In sixth grade, I was fat. And in 8th grade. And in 10th. And at 25. People who meet me now have a hard time believing that. At almost 32, I'm a size 4, weigh 53kg (about 115 lbs), and generally eat well and stay active. When I tell people I used to be fat, they all look at me in astonishment, and then congratulate me on losing all that weight. And it does feel good, what can I say? I feel healthier, I have more choice in clothing, I have better stamina, my mind is clearer, and people treat me better.
But, wait...what? Let's read that last bit again. People treat me better. And it's true. The same people that used to spit on me in the hallways of Wilson Jr. High (yes, literally spit on me) now flash me smiles and offer to buy me drinks. The same people who used to oink at me as I ate my lunch now laughingly encourage me to stuff myself at all you can eat buffets -- I mean, it's not like I'm fat or anything, right? But, who knows. Maybe those people are just nicer now because they've grown up and seen the error of their ways.
Or maybe not.
In a recent discussion, the topic of weight came up. Opinions flew around like flaming arrows -- much verbal flailing and attacking and maiming occurred, and no clear victor ever arose. Probably because it was a stupid discussion. I did learn in the midst of it, however, that many of the issues I accumulated as a fat fourteen year old have not disappeared through age or weight loss. As I listened to such enlightened comments as "let's not be silly, we both know if a thin girl wanted you, you'd drop any fatty in a heartbeat" and "people only fuck fat chicks because they don't have anything better available to them", I was shocked to find myself shaking and on the verge of tears. I felt like that fat fourteen year old again, and wondered for a moment if there was spit on the back of my jacket. I thought I was over all that, I really did. I thought that, after almost eighteen years, much love, many positive changes, and (hopefully) a bit more wisdom, the cruel words of stupid teenagers were a quickly fading memory. Apparently, I was wrong.
The comment that bothered me most, however, was much more subtle. What bothered me even more was that it came from a friend. He said, upon my questioning the insulting and degrading of overweight people that "degradation of obesity is perfectly acceptable". In fairness to him, he did go on to explain that he meant the condition of being fat, not the fat people themselves. But...what does that mean? Hate the fat, not the fatty? That sounds rather reminiscent of a philosophy that has not worked all that well in the past. It's a philosophy that has been used to both justify and forgive atrocity. More than that, it's a rather absurd concept, to me. How does one degrade obesity without degrading the obese? By pointing out it's unhealthy or unattractive? Does anyone think overweight people were previously unaware of that?
And this is the crux of the issue, to me. Fat people know they're fat. Sure, a few might be in denial, or cling to some fat-pride philosophy that makes them feel better about themselves, but the majority of overweight people are well aware that they are fat, and most of them aren't very happy about it. What they should or should not do about it is up to them, and more likely than not, all of them will at some point try to do something about it. Because of this, I have to seriously question the motives of those that call out fat people and see them as justifiable targets.
Most "fatists" (their term, not mine) will say it's an issue of health -- they don't want to encourage people to be unhealthy, and so "call a spade a spade" in regards to obesity. Well, okay. Sure. That sounds good on paper, but it's just not fucking true. Now that I am thin and no one knows about my apparently shameful fatty past (well, until now...), no one expresses concern for my health when they see me eat a plate of Chinese take-out. They most certainly had something to say about it when I was fat, though. My best friend used to smoke a pack a day and eat Doritos for breakfast. Do you think anyone degraded her for being unhealthy? No -- she was a size 4, so no one had any reason to. Having now lived on both sides of the scale, I've come to the admittedly cynical conclusion that these "fatists" don't give a single fuck whether someone is actually healthy or not -- they care that fat people look gross to them, and therefore deserve reprimand.
But, so as to not sink into a non-objective pit of reactionary vitriol, I will give them the benefit of the doubt. I will assume, for the sake of my faith in humanity, that they are genuinely concerned about the health of others. If that is so, we can assume they will respond openly upon being made aware that their words and behaviour do not help. Making someone feel like shit about themselves is not a valid form of constructive criticism, and does not in any way encourage positive behaviour. In fact, it encourages the complete opposite. It was those people that made chocolate cake preferable to hopscotch in the first place. For a child, it's a rather simple equation: chocolate makes me feel happy; being laughed at on the playground makes me feel sad. And what we learn as children carries us into adulthood.
And it is for this reason that I was not able to lose weight and change my lifestyle until I got far, far away from those people. It was not until I was surrounded by people who love me for who I am, people who speak words of encouragement, people who make me feel good, that I was able to find the strength to change myself. It was not the people who spit on me and called me names that encouraged me to lose weight, it was the people who got to know me. The people that would take me out for coffee when I was sad instead of letting me drown myself in a piece of chocolate cake. The people that went for walks with me, and didn't laugh at how slow I was going. The people that taught me how to bake low-fat blueberry muffins. The people that told me I was already beautiful, now I just needed to get healthy. Those were the people that really encouraged me.
Everyone bears the burden of personal responsibility. I had to choose whether to keep doing what I was doing and stay overweight forever, or change my life and take control of my weight. For other people, the choice is in whether you want to help or hinder. I made my choice. Now, it's time for you to make yours.