Being Fat

by Philippa Willitts // 10 August 2010, 11:39

Tags: body, body politics, fat

Ten years ago I thought I was fat.

Today, I know I am fat.

Ten years ago, being fat was the worst thing I could ever contemplate.

Today, being fat is fine.

Ten years ago, the word fat was loaded with fear and disgust.

Today, the word fat is a descriptive word only, with no moral judgement.

Ten years ago, the idea of getting fat terrified me.

Today, I don't fear getting fat, because I already am.

Ten years ago, despite being 'underweight', I hated the fat I thought I could see all over my body.

Today, I know there is nothing to fear.

Ten years ago I would have chosen to stay ill rather than take the medications which would help me to get better, but cause massive weight gain.

Today, I take those medications daily.

Ten years ago I thought that fat was the ultimate unhealthy thing I could be.

Today, I know that that anorexia was way more self-destructive, damaging and unhealthy.

Ten years ago, I thought that telling other women how fat I looked, and how awful that was, was normal and ok.

Today, I know that moaning to other women about my body's appearance reinforces the view in all of us that women's bodies should look a certain way.

Ten years ago, the word fat was nothing but an insult.

Today, the word fat is nothing but a descriptive term.

Ten years ago, if someone told me how flattering an outfit was on me, I'd be pleased.

Today, if someone tells me how flattering an outfit is, I know that they really mean it hides the areas they don't consider acceptable.

Essential Reading:

NB No comments which criticise fat people, which contain fat hate in the guise of 'health concern', which contain judgements about people's appearance, or which are anything other than fat positive will be published on this post. If in doubt, start by reading this.

Comments From You

saranga // Posted 10 August 2010 at 12:06

Excellent post. I hate the way the word fat is so loaded in our (western, uk) culture. People never seem to believe me when I describe myself as fat (or pudgy, or with a fat belly, or thighs) and that I'm ok with that! They always seem to think I'm slagging myself off when I use the term fat. I'm not! It's a description and I'm not unhappy with it, actually I revel in it!*

I'm quite happy with my big arse and protuding belly, my wide thighs and big breasts. I quite like the wobbles and rolls on my torso.

*or at least I try to. I find putting body police thoughts out of your head can be quite difficult in reality.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 10 August 2010 at 12:10

Yes! Absolutely! If you call yourself fat, people like to jump in and say 'Nooooo! You look great!'. People find it hard to hear you describe yourself as fat because it's normally self-depracating. But when it isn't, and it's just descriptive, people still try to correct you. I often compare it to saying 'I wear glasses'. It's just true!!

And yes, I always try to, I still sometimes get the attacks of the body police thoughts too.

Rhonda // Posted 10 August 2010 at 12:14

Amen! I'm printing this and posting on my fridge. Thank you!

Philippa Willitts // Posted 10 August 2010 at 12:16

Yey! Thank you :)

Anji // Posted 10 August 2010 at 14:42

Great post Philippa. I've written a couple like this myself. Hooray for fat!

Kellie // Posted 11 August 2010 at 08:43

Thanks for this. I travel around schools for my job and find myself in a different female dominated staff room every lunch time. It breaks my heart to hear so many women talking incessantly about their weight, how 'good' they've been with food this week, where they need to lose a few pounds, which clothes they don't fit into anymore... It also makes me want to scream "Stop talking about your weight! While all the women of the world are huddled together feeling shame about our bodies we will never achieve equality!" I really believe that until we can overturn the fear of fat the feminist movement will keep on hitting a brick wall.

Clare // Posted 11 August 2010 at 10:29

Kellie - you've hit the nail on the head! I work in an almost totally female field and I'm so tired of the obsession with eating / not eating and how vapid body-image culture is! We need to concentrate on health, not looks - and health inculdes self-esteem and acceptance. (AND healthy isn't automatically thin)

I'm pretty happy with my body, my main wishes are that it would enable me to do all the sports and activities I want to, not that it would look (someone else's idea of) "good" in this season's jeans. Whatever!!

I also identify with the feeling that actually when society said I was looking my best, I was actually feeling my worst - thankfully my friends are fabulous people who know that looking at me now I look WONDERFUL, and that's simply beacuse I'm happy, not because I'm fat / thin / blonde / tanned or any of that crap :-)

xxx

hmc // Posted 11 August 2010 at 18:59

Philippa,

Serious question: any pointers on how to get there?

I completely agree with everything you've said in this article, and all the comments, and the prejudice against fat people in this society makes me SO angry I can't describe it, and I'm constantly challenging people who make throwaway anti-fat people remarks as though it's perfectly acceptable, and arguing till I'm blue in the face that 'fat' and 'thin' are not moral positions...

BUT in spite of all this and even though it's been at least 5 years since I was underweight/officially anorexic...I'm still 'terrified' by the idea of getting fat. It seems such a ridiculous contradiction, but I think Saranga's right - putting body policing thoughts out of your head is incredibly difficult, especially about your own body.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 11 August 2010 at 19:17

Hi hmc,

Big question! I'll try to answer, in terms of how it happened for me, but it was, of course, a long long process which took years really.

It sounds like you've already taken the first step I took, which is taking it on as a political, or feminist issue. You are completely on board with the arguments and where you know you stand. At some point, I realised that believing that *every woman* has the right to be whatever size she is, yet believing that it wasn't ok for me, was a contradiction, and I started worrying that if I still judged myself, maybe I did actually judge others too (I'm not suggesting you do! This is just how my thought processes went). So I took that on as a feminist issue - that for feminist reasons I had to accept myself too!

Of course, that only goes so far. There isn't any big 'click' moment where I could suddenly apply it to myself, I think it was a gradual process. I've just finished reading 'Lessons from the Fat-O-Sphere' by Kate Harding and Marianne Kirby, which is really really good! I'd recommend it. And reading some great fat acceptance and HAES (health at every size) blogs - perhaps start with the ones I linked to in the post, is very normalising of different bodies and attitudes.

Don't give yourself a hard time that you still have these fears. We all still live in the same society that does give fat people a hard time, and it's so hard to fight that off.

I'd say give yourself a break, read lots of fat positive stuff, read fewer fashion magazines, and try to focus on doing things that your body likes - food related or not - to see if that helps you accept it however it is.

Any other commenters, feel free to add your own tips.

hmc // Posted 12 August 2010 at 20:34

aw, thanks Philippa, what a lovely reply! it's nice just to know it's not impossible! i'll definitely have a look at some of the reading you've suggested.

Rachel // Posted 12 August 2010 at 20:42

Thanks so much for posting this. I have always been a naturally thin person, so have never had to deal with most of things you talk about, and have never really thought about this issue until recently. I have found this really illuminating and I feel enlightened now!

Maeve // Posted 13 August 2010 at 09:29

Philippa, another brilliant post from you. What you say about not judging (or trying not to judge) other people's appearance really strikes a chord with me.

About a year or so ago now, I stopped reading and buying all women's magazines, and stopped reading most newspapers, especially the feature parts about 'lifestyle' and fashion, etc. Didn't watch any of those awful tv shows either. I decided that I was not going to criticise the way I looked, either to myself or anyone else, and I was not going to judge or make any comment on anyone else's appearance. This will sound like the bleedin' obvious to most people! but I was amazed at how much happier and calmer I started to feel after a while. Once I refused to judge the way anyone else looked, just opted out of all that bullshit, it just felt so - to use a much bandied about word - empowering. And because I won't do that any more, I've found it has a lovely knock-on effect in that I'm much more confident about standing up to anyone who tries to police anything about my appearance. It really brought home to me that individuals have a lot more power than they often realise.

Articles like yours also do a lot to help, so please keep up the great work.

A little sequel and then I'm done - a couple of weeks ago I was at the hairdresser and I did look at a magazine while I was waiting. The pink! the language! the terrible ads, critiques of other women's appearance! the 'must haves'. The mad prices. It was like drinking a cup of coffee with loads of sugar when you don't normally take sugar - 'orrible!

Thanks again.

Philippa Willitts // Posted 13 August 2010 at 10:02

Thanks Maeve! I too have had the same experience with stopping reading women's magazines - it's dramatic isn't it?!

And yes, when I do look at one, in the hairdressers or doctors waiting room or wherever, it's really shocking.

D // Posted 13 August 2010 at 10:44

Thanks for that. I used to suffer from bulimia, and now, even after recovering, I'm always worried about my looks.

Hannah // Posted 15 August 2010 at 13:29

my god I agree SO MUCH with what you're saying about magazines and want to join in the bitching.

The same as a lot of you, I don't buy them, so when I do look at them at my friends' houses they really knock me for six (and for some reason I always want to look at their magazines - I want to feel bad about myself/want to be shocked, in a sort of masochistic way?) After reading magazines I feel like I ought to go and find my 'ten wardrobe staples', 'revitalise' my makeup bag, and generally spend a lot of money.

I do enjoy the hairstyle tutorials, because that's something non-permanent and usually free (if you ignore the 'tips' on expensive styling products) that you can do to have a nice change in what you see in the mirror. The makeup tutorials can be fun too, though they're a bit more directed towards getting you to shell out for new stuff. I don't think we have to completely abandon any interest in makeup and fashion to feel happy with the way we look - so magazines could still serve some kind of a purpose - but it's a really hard balance to strike, and one that I struggle with pretty much daily.

I'm very glad I didn't read them as a teenager, I felt bad enough about my appearance as it was. Still, I suppose I imbibed plenty of stereotypes from reading male-oriented music magazines.

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