On Conditional Acceptance
One-line summary of everything I’m about to say: Fat is either shamed or fetishized, and rarely accepted.
I’m fat and, most days, completely fine with this. Being fat does not get in my way very often. I hardly notice it. I’ve written before about how I love and accept my body.
Last week, some guy on the streetcar thought it was necessary to tell me that I am “too fat to dress like that”. I knew that this wasn’t about me; it was about him being uncomfortable with a fat person being visible. I looked dang cute, and probably way too confident for his comfort. In his mind, I should be covering up, not drawing attention to myself, not letting anyone notice that I’m fat. I calmly disagreed with him, saying, “No, I’m not,” until he left the streetcar at the next stop.
I posted a selfie with this story on Instagram. Comments flooded in from my sweet friends: “You look great!” “Hottie!” “So cute!” etc. While those comments are appreciated and certainly made me feel good and cute, I posted it not seeking validation and confirmation that I looked good, but to point out that no matter what I looked like, it was not okay for this complete stranger to tell me what to do with my body.
The comments that made me feel the best validated me for who I am:
“That’s a pretty dress on a pretty, smart, funny, sexy person.”
“You are a most lovely and loved human being!”
“I love you.”
I got to thinking: What if I had looked like shit that day, and wasn’t wearing a bangin’ dress with a lacy bralette, looking all sassy? Would my friends still have jumped to my defense so quickly, or would they have remained silent? Would they have agreed with him? I am sure some would have. (And probably some do, anyway.)
There is little room for fat acceptance on the spectrum between shaming and fetishizing. Fat acceptance is conditional. Fat is accepted if you look like you’re trying to look good, but if you don’t look like you are, you’re a lazy fat person and should be trying harder. Streetcar Guy wanted me to look like a stereotypical lazy fat person and fit into that box that he had in his mind for people like me. I used to have an employer who would frequently comment on my lunch choices, but particularly when I had something healthy-looking: OH! Are you on a diet??? Uh, no, I’m just eating a salad. It’s normal.
I’m met with a lot of mixed reactions when I tell people I’m trying to be healthier, particularly when I’m doing the Whole 30. Mostly, people seem to be impressed: “Oh, I could never give up cheese!” (My exact initial reaction when Jen asked me if I wanted to do it in March 2016. I actually don’t end up missing cheese that much, though I do love it so. I just always want Mini Eggs through the Whole 30.) Many of my sweet friends are incredibly supportive and accommodating, if a little bit concerned about the future of me and Gaby’s Red Wine & Grilled Cheese parties. When I start talking about being healthy or trying to lose weight or get in shape though, some of my friends get uncomfortable. Back in January, some people were just straight up rude about it. This really puzzled me at first. I ranted to my roomie-friend Jen and together we listed questions we would like to ask these rude people:
Why/how does me not eating certain foods affect you, exactly? Why/how is it appropriate for you to shame me for my choice to EAT WELL? Does it make you uncomfortable that I am a fat person who might be about to acknowledge that I am fat? UH OH!! LOOK OUT!!!! AWKWARD!!!! If your argument is that this is “unhealthy”, please, do explain to me, why eating meat, vegetables, eggs, fish, nuts, fruit (and a ton of other stuff) is UNHEALTHY? Since when is a dinner plate stacked with veggies and a chicken breast a bad idea? What is me doing the Whole 30 triggering in you that is making you uncomfortable?
That’s when I realized: I’m triggering something.
Wait, can the poster-girl for fatness lose weight? What is everyone else supposed to feel about their bodies, if our token fat girl might want to change? What if she becomes more fit than me? What if my benchmark for “at least I’m not THAT FAT” suddenly moves? Should I be healthier too? Am I good enough?
It’s not about me. That’s why Streetcar Guy didn’t get a rise out of me. I knew it wasn’t about me, but about what I made him feel. My visible fat body triggers things in other people. It might be shame, it might be desire, but rarely does it just go unnoticed and completely accepted. That’s okay, but I have to say, I would kind of like it if people would stop projecting their insecurities about their bodies onto me and just let me do my thing.
After Jen and I posed our ranty questions to our invisible audience of rude friends, I wrote this list:
Why I’m doing the Whole 30 for the second time
- Because it gives me a fail-safe way to make good food choices every day for 30 days and feel no food-related guilt which is something I have felt my entire life
- Because I need to be accountable to myself
- Because it is literally the only “diet” I have ever ever ever seen through completely in my life and I have been on a lot of diets
- Because I need to make changes and this makes sense to me and works for me
- Because I have chosen to and I’m a grown ass woman and I can do whatever I want
- Because it feels good
- Because it is good
I finished the Whole 30 in early February and quickly slid back down the slippery, sugary slope, though once again with far less grain and this time, far less dairy, in my diet. One especially supportive friend who had been encouraging me through the 30 days and I decided to make a go of a soft-30, and a couple of weeks ago began a Monday-Friday, mostly grain/dairy/sugar/alcohol-free life, allowing ourselves to indulge (aka drink alcohol and eat bagels) on the weekends. We also added some daily exercise into this routine. As I knew from doing Whole 30 with Jen, having a buddy helps me stay on track. Being accountable to just myself is hard, as I will always accept my own dumb excuses, but I never want to have to admit to the other person that I failed. (Taurus, amirite?) I’m learning to get there by myself, but for now I know I still need the accountability. On Saturdays and Sundays – when, according to our eating plan, I can do whatever I want – I find myself still making generally good choices and being very aware of what I’m indulging in is a treat. I’m building the foundations of new good habits, and I’m doing it for me, for my future self, and maybe also for my future partner or children who will need me to be strong and healthy and live a long time and be able to walk up stairs and stuff when I’m old. But mostly for me.
So, to all who think the Whole 30 is dumb, or who look at me for self-validation, or who put down others, or think it’s appropriate to tell random people you don’t know about their bodies: that’s your problem. I’ll continue to be here and be fat for you to look at, but I’m also going to continue to try to do better, to challenge myself and challenge you in the meantime. No, Streetcar Guy, I’m not too fat to dress like this.