Tuesday, November 18, 2014

My Big Fat Journey

Fat acceptance.

It has taken me a long time to be able to look at those two words together, two words that have recently become a movement, and to feel comfortable with them. After all, isn’t being fat unacceptable? I was raised with this notion and became an adult with this notion. I have toiled endlessly under this notion and have failed just as endlessly under the idea that being fat is inherently bad.

I am not entirely sure when I became aware I was fat, but I know that I’ve been fat for my entire life. I can remember looking at a picture of a two year old me when I was about five and noticing the roundness in my face. One of my aunts was discussing the nature of my size with my grandmother, insisting that I was “just healthy”. Family members would examine my plump little physique when I would do handstands or back bend-overs, remarking on the likelihood that I had lost weight as my abdomen stretched, only to be disproven when I was upright once more and still chubby.

That's me in the middle when I was eight. As you can see, I am a sweaty, dirty, chubby kid. Also, my mother is responsible for that hair cut. 

I rode my bike, played outside, climbed trees, swam, and did all the things that other kids did. However, I did it with a little more mass. I still like to think of myself as possessing my own special kind of gravity, and I wish I could go back and tell my elementary school self that I was okay just the way I was. But even if I could, I don’t know if I could have listened.

Starting in third grade, other kids at school commented on my size. The blatant comments of kids at school and veiled remarks adults thought were out of earshot coalesced into understanding, and I was fat. It was hard for me to understand exactly why I was fat since I saw other kids eat far more than I did and remain thin, but I knew that this was at least one part of the fatness equation, so I began to curtail my portions at school. Some days, I would just eat an apple. I thought that if kids didn’t see me eating, then they wouldn’t make fun of me. Teachers would see how little I ate and insist I eat more, and so I battled through lunch, sometimes eating more and sometimes less depending on my stealth and resolve.

Puberty came for me early, and by the time I was eleven, I had even more fat in different places as well as all the fun of fluctuating hormones. The bullying intensified and I was picked on nearly every day at the bus stop and on the bus as well as in classes. The kids shamed me for being fat, for being smart, or just for being…alive. My eating habits fluctuated up and down depending on how much I was being teased and how much support and acceptance I could find in my friends and family.

Raised a good Christian girl, I was taught by the Bible to turn the other cheek, and I did. I thought God was testing me and that if I could just be strong enough, one day, the other kids would stop picking on me, or, miracle of miracles, that I might actually get to be thin. I thought, maybe, God was testing my willpower and that I just had to fast like Jesus did, and my blighted body would melt into svelte perfection. The fasting technique was pretty difficult to execute, however, and so I would eat and not eat, on and off. I enjoyed walking and being alone after school, and the woods around my house became my sanctuary against temptation on my fasting days and just my sanctuary of peace and relative silence on my non-fasting days. I did not get any thinner.

I excelled at school academically, a teacher’s pet in several classes. Socially, I floundered. I was able to make a few friends, but as the gap between my intellectual achievements and my “coolness” widened, the list of people that would talk to me or interact with me became shorter and shorter. I watched as fat boys were able to retain popularity and acceptance and was utterly flummoxed as to my own failures. Other fat girls existed, but they didn’t talk to me. I didn’t talk to them. Some of them were mean, and I was afraid of being picked on further, and some of them floated through the hallways as invisibly as I did.

Highschool had its ups and downs…and downs and downs. I discovered theater and really loved working on the tech crew. I sang in three different choirs, two of them by audition. I maintained a 4.25 GPA my freshmen year. I also discovered real eating disorders and the joys of having food hurled at me by bullies at lunch. My academics and extracurricular activities were wonderful, and I loved them, but these joys weren’t quite enough to bolster my still failing social endeavors and my friends weren’t the kind to stand up for me when the tougher, meaner kids picked on me. I think I was just awkward enough that it was acceptable for me to be picked on, and of course being fat. If you’re fat, then people have to pick on you so that you’ll get better.

So, I dabbled in using my parent’s NordicTrack, fasting, and forcibly vomiting whenever I consumed more than a glass of skim milk or hot tea. I really don’t know how I was able to keep up with everything going on my life, although I do remember all the times I barely made it up the stairs because of how dizzy I felt. However, I was getting thinner. People even started to notice. I was miserable, but I was thinner. Hurray! Because that really is the most important part of being a teenager. Unfortunately, I was still too fat and too awkward for the bullies to resist.

I gave up on my crazy eating and non-eating habits over the following summer, got a job, a tan, and all of my chub back despite riding my bicycle the 7 miles to work and home again. Not long into my sophomore year of highschool, the pressure of being an academic and extracurricular overachiever combined with the incessant bullying became too much and I stopped going to school. It was all a great shock to my parents, my family, and my friends. As soon as I could, I dropped out of highschool, got an almost perfect score for my GED, and catapulted myself into adulthood.

My entire childhood, I was bullied for being fat, and for my entire childhood, I tried desperately not to be fat. Once I entered the adult world, the fat stigma became more subtle. People seemed to care a bit less and say a bit less about it to my face, and this was fine by me. However, I knew that I was still less valuable as a fat girl, so my fight against it continued.
I was terrified of learning to drive and put it off until I was twenty and pregnant with my son. Until this time, I rode my bike everywhere I wanted to go. I had well-muscled legs, but still enough pudge that I could barely get away with buying clothes in the “normal” section of most stores, unless those stores were pretentious perfume-pits like Guess or Hollister, in which case there was absolutely no hope for my size 16 ass.

I learned to pretend to not notice that I was fat, but to still expect less respect than my thinner coworkers. I was what they call a “good fattie”. I exercised and dieted. I knew my place in the world was below all the men and thinner women, for the most part, and that being a “good fattie” meant accepting that and just being grateful for what accolades I could gather. I dutifully spoke of my fat as some great sin I would one day shed along with my other friends who were far less fat than I but still bemoaning their undesirable lipids. They made-believe I wasn’t fatter than them, and so did I. They evenly politely insisted that I wasn’t at all fat if I made mention of it, as is proper.

I squeezed into “normal” sizes for a while and played my part as best I knew it while still trying to build some semblance of self-confidence. I dated men that made references to my “pretty face” as an asset that could counterbalance the fat on my body, and I was happy for the compliment. I laughed along with my boyfriends and their friends when they compared me to the Pillsbury Doughboy. I learned laughing along meant getting along, and that was as good as I thought I deserved.

After giving birth to a surrogate baby (It was wonderful and fulfilling and another story for another time), I found myself in the plus size section…and single and stripped of resources that I spent on keeping what I thought were friends and a loyal significant other happy. Being fat means having to generally be funnier, more tolerant of bullshit, and more generous if you are to have any friends at all. However, my postpartum fatness exceeded the price tag I could afford, and I found myself once again with only a handful of real friends and a flabby body I couldn’t escape.

One more time, I drank deeply of depression. I filled myself up with it in such a manner that I couldn’t manage eating. I didn’t even really have to try to lose the baby weight. It fell off of me as I maneuvered through the haze of working and just existing. People told me how good I looked and asked me what I had done. “I’m anxious and sad,” I would reply with a chuckle. What else could I say? Thank you? The depression of being duped by people I trusted combined with the hormonal cliff dive of postpartum recovery robbed me of wanting to eat anything at all. It was so amazingly bizarre to receive compliments on how I looked at the expense of feeling so terrible.

Throughout this abysmal postpartum hell, I had been talking to my friend, Mark Nebo. We had been friends for a few years, but not particularly close. After I decided to open myself up for dating, along with revising my standards for treatment in the process, Mark asked me out on a date. He picked me up from my parents’ house and paid for everything, just like I was a real person and not a fat person that has to barter her way through these situations because of being less valuable than someone with a smaller waistline.

I married Mark. I gained about ten pounds or so back before I did, and although I attempted to get back on the dieting and exercise rollercoaster, and Mark along with me, we both decided that dieting sucks. Mark also hates exercise.

Me on my wedding day with beer, because beer is just another thing Mark and I love that isn't conducive to being thin.    

Since being with someone that has accepted me, just as I am, I have learned to be able to do the same. I started to realize that being happy was vastly more important than being thin and that I am, in fact, just as valuable as anyone else. I started to think of beauty and fashion differently. I read articles and blogs written by other fat women, and I looked at images of fat women with pretty hair and make-up and beautiful form-fitting clothes hugging their voluptuous bodies.

At first, I accepted fatness with conditions. “Curves” were okay, but “lumps” were not. Hourglass figures were good, but apple-shaped bodies were still to be shunned. However, I worked through that, as well. I started to look at myself in the mirror. I saw all of myself as a whole, instead of just seeing the pieces I thought were fine. As I have aged, grown, matured, and created life, my body has changed. It will continue to change. I realized that I could no longer condition my happiness and self-acceptance on how fat I was or how my body looked. I realized that I would be waiting forever to allow myself to have something that I’ve deserved to have my entire life.

I like to exercise and to use my muscles. I like to do things that are physical in nature, but no amount of exercise has ever shaped me into what society deems acceptable. I have discovered that weight loss is possible for me, but that the price for such a feat has been far too much for too little. I have decided that being thinner isn’t worth what I would have to sacrifice to get it, and that decision is enough for me.

Northern Michigan with my two fur babies. Please notice how my being fat has literally no effect on my ability to do things. In fact, being fat might have been a boon in this much snow. 

In my arguments for fat acceptance, I have heard people respond with appeals to health. In all of my fatness, in all of my life, I have been perfectly healthy in body. My physicals are all fine and my bloodwork is perfect. My blood pressure and heart rates are at healthy levels. I don’t believe in God anymore, so I know that this isn’t just some strange miracle that I manage health with being fat.

However, even if I weren’t healthy, shaming in the name of health is cruel. If you need further proof, please reread all of the bullying and criticism I endured because of my fatness and decide if you think it had a positive outcome. Shaming does nothing to help anyone, and if you think being fat is the only measure of health, you are utterly wrong. Most people do things that are “unhealthy”. Some people drink, smoke, or eat food that isn’t healthy. Some people think less of themselves and become mentally unwell because society tells them they are the “wrong” size.

Christopher Hitchens flaunted his love for drinking and smoking, but from what I have seen, the world at large remembers mostly what he said, not whether or not he lead a vice-free lifestyle. If a person is smart, or kind, or incredibly hard-working, but also fat, especially if that person is a woman, I do not understand why this can devalue her accomplishments and her person so greatly when the same is not true for others who could be scrutinized in the name of health. So, the argument to reject fat acceptance in the name of health seems pretty illogical, all things considered.

So then, what is wrong with fat acceptance? Once you disprove a concern for health as a reason, there isn’t much left that makes any sense. Being fat doesn’t make me less funny, smart, beautiful, productive, caring, or creative. The worst thing being fat makes me is, maybe, less sexually attractive to some people, and for every person passing me up for my fat, there is another person that likes the extra cuddle mass or just doesn’t care that much about whether the person they are sexing is fat or not. Accepting fat people doesn’t take away from the value of other people any more than allowing gay people to get married delegitimizes the marriages of heterosexual people.

It took me awhile, but once I realized these truths, I was able to finally let go of the notion that fat is bad. It was like becoming an atheist all over again. All of the hurtful nonsense that had been holding me back fell away, and I was able to just love what life had to offer unabashedly and without shame.

I know that other people still believe that being fat is bad, and I know that other people might try to proselytize with their guilt-ridden drivel in regards to my personal relationship with fat, but that way of thinking has done nothing but hurt me in the past, and it makes no sense to me, now.
However my body changes in the future, and whatever I may decide to do with it, it will not be motivated by shame, guilt, or any other negativity. In accepting my fat, I have accepted myself and the full potential of what I deserve and what we all deserve, no matter our size or shape. 

This sums up my general opinion of fat-shaming.  

*If you have any doubts as to my fatness, or are tempted to believe I am one of the lucky fatties that only have fat in rounded, bubbly arrangements, I invite you to check out my previous blog post where I have laid bare (literally) all that is my glorious fat body. 


  1. Shanon you are beautiful and amazing, this strikes a chord in me because I too have battled with my fatness forever and I'm trying to get to the point you are at, I'm still struggling but I look to you for strength in my battle, thank you for being there even though you didn't know you were

    1. Thank you so much for telling me! Really, it was other strong fat women being unashamed of who they were inside and out that helped me to get to where I am. I feel really honored to be able to help someone else with their own struggles.