Taking up less space.

I have spent most of my life desperately trying to take up less space. I’ve stayed quiet, gone to public spaces during times they’d have the least amount of people, worn dull colors. My entire life goal is to draw the least amount of attention to myself in an attempt to have people forget I exist. There have been more than a few times in which I’ve actually had some success in that department – I’ve scared a few folks while we were around camp fires because I moved and they didn’t notice at first and I’ve regularly surprised people because they didn’t hear me enter a room. On more than one occasion, people have forgotten that they were giving me a ride home. That’s right – while in the same car, people have forgotten about me.

I strive towards this invisibility because I know just how little space I am to occupy in public as a fat person. I aim for anonymity in so many spaces because I know what happens when I am visible in any way. I know that being visible online as a woman, as a fat person, as a queer person, as anything that is labeled as ‘other’ brings a litany of hate and trolling.

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Being Fat.

I often wonder if anyone will be able to see past my fatness because at this point, that doesn’t seem likely. Hell, I can barely see my own humanity under my double chin and thunder thighs. To the world, I’m often nothing more than a mistake that needs to be fixed, an uncomfortable reminder of someone else’s failures.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about my past attempts to lose weight and how one included several months of an almost eating disorder. I’ve spent so much of my life trying to lose weight – most of my attempts have been futile but in one relatively try, I was successful and lost a ton of weight. But in that success came a dangerous obsession; I was obsessed with losing weight and crossed a boundary into achieving it. During that time, I was praised for losing weight the healthy way: I was exercising, counting calories, and eating better. But after awhile, I was more and more obsessed with shedding pounds.

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Being Worthy of Love.

I often think about love – from family to friends to the random people I went to school with, I see a lot of people happy and in love and I wonder if that will ever be the case for me. Single seems to be a constant status in my own life, my only companion being the fictional world of books and television shows.

I’ve long since accepted the single life – the days of pining after and crushing on people in hopes that they would also look my way are now confined to my teenage years and I honestly don’t really miss the awkwardness of flirting and the anxiety of liking someone.But I do wonder if I’m truly okay with a spinster life and if the desire for more is actually mine or a societal pressure to have a significant other.

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Fat, Queer, NonBinary, and Clothed.

Finding clothing while fat, queer, and nonbinary is regularly difficult and often a drain on my self esteem. In my experience, when overt femininity fails (if stores even try femininity or bright colors for plus size fashion), the clothing feels like a circus tent and I feel like nothing short of a hippo. Of course, that’s if I’m lucky enough to find anything in my size because fat women are still being ignored by fashion companies or not actually being represented in the models showing off clothes. (Apparently plus size in the fashion industry can start at a size eight ?!? and seeing anyone who fits a size 20 or above is very difficult…)

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Depression and Weight.

When I was finally starting to admit I’m struggling with both depression and anxiety, I went into my university’s health center during my junior year to see if I could get some help. It did not go well to say the least – there was not one moment where I felt welcome by the nurse practitioner who helped me with (briefly) getting on medication. During my first visit with him, he spent some time focusing on how I should exercise and lose weight, which really only made me feel worse about coming in to get help.

But the thing is that even during my best days, I struggle to get out of bed and do things like shower and cook. It’s hard for me to really accomplish pretty much anything other than sleeping. Getting out and exercising some days (hell most days) is damn near impossible to be completely honest.

And I’m not the only one who has struggled with this issue. Creigh and Caley Farinas (sisters) wrote about the six reasons why we need to stop telling people with depression to lose weight – even citing a study that found that weight discrimination actually promotes weight gain.

Helping someone through depression can be difficult but the thing is to not make everything about you. Struggling with depression can be hard – as Kate Bartolotta describes it:

It’s isolating. It’s a solitary experience. We feel like no one could possibly understand how dark things are. We often lack the emotional energy to even reach out and try to connect and find understanding.

For me, it’s always so nice when people reach out and make sure I’m okay, even on the good days. It’s nice when people don’t assume my experiences and especially when people don’t minimize what I’m going through by saying things like “there are people going through worse”. (Seriously, that’s a terrible way to support someone struggling with depression – for me, it only makes me feel worse and it makes me want to not be around you in any context.)

Medical Gatekeepers.

Okay so in this post I’m going to specifically be talking about medical gatekeepers in relation to how many are making medical access difficult for people who are trans and/or fat. And when I say medical gatekeeper, I’m referring to the people who control the access to different medical services, the people who determine what health insurance covers, among other things. For many fat and/or trans individuals, there are so many different hoops to jump through in order to access competent care from health professionals.

 

One of the reasons I want to write about this is the double standard for providing medical services (like hormones) to cisgender people versus trans and intersex people. Ronnie Ritchie drew a comic for Everyday Feminism about this specific issue, addressing that many doctors seem much more willing to prescribe hormones for cis individuals versus trans and intersex individuals.

There are ads marketing testosterone treatments for cis men experiencing low t and estrogen is available for cis women experiencing menopause or who had their uterus removed. But getting hormones to start transitioning while trans can be significantly more difficult. There’s a certain amount of having to prove their gender in order to get hormone replacement treatment or anything else related to transitioning that trans individuals have to go through. Ronnie Ritchie drew another comic related to  how there’s no such thing as trans enough and wrote a postscript comic about the first.

And that’s just one part of this issue because there are many other obstacles faced by trans individuals relating to all sorts of medical care. While things are slowly changing, there are plenty of insurance plans that have explicit exclusions for covering transition related care and according to a 2011 report, nearly a fifth of trans people have been refused health care because of their gender identity.

Insurance is just one part of the problem as well: finding a transgender competent doctor and/or medical office can also be difficult. Beck Bailey wrote about his experience going to the ER for a skiing related injury and having to constantly act as an educator on trans issues to the people providing care while he was recovering. Elissa Miolene wrote about similar situations in which transgender patients were denied care at Georgetown Hospital in Washington DC. Moilene highlighted some experiences from Mara Keisling (the executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality) and said among many other things that:

The time she headed to the hospital at 2 AM to help a transgender male friend because the attending physician did not know how to treat his ovarian cysts. Or when a 15-year-old transgender male client went to the emergency room for a respiratory infection, only to be given a gynecological examination. Or the nursing student who called Keisling one night, asking how to properly give emergency room treatment to a transgender patient. When the student had asked her professor the same question earlier that day, he replied that when he worked at a New York hospital, “they usually just let those freaks die.”

Another reason I wanted to write about medical gatekeepers was because of a post by Rebecca Hiles about her experience being fat and how medical fat shaming prevented her from being diagnosed with cancer for several years. In that post, Hiles is very open about her experiences with medical fat shaming and how it nearly killed her. She wrote at one point:

Were it not for physicians who tried to treat something beyond my fat, physicians who saw my whole health rather than make assumptions in an otherwise healthy 20-something, I would still have cancer inside of me. I would still be sick. I would still be sitting in showers at night, coughing and vomiting.

Lesley Kinzel wrote one article about why fat shaming by doctors really matters, saying that:

…when people argue that doctors are entitled to weight bias, they are overlooking the very real danger that weight bias can and does lead to serious consequences for fat patients, when doctors assume that an ovarian tumor is just weight gain caused by overeating, or that asthma is just a patient being “out of shape,” or that fibromyalgia is just laziness.

There have been plenty of instances where I thought about going to see a health care professional about one issue or another but because of past experience with medical fat shaming, I didn’t go. There have been so many times in which I’ve been worried about something regarding my health but knew if I went to go see someone about it, I would just be paying them to tell me to lose weight and not actually look into the issue.

Of course, these are just two ways in which medical professionals are gatekeepers for health care.

A note on fatness.

I made the mistake today of watching a really awful video that was essentially this person rambling on about how terrible fat people are. I don’t know why I kept watching it after realizing seconds into it that it was really just several minutes of this person telling me I’m a sorry existence for a human because I am fat but I did. In the video (which I’m not going to link to or even attempt to find ever again), the person essentially ranted about their deep seeded hatred for fat people and the body positivity movement (which by the way, isn’t just for fat people but not the point right now).

This video honestly reminded me of so many of the people that are in my life and of all the terrible things I think about myself on a regular basis. It made me feel ill and reminded me of the obsessive nature of my weight loss goals from a few months ago. The nature where I couldn’t stop obsessing, the one that led me to occasionally throw up after eating and could barely function outside of doing anything that didn’t help me to lose weight.

My desire to lose weight over the past year has seemed to be more toxic than the fat I have around my stomach and thighs. I was obsessive and destructive and not healthy in anyway.  I was lucky enough to realize all on my own the destructive tendency that had been concealed as a desire to be healthy and stopped.

But right now I want to acknowledge the fact the prevalent and toxic nature of assuming you know what’s best for someone else. This is to all those out there that think you know what’s best for me because you’re thin and I’m not and to all those that think you get a say in a stranger’s life:

Fuck. You. Just straight up fuck you to the moon and back. Also, why are you so obsessed with me?

But in case you’re not won over by just that, let’s look into some things. Did you know that the BMI scale isn’t that great (and apparently total bogus)? Time, NPR, and FoxNews (weird) all have articles about how the BMI scale isn’t that great and isn’t an accurate indicator of health. This Is Thin Privilege and others wrote about the beginning of the BMI scale, the history behind it, and about how the person who started it had a low sample rate in one specific location in a Tumblr post (which has sources attached).

ALSO let’s talk about fat shaming and size discrimination. It’s not just the fashion industry or that fat people have trouble finding clothes because there are so many other things about society that shames people about their size. Did you know that weight is a factor in grad school admissions? Or that there’s an increased likelihood of conviction, a lack of medical services and legal rights, among other things?

There are so many myths and assumptions about fat people and just fatness in general. Some take downs include:

It is possible to exercise while fat and do it for plenty of different reasons other than weight loss. I walk because I like it and it makes me feel better. And there was a point in my life where I was doing cross country, soccer, and horseback riding all within a span of several months but I was still considered fat. People don’t have to exercise to lose weight or change their shape nor do they have to fit into the societal definitions of what fit people should be like.

I wrote a poem several months ago about how I felt regarding a family member’s comments about my then weight loss. Looking at my life and how I feel and how I take care of myself, it just seems so apparent to me that it’s more likely that I’ll die from other reasons not related to my fatness.

Someone’s inherent worth should not be determined by a stranger’s standards. Fat people do not exist so you can tell them how to lose weight, that they should lose weight. We exist for ourselves, not for your misplaced and unnecessary concern.

Fat Shaming And Loving Your Body.

I’ve mentioned before my relationship with my own body and with fatness. Because I’m fat and I’ve pretty much always been fat, my self esteem and my self worth has frequently been hinged on the unwanted comments from others. I have avoided going to the doctor with legitimate concerns because I know there will be unnecessary comments about my weight. (Once went in about anxiety and depression – the nurse practitioner told me that I should lose weight?!)

th (12)Anyway, I’m not the only one to struggle with weight and others’ perception of my own body. And there are so many facts and pieces of information that actually tear down all the unnecessary comments and concerns that people might have about fat people.

Sarah Landrum, for example, wrote over at Adios Barbie about the 6 scary facts that prove the existence of size discrimination, including the fact that there is an unconscious bias against overweight patients from medical students and that there is an increased likelihood of conviction. Over at Mic, Julianne Ross wrote about the 9 facts that shatter the biggest stereotypes about people who are fat, including the fact that:

Fat shaming, though cruel, is another form of bullying that often goes unchecked because people believe that it will spur others to lose weight, and, as the logic typically goes, become healthier. This is misguided first and foremost because there’s nothing inherently wrong with being fat… And even if there were, fat shaming doesn’t help people lose weight.

Justin Dennis also brings up the fact that fat shaming doesn’t actually help people lose weight like many seem to think it might. In her video, she talks about that and unpacks what fat really means. (transcript)

Ultimately, it’s taken me a long time to get to be even kind of okay with my body. I still frequently struggle with my self esteem, still wonder about how others perceive me because of my fatness. But I’m at the point in my life where I realize that despite all the fat shaming, my life is worthy. I’m still human even if I don’t fall into what society deems beautiful. And that’s also true of so many other people who struggle with their weight as well. I think that Marie Southard Ospina said it best though in an article she wrote about coming to love her fat:

I don’t have a recipe to falling in love with your body. I don’t have an easy button you can press to feel fat and flabulous. I think it’s hard. It’s really freaking hard. We don’t live in a society that makes it easy. We don’t live at a time when fat is considered beautiful by the mainstream, so we have to fight to make people realize the beauty in it. And fighting is never easy, but it’s worth it.

I love my body so fuck you.

I am fat, overweight, a big boned person. Have been pretty much my entire life. And throughout my entire life, I have hated pretty much everything about my body. I’ve hated the fat rolls, the fact that my thighs jiggle when I move, the fact that even the ‘plus sized’ models don’t usually look a little like me. At my highest, I’ve weighed 300+ pounds on my short 5’4″ frame. Over the last few months though, I have lost a little more than 50 pounds.

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And with that weight loss, I’ve gotten so many compliments and comments about how my body now looks. “You’re looking so good!” “You must be feeling great!” “How much have you lost?” have all been repeatedly said to me over the past few months and in the beginning I loved hearing them. My self worth became dependent on the weight I would lose every week and my obsession was on the cusp of being incredibly unhealthy.

But recently, I’ve realized how truly fucked up the pressure to lose weight, to hate everything about myself is. I’ve grown to love my body – every single inch and every bit of fat. I’ve come to love myself, to be okay where I am because every day I wake up and get out of bed is another day saying fuck you to my depression, anxiety, and self hatred.

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It’s taken a long time to get to this point. I’ve realized that my worth isn’t determined by how much weight I lose every week nor is it determined by my pant size or how much belly fat exists on my body. I most definitely do not exist as someone’s motivation to go to the gym – I exist because I am my own person with my own path in life.

And a big part of why I’ve started to feel this way is because I’m starting to see people in the media who continuously say fuck you to our fatphobic society and love themselves with all their fat. Mary Lambert and Tess Munster are just two of many that have helped me be okay with myself. And people like Caleb (queerandpresentdanger) on tumblr have also been incredible in my own journey. Carol Rossetti‘s fairly inclusive body positive art work has also been so wonderful to look through and her Facebook page is just as wonderful and includes more of her own work.

I think talking about body image and body positivity is incredibly important because in our patriarchal, white supremacist, and capitalistic society – we are all taught to fit into this incredible narrow standard of beauty. We’re taught to be thin but not too thin, curvy but to not have any excess fat. Whiteness and cisnormativity reign over our understanding of beautiful and it’s so important to say fuck you, fuck you, fuck you to all of the standards we’ve been taught.

All of this isn’t to shathme people who are thin – far from it actually. This is all to state my worth, my value as a fat person in the US. This is a fuck you to the society that claims that I am lazy, passive, or anything like that. This is to all the other fat people to say you are worthy, you are wonderful, and you are deserving of happiness.

Beauty Norms.

Through years and generations and centuries of violent colonialism, white supremacy, and imperialism, the US has gotten really great at whitewashing beauty norms and normalizing beauty norms to mean a specific set of physical traits. I, personally, can really only talk about beauty from the stance as someone who has lived almost entirely within the US as a white, fat, queer person. So my own experiences with beauty are warped but also extremely privileged in many ways.

A couple years ago, Dove came out with this video that was supposed to be empowering to women and talked about “real beauty”. (Ya know, the one titled “you’re more beautiful than you think” and basically said that women are our own harshest critics or something.) There have been plenty of critiques of this video, primarily because the video still focuses on women who fit into the conventional beauty norms of the US (white, skinny, young, etc). Golda Poretsky wrote about five different critiques of the video, which I definitely recommend reading through. Similarly, Jazz (last name unknown) wrote a critique about the video and also brings up so many great points, including the fact that there are only a few people of color in the video for only a few seconds. (If you’re at a computer reading this, hover over the text with your mouse and for me at least, it got a little easier to read.)

The sense of beauty within the US (and some other ways) is very dependent on whiteness – having white skin is seen as the default, the “norm”. Lindsay Kite brought up many amazing points about the whitewashing of beauty, specifically talking about how the current beauty ideals uphold whiteness and exclude women of color. Kite also addresses some of the ways in which the massive beauty corporations have repeatedly lightened the skin of many women (such as Gabourey Sidibe in the photos below):

Companies like Loreal and Clairol have come under fire for digitally lightening both the skin color and hair color of black women featured in their advertising…

gabourey-sidibe-photoshop-450-thumb-450x300-764251The fashion and modeling world has also come under attack (for a good reason) about the rampant racism that exists within that industry and the fact that the industry (especially Fashion Week) is getting whiter and whiter. Chanel Iman and Jourdan Dunn have both come forward with the incredibly racist encounters they have experienced in the fashion industry as models. Chanel Iman opened up about some of the problems that the fashion industry has with race and some of the things she has faced, saying specifically:

“… A few times I got excused by designers who told me ‘we already found one black girl. We don’t need you anymore.’ I felt very discouraged. When someone tells you, ‘we don’t want you because we already have one of your kind, it’s really sad.”

And something that also continues to be a problem regarding beauty norms within the US is the fatphobia and the monetary gain from fat shaming and weight loss. A few months ago, I wrote about my own sense of worth living as a fat queer and unemployed person in a capitalistic society. And that continues to be true because of the way corporations reap the monetary benefits from fat people hating our bodies. US News reported that people in the US spend upwards of $60 billion every single year trying to lose weight.

The Militant Baker has a really great post about the model Tess Munster and how as a society, we have gravitated towards fat shaming and hating fat people who are fat with themselves. Plus sized models are almost nonexistant, especially in the context of actually being realistically plus sized. Most plus sized models rarely wear something larger than a size 16/18 and usually are tall as well. Which is why the 5ft5in and size 22 Tess Munster is getting such an outcry – she doesn’t fit into that plus sized narrative that we as a society have accepted.

In that same article, Jes Baker talks about the concept of body currency – or the idea that if we get to the ideal body size, then we will also obtain love, happiness, worthiness. Baker does highlight the problem with body currency, stating that:

The obvious problem with Body Currency is that thinness doesn’t necessarily equal happiness. It just equals money in the pockets of companies who sell us insecurity to make sure that we’re repeat customers. It’s a real shitty move on their part and leaves anyone who believes in the scam SOL which then makes them angry without really knowing why. So they direct all their angry feels towards those who cheated the system and found the pot of gold without doing any of the goddamn work.

Looking back, it’s easy (for me at least) to see how beauty norms and the concept of beautiful has been rigged to show a small set of physical traits that privilege being thin and being white. There are of course so many other factors that go into beauty norms – including age, class, gender, sexuality, and so many others. It’s important to be critical of the messages we are given through the media and society as a whole because more often than not, those messages are laced with racism, hatred, and overall problematic natures.

And of course, there’s much more that goes into this – particularly regarding race. Because whiteness is valued, put into a position of power, and that’s something that we as white people must be critical of.