Jill Grunenwald
Jun 14 · 7 min read

It took me 36 years to realize I didn’t have to diet.

Up until that point, I believed that cultural narrative that bodies like mine — fat bodies — were a problem in need of a solution. The answer? Dieting. Of any variety. Weight Watchers. Calorie counting. Intermittent Fasting. Keto. Slim Fast. Mediterranean Diet. Carbohydrate Addicts Diet. I’ve done them all.

The message was always clear: It didn’t matter how dangerous the behavior was, as long as it makes me thin.

This means that on more than one occasion, for a significant amount of time, I engaged in behaviors that would be identified as an eating disorder in someone of a smaller size. More to the point, fat people are often prescribed eating disorder behaviors as a means of fixing their fat bodies. We are encouraged to “eat less and exercise more” no matter how perilously close to low calories we already go or how many hours we already dedicate to the gym. We starve ourselves and call it fasting. We overexert ourselves on the treadmill no matter how tired. We risk injury for a workout. We deny our hunger cues.

So it was, in the summer of 2016, after years of mentally, emotionally, and physically abusing my body in the name of weight loss, I quit dieting. Not just quit the act of dieting, I quit engaging in diet culture. I no longer see food as either good or bad, nor do I apply moral codes to body sizes, either. Thin bodies are not inherently “good,” just as fat bodies are not inherently “bad.” Through Binderful, I encourage others to quit diet culture and write for Fatventure Mag, a publication that focuses on active lifestyles outside of weight loss.

Because, yes. Fat people exercise. We hike and swim and run marathons. And not all of us do it with the goal of losing weight. Many of us do it because it makes us feel good and not because we believe we need to “earn” the right to eat or that we have to work off calories consumed.

Still, regardless of our own individual activity levels, we are encouraged to lose weight. Or it is assumed that we exercise only in order to lose weight. It is not believed that a person can exist in a fat body and be okay with that. It is not believed that a person can exist in a fat body and have health and activity goals outside of weight loss.

It is not believed that a person can exist in a fat body and be happy.

Last week, bestselling author Jessica Knoll published in an opinion piece on the “wellness” industry. In it, she describes the way diet culture has burrowed into our society and taken hold: The diet industry is a virus, and viruses are smart. It has survived all these decades by adapting, but it’s as dangerous as ever. In 2019, dieting presents itself as wellness and clean eating, duping modern feminists to participate under the guise of health.

Knoll calls out the dangerous behaviors and toxic conversations that surround food and, in particular, how woman are most affected and most often buy into the magical thinking of weight loss.

Knoll is thin. She is allowed to rage against the diet and wellness industry and label it for what it is. Her thin privilege provides her with a set of armor: after all, her body already fits into society’s expectations and, so, her voice is given a certain level of authenticity.

As a person that exists in a fat body, I’m not given the luxury of being believed.

The thin mannequin looks like a woman who just wears athletic clothes for comfort. The fat mannequin looks like a woman getting ready to go kick some ass in an exercise class.

There is a persistent belief that because I speak out against diet culture, that means I must be a fat lazy glutton. I mean, I am fat. That part is certainly true. But I’m not lazy — although, even if I was, that would be okay, too, because nobody owes anyone else a certain level of activity or fitness.

But because I workout, I need workout clothes. The fashion industry is notorious for ignoring bodies above the standard straight sizes, which is why it was so exciting when Nike introduced a plus size line. Here was a respected athletic company offering clothes in extended sizes. It doesn’t happen very often, when a clothing company realizes that, hey, fat people also need clothes and have money to buy them.

Along with the extended line came a plus size mannequin.

Photo: Courtesy of Nike

I mean, just look at her. She’s gorgeous. She looks strong and fit. And while her thin counterpart there behind her is just kind of hanging out, the goddess here is stretching and posing just before her workout.

The thin mannequin looks like a woman who just wears athletic clothes for comfort. The fat mannequin looks like a woman getting ready to go kick some ass in an exercise class.

Unsurprisingly, not everyone was thrilled with the new mannequin. One op-ed in particular that I refuse to link to called the model “immense, gargantuan, vast.” Tanya, the author of the article, clearly has a problem with fat people. So why then isn’t she thrilled that we now have workout clothes available to us? Won’t this mean that all those “immense, gargantuan, vast” fat people will finally start to get in line and lose weight and maintain a body acceptable to society?

The truth is, people like Tanya don’t really want fat people to exercise. It’s not about us exercising or losing weight. People like Tanya want, in the words of Michelle Allison, for fat people to suffer.

By providing us with workout clothes in larger sizes, Nike has given fat people an opportunity to workout in comfort. No longer will we have to wear ill-fitted clothes and feel embarrassed to go to the gym. We can continue to workout because it feels good and run and cycle and do all the things we’ve been doing for years, but now we have our shiny new Nike gear to wear.

No longer will we have to feel shame and hide our fat bodies. Nike has now given us permission to go out into the world and just do it. And that, for people like Tanya, is unacceptable.

That means, when a thin woman and a fat woman promote the same message, the thin woman is applauded for speaking out against dieting in the name of health while the fat woman is told to go on a diet in the name of health.

Fat people have been speaking out about diet culture for decades and for decades have essentially been told to shut the fuck up. Or we are told to stop eating. Or to go exercise. And then, of course, when we do go exercise we get made fun of or are told to stop. Or, in the case of people like Tanya, are told we don’t deserve nice workout clothes.

Some fat advocates are transparent about getting death threats from people who can’t allow a fat person to just exist. Or rape threats. Or even told that because we’re fat we should be grateful to be raped. After all, who would ever want to have sex with a fat person?

Now, I don’t know Jessica Knoll, but I’m going to assume that she didn’t receive death threats for her wellness article. Why? Because she’s not fat. Her body is an acceptable size. Whereas when those of us with unacceptable bodies — as deemed by society — speak out against the same toxic behaviors, the mob turns on us. Knoll’s article is widely shared, heads nodding in agreement. Our articles get comments arguing we just want an excuse to eat whatever we want.

This isn’t Jessica Knoll’s fault. Instead, this is actually the fault of the system she speaks about: diet culture. It is an industry that punishes women who refuse to comply to a patriarchal society’s standards of beauty. That means, when a thin woman and a fat woman promote the same message, the thin woman is applauded for speaking out against dieting in the name of health while the fat woman is told to go on a diet in the name of health.

It is the same society that demands a fat person exercise in order to make their body small and then, in the same breath, are upset that they have to look at a fat person working out in the gym. And they are especially upset when a well-known athletic company provides us with clothes to wear at said gym. As if Nike broke some unspoken contract and should only be providing thin people with clothes and those of us who are fat are out of luck.

Somehow, I don’t think fat people working out naked is an acceptable alternative although it may get the point across a little better.

Binderful

The Binderful Blog

Jill Grunenwald

Written by

INTJ Slytherin Scorpio. The New York Times once called me “a stylish and sparkly writer.” My three favorite words are All Day Breakfast. www.jillgrunenwald.com

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The Binderful Blog

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