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Warning: Fat Lady Ahead

I am a fat per­son. There. I’ve said it. Did it shock you?

I’m fat. I’m also tall, fair-skinned, and green-eyed. At the moment, my hair is dark red, with more and more sil­ver around my face and spread­ing through­out. I have a strong, pleas­ant voice, ter­ri­ble eye­sight, straight teeth, long fin­gers, and high cheek­bones. Why is it that none of that mat­ters as much or is as mem­o­rable as the fact that I’m fat?

Many peo­ple seem to think fat is a dirty word. They’ll dance around it, try to avoid the sub­ject, get embar­rassed and even argue when a fat per­son refers to her­self as fat. I don’t real­ly under­stand why, but I think it’s tied in with our soci­ety’s dys­func­tion­al atti­tudes about bod­ies, espe­cial­ly wom­en’s bod­ies, in gen­er­al.

Fat isn’t a moral issue. The word in and of itself isn’t an insult. It’s a descrip­tion. Humans come in lots of varieties—tall, short, brown, pink, slender—and fat—and they’re all equal­ly won­der­ful.

I did­n’t chose to be fat. I have cho­sen to get off the diet­ing mer­ry-go-round for most of the last decade and more, because both per­son­al expe­ri­ence and a mul­ti­tude of med­ical stud­ies have shown that diet­ing sim­ply does not work and is not healthy.

First time bride, all innocent and newI was­n’t always fat. I only weighed about 120 pounds (a size 6/8 for me) when when I was 18, but I remem­ber­ing think­ing that I looked like a cow, and could­n’t be attrac­tive until I got rid of those hor­ri­ble hip and rib bones.1 (I’ve had peo­ple refuse to believe that I was ever that weight, and the pho­to is post­ed as proof. It was not a healthy weight for me, but the pic­tures look good.) It took a seri­ous eat­ing dis­or­der to get to and main­tain that weight. I was ane­mic and con­stant­ly light-head­ed. I passed out with embar­rass­ing fre­quen­cy. Because I know how much I was able to hide from my friends and fam­i­ly, I don’t find it too sur­pris­ing that addicts and oth­ers with big secrets can also hide so much.

I’m much hap­pi­er with myself and my body now than then, and I know I’m health­i­er. No, I haven’t man­aged to ful­ly over­come the anti-fat pro­gram­ming that’s all around me. I still have things to work on. There are days when I don’t like my body, when I’m tempt­ed to try again to lose weight. Sizist remarks still get to me at times—but those times are becom­ing more and more rare.

I hope more and more peo­ple start under­stand­ing that real beau­ty is far more than some­thing you can weigh and mea­sure, and I know that it is impor­tant to work on bring­ing that mes­sage to every­one. The aver­age size woman in the U.S. is get­ting taller and larg­er, accord­ing to every sta­tis­tic I’ve read. Instead of a size six (what dress­mak­ers once claimed was “aver­age”), the true aver­age is more a 14/16 now. Yet the “aver­age” actress gets small­er and small­er, with women like Courteney Cox and Teri Hatch­er sup­pos­ed­ly wear­ing size 2 dress­es and some even wear­ing size 0!

So why do most women who are a size 16 believe them­selves to be hor­ri­bly big now? Because today’s press shoves images of women like Hatch­er and Cox at us as if they were average—and they’re not. They nev­er have been. They nev­er will be.

There’s a per­fect­ly good rea­son that my for­mer moth­er-in-law, who has always worn a size 2, has always had a ter­ri­ble time find­ing adult clothes in her size. Such tiny peo­ple sim­ply aren’t aver­age. They are uncom­mon.

It’s unhealthy for the great major­i­ty of us, whose bod­ies were nev­er intend­ed to be that small, to attempt to achieve such sizes. The expec­ta­tion is unre­al­is­tic, and the pres­sure of try­ing attain the unat­tain­able is killing too many girls.

There’s some­thing ter­ri­bly wrong when eighty per­cent of the ten-year-old girls in our coun­try have already been on a diet. Eat­ing dis­or­ders are so com­mon in young women that bulim­ia isn’t even some­thing to be ashamed of in many mid­dle and high school cliques. The Octo­ber 1997 issue of Par­ent­ing mag­a­zine fea­tured an arti­cle enti­tled “Why Even Six-Year-Olds Are Diet­ing,” It cit­ed stud­ies show­ing that most girls were “becom­ing anx­ious about food and their physiques long before adolescence—as young as age 5 or 6. Their behav­ior may fall short of clin­i­cal anorex­ia or bulim­ia, but it shows clear hall­marks of dis­rupt­ed eating–chronic diet­ing, obsess­ing about food and weight, neg­a­tive body image.” It went on to men­tion a Uni­ver­si­ty of Flori­da study that found that 42% of the six and sev­en year old girls they stud­ied want­ed to be thin­ner.

Good Girls Don’t Get Fat by body image expert Dr. Robyn Sil­ver­man is a fan­tas­tic read that I rec­om­mend to every­one, fat or oth­er­wise, espe­cial­ly par­ents. Here’s my detailed review of the book.

Ellyn Sat­ter, R.D., author of How to Get Your Kid to Eat…But Not Too Much, sees a direct con­nec­tion between the increas­ing inci­dence of diet­ing in pread­o­les­cents and obe­si­ty in chil­dren. She says, “There is a sta­tis­ti­cal cor­re­la­tion between diet­ing and fat­ness. Once you start restrict­ing kids’ intake, they may get fright­ened and food-pre­oc­cu­pied, and pos­si­bly become com­pul­sive eaters, stuff­ing them­selves as if they’re starved.”

Does all this mean that I don’t think any­body should diet or lose weight, or that I have some­thing against peo­ple who nat­u­ral­ly thin­ner than I am? No, of course now. I’m a pro­po­nent of Health at Every Size, which is best explained in Lin­da Bacon’s excel­lent book, Health At Every Size: The Sur­pris­ing Truth About Your Weight. If some­one wants to lose weight, that’s his or her busi­ness. I do think it’s more effec­tive for peo­ple to try to improve their health in gen­er­al, and some­times mak­ing changes like increas­ing activ­i­ty lev­els and mak­ing health­i­er food choic­es will result in a weight loss—but it does­n’t result in a weight loss, big or small, for every­one, due to meta­bol­ic dif­fer­ences. I don’t go around encour­ag­ing peo­ple to gain or lose weight—that’s per­son­al. I have noth­ing against any­one with regard to their looks, no mat­ter how much they may dif­fer from or resem­ble me in size, height, col­or­ing, etc. I don’t want my chil­dren try­ing to diet their hip bones away, or starv­ing them­selves until their metab­o­lism is all screwed up try­ing to achieve skele­tal pro­files. I want to encour­age greater accep­tance of diver­si­ty in sizes, just as we’ve start­ed see­ing more accep­tance of eth­nic diver­si­ty. Even bet­ter, I’d like to see more accep­tance of the idea that who you are is more impor­tant than what you look like—to achieve a bal­ance that val­ues bod­ies, minds and souls togeth­er, and hon­ors dif­fer­ences.

For­tu­nate­ly, there is grow­ing aware­ness of this prob­lem and a grow­ing size accep­tance move­ment in the U.S. Groups like NAAFA have been around for years, but main­stream jour­nal­ists have real­ly paid lit­tle atten­tion to these prob­lems until now. Even Peo­ple Mag­a­zine has done an arti­cle about eat­ing dis­or­ders and how much of the prob­lem is caused by the unre­al­is­ti­cal­ly thin mod­els and actress­es most often fea­tured on tele­vi­sion and in oth­er mass media forums. In fact, they did a sec­ond cov­er arti­cle, this one on promi­nent celebri­ties who are larg­er than the norm for Hol­ly­wood, like Rosie O’Don­nell and Delta Burke.

Camryn Manheim photoI hap­pen to think Cam­ryn Man­heim is one of the sex­i­est pub­lic fig­ures around. If a genie appeared and gave me a choice of look­ing like Man­heim or Cal­ista Flock­heart, I would­n’t even have to con­sid­er it—I’d pick Cam­ryn. I read Wake Up! I’m Fat! right after it was released, and it was very enjoy­able. I’ve read sev­er­al arti­cles about Cam­ryn recently—my favorite was in Girl­friends—the pho­to here is from their cov­er (hint to mag­a­zine pub­lish­ers: yes, if you put Cam­ryn on the cov­er of just about any­thing, I’ll buy it). She’s won an Emmy and a Gold­en Globe for her role on The Prac­tice, as well as appear­ing in sev­er­al movies and stage shows. If you want more of her, Joe Sher­lock has gath­ered just about every­thing relat­ed to Cam­ryn on his web site (and also has info about oth­er BBWs in media).

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1 I have a word for that now. It’s Body Dys­mor­phic Dis­or­der. I did­n’t have it any­where near as bad as some peo­ple do, but I cer­tain­ly had it.