Until this January(ish), I completely bought into the anti-obesity craze. As a fat woman, I wholeheartedly believed that I was unhealthy, that I was going to die early, that if I wasn't doing something to lose weight I was a bad person, that it was cruel of me to inflict my body on the collective visual cortices of the general public.
I ate only in the safe privacy of my bedroom. I would stand in front of a mirror and curse what I saw reflected there. I was hypervigilant about my body when I was alone, more so when with friends, and intensely so to the point of anxiety and panic attacks when out in public, and I started having some agoraphobic tendencies. (Well, I still have those - I think I can count the number of times in my life I've had cabin fever on one hand. I'm quite content to stay in my tiny room for days on end with nothing but books or the internet for company.) In public, the muscles in my shoulders and back would ache from the tension of my self-protective semi-fetal posture. From the on-and-off journal I've kept, this 2008 excerpt well covers how I felt:
I have no idea how it is for others, but I'm constantly aware of my size. It is an extremely rare moment that I'm not thinking about this or that lump, what extra skin is showing because of the extra weight, the strange anatomy in comparison with a healthy woman...I guess it's all about comparison. People say never to compare, because it's all about the individual, blah blah blah. People who say that are delightfully naïve, or desperately idealistic. I'm unhealthy - in comparison to those who are healthy. I'm only overweight in comparison to those that are not. [...] Every shopping trip, every social activity, every time I put clothes on - they're all reminders. When I'm so constantly surrounded by people and signs and pressures that show me how far off track I am - what I should be, but am (for some reason) incapable of being - it's nigh impossible to think positively of myself.
Back in high school, when I was dealing with constant emotional abuse and when my self-loathing was at its peak (about 6 years before the quote above), I remember sitting in the library poring over books discussing and depicting eating disorders. I remember wishing with everything I had that I had anorexia. Even looking at the shock pictures, reading about the devastating physical and emotional impacts of the disease, I desperately wanted it, because it would mean I would no longer be fat, that the abuse would stop, that I'd be accepted, that I'd be pretty and have friends and and and...
I look back at the high school me, and I'm torn between wanting to knock some sense into her and just taking her into my arms and crying.
*steps away from writing for a moment to regain composure*
I'd heard of the fat acceptance movement at some point, but I'd perfunctorily dismissed it as delusion. It wasn't until I began talking to Alia and Ange (the other contributors to this blog) on a regular basis, and reading the many links that they shared and discussed that my horrendous thought processes began to change. I remember the first fat acceptance article I ever read - it flew in the face of everything I'd ever believed, yet, there was all this evidence, including a link to a formal research study - something that really made me sit back and think. This wasn't just some delusion, there is scientific evidence involved.
That was the first time in my life I'd been told that I'm an okay person not despite my fat, but inclusive of it.
My journey since then has been stumbling and rough, and I've had some nasty setbacks, but I've been able to own myself in a way I never have before. I've since realized that my fat is a part of me instead of just a burden. I discovered HAES, which is quite literally the first philosophy I've ever encountered that genuinely encourages self-esteem. It is the first time in my life that I've actually wanted to exercise, because this is the first time I've been told that it's my choice to do it.
I have found myself within this philosophy. I have alienated people with my vehement denunciation of our cultural fat-hating narratives. I will continue to fight that hatred, probably for the rest of my life.
By no means am I complete in this journey. Breaking free from so many years of self-hate and body-related anxiety will not come quickly.
But I am fighting, and I am progressing.