I was born a light to middle-weight big girl. What that means is that the size of my body has always been what some people would consider big and what some people would consider smaller (than themselves, than whomever they were comparing to) but I’ve rarely been “skinny.”
I say “rarely” because there have been several times in my life when I’ve been able to diet down to skinny or, at least, quite skinny for me. One of my proudest skinny moments was in college when someone pulled me aside and asked me if I was terminally ill. Never mind that I was a 4.0 student at the University of Michigan or that I had recently been accepted to the Peace Corps. The thing I was MOST proud of was that I had finally starved and starimastered myself down to cancer-skinny!
And even though I have almost always been what most skinny women could call or consider “fat,” the only times that I have truly been Fat were right after my children were born. To me, Fat means having to seek out clothing that fits well or looking for the “Plus” sign at TJ Maxx. Fat means taking up more space than the world I live in is comfortable giving me. Sitting on an airplane or in a classroom is mildly (for some, extremely) uncomfortable. Fellow gym-goers stare or give condescending “good for you!” encouragement. Doctors express their concern.
There are many women, at this point, who have reclaimed the word Fat. Fat Acceptance has been a social justice movement for years. We live in a fat-phobic society. Fat is a feminist issue.
But… so is Chubby.
What I’m getting at is that it is not fair for me to call myself Fat in the face of the Fat Acceptance Movement nor in the face of a woman who reclaims the word Fat. We all have those skinny friends who constantly complain about being fat – right in front of us! As if they can’t see that our body is twice their size. They call themselves names like “disgusting,” “pathetic,” “gross” and we stand by silently wondering, “what the hell must you think of ME then?” Yes, yes, we have had to compassionately understand that it’s very hard to go from a size 2 to a size 8 and the FEELING of weight on the body is relative but COME ON! I feel that – if I stood up in the middle of this movement to claim the word “Fat” – I would be, in some ways, behaving like this ignorant skinny woman. The major difference being, of course, that I would be claiming Fat to feel empowered, not to disparage fatness. But the result, I feel, would be similar. I can’t claim to truly understand what it feels like to live as a Fat woman in this world. Fat is a moniker that does not fit me. I have privilege in this situation. I have been privileged throughout most of my life to not be treated, talked to, or discriminated against as a Fat woman is.
I actually had a conversation with a water aerobics student – and friend – once that made this distinction quite clear to me. She is a woman who proudly uses and wears the word Fat. She was talking about Fat Acceptance one day in my water aerobics class and I said something along the lines of my belonging to that movement/ in that category. She said, “No. No. You don’t get to be in the club if you’re normal-sized. You don’t need any special treatment for being normal.” She didn’t say this in a mean way. She is a woman who speaks her mind openly and clearly and I have come to love and respect that about her. She meant what she said. I might not be skinny. But I’m also not “Fat.”
Now, “Chubby” on the other hand fits perfectly – and has for MOST of my life. Chubby is what I naturally am when I’m not making sure I eat between 1000 & 1400 calories per day and workout for at least 90 minutes every day. And I can absolutely tell you – with confidence – what life is like for Chubby women in this world. The fact that I’m naturally Chubby has caused me anxiety, depression, self-hatred and generalized pain my entire life.
And while this pain comes from many different directions, one of the places it comes from is the fact that, in our culture, body size is understood to be almost 100% within our control. The main assumption of Diet Culture is, if you are thin, you must work really really hard and “eat clean” and if you are overweight (to any degree), you must be lazy and gluttonous.
Until recently, I bought this lie with every fiber of my being. I believed firmly and self-righteously that my chubbiness was a clear indication that I wasn’t trying hard enough, I didn’t want a “good body” badly enough. I entered into a course of study (working to be a “Health Fitness Specialist”) that would – in almost every single way – reiterate this lie of Diet Culture to me on the daily and surround me with (mostly very young) people who are becoming devout disciples of this lie.
But buried in the literature, the research and the actual science of the materials for my course of study the truth is made plain. Genetically, we are who we are. We are born with our bodies. As children, the predispositions of our natural bodies are either enhanced (we get fatter or skinnier) or they are manipulated (we learn behaviors that grow us against our natural bodies – creating habits that become our nature – thin, lifelong athletes that come from families of mostly fat people are an example of this). By a certain age (that is slightly different for everyone), we have a set-point and, without herculean effort, moving a few percentage points to the right or left of that set-point is all that is possible. But, health-wise, moving a few percentage points to the right or left might be all anyone really “needs” to do, if they NEED to do anything at all.
In my course of study, we are taught the additional lie that this herculean effort is absolutely worth the health benefits that arise from weight loss. But further science explains that the stress of that effort could be more damaging than our original, NATURAL, weight was. Further science explains that “weight cycling” (losing a large amount of weight just to gain it back again and again) is actually worse for your heart health than simply carrying around that NATURAL weight your whole life. And further – utterly undeniable – science demonstrates that almost ALWAYS (as in… 95% of the time) that herculean effort is NOT sustainable and, ultimately, leads to FURTHER weight gain.
This is just the tip of the iceberg I’m currently discovering. And the presence of this iceberg in the vast sea of health myths and diet culture we swim in every day has massive implications on every facet of my life and work. I am learning. But the first thing I must do is learn to be chill with being Chubby.
Be chill, Teamies!