I was mindlessly scrolling through my Facebook news feed, as one does on a rainy Wednesday afternoon, and an image caught my eye. A large person’s torso with mysterious hands is shown measuring the overwhelming circumference of the belly in question. “Oh great,” I thought, “Another targeted diet advertisement asking if I want to lose that extra fat.” At a second glance, however, I was somewhat relieved to see that it was an article posted by a fellow fat activist, then clicked on it to see what it was it was about.
It was in response to an ABC news article titled “American Medical Association Declares Obesity a Disease.” Fury set in immediately. As the video clip of the story began to play at the the top of the page, George Stephanopoulos casually chatted with another thin man in a suit while stock footage of fat people walking, sitting, and standing on street corners played, their faces skillfully not included in the frame to conceal their supposedly “shameful” identities. As the video played on I began to read the article: the American Medical Association had officially decided that people who fall within the BMI category of “obese” have a clinical disease. Based on how BMI is currently measured, that means that a person who is 5’9” is considered obese if they weigh 203 pounds or more. This health-classification system is based only on a person’s height and weight without taking into consideration any other factors, such as other health conditions, diet, and activity levels. Such a generalized model for health ignores the individual differences among bodies, and subsequently is ineffective in determining people’s actual health.
According to the AMA, the largest medical association in the United States, at 5’5” and somewhere between 250 and 270 pounds, I am in fact over-qualified when it comes to an obese BMI. But, my size aside, I have no other major health problems. Sure, I don’t eat as healthy as I could and am definitely not a huge fan of exercise, but my blood pressure and cholesterol are normal and I can walk up a flight of stairs with no problem at all. So why does the AMA get to tell me that I have a disease, just because I happen to carry more body fat than someone else might? The answer to that lies in the long tradition of fat-shaming. Fat-shaming is deeply engrained in our culture and remains one of the most widely accepted forms of discrimination. If you’re rolling your eyes right now or have doubts, take a minute to think…
When is the last time you heard someone use the word “fat” as an insult? When is the last time you “felt fat” because you ate too much? When is the last time you saw a diet ad or commercial? Last time you were in a clothing store, what was the largest size you saw? How many clothing items claimed to be “slimming” or “flattering”? How many times in your life have you pinched your stomach, hips, or arms and sighed in disgust, promising yourself that you’ll go to the gym tomorrow?
Fat-shaming, like any form of body-shaming, is a feminist issue. Any critique of body presentation is a feminist issue. In a world where women are reduced – and no less reduce each other – to what they look like (which, face it, is more often than not), fat women are immediately discounted as unattractive. This is because almost all representations of fat people in the media are negative, implying that they are wrong, undesirable, unhealthy, and unlovable. The media is not the only outlet to blame; medical literature is guilty of fat shaming as well. Of course, all fat folks are subject to shaming, but in a society where first judgements on women are based on appearance first and foremost, we get the short end of the stick.
I have been fat for pretty much my entire 20 years of life. And I have been aware of my fatness for more than half of that time. At eight years old, I asked my Mom if I could go to a Weight Watchers meeting with her. At ten, I begged my parents to pay thousands of dollars a week to send me to a weight loss camp in the Poconos. I never wore shorts above my knees. I never left the house without at least short sleeves. Up until I was 15, I would run past mirrors on my way to the shower to avoid catching my naked body in the mirror. I would contemplate taking up an eating disorder, then berate myself for not having the willpower. Not one time did anyone tell me that my behavior was wrong, or that it was worsening the long term mental damage I had been experiencing for so long. Even during my freshman year of college, when everyone was out in the sun in their bikinis, there I was in jeans and a t-shirt.
This past year, something changed. I found a community that celebrates bodies exactly as they are. I found gorgeous women who would strut their stuff in tight mini dresses and crop tops. I began adding these things to my wardrobe and spending twenty or thirty minutes at a time staring at myself naked in the mirror. This community fights against the negative messages on beauty that are shoved down our throats every day, creating a space to celebrate fat bodies. There are the constant reminders of clothing stores that don’t carry my size and now the AMA has announced that my body is in and of itself medically diseased. My friends, seemingly oblivious to my fatness, complain about their size every day. I cannot watch TV or read a magazine without being reminded that there is an entire industry designed around weight loss just so people can avoid looking like me. It is a struggle against judgmental eyes everyday. Before this year, I couldn’t have imagined that this even existed. Right now, I am comfortable in my fat body.
Fat positivity isn’t easy to come by. It’s difficult to rid yourself of negative perceptions that have been drilled into your head for your entire life. If you’re looking to start your path to becoming more fat positive, whether you’re fat or not, start by seeing fat people as more than just the size of their bodies. Don’t let someone’s fat lead you to assumptions about their lifestyles. Eliminate body-negative comments from your speech, and stand up to people who perpetuate negative stereotypes. Recognize harmful messages in the media, and don’t just let them go. Making your own behaviors more positive can have a bigger impact on those around you than you might think.
-Alexa Ciecierski, Contributing Writer
All images from http://redefiningbodyimage.tumblr.com/
If you’re looking to get involved in the body positive or fat activist community, these blogs are a good place to start. These are the blogs that helped start my journey to self love!