Spring: Fat Woman Body
I am not comfortable in my fat body.
I feel shame in my fatness.
Anyone who has been fat understands what it’s like to navigate the public arena; the psychological aspects are much worse than the physical limitations of a fat body, which can be considerable.
In a world designed primarily, and unapologetically, for the slender, watching out for physical barriers is an on-going worry: tight spaces, small cars, elevators, crowded public transportation (airplanes, especially), and skimpy chairs designed to hold bodies up to 250 pounds – that is, if one is lucky.
Once, when I was on my Fulbright in Macedonia, where the population is still relatively slender (although this is rapidly changing), and dining in a small Italian restaurant, I stood up from a rickety plastic armchair to leave, and the chair arose with me. Everyone knows that a chair is not supposed to be a fashion accessory for the posterior, but there I was, sporting a white chair, no less, and trying to wiggle out of it, while everyone watched – at least that was my perception.
Unlike in the U.S., I was the fattest person, a curiosity, in that restaurant.
Yes, fat people are always comparing themselves to other fat people, trying to assure themselves that they are skinnier than that woman (usually another woman) across the room. But in that restaurant, I was the fattest one there, the ugly, vulgar American who consumes too much.
We are the worst judges of other fat people, scrutinizing and tsk tsking over other fat bodies, relief that, at least, we are not them.
Our fears about public scrutiny are not unwarranted.
We all know about the whispering, the eyerolling, the snickering, the smirking, the pointing, and the outright laughing – almost always girls and women (who truly believe that they are being subtle with their barbs).
Outright rude strangers, almost always young males, will not hesitate to give loud voice to what others are most certainly thinking: “You’re a fat pig,” “Off to the hog trough,” “Caution: Wide Load,” and worse.
Once, at a mall, some 13- or 14-year-old boys shot rubber bands at my butt.
Adorable little jerks.
Childhood echoes of the verbal abuse I suffered at the behest of my male cousins and schoolmates: “Fatty, fatty, two by four, couldn’t get through the kitchen door” and their pet name for me: “Jeffer the Heifer.”
Such echoes still cut deep, even though I have been told that it’s time to move on.
Well, buttercups, I get to decide when, and if ever, I plan to let go of that past and my feelings about it and work on that forgiveness thingy.
So far, no one has ever asked me for it.
Even the straightforward comment, “You’re too fat,” is not really an objective statement of fact, but a moral judgment with an overlay of gluttony and excess in all things.
Okay, when my doctor says it, she is well-meaning and does have my best interests at heart, but, even then, there is a tinge of societal judgment, the “shoulds” of body composition not being met as a Good Patient.
Here’s the rub: even as a fat woman, my physical condition is stubbornly robust and healthy, perhaps with a slightly elevated blood pressure and cholesterol – conditions that in thin people would be pooh poohed as normal for the aging body.
Then there are the cute little strangers: children too young to have developed a social filter but old enough to have been inundated with ads featuring skinny Madison Avenue models questioning the sizes of their butts.
My favorite: the innocent and yet direct question:
“Why are you so fat?”
The red-faced mother in the background, trying to shush her child, not because the child asked what she thought was a pertinent question, but because the mother was embarrassed that the child had voiced the mother’s own prejudices so pointedly.
The child is simply the objective conduit, laying bare societal views about fat and obese people.
Yes, the psychological aspects of fat are far worse than the physical barriers, which, with some will and minimal cost, can be fixed (and have been, in some respects): wider and sturdier chairs; chairs without arms; restaurant booths with wider spaces between seats and tables.
That is not to say that the fat body doesn’t offer its physical challenges.
I can barely lift a 50-pound bag of salt; mostly I just pull it from the car trunk and allow it to plop to the ground (and hope it doesn’t burst open), drag it to its carport destination, and with some help, roll it into the square container where we keep the winter salt.
Yet my fat body often carries at least 50 pounds of extra weight – sometimes more.
Slogging around all those extra pounds is not easy on a body.
One could argue all day that living flesh weighs differently than inert objects of the same weight, but, contrary to popular belief, they weigh the same.
Weight is weight.
Too much of it has detrimental effects on our physical well-being. That is irrefutable.
A fat woman walking and carrying 200 pounds exerts 300 pounds on her knee joints – sooner or later, something will have to give, and mobility will soon be diminished.
And then there are the heart, which must pump blood through veins and arteries not designed to support extra flesh, and the lungs, which must deliver oxygen to the brain and muscles – and fat.
Etcetera and blah, blah, blah…
With our knowledge base of basic nutrition and how the body works and moves, we fat people could earn an advanced degree in anatomy and physiology.
Which begs the question: why do we have so much difficulty losing and keeping excess weight off?
Why is controlling our appetite so problematic?
Why is food such an obsession?
Why do we gain weight so easily, while our skinny friends and family eat like horses and never gain an ounce?
Why do the skinnies not understand how and why food and weight take an out-sized place in our lives?
Recently, an always-been-skinny relative said to me, “You’re on vacation; you should be able to eat whatever you want.”
How can I tell her that I can never take a vacation from following a food plan because if do, I’ll even grow fatter?
That going off plan for an extended period does not just represent a significant weight gain, but will also create a cascading psychological effect, which will likely result in a years-long binge?
That I, too, don’t understand the whys and hows of the way I am?
So the physical aspects are the least of it.
If our culture were more accepting of fat people, I am convinced there would be fewer fat people.
Instead of castigating fat people for being weak-willed and unable to control their appetites, the medical field could be working on finding ways to help people lose weight without offering moral judgments, either implicitly or explicitly.
If there is any good news for fat people, it is this: we are no longer a minority.
In the U.S., it is estimated that two-thirds of all adults are overweight, one-third of them meeting the Body Mass Index (BMI) test for obesity.
With those numbers, we should rise up and demand better treatment and adequate accommodations for our bodies, particularly on airliners, where people of size are still treated like second-class citizens.
Unfortunately, we still cower in our corners, telescoping our shame for taking up “too much space.”
One group of activists is trying to bring about change for how people of size are treated: The National Association for the Advancement of Fat People (NAAFA).
If I were truly a brave person, I would join.
But I’m a coward.