Content note: This post contains a description of the impact of fat shaming and a discussion of eating disorders.

mybodyis.jpgAs the heatwave has been raging over the last couple of weeks, I realise I have to worry about my insulin as it doesn’t survive in the heat. I briefly talk about it with another person I know with diabetes (though type 1, not type 2 like me). He can tell when his insulin has gone off and is in tune enough with his body to know how to adjust his insulin to his needs. He’s at a healthy weight, by all means what I might unfairly call a ‘perfect’ diabetic.

It’s not fair making a judgement on him, but it is in contrast to the judgement I have made on myself. I am a bad diabetic. I eat ice cream (and biscuits, and sweet cereal and chocolate andandand), I don’t exercise enough and I’m fat – morbidly obese if you still believe in the BMI scale. Therefore, I feel woefully unqualified to write about diabetes, let alone illustrate those links between feminism, fatness, diabetes and eating disorders, because this is what I’m facing right now. I am in the middle of a storm I do not see a happy ending for. And yet, it’s this intersection that is on my mind constantly, and the reason I applied to be a guest columnist in the first place. So here goes a very personal account.

I am writing about a battle. A battle I do not think I can win. I am a fat woman who suffers from disordered eating, clinging to feminism because it reminds me of my worth. It reminds me (because I forget) that I am beautiful as I am. It compels me to refuse to put up with fat discrimination and to see thin privilege as real and damaging. The personal is political means that the way I am encouraged to see myself – as immoral, a problem and a health crisis – as an attack on all fat women and another symptom of systemic and ingrained oppression of fat women*, not just a lone battle I am fighting. This is really crucial as it means I am not isolated and that there are blogs and tumblrs to turn to for support. It is a shoulder to cry on and a shield to many of my hurtful thoughts.

I feel that this slipped away somewhat when I was diagnosed as diabetic a few years ago. I was taking the messages of fat feminism to heart, when suddenly my size was the problem to overcome in order to fix my diabetes. Scary, life-changing implications are now tied in my fatness – organ failure, loss of sight, paralysis, stroke and death… Just as I had saved myself from my last ever diet regime, I had been put on another one by my doctors and now I had to find some magical balance between necessary weight loss, my body dysphoria and the feminism that told me to love myself at every size.

I was almost used to doctors using every excuse and appointment to lecture me on my size – I would roll my eyes quietly. But now every time it happens, it feels like so much more is at stake. All I get from the professionals is warnings of punishment, judgements and patronising; it makes me feel like I’ve done something dreadful to ‘deserve’ this. These new feelings of guilt, pressure and further self loathing has fed into my disordered eating – new ways to hurt and punish myself, comfort eating after bad appointments, starving myself until I feel like I’m going to black out.

It’s hard to get a full grip on self care and eating healthily as par the course when you’ve been on diets since you were eight years old and struggling with disordered eating and binging from your mid-teens. Sometimes I feel like I’m getting there, but most of the time I’m blocking the situation out in my head because I know my blood sugar levels aren’t right and I feel completely helpless. Through fat feminism I learnt that long term weight loss is extremely unlikely and read links condemning diets as false prophets; this can be seen as empowering, to love the body you’re in. I know that long term weight loss is not really possible – I’ve witnessed it in from loved ones and experienced it personally. But to me it means I cannot save myself from the worst of my diabetes. Right now, it means that my diabetes is a death sentence. At this point, I become too depressed, scared and anxious to fight back. It feels so much bigger than me. It feels like fate. I hate feeling like this.

From here, my friends become a lifeboat, with fat feminism as the vital armour to fight off thin privilege. But I would like some allies, or perhaps a comment from someone who is like me – fat and diabetic and feminist. I would like us to reach out to each other.

Link sourced via the excellent thisisthinprivelege tumblr.

Image description:

Five* white labels cut into round-cornered rectangle shapes arranged on a black background, each with the words “my body is” in bubble writing, followed by a line, coloured with gold pen and reinforced with black lines. The middle label has a chessboard print around the logo. By Pearl Pirie, shared under a Creative Commons License. (*There are four labels in the square frontpage version of this picture.)

Comments From You

Holly Combe // Posted 27 July 2013 at 5:39 pm

Thanks so much contributing this very personal piece, Tara, and highlighting the stress that comes from the ridiculous social pressure on everyone (women especially) to be thin. It seems to me that society’s insistence on this and endless concern trolling under the banner of ‘health’ is very damaging and puts our health and lives at risk in the long run :-(

Josephine Tsui // Posted 27 July 2013 at 8:13 pm

Hi Tara,

Thanks for writing this important blogpost. I think it’s important to talk about this struggle. In some way it’s about reconciling with multiple parts of our identities.

I recently read this article and thought it may add to the issue as well.

Thanks again.


The Goldfish // Posted 28 July 2013 at 12:32 am

This is a really great piece.

I guess, along with a many women with chronic illness, I have struggled with the conflicting messages of both disability activism and feminism – our bodies are our own, our health or lack thereof is not a moral issue or any reflection of who we are, we don’t owe it to other people to dedicate our lives to getting “better” – with the pressure to do the “right thing” healthwise, both from medical professionals, folk who care about us (who don’t always show it in helpful ways) and the fact that being ill sucks sometimes. Diet and exercise are naturally part of that.

The way I’ve come to look at it is steps to look after my health are choices I make for myself, much like I choose what to wear (practical? modest? expressive? sexy?). If I wake up in the morning and it’s particularly cold outside, I make sure I dress up warm – that becomes my priority, because I’ll be dreadfully uncomfortable otherwise. If I wake up and say, for example, have a terrible digestive systems, I need to eat very carefully that day, taking in certain foods, avoiding others, until I’m feeling better. However, days the weather is okay, and my health is stable, I can afford to think of other things – in fact, I must.

But point is, it’s personal. There’s nothing immoral about wearing a thin jacket in the depth of winter, it’s just not good for your physical comfort and health. However, it might be your favourite jacket, it might go perfectly with a dress you’ve got and it may be a special party or date or meeting where you really want to wear it. Thus, shivering and blue lips can be worked around.

Similarly, neither your weight nor your diagnosis render the everyday business of eating with some magical moral value. But you can take steps to make yourself more or less comfortable in very particular ways, according to your priorities on any given day, or over any period of time. Sometimes it matters a lot, othertimes, other things matter more.

Personally, I find it particularly helpful to think of things on as small a scale as possible; e.g. what is your priority for the food you’re going to eat this morning (taste? blood sugar? fullness? sustained levels of energy? easy digestion?), as opposed to any long term goal. It takes the pressure right off, and places it with the other everyday choices you make which can never be right or wrong, just right for you or not; clothes as mentioned, but also the music you listen to, the TV you watch, which loved ones you make contact with etc..

This is just how I try to handle it, and even in the absence of an eating disorder, it’s not uncomplicated. I hope you find fellow fat feminists with diabetes, but facing a conflict between health concerns and egalitarian politics, you’re certainly not alone.

Angryoldwoman // Posted 28 July 2013 at 10:17 pm

I can relate in many ways to this post although I am not a diabetic. However I have struggled with body image issues and disordered eating for many years, with similar conflicted thoughts about food and body size. I reached the point some years ago of ‘ditching the diets’ and remained fat but relatively healthy. However I have now reached the age when all those dire health warnings become more pertinent and in addition I am being investigated for a possible under-active thyroid. It’s difficult not to have a sense of panic and a feeling that everything is out of control.

I think as the last commenter said that we need to remember that it is still our body we are trying to look after as best we can, and shaming, guilt making or scaremongering from medical people or anyone else is not helpful. Fat-shaming seems to be almost a necessary box to tick with some doctors, irrespective of any other issues. Maybe informing ourselves and making any small changes that we can on a day-to-day basis is more realistic, and ignoring the prophets of doom to some extent. Though I am aware from my own experiences that this is not easy.

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