It’s Been a Long Time Since I Got the “Fat Hate” Look
I lost 172 pounds and it’s been YEARS since someone looked at me with disgust and loathing
The above picture isn’t me, but it could have been, just a few years ago. There’s a part of me that will always identify with and feel great compassion for anyone who is overweight, especially overweight women, and I never want to lose that empathy and compassion. We all need that, but fat people, fat women even more so. I wasn’t shown nearly enough love when I was fat, so I want to show that love to others always: I see you; I hear you; you matter. I can do my part to make the world better and I am determined to do so and keep on doing so.
But first, let’s back up. In 2003, I had a fantastic summer vacation: London, Paris, Rome, Florence, and Venice. It was wonderful, except I was over 400 pounds. I couldn’t walk much, and I didn’t see nearly all that I wanted to and this frustrated me intensely. And I had awful sores that wouldn’t heal, plus a thirst that never stopped. That summer, I spent a significant portion of my travel budget on water. I knew I had come down with type 2 diabetes, and when I went back home, I confirmed that diagnosis.
That very night, I changed my life.
I cut out regular-sugar sodas immediately. Within a week or so, I had joined a gym, and had bought a modest swimsuit, basically a surfer’s knee suit, so I could swim. And I realized, something has to change or I’m going to die way too early. Or I am going to not be able to walk at all, and that means no work, no money, poverty. No TRAVEL! I started on a long, winding path, realizing I can swim, and I can walk, so this is where I start. And I’ve never stopped. Over the years, I’ve lost 172 pounds and am completely vegetarian, mostly vegan. I’ve lost a grown man! I now have a little under 100 pounds to go to get to my goal weight. And I’ve added far more activities to my life, although swimming and walking remain my foundational ways to exercise.
I grew up as a fat kid in the Deep South, knew nothing at all about nutrition, was never educated about nutrition, and only found out in my 20s that I have a knee handicap after many, many accidents that HURT and gave me C-PTSD. I’ll spare you the details about subluxing patellae; if you’re curious, you can look that up, but let’s just say I could never trust my body not to betray me, so I became ever more cautious and sedentary. Not a good mix, obviously, and I knew this.
What I didn’t know was what to do about my weight that kept creeping up. Growing up in the Deep South in the late 20th century, we ate anything and everything; moreover, exercise just wasn’t common, and there just weren’t that many ways to exercise that I found appealing. I had to work hard through a lot of gym class fear and loathing to find out that solo, low-impact sports are what I can do AND what I enjoy. That took decades to learn.
During those years I was super-morbidly obese, I also worked hard at learning to love my body. I always knew I was highly intelligent and had a good, strong character; loving the inside me wasn’t hard at all, but for decades I had real body hatred. I know I’ll always deal with body image demons, but I’ve learned that regular exercise keeps them at bay. They grumble, but they rarely ever shriek and howl like they did when I was over 400, even over 300 pounds. However, one way that I dealt with the body hatred was by having a mouth on me, and anyone who dared insult me got the full force of my temper and vocabulary. Any and all verbal abuse only happened once!
In your 20s, you’re naturally beautiful just because you’re young, even if you’re fat, but I noticed by my late 20s and into my 30s and 40s, that I was getting what I came to call the “fat hate” look. It’s a micro-expression, meaning it’s an extremely honest, visceral expression that people can’t hide. You have to be extremely observant to spot it at all, because people know they shouldn’t show disgust openly, and yet this expression creeps out. And because fat people, especially fat women are quite often verbally abused when we go out in public, both as fat people and as women, we’re hyper-sensitive to any threat of danger. We know that expressions accompany thoughts that can lead to words — often shouted, ugly, hateful words. So being on the lookout for an expression first of all is self-protective.
It comes across as a sneer, or narrowed eyes, or both, then a sudden head turn away, and it also comes across as truncated conversation, sometimes mono-syllabic, without many or any questions, just to end the conversation and stop interacting. And all of this feels, as one might expect, de-humanizing. It always made me feel sad, then angry: how DARE you sneer at me. How DARE you refuse to look at me just because of my body, when I am so much more than just my body. The fat hate look is just one of millions of micro-aggressions fat people put up with, because honestly, as much as it stings in the moment, there’s no way to confront someone about their two-second fleeting expression. It’s a paper cut, but all those paper cuts add up over decades.
Having worked hard for years at losing the weight and gaining not only better health, increasted stamina, strength, flexibility, and endurance, I also noticed that people were just looking at me more. Overall, this is a good thing, and it makes me feel much more accepted and normal, although I’m still occasionally freaked out when a random man out in public looks at me and sees me as a woman. I got so used, over the decades, to being seen as unattractive, that being seen as attractive just shuts me down and I can’t wait to get away. I’m still working on this. And by “looking at me more” I mean being smiled at, smiling back at me, talking to me, approaching me in stores, being helped quickly. It obviously helps that I’m a short woman, and to be honest, that I’m white, so let’s not be disingenuous; I benefit from being Caucasian, plus being average height, with a kind, open face. I’m plump now, so I just don’t look threatening. At all. I look average. I look, well, nice.
Recently I retired and moved back home to Louisiana. It was a shock to me that a man I know, in a social organization that I intend to be a part of for years to come, gave me the “fat hate” look. At first, I thought I imagined it, and because it had been years and years since someone did that to me, so I overlooked it and didn’t consciously notice. Then I realized that every time I thought about this man, I had these deep-seated negative feelings in my body: stomach rumblings, and feelings of deep uneasiness, not to mention mental flashes of searing rage. I’ve learned over the years to sit with these feelings that seem to come out of nowhere, but are in fact things that I noticed subconsciously; it just takes time for them to come to the surface so I can examine them and deal with them.
And then it hit me as I was processing my day: I suddenly realized that in every interaction I’d had with this man, he consistently gave me the fat-hate look, and I had started to slip back into disliking my looks, my body, and wanting to prove to him and myself that I was worthy, sexy, womanly, desirable, blah blah fart. It wasn’t hate per se; he never overtly sneered at me, and was on the surface always polite and kind. But he consistently looked away from me, and never asked questions. Every bit of body language said, your looks displease me. And all of a sudden, I yearned to be looked at, as well as SEEN as a woman and as a person.
Not going to happen. I am going to stop trying to get approval that’s never going to be given, probably because he’s unaware of his own behavior. And I’m going to stop interacting with him unless absolutely necessary. And because it amuses me, I’m going to keep a mental tally of the times he actually approaches me. Doing less, doing nothing is a very good strategy because it lets go of neediness, and that silences my body image demons. And to be fair, he’s not a toxic person, but his male entitlement IS showing.
Overall it feels good, really good, to look better and be healthier. I admit I’ll always have body image issues; I’m 52. They are with me for life, but I know how to tame them, to keep them from screaming at me. I admit, this guy triggered me, and it was shocking because it hasn’t happened for years. These days, I know now how to step back, examine the problem, come up with solutions, keep my self-respect, and keep him as a polite group member and person I sometimes do a group activity with — now, just at a distance, and in silence. All this has made me realize, attraction is just so subjective, and no matter what size you are, someone will find you madly attractive, and someone will find you unattractive. However, being conscious of how you look at someone else, and your expressions when you talk to them, go a long way in being a truly kind person. I wish for him that he would learn this.
So let people live with those feelings, positive or negative. What other people think of me may show on their face, but it can live there while I go about my life. I’m done with fat hating myself, in the time I have left to live. To life!