Feeling fat.

When my job (and my whole living situation) changed a little while back, I was thrown into body image crises I hadn’t experienced since my early 20s – hating the way I look. Feeling bad about my eating. Zero interest in moving my body. Weight gain.

It is tempting, always so tempting, to rely on the panacea of dieting (or whatever term you like to give to intentional weight loss attempts) to fix these problems. Because, at least in the short term, it can. And when you’re feeling horrible RIGHT NOW, naturally, a quick fix is incredibly attractive.

Here’s how I deal with that urge: I allow myself to have these feelings.

I am not a Body Image Superhero, despite being a Health at Every Size and fat acceptance activist. I go through many more good times than bad, thanks to HAES and FA – but I still live in this culture, and I get all the same messages everyone else does about how I’m yucky and gross and no one will ever want to have sex with me, ever.

My body image is, and likely always will be, a work in progress.

As part of that process, I rely on a Body Image Crisis Algorithm – a sort of Socratic series of questions I ask myself to get to the root of, and solutions to, the crisis. Let’s begin.

So, what’s going on under the hood, beneath disliking my weight or “feeling fat”? What does that really mean?

It means feeling shitty about myself. Feeling undesirable. Not liking the way I look. Feeling socially anxious. Feeling like I am not welcome, and do not belong in this world. Sometimes, it’s feeling physically unfit, and like my eating is very disorganized and chaotic.

Has losing weight in the past helped any of these things?

No, actually. I did like certain things about how I looked when I was losing weight, but it also made me feel weirdly disconnected from my body, and I kept holding myself to higher and higher standards of how I should look. It’s also never helped to make my eating or exercise more healthy and enjoyable for the long-term, and actually caused some disordered stuff there.

Even if it did, or could, help these feelings, is losing weight likely to be a permanent fix?

No. We all know that. The failure rate is somewhere between 80-98% after five years. And given my body’s apparent propensity to gain weight, and given how triggering I find the barest hint of possible food restriction, I seriously doubt I would be one of the lucky ones.

Are there more direct ways of dealing with these problems?

Well, yes. There are body image exercises I can do. There are social anxiety exercises I can do. There are practical, immediate things I can do to help my eating, like eating my meals and snacks on time, offering myself a variety of foods at each meal and snack, and giving myself permission to eat what I want, and NOT to eat what I don’t want. And I have actually been doing that, and I have been feeling a lot better about eating.

[Ed: eating is complicated for me because, ironically, as part of my job I eat strange foods at strange times of the day with my clients. Which makes structure, the part of eating competence that I especially rely on to feel sane around food, uniquely difficult.]

If I’m concerned about weight gain, I can go get a physical – I already know what the factors are that likely have influenced my weight (new medications, major life changes like moving and changing jobs, episodes of depression.) I already know that my blood pressure and blood sugar are good.

What about not feeling welcome in the world?

This one is trickier. It goes to a somewhat philosophical place.

Well, first of all, when you see someone as fat or fatter than yourself, do you feel like they shouldn’t exist?

No, of course not. But then, I’m not a total asshole.

Do you believe most people are total assholes?

It’s tempting sometimes, but actually? No. However, I do know that appearance-based prejudices of all kinds are quite widespread.

That’s true. Maybe prejudiced people don’t welcome you in the world. Does that mean, objectively, that you don’t belong here?

No. I think I belong here. I think I have the right to exist, as I am, and to go about my daily life.

Do you require a welcome from all people in the world in order to live your life?

It’d be nice, but no. I don’t actually require that to live my life.

And is your body objectively wrong in any sense?

No. There is no objective “wrong” when it comes to bodies – it’s mostly a cultural judgment.

Is there a purpose fulfilled even by bodies that are considered outside the norm, or culturally “wrong”?

Yes. “Wrong” bodies add diversity to the population, and even to the sum of human knowledge. They house people who are awesome and valuable in their own right. Even “wrong” bodies allow people to exist in the world and live their lives.

So, could it possibly be argued that the mere fact of a body’s existence may render it objectively “right”?

I guess you could argue that. The cultural tradition is to say that man is made in God’s image.

Do you think there is some truth in that, even from a secular perspective?

Yes. Because I believe in the intrinsic value of all life.

Even yours?

Even mine.

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