Society has a lot of rules and expectations for fat people. They’re mostly unspoken, and nobody issues you a list when your ass starts getting a little jiggly. You learn the rules of life in a fat body slowly, gradually.
Or maybe I should say, you realize them slowly. There’s not a lot of true learning involved. It’s more about discovery.
Because fatphobia is rampant in diet culture, the system that values thinness, vilifies fatness and profits from our endless attempts to be thinner. Most of us digest the message that fat is “bad” before we ever hit elementary school.
The first time I cried myself to sleep because someone called me fat as an insult, I was still sleeping in zip-up pajamas with a nightlight. The process of realizing my body was not naturally becoming the kind that most people wanted to have was gut-wrenching.
I was just a little girl when I realized that if I didn’t “lose my baby fat,” people would perceive my body as an inherent strike against my worth. At just a handful of years old, I came to understand that my value and my right to be respected and loved would always be called into question because of the size of my fat body.
But elementary school was also when I realized I was smart. Notably so. Not Einstein smart. But smart enough that if I put in a great amount of effort, I could always be close to the top of my class. I leaned into that strength. It became non-negotiable. I would never be seen as the prettiest girl in the room, but I could be seen as smart.
The almost simultaneous timing of both realizations created a perfect storm for a lifelong pursuit of impossible perfection.
I couldn’t seem to figure out how to be thinner, but if I tried really, really hard, I could make people see past it.
And that began a cycle of constant overcompensation that persists to this day.
Throughout my life, every time I’ve discovered one of my strengths, I’ve latched onto it like my worth depended on it. Any time I fell short, no consequence anyone could enact would rival the way I would punish myself.
I have missed out on so many things I wanted to try simply because they didn’t fit into my self-imposed idea that I have to be fantastic at everything I do to make up for my “sub-par” body.
For most of my life I told myself that if I’m not sure I can do it well, I just shouldn’t try it. For so long being fat felt like such a glaring strike against me; excelling was how I could bring myself back up to everyone else’s baseline.
I didn’t come up with this sad, restrictive philosophy in a vacuum. Diet culture made up my mind before I even knew what was happening. Society has always told me that I am worth inherently less than I would be if I was thin. In order to be earn my place, I have to be special.
I’ve been chasing that feeling of being special and exceptional my whole life.
I’m tired. And I’m done.
Since I turned 30, I’ve done so much hard work to come to peace with my body. I started by making peace with the concept of fatness, and learning how to accept other people’s bodies.
In the last few years, I’ve learned so much about what fatness has meant historically and what it means now. I see through so much of the bullshit that once ruled my life. It doesn’t serve anyone to pretend the cruelty I’ve faced doesn’t affect me at all, but I can say without flinching that I am happy in my body, no matter what. I have made peace with this vessel. I believe that I deserve the love my husband shows me, the kids I carried, and the happy life I’ve created. At this point, I do what I want in this body without considering how anyone else might feel about it.
Most of the time, I feel like I am finally free.
But some habits still remain, no matter how hard I try to break them.
I have always felt like I have to explain myself when I go out in casual clothes without makeup. The reality of life in a fat body is that I don’t get the leeway that thin people get. A thin girl’s “casual” is a fat girl’s “sloppy.” We don’t get to be seen as tired, busy, or natural. We get to carry different labels, like lazy. We get to hear people sigh, “She could be so pretty if she would just try.”
Once I chose to be a stay-at-home mom, the pressure I put on myself started to build. My three kids give me an “excuse” to spend less time looking as close to perfect as I can muster. So, I started putting intense pressure on myself to have a tidy house, cook well, and be welcoming and hospitable. I can’t just be a great mom. I have to make sure I look like a great mom so people will overlook that I am a fat mom.
If I don’t work hard to change my mindset now, I’ll just move the goalposts again when my kids grow up. This cycle of overcompensation is endless and exhausting and ultimately, pointless.
Nobody has ever changed their mind about fat people because my winged eyeliner is sharp, my chicken marinade is the best in town, or I know all the US presidents in order from Washington to Biden. (Fingers crossed.)
All this trying hard hasn’t actually changed anything. I’m sick of having to put in maximum effort to get minimum respect. That’s not real respect anyway.
I’ve lived in this system and accepted it because it’s just how it is, right?
Wrong. I’m done with “how it is.” Screw diet culture and every person who chooses to benefit from my pain.
My new challenge in my body acceptance journey is to shed this pursuit of perfection and stop overcompensating for my fat body. The pressure is too much. I’ve been a people pleaser for too long.
In addition to wearing what I want, doing what I want, and changing my mindset about the concept of fatness, I have to get comfortable with letting people just not like me. This is so much harder than it was to put a bikini on my fat body for the first time, but it’s also so much more important.
I have to let people fail to see my worth, and start seeing that as their loss, not mine. Anyone who can’t respect me for who I am in the body I have right now doesn’t deserve a seat at my table anyway.