What If Fat Doesn't Mean Miserable?
This loooooong post was a loooooong time in coming. Written in large part in response to an email I got asking me when I learned to just not give a crap about my size and love myself as-is. And I was like, "I DO give a crap about my size and I DON'T like how I look as-is. But that doesn't mean I don't love myself at all."
This post is not intended to be antagonistic in any way. I'm just trying to debunk a myth.
NOW WITH UPDATES!
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I am not fat because I am miserable. I love myself. But I don't like the way I look.
Those three sentences are the most important things I could ever write. I don't know who's reading this or who's in the same boat as I am, but nowhere, never, not once in my extensive and exhaustive research on weight issues have I ever EVER seen those three things addressed simultaneously. If at all.
Somewhere, somehow, the American psyche became convinced that either one of two things is true: either you are fat because you are miserable, or (more recently) you've learned to LOVE! yourself the way you are. I don't know which is worse or further from my truth.
The latter, "Learned to LOVE! yourself the way that you are" infuriates me. I don't embrace my size. I deal with it, I just walk around with it. When I'm feeling up to it, I'll dress myself up and look my best. But I'm not fooling myself. I would look better ("better" by current general American standards, however they came to be such) if I weighed a lot less.
At NO point will I ever be happy with classifying myself as a "BBW." I am also not a "Diva." I am not "Large and In Charge." I am not "sassy." Yet these are the labels I get to choose from if I am going to go along with my larger size. I can't just passively accept it; I can't just exist as though I'm exactly the same as other women just a few sizes up. (Oh, and this is never made more painfully clear than when I'm out shopping. WHY do the styles have to be so entirely different for the plus-size shopper?) Because, I guess, the moment I passed from size 14 to size 16, I suddenly became a "Glamazon!"
Ladies and gentleman, I am not a Glamazon! I'm not even a glamazon.
I guess there are toned-down alternatives, but I am not appreciative of being called a "WOMAN," either; at least, not when that's what the plus-size area of a department store is calling me. (And by the way: if I'm a WOMAN, what does that make those sized 14 and under? GIRLS? The implications of "bigger = woman" are humiliating for all parties involved.)
I don't disparage women who do, actually, like being big (or are at least comfortable with it), and I don't dismiss that there are men (and women) who love big women. I am just not one of them. We can blame my parents and the media, but I don't generally perceive overweight women as sexually attractive. Myself included.
Except I don't hate myself.
I don't wake up miserable every day.
No, I don't like the way I look, but:
1) That doesn't mean YOU can't like the way I look, and, more importantly;
2) SO WHAT?
So I don't like the way I look. Lots of people don't like things about themselves that they could change.
I've just put less emphasis on controlling my weight than on other things.
Other things, like my education, my career, financial stability, my emotional well-being, my family, getting my internal shit in order, and, you know, achieving my life goals. Oh, and speaking of life goals? "Being thin(ner)" is definitely on my list...it's just below "Finding love" "having a family" "being happy" and "getting published."
Hey, I get that we all have different priorities. I firmly believe that everything's a trade-off.
You can't work hard on your* I simply cannot work as hard as I'm capable at health, weight, career, education, family, extra-curriculars and emotional well-being all at the same time. I can find a balance that works for me, though; I can find compromise. And that's precisely what I've done.
But why is that so hard to believe? I chose (directly and indirectly) not to have my weight be my top priority. NOT because I didn't have other priorities. NOT because I didn't care, not because I don't have a life, not because I'm not a worthwhile human being.
I keep thinking of Jillian on The Biggest Loser, screaming at contestants until they break and finally reveal the emotional scars that led them to their 400-pound selves. And of course, for some people, that's just it. They eat because they're unhappy. They try to fill an emotional void with food. They put other people first and don't take care of themselves.
Well, okay, fair enough. But what about the rest of us?
Because that's not my story at all. That's not my life at all. I feel like if I had Jillian yelling in my face, asking me why I've "done this to myself" I would have to yell back, "Done what? Let myself gain weight? Oh, well, sorry! I was busy trying to make myself a fulfilled human being!"
I care. I do care. I don't want to be this size, and I am not happy with my size. But with me overall? Well, my weight has taken a back seat to other, worthy priorities...priorities that make me feel like a whole person, and that make me feel confident with myself. My self-esteem is pretty well intact.
My self-esteem is not dependent on my size.
Correlated, sure. I would feel better about myself if I were thinner. But I would feel a lot worse about myself if the rest of my life were in shambles. (Trust me, I speak from experience.)
I just constantly feel like people who see me, people who meet me but don't really know me, wonder what's wrong with me that I am this size. Surely deep down I must be unhappy with myself. I think it's really hard for people who (subconsciously or consciously) link their self-worth with their weight to understand that not everyone does.
That I couldn't possibly love myself if I look like this.
Except I do.
But...so...then...um, now what?
I do want to lose weight now. Now, I want to make weight-loss a priority and long-term weight-control one of my priorities. I look to shows like Biggest Loser to inspire me, but the message I come away with is "If I just figure out why I hate myself so much, I will let go and start taking better care of me."
Except that doesn't fit me and so I have no model. I'm not angry at the world, I'm not failing in my life. I haven't let myself be held back by my weight. Oh -- ha, ha -- I still have plenty of issues and about a bazillion imperfections and baggage, but that's independent of my size.
The best I can figure is that if I make weight-loss a priority now, something else has to give. Something else I'm doing has to become a lower priority.
(Is it just me, or does no one talk about this?)
I know people talk about making "lifestyle changes" but they always seem to just say that "eating well" has to be a priority and "eating crap" has to, well, not be a priority. They say that now you need to make time to go to the gym as though you were previously spending that extra hour or two doing nothing. As though it's apples to apples.
I look at my life now and realize that, while being a stay-at-home-mom is a full-time job, it does not impose the same logistical constraints that working a full-time-plus-commuting corporate job does. "Corporate career" has fallen off the priority map for me for now. So I want to seize this opportunity to try and reconfigure and make weight-loss take a new important position in my life. But.
But here is the point I'm trying to make:
Losing weight is hard. It's hard to stay motivated in general, but it's REALLY hard to stay motivated when being overweight doesn't bring you abject misery.
So I ask: What about those of you who DO work, who have active social lives, who do 8 billion other things with your bad selves and can't quite figure out how to make "weight loss" one of your priorities?
Is it because you are secretly miserable? Or is it because you're just...not?
* * * * * * * * * * * *
1. Absolutely no antagonism is intended toward those who are thin, who are in good shape, who care about their size, who are athletic, who enjoy working out, etc. I think that's awesome! The whole point of this post is simply to say that someone who is overweight is not necessarily unhappy.
2. It IS possible to prioritize working out and still balance millions of other things. However, *I* have not, PERSONALLY, been able to find that balance yet; not since I became a grown-up with a full-time job, and not since I quit corporate life to be a SAHM. This is MY cross to bear and to explain. Again, I'm not overweight because I'm lazy, because I have nothing better to do, because I'm unhappy.
And please, with the condescension. I KNOW what it's like to be in FANTASTIC SHAPE -- I was. For a few years. I know what it takes, I know how it works, I know how it feels.
*Please see Sundry's comment.