Recently, I found out that I’m a “Good Fatty.”
It’s not a label I ever aspired to or had ever even heard of until recently. For those who don’t know, the term refers generally to fat people whom society finds acceptable for one reason or another. One of the most common type of “Good Fatty” is the “Work in Progress Fatty” -- people who appear to be trying to lose weight to conform with mainstream beauty norms. Once I realized people view me that way, some recent, unpleasant run-ins with society at large started to make sense.
Last month I attended a function full of family friends. I’d been looking forward to it for weeks. I’ve also lost some weight lately. As soon as I arrived, the commentary started. “Oh my God, I didn’t even recognize you! How much weight have you lost?” Punch to the gut. Yes, it had been a couple of years since I’d last seen this person, a friend of my parents. In the meantime, I’d gone from a size 20 to a size 14. But “didn’t recognize” me -- please! And can someone please tell me why that is an acceptable conversation topic in today’s society? I would never walk up to that same person and say “OMG you look amazing! Did you get your eyes done?” (This person clearly had, but I’m southern, and you don’t comment on that sort of thing… because manners.) At best, this person is a product of a diet culture that has normalized this impolite and way too personal question about my physical appearance. At worst, they were fishing for a bit of news to gossip about later. “Guess what! The fat girl just lost 50 pounds!”
I enjoy a good compliment, but this kind doesn’t feel good. While “You look amazing! What have you been doing?” might sound flattering, underneath there is the shaming insinuation that the body I have spent many years learning to love has been defective -- unacceptable -- until now.
I answered this inconsiderate family friend with my own, hard fought truth: I haven’t been on a scale in several years. The amount that my body weighs isn’t a priority to me. I wish I could say that was the end of the questioning, but it was just the beginning. I left the event feeling icky and hating my body.
Like many, I grew up being teased for my size, which has ranged from a 12 to a 26 over the years. I’m also quite tall, so when someone called me “big,” I was never sure if they were referring to my height, weight or both. My nickname in junior high was “Ogre.” By my mid twenties, it was “Xena.” (And not because I was a warrior or even a princess.) Backhanded compliments like “You have a pretty face,” were far too common. I didn’t own a full length mirror. I refused to eat in public for fear of judgement. I hated my body and, by default, myself.
Ten years ago, I opened my first plus size clothing boutique, because I wanted better options for women like me. Instantly, I threw myself into the role of “plus size cheerleader.” I read all the big girl books, the fat acceptance blogs and bought into the idea that women are beautiful at any size. I was a fatshionista by all definitions of the word. “Life doesn’t begin five pounds from now” was my catch phrase. And I honestly believed everything I was saying. I thought of all my customers as beautiful, lovable women. The only problem was, I didn’t believe it for myself. I skillfully walked through my store avoiding any reflection of myself in the mirror. I stuffed my feeling of unworthiness down with vast amounts of unhealthy food. I was keenly aware of the oxymoron I was living. It added to my self hatred.
After years of living this lie about my self worth, I met a group of women who have supported me in a way I had never experienced in my entire life. They loved me until I could love myself. They showed me what I looked like through their eyes, showed me I wasn’t alone and pointed out how my self image was skewed. I read more books. I went to more therapy. Daily, I stood in front of a full length mirror naked while saying affirmations about my body out loud. Slowly and painfully, I started shedding the cloak of self hatred. I started accepting my body exactly how it was. Eventually, I began to love my body and in turn, myself. That body was a glorious 2X. I had no more shame about my size.
My recent weight loss wasn’t about getting smaller; it was about getting happier. About a year and a half ago, I’d fallen into the grips of a major depression that I was desperate to shake. A doctor, a psychiatrist and therapist explained -- repeatedly -- how exercise releases endorphins, the chemical in your brain that makes you feel good. I also learned that one of the places your body produces serotonin, a neurotransmitter related to mood, is in your gut. Motivated to feel better, I began walking 3 miles every day and cooking, instead of ordering take out. Eventually, doing these good things for myself became a habit and -- along with therapy -- helped me get to the other side of my depression. As a byproduct, I lost a significant amount of weight and wound up a “Good Fatty.”
For me, the worst part of the “Good Fatty” equation is that it inevitability creates a “Bad Fatty” scenario. It puts a moral judgement on my outward appearance. A few extra pounds does not inherently make me a bad person. As a matter of fact, you cannot judge a person’s virtue simply by the way they look. The “Good Fatty” concept reinforces the same diet-crazed culture most of us were raised in, which says we’re only loveable if we look a certain way.
Loving yourself, exactly how you are today, is a radical idea. It goes against everything magazines, television and social media tell us. It goes against messages some of us got from our mothers, who received those same messages from their mothers and so on. Loving yourself “as-is” breaks a chain that goes back generations, and it’s hard as hell to do. When we applaud the “Good Fatty,” we diminish that major achievement -- or even the aspiration for self love -- by saying it’s not as valuable as fitting into a smaller dress size. That’s not true.
So, I’m going to set aside my southern manners for just a minute here and say something impolite. “No, I can’t take a compliment.” At least, I can’t take any “compliment” that says loving myself in any shape or size is wrong. And, unfortunately, treating me like a “Good Fatty” says just that.
(Photo by Brian Wagner)