I live in a culture that is at war with my body. This war is ingrained in every cell of me, has been in every bite of food, every article of clothing, every interaction with another person since as far back as I can remember. I was indoctrinated into it by my parents, teachers, the people on TV, radio, the computer, my friends, and every adult and child I met growing up. I helped to enforce it. Sometimes it still gets the best of me.
I am fat. I have always been fat, and I may always be fat. Every day that I am alive, I encounter cultural messages that tell me that my fat body is ugly, offensive, gross, unhealthy, wrong, a thing that needs corrected. A type of objectification, for sure, though not the typical kind. I -- that is my body -- is an object of fear, disgust, and disdain.
I am told that I must be this way because I over-eat, or eat the wrong food, that I'm lazy, that I don't love myself, or care enough about my health, and that maybe I even hate myself or abuse my body and intentionally mistreat it. I relate this cultural message to a similar one that comes from conservative and Evangelical Christianity about queerness: that being gay is somehow "wrong" and that it needs correcting. That homosexuals need fixed, that it is their deep self-loathing that drives them into such a depraved lifestyle choice. If only they found the "Love of God" and were instilled with self-esteem, they could change their ways. I'm told my body is wrong, that it is not beautiful, not valid, worthless of desire -- and it is imperative for my health, social status, and worth as a person to lose weight and become thin. Weight-loss culture is the conversion therapy of the war on the body, the war on fat bodies.
This war, though it is aimed at fat bodies, effects every body. We are taught to fear and hate fat so intensely and to strive, desire, yearn for, objectify, and idealize thin so completely that nearly everyone is constantly at odds with their body, longing to "perfect" it. It effects how we use language and perceive and frame our thoughts on what is "healthy" and what is "beautiful." A good example is the word "fit." It currently describes a specific thin and lithely muscled body shape, without recognizing different types of "fitness," and that one can be cardiovascular fit AND fat. It gives us false and misleading medical care where our fatness is constantly treated as a disease and the cause of all our ails and illness, rather than the real causes for our medical problems.
It has created a multi-billion dollar private diet industry that pumps out advertising and propaganda to fuel the war, which fills the industry's pockets, further impacting medical science with regards to funding research that questions the current paradigm, as many pharmaceutical companies have their hands deeply in the diet industry directly and indirectly. Without good research, most medical schools are teaching in the paradigm of weight-loss and fat-phobia. And doctors are treating patients for a fake disease called obesity.
It impacts art on all fronts, from film and theatre, to fine art, to dance, fashion, the whole gamut where display of "beautiful bodies" are concerned. It impacts job hiring, advancement and workplace treatment, dating, finding sexual intimacy and relationships, making friends. The message is "fat = failure as a person." It's safe to say that fat people are discriminated against as a class of people. The message is a constant stream and built into everything. And the world is, more and more, not built for fat people. That's called marginalization -- being pushed to the edges. Being told that we are invalid is an attempt to take our power from us -- prescribed diets and other weight-loss regimes until we "get it right," and denied societal validation until we do.
With so much cultural oppression and marginalization, you can imagine that the mental health of fat people is stressed. Here I'd like to advance another idea. Much like the statistics of queer youth being depressed and having low self-esteem is related to societal pressures around sexuality and gender expression (which include institutionalized oppression as well as bullying and harassment), so too is fat oppression correlated to the mental health of people of size. For me, it's like this poison I drank when I was a child, that has worked its way through every part of me, and every day I must fight its effects. If I could just have the strength of will to lose weight, all my problems would dissolve, I believed. That's what I was told, in many ways by many cultural entities and medical authorities. And that I wasn't thin was that I did not have a will.
The message, the constant barrage of "failure" has seeped into every pore of my body, and sometimes I feel like it does make me ugly, worthless, invalid. That I'm going to be without intimacy because of the way I'm shaped (and how people perceive that shape) and that anyone who expresses desire for me is having a lapse of judgment that they'll regret (or even pretend didn't happen/cover up) later, or is deluded and it's only a matter of time before they come to their senses. Not only do I fear this lack of sexual/romantic/companionship, this separation, I undercut it when it approaches me for fear that it's not "real."
Being a gay man, I identify among my communities the "bear" subculture, and (somewhat conflicted as a fat activist) having a "skinny fetish," have dated and had sex with many "chubby chasers." But chub-and-chaser relationships are very confusing, not just with regards to the objectification and fetishization of the fat body that happens, but the dynamic of fear and loneliness that many fat-bodied gay men buy into, much as I relate above. The complexities are numerous, and I'll sort them out later.
Sometimes I do find myself reminiscing over my dating experiences in Ohio, before I was aware of "bears," dating men who did not identify as "chasers" and navigating the queerverse as just another homosexual, though a fat one who got little play. The experience there was that I was always attractive "in-spite-of" my size. I'm terribly amused by that turn of phrase now, where often my essence and personality are irrelevant in sexual encounters and it is my size that is the turn-on for the other person. But I'm a big weirdo, and I work hard at not letting that be forgot.
There is a deep longing in me, and I suspect many fat people, for not just acceptance but also to be desired as they are, as whole persons -- not as body parts, disembodied personalities, or an empty slot to fill. To not be told that their bodies are wrong and need to be reformed, but to be honored as right, sacred, beautiful, another set of shapes and textures that have their own ways of moving in the diversity of human form and function. Recognition that we come in all sizes, and that my size is good, right and okay.
I work so hard just to love myself as I am, to love my body as it is, and to realize I don't need fixing. I pray that all fat people can know the peace of self that I am seeking, because it really does open me to more experience of love and intimacy with others. I can stop sabotaging genuine attractions, and I have more energy to fight the real institutionalized fat oppression our culture is rife with advocacy and education.
Look, a well-adjusting fattie!
A List of Helpful Links for Fatties, Familiars, and Allies: