The F Word: What it's like to be skinny fat
Gosh, I’m really terrible at this blogging thing! Life keeps getting in the way (plus, sure, straight up laziness.) But there are so many topics I have swirling around in my head that I want to write about here, so I’m going to take a cue from my friend Meredith and make a commitment to (try very hard) to update once a week.
Here is some of the content you can look forward to in the next few weeks/months, not including today’s post on what it’s like being a skinny fat person. In no particular order!
- The best skincare of 2017 (I did this for makeup but I need to share my fave skincare products too!)
- The best beauty products so far in 2018
- A how-to of my New Year’s Eve make-up look (which I was super happy with but never posted about…and isn’t really NYE specific)
- My no make-up make-up look
- My take on the #TimesUp movement (and what it also means for fat women specifically)
- Giving up weighing myself for Lent + learning to be “body positive”
Anyway, let’s dive right in to being a skinny fat person.
You’re probably wondering what on earth I mean by that.
What a lot of people may not realize, and what even I didn’t realize for a long time, is that your amount of privilege as a fat person is directly correlated to how fat you are. There isn’t just fat or thin – there’s the level of fat (that I was for a long time) where you can’t, for example, fit into clothes from most clothing stores, where you don’t fit comfortably in most airline seats, or where you have to ask for a seatbelt extension on said airlines. And above that, there’s the level of fat where you may not fit in plus size stores or where you may need mobility assistance, to name a couple.
Below both those things is where I am now, which is skinny fat. I am still unquestionably fat; in fact, according to the BMI standard of measurement (which, side note, is complete bullshit because it doesn’t take into account body composition, but we’ll get into that another time), I’m still obese.
But there are quite a few things I can do now that I couldn’t 85 pounds ago, which speak directly to the amount of privilege I have in my new skinny fat body:
- Walk into a clothing store (ANY clothing store – not just Old Navy or stores with extended sizes) and find a wide variety of clothes that fit me. In those same stores, even designer stores, I’m also not given a once-over by a snooty salesperson while they ask me disdainfully if they can help me find anything (with the very obvious subtext that no, they can’t, because me and my excessive body clearly don't belong in their store.)
- Be on private or public transportation and not feel like I don't fit or am encroaching on someone else’s space. This includes: sitting (relatively) comfortably in an economy seat on a plane; not having to go through the shame of asking for a seatbelt extender; sitting between two people on the subway instead of standing and staring at the amount of space available, knowing either I wouldn’t fit or that trying to squeeze in would be more embarrassing than it's worth; and sharing the backseat of a cab with 2 other people without trying being pressed up rudely against another person or the inside of the car door.
- When I go to the doctor, they don’t have a look of surprise when they take my blood pressure and it's low. (Fun fact: It’s always been low, but high blood pressure and diabetes are the first things medical professionals automatically expect when you’re fat.)
- Have the option of modesty when I go to the doctor because those cloth gowns actually cover my body.
- Feel like my body isn't the first and only thing people see when I meet them for the first time.
- Feel like I don't have to hide my body in photos by standing behind people, because if I don’t I will take up more than my “fair share” of the frame.
- Not have people look surprised when I tell them I’m going to the gym.
- Not have waiters give me a second look if I order French fries.
There are also so many physical things that have changed throughout my weight loss. Of course there’s the expected changes like being able to climb a flight of stairs without being completely winded, or not being in pain just from walking three short city blocks, but there’s also little ones that feel huge, like crossing my legs. Do you know that for YEARS I couldn’t cross my legs, and suddenly, one a day a few months ago, I casually leaned back in my office chair and crossed my right leg perfectly over my left leg? I swear I stopped breathing for a moment when I realized what I had done because for so long I couldn’t even achieve that small moment of comfort.
As Roxane Gay wrote so poignantly in her memoir, Hunger, “The bigger you are, the smaller your world becomes.”
So now, for me, as I’m getting smaller, my world is getting bigger. But because it felt so small for so long, that sudden shift to having so much more privilege in my body is a jarring and conflicted one.
Part of me feels so much relief and joy at being able to experience the world in this new and markedly better way. Yes, I’ve been thin before (and not just skinny fat, but like, stupid, unhealthy thin) but in those times I had never experienced what it felt like to be the level of fat that I was until recently. So I was equally unhappy in my body, constantly judging myself, frequently bemoaning why I didn’t weigh less or fit into a smaller size, and always, ALWAYS comparing my body to everyone around me. I think now that I’ve experienced life as a very fat person with markedly fewer privileges, I am much more aware and grateful for those privileges that I never acknowledged or appreciated before.
Another part of me is furious. How DARE the world treat me so much differently just because I’m no longer a size 22! I’m not a better person. My fashion sense hasn’t changed (although my access to fashionable clothing sure has.) I don’t contribute more or less to society. I never deserved the rude treatment or exclusion I received at a higher weight, and I certainly don’t deserve better treatment or inclusion now. How come this isn’t a thing more people are talking about? Why aren’t real changes being made? Why are we applauding stores like LOFT for being SO GRACIOUS in coming out with Plus collections when ALL clothing stores should be inclusive for all bodies? Why are there still MILLIONS of people out there who think it’s ok or even HELPFUL to fat-shame women on their Instagram posts? Why are people still offering unsolicited weight loss advice to fat people as if we have never heard it before or like we can’t already tell you the exact number of carb grams in that donut you’re noshing on? Why are actresses like Chrissy Metz, Rebel Wilson, or Melissa McCarthy three of the only plus-sized women represented in entertainment when 67% of women in the US are a size 14 or larger?
And what, as Roxane Gay asks in her same memoir, does it say about our culture that the desire for weight loss is considered a default of womanhood…and that there is something wrong, unhealthy, or outright delusional about a fat woman who doesn’t share that desire?
So yeah…I’ve got anger covered.
But there’s one other underlying emotion that I’m struggling with the most, and trying to come with terms with – guilt. And that’s because I was not a fat advocate when I was really fat. It’s a whole lot easier for me to stand on my soapbox and berate the world for its unfair treatment of fat people now that at my current size, I have nearly all of the same privilege as a thin person. It’s also a whole lot easier for me to proclaim body positivity when I’m feeling more positively about my body, precisely because it doesn’t take up as much space. I recognize that it’s hypocritical. And I don’t have an excuse for it, other than that shame covered my anger, and my hurt, because I felt, however wrongly, that I deserved that lack of privilege and that hurtful treatment when I looked at my body and thought I was disgusting.
And I’m not there yet, but somehow that voice, the one that whispered (and screamed) in my head for as long as I can remember telling me I was gross, unworthy, ugly, too much and not enough all at the same time, has started getting a hell of a lot quieter. I’ve realized that I’m on a journey with my body, and not another battle. And I’ve started to notice (thanks to some gentle nudging from dear friends,) that when I’m not filled with negative thoughts about my body, I have a whole lot more energy and room for positivity – in all aspects of my life.
I’m still not entirely sure how and when that started, but I hope at the end of this journey I’ll be able to be introspective enough to pinpoint how I started learning to love myself, and forgive myself, and give myself grace.
Until next time.