privilege of treating theirs. They can shave their faces if they want to, or they can grow beards — the choice is purely a personal preference. Why shouldn’t my body hair be similar? Sure, smooth legs are nice. But they are not worth the hassle. So I stopped.
I do still shave my neck and chin, however only every 3 or 4 days. I do not wax or bleach or shave my mustache or eyebrows. I do not wear makeup. I finally pierced my ears about a year ago. I pierced my nose a few years before that. I currently have two tattoos (1 large, 1 small) and am getting another large one this fall.
The fat, however, remains the hardest thing for me to accept. I have lost and gained weight over the years. I weighed 240 lbs at my thinnest since high school and am currently 315, which is my highest weight. But it doesn’t actually matter how much I weigh. I don’t suddenly love my body more when I lose 30 lbs. That’s the thing they never tell you. Our relationships with our bodies are complicated. Clearly nobody really knows how to make fat people stay thin. Otherwise we would be.
I want to lose weight right now. Most of my clothes don’t really fit me very well, and I am a very pragmatic person. It would be cool if I could wear everything in my closet. And even though I know that weight loss makes no difference in how I see myself or how I feel, it’s hard to unlearn those lies we’re told.
My health is good, not that it’s any of your business. I am not on any medications (other than antihistamines), do not have high blood pressure, do not have high cholesterol, do not have high blood sugar. I do have some plantar fasciitis that might improve a bit if I lost weight. But I had that when I weighed 75 lbs less too. I exercise daily. I eat vegetables and other healthy foods.
I mostly just want to be able to walk around in the world and wear whatever I want, eat whatever I want, do whatever I want and not be judged for it. I try hard to practice this myself. You might hear me occasionally comment on something somebody is wearing because I think it’s particularly ugly, or because I don’t think it’s doing the person any favors. But I try really hard to remember that that person chose that thing for a reason. Maybe it was all they could afford or maybe they truly love it and it makes them feel like a rockstar. Either way, it’s their body, and my opinion of how they are choosing to use it does not matter.
I also want to fit on airplanes. I do fit — but just barely. And it’s not comfortable. And I pray to be seated next to a very small person. Airplanes aren’t going to change to accommodate me. I am never going to be able to afford to always fly first or business class.
But it’s very hard to love and accept oneself when there are these activities that are effectively inaccessible. And I am not even that fat! I am what Roxane Gay calls “Lane Bryant fat.” Sure, I complain about the limited clothing options I have, but I can reliably buy clothes from a number of different retailers.
I hope that I have sufficiently expressed the ambivalence that I feel. I both love myself and don’t. I both accept my body and don’t. I both think that being fat is totally okay and don’t. I both believe that I deserve to be treated the same as any white man and don’t. But I do think these conversations are extremely important, and I continue to seek out people like Lindy West, Roxane Gay, Gabourey Sidibe, Meghan Tonjes, Megan Jayne Crabbe, Jessamyn Stanley, etc. and look at pictures of bodies like mine and remind myself to be kind to myself and others.
And, like today, when I wake up feeling worthless, I take a long walk with the dogs, create something (today’s it’s kimchi), write something, listen to music, and consume some well-written fiction. Soon I remember that being me is pretty great.