“Well, at Least She Wasn’t Fat”

Two things inspired me to write this post about fatness today:

1. Seeing myself in a too-small bathing suit the other day (it really was too small… I almost couldn’t get BACK out of it). I’m not fat, but wearing the wrong clothing will make any flawed human weep.

2. Reading Patti at “Still Breathing”‘s blog post about “being the fat woman at the gym.” Her response was exceptionally warm-hearted.

But it still had a problem in it, which is why are we noticing the fat people in the first place? What is it in US (assuming that we self-identify as NOT FAT) that makes us feel as though we need to extend a fist pump and a way to go! to the fatties out there who are working out?

Here’s what I always think when I am at the gym and I see someone fat working out:

“I bet she doesn’t realize that even though I may appear skinnier than her, I still feel just as awful about my body!”

In fact, I feel that way whenever I see someone straining at the equipment in the gym and looking generally unhappy to be there, uncomfortable in their Lycra shorts. Getting up the energy to even GO to the gym is often hard enough, much less the process of doing the work on the treadmill.

Body Mine
And if you wear the clothes you feel comfy in, you perceive that you “look bad,” which can make you feel even worse. If you wear the clothes that are close fitting, you feel uncomfortable.

Body Image in the mirrorThe experience of exercise and wellness in Western life has basically become joyless. Which is why we are so fat. Being skinny is valued, so once you ARE fat, you are invisible, except as an object of pity or ridicule or disdain.

Yet nothing about our lifestyles promotes healthiness. Nothing about our lifestyles promotes the joy of walking to work everyday, of playing soccer in the streets after school with your kids, or taking long vacations to hike in the mountains.

In fact, our lifestyle basically just promotes cars, fast food, and generally staring at screens while sitting on our asses.

Which is why I can see why Patti feels happy when she sees any person — and most especially one who is overweight — adding exercise to their life.

Obesity kills, regardless of race, gender, or creed. After all, Patti loves to walk and be outside. She knows the joy of exercise! And Patti is Canadian, which is a culture that values outdoor life, and  which is far more active than the American one, despite horrible winters.

The Body I Know
Every once in a while, don’t you spot some oddball runner jogging down the sidewalk in bluejeans, a turtleneck and Keds? They are wearing a sweatband on their head, which is the only way to be sure they aren’t running from the cops. Whenever I see runners like that, I think:

“I bet that guy just LOVES to run and doesn’t give a SHIT what Runner’s World says about the wicking power of the latest hybrid sheep-phelgm, recycled tire runner’s tights.”

The whole crap about being slotted into categories — whether culturally identified or self-identified — of “fat” and “thin” is the reason we’ve had to invent awful places such as the gym, where we go to not talk to anyone, to run in place, and to compare ourselves to others in a generally grueling and joyless environment.

And SURE, I know we will all appreciate the feeling AFTER we work out of the endorphins racing. I also know that many of us never get to that point because we don’t feel like Patti does: happy to put one foot in front of another. And just plain happy to be alive in this strange, disconnected thing that carries us our soul wherever it goes.

A Thin Example

Back in my single days, when I owned my house, I had this roommate, Michelle, who was clearly anorexic. CLEARLY. Everyone seemed to be aware of it but her.

It’s sad to say this, but she was comical to look at. Michelle, who was the top student in her nursing program (irony doesn’t even begin to cover it), looked like she had just stepped out of a horror film. Huge, sunken eyes, gaunt yellow skin pulled over a skeletal frame.

One day Michelle said she was going to go to Arizona Trading Company to get some new clothes. I made some comment about how I liked that store and asked her, as girlfriends do, what size she was. “Oh, I’m about the same size as you. A six or an eight.”

You know, isn’t it sometimes easy to live in a dreamland of ignorance? Until that moment, I really thought she knew what she looked like. But instead she went shopping and came home with a bagful of size 8 clothes. That hung off of her.

Michelle lived with me until she had to be hospitalized (5′ 3″ and 82 pounds). She had to have 24-hour observation (a p.a. or a nurse was in her room 24-7 for 6 weeks) because if they didn’t watch her, she would leave her hospital room to walk up and down the back stairs in her hospital gown. The goal? To burn calories from the food she was “forced” to consume.

Pretty soon, she died. Her body had started digesting her internal organs and her brain and her heart went into fatal cardiac arrest. She was 29.

I sometimes imagine (of course ironically) Michelle would have jokingly insisted “Be sure they put on my gravestone: ‘Well, at least she wasn’t fat.‘”

Only Kindness Matters
We are all fighting our own unhappy internal noise about who we perceive ourselves to be — physically and otherwise.

We are all battling that outdated Puritan ideology our country was founded on which vilifies the human body and our beautiful, sexual nature.

We are all living in unhealthy and absurdly-comfortable times.  What can we do?

Be more kind is one answer, as Patti suggests, with simple support for each other (regardless of thigh circumference).

But we also have to be more kind to ourselves, just as we are, no matter what size and shape.

That should help us to feel ready and able to shake the groove thang and say hello to our best selves.

  8 comments for ““Well, at Least She Wasn’t Fat”

  1. January 26, 2011 at 1:44 pm

    Kindness is its own reward. I find the thread of kindness in your posts to be comforting.

  2. January 26, 2011 at 1:57 pm

    Beautifully said. I feel all happy and glowing that you referenced me and my work so positively.

    I know that in Canada obesity and smoking are big problems too, but our health numbers are a bit better than in the U.S. on these things.

    I love being outside. It makes me feel free and connected. And it’s true–when I see someone jogging along and it’s not looking like it comes easy for them (yet), I’m happy because I think: Yay! Another member of my tribe! And I really want them to enjoy running (or biking or skiing) as much as I do.

    I think we can all go farther and be our better selves when we can stop the self loathing. Easier said than done.

  3. January 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm

    GREAT post, Elizabeth.

    One huge and difficult aspect to this is our culture’s constant message that we all need to look like 27-yr-old movie stars. UNTRUE!!

    Sadly, we get that message every time we turn on the TV, look at a billboard, go to most websites, etc.

    When we lived in Africa, it was the opposite. Being large for your size was considered the mark of being healthy and successful. (This was due to the historical aspect of hunger being a part of life.) That has been changing to the skinny “ideal” seeping in from the west.

  4. Absinthe
    January 26, 2011 at 3:56 pm

    Ah, I’m fat. I love exercise, and even at the gym, actually. But to get there, I had to throw out the scale and stop trying to be thin. Based on my family and my history I’m likely never going to be thin again: but eating well and exercising actually for my health, as opposed to my vanity, is actually really rewarding. Because feeling good feels good, you know?
    I haven’t lost a pound – but after 20 some years of dieting my metabolism to a crawl, I don’t know that I will again – but I am stronger, and able to run, bike, and swim much farther, so it’s okay. Funny side effect – I don’t hate myself any more, and that’s freedom worth having.

  5. January 26, 2011 at 7:30 pm

    yes. yes. these days, i strive for healthy, not thin. and yes, kindness matters more than almost anything. truly.

  6. January 27, 2011 at 8:39 am

    What a wonderful post! You verbalized so much better than I could a theme I tried to address in my very spur-of-the moment 4-minute video: the fact that it’s not so much how OTHERS see us that needs fixing, but how WE see ourselves. That’s where it all begins, after all.

    And because of Patti’s post, I really have been looking more people in the eye at the gym, and assuming there is kindness there instead of judgement, and offering kindness of my own. It’s actually led to a lot of very pleasant and uplifting conversations! I’m definitely trying to change my gym experience from the hamster-on-a-wheel scenario you describe and turn it into a transformative experience (in more ways than one).

  7. Colin
    January 28, 2011 at 1:53 pm

    Great post. The older I get the less I give a f**k about what anybody thinks about me – physically or otherwise. I think that’s a good thing.

  8. Liz
    January 28, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    I completely agree. I see judgement as a mirror, and our society is a reflection of people hating themselves. But instead of looking inward, they look outward and judge.
    I know for me, I started out with negative self esteem. It sort of flew out the window when I hit puberty. But rather than listen to psychologists who tried to help me with self esteem, I looked to society for answers. Yeah that makes sense, let me ask the people who place physical appearance on a pedastal, what I should do? The results: digging my self esteem further into the ground because I didn’t see myself “measure up”. And, as I have heard, hurt people, hurt people. Although I would never vocally judge others, in my head, I was judging everyone based on their physical appearance. I was hurting because I didn’t love or even like myself, but it hurt to much to look at that or even try to change it. I feel like that’s where society is sort of at. It’s like the “cool” thing to judge others on there looks, because the ones judging are the ones who need to look their own souls in the mirror.
    That’s where the other “societal” problems came into play for me. I saw the “quick fixes” of medication and from age 14 on, tried every different kind of anti depressant under the sun. I didn’t get that I had to do some work on my part. So I didn’t. I just kept searching for the magic medication to make it all better. After 10+ years of antidepressants and anxiety medications, I actually did gain weight, and fast. It was a combination of the medications mixed with binge drinking. I “tried” to lose that weight, but it just wouldn’t go anywhere. My focus at that time was definitely not my health, AT ALL. It was that desire to “measure up”.
    In 2009 I made one huge jump that has corresponded with further soul searching changes. I quit drinking. Then in July of 2009, when I reached my largest weight of my life, I decided to take another plunge. I went off the 4 mood stabilizing and anti depressant medications that I was on. The weight literally started falling off of me. But I did something else that I had never done before, I started to develop a relationship with myself.
    In April 2010, I made the first “real” attempt at exersize. But I had to make it fun. I don’t do well with things I don’t enjoy doing, and doing squats with twin 4 year olds and a two year old was definitely hilarious. I honestly didn’t believe it would last, but I started doing it as a form of self love. It had very little to do with weight loss, and more to do with mental health. Almost 10 months later, I still exersize 4 to 5 times a week. I actually have muscles! I also started eating healthier around the same time, and trying new foods. My diet no longer consists of brownies and cookies for every meal. I approximate a loss of 65 pounds since I went off the medications. I say approximate because I rarely weigh myself anymore because honestly it doesn’t matter. I eat and I exersize. Do I care what I look like still? Sure, I get in my moods where it’s important. But then I remember how unimportant it actually is. Like I said, anyone who would judge me for my outside, is really just not looking at themselves. This is how God made me. I can’t change it. I’ve lived through resenting myself, and I would take self love anyday, no matter how I look. Today I am able to leave my house in sweats and no make up, and it’s not because I don’t care, it’s because I know it’s what’s inside that really counts.

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