I am a woman and I am fat and I hate my body. I try so hard to feel positive about my body, to feel confident, and to forget everything I’ve been told about it, but all I can do is obsess about how much I hate it, which also makes me hate myself. How can I feel better about my body?
Hi, my love.
I have a fat body. Isn’t it so funny that typing those words out for other people to see fills me with palpable dread, especially at the thought that people who know me in real life will read them? Even though everyone who has ever seen me has seen that I have a fat body? I think part of it comes from the fact that I don’t have very many friends that have bodies like mine, and I don’t see many positive images in media of people that have bodies like mine. Being fat and happy, fat and comfortable, fat and beautiful, fat and visible, fat and unashamed, are not archetypes widely available to me, which makes even the act of naming my body as fat very scary. Every time I go to the park or a show or a party or any other place where people my age gather, I scan the crowd trying to find people that have bodies like mine. Where are they? Are they all gathering somewhere else? Are they all indoors? Should I be indoors?
Some of the fear comes from the fact that I’m supposed to be trying as hard as I can to not have a fat body, but I don’t. I never try to actively lose weight and that makes me feel like a failure. I don’t do it mostly because, when faced with the idea of counting calories or figuring out an exercise plan geared toward dropping pounds, I always think of so many other, better, more interesting things I could be doing. There’s also an ornery side to me that is pissed off that there is some unknown entity out there trying to dictate what is beautiful and what I should look like and what health means and I refuse to buy in. But that doesn’t mean I don’t dream of losing weight, that it doesn’t enter my mind multiple times every single day, that I haven’t wasted hours of days, years of my life, wishing it would happen.
I don’t know if people who aren’t fat realize how much of a BATTLE being fat is, every single day. Especially especially especially if you are a fat woman. I have felt shame because I couldn’t starve myself enough to lose weight. It made me feel like I had weak character. I have concocted elaborate fantasies in which I am in a terrible accident and enter into a coma, which would mean I could not eat, which would mean I would lose weight. Can you believe that? Can you believe that I have wished very extreme harm on my body in the name of being thinner? I bet you can. When I was a teenager, I took pictures of the parts of my body that I hated the most and printed them out from my family’s home computer. I kept them in my bottom desk drawer and I would look at them to remind myself not to eat. I have harmed my body because I hated it.
I grew up knowing I was supposed to be looked at, and if you are a woman you probably did too. I know that’s some well-tread territory for a lot of us, but it’s still in me all the time and still worth talking about. No one took me, no one took most girls, aside and said, “Follow your dreams! But always remember that your main purpose in life is to be gazed upon by men. Let that be a part of everything you do. Let that seep in and become as fundamental to your functioning as the blood in your veins! As natural as breathing!” No one said this explicitly, and no one person even did this but, like, I knew. I knew then and I still know, even though I would desperately like to know better. It would be so great if naming this thing would make it go away, but it doesn’t. I’ve had it pinned down, I’ve had it named, for years now yet I still crumble under the weight of the gaze that is disgusted by me. As women, the gaze is rarely pleased with us for a million different reasons. We are all walking that path together, and I’m always gonna tell you that your body is holy and, yes, I will bow down to it. You just have to ask. But if you are woman who is fat, a woman like me, the gaze is actively DISGUSTED by you. You can’t imagine how much it fucks you up to know the gaze does not approve in such a fundamental way, unless you can imagine it. Unless you are living it.
I think we all know that this pair of eyes is bigger than any one’s actual pair of eyes, and that it’s not really a pair of eyes at all. (So how the fuck is it looking at us?) But this pair of eyes that isn’t a real pair of eyes does affect the way people with real pairs of eyes view my body. And if you are a fat person, a fat woman especially, you learn very early that people hate what your body looks like. People hate what my body looks like! Would you like to know how I know that people hate what my body looks like?
A SHORT LIST TO ILLUSTRATE HOW I KNOW THAT PEOPLE HATE WHAT MY BODY LOOKS LIKE
- At an old job of mine, my favorite coworker approaches me and says, with no prompting, “You want to know something embarrassing? When I was a kid I had to wear [she kinda whispered at this point] plus size jeans.” “I WEAR PLUS SIZE JEANS NOW SHOULD I BE EMBARRASSED? JUST KIDDING, I DON’T EVEN WEAR JEANS CAUSE THEY DON’T FIT ME! SHOULD I BE DEAD?” is how I respond, later that night in my bed, in my mind, replaying the incident for the 600th time.
- A close friend says to me, “I hate when fat people leave the house in sweat pants or pajamas. Just because you’re fat doesn’t mean you get to stop trying.” “Hmmmmmm,” I say as my entire being splatters onto the windshield of her car.
- In middle and high school, the phrase “I love ___ like a fat kid loves cake” becomes popular. I hear it over and over, over and over, over and over again. Like a fat kid loves cake. Like a fat kid loves cake. Like. a. fat. kid. loves. cake.
- In high school, a boy at a party asks me to follow him downstairs. “You’re fat,” he tells me. “Okay,” I say. “I’m going to kiss you now,” he says. When I refuse, he calls me a piece of shit four times. Was I a piece of shit because I, the fat girl, was not grateful for his attention?
- The thin, beautiful manager at my first college job loves cookies. My other manager brings cookies to every meeting. “Are you trying to make me fat?!” she cries. Everyone’s uproarious laughter borders on outrageous. Aside from wounding me deeply, it just…isn’t that funny.
- I am walking on the street one evening a few years ago. Two men sitting outside a bar are, presumably, trying to find a woman for one of them to date. “Why don’t you date her?” One of them says as I walk by. “Yeah, maybe if you gouged out my eyes first,” replies the other. I have to keep living as a human being after that. I don’t get to burst into a beautiful cloud of dust and transcend this painful plane of existence.
These are a few examples. I had many more to choose from. I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know about how much people hate, are disgusted by, and dehumanize fat women. Unless you are also a fat woman. Then we’ve both forgotten more than they’ll ever know.
Which brings me to your question. “How can I feel better about my body?” Oh my god. You sweet, incredible, powerful, and smart child of god (whatever that is). I wish so, so badly I could tell you. I wish I knew. I am sitting here, writing this, begging the world to send me the answer, because you deserve to know. It has never helped me to look in the mirror and say, “You are beautiful.” It has never helped me to write myself affirmations. That advice has always felt so puny to me. In fact, very little has ever helped me feel better about my body. Almost nothing. But I can think of two things.
The first is seeking out the stories of other fat women. Nothing, nothing, nothing helps like feeling less alone. A huge, giant recommendation is Shrill: Notes From a Loud Woman by Lindy West. Holy shit, I’ve never felt so known. I’ve never felt so healed. Women create such beautiful, incredible things. It takes my breath away, I am BREATHLESS as I type this to you. Find them find them find them! Women will save you, they will pull you out of the water to breathe the freshest air.
The second thing is…writing this. Did you know you can write out the scariest shit in the world and share it with the people you love and you will still be alive? Maybe even a little bit lighter in the heart? Did you know there is nothing more powerful than saying to the world, “Pardon me if this blows you out of the water, but you cannot contain me. You are not allowed to bind me with your notions of what is appropriate to feel, to talk about, to experience. You cannot contain me. I am uncontainable! I am allowed to talk about what scares me, and what scares you. I am allowed to roll up my sleeves and lay my scars bare for all to see.” Write it all out, sister. You don’t have to share it, just get it out. That voice that tells you that you are unlovable, unfuckable, disgusting, inhuman, worthless, powerless? That. Is. Not. Your. Voice. That is the voice of demons. You are not a demon, you are a glorious human being so take a fucking pen to paper or a finger to keyboard or a paintbrush to canvas or a gluestick to magazine cutout or a guitar pick to guitar and tell your fucking story, girl. Find your human voice. How can you feel better about your body? It starts with looking at your demons right in the motherfucking eyes and daring them to murder you in cold blood and finding out that they can’t do that when you’re looking at them right in the eyes. Fuck you demons, you cannot contain us.