Tuesday, 25 June 2013

I'm fat 'cause I like to eat.

A fair proportion of my life has been spent having conversations about my appearance. Some were held with well-meaning doctors, teachers and members of my family other 'conversations' were initiated by teenage girls with body issues of their own because. I am, with a BMI of 32 officially, fat. As much as I'd like to tell you that this due to muscle mass, heavy bones or dis-functioning hormones, I suspect that my love for cake and my dislike of physical exercise are at least partly to blame.

If the media are to be believed, I'm not alone and fatties like me are multiplying and that is, of course, a catastrophe, the end of the world as we know it: productivity will be down, and everyone will die of heart disease aged 30 and all because fat people won't stop stuffing themselves with pizza and chips. This is a very short summary of most articles and opinions in the mainstream media. Being fat is wrong, it's unhealthy, it's disgusting.

Fat people, according to this way of reporting, are lazy, depressed and completely lacking in self-discipline. Very popular are extremely fat people (yes, humans on TV tend to be tiny or huge - there is no middle ground) being interviewed whilst tucking into a burger or showing us the inside of their fridge stocked with items that would make the average hobby nutritionist tut.

I don't think I'm the first person to find this kind of reporting unhelpful for women, men, girls and boys of all shapes and sizes. First of all it demonizes a vague group of the population. Vague because 'fat' tends to lie in the eye of the beholder. Perfectly slim girls are being called fat on the message boards of the internet - usually meant as an insult. For a woman to refuse to be physically pleasing in the way mainstream a opinion can be and is often seen as a crime against consensus.

I opened this article by outlining how very frequently I have to apologise for or justify the way I look. A mixture of well-meaning, concerned adults and being a convenient dumping ground for my school mates body anxieties, I grew up convinced I was ugly, unloveable and would be destined to spend the rest of my life alone (Hey, Disney, after a film about a black princess how about a fat princess or one with acne?). As far as the well-meaning adults are concerned, I'd guess they thought they were helping so it almost breaks my heart a little to reveal: while your comments shocked me, frustrated me,annoyed me or made me doubt myself, they never motivated me to loose weight.

I understand that being a certain weight increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes. Most fat people do being constantly told so by health professionals (who are required to point this out to you at every point of contact). Being fat can have BAAAD  health consequences ( as can the believe that your worth as a human being is linked to your weight, a fragile mental health and  constant dieting ).

Since leaving my home country and being able to look back at my youth with some distance I managed to realise that being the way I am is not something I need to explain and apologise for. In the believe that those realisations could help many unhappy people, I would like to share my insights in how to approach fatness in myself and others (this list talks about weight issues, but a lot of it can apply to other image problems or life in general). This would have helped making me a happy healthier teen:

1) Ideal weight and Body Mass Index  are man-made concepts.

They exist to serve a legitimate purpose, but they are just this concepts to explain how certain conditions apply statistically to a group of people. If you are in the over- or underweight group, you are at an increased risk to suffer from certain diseases just like smokers are more likely to attract lung conditions and alcohol drinkers (yes, that includes 'occasionally') are damaging their liver. These concepts are not only fallible (see the popular muscles are heavier than fat argument) they also imply that some body shapes are more natural, acceptable or ideal than others. And while it's true that you are statistically healthier, if your body is ideal weight, it is perfectly acceptable to be non-ideal.

2) Loosing weight is not a magical problem solver

If you struggle with confidence issues, find it hard to make friends or cannot please your parents (or others close to you) , these issues will only go away, if you work tackle then directly. When I was younger I had no confidence, was unpopular and felt that my failure to look normal was a constant disappointment to my family. I hear fro  other fat people that they have similar problems. They may be caused by fatness, they may have caused the fatness. But now you have them, they are part of you.
Loosing weight has many benefits. It will probably make you healthier and improve your overall health BUT it will not turn you into a more confident, popular and people pleasing version of yourself unless you work on these issues. Ideally, you should do this before you start to diet - you might not even want to loose weight afterwards.

3) Telling people they are fat is not helpful.

I said this before, every fat person on this planet knows they are fat. This has, partly, to do with concerned people making it their business to inform them of their repulsiveness self-destructive behaviour. They have heard it a hundred times and the 101st time will not change them. Most fat people even know how to eat healthily and that they should exercise (some of them even do).If you are concerned about your child, your friend or your patient accept that their weight is their responsibility and let them know that support is available, if they want it.

4) Do what you want

I spent my youth and childhood fighting against baggy jumpers as prescribed by my mum. The consensus seems to be that, if you have to be fat, the least you can do is cover up and feel terribly sorry for being a different shape than everybody else. Wearing nice, properly fitting clothes that work with your natural shape will do wonders for your confidence. Doing what I want; stopping to live, eat and dress for other people issues is the most liberating thing I have ever done. This is by no means limited to clothing. Eat what you want: fancy a triple cheeseburger with bacon and chips and a family bottle of coke? Have it, eat it. Don't order the salad with fat free dressing because you are with your friends and worried about what they might think. Book that beach holiday and wear that bikini. Diet or don't - but make sure you diet because it's what you want to do.

5) People who take issue at your appearance are likely to have body issues themselves

Everyone has body issues and a very popular coping mechanism is comparison with people who are doing even worse.  When visiting my family I hear a lot of remarks along the lines of 'Urgh, that top shows off your belly fat' and 'Full fat milk? Are you sure?' - miraculously 99.9 % of these comments come from my lovely but insecure mum whom I very much take after. My very (conventionally) beautiful, athletic sister hardly ever sees the need to comment on my outfit or milk preferences.

5) You are amazing, beautiful and loveable

Despite what the media and some people will tell you, being fat doesn't make you a bad person. It's hard to latch on to the 'Love-Yourself'-mantra, if you start to believe that your body makes you unworthy of love but they these words to yourself often and you will start to believe it - and then start saying them to other people.
Being fat doesn't have to stop you from having a good live, being beautiful and loved ( yes, as in happily ever after) and fancied.




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