How is it that I have long looked at other bodies through accepting and loving eyes, yet still gaze at my own reflection with scrutinizing judgment?
Maybe you, like me, consider yourself to be in the beginning stages of body acceptance. Luckily, fate has guided me by way of a transformative internship with Fattitude -- a documentary that exposes fat prejudice and offers an alternative way of thinking. It is without a doubt a freeing place to be, filled with empowering new ideas, support and solidarity. But, feeling almost too good to be true, I question myself: Can I really love my body just the way it is? I really don't have to apologize anymore for being fat? Are they sure I'm lovable without people-pleasing?
Being "fat" has always defined who I am and made me feel bad about being that person. It made me feel shame towards my body, worthlessness, and crippling fear that I was unlovable. "Oh, you have such a pretty face"; "You carry it well"; "Have you lost weight?"; "Have you heard about that new diet?"; "I know it's hard to lose weight, but..."
Society constantly tells me that since I have chosen to keep this unacceptable size and shape, I must compensate for those around me who are unfortunate enough to have to look at me. After years of constantly bashing the ego down, it fights no more and self-hatred takes over.
I believe as we navigate the fresh waters of self-love, there is also a mourning period for the loss of our old ideas and the pain they inflicted. I feel remorse for every single time I brutally criticized my body and told myself I wasn't good enough. Sorrow for every time I let someone treat me without respect because I did not believe that I was worthy of it. Grief for every doomed diet that left me with just a tad less dignity. Shame for every dressing room breakdown flooded with despair.
With compassion and patience I have to sit with those feelings -- and then let them roll away like a wave from the shore. I tell myself that doesn't have to be a part of my mindset anymore. But in releasing it, I have had to confront the fact that "truths" I've believed about myself for so long, specifically in regards to being a fat female, are not true at all. My foundation of self esteem has been built on lies. Like many, somewhere along the way I formed an unwritten list of rules for being fat. I felt that by following the rules, I became "acceptable" to society.
The Unwritten Rules:
- Don't under any circumstance draw attention to your body -- cover up and blend into the wallpaper.
- Don't show skin above the elbow or the knee. Don't wear stripes. Don't wear shorts. And for the love of God, don't wear a bathing suit.
- Be sweet and eager to please people so they like you. Say "yes" when you want to say "no," and say "no, thank you" when you want to say "yes."
- Be funny and jolly at all times, like Santa Claus. He's fat and people like him, right?
- Poke fun at your own weight first so as not to make others feel uncomfortable.
- Let others know that you know you are fat. If they think you are unaware of your own affliction, they will have to take pity on you and bring it to your attention.
- Smile and nod when others give you diet and exercise advice. You are fat; obviously you know nothing about nutrition, movement and your own body.
- Hang your head and nod apologetically when people lecture you on all the dangers of being fat. You will be health-shamed.
- Don't flirt with men. They could never find you attractive, so don't embarrass yourself further.
- You are gluttonous and greedy and cannot be trusted. Most likely you alone are at fault for world hunger.
Looking at the list with fresh eyes of body positivity, I see how cruel and limiting these rules have been. At this point in my life, I
want need to rewrite them. I deserve to rewrite them. Yes, I am fat, but that is my business. My health is not up for debate, and unless you are willing to live my life, you have no right to judge me. I won't allow other people's perception of me to rule how I live. So... let's rewrite those rules, shall we?
The Fat Re-RIGHT:
- It's OK to not feel super about yourself and your body every single day -- but you cannot stay there.
- You deserve to feel comfortable in your own skin and the clothes you choose to wear. Put on clothes that you love -- not clothes that hide you.
- You don't owe anybody anything! Do what is best for you, and say "yes" and "no" accordingly.
- It's OK to have a range of emotions and reactions -- anger, sadness, cranky-pants... -- you are entitled to all of them!
- YOU and your BODY are not something to mock or judge.
- Let others know when they make you feel uncomfortable or speak offensively. NO ONE has that right to make you feel bad.
- Just being YOU makes you worthy of love, respect and equal opportunities. This is not conditional on any factor such as weight, race, sexual orientation, career or anything else!
On some days I still feel chained by the old rules. But little by little, I'm accepting that they were lies and can no longer limit me. Each and every day we get to decide how we feel about ourselves, and that is totally powerful. Each day becomes a little easier than the last, through reflection, acceptance and an influx of body positive inspiration. One day at a time, let's abide by these new rules together, OK? Remember to speak as gently and kindly to yourself as you would a friend, and if you haven't heard this yet today, YOU are loving, kind, smart and beautiful! Your power is limitless and you deserve goodness! XOXO