Sorry for the misleading clickbait title! I’m not coming out about my sexuality, which is generally what we associate with that phrase. No, I’m coming out in a different way, and I was inspired to do so by a recent episode of NPR’s “This American Life” called “Tell Me I’m Fat.” You can read the transcript here or listen to the episode on the site or through iTunes. I cannot recommend it enough, and this post is mostly in response to Lindy West’s interviews and excerpts from her book Shrill as well as Elna Baker’s story.
In her interview with Ira Glass, Lindy West discusses “coming out as fat.” Basically, what I interpreted her as saying is, “I am not temporarily overweight and will someday be skinny after some kind of fairytale transformation. This is who I am and I’m tired of being ashamed of it and apologizing for it. I am letting myself be who I am. If you’re not okay with it, that’s your problem. End the silence and end the judgement.”
I was so astounded by this concept of coming out as fat. It floored me. It brought tears to my eyes because I was so proud of and inspired by Lindy’s interview. I identified with it so strongly that I felt like I needed to write this post. So, if you’re not interested in reading about my issues with body image, it might be good to skip this one. It’s going to be a lot of *me me me* when it’s obvious there’s a lot more going on in the world. But this is something I’ve struggled with since I was in 5th grade, and I’m ready to talk about it in a public space to take it out of my head and make it real.
So, I’m coming out. I’m not 100% comfortable with coming out as “fat” because I don’t think I’m fat, actually. Not because I think it’s a bad word, but because I don’t think it’s accurate. I don’t like the word “overweight” either because, as the interview says, it implies that there is a correct weight for everyone, and we all know that BMI can be more like BS. I tried a few other words out — pudgy, chubby, fluffy, rotund, full-figured. None of them seemed to really work.
I can’t really find a word to perfectly match, but I can tell you what I’m not and never will be: thin, skinny, bony, slender, svelte. So, I’m coming out as not-thin.
I am almost six feet tall, which is obviously much bigger than the average woman. I knew I was shaped differently than other kids as early as 5th grade. I must look like the women from my dad’s side of the family — big boned, big chest, heavy in the hips and butt. My mom’s side is thinner. Even when I was exercising like mad with the varsity volleyball team, I never looked like my rail-thin teammates, and when you have to wear spandex, it can be kind of a nightmare for a teenage girl.
I gained a lot of weight in college, but joined Curves at one point and got to a healthy weight again. I’d gain and lose 10-15 pounds over and over again as I went on and off the diet wagon. At one point, I started rapidly losing weight. I’d just started dieting and exercising again and I thought, “Wow! I’m really doing it this time! This is where I stop being not-thin and find the skinny person inside. This is going to be my “after” in the “before and after” pictures. I weighed 158 at my thinnest.
Well, what was really going on is that I was developing hypothyroidism. My thyroid went into overdrive as my body began attacking it, releasing a lot of hormones that made me lose weight and have a ton of energy. But once that initial attack was over, my thyroid slowed down and stopped releasing those hormones, even the normal amount. So I gained and gained and couldn’t lose no matter how little I ate. This led me to get tested and on medication for my thyroid. It took me several years to get the right balance of thyroid hormones, and I still don’t believe it’s entirely correct, but my condition is being managed better than it was.
When I was pregnant with my daughter Alyssa, I gained 50 pounds. All but about 12 of it was fluids. I had preeclampsia, which causes your body to swell and your blood pressure to reach dangerous levels. This caused me to be induced at 37 weeks. During my pregnancy, I was my heaviest at 260.
At 32 years old, my current weight fluctuates between 205-208. I walk/jog 2 miles every day on top of extra walking and playing with my daughter, and eat what I consider to be reasonably without counting calories. I’m gonna have a cheese quesadilla while I watch Netflix, but gone are the days when I would sit down and eat a whole pizza.
The Shame Has to End
So, that’s my story. I’m not-thin. Maybe I could be. Maybe if I exercised 2 hrs a day and did crossfit and dieted, I could be in the 170 range again (my most comfortable weight). I could go to a weight-loss clinic and get on speed, try out that green coffee bean supplement, etc. etc. But you know what? I don’t want to.
There are only so many hours in the day. I can give 30 minutes a day for exercise. That’s it. The rest of my free time, like now, when my daughter is napping, I’m canning tomatoes and blogging. My life’s dream is to be a writer, and that’s what I need to be spending my time on. I’m a teacher, and I have a lot of work to do to do my job effectively. I’m sick of feeling guilty about living my life the way I want to live it. I’m tired of hating myself because I ate a bagel with cream cheese in the teacher’s lounge.
I’m a very type-A person. I don’t like to be unprepared, to make mistakes, to do things wrong. For too long, I, and almost everyone else in this country, has seen a person’s body shape as a sign of their moral strength of character. Thin people are innately better because they are morally strong. They can say no to that cheeseburger. Fat people, therefore, are morally weak, lazy, and probably not smart enough to know what calories are.
Like all stereotypes, this is pure bullshit. I’ve had the unfortunate pleasure to meet plenty of people who are strong and in shape and work out who are complete jerks. Let’s not forget Brock the Rapist was champion swimmer. Yeah, he can say no to the cheeseburger, but not to rape. HE IS NOT BETTER THAN ME BECAUSE HE IS THIN! Thin people are not better or kinder or smarter than me because I like to eat pita chips and watch Arrow. I know more about the science of the human body and how to eat and lose weight than the average person. It’s not that I don’t know what’s good for me. I’m just sick of using weight loss apps and hating the person in the mirror. I’M DONE!!!!!
I’m done. I’m a caring mother, a supportive wife, an inspiring teacher, a generally nice person. I am a writer, an animal lover, a good cook, a traveler, a bleeding heart, a voter, a hunter, a poet, a comic-book artist, a bookworm, a foodie, a facebook addict. I like music, I’m bad at remembering things, I forget where I leave things, I drink too much caffeine, and my teeth are yellow. I’m a cat person. Oh, and a not-thin person. I mention that last because it is the least important thing about me.
It’s Not Fair
Part of changing the way I see myself, the way I silence the negative voice inside of me, is to change the way I see others. I am no longer going to think unkind things about other people’s bodies, or say anything out loud. I know I’m going to slip up from time to time, and that’s just the way it is.
But here’s the thing — when you’re snickering behind your hand about that person at Walmart, you don’t know their story. Those guys in Venice who made fun of my size because I was having trouble fitting into a European-size table, what you asshats didn’t know is that my body was in desperate need of T3 hormone. My autoimmune disease was poisoning my body and messing up how my body regulates weight. I needed to be tested and my medication adjusted. That person at Walmart may be exercising 30 minutes a day and eating a healthy diet, but for whatever reason they can’t lose the weight.
It’s not fair. It’s not fair that I have a thyroid disease, that I can’t eat everything I want to. It’s not fair that kids on my high school speech team are model-thin and eat an entire row of Oreos whenever they feel like it. Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the world is not fair.
That’s where a lot of my despair stems from. I feel like I don’t live an unhealthy lifestyle. I exercise and eat a lot of produce. I don’t eat sweets! I’ll have a piece of cheesecake once in awhile. Yeah, I can do some damage to a plate of chips and salsa, but I’m not drinking 15 sodas a day and snarfing a pound of M’n’M’s. I’m doing pretty much all the right things so I should be rewarded with the body image I want.
Nope. The world isn’t fair. And accepting that is a big part of how I’m going to let go of my negative body image and be OK with who I am. I am not-thin.
I’m Not Saying It’s Okay to be Unhealthy
I’m prepared for what the haters are thinking. “You have a daughter. If you aren’t healthy, if you’re fat, you’re not going to live as long. It’s not healthy to be overweight. You have a moral obligation to be healthy. If you are not healthy, you are a drain on society.”
Slow your roll. I am healthy. I’ve already explained that. No, I can’t run a 5k without stopping, but I could walk it, and further. My body can DO THINGS. I can lift my daughter, chase her around the house, lug the stroller, and walk all over Paris for a week, averaging 17,000 steps a day without so much as a pulled muscle.
And there are plenty of people physically bigger than me who are stronger and can walk and bike farther. Size isn’t always an indication of your overall health! There are plenty of skinny girls who would sorely lose a fight with me.
This weight that I am now is not preventing me from doing anything I want other than shopping at Banana Republic.
When I was 260 and pregnant, yeah, there were a lot of things I couldn’t do. If I was that size again, I think I would be pretty serious about losing weight because my joints couldn’t take it. My knees have never been the same after that pregnancy. But right now, I can do all the things I want, so why am I having 10-20 negative thoughts about my body image before noon every day?
I’m not here to tell people what to do with their bodies (I wish more people thought like that!). If you want to try losing weight to make your life easier in some way, go for it. Everyone should do what makes them really happy, and find a balance.
I Know It’s Easier For Me
Though this process feels extremely difficult, and it’s taken a lot for me to come out as not-thin and publicly tell this story, I understand and acknowledge that this issue is a lot more difficult for people who are bigger than me, and for people of color. There is a lot of prejudice against fat people. I know, because I was thin for awhile. At 158, people were nicer to me. Men looked at me and smiled and held the door for me. Baristas of both genders were chipper and quick to make sure my drink was made correctly. At my heaviest, I was noticeably pregnant, so I didn’t get a lot of abuse. At 220, I was made fun of. But now, I’m just kind of invisible. I’m not being picked on, but not given preferential treatment. And I’m OK with that. If other people want to be shallow, go for it.
I can’t imagine what people must be going through. And women get the worst of it, let’s be honest. I know I have it easier. I have stores where I can shop and find things that fit me. I’m a 14-16. I don’t really have the right to complain about the struggles of being fat. I have a husband and a daughter, and a wonderful family.
But I had to do this, to come out as not-thin, for myself, and I did warn you this was a me-centric post. I hope these ideas can help someone else as much as it helps me, and we can change the way we think about body shaming.
Stop body shaming other people, and stop shaming yourself. Be healthy, but don’t make yourself miserable. Silence that evil voice that keeps tearing you down. I’m coming along with you on this ride, and even if I don’t know you, I’m rooting for you right now, at this very second.