What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
The other day, I had a doctor's appointment to review some bloodwork. Apparently I need a calcium supplement. But the doctor also asked about a consult I'd had with their nutritionist -- who works out of a weight loss clinic. It was not an entirely pleasant conversation, to be honest, because the nutritionist spent our whole meeting talking about weight loss (and their metabolism-boosting shots) instead of nutrition.
I left the appointment (which wasn't even BAD) feeling kind of terrible -- in fact, I told Lesley, I left feeling like a circus fat lady.
It wasn't just the appointment, though. It's that, in day-to-day life, I am by far the fattest person I know. I champion online supportive communities in part because I feel the lack of meat space community so hard -- my friends who have bodies like mine live far away. It's also that -- as y'all have seen -- I don't generally make conservative sartorial choices. I was wearing orange gingham and bright turquoise and my own visibility just kind of reached up and smacked me for an hour or two.
Being fat the way I am fat is a very distinct and individual experience. My body is a cautionary tale that people use to point out the dangers of fatness to others. My body is the one that illustrates stories about the dangers of obesity and marketing for bariatric surgery centers. My body is perceived, in a sexual context, as something that must be a fetish. Attraction to me is perceived as deviant and wrong.
I am also, at my current size, on the cusp of being sized out of every brick-and-mortar retailer to which I have access. That means that even though I have money to spend on pants, there are literally zero pants available that are even designed to fit my body. I'm not talking about fitting well! Or being awesome! I'm talking about pants that will physically go on me.
I routinely ask about weight limits on massage tables/chairs and I know which restaurants have terrible narrow chairs or spindly stools. I am aware of my size and my body as I navigate the world because I have to be in order to provide for my own safety and comfort as well as be at least a little bit considerate of others.
This is part of my fat experience. I'm not complaining about it either -- just saying because I am not sure everyone is aware that these things happen.
And it's not the only fat experience.
Recently I've been seeing a lot of talk, from fat people as well as thinner people, about how ridiculous it is that we as a culture even consider "in-betweenie" sized folks fat. On the one hand, I get this. I mean, when the average American woman wears a size 14, semantically labeling that as "overweight" seems ludicrous. Wouldn't it just be average weight at that point?
Logic, logic, yeah, yeah, yeah. But the conversation isn't taking place in a vacuum and someone who wears a size 14 in the US is generally considered plus size -- fat. Hell, a lot of people consider a size 12 to be borderline. Doctors using the BMI certainly do. And our clothing retailers reinforce this because plus size departments and specialty stores usually start their sizing at a 12 or 14.
The protestations that a size 12 or 14 isn't really FAT have never sat well with me. Fatness is often defined subjectively rather than objectively, and the in-betweenie size range has always been liminal. In addition, fatness is defined differently in different cultural contexts.
But I find myself losing patience more and more with pronouncements from larger fatties that THEIR bodies are plus size bodies while other bodies don't count. Plus size models are usually the spark for this, though it can also be someone on the smaller end of fat claiming fatness and talking about their experiences. There's something self-protective, I think, about wanting fatness and fat identity to be rigidly defined and defended -- but, man, we gotta cut that shit out.
Because even though I am the fattest person I know, I'm not living some uniquely singular fat life. I did a Nightline debate episode and got to hang out with Crystal Renn when she was still considered a plus size model -- and my fatness did not negate her experiences with fatness. Our bodies had very little in common -- but within our contexts, our bodies were both considered too large, too ample, too out of control.
(Sometimes I think the definition of fatness should reflect mainstream America's obsession with controlling the body instead of being reflective of any particular weight standard.)
I've been a lot of sizes and my experience has been different at each and every one. But I've never been anything but fat. I don't feel threatened when Emily talks about her body issues because they don't negate or invalidate mine in any way. The fat shaming that other people experience at smaller sizes springs from the same source as the fat shaming I experience, though it manifests in different ways: the revulsion many people are taught to feel for noncomforming bodies of almost every sort combined with the cultural imperative that women's worth is founded in the mainstream culturally appraised value of their fuckability.
Having rejected that notion, I also reject the idea that a smaller-than-me-fat-person doesn't get to count as fat. I do think words mean things -- I have problems when very thin women talk about how fat they are because they generally lack any cultural experience of fatness at all. But there is room -- ample room (how's that for a pun?) -- within the identity of fatness for there to be many expressions and experiences of it. I don't want to force smaller fats out -- it's not my job to police their identity!
I support the visibility of smaller fats and their identities as well. I want them to respect my experiences -- but I have to respect theirs in return.
It is simply reality that in our current culture, the only bodies that look like mine in our popular culture are either a warning or a joke. I present my body to be viewed on a regular basis, in an effort to stem that tide, to be visible as what I am: a fat woman going about her daily life, as normal as any other person, no matter what variety of fat or thin.