(In honour of The Butterfly Foundation’s Fat Talk Free February.)
I used to be horrible.
I thought being big was a sign of laziness and indulgence, if it wasn’t for an “acceptable” reason like a thyroid condition or medication side-effect. I thought being big was a choice that implied that the person thought too much of themselves for self-control or self-denial. I thought they were selfish and arrogant; that they risked their health, potentially putting loved ones through the stress of losing them too early, because they cared more about the taste of cake than the people around them.
I thought this because of my own ugly struggles with food and body image. I resented people for being able to do what I couldn’t: Eat. Enjoy life. Make choices about food and exercise without compulsion or guilt. Treat themselves well without panic attacks.
I resented that “Big Is Beautiful” when no matter my size, I hated the mirror. I resented that “Real Women Have Curves” while people criticised me for being too thin. I hated myself. Why didn’t they? I felt so horribly guilty and nauseous for eating a carrot stick. How could they have dessert without crying?
My resentment turned to envy. I wanted to stop people in the street, big and “normal” sized. Anyone who didn’t look seconds away from dying of emaciation, I viewed with a despairing plea for guidance.
“How do you do it?” I wanted to ask them. “Please. I know I need food to live, but I can’t do it. It’s too hard. It makes me feel so terrible. Please help me. Tell me how.”
It’s very hard to judge or shame people when you feel like that.
I would hate to think that strangers look at me now, or did then, judging my character, personality and worthiness as a human being based on my size. I’m sure some of them did. There was a stage last year where I could see people staring on the tram, idly playing “Drug addict, anorexic or terminally ill?” in their heads. “Middle-class white girl with no problems but dieting,” they might have been thinking. “Vain bitch.”
They had no idea. And when I judged larger people, neither did I.
When you see someone in the street, or on public transport, you have no idea where they’re at in life.
Maybe they’re model-thin because they’re stressed and can’t eat or sleep.
Maybe they’re big because they have an eating disorder, and actually DO cry after eating that dessert.
Maybe they look “normal” but are actually several kilos below their body’s ideal weight.
Or maybe they’re just living their damn lives and not even thinking about how that makes them look.
It’s not “okay” for someone to be bigger or thinner than society deems acceptable, provided the reason is sympathetic. People do not owe you their bodies.
No one owes me, a random person in the street, a certain body or way or life. I know nothing about them, or where they are at in their journey. I don’t know why they are a certain size or shape – and I don’t need to. It doesn’t matter.
I still don’t believe that “Big Is Beautiful” or “Thin Is In” (I just made that one up as a juxtaposition) because I don’t think any one physical thing is beautiful. That’s continuing to miss the point.
Choice is beautiful. Choosing to indulge yourself physically and do so without guilt, whether it’s with food, a sleep-in, a long hot shower or a stellar masturbation session. Choosing to go for a run because it energises you, or choosing not to because you need a sleep-in this morning. Choosing dessert even though you’re already pretty full because it’s your favourite, or opting out because you’re not in the mood.
Choosing to walk down the street with your head high, knowing you’re awesome without having to justify it on your body.
Real health, and real beauty, isn’t any one physical thing. It’s happiness and freedom from the judgement of others and, most importantly, yourself. It’s a lifestyle that gives you blood test results that say that as much as is within your power, you’re giving your body the nutrients it needs, and keeping your organs functioning properly.
It’s wearing a singlet because it’s hot and not caring about the shape of your arms. It’s eating something because it tastes good, not because of what’s written on the side of the packet. It’s looking at someone’s eyes and smile and hearing what they have to say, not looking at their body shape and thinking you know who they are.
My name is Bridget Phillips, and I used to be a fat-shamer. For that, I am embarrassed and deeply regretful. It said more about me than it did about the people I was judging. I’ve stopped now.
If any of this article rings true for you, that’s okay. Maybe give Fat Talk Free February a go – see if you can make it a month (and it’s only a little baby short one!) without saying negative things about bodies, your own included. And if it feels good to let go of that judgement, maybe be a little radical make it a fat-talk-free life.