Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Fat is not that bad

I've been thinking about something recently, something that seems really obvious to me and that probably everyone else would naturally agree with, except that based on small comments and actions, I'm not sure they really would agree. In fact I have no real perspective on this and no way of knowing if this is some sort of big revelation or more of an "oh duh" statement.

But here's the thing: being fat isn't the most terrible thing in the world. It isn't even close.

In a literal sense, of course that's true. Obviously, pretty much all of us would rather be fat than watch our loved ones be murdered or something equally horrifying.

But I'm talking on the level of personal problems, here. It seems that we would all do almost anything to avoid being fat. That we all have this horror of being fat. That we all think about it constantly and if we are fat, hate it, and if we aren't fat, try everything to avoid becoming fat and also beat ourselves up if we even get nearer to fat than we were before (i.e., gain a couple pounds).

And I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that. Clearly not. I mean, I just had freaking weight loss surgery and that is obviously all about not being fat anymore. Everyone has a weight they're comfortable with, and everyone wants to be healthy, and there's nothing at all wrong with trying to achieve those things. I support that.

And I will also be the first to admit that being fat does have a profound impact on your life. I think most of my readers know this, as I have written about it before (specifically here).

It sucks to be fat. Really, it does. And it sucks to be even just kind of overweight, and not actually fat. And I think that's why people get all up in arms about the use of the word "fat"--because we use it to describe such a broad spectrum of weights, that of course people who fall on the more extreme end of the spectrum don't appreciate it when the term is used to describe bodies that they could only dream of having.

But it's not the end of the world, being fat. It's not the end of the world weighing more than you'd like to weigh, period. Yes, it can be a problem, and yes, if your weight is a problem for you and your health or sense of well-being then I am all for trying to rectify that in a healthy way.

But we've taken our fear of fat too far. The hand-wringing about the "obesity epidemic"--especially considering that the numbers discussed in regards to the epidemic include people with a BMI in the low 30s, which is really not fat for a lot of people, because BMI is a very flawed statistic, and only very few people actually fall into the category of "morbidly obese," or into a category where their weight actually creates health concerns for them--is over the top.

But it's more than that. It's people refusing to be in photos with their children because they hate how they look because they think they weigh too much. It's people torturing themselves, beating themselves up because they think they need to lose weight. It's people creating huge mental angst for themselves or limiting what they think they can do based on concerns about their weight.

I see this all the time. And mostly it's from people who aren't even fat. They weigh more than they'd like to, sure, and some of them are overweight, and it's totally legit for all of them to be trying to lose weight and get to a size they're more comfortable with.

And I totally support that. I'm not saying that just because you're not as fat as I am, you don't have a right to be concerned about your weight. This isn't a game of relativity for me.

But what I am saying is that it makes me sad when people let their weight get in the way of their lives. No matter if they're morbidly obese or just a little bit above their comfort zone.

I'm saying that I am fat, truly fat, and I have been even fatter, and yet I am happy with my life. I do pretty much everything that I want to do. I've achieved goals that I've set for myself. I've had thoughts of oh, maybe I'm too fat to do that, or oh, maybe this person will be judging me when I meet them because I'm so fat, or oh, maybe I shouldn't post this picture on my blog because you can see my whole body and I'm so fat.

Of course I've had those thoughts. But then I've set aside the fat concerns and just done it anyway.

I met Torsten online. Of course I was afraid he'd think I was hideously fat when I met him in person, even though he'd seen photos of me. Of course I was incredibly nervous walking into the restaurant to meet him for the first time, that he would hate me or think I was hideous or pretend not to recognize me. And of course none of that happened. And of course it was worth forcing myself past my own fat hangups and taking the risk. And the reward has been amazing.

That's all I'm saying. It sucks to be fat and I'm glad I'm doing something about it. But, if you think you're fat or even just a little bit overweight or even not overweight but still weighing more than you're comfortable with--and so on--by all means, do something to fix it. But don't put everything else on hold until you get there.


  1. Totally true.

    Also? I think sometimes "fat" is code for a whole host of petty things people don't like about living in bodies, like getting old, being goofy-looking (EVERYONE is goofy looking on some level), or being just plain vulnerable. Your comment about how lots of people refuse to be in pictures because they feel "fat" made me think this. It's been said before, but we live in a society that focuses on, and sort of only knows how to change and develop, surfaces. And the whole fat/ not fat maelstrom is the most obvious surface signifier.

    Basically, it's totally fucked up. And your comment is right on. There are about a million things worse than being fat.

  2. You're so right Jess. And I think it's important to learn to be happy with yourself and also with how your life is, even if it's not your ideal - a lot of people I know really mope when they're single instead of enjoying the benefits of being on their own. It's great to try and improve your life and bring it closer to your ideal but you should never let things hold you back from living it.

  3. Jess,

    I've lurked on your blog for a while and never posted. But this post is just beautiful, and just what I needed to read today.

    Thank you.

  4. Well said! Every time we have a family get together where pictures are taken, my mother culls the pictures where she looks fat or goofy (in her eyes), and then I do the same, and then my sister in law does, and then we are left with no pictures. It's something I've tried to do less - because it's ridiculous, getting rid of memories like that because for whatever reason I wasn't comfortable in my own skin. It's unfortunate that so many of us have to mindfully convince ourselves to be comfortable. It's not that being fat is that bad - you nailed that - it's that the degree to which we are each consumed with it IS, and bucking that trend, along with whatever healthful changes you feel are appropriate for you, is the important bit.

  5. This is such a great example of "having perspective." You can let things get you down, obsess and dwell - or you can keep moving and living life.

    My coping strategy when things get hard has always been to remind myself that someone, somewhere has things a lot, lot worse.


  6. My mom is one who refuses pictures, presumably due to weight concerns. She has begrudgingly allowed me to take a photo or two of her with her grandson. She was so upset at the notion of being photographed in wedding photos at my wedding. At first I took a "This is my wedding and this is about me, not you" stance, and she said she would. She was clearly so miserable about the notion that I finally said "If it's that big a deal, then don't." And she didn't. It's too bad...No one but her would be judging her appearance in a photo.

  7. I am one of those people currently not liking my picture taken because I am overweight.

    I will say on that matter that the overweightness is relatively new to me, and as has been in past situations, a relatively transient one, and my not sending a picture of my overweight self out on christmas cards has mainly to do with the knee-jerk reaction, "wait! this isn't the real me! don't look!"

    But with other issues I don't know that I'm exactly torturing myself. I'm not starving myself. I'm not even beating myself up for my current stint of non-exercise. In fact, I'm 30 lbs overweight and sort of comfortable with it, though I'm still uncomfortable with the idea of having to buy a new wardrobe.

    I think, though, that it's so easy to use your body as a focal point for all the things not controllable or going well in your life and to take it out on yourself that way. I know when I get more upset with other things I also get more upset that my jeans are tight.

    But you are right, it is a good reminder that fat is not that bad. Not at all.

  8. You are so right. Thanks for writing this post.

  9. I think I love you.

    This is more an attitude toward LIFE, and specifically applies to weight. It's such a healthy & honest perspective. Thank you.

  10. This is a really great post. Seriously. I think I'm going to bookmark it so that when I'm berating myself in a few months, I can come back and read it.

  11. For posts like this one, is why I gave you an award...


    I've never had such a problem, so I don't really know what to say here. ALTHOUGH I am skinny, REALLY SKINNY, but it is because I have diabetes, not because I am anorexic [like people often think] or because I don't want to be fat. I actually used to get happy when I gained weight, because maybe people would stop teasing me for being so skinny. Even though I ate 8 meals a day!!!

    Now I don't get happy, but I also don't gain weight. I'm in a healthy place according to my age and height and I want to keep it that way. But even so, I love food way too much to pass it out just out of being scared of gaining 1 or 2 pounds.

  12. YES.

    This is one of my favorites of all your posts.

    I think sometimes people invest such an ENORMOUS percentage of their available time and energy trying to stay thin---and I don't think it's worth it.

  13. Excellent advice! I completely agree.

  14. Excellent post. I was going to say exactly what Swistle just did- that it is kind of horrifying to think about how much time and energy people spend just on how they look in general, and then more specifically, on HATING how they look. It's honestly a tragedy, I would say, when you think about the finite amount of time we each have on this earth. When I'm on my deathbed, I'm sure going to regret the hours and hours I spent in high school feeling miserable about having hips and slathering on makeup try to disguise my "chubby" cheeks.

  15. I wish I could be a little bit more comfortable in my body. Your words are such motivations, some people do let their fear of their bodies rule the,. Even I'm guilty of that from time to time.

  16. We're on the same page here. I definitely agree. It makes me sad when people opt out of living their lives because of their own weight hang ups. I know how debilitating it can be to hate your body or fear that people will reject you based on your size but life is too damn short!

  17. I so needed to hear this today. What I hate most is hearing "you'd be such a beautiful girl if..." It is the most insulting thing, but it leaves you feeling as if you just need to lose the ten extra pounds or buy that really pricey foundation you'll find the bounce in your step and realize your potential. Ugh.

  18. I went to the BlogHer conference last July and tried my damnedest to not get my picture taken. People thought I was weird for doing that, and you know what? They're right. I gotta feel better in my own skin. I loved this article. You made me think hard about my comfort level and attitude about my weight. I'm tired of obsessing.

    Have a great day!

  19. Your last statement in this post sums it up for me. People need to do what's right for them personally when it comes to being/feeling fat, but don't put life on hold until you're thin ... as that may never happen ... and what a waste if it doesn't!

  20. Here's what I think is the most genius part of your post:

    "...by all means, do something to fix it. But don't put everything else on hold until you get there."

    Works for every single aspect of life.

    I put a fair amount of time into my fitness (note difference from "being skinny"), and I can only hope I'm not the sort of person Swistle's referring to when she says it's not worth it. Because holy wow, for me it sure as hell is.

    I sometimes get the feeling that there's a school of thought that I'm doing it wrong, that in order to truly be comfortable with myself I shouldn't make that extra effort to exercise and eat right. Which pisses me off. Because everyone has a different route to happiness and feelings of positive self esteem, and I'm a fan of WHATEVER WORKS.

    It's up to each of us to figure it out, and to avoid letting things get in the way of our lives, as you said. Whatever the thing is that's taking up negative space in the brain, it's about taking positive steps to fix it without staying in that yucky drain-circling place.

  21. Hey Jess,

    Thanks for your comment and linking to this post.

    I didn't include it in my entry (b/c it was long enough as-was), but having a kid has been a huge thing for my caring about fat. I DON"T want pictures taken of me with my daughter (so sad) and I need to change that immediately.

    This is the first time since I moved to SF that my weight has actually caused me to miss out on stuff, and I don't wanna. :)