I’m conscious when I go out in public that my very presence is a tiny act of rebellion. It’s a kind of rebellion that I find totally ridiculous – the idea that just existing in front of other people is transgressive is…I don’t even know how else to put it. It’s mind-bendingly, surreally, ludicrously ridiculous. And it says a lot more about the world we live in than it says about me.
For one thing, it says that the world we live in is completely messed up when it comes to appearance-based discrimination, social hierarchies, and how we value people as members of society. It says that, when I walk out onto the street, some people assume my body is a tragedy, a cautionary tale, or a fetish object. And that they have certain rights over that body.
They have the right to make pronouncements about it to my face, or just barely behind my back where I can still hear them, and that they can assume all kinds of things about my life and my character and personality based on how fat I am.
Not everyone does this, and certainly not every time I leave the house. But it has happened enough that each time I walk out the door, it crosses my mind.
I think about the joggers who mocked me as they ran past, I think about the men at the street market who followed me until my husband intervened, I think about the men shouting at me from cars, and I think about all the photos of fat ladies with bodies like mine that have been used as objects of ridicule on funny cards and websites, because they dared do something as transgressive as wear a bathing suit at the beach, as though they were human or something.
I think about how much I love the beach, how much I love the water, how good I am at floating, or surface diving, or snorkeling, or kayaking – and then I think about all the people back on shore.
Very often, I think about the desert island scenario, which is something I often ask my clients to do when they are caught up in blaming their body for things that may or may not be its fault.
The desert island scenario goes like this: If you were stranded on a beautiful desert island, with no one else around, and with plenty of food and water accessible to you, what problems would being fat cause you? This can help you separate out which difficulties you’re having are actually located in your body, and which difficulties are located in a culture that treats fat people poorly.
For me, the answers are something like: I might walk kind of slow in the sand because I sink into it more, and I would probably be sweaty and hot and maybe get the chub-rub. On the upside, I wouldn’t have to worry about people judging me for being sweaty, I would wear whatever is most comfortable without wondering how I looked. I might have trouble climbing trees, but I would be totally fine in the water.
Things I wouldn’t have to worry about: people judging me and treating me poorly, feeling self-conscious about how I look, having trouble finding clothes that fit me, wondering whether I will fit in that chair with arms, worrying that they might throw me off the airplane, playing the Good Fatty all the time, having to constantly prove that I am 1) not ignorant, 2) not lazy, 3) not gluttonous, 4) not smelly, 5) not sick. As if any of those things affect my intrinsic value.
Once you know what problems are located where, it gives you some information about the source of the problem, and how might be the best way to handle it. Problems located in the body might need a solution that is body-focused. You may need accommodations or physical therapy or medicine. Problems that come about simply because you can’t avoid being part of society, well…they probably require some personal fortification and self-compassion in the short-term, and changes to the culture in the long-term.
Next time you’re blaming your body for something, try it. Would this problem still exist if you were stranded on a beautiful desert island with enough food and water? If so, what is the kindest way you can help your body? If not, maybe your body isn’t the issue.