This week, ‘Cosmopolitan’ published a story about beating cancer. Their title: ‘How This Woman Lost 44 Pounds Without *ANY* Exercise.’
To the editors of Cosmopolitan,
I was in middle school the first time I was congratulated for being sick. I had the flu and spent several days unable to keep food down, dizzy from my own emptiness. My mother, ever an optimist, looked for the bright side. “Maybe you’ll take off a few pounds! Couldn’t hurt not to be able to eat for a few days.”
I was 11 years old.
This was a prelude to a lifetime of kudos for my own sickness. Head colds, I was told, would dull my appetite. The flu bore all the benefits of bulimia with none of the disorder. Like so many fat children, I was primed to pray for sickness, and encouraged to long for disordered eating.
Like so many fat children, I was primed to pray for sickness.
Ten years later, I lost my grandfather to stage four lymphoma. I remember getting the call on my college campus while I walked home from the dining hall. I remember collapsing on the dirty sidewalk beneath a street lamp, 3,000 miles from the rest of my grieving family. I remember the feeling that the whole world had been torn apart, left in ragged shreds at my feet. I remember feeling certain that my life would never be the same. It wasn’t.
This week, you published a story about a woman who beat cancer, and you used her illness to sell a diet under the banner of “loving our bodies.” Your headline sold a story about a life-threatening illness as a miracle weight loss method.
I have so many questions for you.
Have you ever lost a loved one to cancer? Do you remember the sleepless nights that come just after the diagnosis? Do you recall the deep scrape of your heaving chest, when the depth of your sadness had finally wrung your body dry? What did you do when your grief outran your tears?
Do you know the terror of seeing your loved ones waste away, becoming bony specters of themselves? Or did your loved ones recover? Did you celebrate every pound that came back? Did you nurture the rising tide of fat in what once seemed a desert of a body? Did you breathe a sigh of relief when their ribcage was once again submerged in skin? Did you embrace the fat that returned to their body like springtime, a blossoming reminder of the reclaimed life in their veins?
‘It’s Because You’re Fat’ — And Other Lies My Doctors Told Me
Prejudiced prescriptions of weight loss can seriously harm patients.
Do you know anyone with an eating disorder? Have you felt the thrill of withdrawal, or the elation of a binge? Do you know the electrical current that runs through your veins when you think of eating in front of other people? The steady pulse and shock when you realize you’ll need to pass yourself off as someone who knows simply how to eat? Have you strategized about how to hide the truth of your body from a doctor? Do you know what it feels like to play chess with your body’s most basic needs? Have you considered illness as a strategy?
Do you know anyone who’s fat? Have you talked to them about the lengths they’ve traveled to lose weight? Have you heard about their childhood summers at fat camp, a factory for eating disorders and an endless well of shame? Have they told you about the endless parade of diets, cleanses, detoxes that followed them from childhood to adulthood? The personal trainers, the miracle products, the dietitians? Have they told you what it feels like to simply hold their stance amidst the gale force winds of judgment that blow from all sides, making a natural disaster of their daily life? Did they say that helped? Did they wish for their own illness?
Have you faced the merciless monster of a disease that consumes your body from the inside out? Have you faced a relentless culture that tells you to shrink at all costs, even if it takes your life?
Do you know what it feels like to play chess with your body’s most basic needs?
Who did you expect to read this headline? What reaction did you anticipate? Did you think this would be a sly nod to diet culture? Did you expect women would eagerly click, looking for any salvation we could find from our own bodies? When you changed the headline to “A Serious Health Scare Helped Me Love My Body More Than Ever,” did you think you were helping readers love our bodies more? Did you think we would be grateful?
What lengths should your readers go to in order to lose weight? What if those readers are fat? What if we are sick? What if we remember the raw grief and terror of a loved one’s terminal illness? What if we are in it now?
Should we wish for our sickness, too?
Like this piece? There are more like it, including What it’s like to be the fat person sitting next to you on the plane and Nocturnal Animals & the metaphor of fat women. You can also support Your Fat Friend on Patreon.