Friday, March 30, 2012

You Look Marvelous! (Yes. I’m talking to YOU!)

From the time I was a wee little Sassyfat, I’ve been told I have a pretty face. Isn’t that a nice thing for someone to say? Wouldn’t that fill you with warm fuzzy feelings and increased self-confidence? Unfortunately, as any tried and true fatty can tell you, the Pretty Face Comment (PFC) misses its mark. Big time. 
When you tell someone she has a pretty face, what she hears is what remains unsaid: “Golly, if only the rest of you weren’t so gosh darned fat!!” Growing up, I usually got the PFC as an afterthought from some adult who had just puked praise and worship upon Sweet Little Sister’s golden head. (“What a beautiful little girl!! Look at those big blue eyes!! She’s gonna be a real heartbreaker when she grows up!! She should be model!! [quick glance at me] Oh, and you have a pretty face, Hun.” Um, thanks?) Instead of swelling with pride over my pretty face, I would suck in my gut and pull in my shoulders and generally try to shrink myself down enough to be a beautiful, magazine-cover-worthy future heartbreaker, too. Didn’t work.
As a child I lacked the insight and confidence to say, “Lady, I am a flabstastic diva and you will address me as such!” Instead, I believed what society reinforced every time I turned around: I was the problem. My body composition was incorrect, and it was all my fault for being gluttonous, lazy, and stupid. The truth is, I ate what my underweight siblings ate; oftentimes less so that I could not be so darn fat any more. Moreover, I was as active as they were. Our parents sent us outside to play and I ran around with the sibs and our friends, riding my bike for miles almost every day for years. But out of four children, I was the only fat one. So obviously, it was all my fault.
Incidentally, I’m also the only one with blue-green eyes – Sweet Little Sister’s are pure blue, Elder and Younger Brothers’ are pure green – and I’m the only one who can’t get a tan. But those physical traits are considered genetic. The fat thing, well, that can’t possibly be genetic. Obviously it’s an outward sign of my seriously flawed character. 
Pfft. Whatevs.
Of course my parents tried to address the problem. My pediatrician put me on a diet at the age of four because I had outpaced the growth charts. My mom didn’t even know I was overweight until the doctor pointed at the chart. Not because she’s unobservant, but because I didn’t look significantly chubbier than the other four-year-olds in my preschool class. Never mind that I was also taller; the doctor wanted to nip my fattitude in the bud. So he gave Dear Mama a diet plan for me to follow (all I remember is celery) and wished us both the best of luck.   

Ever since that fateful well visit, I’ve either been diligently observing a diet or cheating on one. Food has never been simple fuel for me; it has always been cause for thoughtful calculation and self-praise or a tool for rebellion and self-flagellation. Whether patting myself on the head for eating something “good” (and ignoring the lingering hunger in my tummy), or beating myself up for eating something “bad” (and ignoring the painful over-fullness in my tummy), I have had an emotionally difficult relationship with food and my body for 34 years. I have only been alive for 38 years. So I’ve had plenty of time to get really good at being screwed up in the head.

Define "normal"
The problem with traditional dieting is not just its emotional toll. There is also a significant physical toll. When you restrict your caloric intake too far, your body lacks the nutrients it needs to function properly. Too much calorie restriction also makes your metabolism all wonky. Your body thinks there’s a famine, so it slows its processes down to burn fewer calories. (It hasn’t read the same magazines that you have. It does not give a shit about appearance. It just wants to survive.) As soon as you go off your diet, your body says “OH THANK GOD!!!!” and it holds onto every last calorie you put into your mouth so it will be ready for the next famine. Any weight you have lost is most likely fat AND muscle, and the weight you will most likely gain back will be all fat. Not only will you look bigger (fat takes up more space than muscle), but you will also be less healthy.
But Sassyfats, you say. Why on earth would you gain it back in the first place? Have you no self control??
Oh, dear sweet reader of thin privilege. It’s not that simple. Did you know that weight loss has a 95% failure rate over five years? Yes, ninety-five percent. If you had a 95% chance of dying in a plane crash today, would you insist on booking a flight? If the answer is a resounding "NO," how would you feel if everyone around you insisted that you book that flight no matter the odds, on the off chance you might make your destination? What if they told you that over and over again, day in and day out, by way of TV, radio, magazines, thoughtless comments, shouted insults, and heartfelt discussions? Would you be instilled with confidence, or frustrated that nobody understands you?   
Here in Fatland, not only do we have society telling us we need to roll the dice over and over again, but there is also a SIXTY BILLION DOLLAR A YEAR diet industry that bases its very success on the knowledge that you will need to come back to them again and again. If their products actually worked, they would go out of business. So their operating model is to steal your self esteem and then sell it back to you. For profit. With a product that is practically guaranteed NOT to deliver the results you seek. Their highly educated (and highly paid) marketing geniuses line their pockets by reinforcing the societal belief that fat is ugly, and ugly fat people are obligated to keep on trying to lose weight so that everyone else doesn’t have to keep looking at our disgusting bodies. And then the world will magically be a better place when we all meet our goal weight! Yay, rainbows and unicorns!
Yeah, kinda like that.
But Sassyfats, you say. What about health reasons for losing weight? We don’t want to get The Diabeeeeeetus!

Oh, dear sweet reader of thin privilege. It’s not that simple. First of all, research results have been incorrectly reported time and time again. While there is a correlation between obesity and diabetes, not one study has proven that obesity causes diabetes. Do you know what has been found? The single biggest factor in whether you’ll get The Diabeetus is your family’s history. Know what else has been found? Diabetes can actually be triggered by weight cycling (AKA yo-yo dieting). Know what else? There are a heckuva lot of thin people walking around with diabetes for years before they’re diagnosed because their doctors are using weight, not bloodwork, as the primary indicator of health.
Do you know what makes you healthy? Healthy behaviors (among a variety of other factors, like genetics, age, and environment).
Do you know what makes you unhealthy? Unhealthy behaviors (among a variety of other factors, like genetics, age, and environment).
Do you know what makes you thin? Your body type (among a variety of other factors, like genetics, age, and environment).
Do you know what doesn't make you thin? Self-loathing. Period.
So what’s all this got to do with looking marvelous? We live in a society that puts a LOT of value in outward appearance. Our society believes that only one body type is worthy of praise. Those of us whose bodies do not adhere to the chosen body type are shamed, ridiculed, and outcast. We receive a steady stream of messages every day that we are ugly, lazy, stupid, and worthless. We also receive a steady stream of messages every day that we have chosen to be ugly, lazy, stupid, and worthless, and we therefore deserve to be shamed, ridiculed, and outcast.
You know what? That’s a whole lot of bullshit right there, y’all. And I’m tired of hearing it. The more we can embrace the idea that bodies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, the more we are free to see the beauty in each other. And the more we see the beauty in each other, the more we are free to see the beauty in ourselves. If we stop hating our bodies, we will be better motivated to treat our bodies with the care and respect they deserve – healthy behaviors for a healthier body, whatever size that body may be. And that my friends, is truly beautiful. 

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