The internet doesn’t care if you’re healthy — it just doesn’t want you to be fat
It’s odd to think that one of the major struggles of my adult life was born of a decision I made when I was 13. That’s how old I was when I figured out that I could essentially starve myself and no one would notice.
I figured out that I could get by without digesting food, and keep my weight-obsessed mother from noticing I was no longer a child. I didn’t want to be a teenager — my sister was one, and she was constantly getting berated about her weight. I wanted to fly under the radar; not grow into to my destined-to-be-curvy Greek-Italian body. And definitely not have my weight be a dinner table discussion.
I don’t know what it’s like to have a healthy relationship with food and exercise, because I’ve been struggling with eating disorders for most of my life. I do know what it’s like to have an unhealthy relationship with food and exercise — and it looks a lot like what I see all around me on social media, every day. But somehow in our digital age it’s become acceptable to publicly track the miles you’ve run or the meals you’ve eaten. I’m not quite sure when the general public became so obsessed with their diet and exercise plan, and I’m even less sure when we collectively decided it was a great idea. Our willingness to embrace and applaud even extreme diet and exercise, yet belittle overweight people for just trying to exist is confusing at best.
“Just bc the average size is 16 doesn’t mean it should be or that it’s okay to be. I’m all for loving your body but glorifying/praising obesity isn’t okay.”
No one is concerned when you’re bragging about all the miles you’ve run or the time you’ve spent at the gym. Or when you’re talking about the latest juice cleanse you’re on. Everyone just accepts that behavior as normal and healthy. Fasts, cleanses, and diet plans are everywhere — and people are generally applauded for partaking. But put on a few pounds and suddenly the internet is full of armchair doctors — speculating about your health.
When I was thin, no one ever questioned my health. And guess what? I desperately needed someone to. There was a period of time in my early twenties when I was constantly fainting. I’m sure this had something to do with the fact that I was consistently undernourished, fasting, and working out to the point of complete exhaustion — but it became sort of a joke around my friends and family back them. Oh my god! Maria fainted again! The fact that this wasn’t of more concern to the people around me probably has something to do with my ability to make jokes — to lighten the mood. To make things funny. Each fainting episode became a funny tale that hid the underlying reason that my body was simply giving out on me from time to time.
“You’re allowing yourself to be fat, go shop in the “fat stores”. Certain sizes simply don’t sell enough in certain stores to be worth carrying.”
I’m thinking about it all this week because I recently wrote an essay about how hard it is to find clothes when you are a size 14-16, and what bullshit that is since that’s the size of the average American woman now. There was a lot of commiserating in the comments — women who are just as fed up as I am. But there was a lot of body shaming, too. It’s not that I didn’t expect it — if you spend any time moving through the world with more weight than it finds acceptable, you quickly become used to the comments, criticisms, and concern trolling.
“No one is obligated to make clothing in your size. 2/3 of Americans are overweight. How about we talk about that, and tackle that problem instead of whining about J Crew not carrying tarps.”
After reading comment after comment about my health or how fat I am, I realized it wasn’t the fact that I’m fat that bothered these commenters — it’s the fact that I’m unapologetic about it. How dare I want clothes that fit my size 16 frame and complain about it publicly? Shouldn’t I be hiding out somewhere in shame? Maybe crying in a closet staring at old pictures of myself? How dare you? How dare you expect there should be something to accommodate your fat, unhealthy body. Just shut up and exercise.
I couldn’t possibly just be complaining that I’m a size 16 and want some clothes. I mean, who would want to admit that?
It’s been four years since I’ve engaged in the disordered behaviors that plagued my life for so many years. I’ve also gained 45 pounds in that time. So you can imagine how easy that’s been for someone who’s spent the lion’s share of her life obsessed with the numbers on the scale. Surprisingly, I haven’t spent the last four years sitting on the couch and eating cake all day, or whatever the fuck it is that people intent on taking to the internet to shame others think. I had my second child. I moved — twice. I changed my career and became desk-bound for the first time in my life. I had family problems and relationship problems and stress at work. And I couldn’t fall back on my usual coping mechanism of meticulously tracking my food and denying myself things. Because I wasn’t willing to start killing myself again.
“Quit whining. Lose weight, ladies. Why not try to lose weight and be healthier and fit into what is and should be, normal sizes. Good lord.”
Are there days I look into the mirror and dislike what I see? Of course. I’m a human being. I’m not immune to the ads and the criticisms and the years of my own self worth being tied up in a number on a scale. But no matter how bad that momentary self-loathing can be, that pain doesn’t compare to the many, many times I was a crumpled heap on the bathroom floor, praying that I could stop this before I succeeded in disappearing.
After a bout of anxiety this year where I absolutely convinced myself there was something wrong with me physically, I got just about every exam you can imagine. Doctors checked my heart, my liver, my kidneys, my blood pressure, and my sugar and cholesterol levels. They checked for blood clots. They checked my lungs. They checked my thyroid.
I’m in perfect health.
So the concern trolling about how unhealthy I am is… interesting. Since there were so many other times in my life when I needed it.
Did these years where I gained this weight involve some unhealthy habits? Yeah. There were too many days to count when I existed on nothing all day but coffee and whatever easy carb I could throw in my mouth between all the tasks I was getting done. Have I been exercising enough? Hell no. But sometimes being excessively busy and raising humans thrusts you into survival mode. Spoiler alert: survival mode doesn’t really give a shit how your ass looks. It’s shocking that in damn near three decades of starving myself, struggling with bulimia, and engaging in so many obsessive behaviors around my body — no one accused me of being unhealthy. But as soon as I started gaining weight, the health concerns were everywhere.
There is nothing wrong with me physically, so I’m assuming just eating more of the right stuff and moving my body more will shed some pounds eventually. But now, I take walks because I like to look at the blooming dogwood trees in my neighborhood and listen to music. I eat more protein and veggies because it makes me feel good, not because I’m trying to change something about myself. After decades of looking in a mirror and insulting the amazing body staring back at me, I’m finally at peace with what I see — and I’m the heaviest I’ve ever been. And I’m not apologizing for that.
I’m not spending one more day of my life abusing myself for not being thin enough. So don’t worry about me, armchair doctors of the internet — I’m good. I mean, really good. All tests prove that I’m healthy. I have colleagues who respect me and friends who love me. I make a living telling women stories that make them feel good. And I’ll never stop telling mine — even if it involves my fat ass.
And goddammit, I want some clothes that fit it.
If you are struggling with an eating disorder, the National Eating Disorder Association has resources to help.