CW: diet talk, weight loss, profanity, disordered eating
I quietly celebrated an important anniversary yesterday. It’s been exactly one year since I gave up dieting and stopped trying to lose weight. I had been resistant and afraid to do it, terrified that I would lose all control over my eating and constantly gorge myself on all the fatty, fried, and sweet foods I so desperately craved. I felt like a crazy person around food and even thought that perhaps I was a food addict. I used to hide my eating from those closest to me who I knew would disapprove: hiding candy in unlikely places (like my closet or behind books on a shelf), hiding myself in the bathroom to sneak my little treats. I felt guilty and hungry and ashamed all. the. time.
A year ago, I was lying face down on my bed, sobbing uncontrollably, feeling like the most miserable life form in the universe. I don’t even remember what set me off, if indeed, there even was anything. I was so sick of dieting, so sick of constantly denying myself the pleasure of eating. And most of all, I was just unbearably sad. The ideal of the thin (or even the thinner) me seemed impossibly far out of reach, and getting further by the minute. I had legitimately given it my best. I have lost as much as 70lbs in a single go in my life, but without fail, it always comes back, and when it does, it brings along reinforcements.
A dear friend of mine had been posting for a while about her involvement in the body positivity/fat acceptance movement. She had moved from dieting to lose weight to dieting to maintain weight to not dieting at all. I had been reading her stuff and wondering for a while what it would look like to do that in my own life. Like I said, though, I was scared to try it. But on that April afternoon, lying in a soggy mess of my own tears, hating myself so much I felt like I would die from it, it was like something just broke inside me. I knew I couldn’t go on dieting anymore. I couldn’t do it. And I couldn’t keep on struggling to live under the crushing weight of my own self-hatred. So I made a very important decision:
I felt a change begin in me instantaneously. I felt freer, felt like I could breathe again. And I think it was the first time I had ever truly entertained the notion that I could be good enough exactly as I am, that I could love every single inch of myself, pound for pound, without qualifiers, without exceptions, without secret hopes of becoming what I am not and never will be. There was no “After I lose x amount of weight,” or “Once I start dieting again, I’ll feel better about myself”; this was unconditional love, love I didn’t have to earn, love that my whole, embodied self deserved, simply for being.
A year later, I still feel free. I was a little crazy around food at first, and it took many months to be comfortable openly eating what I wanted to eat, without being ashamed to eat in front of others. Eventually, though, I experienced exactly what all those BoPo/FA people said would happen: my intense cravings for food subsided, and for the first time in a very long time, I could feel my body asking for what she needed, and I could tell that it was a different feeling from my psychosomatic urges to eat my feelings. I learned that my body asks me for everything from broccoli to baked goodies, and I take delight in feeding myself in a balanced, loving way. I don’t do it all the time — let’s be honest, it’s only been a year, and I’m a frazzled grad student — but I am getting better and better, and my body is forgiving and hella good at surviving on whatever she’s given.
And I have learned that I can be healthy and look fabulous no matter what size I am. Even though medical appointments always run the risk of fat-shaming (shitty), I have been conscientiously monitoring my health and doing my best to take care of my body and live my fullest at the size I am. And I have been taking advantage as much as I can of a growing range of clothing for people my size. Not surprisingly, I feel much better about myself when I am wearing clothing that fits me and feels good and looks good than when I am wearing too tight clothes in the never ending hope that I will somehow shrink my way into them.
I am in a much different place mentally, spiritually, and emotionally about my body and myself than I was a year ago. And looking back, the rank and utter bullshit surrounding my frantic efforts to lose weight seems so incredibly transparent to me now. A steady diet of advertising, pop culture, media, diet and weight loss ads, bullying from my peers, and so on, had deeply etched onto my being this idea that my size and weight somehow made me worthless as a human being. It made me unloveable, unacceptable, unless I actively worked to deprive and torture myself until I shrank myself down, made myself smaller — a goal that was forever out of reach.
I internalized that being allowed to have dignity and worth as a human being was forever out of reach because of the way that our society has conflated size and weight with morality. That is Bullshit with a capital B.
Regardless of the impact on health that body fat may or may not have (there is a lot of debate about this), NO ONE deserves to be demonized or marginalized because of their size. Nor does anyone deserve to have their weight or size automatically be open to all public comment, or to become the dominating feature of their identity (I’m looking at you, internet trolls, with your fingers just itching to put a fat woman “in her place” in the comments). Even if medical science discovers concrete and irrefutable proof that being fat causes illness (fun fact: this hasn’t actually happened yet), even if fatness turns out to be the horrifying disease that so many seem to think it is, NONE of that legitimates this moralizing of weight, this demonizing of fat bodies. No one deserves to be treated the way so many fat people are treated in this country. The way I have been treated.
All bodies are good bodies, worthy of love, worthy of respect. And as a Christian theologian, I believe that our embodied selves are a part of God’s creation — a creation which God deemed very good. Who are we to denigrate what God has declared good? God made these bodies for living, for loving, for eating, for enjoying, for creating more life; God made bodies that heal themselves, that wisely store away food against famine, that do so much more than live up to an arbitrary societal ideal of size or beauty. I am so grateful for the gift of myself, for the gift of this amazing body that has done some extraordinary things to keep me alive over the last 3+ decades on this planet.
And so, today, without reservation and with great joy, I declare once again my independence from this absurd system of dieting and weight loss, and I declare myself free to love myself and my body exactly as God made me, exactly as I am.
If you enjoyed this post, please check out some of my other body positive / fat liberation writings:
• On the Plus Side — an essay I wrote for my school’s blog about diversity (it also has links at the bottom to some fabulous BoPo/fat liberation blogs)
• The Disorder that Isn’t a Disorder — an article I wrote for my school’s newspaper published during Eating Disorder Awareness Week
• What Becomes of Boasting — a sermon I wrote for preaching class relating fat acceptance with Lutheran theology