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.
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.
The 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.