The F Word: A new series
I'm starting a new series on my blog called, you guessed it, The F Word. I'm not talking about the four letter word you may be thinking of - I'm talking about the word Fat.
Those of you who read my blog post about my eating disorder know that I have a special set of baggage when it comes to this particular word, and how it impacts my perception of beauty - a topic that has been on my mind a lot after my surgery. I've lost about 30 pounds since my operation on July 17. This is exciting but it's also scary; the last time I lost this much weight this quickly, it was when I was starving myself. Sometimes I can't help but notice the parallels as I receive compliments, curious glances, fit into a smaller jean size this week than the one before. It all feels a bit too familiar, and I find myself needing to readjust my armor against old ways of thinking, feeling.
Let's start with the truth.
I tell everyone that my surgery was for PCOS, unable to admit that while this is most certainly true, I am omitting the fact that it is, also, a bariatric surgery. This is embarrassing, shameful - that I allowed my body, myself, to become so out of control that an operation was my only way out.
Of course, I know that this is my eating disorder voice. This, right here, is the hardest part of recovery. You can learn to nurture your body instead of denying it, to accept that you are perhaps worth something besides the number on the scale and how little you are able to eat, but this voice, the one that whispers that you are disgusting, too much, out of control and therefore a bane on society, never really goes away. You learn to ignore her, to offset her cruel words with positive reinforcements and self-care, but she is always there, lurking in the shadows.
Having an eating disorder is like being an addict. You have a predisposition for this particular way of dealing with things. Alcoholics turn to liquor and drug addicts turn to coke, or meth, or painkillers, but you turn to numbers and scales and cutting your food into tiny pieces and chewing and spitting and lying - oh, the lying! You and the alcoholics and drug addicts have that in common as well. And you are always "in recovery" because being triggered, to going back to that method of dealing with your sadness or anxiety is always there, waiting for you to slip back into it, like your favorite old pair of tennis shoes that you know offer no support but are comfortable and familiar nonetheless.
She never had a name. I didn't call her Ana or Mia or Ed, but she was a part of me, and, what I thought for a long time, the better part. And I did learn to set her aside, that I would rather live in the real world than merely exist in my wonderland, but she never disappeared completely, the way I tried to. I still hear those whispers, getting louder at my most insecure moments: "He would love you if you were thin." "You would have gotten that promotion if you weren't so fat." "She wouldn't have discarded you like a piece of trash if you had your weight under control." And sometimes it can be hard to ignore her, since I know there is a grain of truth in her malicious words.
Because, in fact, the world can be just as cruel as she is.
Numerous studies have documented harmful weight-based stereotypes that fat people are lazy, weak-willed, unsuccessful, unintelligent, and lack self-discipline. These stereotypes give way to stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against fat people in the workplace, health care facilities, the mass media, interpersonal relationships, and more:
- Fat people get fewer promotions and may receive up to 6% less earnings than thin people. Women are up to 16x more likely to receive weight discrimination in the workplace than men. (In fact, women overall experience higher levels of weight stigmatization than men, even at lower levels of excess weight.)
- Fat people often experience prejudice, apathy, and lower quality of care from medical professionals, which may result in patients choosing to delay or forgo crucial preventative care to avoid additional humiliation. 31% of nurses in one study said they would prefer not to treat a fat patient.
- Children as young as four are reluctant to make friends with an overweight child.
- Defendants in lawsuits who are fat are more likely to be found guilty.
- More than half (61%) of people see no harm in making negative comments about a person's weight.
- Research examining political candidates has found that overweight female candidates receive lower ratings of reliability, dependability, honesty, ability to inspire, and ability to perform at their job than non-overweight female candidates. (This finding did not hold true for men.)
- Federal law does not make it illegal to discriminate against people based on their weight. Let me break that down for you: that means if my employer decided to fire me because I'm fat or my landlord decided not to let me renew the lease on my apartment because of my weight, they could, and I wouldn't be able to fight it.
I am not telling you this so you feel sorry for fat people, and especially not so you feel sorry for me. As a white woman, albeit fat, I have significantly more privilege than some. But when the world reinforces the words you hear from your eating disorder - words that aren't supposed to be true - it confuses things. Because while she may have been lying when she told me I was much too fat all those years ago, we both know she isn't lying now.
This word - "fat" - has been one I've avoided all my life, ranking it up there with racial and homophobic slurs as words I would never dream of using, that I stiffen at when I hear others say them. Historically, I have undoubtedly used the actual F word more than this one (sorry Mom.) "Fat" is a reflection of my shortcomings, my deepest fears, my biggest (pun intended) insecurity.
On an episode of This American Life last year, Lindy West tackled this issue when she described "coming out" as fat:
I always felt like if I didn't mention it that maybe people wouldn't notice. Or it could just be this sort of polite secret, like, open secret that we didn't address, because it felt so shameful. It just felt impolite to talk about, like me not wanting to burden you with my failure.
But this stigma of the word "fat" enables the continued stigmatization of fat people. It also gives my eating disorder voice power when I equate the word "fat" with shame, instead of merely an accurate descriptor of my body. So I'm going to continue to write about being fat on this blog. And it's not because I'm brave, it's because I don't know how to have a so-called beauty blog if I'm not open and transparent about how my perceptions of beauty have been skewed by my weight - both when it was very low, and now, when it's very high.
You'll be able to find new posts in "The F Word" series here every Friday. I'd love your feedback - including if you have your own stories to share or thoughts around this topic. I welcome guest bloggers as well, so if you'd like to be one, hit me up at the Contact button at the bottom of the page.
Until next week.